Hinduism Hinduism in West Bengal and Bangladesh
Aniket De
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0290


West Bengal, a Hindu-majority province in contemporary India, and Bangladesh (East Pakistan before 1971), its neighboring Muslim-majority sovereign state with a significant Hindu minority, are political entities created in the 20th century. Bengal’s 19th-century history, in the high noon of British imperialism, is a well-known era in the study of modern Hinduism for the great reformist and revivalist movements in its colonial society (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Hinduism articles “Reform Hinduism”; “Asiatic Society of Bengal”; “British Colonialism and Imperialism”). Over the 20th century, in contrast, the inhabitants of Bengal witnessed partitions along lines of religious and linguistic difference, lived under four postcolonial states (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma), and endured widespread displacement across national borders. The map of Bengal underwent sudden and dramatic changes between 1905 to 1971: “West Bengal” and “eastern Bengal and Assam” (1905); “Bengal,” “Bihar and Orissa,” “Assam” (1911); “West Bengal” and “Assam” (independent India) and “East Pakistan” (1947); and, finally, “Bangladesh” (1971). Note that the name “Bengal,” unlike the other partitioned provinces of Punjab and Sind, disappeared from the map altogether after 1947. The new context of late colonialism, Partition, and the rise of nation-states, therefore, has shaped a distinct trajectory of Hinduism in West Bengal and Bangladesh. The legacy of Partition has also, at the same time, tended to isolate “Hindu” West Bengal, in popular and scholarly conceptions, from “Muslim” Pakistan and Bangladesh, not only coloring the long exchange between Hindus and Muslims in the region, before and after 1947, but also tending to deny the specific practices and worldviews that set the region apart from other parts of South Asia. This bibliography lists scholarly works on Hindu practices, formations, and identities in West Bengal and Bangladesh, in relation to the context of Partition, postcolonial state-making, and human mobility in the region. It focuses on approaches that have reimagined the changing “space” of 20th-century Bengal, and its religious life, beyond national and communitarian borders through creative analyses of social and cultural relations.


That Partition was the defining historical event of the century in the region is beyond doubt; its lineages, causes, and consequences, however, are hotly debated. Gordon 1974 and Ghosh 2016 show evidence for a regional cooperation of Hindu and Muslim elites that fell victim to all-India politics, while Chatterji 1995 and Ludden 2012 blames the politics of the regional Hindu elite. Biswas 1966, Ahmed 2017, and Ghosh and De 2024 are Bengali-language primary sources for the period; Bose 1993 provides a long-term overview of economic relations in the region. The question of caste politics becomes visible in sharp relief due around the question of Dalit-Muslim relations and Partition: Bandyopadhyay 1990 and Sen 2018 analyze the mobilization of oppressed caste identities in the interwar years, while Chatterji 2007, Datta 2013, and Lorea 2018 are among a growing number of works that analyze the fate of hundreds of thousands of low-caste East Bengali Hindus who end up as refugees.

  • Ahmed, Abul Mansur. Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchas Bachar. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Prathama, 2017.

    A politician’s memoir of the 20th century in Bengali politics, especially in relation to Muslim consciousness and Hindu-Muslim relations. Originally published in 1969.

  • Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Politics and the Raj: Bengal 1872–1937. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi, 1990.

    Foundational study of caste politics at West Bengal that remains a compelling analysis of Namasudra politics and the community’s role in consolidating Hindu identity in the region.

  • Biswas, Kalipada. Jukta Banglar Shesh Adhyay. Kolkata: Orient Book Company, 1966.

    A journalist’s personal account of the Hindu-Muslim political relations in Bengal during the premiership of Fazlul Huq.

  • Bose, Sugata. Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital: Rural Bengal since 1770. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521266949

    Analysis of long-term social changes—especially credit relations and the impact of colonial cash crops—that have shaped the Bengali peasantry since the onset of colonial rule.

  • Chatterji, Joya. Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Account of 1947 that somewhat narrowly identifies the abiding “communal” inclination of Bengali Hindu elites as the key cause of the events of 1947 in the province.

  • Chatterji, Joya. The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India 1947–1967. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497384

    Explores the postcolonial aftermath in West Bengal in relation to elite interests, sharing of resources, and the exodus of refugees.

  • Datta, Antara. Refugees and Borders in South Asia: The Great Exodus of 1971. London: Routledge, 2013.

    Argues how Hindu identity in West Bengal was ultimately consolidated after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 and the refusal to settle Bengali Muslim refugees.

  • Ghosh, Semanti. Different Nationalisms: Bengal 1905–1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468232.001.0001

    Analyzes the regional aspect of nationalism in Bengal, especially in relation to the broader, all-India context of Hindu and Muslim majorities and minorities.

  • Ghosh, Semanti, and Aniket De, eds. Deshbandhu: Samakale, Kalantare. Kolkata: Ananda, 2024.

    Collection of historical and contemporary interpretations on the role of religion in the politics of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, the most influential Bengali political figure of the 1920s.

  • Gordon, Leonard A. Bengal: The Nationalist Movement, 1876–1940. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

    Survey of nationalism in Bengal that emphasizes the cooperation between Hindu and Muslim leaders as well as periodic moments of conflict.

  • Lorea, Carola Erika. “Body, Land and Displacement: Songs and Rituals of Embodiment among the Bengali Settlers on the Andaman Island.” In Makbulnama. Edited by Kazi Abu Zumman and Ajijul Hoque Mondal, 88–101. Kolkata: Bangiya Sahitya Samsad, 2018.

    Ethnography of religious practices of low-caste refugees from East Bengal who were forcibly settled in the Andaman Islands after 1947.

  • Ludden, David. “Spatial Inequity and National Territory: Remapping 1905 in Bengal and Assam.” Modern Asian Studies 46.3 (2012): 483–525.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X11000357

    An interpretation of 1905 that sees the swadeshi movement as an attempt to perpetuate spatial inequity between eastern and western Bengal.

  • Sen, Dwaipayan. The Decline of the Caste Question: Jogendranath Mandal and the Defeat of Dalit Politics in Bengal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108278348

    Study of a major figure in oppressed caste politics in interwar Bengal.

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