Paromita Ghosh

The city, Siliguri has been a refuge to millions of homeless who had crossed the newly created border and settled after the Partition of Bengal. This city weaves series of settlement stories that began after the British laid jute and tea cultivation and later magnified with the partition. Partition has played an important role in making of Siliguri and by walking down the memory lane of individuals this narrative would tell several unheard Partition stories of displacement and settlement experienced both by migrant Hindus Bengalis and local Rajbanshis and their process of claiming identity.

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“Pardesi howa jachii

Elaye hamra laye pardesi howa jacchi

Hath gila boro basar nakhan sokto howa jaye

Hamare agil-purusher naki aja chilo

Boudiya bairagir moton hamrae laye

Bhita -r jomi ,haal goru bechara hath patodi”

 (we are becoming foreigners in our land, our hands are becoming tough. Our ancestors happened to be rulers but we have lost everything -our land, cows becoming recluse)” (Ganguly as cited in Ghosh, 2013,pp.70)[1]

Introduction:  Partition, as underlined

Our Independence had a disguised partner called Partition and history locked the violence and trauma that partition bore in the timeframe of 1947 only, not looking beyond that time and one particular region i.e. West Partition-Punjab for long. Partition was experienced differently in different regions, Eastern Partition did not experience this bifurcation in one time just in 1947 but twice/thrice- as an ongoing process, in a varied and multifarious way struggling through time. To unravel such silences Partition is still remembered and rewritten even after 72 years to bring out the several faces of East Partition (Roy, 2012).

East Partition was silenced over West Bengal experiencing continuous partition was not identified. The refugees from East Bengal remained a ‘problem child’ for a Nation whose path to self-reliant citizenship was handicapped due to illegitimacy of claims and with every riot, there was mass migration taking place and unplanned settlement (Sengupta, 2015). Therefore, Bengal experienced the most haphazard divide making people still suffer the consequences of the divide. Individual space within the collective is often constricted and the collective claim has more moral supremacy over individual needs. While Bengal became a subject of understanding Partition in the later years by nation, hegemony still played an important role in understanding how the partition of Bengal is represented. A peculiar hyper visibility of Calcutta (Kolkata) coming to stand in for all of Bengal and landscape of writings about/on Bengal Partition has been uniquely hegemonized by Calcutta (Kolkata). These representations at every step of time have often left many crucial gaps in knowledge where living conditions beyond cities, mofussil areas like Uttarbanga-North Bengal hardly found space in history, art, culture, or literature.

Uttarbanga

Uttarbanga[2] shares a distinctive history and socio-geographical condition from the rest of Bengal. This area with long past royal heritage was once covered with thick forests,experiencing incessant rains throughout the year keeping the land mushy and accommodating very less population of inhabitants: Rajbanshis[3], Meches[4], Rabhas[5], Totos[6], etc among which Rajbanshis were the largest ethno-linguistic and most notable community owning large acres of land as well as they have a ruling legacy (Gupta,1992). However, this region, with her history, had been in the dark corners for a prolonged period until recently. The differences and problems faced by partition in Northern Bengal was different from the rest of Bengal, there was a vast migration in Northern Bengal after Partition and is continuing because of the unplanned settlement and haphazard division mapped by the Radcliffe Line[7].

The history of displacement, dispossessions brought forth here was expressed through personal experiences more as History did not iterate, thus, creating an alternate history to challenge the ideological readings shaped by violence and neglect of a non-linear past.

