Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, professor of history and political economy at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali (Courtesy: Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay)

In Conversation with Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay on How the Three Post-Partition Decades Shaped Calcutta

in Interview
Published on: 09 August 2019

Anwesha Sengupta

Anwesha Sengupta teaches history at Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata. She holds a PhD from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her areas of interests include partition and decolonisation, popular politics in early postcolonial South Asia, and urban history.

This interview was conducted over email on February 13, 2019.

Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay is assistant professor in history and political economy at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali. He is a scholar of history, historical anthropology and political economy. His research projects explore themes in informality, infrastructure technologies, urban history and governmentality studies in late colonial and postcolonial India.

Here, Bandyopadhyay talks about early postcolonial Calcutta. He explains how Partition and decolonisation shaped the urban space, and the city itself shaped the politics of the time. He also provides a brief introduction of his research about experiences of the city.

Following is an edited transcript of the email interview.

Anwesha Sengupta: As a historian who has worked on various aspects of the twentieth-century Calcutta, how crucial do you think the 1950s–70s were in shaping the politics and economy of the city?

Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay: Well, the first three postcolonial decades were central to anticipate the trajectories that Calcutta followed later. There are at least two major areas in which the city witnessed perceptible change from the preceding late colonial years.

The first area of transformation I wish to talk about at length is in the realm of the ‘political’. Universal adult franchise contributed immensely to the mass political formation, which meant a fundamental transformation in the relation between the municipal government and the governed. By sheer number, the urban poor (such as East Bengali refugees, slum and squatter colony dwellers and street hawkers) became an important player in the city’s political sphere. They provided a cadre base to the political parties and emerged as a powerful vote bank. Gradually, the Left and other smaller political parties emerged as important political constituencies that offered this new postcolonial electorate the choice to advance pressing issues such as housing crisis and unemployment into the forefront of political debate. In other words, these were the decades when the political aspirations and energies of democracy exceeded the frame of institutional politics in the postcolonial context.

The prominence of the urban poor in electoral processes is part of a larger consensus on the evolution of political history in postcolonial India. The standard historical explanation is that there existed bipolarity in the pre-Emergency era between the governing elite, divided into several corporations sharing the power of the state, and the mass of vanguard labour. In social life, nationalism still had the currency to mobilise votes in favour of the self-sacrificing leader. The Emergency (1975–77) broke the oligopoly of the governing class and concentrated power in a particular corporation, i.e., the office of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. This was Indira Gandhi’s betrayal of the class coalition of the postcolonial state under ‘passive revolution’, which was responded to vehemently by political parties from the Left and the Janata Party cluster through endless regional formations.

This process dissolved the old vanguard labour, destroyed its polarising function and ultimately reconfigured the existing relation between the state, the party and the trade union. This transformation took place through a spectacular expansion of biopolitical governmental technologies in the social body. The nationalist leadership gave way to a more provincial and sectarian leadership who resembled the characters we confront in Partha Chatterjee’s explication of political society in a squatter colony in Calcutta. Thus, the decades under review are rather sandwiched between the events of the Partition and decolonisation on the one hand and the post-Emergency developments in popular politics on the other. 

During these decades, Calcutta’s economic and financial clout in the national economy declined decisively. With the Partition, the city lost a vast agrarian hinterland. The declining profile of jute in the global market added to the wave of agrarian crisis and deindustrialisation. The usual upcountry migration channels shrunk drastically, and the city began to attract Bengali populations from rural districts in search of livelihood. Eventually, Calcutta lost its multiethnic and multicultural character and emerged as a provincial Bengali city with a massive informal sector that provided livelihood to thousands.

AS: So you are saying that Partition and decolonisation fundamentally shaped the politics, economy and culture of Calcutta during these decades. But do you think we need to take into account the histories of earlier decades for a better understanding of this period?

RB: As indicated in my previous response, Partition and decolonisation affected Calcutta at a very fundamental level. Here, I will give you only one instance of change. Before decolonisation, Calcutta was the administrative and financial core of a province in which 56 per cent of the population belonged to the Muslim community who were asymmetrically concentrated in the eastern part of the province. Bengal was the only province where the Muslim League could form a government (1937) under the 1935 Act in coalition with Fazlul Huq’s Krishak Praja Party (KPP), and with a significant presence of the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha in opposition. Calcutta, on the other hand, had a 64 per cent Hindu population.

