112 Years Ago, Raksha Bandhan Stood for Hindu-Muslim Unity

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: August 7, 2017
Day after, August 9, 2017 will be 75 years of the Quit India Movement. On August 9, 1942 the Quit India (Chodo Bharat) slogan was given from Mumbai after the Indian National Congress passed the resolution on the agitation on August 7, 1942.

Quit India Movement

The Bharat Chodo Slogan was coined by none less than Yusuf Meherali, the historic venue for the launch of the Quit India Movement was the Gowalia Tank Maidan, thereafter named the August Kranti Maidan in Mumbai.
112 years ago, and 37 years before the Quit India Movement, the words and melody of the Rakhee Sangeet by Rabindranath Tagore filled the streets of Bengal and Hindus and Muslims poured out on the streets to say ‘No’ to the Partition of Bengal. The Partition was revoked and east and west Bengal were re-united on December 12, 1911 by the British. A new partition which divided the province on linguistic, rather than religious grounds followed, with the Hindi, Oriya and Assamese areas separated to form separate administrative units: Bihar and Orissa Province was created to the west, and Assam Province to the east. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi as well.

Rakhee Sangeet
During the swadeshi and anti-partition agitation people in both the Benglas took out processions in the streets of towns and villages and sang swadeshi and patiotric songs. An English version of one such song, originally composed in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore, is reproduced below.

Let the earth and water of Bengal,
Let the air and fruits of Bengal, be sacred, be sacred, be sacred, my god.
Let the homes and marts of Bengal,
Let the forests and fields of Bengal, be full,  be full, be full, my god.
Let the promises and hopes of Bengalis,
Let the deeds and language of Bengalis, be true, be true, be true, my god.
Let the lives and hearts of Bengalis,
Let all the brothers and sisters in Bengali homes, be united, be united, be united, my god.

Excerpts from Gokhale’s Presidential Address
Bengal was at its peak of the united nationalist movement at the dawn of 19th century, which eventually emerged as a formidable threat to the British Raj. Divide and Rule has always been the policy of the rulers be it the British or those who rule from Delhi today.
To curb this nationalist movement, the Britishers decided to divide Bengal, a move vehemently opposed by various leaders of the time, including Rabindranath Tagore.
The decision was taken at a meeting between Lord Curzon and a Muslim delegation in Assam in June 1905, where the Muslims were convinced of the idea of a separate state to keep their identity. The plan was to divide the Hindu majority regions of West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha from Muslim-dominated areas of Assam and Sylhet. The British government passed the orders of partition in August 1905, which came into effect on October 16 of the same year. However, the date fell in the month of Shravan, when the festival of Raksha Bandhan was celebrated by the Hindu community.
Tagore masterfully used the concept of brotherhood, togetherness and ‘the thread of protection’ as a medium to protest against British’s partition policy by showing a picture of unity among the two communities.
Gopal krishna Gokhale’s Presidential Address at the Banares  Congress Convention (1905), where the made a detailed analysis of the question  of the partition of Bengal and the Swadeshi movement are worth a recall:
“Gentlemen, the question that is uppermost in the minds of all at this moment is the partition of Bengal. A cruel wrong has been inflicted on our Bengalee brethren, and the whole country has been stirred to its deepest depths in sorrow and resentment, as had never been the case before. The scheme of Partition concocted in the dark and carried out in the face of the fiercest opposition that any Government measure has encountered during the last half-a-century, will always stand as a complete illustration the worst features of the present system of bureaucratic rule-its utter contempt for public opinion, its arrogant pretensions to superior wisdom… Lord Curzon and his advisers… could never allege that they had no means of judging of the depth of public feeling in the matter. All that could possibly have been done by way of a respectful representation of the views of the people had been done. As soon as it was known that a partition of some sort was contemplated, meeting after meeting of protest was held…. The Secretary of State for India was implored to withhold his sanction to the proposed measure. The intervention of the British House of Commons was sought, first by a monster petition, signed by sixty thousand people, and later by means, of a debate on the subject raised in the House by our over-watchful mend, Mr. Herbert Roberts. All proved unavailing.... To add insult to injury, Lord C m n described the opposition to his measures as "manufactured”-an opposition in which all classes of Indians, high and low, uneducated and educated, Hindus and Mahomedans had joined, an opposition than which nothing more intense, nothing more wide-spread, nothing more spontaneous had been seen in this country in the whole course of our political agitation.. . .

