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?

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Some of the most significant innovations in automotive history made their debut in this iconic automobile

The latest version features India's first BS VI norms-compliant engine and a host of 'intelligent' features.

The S-Class, also known as Sonderklasse or special class, represents Mercedes Benz’ top-of-the-line sedan line up. Over the decades, this line of luxury vehicles has brought significant automotive technologies to the mainstream, with several firsts to its credit and has often been called the best car in the world. It’s in the S-Class that the first electronic ESP and ABS anti-lock braking system made their debut in the 20th century.

Twenty first-century driver assistance technologies which predict driver-behaviour and the vehicle’s course in order to take preventive safety measures are also now a staple of the S-Class. In the latest 2018 S-Class, the S 350 d, a 360-degree network of cameras, radars and other sensors communicate with each other for an ‘intelligent’ driving experience.

The new S-Class systems are built on Mercedes Benz’s cutting-edge radar-based driving assistance features, and also make use of map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. In cities and on other crowded roads, the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC helps maintain the distance between car and the vehicle in front during speeds of up to 210 kmph. In the same speed range, Active Steering Assist helps the driver stay in the centre of the lane on stretches of straight road and on slight bends. Blind Spot Assist, meanwhile, makes up for human limitations by indicating vehicles present in the blind spot during a lane change. The new S-Class also communicates with other cars equipped with the Car-to-X communication system about dicey road conditions and low visibility due to fog, rain, accidents etc. en route.

The new S-Class can even automatically engage the emergency system when the driver is unable to raise an alarm. Active Emergency Stop Assist brings the car to a stop if it detects sustained periods of inactivity from the driver when Active Steering Assist is switched on. If the driver doesn’t respond to repeated visual and audible prompts, it automatically activates the emergency call system and unlocks the car to provide access to first responders.

The new Mercedes-Benz S 350 d in India features another notable innovation – the country’s first BS VI norms-compliant car engine, in accordance with government regulations to control vehicular pollution. Debuting two years before the BS VI deadline of 2020, the S 350 d engine also remains compatible with the current BS IV fuels.

The S 350 d is an intelligent car made in India, for Indian roads - in the Mercedes Benz S-Class tradition. See the video below to know what drives the S-Class series by Mercedes Benz.

To know more about the 2018 S-Class, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.