Partition and decolonisation decimated the lifeworld of the Muslim community in the city. The Muslim population in the city declined by 1,91,630 individuals between 1941 and 1951. The 1961 census found a near elimination of Muslims from certain wards of the city and a consequent rise of Muslim concentration in areas such as Park Circus, Ekbalpore, Bowbazaar, Karaya, Narkeldanga, Beniapukur, etc. Your own work draws our attention to the various ways in which the elimination and ghettoisation of Muslims happened in the post-Partition years. Joya Chatterji, arguably the pioneer in this field, showed how mosques, graveyards and other properties under the Waqf board were slowly but systematically occupied by Hindu refugees. At times such encroachments were coupled with communal violence whose features significantly differed from communal outbreaks in the late colonial period as the Muslims lost the capacity to strike back.

The creation of Pakistan and Calcutta’s settlement with India, coupled with the disbandment of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League and a spectacular influx of refugees in the city, pitted two subaltern groups against each other. The upper-caste refugees found leaders in all the established political parties of the day (a leadership capable of keeping the district-level mass leaders out of the core power structure of the ruling Congress Party and the Left opposition), while the Muslim leadership within the Congress lost ground in territorial reorganisation and in the factional squabbles within the party structure.

To respond to the second question, as a student of history, I will always urge you to go back to earlier decades to trace genealogies of postcolonial developments in the colonial era. However, a comparative analysis shows certain very major incompatibilities and ruptures. Even after the expansion of the electorate and Gandhian mass movements between the 1920s and 1940s, the disenfranchised working class had restricted means of political recourse. The change was most dramatic in the realm of institutional and popular politics, with the growth of a mass electorate. As India transitioned from imperial to popular sovereignty, the urban poor acquired remarkably different forms of access to the governmental institutions through political parties, trade unions and, at times, via large-scale popular agitations.

AS: Let me ask you a different question now. You are a historian who has extensively worked on urban infrastructure, among other things. How do you think urban infrastructure has shaped the politics of the cities historically and in recent times? What lesson does one get from Calcutta in this regard?

RB: In the West, various modern infrastructural initiatives shared a historical connection with the emergence of modern citizenship and liberalism. In colonies, infrastructures such as railways, road and drainage system were more directly tied with the processes of colonial surplus extraction and biopolitical control over the subject population. The planning of infrastructure in colonial times did not have the vision of a people as such. A number of recent scholars working on the colonial and postcolonial Global South[1] have made this distinction very clear in their research, showing how the colonial imprints and sedimentations on infrastructures continue to haunt infrastructured citizenship in countries such as India.

Let me now illustrate the relation between infrastructure and politics with some instances from colonial and postcolonial Calcutta. Consider the instance of motorable street-making in Calcutta between the 1910s and 1920s in the first place. During these two decades, the coordinated operation of the Calcutta Improvement Trust, Port Trust and PWD resulted in a decisive transformation in the city’s material culture. Calcutta got several avenue-style streets paved with asphalt and spacious sidewalks. The new streets were deliberately run through slums. The elevated architectural pattern of these avenues produced new asymmetries between the heights of the low-profile lanes (gullies) and the high-profile streets (rajpath). Paradoxically, such spaces provoked but also enabled bodies to congregate and forge alliances to lay claim on it as a place to walk and move, to protest, to vend and dwell.

The new network of main streets brought with it new regulations that would privilege high-speed motorcars over traditional bullock carts. Thus, in 1930, the Corporation of Calcutta, in connivance with the Improvement Trust, implemented a new traffic rule to restrict the movement of bullock carts beyond certain hours and boundaries of prominent wholesale marketplaces in central Calcutta. This was, of course, an effect of newly asphalted roads that for the corporation described a characteristic geographical distribution of smooth-flowing traffic to which the carters presented an obstruction. But the carters did not take to this lightly. In association with young communist labour leaders of the time like Abdul Momin, the mostly upcountry carters decided to wage a protest against the corporation’s new traffic rules dividing the organisation into six small zonal committees. On April 1, 1930, the day when the new rule was to come to force, carters started taking away bullocks from the carts at about noontime, dismantled the wheels from the carts and arranged them crosswise. In 1935, an Intelligence Bureau report noted how the official communist press acclaimed the strike as the ‘first barricade street fight with the police in India—which indeed it was.’[2] The first day’s firing left seven carters dead. A procession of about 5,00,000 people took the carters’ bodies to perform the last rites.

