Modern History of Bengal and Popular Movements in West Bengal

History of Bengal and Popular Movements

The medieval history of Bengal was dominated by the Pala and the Sena dynasty, along with different Muslim dynasties. Development in the late medieval history of Bengal was not only significant for Bengal, but it eventually influenced the history of the whole of India.

After the Battle of Buxar in 1765, the British East India Company became a major power. After the Revolt of 1857, Bengal was under the direct control of the British crown, which continued till 1947. After the independence, the Food Movement, the split of the Communist Party of India, Naxalbari Movement were the main incidents that occurred in West Bengal.

 British Rule in history of West Bengal

After the Battle of Buxar, the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II formally granted the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to the East India Company on 12th August 1765. In this way, Robert Clive gained a legal recognition of the status of the English in Bengal. In less than two years, Clive had reformed the internal administration of the Company’s affairs and placed its relation to the Government of Bengal on a definite legal basis. He laid the foundation of the British supremacy in Bengal.

Dual System of Administration History of Bengal

In AD 1765, the system of Dual Government was established. In the Treaty of Allahabad, the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II had given the Diwani right to the Company instead of a pension of 26 lakh per annum. Thus, the Company (under Governor Robert Clive) got both Diwani and Nizamat rights over Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.

This arrangement was known in history as the Dual or Double System of Administration introduced by Clive in Bengal, which remained in force till AD 1772. Under this system, the administration was divided between the Company and the Nawab, but the whole power was actually concentrated in the hands of the Company. In 1772, the system was abolished, and Bengal was brought under the direct control of the British.

Bengal Presidency History of Bengal

The colonial area of the British empire in East India was known as the Bengal Presidency. It consisted of present East Bengal (now Bangladesh), West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Odisha, and Tripura.

This presidency was established with the treaty in 1765 (also known as Diwani of Bengal) between English East India Company and Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and Nawab of Awadh. Lord dan Warren Hastings (1772-1785)

integrated the presidency, thereby establishing British Imperial rule over Eastern India. He also laid the foundation of civil service in India. Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement in Bengal in 1793. Permanent Settlement was an agreement between the British East India Company and the landlords of Bengal to settle the land revenue. The landlords were given the rights of the land as long as they paid a fixed revenue to the British Government. This Permanent Settlement was unsuccessful, and it was not introduced in the North-Western provinces. These regions were nominally part of the Bengal Presidency but remained administratively distinct.

Revolts and Rebellions in West Bengal

Revolt of 1857 History

The Revolt of 1857 was a major but unsuccessful uprising in India. The earliest ignition of the revolt was seen in Dum Dum, which was the headquarters of Bengal Artillery. The headquarters was to be shifted to Meerut. In place of the headquarters at Dum Dum, the School of Musketry was to be established for providing training for usage of Enfield Rifle. Rumors started from this place and reached Barrackpore Cantonment. Mangal Pandey started the uprising in 1857 in Barrackpore by killing a British official.

Partition History of Bengal

The partition of the large province of Bengal was decided upon by Lord Curzon and was carried into execution on 16th October 1905. The Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi divisions, the Malda district and the states of Hill Tripura, Sylhet and Comilla were transferred from Bengal to a new province, Eastern Bengal and Assam. This decision proved highly controversial, as it resulted in a largely Hindu West Bengal, and a largely Muslim East Bengal. British claimed the cause of division as the difficulty in handling a large province.

This division is followed by popular agitations. The people believed that the division of Bengal was the policy of the divide and rule of the British. People were furious that the center of interest and prosperity of Bengal that was Calcutta would be divided into two governments.

In AD 1906-1909, the people unrest developed to a considerable extent. Due to the political protests, the British reunited the East and West Bengal in AD 1911. In the 20th century, the partition of Bengal, occurring twice, has left permanent marks on the history and psyche of the people of Bengal.

The first partition occurred in AD 1905 and the second one in AD 1947. The partition of Bengal in 1947, part of the partition of India, was a religion based partition that divided the British Indian Province of Bengal between India and Pakistan.

