Hindu casteism led to the creation of East Pakistan

While the Muslim League has traditionally been blamed for the partition of Bengal, Ambedkar held a different view


Ambedkar (front row, second from left) and Jogendra Nath Mandal (front row, third from right), who went on to become one of the founding fathers of Pakistan

 Intense political agitation broke out in 1905 following partition of Bengal into East Bengal and West Bengal. Widespread protests spearheaded by prominent Bengalis greeted the administrative measures enforced by the Governor-General Lord Curzon. They accused the British rulers of breaking up the solidarity between the Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims who shared common cultural identity and brotherhood, besides a common mother tongue. But Ambedkar, in his treatise Thoughts on Pakistan (1941), clinically analyzed and underlined the flip side. Without apprehension of contradiction from even the most fanatic opponent, he observed: “The Bengali Hindu had the whole of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and even UP for his pasture. He had captured the civil service in all these provinces. The partition of Bengal meant a diminution in the area of his pasture. It meant that the Bengali Hindu was to be ousted from Eastern Bengal to make room for the Bengali Mussalman who has so far no place in the civil service of Bengal. The opposition to the partition of Bengal on the part of the Bengali Hindus was due principally to the desire not to allow the Bengali Mussalmans to take their places in East Bengal.”[1]

The 380-page volume observed most accurately that the upper-caste Hindus guided the Hindu masses and formed Hindu opinion. “Unfortunately the upper-caste Hindus are bad as their leaders.” They “have trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth and with wealth and education they have captured the state. To keep the monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life. Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power, the surest and the most effective being the preparation of scriptures, inculcating upon the minds of lower classes of Hindus that their duty in life was only to serve the higher classes. In keeping this monopoly in their own hands and excluding the lower classes from any share in it, the high-caste Hindus have succeeded for a long time and beyond measure.”[2]

Did Ambedkar hit the nail right on the head or was he an indignant accuser of the Bengali upper castes? The caste, race or religion of those occupying public offices of the Government of Bengal may give us the real picture. In 1901, the Bengal government had 492 deputy magistrates, of whom Brahmins were 122; Baidyas, 70; Kayasths, 144; and Muslims, 67. Out of 387 sub-judges and munsifs, 136 were Brahmins, 40 Baidyas, 160 Kayasths and 20 Muslims. There were 60 police inspectors, 15 of them being Brahmins; 5, Baidyas; 24, Kayasths; and 4, Muslims. Brahmin education officers were 46; Baidyas, 13, Kayasths, 48; and Muslims, 9.[3] The Bengal Government had 181 education officers in all. These are the personnel of the government who deeply, if not harrowingly, influenced public life by their motivations, action and inaction. The Maharaja of Susang had extracted a commitment from the colonial rulers in the 19th century that “the munsif of Durgapur must be a Brahman”. Annada Sankar Ray, ICS and noted Bengali litterateur had recorded this shameful protocol in his reminiscences.[4] The native law officers, whom Hindus euphorically called “judge pandits”, abused the power and authority vested in them. The system of conducting trials in the presence of a jury, which existed in India from 19th century till 1964, was mindlessly abused to benefit caste and communal interests across the provinces. Picked from the upper crest of the Hindus, the members of the jury threw weight behind their own caste men.

About six decades before Ambedkar shared his thoughts on the Bengali Hindu, The Englishman, a widely circulated daily from Calcutta, noted on 27 November 1879:

“In Bihar, Bengalis hold nearly every office worth holding, and have the lion’s share of even the less lucrative posts … in the district of Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Gaya, Muzaffarpur, Saran, Shahabad and Champaran twenty out of twenty-five Deputy Magistrates and Collectors were Bengalis. The personal assistants to the two Commissioners were, and are, Bengalis. In Patna, six of the seven Munsiffs or native civil judges are Bengalis. Three of the four Munsiffs of Saran are Bengalis. More than half the sub-deputies are Bengalis… nine in ten of the Magistracy, Collectorate and judicial head clerks are Bengalis, not only in district stations, but in the sub-divisions. Bengalis crowd the treasuries, and manage the municipalities. Bengali assistant surgeons and native doctors are in charge of more than nine out of ten dispensaries and lockups. There are 8 Bengali gazetted medical officers in Patna alone. The few native engineers are all Bengalis. The road cess accountants, overseers, and clerks are three-fourths Bengali. The supervising staff of the postal department and the postmasters of most of the best stations are Bengalis … Even where a Bihari does secure employment, it is usually in a position that Bengalis refuse to accept. If it happens that a well-educated native of Bihar is beginning to win his way upwards, it is alleged that he finds his every act scrutinized by the Bengali head clerks, deputy collectors and personal assistants: and that every step, or trip, is mercilessly brought to the notice of the English officers.”[5]

The Englishman candidly observed that “they [Bengalis] are almost as foreigner and intruders as ourselves”.

A Bengali newspaper disclosed on 3 March 1838 that the Bengal government had posted 24 deputy magistrates in Cuttack district of Orissa. Eighteen of them were already deployed there. Most of them were educated in Calcutta and were Bengalis.[6] A towering Bengali intellectual Nirad C. Chaudhuri admitted that his first employment in the Defence Accounts Department in Calcutta was facilitated by nepotism, the ground rule for which was that “a Chatterjee takes in a Banerjee and a Mitra a Bose”. He did not left anybody in doubt as to who laid down the ground rules of recruitments in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam. Except them, none could hope for access to government offices there in the colonial era.

