South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Workers, Basti Dwellers, Outsiders: Locating the “Non-Bengalis” of West Bengal in the 1950s

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

The 1950s in West Bengal witnessed a multiplicity of struggles aimed at securing the rights of workers and Basti-dwellers, a considerable proportion of whom were drawn from the ranks of the “Non-Bengalis”, Hindi-Urdu speaking migrants from northern India, who had long constituted the bulk of the laboring classes in Bengal. At the same time, however, these migrant workers were increasingly portrayed as a redundant population, which West Bengal’s slow economy and strained social fabric could not accommodate. They were depicted as competing with Bengalis for employment, while their lack of investment in West Bengal was exemplified by the remittances they sent to their rural homes, often contrasting them with the refugees from East Bengal, more deserving of State patronage. So even while their place in the neighborhood and at work became more secure, as “non-Bengalis” these populations were circumscribed to a peripheral position in West Bengal. The paper proposes to explore this tension and the ambiguous position of the so-called “Hindustani” migrants in post-independence West Bengal, who increasingly appear as unwanted presences, in a context of economic crisis. The everyday struggle and politics of migrant workers for entitlements and identity, which continues even now, significantly shaped the present day working class politics of Bengal.

Camille Buat

University of Goettingen, Germany

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4 - Workers, Basti Dwellers, Outsiders: Locating the “Non-Bengalis” of West Bengal in the 1950s



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