Written By- Mohammad B. Ahsan
Bangladesh is located between 26041' and 20034' north latitude and 8800 1'; and 92041' east longitude. Its area of 55,598 square miles covers the northeastern edge of the Indian sub-continent surrounded by Indian and Burmese territories on three sides and the Bay of Bengal on the fourth.- Prior to its independence in 1971, it was the eastern wing of erstwhile Pakistan and was known as East Pakistan. Before that it was a part of the Bengal province of British India until 1947, and was known as East Bengal. Further back in time Bangladesh was the part of a subah under the Mughal and even before that, a region divided into small kingdoms by Hindu rajas and Muslim sultans.
History does not hold any record as to the exact size of ancient and medieval Bengal. 'Me Bengal under the British had a territory of 77,521 square miles spread between 2704 I' and 20050' north latitude and 86035' and 92030' east longitude. During the partition of India in 1947, 51,500 square miles of territory from British Bengal-and 4621 square miles of territory from the Province of Assam were dovetailed to create East Pakistan. The territory added from Assam is the greater Sylhet district.
The earliest history of the land starts from the 4th century A.D. although much of it is primarily a guesswork based on evidences received from copper-plates, holy writs and other archaeological sources. This was perhaps due to the fact that the initiative for compilation of history of this region came very late when a great deal of archaeological materials must have already perished underground or destroyed by people who were unaware of their importance. In 1875, Bankim Chandra was the first Bengali thinker ever to express concern for the absence of an organized account of history of the land. Long after that, Ramprashad Chandra actually took the initiative in 1911 to compile the complete history of Pre-Muslim India which was abandoned after some time. Following year, Lord Carmaichael asked Haraprashad Shastri to preoare a scheme for writing the history of Bengal. Nothing, however, came of that also. In 1914 Rakhaldas Banerjee on his own wrote a comprehensive history of Bengal which mainly dealt with the political affairs amd military exploits of the kings of ancient Bengal. Twenty years after Banerjee's work, Dhaka University undertook in 1934 the writing of a virtually complete history of Bengal covering for the first time, all aslkcts of the life and achievements of its people. Therefore, the readers must know in advance that there are many gaps and much vagueness in the history of Bengal as a result. The names of kings, their titles, the period of their reigns and their accomplishments and failures are not always precise and historians and archaeologists have often resorted to guesstimation for judgements on those points. But the occasional usage of such discretion by historians and archaeologists did not, however, distort the mainstream of history or diminish its credibility in any significant manner.
The earliest record of history shows that Bengal was divided into a number of independent kingdoms ruled by independent kings. These kingdoms were largely under the sway of Maurya empire which was mostly effective in northern India. 'Me uneven authority of the Mauryas over its vast Indian territory prompted a chieftain named Chandragupta to make himself the master of Ganges-Jamuna plain in eastern India stretching as far as Prayag, the modem Allahabad. Eventually, Chandragupta would displace the Mauryas and have himself crowned as emperor according to Orthodox Brahman rites in A.D. 320.The geographical propinquity of Gupta capital to Be . ngal enabled the emperor to exert more influence over the kingdoms of Bengal than his predecessor and he gradually incorporated them into his empire. The last kingdom of Bengal to loose its independence to the encroachment of the Guptas was Samatata in the southeastern region in 507 A.D.
Internal chaos and external attacks were sapping into the ramparts of the empire as early as the middle of 6th century and it finally collapsed under the' aggressions of the Hunas and a neighbouring monarch named Yashodharam. Bengal's brief spell of freedom following the fall of the Guptas ended soon and it divided into a number of kingdoms two of which were Vanga and Guada. The kingdom of Vanga comprised of the eastern Bengal and the southern part of West Bengal. Historians are convinced that there was a free, strong and stable government in Vanga which brought peace and stability to the people of the region. Nothing is known with certainty about the end of this kingdom. However, two thoughts are in circulation in this regard. One is that the Chalukya King Kirtivarman conquered Vanga by defeating Sainachardeva or one of his successors during the last quarter of the 6th century A.D. The other thought suggests that the rise of the kingdom of Guada dealt the death-blow to Vanga.