The tremendous upheaval of popular feeling, which has taken place in Bengal in consequence of the partition, will constitute a landmark in the history of our national progress. For the first time since British rule began, all sections of the Indian community, without distinction of caste or creed, have been moved by a common impulse and without the stimulus of extend pressure to act together in offering resistance to a common wrong. A wave of true national consciousness has swept over the province.... Bengal's heroic stand against the oppression of a harsh and uncontrolled bureaucracy has astonished and gratified all India, and her sufferings have not been endured in vain, when they have helped to draw closer all pasts of the country in sympathy and in aspiration....”

On July 19, 1905, British governor-general Curzon announced the partition of Bengal into two provinces-Eastern Bengal and Assam, and the rest of Bengal which included Bihar and parts of Orrisa.
The main political aim of the partition decision was a divide the Bengal population and to weaken the nationalist movement of which Bengal was the most important entre.
The British move was also to disrupt Hindu-Muslim unity by convincing upper class Muslims that the newly created province with its Muslim majority was in their interest. However, it only served to arouse and bring in all sections of the people in Bengal into an unprecedented mass movement which soon spread too many other parts of the country.
The anti-partition agitation assumed a militant from on August 7, 1905 when thousands of people at a meeting in Calcutta resolved to boycott British goods until the partition proposal was withdrawn.
The Partition of Bengal came into force on October 16, 1905 which day was observed as a day of national mourning throughout Bengal. It was during this movement that Swadeshi or use of Indian goods and boycott of British Goods became an integral part of the freedom struggle. At thousands of meeting people took the pledge of Swadeshi and boycott. Resolutions supporting Swadeshi and boycott were also passed at the Benares session of the Congress under the presidentship of Gokhle in December 1905, although the Moderates then and later tried to restrict their scope. The message of Swadeshi spread to the entire country and helped in promoting Indian Industries. A large number of educational institutions were also opened by nationalists and a National Council of Education was set up. The movement which had begun in Bengal over the question of partition was transformed into a wider movement for freedom of the country. The British rulers, in order to crush the rising tide of nationalism, unleashed naked repression.

Congress Resolutions on Partition, Swadeshi and Boycott Movement
At the annual session of the Congress held in 1906 in Calcutta, the resolutions passed at the preceding session (1905) against the Partition, were re-asserted and further resolutions were passed, supporting the Boycott and Swadeshi.
Some excerpts from the resolutions VI, VII and VIII read”
VI.       The Partition of Bengal-This Congress again records its emphatic protest against the Partition of Bengal and regrets that the present Government, while admitting that there were errors in the original plan and that it went wholly and decisively against the wishes of the majority of the people of Bengal, is disposed to look upon it as a settled fact....
This Congress, composed of representatives from all the Provinces of this country, desires earnestly to impress upon the British Parliament and the present Liberal Government that it will be not only just, but expedient to reverse or modify the partition in such a manner as to keep the entire Bengali speaking community under one undivided administration and thus restore contentment to so important a province as Bengal
VII.     Boycott Movement-Having regard to the fact that the people of this country have little or no voice in its administration, and that their representations to the Government do not receive due consideration, this Congress is of opinion that the Boycott Movement, inaugurated in Bengal by way of protest against the partition of that province was, and is legitimate.
VIII.    Swadeshi-This Congress accords its most cordial support to the Swadeshi Movement and calls upon the people .of the country to labour for its success by making earnest and sustained efforts to promote the growth of indigenous industries and to stimulate the production of indigenous articles by giving them preference, wherever practicable, over imported commodities, even at a sacrifice.
Widespread Protests at Meeting in Agra and Surat
Protest meetings against the Partition of Bengal were organised in all parts of the country on and after October 16, 1905.
From the Archives of the Amrita Basar Patrika.
At the Swadeshi Mass Meeting held in the Mankameshwar temple, over ten thousand people, both Hindus and Mahomedans, were present. Native Christians sent a sympathetic message explaining their absence that it was a Sunday. Lala Kedarnath Vakil was elected Chairman. The meeting commenced and terminated with singing national songs. A resolution was passed for the adoption of country-made goods....

Surat, Oct. 23...Public meeting of over 5000 people was held here-Parsis, Hindus, Mahomedans.... Israel and Native Christians attended. Lawyers, merchants, landlords, pensioners, artisans-in short, men of all classes and creeds assembled in the ball which was crowded to overflowing. Rai Bahadur Krishamukhram Mahata, retired Small Causes Court Judge, presided, supported by Divan Bahadur Ambalal Des     ai (Ahmedabad). Ali Mohamed Bhimji (Bombay) and Maulvi Abdul Halim Monghyr spoke in favour of the Swadeshi movement. Great enthusiasm prevailed. The proceedings lasted for three hours.... Handicrafts were exhibited A committee was formed to carry out the objects of the meetings.
Background of theBengal Partition and the Swadeshi Movement

What were Curzon’s  Aims  in Partitioning Bengal ?
The following  excepts from Curzon’s letter of February 2, 1905 to St. John Broderick, Secretary of state for India, give an idea of his aims in partitioning  Bengal.
“Calculation is the centre from which the congress party is manipulated throughout the whole of Bengal and indeed the whole of India. Its best wirepullers and its most frothy orators all reside here. The perfection of their machinery, and the tyranny which its enables them to exercise are truly remarkable. They dominate public opinion in Calcutta; they affect the high court; they frighten the local government and they are sometimes not without serious influence on the government of India.

