In search of Identity
A special presentation on ‘The Construction of the Hindu Identity in Medieval Bengal- The Role of Popular Cults’, was conducted by Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati at the India International Centre on Tuesday in the national Capital. Professor Dipankar Gupta was also present at the event.
Jawhar Sircar opened up the discussion to the audience after his vivid presentation, to receive valuable comments and arguments which would help him finish his work that he had began seriously in the 1990s.
The first Census operations in the 19th century showed that large parts of the ‘Province of Bengal’ had either accepted Islam, or had moved towards it. Only six districts that lay to the west of the river Bhagirathi had a Hindu majority and on the east of the river, only districts of 24 Parganas and Khulna had a Hindu majority.
The unusual phenomenon of a vast Islamic majority in Bengal had been a subject of intense speculation for historians, administrators, researchers and scholars since the18th century. Richard Eaton’s classic work ‘The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760’ (OUP:1994) is generally viewed as the most acceptable analysis of why the Eastern two-thirds of un-divided Bengal was Muslim.
The reason of the six districts of Western Bengal not following the ‘Islamic trend’, and remaining Hindus had been explained in Jawhar Sircar’s submission that states three major reasons for the situation- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission to cut down caste divisions; the Mangal Kavya campaign that was started by rural Brahmins to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid, for which Non-Hindu and deities of the folk were valorised through balladic songs, and the rival brahmanic poets accorded the final victory, not to the Puranic deities but to the obscure, folk gods and goddesses; and the late stage of ‘Peasantisation’ of Western Bengal, which permitted and legitimised social mobility to the ‘hunter-gatherers’, the ‘pastoralists’ and the ‘fisher-folk’, without fear of “losing caste” and not being expelled from the Hindu fold.
“The rise of Islam in the Bengal frontier cuts through all the other theories of speculation that it was the sword that got it. There have been uses of the sword, but the sword was not the only defining factor.
“What happened according to Richard Easton, was the change on the economic system which lead to Peasantisation, the swing to the farming profession as a full time vocation as distinguished from a service person who also did farming. It was this profession that would give us allocable surplus for taxation of a state power to build itself.
“The most interesting part of the first 300 years of Islamic rulers in Bengal, was that it soon developed a Bengali character which was genetically programmed to be anti-Delhi,” explained Jawhar Sircar.