The predominantly Hindu West Bengal became a province of India, and the predominantly Muslim East Bengal became a province of Pakistan. Later, East Bengal became an independent country, Bangladesh after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The land that links West Bengal in India and Bangladesh is known as ‘Teen Bigha Corridor’.

Chakma Revolt History of Bengal

Chakma is the largest ethnic tribe of Bengal (now in Bangladesh). In 1733 the Chakma Chief Shermast Khan had obtained a zamindari sanad for Chakla Rangunia, a hilly tract. The colonial Government tried in the 1770s and 1780s to bring the Chakmas under the direct control of the colonial Government. They were asked to pay revenue in cash rather than in cotton. The rent-rate in the Rangunia zamindari was enhanced. When the Chakma Raja Juan Buksh refused to pay the enhanced rent, the Rangunia estate was farmed out to a banian from Kolkata. These measures had alienated the hill people so much that in 1776 they revolted against the British control and asserted their independence under the leadership of Ranu Khan, the diwan of the Raja. Ranu Khan followed guerrilla tactics to oust the Company from the Hill Tracts. Hit-and-run was their war strategy. Ranu Khan was the supreme military leader. Under him were several commanders under whose were the soldiers called palwans who were mostly • recruited from the Kukis. The official records indicate that Juan Baksh and Ranu Khan had made the whole of the Hill Tracts independent of British rule.

Chuar Rebellion

Chuar Rebellion occurred in 1798-99. Chuar Rebellion was a massive rebellion that broke out in the South-West Bankura district and in the North-West Midnapore district. The British East India Company and some Zamindars of Midnapore were engaged in curbing the rebellion ruthlessly.

In the year 1798, nearly 1500 rebels led by Durjan Singh, established their rule in villages of Raipur Pargana. They attacked the headquarters of the British East India Company, after a fierce battle with the armies of British East India Company. But they were defeated. However, in Shalbani, the rebels were victorious and destroyed the army barracks of British East India Company. Finally, by means of bloody repression and the usual policy of divide and rule, the British were able to crush the Chuar Rebellion.

Santhal Rebellion History of Bengal

This rebellion was started in 1855. The uprising of the Santhals began as a tribal reaction to and despotic British revenue system. Before the British advent in India, Santhals resided in the hilly districts of Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, and Birbhum. They lived an agrarian lifestyle. But in the British period, the landlords and moneylenders allured them by goods and loans, and gradually, they became bonded labor to them.

The Santhals resented the oppression by revenue officials, police, moneylenders, landlords in general by the outsiders (whom they called Diku). The Santhals under Sidhu and Kanhu rose up against their oppressors, declared the end of the Company’s rule, and asserted themselves independent in 1854. This uprising spread in Bengal.

Indigo Revolution History of Bengal

It was a peasant movement. Indigo farmers revolted against the Indigo planters in 1859 as the farmers got no profit growing Indigo.Indigo plantation was largely found in Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, and Jessore (now in Bangladesh). “The Hindu Patriot” newspaper, edited by Harish Chandra Mukherjee, described the sufferings of the farmers. Dinabandhu Mitra wrote ‘Neel Darpan’ against this exploitation, which was later translated by Michael Madhusudan Dutta.

Chittagong Uprising History of Bengal

The Chittagong uprising is the armory raids carried by revolutionaries in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The first raid was carried on 18th April 1930, and the aim was to destroy the British armories and disrupt the railway and communication lines. Surya Sen, Nirmal Sen, Kalpana Dutta, Anant Singh, and Lokenath Bal were important leaders of this uprising.

Nandigram Violence History of Bengal

The Nandigram Violence was an incident in Nandigram in the year 2006, where, on the orders of the Left Front Government, more than 4000 heavily armed police stormed the area with the aim of stamping out protests against the West Bengal Government’s plans to expropriate 10,000 acres (40 sq km) of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by the Indonesian-based Salim Group. The police shot dead at least 14 villagers and wounded 70 more.

The SEZ controversy started when the Government of West Bengal decided that the Salim Group of Indonesia would set up a chemical hub under the SEZ policy at Nandigram, a rural area in the district of East Midnapore.

