AnthropologyHistory

Life in a Refugee Colony in India

In Bhudiya Colony, scars from the Indian partition still linger.

Bhudiya Colony, around 55 miles from Bareilly city, is the camp of Bengali-speaking refugees from East Pakistan who crossed the border due to communal violence around the time of the partition of the erstwhile British India

Prabhat Singh

Nikunj Bhowmick, who lives in a refugee settlement near the north Indian city of Bareilly, clings to two of his belongings, which connect him to his past. One is a certificate of registration, dated November 19, 1956, and issued by the superintendent of Ranigachi camp in the state of West Bengal. The other is a two-stringed musical instrument, called dotara, which he made for himself.

The instrument consoles his soul, and the certificate validates his existence in an adopted country. However, the piece of paper is also a constant reminder of scars that the new generation is hardly aware of.

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Nikunj Bhowmick
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The palm-size radio is the only companion of Harlal Baidya

A resident of Bhudiya Colony, around 55 miles from Bareilly city, Bhowmick is one of the millions of Bengali-speaking refugees from East Pakistan who crossed the border due to communal violence around the time of the partition of the erstwhile British India. East Pakistan came to be known as Bangladesh after its liberation from Pakistan in 1971 and is now home to the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population.

In 1948, Nikunj was about 23 when he left his native village Babuganj in Barisal, with his wife and a son. He stayed in Ranigachi refugee camp in West Bengal for eight years. He got only 16 rupees per month from the government and worked as laborer to meet the living expenses.

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Bishakha, whose family members work as daily-wagers.
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Suniti, who still remembers how their village was attacked and his husband had decided to migrate.

With his wife and three-year-old son, Bhowmick landed in West Bengal and stayed in the Ranigachi refugee camp for eight years before being rehabilitated in Bhudiya Colony. A Hindu, he escaped the atrocities that were meted out to numerous non-Muslims at the time, but he witnessed some bloody incidents. Like others, he remains traumatized by the memory.

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Women work from home to make some extra money.
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Maina takes care of snacks stall at Budhiya Colony when her son Sanjay is away.

“On the 16th of June, 1961, 160 families from camps in Calcutta were brought to Bhudiya Colony. They were from villages in Barisal, Faridpur, Mymensingh, Dhaka, and Jessore districts who came to India with a hope to start their lives afresh,” says another resident, Sukhranjan Bairagi.

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Akoli Sarkar and her grandson run this shop.
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Shafique Ahmed is the only Muslim in Bhudiya Colony working since last four decades.

Today, around 5,000 refugees from Bangladesh live in Bareilly. While only a few of the first-generation settlers are alive today, stories of arson, killing, rape, abduction, and looting still abound. However, the younger generation clearly does not wish to retain those stories in their memory. They talk more often, and more comfortably, about economic hardships and family disputes their ancestors had.

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Courtesy: The Diplomat

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