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Palash Biswas

(Blogged on 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 06, 2006

in reference to the original reform,mother of all reforms,the Citizenship Amendment Act )

More than twenty million East bengal refugees coming over to India in different dates and phases since 1947 partition and riots over there, awaiting citizenship and rehabilitation, reservation, right to learn mother language and even minimum human and civil rights in different states of India.


 Meanwhile, the original citizenship Act of 1955 has been changed by a new act called Dual citizenship Act enacted last year with the objectives: preventing grant of Indian Citizenship to illegal migrants; grant of dual citizenship to foreigners of Indian origin and mandatory registration with issue of National identity card for all citizens of India.


This new Act declares the government stand to deport all illegal migrants.This anti refugee Act was passed in the parliament with general consensus. The SC/St MPs from Bengal also supported the bill bowing to respective party whip. . 


The new act has abolished the right of citizenship by birth. Any person who has crossed the border after 18th July 1948 without valid passport and visa is considered illegal migrants. The East Bengal refugees, even rehabilitated in fifties, have not been granted citizenship as have been the refugees coming from West Punjab.


 The Bengali leadership never demanded citizenship for the refugees. BJP leaders and CPIM leaders in bengal speak in the same language about the Bengali refugees. Thirteen lac names have been deleted in Bengal in the last assembly elections as the concerned persons could not prove their Indian nationality. 


The situation is very grave as it is seen in the pilot project of national identity card in Murshidabad district in West Bengal. More than ninety percent of the population could not present the required documents to prove their citizenship.


 Elsewhere in the country, refugees and even the Indian Bengali citizens in non Bengali states staying for employment are being deported. Rehabilitated in fifties, the Dandakaranya refugees in Orissa have been served the notice to leave India.


 In Orissa the registration of new born babies in the refugee families are being denied birth certificates. East Bengal refugees have been discriminated and victimized as ninety percent of them belongs to scheduled castes . 


In Chhattisgargh itself twenty two of total twenty six lac Bengali refugees belong to Namashudra caste. It is the same story elsewhere ,more or less. Other prominent refugee caste is the dalit Paundra, Pods, who are considered as par as the Namashudras.


 We have to know the social equation of erstwhile Bengal to understand the Bengali leadership behaviour. 


It is well known that Indian Dalit movement is rooted in East Bengal as well well as in Maharashtra. Namoshudra leader Jogendra Nath Mandal led the Dalit movement in Bengal. Mandal was responsible to send Ambedkar.


 Thus, Hindu Dalit majority areas like Jassore, Faridpur, Barishal and Khulna were included in Pakistan which destroyed the Dalit movement base in India. 


The Dalit refugees had been scattered all over in India with an objective to annihilate the main dalit foce like Namashudra and Paundras. 


Specific lower castes, or 'Scheduled Castes' (as they were known in British Indian official parlance), who lived in the border areas between East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the West Bengal state of the Union of India. They maintained since the early twentieth century their distance from high caste Hindus and their politics and, often in alliance with Muslims, opposed them actively.


The Namasudras who were earlier known as Chandals (a term derived from the Sanskrit chandala, a representative term for the untouchables) lived mainly in the Eastern districts of Bengal. According to the census of 1901, more than 75 percent of the Namasudra population lived in the districts of Bakerganj, Faridpur, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Jessore and Khulna. 


Moreover, it has also been pointed out in several studies that a contiguous region comprising northeastern Bakerganj, southern Faridpur and the adjoining Narail, Magura, Khulna and Bagerhat districts contained more than half of this caste population.


 It was the Matuya leader Harichand Thakur who led the movement to abolish the foul noun for the dalits and the British Governmet prohibited calling anyone Chandal.


 The Chandals became Namashudra.But the independence with partition of Bengal which ultimately came in the midnight of 14-15 August 1947 did not help the Scheduled Caste masses, as they feared.


 The caste Hindu ruling class captured the state power replacing British. 


Many prominent groups like the Namasudras and the Rajbansis lost their territorial anchorage and, contrary to their hopes and in spite of their pleas, most of the Namasudra-inhabited areas in Bakarganj, Faridpur, Jessore and Khulna, like the Rajbansi areas of Dinajpur and Rangpur, went to East Pakistan, instead of West Bengal. 


The post-partition violence, as F.C. Bourne, the last British Governor of East Bengal reported in 1950, left many of them with "nothing beyond their lives and the clothes they stand up in". This compelled many of them to migrate as refugees to India, where being uprooted from their traditional homeland they had to begin once again their struggle for existence.


