Arthur CESSOU-BUTEL is a student of Comparative study of development at the EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences): research project on Bangladeshi migration to West Bengal (dir. L. Kennedy). He was worked as Youth services Camp councilor with teenagers from 2008 to 2010 during summer holidays Since 2010, working for the City of Paris in municipal schools.

His Internship Report ( November 2012-December 2012)

Bangladeshi Migrants in West Bengal since 1971 : A Study through the Question of Migrants’ Networks 

Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal is a complicated topic for research, for it can be difficult, on an empirical level, to study the integration of migrants as an autonomous process, distinct from the social and political systems that characterize the whole state. Indeed, this population flow is unique because it is happening in a somewhat culturally united space, Bengal, though it involves crossing an international border. Contrary to other migrations, migrants from Bangladesh can rely on networks which are older than the border and thus better manage to get out of their isolation.  

To lead my research, I have tried to meet people who have crossed the border at different moments after 1971. I have been in the colonies of Santipur, which have been created just after this date; then I have visited the colony of Kakdwip which has been growing mostly during the 90’s; I have also tried to meet very recent migrants in slums, like in Rajarhat and Habra. I was thus trying to get an overview of the evolution of migrants’ behavior, partly to see its correlation with the more obvious evolution of the political perception of the border and the migrants. It was also made in order to have a chronological understanding of migrants’ strategy of integration. Indeed, some studies on the post-Partition refugees’ movements have shown how long can be the processes, which can last for several generations[1].  

In this work, I have chosen an approach closed to the migratory theories that include the cultural features of the population flows. They have made it easier to take into account the historical evolution of migration’s conditions, as well as the question of migrants’ networks[2]. This notion of network is quite central in my study, because it appears to be a useful tool to analyze migrants’ strategies in developing countries and especially in India. In the following paper, network will be understood as the social groups an individual belongs to according to different sort of characteristics (which can be an ethnic group, a religion, a geographical origin, a family name, etc.) that this individual has[3]. But he or she can pretend to endorse such a feature to enter into a network and thus get some facilities. According to this approach, we can see the migrant as an individual deprived from the networks which were related to his or her location and forced to find new ones to replace them. What I find interesting in this approach, concerning this migration in West Bengal, is that it allows to study migrants’ relationships with the hosting society. 

Moreover the network theory emphasizes greatly on the question of information which have become central in Economy. For poor migrants, or people forced to move, the information’s deficiency is natural. Therefore they are mainly guided in their movements by their scarce networks[4]. The migrant cannot be associated to a rational actor taking decision according to a united job market and in possession of all the information that he or she needed. 

Political and Cultural Framework of the Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal 

The West Bengal borderland is specific for two reasons I would like to emphasize here. First considering that the border is the more radical expression of the Nation-State and its territorially-based identity, the India-Bangladesh border bears the stamp of the Central government and its perception of the “outside”[5]. This perception is embodied by the Border Security Forces which mostly come from other parts of India, and are then non-Bengali speaking. This is to be related to a method of ruling inspired by Machiavelli and introduced in India by the British before it was used by the Indian State, which states it is better to rule a region, to use soldiers from another place in order to avoid any emotional commitments of the forces.  

Partition of Bengal has been quite different from the Western situation and the decision to divide Bengal seems to have been, to some extent, imposed by the Centre and the Congress. On a political level, it was obviously a main objective to keep West Bengal and Kolkata away from becoming a part of a Muslim nation, which would have been another threat at India’s gates. The regular history books I have read before were presenting Partition as an inescapable process due to the reality of the slogan “two nations, two states” and the communal violence of the mid-forties. But as Tagore states in his speech about Indian nationalism, India is composed of many nations gathered in a country, and the notion of nation-state, and the nationalism that comes with it, is a legacy of the particular European history which could hardly fit to the Indian subcontinent situation. It is therefore possible to see the Bengal Partition as the action of the Central State to divide the Bengali nation, who has also been for the British rulers a source of preoccupation[6]. Furthermore, the erection of a fence can also be related to this original desire to keep Kolkata and West Bengal away from a Muslim’s ruling.  

