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Eastern Bengal and Assam


Eastern Bengal and Assam a new province of British India created in 1905 consisting of East Bengal and Assam. The creation of the new province was not a result of any public demand. Its much publicized purpose was to create development opportunities for the relatively undeveloped peoples of the eastern Bengal districts and Assam. But the British Indian nationalist elements looked at the measure as a glaring case of divide and rule. As the nationalists believed, Bengal was partitioned only as a strategic venture to counteract the rapid growth of the anti-colonial resistance movements from the last decade of the nineteenth century. It was strategically aimed at weakening the larger nationalist politics in the eastern Indian region by organizing the economically backward peoples of Eastern Bengal and Assam into a new province with a new capital and new identity promising new opportunities for the traditionally uncared for peoples of eastern India. In view of the current affairs of China, Japan and South-East Asia, it was looked at as a political as well as military requirement to maintain the stability of the whole of the Eastern region.

The British India Government declared many attractive programmes for the development and welfare of the backward peoples of Eastern Bengal and Assam. But the people seldom supported the partition actively. No movement was launched in support of the partition and the creation of the new province. The educated section of the new province was by and large opposed to the partition and rendered support to the Congress movement to annul the partion, and the agricultural people of the new province were not prepared for joining political agitation.'

From the very inception of the theme for partition of Bengal the Hindu nationalist community organized agitation against it. After the implementation of the partition plan in 1905, the Kolkata based movement was gradually geting momentum. Muslim participation in support of the anti-partition movement was meagre. Rather the majority Muslim population of East Bengal, inspired by the British rulers, extended their support in favour of the Partition. However, the intensity of their political support was not expressed as strongly as the Hindu nationalists. That was mainly because they had no strong political platform of their own. So the stronger Hindu nationalist community could bring the anti-partition movement to its peak creating enormous pressure on the British government to abandon the plan. In this backdrop, the relationship between the Hindu and the Muslim community in Bengal deteriorated and communal riots broke out in 1906. The communal riot took a serious turn in many areas in the districts of Comilla, Mymensingh, Noakhali and Dhaka. The loss of mutual trust and confidence between the Muslims and the Hindus caused by the rift was much graver than the causality of the riot itself.

In the face of the constant violent processions, meetings, hartal and general strike staged by the Congress nationalists and the failure of the Muslims in confronting the situation, the British colonial government had to reconsider the partition of Bengal issue. The government of India under the directives of the British Parliament decided to reinstate the provinces of Bengal and Assam in their earlier state. Assam was placed under a commissioner since April 1911. The process of integration of Bengal was completed in April 1912.

The avowed policy behind the creation of a new province comprising Assam and East Bengal was to include the economically backward and neglected East Bengal in the process of development so that the economic development of the comparatively backward Muslim community of this zone could be expedited. Virtually the process got underway and within five years a number of development projects were implemented in East Bengal ensuring improvement in communication and in trading sectors. Road, rail and river routes connecting Dhaka, Shilong and Chittagong were improved and the sea port of Chittagong got vibrant with increasing foreign trade. Earlier the railway communication was Kolkata-oriented. A number of new rail lines and streamer services were introduced connecting Chittagong, Dhaka, Bogra, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri, Maldah and Rajshahi. This improved communication network created a positive impact on overall economy of East Bengal. The newly built highways connecting the inaccessible areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts ensured fair communication thereby promoting trade and commerce. Each of the district headquarters came under the inter district road communication network. As a result, both time and distance in communication between the cities were remarkably reduced. The government started providing all out assistance to the local entrepreneurs for the development of industries. These initiatives created an instant congenial atmosphere for investment in all sorts of industries particularly in handlooms. Pabna, Bogra, Dhaka and Noakhali districts experienced a rapid growth of handloom and hosiery industries. Dyeing factories were also set up in various districts particularly in Dhaka and Pabna.

As the historic city of Dhaka was made capital of the new province many new opportunities were opened up here. The most important one was development of infrastructures for the expansion of education. Kolkata was the centre of education system introduced by the British. Dhaka as well as East Bengal attained a remarkable progress in literacy programme after the creation of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The government allocation for the education sector went up manifold. The Eastern Bengal and Assam Provincial Education Department was constituted to increase the literacy rate and the standard of education of the province. The department of education started formulating new plans and implementing those speedily for the expansion of education in primary, secondary and college levels. Before the creation of the new province, there were only two-degree level colleges in East Bengal, Dhaka College and Rajshahi College. There was no government allocation for private colleges and infrastructure of most of the institutions was worn out and decayed. There was not a single college having facility of science education in East Bengal. The new provincial government took up special initiative to set up new secondary schools and colleges in various places with a view to expanding education. Steps were taken to appoint required number of teachers in leading colleges, as acute shortage of teachers was a common problem. For instance, the number of teachers in Dhaka College was only 12 in 1906, which went up to 30 in 1911 of which 12 teachers were British having higher academic degrees. Similarly, the number of teachers in Chittagong College was 5 in 1906 and it was later increased to 20. A special drive was taken up to develop the infrastructures of educational institutions. These steps helped a lot in raising the number of enrolled students throughout East Bengal. Persian, Sanskrit, Mathematics, History, Algebra and different disciplines of science were included in the college level curriculum. Residential hostels and lodges were constructed for the students and teachers. A good number of seats in all educational institutions were kept reserved for the Muslim students. Stipends of various categories were introduced between 1906 and 1911 to attract the Muslim students. These initiatives could raise 20% students in schools between 1906 and 1911. Several teachers training schools were set up to impart training to the teachers. One new girls school was established in each district. As a result the education sector of East Bengal could achieve a remarkable progress and the driving force behind it was obviously the partition of Bengal.

