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India Divided: How the Partition Affected Rural Development Strategies in the Eastern Region

F. Tomasson Jannuzi


On the eve of the partition of British India in 1947, the eastern region of the subcontinent could not have been described as having the characteristics of two nations -- except by those who would make religion the litmus test of nationality. Ironically, the British, who finally agreed to the division of India along religious lines, had earlier in the 17th and 18th centuries implemented policies that accepted and reinforced the economic unity of the territory in the east that today embraces most of Bangladesh, together with the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. Yet, within a few weeks during the Summer of 1947, the eastern region was split between the two states of India and Pakistan, and boundaries were drawn hurriedly and crudely to divide a unified economic region -- damaging the future economic prospects of the people of the region on both sides of the new borders.

With partition, the new political boundary had some economic effects that were immediately evident. For example, jute processing areas near Calcutta (in Indian territory) were now separated from jute growing areas in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Other effects were initially less obvious. In 1793 the British had imposed what they called a Permanent Settlement in the eastern region of the subcontinent -- a settlement that defined the agrarian structure of the region in terms that were unified until 1947, and persist in 1985. With partition, the juridical unity of the Permanent Settlement (affecting most of contemporary Bangladesh, together with the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal) was ended. And, while the agrarian structure and the rural development issues would remain similar on both sides of the new boundary, there would be no systematic attempts made in India and Pakistan to establish synthetic approaches to rural economic development in the east that would accept the common features rooted in a shared agrarian history. That shared agrarian history is delineated in the following section of this paper.

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