Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Festivals Across Fence: Partition, Religion and (Border) Festivities

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

The ill-conceived boundary, resulting from the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, left a complex borderland across the Bengal border. Religion as an index and agenda has hence played an important role in the boundary context. Both India and Bangladesh have used religion as a tool to reinscribe themselves across their borders. A study of the border festivals can help us understand this. The paper tracks the changing nature of Bengal’s border festivals from 1947 to the present—showing how the secular folk festivals of the pre-Partition days gave way to state-backed, ‘religious’ festivals. The festivals of the pre-Partition times, held in the areas which later became borderlands were mostly celebrations of harvest and worship of local deities to ensure sustained livelihood. These were the festivals organized by the local populace, drawing people across religious divides. Fairs and festival grounds were convergence points for locals rather than being sites for performing one’s religion. Increasing border regulations ceased such festive convergence, and were replaced by state-backed festivals of an overtly religious kind—Durga Puja, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Eid becoming the mainstay of such celebrations. These festivals are neither secular nor people-initiated. They are organized by border guards and held under controlled surveillance of either state. The states’ religious policies and majoritarian agendas are played out across their borders, through such festivals and constant scrutiny over the changing religious profile of its border population. 


Debdatta Chowdhury

Centre for the Studies in Social Sciences, India


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4 - Festivals Across Fence: Partition, Religion and (Border) Festivities

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