The villagers took over the administration of the area, and all the roads to the villages were cut off. A large number of intellectuals protested on the streets, and this incident gave birth to a new movement.

Socio-Religious Movements in History of West Bengal

Fakir-Sannyasi Resistance Movement, The Fakir-Sannyasi Resistance Movement, was organized and led by Majnu Shah, a Sufi saint of the Madaria sect. The Fakir resistance began in 1760 and gathered momentum in 1763. Their main target was the Company kuthi, revenue kachoris of zamindars loyal to the Company rulers, and the houses of their officials. The rebels used swords, spear, gun, fire-throwing device, Hawai, and even revolving cannons.

The rebels attacked the commercial kuthi of the Company at Bakerganj (1763) and kept the factory chief Calley confined for some days, and plundered the kuthi. By 1767, the attack of the rebels intensified in Rangpur, Rajshahi, Kuch Bihar, Jalpaiguri, and Comilla. To check the activities of the rebels in North Bengal, an English army was sent to Rangpur in 1767 under Captain De Mackenzee.

Fakir-Sannyasi raids got intensified in 1776 in the districts of Bogra, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, and Chittagong. In 1785, Majnu Shah proceeded towards Mahasthangarh and was defeated in a battle.

In the following year, Majnu Shah planned a simultaneous attack in Eastern Bengal under himself and in the North Bengal area under his Lieutenant Musa Shah. In a battle against the Company army under Lieutenant Brenan in the Kaleswar area (8th December 1786), Majnu Shah lost a large number of his followers. He himself was wounded in the battle at Kaleswar and died on 26th January 1788.

Socio-Religious Movement History of Bengal

In the 17th century, Bengal witnessed an intellectual awakening that was in some way similar to the Renaissance in Europe. This movement questioned existing orthodoxies, particularly with respect to women, marriage, the dowry system, the caste system, and religion. One of the earliest social movements that emerged during this time was the Young Bengal Movement introduced by an Anglo-Indian Henry Louis Vivian Derozio that adopted rationalism and atheism as the common denominators of civil conduct among upper caste educated Hindus. Young Bengal Movement was launched by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), who had come to Calcutta in 1826. He was appointed as a teacher of English Literature and History. He was a great teacher and had a tremendous influence over his pupil both in and outside the class. He always encouraged his students to free discussion on all subjects—social, moral, and religious matters.

Prominent Derozians are Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Sib Chandra Deb, Hara Chandra Ghosh, Ramgopal Ghosh, Ramtanu Lahiri, Rasik Krishna Mallick, Peary Chand Mitra, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Radhanath Sikdar, etc.

Brahmo Samaj History of Bengal

Brahmo Samaj was one of the most rigorous reformist movements responsible for the making of modern India. In 1828, it was founded in Calcutta by Raja Rammohan Roy. Bono, The Brahmo Samaj, does not accept the authority of the Vedas, has no faith in avatars (incarnations), and does not insist on belief in Karma (casual effects of past deeds) and samsara (the process of death and rebirth). The Brahmo dharma discards Hindu rituals and adopts some Christian practices in its worships. It denounces polytheism, image worship, and the caste system. It adopts some good aspects of every religion, like Islam, Christianity, etc. Rammohan Roy wanted to reform Hinduism. His successor Debendranath Tagore believed in Vedic authority and making reason and intuition as the basis of Brahmanism. He founded Tattwabodhini Sabha in 1839 as a small group of the Brahmo Samaj, but in 1859, it was dissolved back into Brahmo Samaj by him. He tried to retain some of the traditional Hindu customs. He also condemned idol worship, discouraged pilgrimages, ceremonies, and penances among the Brahmos.

Under his leadership, Brahmo Samaj established its branches in different parts of the country. Keshab Chandra Sen joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1858 and became Acharya. Under his dynamic leadership, its branches were opened outside Bengal, in the Uttar Pradesh, the Punjab, Bombay, Madras, and other towns. But his liberal and cosmopolitan outlook brought about a split in the Brahmo Samaj. Keshab Chandra Sen and his followers left Samaj in 1866 and formed the Brahmo Samaj of India. Debendranath’s Samaj henceforth came to be known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj.