 The national leaders like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad , Sardar Patel and others assured the partition victims every possible assistance and rehabilitation.


The two most important communities which dominated Scheduled Caste politics in colonial Bengal were the Namasudras and the Rajbansis. 


The Namasudras, earlier known as the Chandals of Bengal, lived mainly in the eastern districts of Dacca, Bakarganj, Faridpur, Mymensingh, Jessore and Khulna. When these districts were ceded to East Pakistan, the inhabitants were forced to migrate across the new international boundary to the state of West Bengal in India. 


At the same time, a section of the Kochs of northern Bengal, living in the districts of Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and the Princely state of Cooch Behar, came to be known as the Rajbansis from the late nineteenth century.


 Of those districts, Rangpur and parts of Dinajpur went to East Pakistan, while the rest remained in West Bengal. 


In other words, so far as the Namasudras and the Rajbansis were concerned, the international political boundary that came into existence in 1947 did not correspond by any means to ethnic boundaries, and resulted in the uprooting of these two groups of people from their territorial anchorage.


 Incidentally, according to the 1901 Census, the Rajbansis and the Namasudras were the second and third largest Hindu castes respectively in the colonial province of Bengal.Both of these two groups were considered untouchables among the Hindus of Bengal.


 Although untouchability per se was not as limiting a problem in this as in other parts of India, the Namasudras and the Rajbansis suffered from a number of disabilities, which created a considerable social distance between them and the high caste Bengalis who dominated Hindu society.


 Hence, when as a result of land reclaimations in eastern and northern Bengal in the late nineteenth century, these two groups of people both experienced some amount of vertical social mobility, they proposed creating their own distinctive community identities. 


As the Hindu nationalists began to invoke a glorious Hindu past as an inspiration for nation building, these people at the bottom of the social hierarchy began to look at the present as an improvement over the darker past. 


They regarded British rule as a good thing, seeing it as having overthrown the codes of Manu and establishing equality in an otherwise hierarchical society. 


The nationalist movement, therefore, appeared to them to be an attempt to put the clock back - an endeavour by the higher castes to restore their slipping grip over society.


 In 1906, a Namasudra resolution stated very clearly that "simply owing to the dislike and hatred of the Brahmins, the Vaidyas and the Kayasthas, this vast Namasudra community has remained backward; this community has, therefore, not the least sympathy with them and their agitation ...". 


In 1918 the Namasudras and the Rajbansis in a joint meeting demanded unequivocally the principle of "communal representation" to prevent "the oligarchy of a handful of limited castes". And when this was finally granted in the Communal Award of 1932, the leaders of both these communities greeted it as "a political advantage unprecedented and unparalleled in the constitutional history of India".


 But Gandhi, anxious to maintain the political homogeneity of the Hindu community, stood in their way. When Ambedkar finally succumbed to his moral pressure to sign the Poona Pact, the Rajbansi and Namasudra leaders condemned it as "Dr Ambedkar's political blunder"; for, by taking away the privilege of a separate electorate, it "ultimately led ... to the political death of millions of people at the hands of the so-called caste Hindus". 


Sometimes this alienation took the form of violent confrontation, particularly as the Namasudra peasants got involved in bazaar looting, house breaking and, in alliance with the Muslims, socially boycotting the high caste Hindus. In the case of the Rajbansis, passivity was the more dominant form of expression of their alienation, although from time to time they too participated in shop looting and no-rent campaigns against their high caste zamindars.


It should be noted that in undivided Bengal, the Zamidars belonged to Brahmin and kayasth communities whereas the peasants were muslims and dalits.


 Thus ,the dalit Muslim alliance was a normal and scientific result of economic political tension in Bengal. It further resulted in the rise of Muslim League politics in Bengal as it was considered as the best expression of revolt by Muslim peasants against caste Hindu Zamindars. 


The dalit peasant communities like Namashudra, Rajbanshi and Paundras saw nothing wrong in it. 


Since the early years of the twentieth century both the Namasudras and the Rajbangshis sent requests to the colonial bureaucracy to bring them under the orbit of preferential treatment. 


Apart from extending preferential treatment to them in matters of education and employment, sympathies were also sought from the colonial bureaucracy over matters related to political participation. 


While the position of the Namasudra and Rajbangshi elite in the local bodies showed signs of improvement, their representation in the provincial legislature was still negligible. But more importantly, in order to gain special political privileges, the lower caste elite consciously advocated an anti-Congress and pro-British stance. 


At the same time, the lower caste elite, particularly the Namasudras who had actively opposed the swadeshi movement of the Congress, favoured a blatantly separatist line in the wake of the constitutional proposals of the 1910s and 1920s seeking greater devolution of power among various Indian groups. 


Almost immediately after the Mont-Ford proposals, the Rajbangshi and Namasudra elite pressed for greater representation for depressed communities in Bengal. As a result of these demands, the Reform Act of 1919 provided for the nomination of one representative of the depressed classes to the Bengal Legislature.


The peasants of these Bengali Dalit castes refrained from participating in Congress-led mass political agitations like the Non-Co-operation, Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements, led by Gandhi, because they were under the hegemony of the caste Hindu leaders. And then, finally, in the election of 1937 both Namasudra and Rajbansi voters rejected the Congress and the Hindu Sabha candidates and elected their own caste leaders in all the Scheduled Caste reserved constituencies.


 The process of alienation seemingly came to a conclusion with Dr B.R. Ambedkar forming the All India Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942 and declaring that "the Scheduled Castes are distinct and separate from the Hindus ...". 


The following year, its Bengal branch was started by a few enthusiastic Namasudra and Rajbansi leaders, their avowed political goal being to establish "the separate political identity" of the Scheduled Castes.


After the election of 1937, when the leaders of the Namasudra and Muslim communities were coming to a political adjustment and the first coalition ministry under Fazlul Huq had started functioning smoothly, their followers in the eastern Bengal countryside got involved in a series of violent riots in Faridpur, Mymensingh and Jessore between February and April 1938. 


Though rioting had been entirely due to local initiative of the peasants of the two communities over such issues as disputes over cattle or demarcation of land, the Hindu Sabha decided to take up the issues and make them items for a propaganda campaign. In an organised way rumours were spread, particularly in Jessore, that temples had been desecrated and images broken and an Assistant Secretary of the organisation was sent to the troubled area to conduct an enquiry on the spot. Religious emotions were thus fermented in a conflict which initially had nothing to do with religion.


At a meeting at Agra in March 1946, Ambedkar had announced his support for the League demand, "Muslims are fighting for their legitimate rights and they are bound to achieve Pakistan". About a month later, in a press interview, he justified his demand for separate villages for the Scheduled Castes. This would not amount, he thought, to an encroachment on the rights of any other party.


 There were large areas of cultivable waste land lying untenanted in the country which could be set aside for the settlement of the Scheduled Castes. 


The echoes of this demand could be heard from distant places.


 In the Central Provinces some of the Scheduled Castes started talking vaguely about a 'Dalistan'; and in northern Bengal a few Rajbansis, supported by the Scheduled Caste Federation leader Jogendranath Mandal, raised the demand for 'Rajasthan' or a separate Rajbansi Kshatriya homeland. But the majority of the Scheduled Castes in Bengal, the Rajbansis included, seemed to be on the exactly opposite pole. Their responses to the partition issue clearly show that they had completely identified themselves with Hindu sentiments and apprehensions on this matter.


In Bengal Eaton shows that those from whom. Muslim converts were largely drawn—Rajbansis, Pods, Chandals, Kuchs, etc .Significantly, there was hardly any major social movement in Bengal between the tenth and the fifteenth century aimed at the elevation of the Antyaja jatis in the Hindu social scale. 


Only in 19th century, Harichand Thakur and Guruchand Thakur of Orakandi changed the scenerio with Matuya Dharama denying Brahminical Hindu religion.Matuya Hindu religious community, founded by Sri Sri harichand thakur of Gopalganj.


 The word 'matuya' means to be absorbed or remain absorbed in meditation, specifically to be absorbed in the meditation of the divine.


The Matuya sect is monotheist. It is not committed to Vedic rituals, and singing hymns in praise of the deity is their way of prayer and meditation. They believe that salvation lies in faith and devotion. Their ultimate objective is to attain truth through this kind of meditation and worship. They believe that love is the only way to God. 


Under the influence of certain liberal religious sects, a sense of self-respect developed among the Namasudras. In fact, these liberal as well as radical sects under the leadership of charismatic gurus like Keshab Pagal or Sahalal Pir challenged the hierarchic Hindu caste system and preached a simple gospel based on devotion (bhakti) and spiritual emotionalism (bhava). 


In 1872-73, the Namasudras under the leadership of Dwarkanath Mandal, tried to bolster their self-esteem by undertaking a social and economic boycott of the upper castes. The failure of this movement led to the establishment of the Matua sect - an organised religious sect under the influence of Sri Harichand Thakur and his son Sri Guru Chand Thakur.

The namashudras joined the Matuya Dharam. Which Was a social reform movement altogether. Harichand and Guruchand Thakur emphasised on education. Guruchand Thakur established thousands of eductional institutions. The Matuya have no distinctions of caste, creed, or class. They believe that everyone is a child of God. 