The relation between infrastructures and practices enabled by them is that of mutual constitution. Take the example of sidewalk hawkers (who proliferated in Calcutta most remarkably in the early postcolonial decades). As a citizen of Calcutta, you must have noticed how hawkers set up their stalls either in front of buildings, and use the walls facing the sidewalk, or opposite buildings and other shops at the kerbside edge of the sidewalk, forming a corridor in the middle for pedestrian traffic. The ideal site for a food stall is the midpoint between the municipal water tap and the drain at the kerbside of the sidewalk. Business improves with proximity to busy transit points and the hawkers’ access to certain utilities (such as a municipal water tap) by the sidewalk.

The more one follows these arrangements in particular situations, the more one understands how the destiny of an ‘object’, no matter how human or non-human by preconditions of vitality, acquires infinite dimensions but only in association with other objects. The demolition of one stall in a particular area could lead to the destruction of a network of small economies. How does that happen? Since stalls other than mine, understood as part of a network in excess of my existence as a hawker, provide a crucial condition of my self-definition, my singular existence can make no exclusive claim upon the network. No hawker can live devoid of this crucial connection to a network that exceeds the limits of human actors. When, for instance, hawkers gather their stalls, new spaces between bodies and stalls are assembled whose internal dimensions and consistencies are vital for a collective living.

In their everyday encounter with the sidewalk, the hawkers refuse to take a certain preordained role of the sidewalk for granted. Rather, through everyday negotiations with pedestrians, shopkeepers, property owners, the state and themselves, the hawkers create, reconfigure and ‘re-function’ materialities of infrastructures. In doing so, they periodically sidestep the bourgeois law of property, appropriate infrastructures, and make infrastructures the ‘focus of a collective existence’. Often, they demand concessions from the government as a matter of right to livelihood in the city. They place such claims not as a matter of rule, but as acceptable exceptions to the rule of property. At the time of competitive electoral mobilisation in cities, a number of such claims define the terms on which these groups are considered parties to the governmental negotiations. Partha Chatterjee’s invocation of political society gives such struggles a conceptual and academic framework. Collective action also collects and organises infrastructures and animates architecture. Judith Butler’s recent works on the constitutive relations between public space and protest allows us to understand the ways in which the facts of complex interdependencies continually haunt and bring to crisis our current conceptual frameworks regarding the politics of infrastructures and the infrastructures of politics.

AS: Can you name an infrastructural initiative in Calcutta undertaken between the 1950s and the 1970s that significantly impacted the political life of the city?

RB: Calcutta is crisscrossed by railway yards. Until the first half of the twentieth century, the rail lines acted as the natural boundary between the city and some of its immediate hinterlands. In fact, in Calcutta, the divide between the two sides of a rail yard was not just spatial; it was also civic, moral and cultural. Even in the 1970s, the other side of the track was considered the natural end of urban modernity, where the wagon breakers, Naxalite insurgents, and poorer and degraded East Bengali refugees crowded the neighbourhoods—a new frontier to be conquered by flyovers between the late 1950s and 1980s. Three flyovers—one in Dhakuria, one in Ballygunge and another in Jadavpur–Santoshpur—sought to integrate some of the most troubled hinterlands in the southeast with the main city.

These flyovers were the last major infrastructural works undertaken by the Calcutta Improvement Trust. A consultation of the trust’s various records pertaining to these projects suggests that these flyovers were built to tame the insurgent spaces that for a long time threatened the city’s normal civic life. These flyovers became some of the prime vehicles of the eastward expansion of Calcutta culminating in the massive Eastern Metropolitan Bypass project (started in 1973), which, in subsequent decades, led to a huge real-estate boom and peri-urban growth in the east Calcutta wetlands area stretching from Salt Lake in the north, Garia in the south, the Dhapa dumping ground in the east and the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in the west. Urbanisation in this area remained a matter of intense conflict, and it continued to keep the major political regimes in the last four decades well-funded to run their everyday machinery.

AS: You have worked on the hawkers’ movement, urban infrastructure and issues of rent, and now you are working on how Calcutta in the twentieth century was gradually becoming a Hindu space. While your early works focused on more on the contemporary, your current interest seems to be late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Calcutta. How, if at all, have early decades of postcolonial India been important in your own work? 

