Many years ago when we lived near Saddar Bazaar in Lahore Cantonment, it was noticed that most of the markets and roads had Bengali origin names. My assumption then about the roots of East Pakistan turned out to be incorrect. Research has shown their origin 1850.
During my research on the subject, it became apparent that during the War of Independence of 1857, this is where most of the killings of Bengal “sepoys” took place. But then all native infantry regiments of Bengal lived here or nearby. Saddar’s first officer colony is where they first shot two British officials, a major and a doctor. So in this article, let me dwell on the story of Saddar and the arrival of the Bengali elites who served the East India Company.
When the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab was overthrown and the East India Company officially took over on March 29, 1849, British colonial expansion into the subcontinent was complete. It was also the beginning of a great social change in Lahore and Punjab. With the arrival of the British, a slow but sure societal change began, and those closest to the East India Company settled in Lahore with their British overlords.
The very first Indians to take over the offices were a group of ‘educated Westernized Bengalis’. The British had been in Bengal for over 100 years and had cultivated an “elite class” to serve them. The ruling elite was British, but the officers and clerks of the middle and lower orders were invariably Bengalis. After all, they had annexed Bengal in 1699 and appointed their very first governor.
After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the Bengal Presidency was set up including Bihar, Orissa and Bengal with Calcutta as the first capital. It was almost “magical” the change as researcher Denzil Ibbetson wrote. Suddenly almost every office in Lahore was occupied by Bengalis, with a few from Delhi speaking Punjabi. This sudden societal change has resulted in the introduction of Urdu and English in legal businesses. But the office work was done by Bengalis who spoke fluent English.
The Saddar Bazaar of Lahore owes its origins to the native Bengal infantry regiments based in Lahore in 1850 and onwards. During the 1857 uprising, the 16th Grenadiers of the Bengal Native Infantry was disarmed in Lahore, as was the 26th Bengal Native Light Infantry. It was the same for the 49th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry. Most of the soldiers who lived in or near Saddar Bazaar were shot, most trying to flee across the Ravi to Delhi. Unfortunately, Punjabi soldiers from former Sikh regiments helped the British. That we don’t remember them, like we don’t remember the victims of the Partition, is part of our ‘Psyche Claim’, as my late father used to say.
But the fact is that Lahore was full of Bengalis before 1857, in the cantonment and in the civilian area around Anarkali, after all it was the very first cantonment. Their number was quite large and their influence considerable. But the influence of Bengal over Punjab was to grow in terms that a large number of educators and missionaries settled in Lahore and Punjab.
In Lahore, a Christian convert named Lala Radha Ram helped establish the Lahore Religious Book Society in the outer compound of the emerging Punjab University facing Anarkali Bazaar. He was joined by another famous Christian convert Kali Charan Chatterjee, who soon became a professor of mathematics at Government College, Lahore. Later, he was appointed Principal of Forman Christian College, Lahore.
The good thing about Christianity was that inter-caste marriage was not discouraged, especially in very liberal Lahore. Here we see the Bengali Christian community growing rapidly. A few names are worth mentioning. Miss Mona Bose was appointed Principal of Government Girls College, Lahore, as was her sister, Mrs Dutt, who was a teacher. His son, Dr. SE Dutt, helped establish the Lahore YMCA, while his Bengali associate, Prof. Radha, joined St Stephen’s College, Delhi.
As Bengali clerics and religiously minded educated Christians settle firmly, we see the influx of Bengali Hindus from the Brahmo community begin to move towards Lahore. The Bengali-led Brahmo Samaj began to spread to other cities in Punjab as well. But unlike the Westernized Christians, the Hindu Brahmos insisted that other languages be adopted as well.
In this regard, as Dr. GW Leitner was setting up the Oriental College, Lahore, they clashed over the issue, with the famous Leitner insisting that historical Indian languages are given preference. Brahmos’ claim was that Oriental College did not prepare students for government service. Leitner insisted he wanted academics, not bureaucrats.
Other prominent Bengalis in Lahore included Sivanath Shastri and Pratap Majumdar. So, in a way, a competition started between the emerging English-speaking Punjabi elite and the English-speaking officials of Bengal. If we study Ibbetson’s “Outlines of Punjab Ethnography”, we see that in the case of Bengali officials in Punjab, they rose in 1881 from 2,891 officials to 4,852 in 1921, almost doubling in 40 years or an increase of 25% every decade.
Thus, a close competitive relationship between Punjabis and Bengalis was visible. Here let me tell some people in the later history of Punjab. The famous Bhagat Singh incident had a Punjabi and a Bengali Batukeshwar Dutt, along with two others. We see over the years that the revolutionaries in the freedom struggle were mostly from Bengal and Punjab.
For example, India’s Freedom Resolution, known as ‘Purna Swaraj’, was passed at Lahore’s Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road in January 1930. But Pakistan’s Freedom Resolution was also passed nearby in March 1940 at Minto Park. Amazingly, both were first drafted by Bengali leaders.
But there are many other issues one can explore, and they are how the Punjabi-led establishment refused to accept a fairly won election in 1971. This was to lead to a fatal severance of ties and countries. Remember that Bengal and Punjab were the only two states that were split in 1947.
The reason for this can be attributed to the power these states held and continue to hold. During Ranjit Singh’s time, Punjab was somehow divided into western and eastern parts. In 1905, British rulers effectively divided Bengal into Muslim East Bengal and Hindu West Bengal. This led to considerable unrest which was defeated in 1911 thanks to the Swadeshi movement.
Many scholars argue, and with good reason, that this was the real reason why the All India Muslim League was founded in 1906 by Bengalis in Muslim Dhaka by Nawab Salimullah. But here again we see the partition of Bengal on religious grounds in August 1947. Most academics blame the British for promoting religious difference, just as they had done in Catholic Ireland against the Protestant minority. In Ireland, Catholics won freedom. It seems that the Protestant minority in Northern Ireland is slowly moving towards reunification.
This year, as Pakistan and India celebrated 75 years of freedom, many scholars and scholars are seriously studying the history, social and economic, of Punjab and Bengal and all the episodes of partition over time. . It’s a very intricate puzzle that will hopefully be unraveled one day.
The role of beliefs has led to the abandonment of serious rational science education in India and Pakistan. Rationality and faith in reason, not to mention tolerance, will one day prevail. Until then, we must all fight for reason to prevail.
Posted in Dawn, August 21, 2022