The Matuya believe that male and female are equal. They discourage early marriage. Widow remarriage is allowed. They refer to their religious teachers as 'gonsai;' both men and women can be gonsai. The community observes Wednesday as the day of communal worship.


 The gathering, which is called 'Hari Sabha' (the meeting of Hari), is an occasion for the Matuya to sing kirtan in praise of Hari till they almost fall senseless. musical instruments such as jaydanka, kansa, conch, shinga, accompany the kirtan. The gonsai, garlanded with karanga (coconut shell) and carrying chhota, sticks about twenty inches long, and red flags with white patches, lead the singing.


In fact, there was hardly any case of social mobility among them, and for the great majority of the population comprising essentially the lower castes, the major sources of social mobility remained inaccessible. 


Prolonged pursuit of a particular occupation for generations in the absence of alternative job opportunities naturally gave rise to strict social conventions, which in the traditional context were overlaid with rituals. Some details relating to the lower castes in Bengal can be highlighted.


 Lower Caste Movements efforts to obliterate the social backwardness of some groups or communities in the society. Bengali society throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries remained broadly divided into the Hindu and Muslim communities.


 In that sense, the inner divisions of the Hindu society tended to be perfunctory. 


Thus, the social scenario in Bengal betrayed features quite different from those in Central India and some parts of the Deccan, where the Muslim population was relatively small as a result of which the anti-Brahmin movements thrived there.


The forms of discrimination against the untouchables in Bengal differed from that in Maharastra or South India. 


In Bengal, caste rigidities were never strong enough to keep the untouchable population in a state of perpetual servitude. In this context, the types of discrimination faced by depressed or scheduled caste leaders like jogendranath mandal were not the same as those experienced by Ambedkar in Maharastra.


In Bengal ,the list of scheduled castes included not only the 'untouchables' but also several Ajalchal castes ritually ranked a step above them. 


The colonial bureaucracy enlisted communities under the Scheduled Caste grouping not much in accordance to their ritual status, but more in terms of their economic status. 


Therefore, it has been argued that since the intensity of untouchability was relatively weak in Bengal, compared to some other regions of India, movements such as those demanding right of entry to temples could never become a major plank in the movement for the removal of untouchability. 


Therefore lower caste protest did not always demand the complete removal of untouchability. Scholars like Masayuki Usuda have argued that these movements took the form of joint efforts in which socially backward castes too participated. 


The problems of untouchability and those of social ostracism were reflected in the antagonisms that prevailed between the indigent Chhotoloks (low born) and the rich Bhadraloks (men enjoying a higher status by virtue of their ritual ranking, education and other virtues) in the society. At times movements among the Bengali untouchables assumed class connotations.


However, such movements need to be analysed in two different ways.


 In the first place, such movements are sometimes considered as manifestations of protest against a dominant system of social organisation that sanctioned disabilities and inflicted deprivation on certain subordinate groups. On the other hand such movements, it has been argued, could be interpreted as expressions of ambitions or aspirations that sought accommodation and positional readjustments within the existing system of distribution of power and prestige.


 It would be worthwhile to argue that within such 'untouchable' social groups, different levels of social consciousness and different forms of political action emerged, which inevitably were incorporated within a single movement.


In Bengal, due to their socio-economic backwardness, some of the lower or 'untouchable' castes developed worldviews that were fundamentally different from that of the nationalists and this led to their alienation from mainstream politics. However within the same social movement of such ritually 'inferior' castes, there could be a convergence of different tendencies - some protestant and some accommodating. 


In fact, as a result of such tendencies, lower caste social protest in spite of the immense possibilities of initiating some fundamental changes in society or polity, fell far short of the cherished goals.


The Pala documents also provide some information about the untouchable castes, which were outside the frontiers of Hindu society. In the list containing the names of the beneficiaries of landgrants in the Pala copperplates, high governments officials were immediately followed by Brahmans, who in turn were followed by various peasant communities. 


In fact, there was no reference either to the Ksatriyas or the Vaishyas. But, beyond such social groupings there were several other groups who were referred to as Medh, Andhra and Chandalas. 


The Chandalas were considered to be the lowest of all the social groupings. Social commentators like Bhabadeva Bhatta have referred to them as an AntyajaJati. In several charya songs information about several other low castes such as Doms or Dombs, Chandalas, Shabaras and Kapalikas have also been found. In some medieval texts it has been pointed out that contact of Brahmans with such lower castes was forbidden.



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