West Bengal (Bengali: পশ্চিমবঙ্গ Poshchim Bônggo ) is a state in eastern India. 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 state of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal.
The region that is now West Bengal was a 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 CE, and the city of Kolkata, then Calcutta, 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 into two separate entities, West Bengal—a state of India, and East Pakistan belonging to 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, leading to a decline in its industrial sector.
An agriculture-dependent state, West Bengal occupies only 2.7% of the India's land area, though it supports over 7.8% of Indian population, and is the most densely populated state in India. West Bengal has been ruled by the CPI(M)-led Left Front for three decades, making it the world's longest-running democratically-elected communist government. While the state has seen a resurgence in its economy from late 1990s after decades of stagnation, it still faces poverty, political instability and bureaucratic corruption.
From the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, 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.
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.
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 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. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were subsequently merged with West Bengal.
During the 1960s and 1970s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Marxist-Naxalite movement damaged much of the state's infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by CPI(M) has governed for the subsequent three decades.
The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government, aided by election of a new reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. As of 2007, armed activists have been organising minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration are taking place at several sensitive places on the issue of industrial land acquisition.
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 . The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu ()—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 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 to . 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 . 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.
West Bengal is governed through a parliamentary system of representative democracy, a feature the state shares with other Indian states. Universal suffrage is granted to residents. There are three branches of government. The legislature, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, consists of elected members and special office bearers such as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, that are elected by the members. Assembly meetings are presided over by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker in the Speaker's absence. The judiciary is composed of the Calcutta High Court and a system of lower courts. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister, although the titular head of government is the Governor. The Governor is the head of state appointed by the President of India. The leader of the party or coalition with a majority in the Legislative Assembly is appointed as the Chief Minister by the Governor, and the Council of Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. The Council of Ministers reports to the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly is unicameral with 295 Members of the Legislative Assembly, or MLAs, including one nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Terms of office run for 5 years, unless the Assembly is dissolved prior to the completion of the term. Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats, for which local body elections are regularly held, govern local affairs. The state contributes 42 seats to Lok Sabha and 16 seats to Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament.
The main players in the regional politics are the Left Front alliance (led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)), the All India Trinamool Congress, the Indian National Congress, and other major parties. Following the West Bengal State Assembly Election in 2006, the Left Front coalition under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) was elected to power. West Bengal has been ruled by the Left Front for the past 30 years, making it the world's longest-running democratically-elected communist government.
There are 19 districts in West Bengal — Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, East Midnapore, Hooghly, Howrah, Jalpaiguri, Kolkata, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, North Dinajpur, Purulia, South 24 Parganas, Dakshin Dinajpur and West Midnapore. Each district is governed by a district collector or district magistrate, appointed either by the Indian Administrative Service or the West Bengal Civil Service. Each district is subdivided into Sub-Divisions, governed by a sub-divisional magistrate, and again into Blocks. Blocks consists of panchayats (village councils) and town municipalities.
The capital and largest city of the state is Kolkata — the third-largest urban agglomeration and the fourth-largest city in India. Siliguri is an economically important town, strategically located in the northeastern Siliguri Corridor (Chicken's Neck) of India. Asansol, Durgapur and Raniganj are cities in the western industrial belt. Other major cities and towns in West Bengal are Howrah, Haldia, Kharagpur, Burdwan, Darjeeling, Midnapore, Tamluk, Malda and Cooch Behar.
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A significant part of the state is economically backward, namely, large parts of six northern districts of Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur; three western districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum; and the Sundarbans area. Years after independence, West Bengal was still dependent on the central government for meeting its demands for food; food production remained stagnant and the Indian green revolution bypassed the state. However, there has been a significant spurt in food production since the 1980s, and the state now has a surplus of grains. The state's share of total industrial output in India was 9.8% in 1980–81, declining to 5% by 1997–98. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate.
West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) in India, with a net state domestic product of US$ 21.5 billion. During 2001–2002, the state's average SDP was more than 7.8% — outperforming the National GDP Growth. The state has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly come in the software and electronics fields; Kolkata is becoming a major hub for the Information technology (IT) industry. Owing to the boom in Kolkata's and the overall state's economy, West Bengal is now the third fastest growing economy in the country. However, the rapid industrialisation process has given rise to debate over land acquisition for industry in this agrarian state. NASSCOM–Gartner ranks West Bengal power infrastructure the best in the country. West Bengals state domestic product (SDP) grew in 2004 with 12.7 % and in 2005 with 11.0 % .
The state's only international airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Dum Dum, Kolkata. Bagdogra airport near Siliguri is another significant airport in the state. Kolkata is a major river-port in eastern India. The Kolkata Port Trust manages both the Kolkata docks and the Haldia docks. There is passenger service to Port Blair on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and cargo ship service to ports in India and abroad, operated by the Shipping Corporation of India. Ferry is a principal mode of transport in the southern part of the state, especially in the Sundarbans area. Kolkata is the only city in India to have trams as a mode of transport and these are operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company.
Several government-owned organisations operate substandard bus services in the state, including the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation, the South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation, and the Calcutta Tramways Company, thus leading to mismanagement. There are also private bus companies. The railway system is a nationalised service without any private investment. Hired forms of transport include metered taxis and auto rickshaws which often ply specific routes in cities. In most of the state, cycle rickshaws, and in Kolkata, hand-pulled rickshaws, are also used for short-distance travel.
