Thursday, September 17, 2009

LNC reads history and gets stumped

In an essay “The coronation durbar of 1911-some implications” by Robert Eric Frykenberg published in The Delhi Omnibus(Oxford University Press), there is this interesting bit describing the reactions to the proposed partition of Bengal-
The mere mention of this possibility(of breaking Bengal into smaller, more governable units), however, was enough to set off a chain reaction of protest meetings and demonstrations (300 in January 1904 alone). At least three fears aroused the bhadralok of these eastern districts:
(1) even as a dominant minority, they would surrounded and endangered, swamped by the Muslim majority separated from their 'Hindu' or non-Muslim 'brethren' in Calcutta and western districts;
(2) they would be cut off and separated
from Calcutta, with a loss of opportunities and loss of contact with their cultural centre; and
(3) they would be forced into contact with the 'naked barbarians'  of Assam and pushed into a trackless
(emphasis mine)

Today, reaction (1) would be considered Islamophobia and (3) would be plain racist.
So should we consider the outcry over the division of Bengal as at least partly Islamophobic, racist and just old-fashioned narrow minded? Should the eastern Bengali bhadralok be looked upon as ‘vilains’ as the British have been portrayed as? Or were their reactions legitimate?
Compare – there is fear among some that the native Europeans would, not in a very distant future, be overwhelmed by ever rising numbers of Muslims. However in bien pensant circles, such sentiment is considered racist.
I’m confused. How should one judge the bhadralok – as valiant resistance to the evil machinations of the British or as provincial bigots?
Questions, questions…..

Update – Typed “(2)” instead of “(3)” in the sentence “Today, reaction (1) would be ………”. Corrected. Punctuation also cleaned up.