West Bengal State

Introduction :

West Bengal is a state in eastern regions of India and is the nation's fourth most populous. It is also the seventh most populous sub-nationals entity in the world. West Bengal is the second largest contributor to India's GDP. With Bangladesh, which lies on its eastern border, the state forms the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. To its northeast lie the states of Assam and Sikkim and the country Bhutan, and to its southwest, the state of Orissa. To the west it borders the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal.

The region that is now West Bengal was part of a number of empires and kingdoms during the past two millennia. The British East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the city of Calcutta, now Kolkata, served for many years as the capital of British India. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities, West Bengal—a state of India, and East Bengal, a part of the new nation of Pakistan. Following India's independence in 1947, West Bengal's economic and political systems were dominated for many decades by Marxism, Naxalite movements and trade unionism.

While West Bengal has made economic gains recently, it still remains one of the poorest states in India because of high political instability, strike, low Human Development Index level, abysmal medical treatment or health care services, tremendous lack of social development, lack of industrialization, excessive corruption and violence. According to well known Economists West Bengal is by far the least industrialized and under developed state as compared to other metropolitan states, where industrialization and economic development is relatively high.

An agriculture-dependent state, West Bengal occupies only 2.7% of the India's land area, though it supports over 7.8% of the Indian population, and is the most densely populated state in India. West Bengal has been dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front for three decades, making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government.

History :

Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC. The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BC, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Persia under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC.

One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) in reference to an area in Bengal. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Java, Sumatra and Siam (modern day Thailand). According to Mahavamsa, Vijaya Singha, a Vanga prince, conquered Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) in 544 BC and gave the name "Sinhala" to the country. Bengali people migrated to the Malay Archipelago and Siam (in modern Thailand), establishing their own colonies there.

Pala Empire Under Dharmapala
Pala Empire Under Devapala

From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of sultans and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. In the sixteenth century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered Bengal. However, administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence of the area under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance"

European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century. Their influence grew until the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal subah, or province, following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, eventually including all British territories north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943 that claimed 3 million lives. Subhash Chandra Bose is one of the most prominent freedom fighters from Bengal in the Indian independence movement against the British Raj.

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British. When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to independent Bangladesh in 1971). Both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee influx during the partition in 1947, leading to the political unrests later on. The partition of Bengal entailed the greatest exodus of people in Human History. Millions of Hindus migrated from East Pakistan to India and thousands of Muslims too went across the borders to East Pakistan. Because of the immigration of the refugees, there occurred the crisis of land and food in West Bengal; and such condition remained in long duration for more than three decades.The politics of West Bengal since the partition in 1947 developed round the nucleus of refugee problem. Both the Rightists and the Leftists in the Politics of West Bengal have not yet become free from the socio-economic conditions created by the partition of Bengal. These conditions as have remained unresolved in some twisted forms have given birth to local socio-economic, political and ethnic movements.

Geography And Climate :

West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The state has a total area of 88,752 square kilometres (34,267 sq mi). The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu (3,636 metres / 11,929 feet)—the highest peak of the state. The narrow Terai region separates this region from the plains, which in turn transitions into the Ganges delta towards the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.

The Chota Nagpur plateau occupies the western and northern portions of the state, while along the coast are fertile alluvial plains and the valleys of the Mahanadi, Brahmani, and Baitarani rivers, which fall into the Bay of Bengal. These alluvial plains are home to intensive rice cultivation. The Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI),Asia's largest rice research Institute is situated along the bank of Mahanadi in Cuttack. One of the major nesting ground for the Olive Ridley sea turtles can be found in the Beaches of Orissa; in Devi, Gahirmatha and Rushikulya, which are known to be the nesting sites for the L. olivacea Indian Ocean population. In 2007, around 130,000 turtles nested on the beaches of Gahirmatha. The shore line also acts as their mating site & have attracted various scientific communities for research & studies.

National Highway 31A winds along the banks of the Teesta River near Kalimpong, in the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region.

The Ganges is the main river, which divides in West Bengal. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma or Pôdda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. The Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Mahananda rivers are in the northern hilly region. The western plateau region has rivers such as the Damodar, Ajay and Kangsabati. The Ganges delta and the Sundarbans area have numerous rivers and creeks. Pollution of the Ganges from indiscriminate waste dumped into the river is a major problem. At least nine districts in the state suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater, and an estimated 8.7 million people drink water containing arsenic above the World Health Organisation recommended limit of 10 µg/L. West Bengal's climate varies from tropical savannah in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, rainy season, a short autumn, and winter. While the summer in the delta region is noted for excessive humidity, the western highlands experience a dry summer like northern India, with the highest day temperature ranging from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). At nights, a cool southerly breeze carries moisture from the Bay of Bengal. In early summer brief squalls and thunderstorms known as Kalbaisakhi, or Nor'westers, often occur. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian ocean monsoon that moves in a northwest direction. Winter (December–January) is mild over the plains with average minimum temperatures of 15 °C (59 °F). A cold and dry northern wind blows in the winter, substantially lowering the humidity level. However, the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences a harsh winter, with occasional snowfall at places.

Chilka Lake, a brackish water coastal lake on the Bay of Bengal, south of the mouth of the Mahanadi River, is the largest coastal lake in India and the second largest in the world.It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent. It is protected by the Chilka Lake Bird Sanctuary, which harbors over 160 migratory and resident species of birds. Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and southeast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas come here. It also has the small area of Satpada which is a safe sanctuary for the lesser known & endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. The highest mountain peak in the state is Deomali (1672 m), which is situated in Koraput district in southern Orissa. It is also the tallest peak of the Eastern Ghats. It is part of the Chandragiri-Pottangi mountain system. Location: 18°40'3"N 82°58'59"E.