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Article

Ayesha Jalal

The All-India Muslim League first voiced the demand for a Muslim homeland based on India’s northwestern and northeastern provinces in March 1940. Seven years later at the moment of British decolonization in the subcontinent, Pakistan emerged on the map of the world, an anomaly in the international community of nations with its two wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. Over a million people died in the violence that accompanied partition while another 14½ million moved both ways across frontiers demarcated along ostensibly religious lines for the first time in India’s six millennia history. Commonly attributed to the age-old religious divide between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the causes of Pakistan’s creation are better traced to the federal problems created in India under British colonial rule. Despite sharing a common identity based on religious affiliation, Indian Muslims were divided along regional, linguistic, class, sectarian, and ideological lines. More Muslims live in India and Bangladesh than in Pakistan today, highlighting the clear disjunction between religiously informed identities and territorial sovereignty. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, tried resolving the problem by claiming in 1940 that Indian Muslims were not a minority but a nation, entitled to the principle of self-determination. He envisaged a “Pakistan” based on undivided Punjab and Bengal. Since this left Muslims in the Hindu-majority provinces out of the reckoning, Jinnah left it an open question whether “Pakistan” and Hindustan would form a confederation covering the whole of India or make treaty arrangements as two separate sovereign states. In the end Jinnah was unable to achieve his larger aims and had to settle for a Pakistan based on the Muslim-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal, something he had rejected out of hand in 1944 and then again in 1946.

Article

The struggle against untouchability, the religious history of Bengal, and the study of postcolonial displacement in South Asia can hardly be considered without paying attention to a roughly two-hundred-year-old low-caste religious and social movement called Matua. The Matua community counts at present fifty million followers, according to its leaders. It is scattered across a large area and connected through a trans-local network of preachers, pilgrims, institutions, print, and religious commodities. Most Matua followers are found in West Bengal; in southern Bangladesh, where the movement emerged in the 19th century; and in provinces where refugees from East Bengal have resettled since the 1950s, especially Assam; Tripura; the Andaman Islands; Uttarakhand; and the Dandakaranya area at the border of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. Building upon an older Vaishnava devotional stream, the religious community initiated by Harichand Thakur (1812–1878) and consolidated by his son Guruchand Thakur (1847–1937) developed hand in hand with the Namashudra movement for the social upliftment of the lower castes. Rebelling against social marginalization and untouchability, and promising salvation through ecstatic singing and dancing, the Matua community triggered a massive mobilization in rural East Bengal. Partition and displacement have disrupted the unity of the Matua movement, now scattered on both sides of the hastily drawn Indo-Bangladesh border. The institutional side of the Matua community emerged as a powerful political subject, deeply entangled with refugee politics, borderland issues, and Hindu nationalism. In the 21st century, the Matua community represents a key element in electoral politics and a crucial factor for understanding the relation between religion, displacement, and caste, within and beyond Bengal.

Article

Thibaut d'Hubert

The literary history of Bengal is characterized by a multilingual ecology that nurtured the development of Middle Bengali literature. It is around the turn of the second millennium, during the Pāla period (c. 8th–12th century), that eastern South Asia became a major region for the production of literary texts in Sanskrit and Apabhramsha. Early on, Bengal developed a distinct literary identity within the Sanskrit tradition and, despite abrupt political transitions and the fragmentation of the landscape of literary patronage, fundamental aspects of the literary culture of Pāla Bengal were transmitted during later periods. It was during the Sultanate period, from the 14th century onward that courtly milieus began to cultivate Middle Bengali. This patronage was mostly provided by upper-caste Hindu dignitaries and (in the case of lyric poetry at least) by the Sultans themselves. During the period ranging from the 15th to the early 19th centuries, vernacular literature can be divided into two broad categories: short narrative forms called padas or gītas (songs), which were often composed in an idiom derived from songs by the Old Maithili poet Vidyāpati (c. 1370–1460); and long narrative forms in Middle Bengali called pā̃cālīs, which are characterized by the alternation of the prosodic forms called paẏār and tripadī and the occasional insertion of songs. These poetic forms are the principal markers of the literary identity of Bengal and eastern South Asia (including Assam, Orissa, and Arakan). The Ḥusayn Shāhī period (1433–1486) contributed to the consolidation and expansion eastward of vernacular literary practices. Then, the political landscape became fragmented, and the multiplication of centers of literary production occurred. This fragmentation fostered the formation of new, locally grounded literary trends. These could involve the cultivation of specific genres, the propounding of various religious doctrines and ritual practices, the fashioning of new idioms fostered by either dialectal resources, classical idioms such as Sanskrit or Persian, and other vernacular poetic traditions (Maithili, Avadhi, Hindustani). The late Mughal and early colonial periods witnessed the making of new trends, characterized by a radical modification of the lexical component of the Middle Bengali idiom (i.e., Dobhāṣī), or the recourse to scripts other than Bengali (e.g., Sylhet Nagari/Kaithi, Arabic). The making of such new trends often implied changes in the way that authors interacted with Sanskrit, Persian, and other vernacular traditions. For instance, Persian played as crucial a role as Sanskrit in the various trajectories that Middle Bengali poetry took. On the one hand, Persian in Bengal had a history distinct from that of Bengali; on the other hand, it constituted a major traditional model for Bengali authors and, at times, Persianate education replaced the one based on Sanskrit as the default way to access literacy. Even if Middle Bengali poetic forms continued to be used in the context of various traditional performances, the making of a new literary language in the 19th century, the adoption of Western genres, and the development of prose and Western prosodic forms occasioned a radical break with premodern literary practices. From the second half of the 19th century, with the notable exception of some ritual and sectarian texts, access to the ancient literature of Bengal began to be mediated by philological analysis and textual criticism.