By the beginning of the 7th century A.D., if not a few years earlier, Gauda formed into an independent Kingdom under Sasanka. Now once again it must be remembered that this chronological order is historian's best guess. History holds nothing to specifically indicate whether Guada and Vanga existed simultaneously or consecutively. However, the historians surmise that Sasanka sat in the throne of Gauda in 606 A.D. with his capital at Kamasuvama (Kamasuvara has been identified with Rangamati, six miles south-west of Barhampur in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal). Northern and Western Bengal were included in his dominions. Whether southern and eastern Bengal were also amongst his dominions is not known. According to the account of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang, another independent kingdom of Samatata existed in the southern and eastern Bengal during the first quarter of 7th century A.D. thus intimating that those regions possibly could not be under the rule of Sasanka.
A notorious Buddhist-hater who tortured and killed a large number of Buddhists during his reign, Sasanka was otherwise a benevolent ruler. This Gauda monarch was the first Bengali monarch to have the vision for an empire and to actually succeed to almost found one for himself But he failed to leave behind an able heir and his kingdom would be scampered into peices soon after his death.
One portion of the kingdom including its capital Karnasuvama passed into the hands of Bhaskaravarman, the King of Kamrupa. Another part of it was swooped by Harshavardhana, the king of Kanauj between 638 and 642 A. D. The remaining area of the kingdom splintered into numerous smaller kingdoms. Whatever little has, been gleaned by the historians from this nearly oblivious episode of history, Gauda sizzled with civil war for many years and the other kingdom Vanga would soon fall into similar crisis. The first modern political crisis of Bengal appeared in Vanga following the death of Chandra king Lalitachandra when suddenly the throne was left vacant and there was no aspirant for it. It was an unusual happening for that time since conquests and power-grabbing were so common facts of politics in Bengal that the throne of any kingdom should not have been left vacant by usurpers and invaders. The lack of a central authority let loose anarchy in the kingdom where every man was virtually a king in his own house. This unbridled condition led to what attained noteriiity in history as the age "matsayana"- a technical term used in treatises on politics to denote the absence of a central ruling authority
The matsayana had aggrieved people's mind who were shocked and languished at the growth of disorder and lawlessness and were eager to restore discipline and law. It should be the first bloodless event in the annals of political history of Bengal when people would have the opportunity to select their own ruler. People, imbued with a great political wisdom and a spirit of self-sacrifice, realized that only a powerful central authority could prevent protracted disorientation. The ideal of subordinating individual interest to national cause emerged as the universal passion amongst the people from all walks of life Hence Gopala, a previously lesser-known Buddhist, would be elected king.
The Pala dynasty thus created with the election of Gopala was to rule Bengal for rtl-xt 148 years when each change of ruler took the dynasty one step down in decline thus gradually reducing it to an insignficant political force in northern India. Long before the curtain fell on the Pala empire, it had already lost control of eastern and southern Bengal where several independent kingdoms emerged. History is monotonous in reading in this period when territorial wars and palace-intrigues dominated the political scene of Bengal in a cyclical rhythm. A Buddhist kin named Kantideva ruled over portions of southern a @nd western Bengal and the whole of East Bengal during the decline of this empire. He and his succes sors stayed in power for 100 years from 850 A. D. to 950 A. D. This kingdom was actually established during the rule of Devapala who could not exercise effective control over Eastern Bengal due to difficult communication links. Two other less prominent kings appear to have ruled in Eastern Bengal during the same time: one was Troilokyachandra who is believed to have ruled over Harikela with Chandradiva (modem Barisal district) as his central seat of authority and the other was Layachandradeva who ruled over a tiny kingdom located near Comilla.
When the Senas replaced the Palas in the throne of Bengal, history as if retreated to its starting point to repeat itself all over again. The Sena family originally belonged to Kamata in South India and came of a 'Brahma-Kshatriya'caste. Their ancestors had come to West Bengal to hunt for fortune and fortuitously made themselves the ruling dynasty. Unlikd the Palas who came to power by the common consent of the people, the Senas imposed their authority by ruthless wars and conquests. The political climate during the rise of the Senas had necessitated such brutal measures as the self-seeking chiefs of Bengal had lost all considerations for the country and engaged in furdierence of self-interest only. These chiefs were whetted in their greed for power and affluence when Rampala, a scion of the Pala dynasty, had made a number of concessions to them in exchange of their support against the defiant successors of Diva, a rebel high official of the Pala court, in the third quarter of the I I di century A. D.
