Bankim Chandra Chattaopadhyay

Rabindra Nath Tagore

Ananda Mohan Bose

Surendra Nath Bannerjee

Charan Kabi Mukundadas

Sister Nivedita

Bengal Province Map - Pre Partition

Ashwini Kumar Dutta

Aurobindo Ghosh

Partition of Bengal

Partition of Bengal was initiated by Lord Curzon. This was the first movement that set forth in its yoke a chain of events that ultimately resulted in tearing apart the fabric of the British empire. Therefore this event was a major stepping stone in the freedom movement. Partition of Bengal led to the partition of the British empire. The presidency of Bengal was comprised of the provinces of Bengal, both East and west, Bihar, Orissa and Chota Nagpur region. Assam with the Bengali speaking districts of Kachar, Goalpara and Srihatta or Sylhett was a separate province under a Chief Commissioner. The province of Bengal was the largest one in terms of population (78.5 mn) with a gross revenue of 11 crore. The Government considered the province to be too large to be administered efficiently.

Partition Proposal

Towards the end of 1903 Lord Curzon's government proposed to separate Chittagong, Dhaka, Mymensingh districts from Bengal and incorporate them with Assam. This led to a widespread public indignation as it was rightly surmised that the idea was to make the Bengali speaking population a minority in their own homeland and also to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims and thus fuel the Two Nation Theory. The scheme was opposed not only the native Bengalis, but also by the orthodox English newspaper Englishman and even the Bengal chamber of commerce that served the interests of the European traders. Many meetings were held in protest across Bengal, esp. in East Bengal. Lord Curzon who undertook a tour of Bengal to ascertain the sentiment, evidently found corroboration to his theory that the newfound nationalism among the Bengali speaking population was dangerous to the interest of the British empire and it was imperative to weaken the Bengalis by dividing them. Also according to the British, the Islamic population were politically less advanced and were royal to the crown and therefore it was necessary to separate them from the influence of the Hindus by pampering to their demands of a separation of the Muslim majority population. Indian National Congress had opposed to the proposition in 1903 and 1904. Although the Government gave out that there was no decision made, in May 1905 the Standard of London published the news that the Secretary of State had agreed to the proposal of partition. The news of creation of the separate province of Assam with Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chattagram divisions of Bengal was first published in July 1905. A Government resolution to the effect was taken on 19th July.

Agitation against Partition

Almost all the local newspapers including Surendranath's Bengali, had rebelled against the proposed partition. Even The English language dailies were not favorable to the decision. Many public meetings were held across Bengal, attended by both Hindus and Muslims and the resolutions against the partition were passed, submitted to the Government of India and the state. The partition was also strongly opposed by the leading dailies in England. Curzon and his supporters tried to belittle the movement by claiming that the oppositions to it were engineered by vested interests from Calcutta. Lord Morley, the secretary of state of India from 1906 was also against the partition idea and stated that the agitation against the partition was not the work of the political wirepullers and political agitators but was the genuine feelings in the minds of the people that they were going to suffer a great wrong and inconvenience and that the measure went solely and decisively against the wishes of the most people concerned (Dr. R. C Mazumdar - History of Freedom Movement in India Volume 2). 

Curzon and his Government played the typical divide and rule card so cunningly adopted by the British rulers when they were cornered. He enticed Salimullah, the Nawab of Dhaka to join the pro partition lobby by advancing loans at a very low interest and also by playing the communal card - that the interests of the Muslims would dominate the new Province, and the Nawab as the representative of the Muslims, would play a very prominent role. Dhaka would be raised to the status of a capital city of a Province. The Nawab thus became a great supporter and a section of the Muslims gathered around him. The new administration openly favoured the Muslims over the more Nationalistic Hindus and its first Lieutenant Governor, Bramfylde Fuller openly derided the Hindus vis a vis Muslims. The English traders and merchants would also gradually turn in favour of the partition as the swadeshi and the boycott movement greatly impacted their business interests, and withdrew their support from it.

The Anti Partition Movement

The movement soon grew in stature under the stewardship of Surendranath Bannerjee and other Nationalist leaders who had evolved from being dependent on prayers and petitions to take the battle to the enemy's camp through mass mobilization. The movement against the partition for the first time in the history impressed people who expressed their solidarity against what they perceived as tyranny and oppression. It roused the social consciousness and made people, esp. the educated youth, aware of the evils of a foreign yoke. It also brought up a new class of leaders from the educated section of the Bengalis. Krishna Kumar Mitra, the editor of Sanjivani, suggested the idea of boycotting British goods and shunning all contacts with the Government. Resolutions were passed in meetings in Bagerhat, Dinajpur, Pabna, Faridpur, Birbhum, Jassore, Manikganj, Dhaka and other places, to boycott English goods, esp. the Manchester clothes. On 26 July 1905 a large meeting was held in Braja Mohan college in Barisal, presided over by Dinabandhu Sen, in which the main speaker was Aswini Kumar Datta. In Calcutta, the students in various colleges organized student bodies and carried out Boycott of foreign goods. First, a meeting was held among students of Ripon College. Then students of Eden Hindu Hostel joined the boycott, and finally there was a huge gathering of stidents from all the colleges of Calcutta in protest against partition. On 7 Aug 1905 a great public meeting was organized in the Town Hall in Calcutta. The students played a significant role. A huge procession of the students marched from college square to townhall. The protests were spontaneous as the shops were also closed. The meeting venue was so crowded that additional meetings were arranged beside the main one. Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi of Kasimbazar was the chairman of the main meeting. He described partition as the greatest calamity fallen upon the Bengali speaking race since the commencement of the British rule (Dr. R. C Mazumdar - History of Freedom Movement in India Volume 2). Resolutions were made to the Secretary of State to withdraw or modify the partition orders. Narendranath Sen, a moderate leader, who was also the editor of the Indian Mirror, brought in a resolution demanding the abstinence from purchase of the English goods.

