When India and Pakistan were partitioned, Muslims were in a majority in east Bengal whereas Hindus were in a majority in west Bengal. What is the historical reason behind this demographic statistic?


4 Answers 4


In Western Part of Bengal Shri Chaitanaya Mahaprabhu started a religious movement in the beginning of starting of Muslim age, which did not much affect the Eastern parts. As a result less number of Hindus in Western part converted to Islam or again converted back to Hinduism. It did not happen in Eastern Bengal where majority of Hindu population had converted to Islam. So in West Bengal most of the people were Hindu and In East Bengal most of them were Muslim.

Division of Bengal did not properly depend on religion. Before division a large portion of East Bengal was of Hindu majority. So one shall do a mistake if he thinks that there were a few Hindus in Eastern and a few Muslims were living in Western regions.

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    This sounds like a plausible scenario. Can you provide some references as support? Google has no results for "Shri Chaitanayadave". Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 14:34
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    I did not study History in English and so sometime I face problem to write correct spelling. I have included it in the answer.
    – Supriyo
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 17:15
  • Welcome to the site. Do not worry about spellings; are there to correct them in case it is necessary :)
    – Arani
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 18:03
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    Could you please name the source from where you got this information?
    – Arani
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 18:16
  • I have given the link of Wikipedia.
    – Supriyo
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 18:27

The assumption may not be correct mathematically.

This is discussed in vivid detail in the book "The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India".

It was not that the West was predominantly Hindu by a large margin or the east conversely Muslim. But the politicians who wanted to have a more homogenous and therefore more controllable state did their calculation to determine which districts had more than 51% Hindus. These they proposed as a part of India. The gross error was that it did not account for the 49% other religious group.

Post partition this remaining minority group on both sides of the border had to face the brunt of communal violence, and therefore mass migrations took place. This increased the polarization.

However, West Bengal still has a huge Muslim population.

  • Finally an answer I can vote for. Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 4:12
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    This just answers why the border between Pakistan and India was put where it was. Not why there was a difference in religious majority in the different districts. Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 11:22
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    @Lennart Regebro There was not a major difference. The basis of division often relied on marginal differences. The assumption that there were more of one religious group in any one side is a fallacy to that extent. India is still a mish mash- of course there are still differences between districts. But predominantly one religious group? Possibly not.
    – Rajib
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 13:26
  • @Rajib: I don't think anyone said there was predominantly only one group, so you seem to be arguing against something no-one actually said. Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 13:49
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    Why were there more Muslims in East Bengal Than in West Bengal? That was the question. I'm just saying that the term "more" could be a very marginal difference. I did say mathematically it may be a wrong assumption to begin with. That's all.
    – Rajib
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 13:56

I will point to the following reasons:

  1. Arab Trade with Bengal happened mainly through sea ports of South and South-Eastern Bengal. Many Arab traders settled in Modern Cumilla, Chittagong, Noakhali and Barisal area of East Bengal. Also to note is that East Bengal has more coastline than West Bengal and many of the Arab traders married locals and settled in Bengal.
  2. Additionally, Muslim Sufi missionaries helped spread Islam in Eastern Bengal. Sufi saints came to East Bengal through the Sea lanes and helped spread Islam.
  3. Turkic and Mamluk rule also helped spread Islam in Bengal, but they did impact both east and west Bengal.
  4. Bangala Sultanate and Mughal rule greatly contributed to the spread of Islam in Bengal (mainly eastern part).


  1. Chapters 3 (Early Sufis of the Delta), 4 (Economy, Society, Culture), 5 (Mass Conversion to Islam: Theories and Protagonists) of The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760 - by Richard M. Eaton

  2. Chapter 1 (The Dawn of Islam in Eastern Bengal: The History of the Past Millennium) of The Political History of Muslim Bengal - by Mahmudur Rahman

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    Commented Apr 6 at 18:24
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    Added References
    – samnoon
    Commented Apr 6 at 20:20

There does not have to be an identifiable reason for these things at all. But it is possible that east Bengal was more Muslim than west Bengal because the Mamluk sultanate and the Khilji dynasty both ruled over more easterly parts of Bengal. The Khilji dynasty was also effective in converting people to Islam.

Although these dynasties probably didn't create a majority of Muslims in the area, a slightly higher percentage together with other events, or just chance, can have been one reason that eastern Bengal ended up with a clear Muslim majorty.

  • Could it have been that the agriculturists had a better chance of prospering in the rich Eastern delta than the semi-arid Western regions? And could it have been that at that time most agriculturists were Muslim (one of the cited reasons for Curzon's partition)?
    – Apoorv
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 5:07
  • @MonsterTruck: That is certainly putting the cart before the horse. Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 5:58
  • @MonsterTruck: That would make sense if agriculture was something introduced with Islam, but I'm afraid you are at least 4000 years wrong there. Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 6:23
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    @MonsterTruck You still get cause and effect backwards. If there is more agriculture in the east, and more Muslims in the east, sure, there will be more muslim "agriculturalists". But that's an effect of there being more Muslims in the east and more agriculture in the east, not a cause. Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 9:23
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    @MonsterTruck: That would assume that firstly more Muslism were doing agriculture, and secondly, that big migrations happened. That's two completely unsupported assumptions. As such your explanation creates more questions than it explains, and is no explanation at all. Also, this is not a discussion forum. Discuss here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/1560/the-time-machine Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 10:05

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