The roughly two centuries of Sena rule in Bengal had accomplished economic prosperity and administrative reforms unprecedented in the country although the territorial wars and intrigues were very much there. Sena king Vijoysena was a great benevolent king who undertook many public works and the first administrative reforms. The five provinces of his domain were Vanga, Varendra, Radha, Bagdi and Mithila. The first three formed Bengal proper while Mithila corresponds to north Bihar. As regards Bagdi, it is generally identified with a portion of the Bengal presidency division of British India including the Sunderbans. The Sena power reached an outstanding height during the reign of Laxmansena who had led many campaigns and increased the territorial outline of Bengal surpassed by none but Dharmapala and Devapala in the 9th century A. D. Laxmansena gave Bengal the power and prestige to play important role in North Indian politics which she would not play again until six hundred years later.
The Muslim invasion came towards the end of the 12th century when the Sena rule had begun to settle in tranqu ' il and stability. The mvasion jarred loose the military holds of the Senas over the kingdom and a number of feudal chiefs declared independence. The first defiance of the Senas was in 1 196 A. D. when a feudal chief named Dammanpala pronounced independence in the Khadi district. Afterwards, Chief Ranvankarnalla Sri Harikeldeva set up his kingdom in Pattikera in 1221 A. D. Deva family established its own kingdom beyond the Meghna river and Damodara of this family ruled over districts of Tippera, Noakhali and Chittagong between 1231 and 1243 A. D. A latter-day king, Dasarathadeva, probably of the Deva family, also ruled Dhaka district with Vikrarnpur as his capital until 1243 A.D.
The conquest of Bengal by the members of the Turkman tribe under the leadership of Bhakhtyar Khwilji intiated a new chapter of history laden with more violence, disorder and conspiracies than before. Treachery and dissension were rife amongst the invaders-a desperate band of warriors who had fled their motherland for fortune-hunting in India. Like any invading army, their foremost interest was to ensure their own power and affluence in the conquered land and in the act of doing so they unleashed a paroxysm of internecine conflicts which kept Bengal in continuous chaos for many centuries. For 362 years upto the Moghul conquest of Bengal, 47 sultans sat on the throne of Bengal and their reign were not remarkable by any .consideration but a monotonous repetition of betrayal and debauchery over and over again as sultan after sultan rose to and fell from power.
The political stability of Bengal would not be restored until the Mughal rule in the early 17th century. During the Sultani period the wayward chiefs struggled to remain outside the sphere of influence of the Delhi Sultanate which had developed a special interest in Bengal in the background of indiscipline and lawlessness in the land. The geographical contour of Bengal varied under verious sultans depending on the territorial campaigns undertaken by them. However, the whole of Bengal was never conquered or even visited by Muslim armies of the Pre-Mughal days and Muslim rule was not effective beyond Varendra till the founding of the independent Bengal Sultanate under the house of Balbans in the first quarter of the 14th century. It was particularly difficult to establish effective Muslim control in the areas beyond Varendra on account of Hindu resistance in those areas. Under the impulse of neo-Hinduism the Koch, Mech, Tharu and several other immigrant Mongoloid tribes assumed the role of Kshatriyas, and proved an effective barrier to the advance of Muslim amues in the tract between the Karatoya and the Subarnasri rivers for about a century. Further east the Shan invaders from upper Burma laid the foundation of the Ahom Kingdom of Gauhati (1268-81) erecting another line of resistance to Muslim advancement. Hinduism with resurgence was able to convert the Shan Buddhists to form the second line of defence against Islam.
