Bengal Partition - [October 16, 1905] This Day in History

16 October 1905

Partition of Bengal.

What happened?

On 16 October 1905, the partition of the Bengal Presidency came into effect on the orders of the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. The official justification of the partition was administrative convenience but the real intent was to weaken the growing nationalist sentiment by creating communal rifts among the people.

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Lord Curzon

Lord Curzon

Partition of Bengal

  • The Presidency of Bengal was a huge province with an area of 189,000 square miles and a population of approximately 78.5 million. It included the regions of West Bengal with a Hindu majority population, east Bengal with a Muslim majority population, Assam, Bihar and Orissa. The languages spoken in this province were Bengali, Hindi, Odia and Assamese.
  • Calcutta was the province’s capital. It was also the capital of British India. There was some truth to Curzon’s claim that the province was difficult to administer.
  • Bengal and especially Calcutta were the focal point of the Indian national movement at that time. Calcutta had a significant group of the educated middle class, lawyers and academicians who were spreading the word of the freedom movement and inspiring people. It was also the epicentre of the Indian National Congress whose influence on the people, the courts and even the government was burgeoning and inescapable day by day.
  • The British government announced the partition plan in January 1905. Although it was opposed by the Chief Commissioner of Assam Henry Cotton, Curzon went ahead with the plan. There was widespread agitation against the partition plan.
  • The partition came into effect on 16th October. The new provinces were Bengal (that included today’s West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) with its capital at Calcutta and East Bengal (that included eastern Bengal and Assam) with its capital at Dacca (Dhaka).
  • This partition made the Bengalis a linguistic minority in their own province, in the western province.
  • Nationalist leaders argued that if administrative convenience was the reason, the partition could have been affected on linguistic lines rather than divide ‘Bengal’ into east and west.
  • Many Muslims on the eastern side supported the partition citing a lack of or slower development on the eastern side. They also perceived Hindu dominance in the province. Most of the educational institutes were centred on Calcutta and eastern Bengal was lagging in this regard. Curzon also promised to set up more educational institutes in Dacca and this move was welcomed by many. Calcutta also had a large share of the factories and mills in Bengal, whereas most of the raw material came from the eastern side.
  • Nationalist leaders responded vociferously against the partition which they knew was to weaken the growing freedom movement in the country, which had Calcutta as its nucleus.
  • There was a call for the unity of Bengal. Dividing a region that shared history, culture and language went against justice and the move’s motive could only be political. Protestors were beaten by the police. The streets of Calcutta filled with the cries of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Amar sonar Bangla’. (This song was composed by Rabindranath Tagore during the partition as a song for the unity of Bengal; ironically it is the national anthem of Bangladesh today).
  • The backlash of the partition was that the Swadeshi movement gained strength. Moderate leaders lost their clout and extremists started dominating the Congress. People started boycotting foreign-made goods and there was an emergence of Indian banks, insurance companies and factories.
  • A significant effect of the partition was the development of Muslim nationalist sentiment. Curzon was successful in this ‘divide and rule’ policy and even though the partition was annulled in 1911, the seeds of communalism and divisive politics were sown in Bengal and India as well. Due to widespread protest, the government did reverse the partition but the damage had been done by then. The Bengalis were divided into Hindus and Muslims.
  • In 1911, the partition was made on linguistic lines and new provinces of Bihar and Orissa were formed after uniting western and eastern Bengal. The administrative headquarters of British India was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta.
  • Bengal was partitioned for a second time in 1947 when the whole country was partitioned into India and Pakistan. East Bengal became East Pakistan. In 1971, East Pakistan separated from Pakistan and became Bangladesh.
Also on this day 

1788: Shah Alam crowned the King of Delhi by the Marathas. 1799: Veerapandiya Kattabomman, polygar chief who refused to accept East India Company’s sovereignty hanged by the Company. 1868: Denmark sold its rights to the Nicobar Islands to the British,  thus ending Denmark’s colonial involvement in India. 1878: Birth of Vallathol Narayana Menon, freedom fighter and prolific writer in Kerala. 1942: Cyclone in Bengal killing 40000 people. 1945: Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a UN agency established. 1968: Har Gobind Khurana, Indian-origin scientist awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.


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