1905 Partition of Bengal

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Bangladesh, West Bengal
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The decision to effect the Partition of Bengal was announced in July 1905 by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. The partition took effect in October 1905 and separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas. The Hindus of west Bengal who dominated Bengal's business and rural life complained that the division would make them a minority in a province that would incorporate the province of Bihar and Orissa.[1] Indians were outraged at what they recognised as a "divide and rule" policy,[2] where the colonisers turned the native population against itself in order to rule, even though Curzon stressed it would produce administrative efficiency. The partition animated the Hindus and led the Muslims to form their own national organization. Bengal was reunited in 1911 in an effort to both appease the Bengali sentiment and have easier administration but it caused resentment among the Bengali Muslims who benefited from the partition and the resentment lasted until the end of the British rule which ended with the partition of Bengal in 1947.[3][4]


The provincial state of Bengal had an area of 189,000 miles2 and a population of nearly 8 crores (80 million). It included the Hindi-speaking regions of Bihar, the Oriya-speaking regions of Orissa as well as the Assamese-speaking region of Assam, making it a huge administrative entity. Moreover, the capital Calcutta was the capital of the entire British India. With the growing efforts of the Indian National Congress to secure the independence of India, Lord Curzon decided to address both these problems by partitioning Bengal into two entities, which would result in a Muslim-majority in the eastern half, and a Hindu-majority in the western half. This he hoped would reduce the administrative pressures as well divide the population on religious grounds, quelling the Indian Independence Movement.[dubious ]


The government announced the idea for partition in January 1904. The idea was opposed by Henry John Stedman Cotton, Chief Commissioner of Assam 1896-1902.

The Partition of Bengal in 1905 was made on October 16 by Viceroy Curzon. The former province of Bengal was divided into two new provinces "Bengal" (comprising western Bengal as well as the province of Bihar and Orissa) and "East Bengal and Assam" with Dacca (Dhaka) being the capital of the latter.[5] Partition was promoted for administrative reasons: Bengal was as large as France but with a significantly larger population. Curzon stated the eastern region was neglected and under-governed. By splitting the province, an improved administration could be established in the east, where subsequently, the population would benefit from new schools and employment opportunities.

The partition was greatly supported by the people of East Bengal. The prime reason behind their support was their poor economic situation and the dominance of the Hindu businessmen and landlords of West Bengal. Bengal was severely centralized in the capital Calcutta, in all aspects. Most of the factories and mills in Bengal were established in and around Calcutta even though the major sources of the raw materials for these factories were in East Bengal. Most of the educational institutions were also situated in Calcutta including the lone university in Bengal. After the partition, the East Bengali people started to witness their expectations come true. Dacca began to transform into a major city and regain its past glory. Construction of some important administrative buildings like the Curzon Hall, High court took place in the city which still stand today bearing the heritage of British architecture. A number of educational institutions were established throughout East Bengal and Assam which resulted in an increase in the literacy rate of the region.

However, Hindus, especially the Hindu businessmen, landlords and the educated middle class in western Bengal found other motives behind the partition plan. Bengali Hindus were in the forefront of political agitation for greater participation in governance; their position would be weakened, since Muslims would now dominate in the East. Hindus tended to oppose partition, which was more popular among Muslims. What followed partition, however, stimulated an almost national anti-British movement that involved non-violent and violent protests, boycotts and even an assassination attempt against the Governor of the new province of West Bengal.

Maps 1907-1909

Political crisis

Partition sparked a major political crisis along religious lines. Hindu resistance exploded as the Indian National Congress began the swadeshi movement that included boycotting British goods, and diplomatic pressure. The Muslims in East Bengal hoped that a separate region would give them more control over education and employment, hence, they opposed those movements.[6] Rabindranath Tagore wrote Banglar Mati Banglar Jol as a rallying cry for proponents of annulment of Partition.[7]

Opposition to the partition was supported by Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton who had been Chief Commissioner of Assam, but Curzon was not to be moved. Later, Cotton, now Liberal MP for Nottingham East coordinated the successful campaign to oust the first lieutenant-governor of East Bengal, Sir Bampfylde Fuller.


Due to these political protests, the two parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911. A new partition which divided the province on linguistic, rather than religious grounds followed, with the Hindi, Oriya and Assamese areas separated to form separate administrative units: Bihar and Orissa Province was created to the west, and Assam Province to the east. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi as well.


In 1909, separate elections were established for Muslims and Hindus. Before this, many members of both communities had advocated national solidarity of all Bengalis. With separate electorates, distinctive political communities developed, with their own political agendas. Muslims, too, dominated the Legislature, due to their overall numerical strength of roughly twenty eight to twenty two million. Nationally, Hindus and Muslims began to demand the creation of two independent states, one to be formed in majority Hindu and one in majority Muslim areas.[8]

In 1947, Bengal was partitioned for the second time, solely on religious grounds, as part of the Partition of India following the formation of the nations India and Pakistan.[9] East Bengal became East Pakistan, and in 1971 became the independent state of Bangladesh after a successful war of independence with West Pakistan. In the partition of Bengal congress leaders also supported this revolt.[10]


The partition left a significant impact on the people of Bengal as well as the political scene of the Indian Subcontinent. After the annulment of the partition, the people of East Bengal were immersed into disappointment and anger. This event also created a sense of political awareness among the Muslims of East Bengal. To mollify the people of East Bengal, Lord Curzon declared that a university as a center of excellence would be established in Dacca (which would later be named as University of Dhaka) and formed a committee in this regard consisting Khwaja Salimullah, A. K. Fazlul Huq and others. The decision was severely criticized by some Hindu leaders in West Bengal. The most significant impact of this event was the inception of communal dissonance between the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal.

See also


Further reading

  • Edwardes, Michael. High Noon of Empire: India under Curzon (1965)
  • McLane, John R.. "The Decision to Partition Bengal in 1905," Indian Economic and Social History Review, July 1965, 2#3, pp 221–237

External resources

  • article on Partition of Bengal
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