Vedanta Movement or Ramakrishna Movement History of Bengal

Ramakrishna Mission is an organisation which forms the core of a worldwide spiritual movement known as the Ramakrishna Movement or the Vedanta Movement. It was founded by Swami Vivekananda on 1st May, 1897 at Belur Math in Howrah, West Bengal. The mission conducts extensive work in healthcare, disaster relief, rural management, tribal welfare, elementary and higher education and culture. The mission bases its work on the principles of Karma Yoga. It aims at the harmony of religions and promoting peace and equality for all humanity. It subscribes to the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. The Vedanta Movement prospered principally through Ramakrishna’s disciple Swami Vivekananda.

Swadeshi Movement History of Bengal

The Swadeshi Movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which started with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. This movement started in Bengal in 1905 and continued till 1911. This movement marked the beginning of new form of mobilisation. It gave a new orientation to the politics through its policies of boycott, passive resistance, mass agitation, etc. It was the most successful movement of the Pre-Gandhian era. Its chief architects were Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, etc. Ashwini Kumar Dutta founded Swadesh Bandhab Samiti to promote the consumption of indigenous products and boycott foreign goods.

Formation of Muslim League and Anushilan Samiti History of Bengal

The Muslim League was founded in the year 1906 in Bengal. It was the first organisation of the Islamic community fighting for independence in India. The Anushilan Samiti was founded in 1906 by Pramathanath Mitra. The Samiti challenged British rule in India by engaging in militant nationalism. They started accumulating arms and ammunitions and also made indigenous bombs to attack the Britishers. They also attempted to procure German arms. Anushilan Samiti had two prominent branches known as Dhaka Anushilan Samiti centred in Dhaka and Jugantar Anushilan Samiti centred at Calcutta.

Dhaka Anushilan Samiti It took a radical program and broke with the ugantar group in West Bengal due to differences with Aurobindo’s approach of lowly building a mass base for further revolution. In 1911, Dhaka Anushilan Samiti took revenge and shot dead sub-inspector Raj Kumar and Inspector Man Mohan Ghosh. This was followed by the assassination of CID Head Constable Shrish Chandra Dey in Calcutta.

Jugantar Anushilan Samiti It was led by leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, Barindra Ghosh, Bagha Jatin (Jatindranath Mukherjee), etc. In February 1911, members of Jugantar Anushilan Samiti bombed a car in Calcutta. During the 1912 transfer of the imperial capital to New Delhi, Viceroy Charles Harding’s Howdah was bombed, his mahout was killed and Lady Hardinge was injured.

Alipore Bomb Case In 1908, the revolutionaries in Bengal planned to kill the Chief Presidency Magistrate DH Kingsford of Muzaffarpur. Instead of Kingsford, two English women were killed. Kingsford had been in a similar carriage just behind them and was thus saved. The trial of this conspiracy was held in Alipore Court. The Alipore Bomb case, also known as Muraripukur Conspiracy or the Manicktala Bomb Conspiracy, was the trial of a number of revolutionaries of the Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta. The trial was held under the charges of waging war against the Government of the British Raj held at Alipore session court between May 1908 and May 1909. Aurobindo Ghosh and other 17 revolutionaries were acquitted, Ullaskar Dutt and Barindra Kumar Ghosh first got ‘death by hanging’ punishment, later it transformed into life imprisonment and were set to Cellular Jail in Andaman.

The Communist Movement in Bengal History of Bengal

In 1930s, Bengal was one of the main centres of activity of the Communist Party of India. During the period of 1930s to 1940s, Communist Movement in Bengal took a definite shape. The most prominent communist movement was the Tebhaga movement which was initiated by the Kisan Sabha of Bengal in 1946. It was the share cropper’s movement demanding two-thirds of the produce from land for themselves and one-third for the landlords. Tebhaga literally means ‘three shares’ of harvests. The movement resulted in clashes between Jotedars and Bargadars.