RB: During these decades, the city witnessed profound transformations in street life and in civic governmental institutions—the two key sites of my research. The main thoroughfares became clogged with street hawkers and pavement dwellers. These spaces emerged as an entangled world of life and labour. The Calcutta Improvement Trust (founded in 1911 to decongest and beautify the city through a set of ambitious street schemes, and thereby increase the capital value of the city) bore the brunt of the refugee influx the most. Literally, all the vacant houses and acres of inner-city land that it acquired or built over decades, became numerous disputed refugee settlements. A number of those disputes are still alive in the court and the Calcutta Improvement Trust spends a substantial portion of its revenue in these litigations. In course [in 1974], the trust was annexed with Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) as merely a department. The trust lost its imposing office building at 5 Clive Street (now Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road) and shifted to a more modest building in the former Tireta Bazaar (adjacent to the Central Avenue, now named after Netaji’s political mentor C. R. Das) close to a massive garbage vat. The trust maintains a very basic office floor whose staircases shelter numerous pavement dwellers, and it struggles to clear dues of perhaps the last batch of its permanent staff members. If this is not, then what is postcolonial passage?

AS: This was also a period that gave Calcutta the pejorative identity of a dying city, a city of protests and processions, strikes and lockouts. On the other hand, in the public memory of contemporary Bengal, Bidhan Chandra Roy is associated with industrialisation and urbanisation. How do you read these apparently contradictory understandings of this period together?

RB: As you have already indicated in your question, this is an apparent contradiction. In my understanding, Bidhan Roy wished to imagine an urban industrial modernity away from the dead weight of a colonial city in transition. The urban industrial agglomerations that came up in these decades were designed as almost an antithesis of the refugee city Calcutta. The refugee influx made available a reserve army of workers whose sheer presence depressed wage and made possible industrialisation and agrarian expansion in various parts of India, including West Bengal, Jharkhand (then part of Bihar), Odisha (then Orissa), Chhattisgarh (then in Madhya Pradesh) and Madhya Pradesh. 

In central and southern districts of West Bengal, the flow of refugees brought about dramatic transformations in the social, economic and political life. [Cultural Anthropologist Tetsuya] Nakatani’s impressive work shows how a sizeable section of the lower caste and predominantly agriculturalist namasudra refugees kept on moving from one village to another in search of better land and how, finally, many of them ended up squatting on the semi-urban fringes of Calcutta.[3] The 1951 census captures how they started relying on non-agricultural occupations to eke out a living to such an extent that in 1961, the census commissioner was to acknowledge the fact that non-industrial towns like Krishnanagar, Chakda and Ranaghat in Nadia had ‘grown to enormous proportion by virtue of the influx of displaced persons since 1947,’[4] transforming what was a ‘small village and sleepy hollow’ in 1947 into the thriving ‘northern fringe of the Calcutta Industrial Region’ where rural and urban life would coexist for decades to come in an ‘uneasy equilibrium’. The namasudra refugees who settled across the ‘Sealdah line’ (suburban rail network from Sealdah Station in Calcutta to the neighbouring districts in the north and the south) in Nadia, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas overwhelmed the existing agrarian power relations, and from the 1960s they came to participate vigorously in the retail spaces on the streets of Calcutta and in the 80-kilometre radius of the city, and thereby transformed the spaces and boundaries of the city.

The Bidhan Roy era is known for planned urbanisation and industrialisation. If we shift the optic to various human activities in and around Calcutta in the initial decades after Partition, we see a different story of subaltern urbanisation and the growth of fringe economy overwhelming both traditional agricultural and industrial activities.

AS: The 1950s and the 1960s were a time when Calcutta was becoming a ‘majoritarian city’. This is one aspect often forgotten, and we associate these decades with various shades of Left politics. Please reflect on this process of Hinduisation and also on this selective amnesia.

RB: The majoritarian city refers to a state of affairs where violence toward the minority is routinised as a self-reproducing system—a society where lynching envelops riot as the dominant form of physical violence. In a majoritarian city or state, violence rarely makes appearance in public discourse.  It tends to maintain a low profile and blossoms when wars are over. However, while erasing minority traces it makes certain practices associated with minority communities hyper-visible. The majoritarian city thus embodies a contradiction. It represents a condition in which majority becomes the image of minority in which none, even the majority community, escapes the spectre of the threat of minoritisation—a state where both majority and minority mirror each other as minority.