Moving beyond the collective hegemonic frame of remembering Partition and bringing an alternative space where individuals share their memories, photo, visual memory through their everyday living. Memory has been passed on to generations and in this intergenerational movement of memory there has been a process of ‘amnesia’ – a process of forgetting and thus for retrieval of memory, poems, lost places, history of food, music is recollected and connected (Kabir,2013). Ananya  Kabir also explains that through a holistic understanding of how individuals in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh respond to everyday existences by forgetting and remembering circumstances and narrating the Partition story, Partition’s Post-Amnesia is created, to denote the deliberate return to the exploration of places lost to the immediate generations through a combination of psychological and political imperatives. The feeling about the Partition, the events, the process of voicing the longings for places, those times, and the lives of various individuals living beyond the drawn national boundaries encircles here. Through an explanatory lens and mode of analysis, the events of Partition are understood and therefore this continuous moving to and forth between narratives, history, various scholarly writings, and personal understanding, paves the understanding of how partition memory connects individuals through objects, places, and memory is passed down to generations making partition as part of one’s every day.

The complex story of Partition of Northern Bengal is intertwined with Nation, Geography, Caste and power dynamics of :

1. Kolkata and mofussil areas,

2. Bhadroloks to lower caste,

3. State exploitation,

4. Landowners with tillers,

5. Migrated Hindus and inhabitants.

Thus, this research work looks beyond the famous narratives of violence brought about by the Partition divide, religion, and pain of losing Land, and focuses on memories of Rajbanshis and migrated Hindu Bengalis to share a different story of partition. Focusing in Siliguri the memories talk about power dynamics that did make the story of Partition against the other but also shares a story beyond these polarised or fixed separate dichotomies where, time, space makes every individual victim of time, juxtaposed around, linked closely in a circle where every individual in one way or the other has been victims to partition.

Siliguri in Northern Bengal…

Siliguri had been a refuge to millions of homeless who have crossed the newly created border and settled here after Partition. Located in the foothills of Terai, Siliguri was once a marshy less known area recording just 8% of the population then, now is regarded as the second most important city of Bengal after Kolkata.  This city weaves a Partition story with continuous migration that continued after Partition that led to the growth of Siliguri.

A very common narrative to define old Siliguri was, ‘malaria-prone, empty land’ that was covered with the thick forest. In 1920Siliguri had a very sparse population of inhabitants and Rajbanshis were economically more sustained than the other inhabitants of Northern Bengal (Gupta,1992), owning vast stretches of land. They were big jotedars with fixed jotes(land) under Raja of Baikunthapur for generations, and no outsiders were allowed to own land in Siliguri until the Land Settlement Act was passed after partition in 1950. When the British were attracted to the thick forest cover of Northern Bengal in the 1920s’and decided to lay Jute-Tea cultivation and also establish administrative offices here for better administration of Northern Bengal, several rich, upper caste-class Bengalis from south Bengal, Marwaris, and Biharis started settling here for business or work. Along with them Santhals from Central India and Nepalis from Nepal also settled to work in the tea plantation area. Siliguri started developing as an urban space setting up medical, school, administrative offices, the market for Tea, Timber Trade, and further setting of the Road and Rail to connect plains with hills it initiated a social and identity turmoil among the inhabitants. Migration, urbanization, development led to land alienation and land transformation leading to marginalization and “proletarianization” (Basu,2017) of original inhabitants who were dependent on land and agriculture, and this alienation magnified after Partition. 

The story of Partition in Siliguri did not just comprise of Bengalis-upper caste-class who came and settled during the colonial period for work, but after Partition several middle class and lower castes dependent solely on cultivation settled here- Namashudras, Malo, Mahisyas, Yadavs, etc. from Mymensingh district, Kochbihar, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Pabna, Dhaka, Bengalis, non-Bengalis, even Rajbanshis settled here. The memories of Partition in Siliguri share about how settlement and displacement both were experienced by refugees/migrants Bengali Hindus- as well Rajbanshis. Both Rajbanshis and migrated Hindu Bengalis shares the indifferences as well mutual feeling towards Partition. Siliguri was never an option for the evacuees as it was in no way a place for settlement- being malaria-prone, empty village but after Partition the close proximity to people living in Pabna, Rajshahi, Dhaka, Dinajpur, Rangpur, etc in the Northern Bengal made people settled here by just walking few miles and assurance of returning home when situations calm. The loss was very mutual, the displacement shared by both was the same, however, in this mutual sufferance the struggle of identity is stark, where the loss of the Rajbanshi community was much more.

