Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Historical Process of Marginalization: The Case of Indian-Bengali Muslims

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Historical Process of Marginalization: The Case of Indian-Bengali Muslims

Article excerpt

Introduction and Background

Bengali Muslims living in the West Bengal province of India is an interesting topic to explore and deserves to be examined for its perspective as well as its significance in terms of civil and human rights conditions under the political process and democratic experience in pre and post liberation (1947) period. This article examines the historical process of marginal ization of Bengali Muslims and its impact particularly on the Muslim community living in today's West Bengal of India. The term 'marginalization' has been used here to denote a state of affairs whereby a community is placed in a disadvantageous and subservient (political, economic, socio-cultural, religious etc.) position as a consequence of federal and provincial policies.1

Needless to say, Bengal's historical experience was extraordinary not only in its widespread reception of Islam but also in its frontier character. The thirteenth-century Turkish drive eastward - both to Bengal and within Bengal - was the product of a process triggered by political convulsions in the thirteen-century Inner Asia. For several centuries before and after the Mongol irruption into West Asia, newly Islamicized Turks from Central Asia and the Iranian Plateau provided a ready supply of soldiers, both as slaves and as free men, for rulers and commanders such as Muhammad Ghori, Muhammad Bakhtiyär Khaljï etc. Having captured western and central parts of North India these men within Bengal's fertile delta, pushed on until stopped only by geographical barriers. Surrounded on the north and east by mountains, and to the south by the sea, Bengal was the terminus of a continent-wide process of TurkoMongol conquest and migration.2

Historically, a Muslim sultanate with headquarters at Lakhnauti (Gaur) in the district of Malda had been established at the beginning of the thirteenth century, just after the first Muslim victory in the then undivided Bengal by Bakhtiyär Khaljï in I204.3 Later during the Mughul conquest of Bengal in Akbar's reign, in 1612 Dacca (now written Dhaka) became the capital of the whole of Bengal. In the eighteenth century Murshidäbäd became the center of the Nawäb of Bengal's government which was followed by Calcutta, as the capital of India established by the emerging Colonial power - the British. Yet according to the first British census in Bengal, only Dacca district had more than half of its population as Muslims, but their proportion in Malda and Murshidäbäd (now in West Bengal of India) districts was appreciably less. In contrast, in what the British observers contemptuously described as the 'rice swamps', districts such as Bogra, Räjshähi, Noäkhäli, Pubna, Bäkarganj (Bärisäl), Tippera (Comilla) and Mymensingh, areas of no particular strategic importance in the maintenance of Muslim rule, from two-thirds to more than three-quarters of the population, mostly poor cultivators, was Muslim. In the Presidency of Bengal under British rule (which included Bihar, Orissa, Asam and Choto Nägpur) the proportion of agriculturalists among Muslims was higher than in the Panjab - 628 per thousand - with 3 1 engaged in local textile production and 73 as labourers. As in other provinces, many Muslims in Bengal claimed foreign origin; a somewhat speculative calculation in the Bengal census report in 1901, which, however, took account of recent Bengali Muslim protests against being considered as mainly of low indigenous origin, suggested that perhaps one-sixth of the population of the Presidency as a whole had some foreign blood in their veins.*4

What was exceptional, however, was that among India's interior provinces only in Bengal - a region approximately the size of England and Scotland combined - did a majority of the indigenous population adopt the religion of the ruling class, Islam, mainly due to the missionary work of the süfi-shaykhs. The outcome proved to be as fateful as it is striking, for in 1947 British India was divided into two independent states, Pakistan and India, on the basis of the Muslim majority areas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.