The vassalage of Bengal revolted a number of times against the authority of Delhi only to be subjugated again until a treaty was signed between Delhi sultan and Sikander Shah in 1359 to leave Bengal alone with its own independent government. For centuries since then Bengal would remain free until the Mughals conquered her in the 16th century. Bengal's independence had completely isolated her from the rest of the world and history went into an eclipse for the following hundred years after the conclusion of the treaty between Delhi and Sikander. During Akbar's reign, steps were taken to compile the dynastic histories of Bengal for this period for incorporation in the Imperial Gazettier which Abul Fazl was commissioned to write. The Mugnal officers of Bengal could collect only popular traditions and pious-legends from the pundits and the keepers of the tombs of Muslim saints (Khadims) thus recreate somewhat of an outline of the missing time. This deplorable aposiopesis in the commentary of his-tory must have deprived the historians of a significant period of Bengal's history. For the first time in history, Bengal had attained the status of a free territory and its people had the freedom to conduct their own affairs.It would have been interesting at least to know how they did so in the wake of this new found independence.
The Sultani period was a dark phase of unrestrained politicking in full expression of the raw instincts of desperate fugitives. These people hardly had any ties with the land they had come to stay in other than the singular goal of fulfilling private aspirations and ambitions at any cost. 'Me people of Bengal suffered immensely in the consummate chaos imprecated upon them by their victors whose perverse strive for private gains and sustained self-interest was bereft of any consideration for their joy and sorrow. After Alauddin Hussain Shah fully subdued the renegade Habshis in 1493, peace and prosperity had resumed in Bengal after long absence. Alauddin opened the land to the outside world ending her long seclusion. 'Me vernacular was recognized as the literary medium allowing repressed Bengali minds to seek enlightenment and expression. The Bengali intellect shone with manifold refulgence excelling equally in architecture, literature, Ian-guage and military conquest. It was the period dominated by Gauranga's philosophy of love and forgiveness which had overtaken the whole of Eastern India. The Bengali mind crossed its limit at last and came alive under the melodious lyricism of Radha and Krishna-in the emotional intensity of a resurgent Vaishnavism. In poetry and song, social toleration and religious fervor were being upheld side by side and the exuberance of life continued unabated for the next 150 years.
The prosperous time tapered off as the army of Sher Shah Sur marched on Bengal on the second centennary of her independence from Delhi. The cycle of violence and plotting returned as Afghan settlers vied for the control of the land. For some years the Karranis were the lords of this regions until the Mughals took possession of it in 1575. But there were numerous pockets of Afghan influence throughout the land which took Mughals many years to blot out, the last one being eradicated in Sylhet in 1612. The cycle had gone full round by this time to return to peace and progress once again. 'Me contact with upper India was revived and then Bengal was connected through upper India with the countries of central and western Asia. These countries were disconnected with Bengal first when Buddhism was persecuted here and again when the Muslim rebels denied the suzerainty of Delhi causing substantial damage to its sea-route trade with diem. Within less than a century of Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510, Indian ocean had become a domain of Portuguese fleet. The Portuguese conquerors were no more the authorised agents of the government of Lisbon and they had resorted to piracy for their own sake. 'Mey secured lodgement in Aff acan and Sandwip and infested Bay of Bengal and the lower estuaries of Ganges and Brahmaputra harassing Arab, African, Malay and Indian ships. Only when a Mughal viceroy broke these pirates' nests in 1666, was Bengal able to resume its maritime trade.