The suggestion of boycott quickly spread all over the country. Effigies of Curzon were burnt and Bande Mataram became the war cry among all sections of the people, esp. the students, who were the mainstay of the movement. The entire Bengali press supported the boycott movement. Rabindranath Tagore and his family members organized a Rakhi utsav to tie the knots of solidarity and brotherhood and Rabindranath composed his famous song, "Banglar Mati Banglar Jal" on the occasion

In the meanwhile the Government was trying its best to put its plan into action as quickly and as effectively as possible. The secretary of state approved the draft proclamation in Sep 1, 1905. Joseph Bamfylde Fuller was to be the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of East Bengal and Assam. New arrangement was planned to come into effect from 16 October, 1905. The movement was intensified across Bengal. In Barisal the students came barefoot to their classes. In Calcutta the students resorted to picketing to dissuade people from buying foreign goods. Police and administration responded swiftly, beating and even arresting the students even if the picketing was peaceful. The major hallmark was the rise of patriotic fervour among the masses. For instance cobblers refused to mend English shoes, cooks refused to cook with foreign ingredients, washermen refused to wash foreign clothes and so on. The Bengali newspapers lent voice to the movement. The Dawn Society of Satish Chandra Mukherjee became one of the most active proponents of Swadeshi and Boycott. Surendranath and Bipin Chandra Pal were inspiring students with their fiery speeches. Home grown bards like Mukunda Das went from village to village inspiring people with his fiercely patriotic compositions in simple and lucid Bengali - chede dao reshmi chudi. Dwijendralal Roy and Rajani Kanta Sen wrote a number of patriotic songs that instilled pride in one's culture and nation.

Negating Government attempts to communally divide the masses, Muslims joined a mass agitation in Raja Bazar, which was chaired by Abdul Rasool. In French Chandannagore a meeting was held to boycott British goods, with Mayor Leaon Tardival in the chair. A great procession of Hindus, both landed aristrocrats and the working classes, visited the Kali temple on the occasion of Mahalaya to perform special rites for the unity of Bengal. The officiating priests had asked the assembled crowd to forget all divisions and worship the mother as the motherland. About 50,000 people took part in that ceremony.

On the day of the partition, Rabindranath Tagore and the family of Jorasanko Thakur Bari, that included Abanindranath the great artist, celebrated Rakhi Bandhan or tying of the Rakhi as a gesture of brotherhood and unity. A meeting was organized in the Townhall where it was decided to establish a Federation of the severed provinces to maintain the unity. Particularly noteworthy is Rabindranath's clarion call in the name of Hinduism. "Will not" he asked "Hindusim forge a bond of unity for us all by generating a spirit of unity for our land Bharatavarsha, the pleasure ground of our gods, the hermitage of our ancient sages and the dewelling place of our ancestors." The last sentence reminds one of the pranaam mantra appearing in the Bartaman Bharat written by Swami Vivekananda and shows the extent of influence the great monk had on the poet. In fact the whole movement against partition was possibly inspired by the clarion calls of the monk who had repeatedly asked his fellow countrymen, esp. those from Bengal to arise and carry out a determined fight against all forms of "tamas" or forces of darkness. 

On 16th October Calcutta witnessed an unprecedented scene. All businesses and vehicular movements were stopped. All shops were closed. Students marched alomng singing Vande Mataram. There were processions singing patriotic songs. People tied rakhi on every stranger's arms. In the afternoon, a meeting was organized in a place where there was planned to establish a Federation Hall to bring together the two severed provinces. About 50,000 strong crowd gathered. Anand Mohan Bose, who was a prominent leader of the Congress and a Brahmo leader, was seriously ill, and had to be brought in an invalid chair. Nevertheless he attended. His proclamation in Bengali was read by Rabindranath. Even veteran leaders like Surendranath walked without shoes after the meeting. A huge meeting was held in the house of Pashupati Bose of Baghbazar and a sum of Rs 70,000 was collected. 

