Migration debate

In one West Bengal district, Bangladeshi Hindu refugees attempt to oust Indian Muslims

Narendra Modi's threat to deport Bangladeshi Muslims has emboldened Hindu refugees in Uttar Dinajpur.

Over the decades, West Bengal hasn’t paid much attention to controversies about illegal Bangladeshi migrants. But this election season, the Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to change that. In recent speeches, their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has declared that only those who worship Durga can live in Bengal. The rest will be deported when he comes to power, Modi warned.

In Uttar Dinajpur, a district in West Bengal bordering Bangladesh, those remarks are being fervently debated at roadside stalls. However, Modi’s suggestion that Durga-worshipping Hindu migrants from Bangladesh would be given refuge while Bangladeshi Muslims would be expelled doesn’t reflect the complexity on the ground.

In this district, the children of Hindu refugees who fled Bangladesh in the 1970s have cast themselves as rivals to Bengali-speaking Muslim Badiyas or Bhatiyas who moved to Uttar Dinajpur from other parts of West Bengal about two decades ago.

“They say they come from Malda and Murshidabad to this side but that is plain lie,” declared Tapas Sarkar, a youth from Ramkrishnapur village, whose parents came to India in 1969 from Rangpur in Bangladesh. “How could there be so many people there? They hide it that they come from Bangladesh.”

Sarkar and other young refugees claim that the increase in the number of Muslim Bhatiyas has changed the demography of the region and are worried that these regional migrants have begun to exert a greater influence on local affairs.

These second-generation Bangladeshi migrants have found support in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has even organised campaigns in the neighbouring Kishanganj district to evict Bhatiyas from the area, claiming that they are illegal Bangladeshis.

With Modi’s recent anti-migrant comments, many young second-generation refugees find their claims bolstered by the broader national discourse around illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Not surprisingly, many of these young people voted for the BJP this time.

For their part, the Bhatiyas point out that targeting them would only hurt the local agricultural economy, for which they provide the bulk of the labour. “Is it a crime even to move from one district to another in India?” asked Abdul Matin, a homeopathy doctor in Chakulia. “The BJP knows  that talking about Bangladeshi outsiders is just like raising anti-reservation pitch time to time"  –  it will reap political benefits just by raising the issue, he said.

Ironically, the local population of Surjapuri Hindus and Muslims, who are known as "deshi" or "native" people, is not quite as exercised about migration. “All people have come to our region because it’s one of the most fertile lands in Bengal,” said Manabendro Das, a school teacher in Chakulia. “Why treat them differently according to their religion?”

Though the outsiders don't alarm Kamruzzaman, a Surjapuri Muslim from the same village, Modi’s comments do. “He just wants to find an excuse to target Muslims,” he said. “Today the BJP wants to evict Bhatiyas and tomorrow they will target us.”

It isn’t just tensions between Hindu refugees and Bhatiya Muslims that are playing out in Uttar Dinajpur. There are also old resentments between “deshi” Surjapuri Muslims and Bangladeshi Hindu migrants. The deshi Muslims claim that when Bangladeshi refugees were settled in Chakulia and nearby Kanki in the 1970s, they were allocated land that had been usurped from local Muslims. There were even riots at the time to protest this.

Narayan Chandra Sarkar, retired headmaster of Chakulia High School, is among the Bangladeshi refugees who has benefited from the hospitality of the deshis. He said he was grateful to the deshis for helping him build a new life. “I came from Bangladesh in 1967 with a graduate degree from Rajshahi University,” he said. “I was unemployed and had family problems. So with the help of a local relative, I came over to this side and joined my school.”

Unlike his younger relatives, Sarkar voted for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and he too was wary of Modi's comments on Bangladeshi migrants. “Garib manusher abar desh ki?" he asked. Do the poor have any nation?

 
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.