The events of Europe of that time had indirect influence on the economy of Bengal with a sudden impact. Religiuous wars were raging in that continent at the time of Mughal conquest of Bengal. The increased demand for gunpowder in those wars had also beefed up the demand for its salient ingredient, salt-petre, which was largely imported from Lalgonj in North Bihar by the river-route through Bengal. The booming business in salt-petre i,,'i was followed by a rapid development of Bengali cotton textiles. The total volume of trade was so high that in four years from 1680-83, England alone imported into Bengal silver worth :C2OO,OOO to pay for their purchases which amounted to 4 lakh rupees per annum in those days. Silver bullion used to be coined into rupees at the Mughal mints of Rajmahal and Dhaka. The huge influx of silver brought an abrupt and profound change in the econon-dc condition of a class of people. During early Muslim rule the products of Bengal had a very limited market amongst a few Chinese, Malayan, Arabs and Portugese voyaging to Bengal once in a year or two. In addition to that there was a very small amount of coastal trade with its equally poor neighbours, Orissa and Teleguland. 'Me internal economy was primarily based on barter system and prices in terms of money were exceedingly low. Small conchshells were universally used as unit and medium of exchange unless the transactions were made at the top level and were of large volume. The use of conchshells or cowries lingered in a developed city like Calcutta until as late as 1880 and in the villages until a gbm part of early twentieth century. Land rent could be collected only in the form of grain and the collectors had the greatest difficulty in paying the government revenue in cash as the conversion of crops into rupees involved heavy losses. In this siutation, the influx of silver gave the land a universal medium of exchange. Money wages and money prices rose sharply from middle of the 17th century. A nounveau riche class emerged who indulged in excessive luxury and the government officials and revenue-collecting middlemen came to amass great wealth to afford a more comfortable life. All these
changes, primarily the newfound affluence, allowed the rich to pay for the luxury of imported life-style thus disrupting the prevailing cultural composition. The material excess, however, engendered frustration and vacuity in common men who were dismayed by the luxurious and decadent living of the nouveau riche and by the general decline in the moral ecology as its outcome. As a countervailing force to this gloom, Vaishnavism captivated the heart of millions. The basic principle of this creed was 'Shakti' or personal devotion to god with an intensity of emotion akin to conjugal love. The spiritual life of Bengal remarkably evolved from the prior influence of Shaktiworshipping of Divine Creative Energy in female form. Vaishnaviain in its essential messages was akin to the spirit of European Renaissance. It proclaimed the dignity of every man as he is in possesion within himself of a particle of the soul or Jibatma. A large number of saints, poets and scholars fired by the redolent appeal of Vaishnavism started to preach its message amongst the illiterate masses. The new 6reed had sobering effect on the rituals of the middle and . upper classes of which drunkeness and sacrifice of animals were connnon elements. It also stressed on the enlightenment of women members of the society. A large number of aborigenes embraced the creed to escape from countumety and superstition which burdended them for ages.
Sanskrit, being the medium of Vaishnavism, also gained pervasive cu . ffency amongst people infusing new life into the intellectual and cultural lives of Bengal developing further an affinity of Vaishnavism with weak and emotional Bengali character. The tenderness for children and the weak was upheld. But the most lasting effect of the creed on Bengali character was the preaching of pacifism and patient suffering as essential human virtues-"humility lower than that of a trodden grass, endurance greater than that of a felled tree", thereby discouraging and denying the martial instinct. In tandem with this influence of Vaishnavism, the introduction of Persian as the court language had facilitated the Sufi movement, especially popularizing Sufi poetry. A large number of intellectuals and professionals of Persian background started to settle in Bengal which enriched the culture of its Muslim society. Thus there were rich courts with a developed culture and art in the southern and more civilized portion of Bengal such as Dhaka, Comilla and Chittagong. Whereas the common people especially those living in romote villages in the huge fertile sandbanks and deltaic- swamps of Bakergonj and Khulna were absorbed in gnashing struggles against the capricious forces of nature to wrest a fare livelihood from the soil and they hardly had any time to develop any noticeable civilization, art or commerce. In general, the whole country enjoyed an unstinted peace under the strong administration of the Mughals. Agriculture and commerce were encouraged and the manufacturers were carried to a degree of perfection they had never attained before. The delicate Muslin of Dhaka and silk of Maldaha constituted the chief part of the dues of the imperial court and those industries received an unprecedented impetus for growth.
The Mughal rule of Bengal was intermittently disrupted by the palace-intrigues at Delhi. From time to time the land now converted into a subah of the empire enjoyed brief spell of peace and prosperity lapsing into disorder and chaos at the end of each spell. The distress of the people varied from extreme to usual to extreme but never ceasing altogether. The distress became very acute once during the viceroyalty of Shah Shuja when a famine struck Assam for two years. The price of grains had risen owing to the high rate of Zakat or compulsory alms. The condition even got worse under Shaista Khan when the common men were squeezed for the benefit of court extravaganza, a truth running contrary to the fabled image of Golden Bengal of his time. Thus the Mughals, in the long run, turned out to be no different from the earlier rulers of Bengal who treated it as a treasure-trove and plundered with both hands. The viceroys spent much time or energy either on the power-balancing at Delhi during disturbances there or lent most attention to maximizing revenue for the gratification of Delhi during peace and calm. The Mughal officers themselves were corrupt and greedy, who burdened the common people with extra levies to keep a margin for themselves in addition to what they used to send to Delhi and mostly occupied themselves with sensual pleasures.