Partition of Bengal and the movement that followed in its wake is significant in many ways. First, it reflected a deep sense of injustice and injury inflicted by a foreign rule that was insensitive to the plight and the pride of a people and a culture. Second, it resulted in the rise of leaders and reshaped their roles from being instruments of prayers and petitions to conducting and inspiring mass agitations. Third, it was mostly non violent in nature, despite the grievous injury and the highhandedness of the authorities. Fourth, it raised the consciousness of the masses and instilled patriotism, which later burst forth in the subsequent stages of the freedom movement. Bengal was the first to rise like an injured lion, and then the rest of India followed.

Sister Nivedita had played a significant role in this whole episode which was mostly neglected by the mainstream historians. A veritable lioness, she did not let Curzon rest in peace. When Curzon had proclaimed that Indians were habitual liars, and there was not a single protest from any of the Indians present, Sister Nivedita took it upon herself to show how Curzon himself had lied in Korea. So much for the truthfulness of the Governor. She inspired the youth in the ideals of Swami Vivekananda and through her writings and speeches kindled the fire of patriotism. She also inspired a lot of young revolutionaries, kept close association with thee luminaries and dignitaries on one hand and the revolutionary societies like Anushilon Samity on the other, and enjoyed proximity to the leading figures like Aurobindo Ghosh, Gokhale, Tagore and many others. In the Indian Review of March 1905 she wrote: 'This svadeshi movement is an integral part of the National Righteousness. ...' (source:

Government had deliberately conceived the idea of partition only with a view of weakening the idea of Nationalism among educated Bengalis and also to create a communal rift among Hindus and Muslims, thus destroying the solidarity among the Bengalis by dividing them into two blocks.​ The plan of partition was devised by several British Government officials. In 1896, Oldham, commissioner of Chattagram division, suggested the creation of the separate province that would unite the important part of Mohammedan population of eastern India to diminish the politically threatening position of the Hindu minority in Bengal. Sir Andrew Fraser suggested separating the Eastern districts of Bengal which were a hotbed of Bengali movement. Curzon in a letter in 1903 decided to keep all minutes of the meetings about the partition of Bengal secret and confidential, thereby reaffirming the conviction that the British Government did not carry out the partition purely for administrative reasons. Government documents reveal that British did not wish to separate Bihar and Orissa from Bengal and instead corroborated that the 'apprehension of the Congress that partition would weaken the power of the Bengalis were perfectly correct and formed one of the great merits of the scheme' (Dr. R.C Majumdar - History of Freedom Movement of India, volume 2). 
Curzon  in his letter to Brodrick dated 17 Feb, 1904, writes: "The Bengalis, who like to think themselves a nation, and who dreams of a future, when the English will have been turned out, and a Bengali Babu will be installed in Government House, Calcutta, of course bitterly resent any disruption that will be likely to interfere with the realization of this dream. If we are weak enough to yoield to their clamour now, we shall not be able to dismember or reduce Bengal again; and you will be cementing and solidifying, on the eastern flank of India, a force almost formidable, and certain to be a source of increasing trouble in the future."

Lord Minto, who succeeded Lord Curzon and did not wholly agree with Curzon on the manner in which Partition was carried out, wrote to Morley that he became more and more convinced that one of the objects of the Partition was to break the political influence of Bengal. Minto fully approved of the plan to break Bengal. He wrote to Morley, "I  did not tell Gokhale that the crippling of Bengali political power is in my opinion one of the strongest arguments in favour of Partition. It is the growing power of population with great intellectual gifts and a talent for making itself heard, a population which, though it is very far from representing the more manly characteristics of the many races of India, is not unlikely to influence public opinion at home most mischievously. Therefore I believe Partition to have been really necessary....The diminution of the power of Bengali political agitation will assist to remove a serious cause for anxiety. Lord Hardinge, who succeeded Minto as Governor General, also wrote to the Secretary of State, Lord Crew on 13 July 1911, that the "desire to aim a blow at the Bengalis overcame other considerations in giving effort to that laudable object." (Dr. R.c Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement of India, Vol. 2)

Says Dr. Majumdar, "It is thus quite clear that the real motive behind the partition of Bengal was to weaken the influence of the Bengalis who had imposed an increasing burden upon the Government of Bengal by the spread of higher education and the advanced political aspirations that accompany it, among others."

There was also a motive of driving a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, something that the British colonial masters perfected as strategy. Herbert Risley in a letter wrote in 1904 that the boundary of Partition would bring within the eastern province the bulk of the Mohammedans of Bengal. It would give Dhaka a central position and would strongly represent Mohammedan interests.

A similar apprehension worked among Bengalis that the partition was an attempt by the British to kindle rivalry and animosity between Hindus and Muslims. This proposal was hatched in secret by the Secretary of State and was not even discussed in British Parliament, according to the M.P C.J O'Donnell. Summed up Surendranath Bannerjee - "the revised scheme of Partition was conceived in secret, discussed in secret and settled in secret, without the slightest hint to the public..... We felt that we had been insulted, humiliated and tricked (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement in India, Vol 2).

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