The Swindle…

Land-dependent Rajbanshis’ land loss led to impoverishment, shifts in livelihood, and occupational transformations(Basu,2017). The biggest land dispossession that started with the Colonial period, then Partition, has been continuing till today making Rajbanshis almost landless and shift further away from city, Siliguri. Rajbanshis had learned the value of land economically with settlement and introduction of jute-tea and later when migrants from Bangladesh started settling here and this allurement made many sell away lands in return for cash, thus settlement slowly decreased their right over land. Nitish Ghosh[8], shares that there used to be a Rajbanshi family staying right opposite to his house in Hakimpara but as the migrant population increased in the locality, they sold off their house and moved somewhere else. Subhash Ghosh[9] also shared a somewhat similar story of displacement, his father had bought a paddy land near Noukaghat, Siliguri, and those rice were stalked in house, a Rajbanshi would come to buy rice from him to make puff rice and flat rice, they even exchanged their rice products for rice. Eventually, this man – remembered as Muriwala(puff rice seller)became very close to the family. Subhash Ghosh remembers visiting his house with his father, however, in one such visit, the man shared the agony of selling off their land and further moving to the outskirts of Siliguri. He persuaded Subhas ji’s father to buy his land so that they could shift to another place where most Rajbanshis has eventually settled. The continuous settlement after the partition made Rajbanshis’ lose their occupancy.

Land dispossession was also largely contributed by the Government who forcibly in the name of development snatched away the lands from Rajbanshis. The Land Reformation Act 1953 was introduced to settle the issue of settlement of refugees after partition but this land revenue reformation did not prevail equality and the Rajbanshi faced a major loss of land. Hemantika Basu (2017) in her research explains how lands were acquitted leading to deprivation and alienation of inhabitants from their land. She shared several interviews of land dispossessions; a Rajbanshi family living in Hyderpara, Siliguri possessed 36 bighas of land out of which more than 1 bigha had to be donated under compulsion for the development of the school, and no compensation was made instead more lands were grabbed in the preceding period leaving not much for their subsistence. Another interview shared, a Rajbanshi who possessed a good amount of ancestral property that covered almost 200 acres was attacked by the ruling party members. The intruders mostly political broke into their house one night and burnt their land document papers, injuring family members and throwing them out of their own house, later when the family returned home, they found out their whole land was acquired and the house was sold off to some Eastern Bengalis by political party men for a hefty price. Land dispossessions continued highly, the famous Vivekanda school in Hakimpara, Siliguriland was donated by Sarat Burman, a Rajbanshi in memory of his late father. When the school was constructed, it was named after his father ‘Darpa Narayan School’ but in the later years without any prior notice to Sarat Burman, the School Committee members mainly comprising of migrated Bengalis Hindus changed the name to‘Vivekanda School’, in the same way, the Siliguri College land was donated by Rajbanshi educationist named Biren Roy Sarkar but the name of the contributor is not mentioned anywhere in the school foundation list (Nag, 2015).

Forceful grabbing of lands was further instrumentalized by Government for the development of Siliguri by validating that the land belongs to the government. Tebhaga Movement and then the Naxalite movement, these land movements were further anti to Rajbanshi as randomly acquired lands in respect to exploitations. Mass exploitation in cultivation among Rajbanshis in Siliguri did not exist but the mass spreading of the movement later made many adhiyars stand against their Rajbanshi Jotedars as well through falsified manner or tricks lands were grabbed from Rajbashis (Basu,2017). Dr. Ray[10] laments, “Jara mulbasi tader ar kichui nei, electricity hoyegeche, jomir daam bere gelo kintu local lok kichui korte palona. Jara bairer lok tara boro building gore fello, ar mulbasinda ra ekhono competition e darate parlo na, tara pichiye poreche ebong manoshik dik thekeo pichiye poreche. Eto unnoti hoyegelo, airport holo, university holo, college holo tader I jomin te kintu tader i kono kaaj dayini (inhabitants couldn’t stand in the development of their land as they still could not get the opportunity to progress and bring changes in their lives as well even when their lands were taken for development purposes, they were not provided any scope to be part of that development process)”.  

The conflict…

There is a conflict of hierarchy existing in Siliguri, the superiority of migrants and dominance recurred and it has always been in an active relationship with inhabitants. East Bengalis in every way regarded themselves as superior and there can be no scope for East Bengalis to learn anything from inhabitants. The existing pride among migrants of being superior, smart, educated always made Rajbanshis be seen and treated as lowly. The ‘sons of the soil’ were beleaguered and their struggle for a better living and livelihood still pertains, whereas the migrant population was much successful in their land.

Migrated Bengali Hindus settled in Siliguri is a minority settled in new land yet, they claim to be superior to the inhabitants- Rajbanshis who were landed. The dominance by the landless individuals towards the landed-inhabitants and ridiculing them, treating them as inferior links to their pride of being more educated, rich, smarter coming from a progressive, much arable-prosperous land. They were forced to settle down in this uninhabitable land, narratives share how they made Siliguri into a city, development, health-educational and administrative services as well introduced market, regularised economy, brought about a flow of economy as well altered the cultivation process with hard work changing the soil texture for better agricultural produce (interviews)[11]. Space- land acts as an important tool to demarcate the hierarchy and estimate superiority, and therefore this tussle of claiming oneself is very complex. Revolving in the circle of hegemony marginalised under the other who claimed to be more dominant to the other, Rajbanshi lost their way of living to migrated Bengali Hindus with the loss of Land, whereas, the migrated Bengalis lost their land, displaced from Eastern Pakistan by partition and then settled here in Siliguri, they were ridiculed by the Bhadrolok’s – the higher caste, who claimed to be the most cultured, educated Bengaliof Kolkata, by epar-opar (this side and the other side Bengalis) dichotomy.

Every migrated Bengali Hindus interviewed said that Rajbanshi were lower to them, they had nothing to learn from them, they are stupid and were meek and therefore if scolded with a strong voice as Chandra Ghosh[12] describes, the scared Rajbanshis would give away things. He shares that in the weekly market, Rajbanshis were easily exploited, and with one scolding they would easily sell away the vegetables at the lowest prices as demanded. The migrated Hindus always made fun of Rajbanshis by ridiculing and calling them as ‘bau’[13], ‘bahe[14]. The conflict of hierarchy existed is so deeply that ridicule-jokes became part of the popular culture and normalised in everyday lives and common ridicule in most households. A kind of inferiority complex emerged after Partition among the migrated community magnified the differences to ridicule Rajbanshis’, underestimating them, their way of living, their culinary skills. Chayadida[15] shares Rajbanshis food habits were different from migrated Bengali Hindus, with an expression-mixed with laughter, pride, ridicule shared that Rajbanshis used to put pumpkin in their meat recipe and the Rajbanshi workers who used to work in their agricultural field used to love the food made by her mother.

Conclusion

The process of ridicule, a game of inferiority made Rajbanshis alter their lives, but this won’t be true to even contradict that Migrant Bengalis settled here haven’t altered their living. There has been a whole population march in Bengal after Partition, showing the differences that occurred questioning the right to own identity. The culture of Siliguri does not represent the culture of the migrated population of Bengalis nor Rajbanshis instead of Bengali Bhadrolok’s that engulfed away the dialect, way of living of individuals. Being a prey of time, hegemony, and politics, the memory of Partition shares the nostalgia of loss of identity that is re-iterated through the memory of culture and re-lived through oral narrations passed on to generations.  Identity is perpetually mobile that is always changing. It is a continuous process and in this change/evolution, respective identities do evolve, formulate leading to a redefinition of identities. In the social turmoil of indifferences, ‘othering’ and getting trapped in the vicious circle of hegemony, alienation made people think to reclaim themselves(Das, 2015).

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[1] Excerpts were taken from a poem written by Tushar Ganguly in 1977, in “Uttar-SadhinotaPorberUttarbang-e osthirota-r utso o sahitya- silpo-sanskriti-teprobhab”.In. Ghosh, Dr.Anandogopal and Saha, Kartick (eds.), “1947- Paroborti Uttarbanga-1: A Collection or regional Bengali essays”, N.L Publishers, Shibmandir, Siliguri, West Bengal, 2013 .

[2] There has never been any straight title nor legal document to support Northern Bengal as North Bengal or Uttarbanga in Bengali, but addressing the Northern regions together as so is a political stand to highlight it as distinct from the rest of the Bengal (Nag, 2015).

[3]Rajbanshis- the inhabitants were rulers, land dependent individuals, belonging to the mixed breed of Mongoloid, Dravidian and Aryan race and having mongoloid features. The last existing royal lineage survives in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar (17 kilometer from Siliguri)

[4] Mech tribe belonged to the Bodo-Kachari group of tribes. A Mongoloid race speaking Tibeto-Burman dialect

[5] Belonging to Mongoloid group migrated to India through North-Eastern Hill passes around thousand years before the birth of Christ.

[6]Toto, the least populous tribe residing in Doars area, has its Bhutanese-Tibetan origin.

[7]Radcliffe Line ripped through the soul of North Bengal cutting sharp through Rajshahi, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Pabna, Bagura, Malda, Jalpaiguri, and Darjeeling districts.

[8]Aged 60 he was born in Siliguri, however his family migrated here after Partition. He doesn’t relate with Partition but while talking he shared about the displacements in Siliguri. This interview taken on June, 2017

[9]Born in Siliguri, his parents settled here in 1960s from Bangladesh. This interview was taken in 2017.

[10]Born in Shivmandir, Siliguri to a Rajbanshi family has grown up listening to the stories of displacement, loss faced by Rajbanshi community after partition. This interview was taken in 2016.

[11]“Siliguri Purobartan”, Siliguri Corporation, Srijani Printers: Siliguri, 1986.

[12]Aged 80 was born in Bangladesh and later after partition shifted to Siliguri with parents. This interview was taken in 2016.

[13]An affectionate address in the local society but it was referred to as a slang naming rural idiots by migrated Bengali Hindus.

[14]an affectionate address in the local society but it was referred to as a slang naming rural idiots by migrated Bengali Hindus.

[15]Born in Pabna in 1944, shifted to Jalpaiguri after partition and then after marriage settled in Siliguri. This interview was taken on 2018.

This article is a part of M.Phil. research submitted in Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, Savitribai Phule Pune University by Paromita Ghosh (paromitacg@gmail.com).


Bibliography

  • Basu Hemantika, “Urbanization, Land Alienation and Proletarianization: A Study of Rajbansis in North Bengal”. In Work, Institutions and Sustainable Livelihood, Xaxa V., Saha D., Singha R. (eds). Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5756-4_8

  • Das, Kumar Samir. “Living the ‘Absence’: The Rajbanshis of North Bengal.” TISS

Working Paper, No.5, Tata Institute of Social Science (2015),pp:1-15. doi: http://rnd.tiss.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/TISS-Working-Paper-5-Samir-Kumar-Das.pdf.

  • Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Partition’s Post-Amnesias:1947,1971 and Modern South Asia. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2013.
  • Gupta,Das, Ranajit. Economy, Society and Politics in Bengal: Jalpaiguri 1869-1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Roy, Haimanti. Partitioned Lives: Migrants, Refugees, Citizens in India and Pakistan,1947-65. New Delhi: Oxford University Press,2012.
  • Sengupta, Debjani. The Partition of Bengal: Fragile Borders and New Identities. Delhi:Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Nag, Soumendra Nath(2015), Kamtapur movement in North Bengal geo-ethno environmental and historical perspective, Thesis Submitted in the University of North Bengal for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Geography and Applied Geography, University of North Bengal.

http://hdl.handle.net/10603/174126

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