In Calcutta, on 21 January 1929, the Simon Commission recorded the oral evidence of a joint delegation comprising representatives of All-Bengal Depressed Classes Association and All-Bengal Namasudras Association. The Commission was told that for appointment of clerks in Dacca Civil Court, a matriculate son of an official and undergraduate brother-in-law of the head clerk were preferred to backward-class graduates. In recruitment of sub-registrars for Dacca Division a backward-class MA candidate was rejected to favour a BA, who was a Kayasth. The aforesaid delegation highlighted many more instances of nepotism and favouritism before the Simon Commission in recruitments to the offices of the Controller of Currency, Bengal and Accountant General of Bengal.[7]

Dr. BR Ambedkar at the inspection of Kolkata Employement Exchange. Seen in the photograph are Bengal's Govt. Labour Commissioner A Huegus and assistant Commissioner S Lal. *** Local Caption *** Dr. BR Ambedkar at the inspection of Kolkata Employement Exchange. Seen in the photograph are Bengal's Govt. Labour Commissioner A Huegus and assistant Commissioner S Lal. Express archive photo

Dr. BR Ambedkar inspects Calcutta Employment Exchange. Seen in the photograph are Bengal’s government’s Labour Commissioner A. Huegus and assistant Commissioner S. Lal

The bone of contention was employment, which, among other things, meant entry into the corridors of power. Hence, the entry of the untouchables into corridors of power and governance has been resisted from the beginning. The olden days were not golden as painted by the historians. As Mujibur Rahman wrote, “It is a matter of constant complaint in government as well as in mercantile offices where the influence of the Hindu employees happens to dominate that it is almost impossible for the Bengali Muslims to secure any employment. It is very well on the part of our Hindu brethren to say in public that there should be no distinction of caste or creed in making appointments in public service, but when the time for actual appointment comes and when the Hindus have any hand in the matter, a rigid distinction is secretly observed and the Muslims are practically ousted. There are departments where ministerial offices are closed against the Muslims. In mercantile offices where the bara babu is a Hindu, almost all posts are the monopoly of that community.”[8]

Dr Ambedkar pointed out in 1941 that Muslims in Bengal numbered 27.49 million and the Hindus, 21.57 million. In other words, there were 12 per cent more Muslims than Hindus. He found the situation in Punjab similar and his ultimate verdict was: “It seems to me that the moment has come when high-caste Hindus of Bengal and Punjab should be told that if they propose to resist Pakistan because it cuts off a field of their gainful employment, they are committing the greatest blunder…” He also added, “The determination to live under a Muslim majority and to hope to gain more than your share may be a courageous thing. But certainly this is not a wise thing. Because, chances are that you will lose all.”

Demography favoured a Muslim homeland

No community submits to indignity, humiliation and deprivation silently for eternity. Deprivation generates grievances, which then turn to anger. Anger leads to protests and violence if grievances are not addressed by judicious action and impartial intervention. Census of India 1901 recorded the sociopolitical costs of caste prejudice and hatred: “The Namasudra aggregate about 18,861,000 and the Pods nearly half a million; but the full strength of the two castes is concealed by the fact that large numbers have been converted to Muhammadanism … There are ten and a half millions of Muhammadans in the Dacca and Chittagong Divisions … It would probably be safe to say that at least nine millions of the Muhammadans of Bengal proper belong to this stock.”[9] The untouchable Namasudra and Pod were “social lepers”. They had no reprieve from relentless Hindu persecution and were forced to embrace Islam.

Bengali upper-caste Hindus never drew up a balance sheet of the political cost of hatred and untouchability against caste pride or superiority. Dr Ambedkar analyzed the demographic realities prevalent there. The Muslims in Bengal numbered 27,497,624 and the Hindus, 21,570,407. The two aforesaid untouchable castes furnished 90,00,000, who from 1901 to 1947 went on adding to the margins those favouring a Muslim homeland in Bengal. The credit for creating East Pakistan goes to the persecuting Hindu caste-lords, which they are perhaps ashamed to acknowledge.


[1] Ambedkar, B. R., Thoughts on Pakistan, Thacker and Company Limited, Bombay, 1941, p 118.

[2] Ibid, pp 117-118

[3] Census of India, 1901, Vol. VI, Part I, p. 506

[4] Ray, Annada Sankar, An Old Story in The Statesman, Festival, 1991, Calcutta, p 51

[5] The Englishman, Calcutta, 27 November 1879

[6] Bandopadhyay, Brajendra Nath, Sambadpatre Sekaler Katha, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Calcutta, 1948, p 386

[7] Biswas, A. K., The Namasudras of Bengal, Profile of a persecuted people, Blumoon Books, Delhi, 2000, pp 84-85

[8] Rahman, Mujibur, Indian Unity, As Evidenced by Hindu-Mussalman Relations in Bengal, The Hindustan Review, Vol XVIII, July-December 1908, pp 423-324

[9] Census of India 1901, Vol VI, p 396

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