Calcutta’s Muslims after Partition

Anwesha Sengupta
The Daily Star
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Before the Partition of British India (1947), Calcutta (Kolkata) was as much of a Muslim city as it was a Hindu one. Muslims who came to this city belonged to diverse classes, various sects and spoke in different tongues. Bengali-speaking Muslims came to Calcutta from neighbouring rural districts and they found work in the service sector. Being the prime centre of education, Calcutta also attracted young men from elite Bengali Muslim families. Since the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslims also came from more distant lands: with the Nawab of Awadh and the ruling house of Mysore came big entourages of court nobles, service men, and intellectuals dependent on royal patronage; traders came from Kathiawar, Delhi, Lucknow, western India and Persia. The court language of the early colonial era being Persian, there were demands in the government services for upcountry Muslims for their language skills. Certain urban professions of colonial Calcutta were entirely dominated by the Muslims: the khansama, darji and kasai being cases in point. Their presence was also significant among the artisans, petty traders, and masons. Similarly, the city housed a world of Muslim intellectuals, journalists, white-collar professionals, and prominent politicians. The highly heterogeneous community of the Muslims was, by late colonial times, integral to the city life. Consequently, Calcutta in the first few decades of twentieth century emerged as the nerve centre of Muslim politics, activism, education and cultural activities. Link: