Bengal’s day of mourning

Ninety years ago, Bengalis woke up to the fact that their beautiful land was to be partitioned. The song “Amar Sonar Bangla” took on a new meaning.

October 15, 2015 05:19 pm | Updated 05:19 pm IST

Lord Curzon: Architect of the Bengal partition. Photo: Special Arrangement

Lord Curzon: Architect of the Bengal partition. Photo: Special Arrangement

October 16, 1905 is an important date for Bengal. The then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon decided to divide the region in a way that the western part was home to the Hindu majority area and the eastern part for the Muslim majority. 

Bengal was as large as France and had a significantly larger population too. Since 1765, Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa were a single province in British India. But by the 1900s the province had grown too large to handle under a single administration. East Bengal, because of isolation and poor communication, had been neglected in comparison to west Bengal and Bihar. Thus the partition was promoted for administrative regions.

However, it must be taken into account that Bengalis were one of the first to benefit in the area of education under the British Raj. As a result, they were also given better posts in the government. Lord Curzon, the architect of the partition, knew that splitting Bengal, would weaken their influence and divide the nationalist movement.

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When the announcement was made in July 1905, leaders in Bengal urged the people to boycott British goods. They wanted to put economic pressure on England. The movement spread like wildfire all over Bengal. Students forced shopkeepers to stop selling British goods. They also boycotted government schools and colleges.

All classes of Bengali people participated in the anti-partition movement. Despite several protest meetings and campaigns against the proposal, the government remained unmoved.

October 16, 1905 was a day of national mourning. People fasted and observed a general strike. The song “ Amar Sonar Bangla ”, composed by Rabindranath Tagore, was sung by many. Many were seen walking bare foot to the Ganga singing Vande mataram . Hindus and Muslims tied rakhis on each other’s hand as a symbol of unity.

The partition lasted for only about six years. But the result of it proved a thorn in the flesh to the government. The boycott blossomed into a full fledged swadeshi movement.  People felt both Boycott and Swadeshi were inseparable to the anti-partition movement. The products of British industries sold widely in India caused in a severe blow to Indian handicraft and cottage industries. So, production and sale of Swadeshi goods was given importance.  Though the government resorted to a reign of terror to suppress their anti-partition movement they failed to curb it.

Finally, in 1911, the British Government revoked the partition of Bengal. In 1911, the capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, east and west Bengal were reunited. Assam, Bihar and Orissa were separated to form a new province.

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