Article

Amar Farooqui

For more than a hundred years, from the end of the 18th century to the eve of the First World War, opium was the main commodity exported from India to China. During most of this period, it was the second largest source of revenue, after land revenue, for the British Indian Empire. The article was sold for narcotic use in the Chinese market. Opium was produced in Gangetic eastern and northern India, and the central Indian plateau region of Malwa. The produce of the former zone was a monopoly of the colonial state. The production, processing, and sale of the drug was directly controlled by the government. Malwa was entirely under princely rule. Princely states were administered indirectly, had a measure of autonomy, and were subject to the overall authority of the British. Indirect rule made it difficult for the colonial government to regulate the opium trade of central and western India effectively. It pursued a different policy with regard to the opium produce of Malwa, permitting transit of the commodity for export from Bombay on the payment of a duty. The worldwide campaign against the opium trade that gathered momentum in the late 19th century contributed to the decline of the trade. Between the first decade of the 20th century and the end of the First World War, the British withdrew from the trade. International agreements for drug control led to rigorous imposition of restrictions on production and sale, terminating official involvement in the export of opium other than that for medical use. This brought to an end the career of Indian opium as a major colonial commodity.

Article

Southeast Asian history has seen remarkable levels of mobility and durable connections with the rest of the Indian Ocean. The archaeological record points to prehistoric circulations of material culture within the region. Through the power of monsoon sailing, these small-scale circuits coalesced into larger networks by the 5th century bce. Commercial relations with Chinese, Indian, and West Asian traders brought great prosperity to a number of Southeast Asian ports, which were described as places of immense wealth. Professional shipping, facilitated by local watercraft and crews, reveals the indigenous agency behind such long-distance maritime contacts. By the second half of the first millennium ce, ships from the Indo-Malayan world could be found as far west as coastal East Africa. Arabic and Persian merchants started to play a larger role in the Indian Ocean trade by the 8th century, importing spices and aromatic tree resins from sea-oriented polities such as Srivijaya and later Majapahit. From the 15th century, many coastal settlements in Southeast Asia embraced Islam, partly motivated by commercial interests. The arrival of Portuguese, Dutch, and British ships increased the scale of Indian Ocean commerce, including in the domains of capitalist production systems, conquest, slavery, indentured labor, and eventually free trade. During the colonial period, the Indian Ocean was incorporated into a truly global economy. While cultural and intellectual links between Southeast Asia and the wider Indian Ocean have persisted in the 21st century, commercial networks have declined in importance.

Article

This article focuses on the shifts in the ways of seeing the history and historiography of the emergence of agrarian landscapes, manufacture of crafts, and trade and commerce in north India, during the mid-first millennium bce to the 13th century. Continued manifestation of settled agrarian localities, or janapadas, with its attendant concomitant processes, is visibly more noticeable from the middle of the first millennium ce onward, though their early beginnings can be traced back to the later Vedic times. The study of the janapadas or localities and regions, as distinguished from earlier regional studies, focusing on the trajectory of sociopolitical developments through time is a development dating to around the turn of the 21st century. It has much to do with the recognition of the fact that historical or cultural regions and modern state boundaries, which are the result of administrative decision-making, do not necessarily converge. Simultaneously, instead of engaging in macro-generalizations, historians have moved on to acknowledge that spaces in the past, as in the present, were differentiated, and there were uneven patterns of growth across regions and junctures. Consequently, since 1990 denser and richer narratives of the regions have been available. These constructions in terms of the patterns for early India have moved away from the earlier accounts of wider generalizations in time and space, colonization by Gangetic north India, and crisis. Alternatively, they look for change through continuities and try to problematize issues that were earlier subsumed under broader generalizations, and provide local and regional societies with the necessary agency. Rural settlements and rural society through the regions are receiving their due, and so are their networks of linkages with artisanal production, markets, merchants, and trade. The grades of peasants, markets, and merchants as well as their changing forms have attracted the notice of the historian. This in turn has compelled a shift in focus from being mostly absorbed with subcontinental history to situating it in its Asiatic and Indian Ocean background.