Moreover, the population of the new provincial capital registered a fast growth. People from the interior of the province migrated to Dhaka to avail trade and job opportunities. According to the census report of 1911, the population of Dhaka city was 21% higher than that of 1906, when it became the capital. Many large new buildings, offices and other institutions built at that time to fulfill the requirement of the new provincial government still exist. The present university of dhaka and Ramna areas were the central place of the capital. The most remarkable institutions established at that time include present curzon hall, old High Court building, Secretariat building (Present Dhaka Medical College Hospital building), Dhaka Hall (present Shahidullah Hall), Jagannath Hall, Governor House (present Bangabhaban) and some other buildings in and around Ramna. The new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam was the brainchild of Lord Curzon, the then Governor General of India. In his honour the newly built Provincial Legislative Assembly building was named as Curzon Hall. The first Lieutenant Governor of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam was Sir Joseph bamfield fuller (1905-06). A new street constructed during his tenure in Dhaka was named as Fuller Road. Another road built during the tenure of second and last Lieutenant Governor of the province Sir lancelot hare (1906-1911) was named as Hare Road. Another road was constructed in the key administrative zone and was named as Minto Road in honour of the Governor General lord minto (1905-1910). Many residential quarters including some bunglows were also built in Ramna area for high ranking government servants. The dhaka club and Ramna Race Course were also constructed at that time. Although the Muslims of Assam and East Bengal were benefited most following the partition, they could not mount any movement in favour of the partition. Even the whole middle class society of Bengal including the Hindus strongly supported the unification move. British Government tried to resist the movement, but failed. In East Bengal, proportion of the Muslims in the middle class society was very low and they did not have any interest regarding religion-based politics. Moreover, a portion of the Muslim middle class of East Bengal expressed solidarity with their Hindu fellows opposing the Partition of India. The anti-partition activists launched a campaign in the Muslim society successfully as they convinced them that the partition was nothing but a design to create a division between the Muslims and the Hindus.

Meanwhile, following the indirect impetus of the government, muslim league, a political platform of the Muslims, was launched in Dhaka in 1906 in the backdrop of the movement against partition of Bengal. The Nawab of Dhaka, Sir Salimullah led the new political party as the leader of the Muslims of East Bengal. The government sponsored the move to establish his leadership and the government remitted his huge personal loan from the exchequer. But Sir Salimullah could not create any counter movement to discourage the anti-partition forces. Moreover, swadeshi movement, revolutionary terrorist movement and the nationalist movement led by Congress jointly created pressure on the government in favour of the anti-partition movement. On the other hand, the Muslim leadership completely failed to initiate any counter movement due to the overall backwardness of the Muslim society. According to the Census of 1901, only 2.2% Muslims knew English while the percentage of the Hindus was 11.4. Muslim population was almost double of that of the Hindus in East Bengal. But the Hindus occupied 1235 top posts of the government whereas only 41 similar posts were held by the Muslims. So due to lack of minimum required level of education, awareness and economic power the Muslims of East Bengal failed to mount a successful political movement. In this context, when the anti-partition movement got momentum and the conflicting situation further worsened and the Muslims failed to play any supplementary role, the government in December 1911 was compelled to promulgate a decree nullifying the partition of Bengal. The administration of Assam was again vested with a commissioner and the administrative status of Bengal was restored to its previous position. Thus Dhaka lost the status of a capital city once again and turned into an outstation town. Above all, East Bengal turned into the backyard of Kolkata again. [Sirajul Islam]

Bibliography Administration Report of the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam, 1905-12; Census Report of India, 1901 and 1912; MKU Molla, The New Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, 1905-1911; SU Ahmed, Dhaka: A Study in Urban History and Development 1840-1921; Sufia Ahmed, Muslim Community in Bengal, Dhaka 1974; NS Gupta, Bengal: The Unmaking of a Nation 1905-1951, (Viking 2007).