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A page from History - 1905: Roots of Partition

A page from History - 1905: Roots of Partition

Author: Meenakshi Jain
Publication: Organiser
Date: June 26, 2005
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=84&page=19

Three months before the Partition of Bengal came into effect, two leaflets began to circulate in the province. Both appealed to Bengali Muslims to rise alongside Hindus in defence of the mother country. The first entitled, 'Who is our King?' exhorted: "Brother Hindus, in the name of Kali, Durga, Mahadev, Sri Krishna; brother Mohammedans, in the name of Khudatala, circulate from village to village, that we Hindus and Mohammedans jointly worship the feet of the mother native country. We shall give life and take life. We shall not use foreign articles. We must run our own country."

The second leaflet, 'Golden Bengal,' believed in government circles to be the handiwork of Bipan Chandra Pal, also called for Hindu-Muslim joint action against the British venture: ".We will form into bands and run in all directions, from village to village, field to field, market to market, town to town, taking with us those who are ready to die, and who know their mother, the golden Bengal, and being united, we will beat and drive away Sahibs of the town and govern our own country. We will do our duty somehow.

Mussalmans, Mother, entertain high hopes in you. Strong as you are, broad as your chests are. say once 'Din! Din! Allah ho Akbar,' and take possession of the towns by whatever means you find at hand-lathi or sword, sticks or guns, or anything. You Hindus, for thousands and thousands of years you have been talking high of your Arya Dharma. Show to the people of the world your self-sacrificing manners."

Beginning with the swadeshi movement of 1905, a predominant feature of the freedom struggle was its dogged determination to enlist Muslim participation. As the Karmayogin argued, though Indian nationalism was "largely Hindu in its spirit and tradition," it was "wide enough also to include the Moslem and his culture and tradition and absorb them into itself."

But in 1905, and for the entire duration of the freedom struggle, Muslim cooperation proved difficult to ensure. Resentful at being cut off from the colonial capital, Calcutta, the Bengali Muslim elite briefly endorsed the swadeshi movement. However, in July 1905 itself, the Mohammedan Provincial Union was founded to champion Muslim interests, followed in 1906 with the Mohammedan Vigilance Association, to collect evidence of Muslim oppression by swadeshi agitators. In December the same year, came the All India Muslim League which hailed the Partition as beneficial to the Mussalmans of eastern Bengal and condemned the swadeshi movement as 'a Hindu agitation'.

In a calculated move to obstruct, indeed torpedo, the 'Hindu agitation,' an intra-class alliance was struck between the urban, educated Muslim elite and Muslim religious leaders operating in the East Bengal countryside. The Mullahs were in fact pivotal in arousing the Muslim peasantry against the swadeshi movement. For several decades prior to the Bengal Partition, beginning at least with Hajji Shariatullah, they had assiduously attempted to Islamise the lifestyle of Muslim peasants and purge it of customs and practices shared with Hindu neighbours. Shariatullah, on his return from pilgrimage to Mecca, endeavoured particularly to end the veneration of Hindu deities and the celebration of Hindu festivals by Bengali Muslims.

His son, Dadu Miyan, added to his agenda a virulent economic campaign against Hindu landlords. Muslim peasantry were instigated to abstain from paying taxes, on the plea that the money could be used for Hindu festivities. The attacks Dadu Miyan organised on Hindu temples and property were the first significant attempts to link Muslim identity to resistance against Hindu landlords.

The Mullahs also organised anjumans (associations) throughout rural Bengal to organise the Muslim community around religious discussions and landlord-tenant disputes. Together Mullahs and anjumans popularised religious reform and resistance through a literary genre known as puthis. A typical puthi, Krishak Bilap (Lament of the Peasant) described the key figures of rural society-zamindars, moneylenders, and the police-as Congress Party members and urged Muslims to remember their own community and religion, study Islam and not mix with other religions, and rally behind the Muslim League.

British official communiqués of the period record the 'new consciousness' among Bengali Muslims and identify 'itinerant Mullahs' as the principal catalysts in stirring religious passions and mobilising rural Muslims to 'violence and communal politics'. On-the-spot verifications confirmed the extent of Mullah complicity. In his report on the Melanda hut riots, the sub-divisional officer of Jamalpur, Mr Barneville, observed: "It has been reported from various places that Mohammedan Mullahs are going about amongst illiterate Mohammedans and exhorting them to rise against the Hindus."

H.W. Nevinson, a visiting journalist, noted the inflammatory role of Maulvis. "Priestly Mullahs went through the country preaching the revival of Islam and proclaiming to the villagers that the British government was on the Mohammedan side, that the law courts had been specially suspended for three months, and no penalty would be exacted for violence done to Hindus, or for the loot of Hindu shops, or the abduction of Hindu widows. A Red Pamphlet was everywhere circulated, maintaining the same wild doctrines."

The Red Pamphlet (Lal Ishtahar), first came to light at the time of the establishment of the Muslim League in Dacca. It circulated widely with government connivance. Written by one Ibrahim Khan of Mymensingh district, its objective was to dissuade Muslims from joining the swadeshi movement and to involve them in a swajati movement (to promote the interests of one's own race), a forerunner of the two-nation theory. In a strident note, it decreed: 'Ye Mussalmans arise, awake! Do not read in the same schools with Hindus. Do not buy anything from a Hindu shop. Do not touch any article manufactured by Hindu hands. Do not give any employment to a Hindu. Do not accept any degrading office under a Hindu. You form the majority of the population of this province. Among the cultivators also, you form the majority. It is agriculture that is the source of wealth. The Hindu has no wealth of his own and has made himself rich only by despoiling you of your wealth. If you become sufficiently enlightened, then the Hindus will starve and soon become Mohammedans'.

Thus, while heralding the commencement of the freedom struggle, the Bengal Partition also marked the beginning of modern communalism.

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