Monday, January 23, 2012

Vande Mataram and sudden conversion of Bengal!

There have been many arguments in favour and against Vande Mataram as a national song from earlier times till recently. The main point has been whether it is communally biased or not. When "Vande Mataram" the phrase only is used as a salutation to motherland there should be no problem. I am exploring a different angle which have been largely unnoticed!
First of all, the song was only for the Bengali people and hence is invalid as a national song for mother India. It clearly stated 'saptakoti' or seven crores people of undivided Bengal including Muslims of the times of the author Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. It also asked
'di-saptakoti' or 14 crores hands of Bengalis to lift Bengal from poverty and anarchy.
The novel Anandamath is on the backdrop of misrule of Nawab of Bengal who incidentally was Muslim by religion and the Great Bengal Famine occured in this time in 1770 when 2/3rd, yes 2/3rd Bengalis! TheAnandmath begins at an apocalyptic moment. It is 1769AD (1176 BS) and the British have just established a toehold in Bengal after the Battle of Plassey. In his reign when the British East India Company has just entered Bengal a dual government was formed with Nawab with responsibilities and no power and British Company with power but no responsibility. The novel is set in the background of the Sannyasi Rebellion in the 1770s. The Sannyasi Rebellion or Sannyasi Revolt (The Monk's Rebellion) is a term used to describe activities of sannyasis and fakirs, or Hindu and Muslim ascetics respectively, in Bengal, India in the late eighteenth century. It is also known as the Fakir-Sannyasi Rebellion. Historians have not only debated what events constitute the rebellion, but have also varied on the significance of the rebellion in Indian history. While some refer to it as an early war for India's independence from foreign rule, since the right to collect tax had been given to the British East India Company after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, others categorize it as random acts of violent banditry following the depopulation of the province, post the Bengal famine of 1770. At least three separate events are called the Sannyasi Rebellion. One refers to a large body of ascetics both Hindu sannyasis and Muslim madaris, religious fakirs that travelled from North India to different parts of Bengal to visit shrines. On route to the shrines, it was customary for many of these holy men to exact a religious tax from the headmen and zamindars or regional landlords. In times of prosperity, the headmen and zamindars generally obliged. However, since the East India Company received the diwani or right to collect tax, many of the tax demands increased and the local landlords and headmen were unable to pay both the ascetics and the English. Crop failures, and famine, which killed ten million people or an estimated one-third of the population of Bengal compounded the problems since much of the arable land lay fallow. In 1771, 150 fakirs were put to death, apparently for no reason. This was one of the reasons that caused distress leading to violence, especially in Natore in Rangpur, now in modern Bangladesh. However, some modern historians argue that the movement never gained popular support. The other two movements involved a sect of Hindu ascetics, the Dasnami naga sannyasis who likewise visited Bengal on pilgrimage mixed with moneylending opportunities. To the British, both the Hindu and Muslim ascetics were looters to be stopped from collecting money that belonged to the Company and possibly from even entering the province. It was felt that a large body of people on the move was a possible threat. Clashes between the Company and ascetics. When the Company's forces tried to prevent the sannyasis and fakirs from entering the province or from collecting their money in the last three decades of the eighteenth century, fierce clashes often ensued, with the Company's forces not always victorious. Most of the clashes were recorded in the years following the famine but they continued, albeit with a lesser frequency, up until 1802. The reason that even with superior training and forces, the Company was not able to suppress sporadic clashes with migrating ascetics was that the control of the Company's forces in the far-removed hilly and jungle covered districts like Birbhum and Midnapore on local events was weak. Legacy - The Sannyasi rebellion was the first of a series of revolts and rebellions in the Western districts of the province including (but not restricted to) the Chuar Revolt of 1799 and the Santal Revolt of 1831–32. What effect the Sannyasi Rebellion had on rebellions that followed is debatable. Perhaps, the best reminder of the Rebellion is in literature, in the Bengali novel Anandamath, written by India's first modern novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, from which the song Vande Mataram was taken and declared to be India's National Song. The Bengal famine of 1770 was a catastrophic famine that between 1769 and 1773 affected the lower Gangetic plain of India. The famine is supposed to have caused the deaths of an estimated 40 million people, approximately two-third of the population 6 crores at the time. The famine occurred in the territory which was called Bengal, then ruled by the British East India Company. This territory included modern West Bengal, Bangladesh, and parts of Assam, Orissa, Bihar, and Jharkhand. It was originally a province of the Mughal empire, from the 16th century, and was ruled by a Nawab, or governor. The Nawab had become effectively independent by the beginning of the 18th century, though in theory was still a tributary power of the Great Mughal in Delhi.
In the 17th century, the British East India Company had been given a grant on the town of Calcutta, by the Mughal emperor Akbar. At this time the Company was effectively another tributary power of the Mughal. During the following century, the Company obtained sole trading rights for the province, and went on to become the dominant power in Bengal. In 1757, at the battle of Plassey, the British defeated the then Nawab, Siraj Ud Daulah, and plundered the Bengali treasury. In 1764 their military control was reaffirmed at Buxar. The subsequent treaty gained them the Diwani, that is the taxation rights: in effect, the Company became the ruler of Bengal. About 40 million people, approximately two-third of the population 6 crores at the time of the affected area, are thought to have died in the famine. The regions in which the famine occurred included especially the modern Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, but the famine also extended into Orissa and Jharkhand, as well as modern Bangladesh. Among the worst affected areas were Birbhum and Murshidabad, in Bengal, and Tirhut, Champaran and Bettiah, in Bihar. A partial shortfall in crops, considered nothing out of the ordinary, occurred in 1768 and was followed in late 1769 by more severe conditions. By September 1769 there was a severe drought, and alarming reports were coming in of rural distress. These were, however, ignored by Company officers. By early 1770 there was starvation, and, by mid 1770, deaths from starvation were occurring on a large scale. There were also reports of the living feeding on the bodies of the dead in the middle of that year. Smallpox and other diseases further took their toll of the population. Later in 1770, good rainfall resulted in a good harvest and the famine abated. However, other shortfalls occurred in the following years, raising the total death toll. As a result of the famine large areas were depopulated and returned to jungle for decades to come, as the survivors migrated in mass in a search for food. Many cultivated lands were abandoned: much of Birbhum, for instance, returned to jungle and was virtually impassable for decades afterwards. From 1772, bands of bandits and thugs became an established feature of Bengal, and these were only controlled by punitive actions in the 1780s. Fault for the famine is now often ascribed to the British East India Company policies in Bengal. As a trading body, its first remit was to maximise its profits and with taxation rights the profits to be obtained from Bengal came from land tax as well as trade tariffs. As lands came under company control, the land tax was typically raised by 3 to 4 times what it had been – from 10-15% up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce. In the first years of the rule of the British East India Company, the total land tax income was doubled and most of this revenue flowed out of the country. As the famine approached its height, in April of 1770, the Company announced that land tax for the following year was to be increased by 10%. The company is also criticised for forbidding the "hoarding" of rice. This prevented traders and dealers from laying in reserves that in other times would have tided the population over lean periods. By the time of the famine, monopolies in grain trading had been established by the Company and its agents. The Company had no plan for dealing with the grain shortage, and actions were only taken insofar as they affected the mercantile and trading classes. Land revenue decreased by 14% during the affected year, but recovered rapidly (Kumkum Chatterjee). According to McLane, the first governor-general of British India, Warren Hastings, acknowledged "violent" tax collecting after 1771: revenues earned by the Company were higher in 1771 than in 1768. Globally, the profit of the Company increased from 15 million rupees in 1765 up to 30 million rupees in 1777.