Ahl-e-Hadith Movement History of Bengal

Ahl-e-Hadith is the adherents of Shariah-based on hadith and sunnah. Inspired by the ways of life of the early generation of Muslims, the members of Ahl-e-Hadith launched the movement in second half of the nineteenth century for reviving Islam on the basis of its fundamental principles. As a religious revivalist movement, Ahl-e-Hadith is committed to the practice of the sunnah of the great Prophet Muhammad. According to Allama Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi the Ahl-e-Hadith movement in India has been founded on four pillars i.e. belief in pure Unitarianism, the Sunnah of the great Prophet Muhammad, enthusiasm for jihad or holy war and submission to Allah. Ahl-e-Hadith insists on taking all decisions on the basis of the holy Quran and Hadith and not by applying the methodology of Qiyas or analogy

In 1914, the Bengali and Assamese students of Maulana Sayyid Miyan Nadhir Husain formed Bengal and Assam wings of Anjuman-i-Hadith’. Since 1916, the organisation has been regarded as a branch of the All India Ahl-e-Hadith Conference. The ‘Nikhil Banga and Assam Jami’at-e-Hadith’was formed at Calcutta in 1946 under the leadership of Maulana Abdullahil Kafi (1900-1960). After 1947, the headquarters of the organisation was shifted from Calcutta to Pabna. The ‘Anjuman-e-Ahl-e-Hadith’ was formed in West Bengal in 1951.

Khadya Andolan (Food Movement) History of Bengal

The Food Movement of 1959 was the turning point in the history of class struggle in West Bengal. The food insecurity had reached alarming proportions in rural and urban areas. On 31st August, 1959, a huge mass demonstration was organised in Calcutta where hundreds and thousands arrived from the villages under the leadership of Kisan Sabha. At the end of the meeting, 80 people died and many were wounded by the violent action taken by police. The effect of Food Movement was so intense that it changed the political scenario of the state. It did not only ensure a steady decline in Congress support in the state but also became one of the factors that led to the split of the Communist Party of India (CPI). In 1964, the Communist Movement in West Bengal suffered a major set back as the Communist Party of India split into two parties. A new party the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was founded.

Naxalbari Movement History of Bengal

The peasant revolt in Naxalbari started in 1972, in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It was mainly led by local tribals and the radical communist leaders of Bengal. This event created split in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was born. The Naxalbari Movement tried to CCD) protect the interests of the peasant and the labouring classes and cover all ethnic (including tribes) and caste groups. The leader preached for developing militancy on the peasant front and prepared the peasants for an armed struggle. The uprising got moral support from the communists of Nepal and China. The prominent leaders of this area movement were Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal, Mahadev Mukherjee, Vinod Mishra, Dipankar Bhattacharya, etc.

First Left Front Government History of Bengal

The Left Front, an alliance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), All India Forward Bloc, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Marxist Forward Bloc etc) won 243 seats in the assembly election of West Bengal in 1977 and the CPIM emerged as the largest party. The first Left Front Government was formed with Jyoti Basu as its Chief Minister.

In 1978 registration of names of sharecroppers started on an unprecedented scale under the name of ‘Operation Barga’introduced by the Left Front Government. In 1979, the Left Front Government came under serious criticism when the massacre in Marichjhapi took place due to the forcible eviction of refugees. Jyoti Basu served as the Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000. In 2000, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as Chief Minister.

Singur Movement History of Bengal

Tata Motor announced the small car factory in Singur on 18th May, 2006. Just after two months, the Trinamool Congress (founded on 1st January, 1998 by Mamata Banerjee) started protesting the issue. The protest had turned turbulent as many of the internationally framed social activists and Bengali intellectuals like, Medha Patkar, Arundhuti Roy, Mahasweta Devid protested against the allocation of factory site which was fertile multi-crop land. Tata Motors decided to move out from Singur on in October 2008. In 2011, Trinamool Congress won the Legislative Assembly election. Mamata Banerjee became the Chief Minister. Again in 2016 Legislative Assembly election, TMC retained its majority. “Ma Mati Manush’ (Mother, Motherland, and People) is the main slogan of All India Trinamool Congress.

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