A some what exception to the rule was Murshid Quli Khan. He adopted a two-fold plan for increasing the government revenue from land. First, to turn all the officers, Jagirs, in Bengal into khalsa directly under the crown collectors, and give the dispossessed officers in exchange jagirs in the poor, wild and unsubdued province of Hoogly. Secondly, he divided the entire land of Bengal into 13 Chaklas (circles) which were subdivided into thirteen tracts under collection by Jagirdars and twenty-five are as. reserved as khalsas farmed out to contractors.
During his time Mymensing and Alapsing in the northeast and Jessore and Khulna in the extreme south became regularly tax-paying areas under the crown. But Murshid despite his great administrative reforms had done very little to give permanence to his system, created no efficient civil service, no council of notables to serve as a check on the caprice of tyrants and preserve the balance of the state in evil days to come. He also took no step to strengthen the defence of this subah. Murshid's son-in-law Shujauddin had taken a more conciliatory attitude towards the Zamindars and distributed the principal offices of the government amongst his kinsmen and friends.
In this flow of events, jealousy and treachery for the throne was always there. -When Murshid Quli's trusted associate Alivardi snatched power from one of his successors, it had not surprised any one. But from the very beginning Alivardi had planted the seed of his own destruction which he fortunately did not live to see and his grandson faced with his own life. 'Me looting by the Marathas and the political crises within Bengal had ebbed away its economic blood to replenish which Alivardi sought the help of European traders thus initiating their role in the affairs of this land for many centuries to come. When Alivardi's grandson Siraj was killed and his mangled corpse paraded on the streets of Murshidabad, people showered abusive words and by economic hardship and Spits on it because they were so battered the Maratha attacks that they thought Siraj's death had finally removed an unworthy ruler leaving place to a more competent one.
Long before the English conspired to take India, Mughal rule had begun to crumble. The religious intolerance of Aurangzeb caused great dissatisfaction amongst the Shikhs, Marathas and Rajputs who rose in rebellion against the Mughals. The corruption of officials, the extravagance of the nobility, and the oppression of the masses resulted in serious decline of law and order in the empire as well as stringent resentment of the common people. Besides, wars of succession had wiped out the leading Muslim ruling families who could offer reinforcement to the empire in the face of mounting oppositions. Following Aurangazeb's death, the imperial authority was virtually lost and unti . I the English had completely wiped out Mughal rule from India 150 years later, there was only a titulary emperor sitting in the throne of Delhi while regions after regions were being dislodged from the empire.
It is hard to close the Mughal period of history without an appreciation of Mughal influence on the life and society of Bengal. Although its duration was the shortest amongst all periods in Bengal, the Mughal period had left considerable impression on its people. 'Me institutions of Purdah was introduced by the Mughals. Hindi, the Indian vernacular, was adopted by the Muslims as a kind of Lingua Franca; changed to Urdu by the use of Persian instead of Sanskrit script. Mughal manners were ubiquitously followed throughout the country. More fundamentally, Muslim thought, with its emphasis upon monotheism and democracy, was able to substantially motivate the Hindus to bring alterations in their faith. The Mughal courts were famous for their great luxury and for being the centre of a galaxy of artists and scholars. And of all these, the greatest Mughal achievement was the evolving of a distinct architectural design blending Persian and Indian elements.
The morbid Mughal power, stewing in its own juice, could hardly pay much attention to Bengal when it fell under the English after the Battle of Plassey. On the contrary, Bengal being always a renegade subah, the Mughals must have heaved sigh of relief when to take it as a dewani. The British dewani of Robert Clive wanted Bengal, although it again subjugated the land and her people to foreign rule, would nevertheless give her new direction and dimension. 'Me first great reform under Lord William Bentick (I 82835) would considerably salvage the country from its concentric journey to anachronism and failure. Indians would be given the opportunity of participating in the administration of their country. The grisly custom of Suttee was abolished and Thuggee practice (bizzare ritual practiced by the worshippers of Kali in the way of making human sacrifices) was suppressed. Infanticide of girl babies was announced illegal and English was introduced as a medium of education. Under Bentick's more resourceful successor Dalhousie, every aspect and department of government was galvanised and improved and great works of public utility were undertaken.
