Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Ghosts of Partition? Muslim Identities in Contemporary Kolkata

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

Despite the relative absence of communal disturbances in recent decades, Kolkata’s Muslims remain a much-maligned community confined to a few pockets of the city, commonly known as ‘musholman paras’. Sharply segregated from the quarters of the dominant Hindu communities and lacking in comparable social and civic amenities, these neighborhoods have assumed ghetto-like forms whose boundaries bear testimony to the metaphors of Muslim ‘difference’ rampant in the average middle-class Bengali psyche. Such identifications which invariably present the Muslim as the ubiquitous other of the Bengali-Hindu self often derive from representations that had crystallized around the time of Partition and Independence when Bengal was divided along communal lines for the creation of East Pakistan. The ‘Muslim’ therefore is the opposite of the mild-natured cultivated Bengali bhadralok, generally lacking in ‘culture’, with a propensity towards aggressive self-assertion and a habitual lack of cleanliness unbecoming of modern civic living. Drawing from fieldwork carried out in one Muslim neighbourhood in Kolkata, namely Park Circus, this paper seeks to understand the processes through which such imaginings of the Muslim gets reinforced at the everyday level and the consequences they hold for emerging Muslim conceptions of identity and difference in a rapidly evolving urban landscape where multiple bases of identity assume relevance contextually in people’s lives. The paper argues that the valorization of an externally imposed monolithic identity obscures the plurality and multilayered-ness of Muslim identities and may lead to a reversal to traditional community-based identity among some sections of Muslims.

Anasua Chatterjee

University of Delhi, India

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