The majoritarian moment arrives when the minority loses the hope of an independent and powerful political representation. In West Bengal, the post-Partition decades witnessed the powerful emergence of the secular Left in both electoral and street politics. The left-wing secularism somehow managed to contain caste and communal assertions from the above, without addressing these issues at the core of the conflicted social structure. The political Left bolstered democratic rights of populations without developing any coordination with the social Left engaged in long-term social reform projects at the grassroots level. The hiatus and acrimonies grew between the political and the social Left over the decades and, finally, the former overwhelmed the latter. The caste and communal violence continued to take the form of structural discrimination under the carpet of an apparently progressive left-secular-bhadralok discourse.

To return to Calcutta, the census of 1961 found a near elimination of Muslims from the northern, eastern, south-central and southeastern wards of the city where refugees were resettled. In due course, Muslims lost their primacy in certain key urban artisanal activities such as tailoring and pottery—vocations that provided the lifeline for many for generations. Certainly, over the next four decades they improved their tally in the majority-minority ratio, but that was because of distress migration from rural Bengal. The construction boom in Calcutta since the 1980s (which began with the construction of the metrorail and Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and continued through the 2000s with the New Town Project) brought these new Muslim migrants to the city.

The most disturbing thing that the Sachar Committee report brought to the table was not the precarious condition of the Muslims in West Bengal during the decades of a progressive government but the revelation that even the self-proclaimed educated section of Calcutta for so long remained unaware of what unfolded before their eyes. The last major anthropological study on the Muslims of Calcutta was done in 1974. The city still awaits a second social scientist to conduct a basic socioeconomic survey on Muslims to at least track what happened since then.

AS: Let me now move to a question about history writing. Do you think the radical politics in the 1960s and 1970s has left any lasting impact on history writing?

RB: The radical politics of these decades, especially the Maoist peasant uprising (1967–72), played a significant role in shaping the political outlook of a number of historians of the time, including those who in the 1980s formed the Subaltern Studies collective[5]. The nature of the uprising and subsequent political developments in the subcontinent that culminated in the Emergency prompted a number of scholars to explore unconventional Marxist writings. This was the time when scholars such as Ranajit Guha, Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarty accessed [Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio] Gramsci’s work, which enabled them to conceptualise the colonial and the postcolonial regimes, the nature of peasantry and the working class, and the relation between state and populations beyond the then dominant ‘mode of production debate’. In so doing, the Subaltern Studies collective liberated history writing from the confines of the official archives and (gradually) from the intellectual and methodological hegemony of British universities. It made history more interdisciplinary than ever. The Subaltern historiography thrived in the interface of history, anthropology, literature and political theory and it influenced history writing in the entire postcolonial world.

AS:  I have another question about history writing. A historian of ‘modern India’ generally depends on the official archives, but accessing the archives and getting records for the postcolonial period is a challenging task. You, on the other hand, have worked with some of the less explored repositories of sources like Calcutta Improvement Trust records and the records of the Hawker Sangram Committee. Can you reflect on the politics and possibilities of these archives for writing on postcolonial Calcutta?

RB: The colonial rule was not founded upon a popular mandate. The legitimacy of rule materialised in an enormous paper trail over a couple of centuries. The postcolonial rule retained the same bureaucracy but it was not accountable to the British Parliament anymore. The channels that maintained meticulous contacts between the colonial and the metropolitan governments became redundant as a result. This eventually led to an overall decline of the official archival procedures. On the other hand, various social movements that developed in the postcolonial world began to use number, statistical databases and archives to stake claim on state resources. In the hands of the socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups, records turned out to be a language of social contestation. Ethnic groups, women and minority groups used numbers and cadastral surveys to make themselves visible, articulate their ‘difference’ from the mainstream, and to make claims upon the state and its services leading to the creation and elision of population categories. In my work on street hawkers, I showed how by arrogating to itself a certain archival function—which is conventionally associated with the state—sections of the population can become successful in their endless negotiations and tussles with the government.[6] The state seeks to manage populations by mapping them in every possible way, and successfully mobilised groups intervene in the process by acting as a crucial filter. In the context of postcolonial democracy, the archive has turned out to be a contested field of political negotiation. Thus, in postcolonial decades the field of archives became diverse and richer, and expanded beyond the labyrinths of the state bureaucracy.