The most important effect of the famine was however conversion of Bengal (undivided) from Hindu majority to a Muslim majority province suddenly within a period of less than 5 years from 1769 to 1773.

This was mainly because the famine effected West Bengal (Hindu majority) more than East Bengal and most of the 2/3rd population of Bengal dead was from this area. Thus Hindus died mostly relative to muslims. Also during this period and earlier Muslims in Bengal were mainly urban people and whatever help the Nawab provided went to them and town Hindus and not to vast rural Hindus! Before this calamity and the Nawab, Bengal was ruled mainly by a syndicate of 12 Zamindars called 'Baro-Bhuniyas'. 10 of them were Hindu, one Muslim Pathan Isa Khan and his descendants and one Portugese Christian in Chittagong, Carvello and his descendants. Pratapaditya Roy was the first leader of the syndicate who fought and defeated the Mansingh raids during Akbars time. Akbar had to face 2 brave Prataps one in Mewar and one in Bengal. Later during Isa and Carvello's time Kedar Roy was the leader. However Isa Khan fell in love with Kedar's sister and the unity broke away. After this Nawab dynasty ruled Bengal. But still the muslims in Bengal were mainly concentrated in towns. However after the calamity of 1770, the remaining urban Hindus and Muslims went to settle in villages and there was a depopulation of towns as mentioned in Anandamath. The novel is more of Historic and social importance than Political!

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