Hindu reaction to partition of Bengal

The leadership of the Indian National Congress viewed the partition as attempt to ‘divide and rule’ and as a proof of the government’s vindictive antipathy towards the outspoken Bhadralok intellectuals. Mother-goddess worshipping Bengali Hindus believed that the partition was tantamount to the vivisection , of their ‘Mother province’. ‘Bande-Mataram’ (Hail Motherland) almost became the national anthem of the Indian National Congress. Defeat of the partition became the immediate target of Bengalee nationalism. Agitation against the partition manifested itself in the form of mass meetings, rural unrest and a swadeshi movement to boycott the import of British manufactured goods. Swadeshi and Boycott were the twin weapons of this nationalism and Swaraj (self-government) its main objective. Swaraj was first mentioned in the presidential address of Dadabhai Naoroji as the Congress goal at its Calcutta session in 1906.

Leaders like surendranath banerjea along with journalists like Krishna Kumar Mitra, editor of the Sanjivani (13 July 1905) urged the people to boycott British goods, observe mourning and sever all contact with official bodies. In a meeting held at Calcutta on 7 August 1905 (hailed as the birthday of Indian nationalism) a resolution to abstain from purchases of British products so long as ‘Partition resolution is not withdrawn’ was accepted with acclaim. This national spirit was popularized by the patriotic songs of dwijendralal roy, rajanikanta sen and rabindranath tagore. As with other political movements of the day this also took on religious overtones. Pujas were offered to emphasize the solemn nature of the occasion.

The Hindu religious fervor reached its peak on 28 September 1905, the day of the Mahalaya, the new-moon day before the puja, and thousands of Hindus gathered at the Kati temple in Calcutta. In Bengal the worship of Kali, wife of Shiva, had always been very’ popular. She possessed a ‘two-dimensional character with mingled attributes both generative and destructive. Simultaneously she took great pleasure in bloody sacrifices but she was also venerated as the great. Mother associated with the conception of Bengal as the Motherland’s this conception offered a solid basis for the support of political objectives stimulated by religious excitement. Kali was accepted as a symbol of the Motherland, and the priest administered the Swadeshi vow. Such a religious favour could and did give the movement a widespread appeal among the Hindu masses, but by the same token that favour aroused hostility in average Muslim minds. Huge protest rallies before and after Bengal’s division on 16 October 1905. attracted millions, of people heretofore not involved in politics.

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The Swadeshi Movement as an economic movement would have been quite acceptable to the Muslims, but as the movement was used as a weapon against the partition (which the greater body of the Muslims supported) and as it often had a religious’ coloring added to it, it antagonized Muslim minds.

The new tide of national sentiment against the Partition or Bengal originating in Bengal spilled over into different regions in India Punjab, Central Provinces, Poona, Madras, Bombay and other cities. Instead of wearing foreign ‘made outfits, the Indians vowed to” use only swadeshi (indigenous) cottons and other clothing materials made in India. Foreign garments were viewed as hateful imports. The Swadehi Movement soon stimulated local enterprise in many areas;, from Indian cotton mills to match factories, glassblowing shops, iron . and steel foundries. The agitation also generated increased demands for national education. Bengali teachers and students extended their boycott of British goods to English schools and college classrooms. The movement for national education spread throughout Bengal and reached even as far as Benaras where Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya founded his private Benaras Hindu University in 1910.

The student community of Bengal responded with great enthusiasm to the call of nationalism. Students including schoolboys participated en masse in the campaigns of Swadeshi and Boycott. The government retaliated with the notorious Carlyle Circular that aimed to crush the students’ participation in the Swadeshi and Boycott movements. Both the students and the teachers strongly reacted against this ‘repressive, measure and the protest was almost universal. In fact, through this protest movement the first organized student movement was born in Bengal. Along with this the ‘Anti-Circular Society’, a militant student organization, also came into being.

The anti-partition agitation was peaceful and constitutional at the initial stage, but when it appeared that it was not yielding the desired results the protest movement inevitably passed into the hands .of more militant leaders. Two techniques of boycott and terrorism were to be applied to make their mission successful. Consequently the younger generation, who were unwittingly drawn into politics, adopted terrorist methods by using firearms, pistols and bombs indiscriminately. The agitation soon took a turn towards anarchy and disorder. Several assassinations were committed and attempts were made on the lives of officials including Sir andrew fraser. The terrorist movement soon became an integral ‘part of the Swadeshi agitation. Bengal terrorism reached its peak from 198 through 1910, as did the severity of official repression and the number of ‘preventive detention’ arrests.

The new militant spirit was reflected in the columns of the nationalist newspapers, notably the Bande Mataram, Sandhya and Yugantar. The press assisted a great deal to disseminate revolutionary ideas. In 1907, the Indian National Congress t its annual session in Surat split into two groups one being moderate, liberal, arid evolutionary; and the other extremist, militant and revolutionary. The young militants of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s extremist party supported the ‘cult of the bomb and the gun’ while the moderate leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Surendranath Banerjea cautioned against such extremist actions fearing it might lead to anarchy and uncontrollable violence. Sureridranath Banerjee, though one of the front-rank leaders of the anti-Partition agitation, was not in favour of terrorist activities.

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