The vast majority of the 80,221,171 people of West Bengal are Bengalis. The Bihari minority is scattered throughout the state and communities of Sherpas and ethnic Tibetans can be found in regions bordering Sikkim. Darjeeling district has a large number of Gurkha people of Nepalese origin. West Bengal is home to indigenous tribal Adivasis such as Santals, Kol, Koch-Rajbongshi and Toto tribe.
The official language is Bengali. Hindi and English are also used commonly. Nepali is spoken primarily in the Darjeeling district. Languages such as Rajbongshi, Santali and Ho are used in some parts of the state. Hinduism is the principal religion at 72.5% of the total population, while Muslims comprise 25%; Sikhism, Christianity and other religions make up the remainder. West Bengal has a population density of making it the most densely populated state in India. The state contributes 7.81% of India's population. The state's 1991–2001 growth rate of 17.84% is lower than the national rate of 21.34%. The gender ratio is 934 females per 1000 males.
The literacy rate is 69.22%. Data of 1995–1999 showed the life expectancy in the state was 63.4 years, higher than the national value of 61.7 years. About 72% of people live in rural areas. The proportion of people living below the poverty line in 1999–2000 was 31.85%. Scheduled Castes and Tribes form 28.6% and 5.8% of the population respectively in rural areas, and 19.9% and 1.5% respectively in urban areas.
The crime rate in the state in 2004 was 82.6 per 100,000, which was half of the national average. This is the fourth-lowest crime rate among the 32 states and union territories of India. However, the state reported the highest rate of Special and Local Laws (SLL) crimes. In reported crimes against women, the state showed a crime rate of 7.1 compared to the national rate of 14.1. West Bengal was the first Indian state to constitute a Human Rights Commission of its own.
The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage, shared with neighboring Bangladesh. West Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, Bengali literature was modernized in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Manik Bandyopadhyay.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, which has also been influenced by regional music traditions. Other folk music forms include Gombhira and Bhawaiya. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has an heritage in North Indian classical music. "Rabindrasangeet", songs composed and set into tune by Rabindranath Tagore and "Nazrulgeeti" (by Kazi Nazrul Islam) are popular. Also prominent are other musical forms like Dwijendralal, Atulprasad and Rajanikanta's songs, and "adhunik" or modern music from films and other composers. From the early 1990s, there has been an emergence and popularisation of new genres of music, including fusions of Baul and Jazz by several Bangla bands, as well as the emergence of what has been called Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism). Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chau dance of Purulia is a rare form of mask dance.
Mainstream Hindi films are popular, as are films from the Bengali cinema industry, dubbed "Tollywood". Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of Bengali movie studios and the name "Tollywood" (similar as Hollywood, USA) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is also known for art films or Indy films. Its long tradition of filmmaking has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Ritwik Ghatak. Contemporary directors include Buddhadev Dasgupta, Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh.
Rice and fish are traditional favorite foods, leading to a saying in Bengali, machhe bhate bangali, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali". Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes hilsa preparations, a favorite among Bengalis. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam and several kinds of Pithe. Popular street food includes Beguni, Kati roll, and phuchka. Panta bhat (rice soaked overnight in water) is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas.
Bengali women commonly wear the shaŗi , often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear Western attire. Among men, western dressing has greater acceptance. Men also wear traditional costumes such as the panjabi with dhuti , often on cultural occasions. Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in the West Bengal. Pohela Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush parbon (festival of Poush), kalipuja, saraswatipuja, laxmipuja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha are other major festivals. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bengali is celebrated by the minority Christian population. West Bengal has been home to several famous religious teachers, including Sri Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Paramahansa Yogananda.
West Bengal schools are run by the state government or by private organisations, including religious institutions. Instruction is mainly in English or Bengali, though Hindi and Urdu are also used. The secondary schools are affiliated with the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), or the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Under the 10+2+3 plan, after completing secondary school, students typically enroll for 2 years in a junior college, also known as pre-university, or in schools with a higher secondary facility affiliated with the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education or any central board. Students choose from one of three streams, namely, liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students may enroll in general or professional degree programs.
West Bengal has eighteen universities. The University of Calcutta, one of the oldest and largest public universities in India, has more than 200 affiliated colleges. The Bengal Engineering & Science University and Jadavpur University are prestigious technical universities. Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan is a central university and an institution of national importance. West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences is located in Kolkata. The state has higher education institutes of national importance including the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (the first management institute in India of its kind), the National Institute of Technology at Durgapur, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, the Asiatic Society, the Indian Statistical Institute, the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences,the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Marine Engineering and Research Instituteand theWest bengal university of technology.
West Bengal had 505 published newspapers in 2005, of which 389 were in Bengali. Ananda Bazar Patrika, published from Kolkata with 1,234,122 daily copies, has the largest circulation for a single-edition, regional language newspaper in India. Other major Bengali newspapers are Aajkaal, Bartaman, Sangbad Pratidin, Uttarbanga Sambad and Ganashakti. The Telegraph, The Statesman, Asian Age, Hindustan Times and The Times of India are some of the newspapers published in English. Vernacular newspapers such as those in Hindi, Gujarati, Oriya, Urdu, Punjabi and Nepali are also read by a select readership.
Doordarshan is the state-owned television broadcaster. Multi system operators provide a mix of Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, English and international channels via cable. 24-hour television news channels include STAR Ananda and Kolkata TV. All India Radio is a public radio station. Private FM stations are available only in cities like Kolkata and Siliguri. BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, Tata Indicom, Vodafone Essar, Aircel and Airtel are available cellular phone operators. Broadband internet is available in select towns and cities and is provided by the state-run BSNL and by other private companies. Dial-up access is provided throughout the state by BSNL and other providers.