There is hardly any strong evidence that the people of Bengal had either resisted or resented the 'yoke' of British rule in the beginning although battles were waged in other parts of India against growing English expansion. Until 1857 when Indian sepoys rose in a mutiny against the notorious' greased cartridges' there was no universal reaction to the foreign rule. The sepoy revolt lasted little more than a year but it cut a deep and wide swathe between the English and the Indians within that brief time. The mutiny compelled the British to seriously look into the affairs of the Indians. The British government directly involved itself in the government of India in 1858. The end of Company rule was followed by the establishment of a structured government in India which lasted until the First World War. The Council of India was formed with 15 members to advise the Secretary of Indian affairs in London. A legislative council containing two Indians was also appointed to assist the Secretary for the purpose of law-making in India. The creation - of this council constituted a landmark in the political development of modem India. It was the first step toward parliamentary government in the continent.
The seepage of western culture into the Indian fabric began with the activities of the early Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century Publication of books in the Indian vernaculars and English language was widespread'since William Carrey found the first printing press in 1801 at Serampore. By 1838 India had printing presses in many places and there were four newspapers coming out in Calcutta alone. 'Me colleges were set up by Warren Hastings in 1780 and by Lord Cornwallis in 1792 for Muslims and Hindus. By 1885 an education system was established after great deliberations which would soon act as a speedy vehicle of western culture and revolutionize the thought -climate of India.
The British conquest accomplished over the centuries what previously remained unattainable. A pervasive sense of being vanquished by a foreign power created a political unity unprecedented in India. Besides, the currency of English as the Lingua Franca was able to establish a medium for exchange of views and comparison of opinions amongst the polyglot race that the Indians were. Cheap postage and printing press were indispensable agencies working for a sense of unity that had never existed before in the subcontinent. The railroads also assisted in the process mainly by facilitating travel all over the country.
The consolidation of the Indian being was further enhanced by the resurgence of Indian pride. Indian scholars had by that time known of the Indian past through historical, archaeological and linguistic researches. The combined effect of all those was the emergence of a nationalist sentiment in the 1860s. The resistance of the European inhabitants of India to the Ilbert Bill passed by Lord Ripon in 1883 rescinding their privilege to be tried by an European judge further solidified the doubts of the Indians about the discriminating attitude of the Eruopeans towards them. Amongst many factors which added to the preciptating mood of Indian nationalism were two reforms by Lord Curzon : one in education and the the other being the partition of Bengal. In Bengal there were as many college students as in Great Britain with perhaps one-fifth opportunities for employment. Although Curzon's reform was meant for improvement of that condition it was misinterpreted as conspiracy to throttle higher education amongst the Indians and thus roused the popular sentiment. The partition of Bengal was similarly thwarted by Hindu Bengalis although it was particularly meant for the economic development of relatively backward East Bengal.
The Indian nationalism did not survive the political machinations of the British as well as the Indian politicians. Doubts and mistrust showed cleavage in the solidarity of Indian movement as Hindus and Muslims divided and-differed on respective demands and advantages.
The cessation of Muslim-dominated territories from Hindu-dominated territories of India had, therefore, become an irreversible political reality. But creation of Pakistan did not solve the political problems of East Pakistan where the religious identity of people could not subdue linguistic distinction. Within four years this issue came to surface in the mainstream of Pakistani politics and the Language Movement of 1952 made it all the more pronounced. In the following decades the presentiment of West Pakistani dominance was aggravated by economic and political neglect of East Pakistan and by the end of 60s, a seperate homeland for the East Pakistanis became a potential phenomenon. In 1971, after a cruel and destructive Liberation War, Bangladesh came into being as the independent homeland of East Pakistani Bengalis. Since then this newborn country has been searching for political and economic self-determination against political disturbances, natural calamities and economic difficulties.