The postcolonial regime was keen on making colonial repositories public, so that the tyranny of the previous regime came to public historical scrutiny. However, the same regime showed tremendous apathy to make the post-Independence repositories accessible to the public. That is why historians trained in understanding the colonial official archives find it difficult to work on issues and themes pertaining to the postcolonial decades. The field of archives appears unusual to them. As a student of contemporary histories, I have been a consistent advocate of taking an ethnographic approach to understand archives and the politics of archiving.  The moment we do so, the archives become not just a source but a subject of research. While working with the Hawker Sangram Committee (HSC) in Calcutta, I realised that the records in the archive of the HSC were not kept as the remains of the past, rather, they had an active social and political life. Let me give an example.

In 2005, the mayor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation formed a municipal consultative committee. The Hawker Sangram Committee is a member of this committee. Between 2005 and 2009, the committee met five times in the mayor’s office. On each occasion, I found Saktiman Ghosh, the Hawker Sangram Committee leader, at the meeting. Ghosh had files and papers containing some sort of database of hawkers, the earliest court orders in favour of hawkers, as well as the latest court order, and paper documents that he claimed were picked up sometimes from the office of an important government official in New Delhi, and on occasions even a cabinet minister. Though suspicious about the government, he never forgets to disclose his intimacy with its functionaries in the upper echelon, who often update him with new government secrets.

When the corporation decided to evict hawkers from Park Street, Saktiman presented a map showing the exact location of the Hawker Sangram Committee’s affiliate hawkers in the Park Street area, and claimed that his clients had been operating there since the early 1970s. He presented the past eviction records—attested by the corporation—and records of police raids and of the confiscation of hawkers’ wares. A police official told me that the police department keeps records of confiscation, release, and ‘minor crimes’ for five years and then destroys them. The counterfoils of the old records with the Hawker Sangram Committee give a counterargument, because government functionaries cannot produce those documents but cannot ignore them either as they contain the signatures of officials. To the best of my knowledge, neither the corporation nor the police department has ever made any centralised documentation of every operation and raid, but individual hawkers preserve what they receive from the government—be it an eviction certificate or a release order of confiscated goods. The papers contain dates, signatures of officials, and stamps. Often these records change hands along with the site of vending, which suggests that the Hawker Sangram Committee’s archive is not a frozen entity awaiting a historian; rather, it is an archive in constant circulation, enabling the Hawker Sangram Committee to function well in the governmental space. The Hawker Sangram Committee’s archival function enables it to convert the record of transgression to the record of legitimation.

AS: The last question that I have is a little autobiographical in nature. You came to Calcutta as an undergraduate student of Jadavpur University. You stayed in a shared accommodation (mess) in a refugee colony area in south Calcutta. How, if at all, did the memories of the Partition, food movements, the Naxal movement linger on and shape the politics and the sense of belonging in these spaces when you were there in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

RB: I joined Jadavpur University as an undergraduate student in the year 2000. I remained a resident of the Bijoygarh colony for nearly a decade. The mess bari (house) I lived in belonged to Chitta Ranjan Dey, who was one of the key figures in settling refugees (predominantly from Dacca district) in Bijoygarh. He was a pension-holding freedom fighter who fondly remembered his role in throwing the Muslim residents out of the colony and in claiming their homestead lands for his fellow refugee brethren. In the early 2000s, about 10 or 12 old residents were still active in the neighbourhood who could vividly remember the initial days of the colony—the memories of the erstwhile military settlement, the playground, the founding of the thakurbari (temple), Jagarani Club, the market and a number of schools. I do not remember any significant discussions about food movement and the Naxalite uprising. The story of founding the colony and its social infrastructures used to make regular rounds in tea shops and sort of enveloped other significant issues that shook the neighbourhood in the 1960s and 1970s.


[1] Global South is an emerging term for politically or culturally marginalised regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.

[2] Sarkar, Bengal 1928–34, 103.

[3] Nakatani, ‘Away from Home.’

[4] Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition, 127.

[5] A collective of South Asian scholars interested in postcolonial and post-imperial discourses; it took shape in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

[6] Bandyopadhyay, ‘Politics of Archiving.’


Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti. ‘Politics of Archiving: Hawkers and Pavement Dwellers in Calcutta.’ Dialectical Anthropology 35, no. 3 (2011): 295–316.

Chatterji, Joya. The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Nakatani, Tetsuya. ‘Away from Home: The Movement and Settlement of Refugees from East Pakistan into West Bengal, India.’ Journal of Japanese Association for South Asian Studies 12 (2000): 73.

Sarkar, Tanika. Bengal 1928–34: The Politics of Protest. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987.