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Why is it called “West Bengal” when there is no “East Bengal”?

Note: This was originally written as an answer to a Quora question: Why is it still called “West Bengal” when there is no East Bengal any more?

Calling West Bengal as “Bengal” would indicate that Bangladesh isn’t part of Bengal—this would be wrong.

This is Bengal.

“Bengal” is the name of a region. A region can have several kinds of identity other than political history. The whole of Bengal region is an ethno-linguistic region that shares a

  • geographical identity (the Bengal delta, the Bay of Bengal),
  • historical identity (part of the same region in the past), and
  • linguistic identity (Bangla language).

Politically, Bengal has two divisions, one an Indian portion, and one, a sovereign portion. The western part is hence called “West Bengal”. The eastern region is now called Bangladesh, and not East Bengal, probably because it’s a sovereign country and feels the need to have a name that denotes sovereignty: People’s Republic of Bangladesh. It won’t be wrong to call Bangladesh “Eastern Bengal” to denote the region. In case of West Bengal, the focus is on the location and history, but when we use “Bangladesh” instead of “East Bengal”, the focus is on sovereignty.

If you need other examples to drive home the concept of region-based naming of political divisions, you may want to think over these:

  • Punjab: Both India and Pakistan have their Punjabs, both of which are actually constitute a whole larger region called Punjab. It would be convenient to call one as East Punjab and one as West Punjab. But that was never attempted and we clear the ambiguity by calling them Indian and Pakistani Punjabs.
  • Ireland: The United Kingdom comprises of the British Isles, and a small part of the island called Ireland. That small part is called Northern Ireland, and is a state of the UK, not of Republic of Ireland. Here, Republic of Ireland and Ireland are two different entities: “Ireland” denotes a region—the island—and contains both Republic of Ireland (a sovereign country) and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK).
  • Timor: East Timor is a country on the eastern side of the island of Timor. Timor has two parts: the Indonesian part, West Timor, and the sovereign portion, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (“Timor-Leste” means “East Timor”).
  • Indian Subcontinent: The Indian subcontinent is a region that comprises of regions other than India too. So, calling Sri Lanka as “southern part of Indian subcontinent” is fair, even though it doesn’t lie in India.
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Think over these examples. Punjab, Bengal, and Indian Subcontinent are examples of regions with shared history. Ireland and Timor are examples of regions with shared geography. I am sure you can now see that nomenclature of regions are different from that of political divisions, and many a time, the two may intersect.

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