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Rethinking Partition Induced-Migration in West Bengal, India: A Study Through the Lens of Gender, Caste and Region


· Ekata Bakshi Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India)


07/28 | 10:00-10:20 UTC+2/CEST


Partition studies in the Indian subcontinent, especially in Bengal has remained myopic, in terms of its regional focus, despite the recent challenges provided by feminist and anti-caste literature. This paper, thus, argues for a differential understanding of refugee-hood and rehabilitation by locating it in a non-metropolitan city in West Bengal ‒ Asansol, where, erstwhile rural lower/outcaste class refugees from government camps were rehabilitated to provide cheap labour for industrial development. Ethnographic insights, point out, that despite being highly exploited and remaining socio-economically marginal, the refugee families gained limited stability and some mobility as the male members became blue collar labourers. This was undone by general economic down turn of the city after globalization, increasing their dependence on the poorly paid informal sector. Further, existing injunctions against women joining blue collar work, concerns about physical safety in the hostile city-space and lack of social and cultural capital, forced the women of these families to remain restricted to the domestic space or take up extremely underpaid informal work, while being simultaneously excluded from access to formal education. The socio-economic marginalization of such families and its recent intensification have ensured that the same pattern is repeated over generations inhibiting the possibility of gendered mobility, except for in marriage. The paper then focuses, on the long-duree of refugee-rehabilitation through the intersecting lenses of caste, gender and region for a nuanced understanding of the ongoing legacies of vulnerability created by the Partition.