MUSLIM STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM IN BENGAL
[FROM PLASSEY TO PAKISTAN
Prof. Dr. Muin-ud-Din Ahmad Khan
Chapter I: Socio-Economic Conditions of the Muslims of Bengal- 1757-1830.
Chapter II: Religious Revivalism- 1818-1870
Chapter III: The Revolt of 1857
Chapter IV: The Sepoy Mutiny and the Muslim Community of Bengal
Chapter V: Constitutional Struggle: Muslim Modernism and Loyalism- 1857-1913
Chapter VI: Partition of Bengal and Foundation of Muslim League-1905
Chapter VII: Khilafat Movement
Chapter VIII: The Concept of Pakistan
Chapter IX: The Case of Unity
Chapter X: Pakistan Resolution
Chapter XI: Later Constitutional Development and Emergence of Pakistan
The history of the Muslims in Bengal under British rule (C.E. 1757-1947) represents a sad story interspersed with brilliant epochs of heroic struggle for self-preservation under adverse circumstances and for freeing the country from foreign yoke. The two trends of the struggle, which were closely interlinked, took different shapes at different times with the change of circumstances and opportunity though their basic aims remained always the same.
In the first place, as soon as the heat of the Plassey conspiracy passed, the Muslim upper class realised the damaging consequences of British occupation. They flocked under the patriotic banner of Nawab Mir Qasim in C.E. 1763-1764 with the object of driving the foreign rulers out of the country. But unskilled soldiery and broken spirit of a decaying social structure proved fragile when struck by well-disciplined and better equipped British army at Katwa and Buxar. 1 Localised sporadic rebellions against the British rule are also observed in the activities of the Faqirs and the Sanyasis under the leadership of Majnu Shah and others during the later half of the eighteenth century. But being more or less detached from the mass of the people, their struggle fell short of producing any abiding effect or fruitful result.
Secondly, the mass of the people having been accustomed for centuries to thrive in their peaceful callings under the protection of the Muslim upper class, appear to have grown a sense of disinterestedness in political affairs. For, political changes were usually affected by the top layer of the society and the Muslim princes who established their own rule, from time to time, always kept the welfare of the masses in view.
Naturally, the masses were slow in realising the difference between an indigenous rule and a foreign regime and it took them a long time to grasp the awful consequences of the Battle of Plassey (C.E. 1757). As a matter of fact, they began to evince a ‘collective consciousness’ of a socio-political nature not earlier than C.E. 1820; that is also under the pressure of economic destruction to which they were subjected by the self-aggrandising policy of the East India Company’s servants. The renewed struggle which stemmed from this mass-consciousness was confined more or less to the mass-society or lower class and unlike the earlier political repercussions, it was motivated by the economic welfare of the masses and it derived its inspiration from the religious reform movements, which remained effective down to C.E. 1870.
Thirdly, during the middle of the nineteenth century a small middle class was also growing among the Muslims of Bengal, which being convinced of the invincible military strength of the British, endeavoured to direct Muslim thought and energy towards absorbing Western culture in self-preparation. On the ruins of the great rebellion of 1857-58, they built up a constitutional movement with the object of ameliorating socio-economic conditions of the Muslims and of bringing them at par with the progressive Hindus so as to prepare them to fight out their own future in a worthwhile manner. This modernist movement of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and was largely responsible for the growth of a healthy political consciousness among the Muslims of Bengal during the twentieth century.
Although the struggle for freedom in Bengal started soon after the Battle of Plassey, there is little in the eighteenth century which goes beyond local patriotism. It was the advent of mass-consciousness in the nineteenth century, linked up with the chain of religious, economic and political movements, which resulted in the achievement of Pakistan. Again in a strictly nationalistic sense, freedom movement, among the Muslims of Bengal, with a well defined objective, may be said to have started in 1940, by their collaboration with other Muslims of the sub-continent in the Pakistan movement. But, as indicated above, the Pakistan movement itself was not the commencement of the struggle, but represented the beginning of the end. It was a climax of a series of religious, social and political movements, which started more than a century earlier. In this broader perspective, the struggle for freedom in Bengal is to be regarded as more or less co-extensive with the growth of mass-consciousness. Hence, our account must begin from the time of the advent of this phenomenon in the nineteenth century.
Accordingly, the present study has been divided into ten chapters dealing with the socio-economic background of the freedom movement, the character of the religious reform movements and the peasant agitation of Bengal during the nineteenth century, and the different aspects of the constitutional movement following the great rebellion of 1857-58 marking the achievement of Pakistan in 1947.