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Discrimination Across Borders


Arindam Banerjee

MINORITIES AND THE STATE: CHANGING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE OF BENGAL
Edited by Abhijit Dasgupta , Masahiko Togawa and Abul Barkat
Sage, Delhi, 2011, pp.244, Rs.795.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 4 April 2012

Minorities and the State is a historical, analytical account of the relationship that has developed in the postcolonial period in Bengal, now comprising two regions, West Bengal in India and Bangla-desh. The province of Bengal was a central component of British colonial machina-tions in the Indian subcontinent. Not only does the annexation of the region in 1757 mark the advent of the British colonizers in South Asia but Bengal served the role of a crucial source of surplus, often extracted as tribute by poli-tical force, for the imperial government over the next two centuries. The marked intensi-fication of tax burdens by the British admi-nistrators on the peasantry in Bengal following the Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 is well documented now. The birth of the zamindari class in rural Bengal as a result of the colonial policies and the consequent super-exploitation of the masses of peasantry and artisans under feudal and colonial conditions was a generic characteristic of the region till political inde-pendence in 1947; the ultimate logical out-come of such mindless colonial exploitation was the Bengal Famine of 1943 which claimed nearly 3 million lives. Needless to say, such draconian economic policies fomented resentment in Bengal, which became one of the important centres of cha-llenge to British authority in the subcontinent. The maintenance of imperial hegemony over the ruled population therefore required the politics of division and domination as was the experiences of colonized populations across the globe. In the case of Bengal and later for the entire subcontinent, religion served as the primary ingredient for the British Policy of 'divide and rule', this policy making its initial emergence with the partition of Bengal in 1905 under Lord Curzon. Thus, the relation-ship between the state and minorities has its roots in colonial history, an issue which if explored by this book would have lent it an even stronger edge on the issue. Notwithstanding the exclusion of this particular aspect from the explorations, the book lucidly, and with the help of rich evide-nce, brings out the differential experiences of discrimination that minorities have faced in West Bengal and Bangladesh after Partition. The often perceived notion of the lack of dis-crimination towards minorities in the Indian state, which was constitutionally declared secular, is challenged in the book through the widespread instances of implicit discrimination that Muslims faced in Bengal over the last six decades. In contrast, the discrimination faced by Hindus in East Pakistan and later in Bangla-desh ...


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