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The Real Bengal: A Historical Discussion Of Identity

1500 words - 6 pages

The declaration of Bangladesh’s independence marked a momentous event with both political and theoretical repercussions upon post World War II society. The Bangladeshi originally desired sovereignty because they could not identify with Pakistani nationalism. The Bangladeshi people spoke another language entirely and were connected to Pakistan via Islamic religion alone. Bangladesh was established on commonalities in the population that went beyond religion. Instead, the national identity was linked to common linguistic and cultural practices
This sort of ethno-linguistic based national identity is singular in South Asia. Bangladesh gained sovereignty because a religious connection to West ...view middle of the document...

This was of necessity because, at the time, Bengal lacked a written history. This prompted the scholars of the time to call the Bengali “a self-oblivious people.” As such, the Bengali Renaissance was a period of time in which the gaps of history were filled. However, the characteristics of the Bengali were collective by necessity. This resulted in the emphasis of Hindu beliefs. The homeland was instead referred to a motherland, and the land was seen as a manifestation of a Hindu mother goddess. Although this was a step forward in the process of territorial nationalism, it also excluded those whose religious beliefs fell in another place.
Because it excluded such a big population of Bengal, the Hindu biased view of the homeland never spread fully. Cohesiveness of interpretation of a Bengali homeland was never achieved until the Swadeshi movement prompted by the 1905 partition of the Bengal Presidency. The movement united Hindu and Muslim Bengal against a common enemy, thus finally forming a united Bengal. This was the Golden Bengal of Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song Amar Sonar Banla. It maintained the habit of viewing the homeland as a mother, but was then inclusive of all those whose ancestors were the Bengali people. This system was not without flaws; much of the view of the homeland was still based on Hindu mythology, as is evidenced by its slogan “Bande Mataram (Hail Mother).” This, along with the fact that the movement had negative effects on the Muslim population economically and politically, lead up to the religious definitions of homeland that was to characterize the twentieth century.
The second imaginary came about during the British occupation of India as a single Indian territory. This is to say, simply, that the British paid no attention to local or regional identifications. Bengal was immersed in the communal struggle for autonomy in India as a whole. As the Bengali view of its motherland changed, it was expanded to use all of South Asia as a metaphor for a mother. This imagery of a maternal, nourishing mother was religiously tinged towards Hinduism, despite alterations that were made for the sake of secularism. This left Muslim feeling marginalized by the nationalism in India. The Muslim League argued for a separate country specifically for Islamic freedom from Hindu dominance. After a blood bath of Hindu and Islamic Bengali people, it became clear that either population could be safe if and only if they were separated via religiously refined territories.
From this time on, it became clear that a partition was a viable solution to the majority of the problems presented. However, it was not without opposition. The United Bengal Scheme proposed an independent Bengal, free from its former ties to India. The scheme never gained popular support, but it was a relevant argument leading up to the 1947 establishment of the partition. This brings up the next imaginary of the Bengali. From very early on, the newly created East Pakistan...

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