The whole of their activity is directed to creating an agency so powerful that they may one day be able to force a weak government to give them what they desire. Any measure in consequence that would divide the Bengali-speaking population; that would permit independent centres of activity and influence to grow up; that would dethrone Calcutta from its place as the centre of successful intrigue, or that would weaken the influence of the lawyer class, who have the entire organization in their hands, is intensely and hotly resented by them. The outcry will be loud and very fierce, but as a native gentleman said to me-‘my countrymen always howl until a thing is settled; then they accept it’.

Partition Proclamation   
The text of the Partition of Bengal Proclamation issued from Simla on  September 1, 1905 is reproduced below:
The following Proclamation to which the sanction of His Majesty the King-Emperor of India has been signified by the secretary of state for India in council is published:
The governor general is pleased to constitute the territories at present under the administration of the chief commissioner of Assam to be for the purposes of the Indian councils Act 1861…a province to which the provisions of that Act touching the making of laws and regulations for the peace and good order of the presidencies of Fort St. George and Bombay shall be applicable and to direct that the said province shall be called and known as the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam…

2. The Governor General in council is pleased to specify the sixteenth day of October,1905 as the period at which the said provisions shall take effect and 15th  as the number of councilors whom the Lieutenant Governor may nominate for his assistance in making laws and regulations.
3. The Governor General in council is further pleased and appoint that upon the constitution of the said province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, the districts of Decca, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Backergunge, Tippera, Noakhali, Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna, and Malda which now form part of the Bengal Division of the Presidency of fort William Shall cases to be subject to or included within the limits of that Division, and shall thenceforth be subject to and included within the limits of the Lieutenant –Governorship of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.

Calcutta in Morning
The first part of a news item, which appeared in the Amrita Bazaar Patrika of October 17, 1905 entitled “Calcutta  in Morning-A Unique Sight”, describing the situation in Calcutta on October 16, 1905, the day Bengal was partitioned, is given below.
Yesterday was one of the most memorable days in the history of the British administration of India. It being the day on which the Bengal partition scheme took effect, the day on which our unsympathetic government forced a measure by a proclamation in the official gazette against the wishes of the whole population, the day on which our rules tried to separate the Bengali speaking people of the East Bengal from those of the West Bengal, the people of Calcutta, irrespective of nationality, social position, creed and sex, observed it as a day of mourning. The leaders of the Bengali community-Hindus and Mahomedans-did not however silently mourn and weep. They did something more. They as a legacy to posterity and as a landmark to British administration laid the foundation of the Federation Hall. They also took a practical step towards the furtherance of the Swadeshi movement by opening the National Fund.

The Scene on the Bank of the Hooghly
From the small hours in the morning till noon, the bank of the Ganges from Bag bazaar to Howrah presented a unique spectacle. It looked, as if it were, a surging sea of human faces. From all streets, lanes and bye-lanes, leading to the bank a quick succession of streams of people all bare-footed-found their way to the bank to have a plunge in the sacred river.

As the day advanced, the gathering thickened more and more and by 10, about a lakh of the male population of the metropolis-all in mourning-thronged the bank and the Ghats of tender sex.

They cry of “Bande Mataram” now and then, broke the silence of the still air and reverberated through it imparting a chastening influence on the minds of those who gathered together there…innumerable processions consisting of scores and hundreds of men, after arriving at the bank of the sacred river and wearing Rakhi (yellow thread) proceeded in procession singing ‘Bande Matram’ all the way.

Several thousands of such processions passed all over the city especially the northern quarter of it from 8 am. To 2 pm. They accosted on the way everyone they met with “Bande Mataram” in embracing each other and putting on “Rakhi”. It was a sight for the gods to see….

Roads and Streets
The scene in the roads and streets of whole Calcutta was quite novel and was perhaps never before witnessed in any Indian city….No purchasers were there and thus no sellers had to exhibit their articles…All the mills were closed and the mill hands paraded the city in procession…The only cry that was heard was of “Bande Mataram” . Bands of Mahomedans and Marwari’s joined the processionists and greatly enhanced the enthusiasm.