This has been especially brought to my mind after my visit at the NGO Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM). According to the member of the association I have met, the central State’s action on the border is driven by a high cast, Hindi speaking and nationalist mindset. Moreover, as the India-Bangladesh border is a very populated area and considering the importance of the crossborder trafficking, the BSF is also ruling a part of the India population, which is then deprived of some fundamental rights. This exceptional situation is brought by several Acts, like the Border Security Forces Act and its Amendment of 2011, or the use of the 144 Section of the Criminal Penal Code (that was also used during the violent events in Tehatta in November, 2012) to provide the police extended powers and restrict the population’s rights in some circumstances[7]. “Since January 2007, MASUM has documented 61 cases of alleged killings of Indian nationals by the BSF in West Bengal” one can read in the Amnesty International report Trigger Happy. When a state comes to allow the killing of its own citizens, this is clearly a case where State’s and nation’s interests are in conflict.  

The second specific feature of the area is its high population density and the restless crossborder flows of population and goods. Thus, in the everyday life, the affirmation of the Nation State is challenged and the border is fouled[8]. But this population, as it has been said, is under a special rule, from the Central government which is staying far from them. In the border districts, according to the facts reported by MASUM on its website for the last four years[9], BSF makes no distinction between Indian and Bangladeshi people. Thus, one could say that this specific area which cannot fit the official expectations in terms of distinction between the inside and the outside is more or less outlaw. According that the majority of the population of the border district is relying on smuggling or any other crossborder traffic to live, people there are all illegal migrants and treated this way.  

There, migrant’s statute is experienced by the population as an everyday reality. The international border that have been imposed on these pre-Partition interactions have greatly affected the networks, marginalized the actors, and endangered many activities. The connections with the local police and forces (more than with politics), are quite different from those I have seen in Santipur or Kakdwip. The greater political tension and the distance between BSF and the population force the later to constantly renegotiate their rights and capabilities, which stick them in a day-to-day struggle and a restless uncertainty.   

Thus migration denies every day the reality of the border. But, in another hand, migrants and their growing fear to be pushed back, as well as the bribing of the BSF, actualize the same borderland. It is therefore interesting to analyze the impacts of this international limit and its political treatment over the migrants’ networks. For example, the relentless growing security along the border since the India-Pakistan War of 1962, has considerably endangered the crossborder activities. The transnational channels that carry humans and goods from one side to another have then changed to more organized and more infiltrated structures, in the aim of reducing the risks. But the borderland has naturally affected every migrant, concerning the way to send remittances or the information costs. Now, information is mostly detained by these criminal networks which are present on both side of the border and it has become more and more costly over the year (nevertheless, the increasing of the price is also partly due to the growing prices asked by the police and BSF because of the awareness of the corruption of the area)[10]

Migration Produces a Network Deficiency 

What can be seen as a specific landmark to study this population flow are the discontinuities induced by migration in their life story. This is often embodied in the processes of self- organization of the migrants, from the formation of colonies to the change of their names through their enrollment on voter list, which imply a reconstruction of their identity and a long, even often life lasting, dialectic work in order to complete their integration[11]

Indeed, migration forces people to renegotiate their place in society. This is obvious in the creation of colonies in West Bengal. A woman I have met in Santipur told me how her family left her village after selling the house for a very low price. They took a train, and then crossed the border on a river. There, they bribed the Border Security Force and came in Santipur where they stayed in their relatives’ house. Then they rented a house until some spontaneous leaders among the refugees who have come within the same time lead them to a wasteland owned by the state, that they shared equally between the households. It is noteworthy that old dwellers from the village join the refugees as they settled down in the colony and then became refugees themselves in a way (This point shows that the “refugee” identity is imposed from above according to predefined criteria; nevertheless, the migrants were distinct from these dwellers by their fear of being pushed back to Bangladesh). They clear the place from the bushes and help each other to build their houses. In the colony, many people who used to be carpenters started their former occupation again. It took more than two decades for the refugees to get dalil for their property and the Indian citizenship that comes with it. In this woman’s story, it is hard to see any prepared strategy of integration from the migrants who seem to act in a day-to-day struggle. Deprived from the capabilities they could enjoy in their former residence, they have no security nets outside of the colony. This explains the “sense of unity” expressed by the refugees about this period through the lack of the usual social supports[12].  

This example shows how the self-organization processes of the refugees are spontaneous and strongly related to the social and political framework. Even if the migrants have an obvious lack of networks outside the colony, it is wrong to assert that their perspectives end with its boundaries. Thus, during my visit of the illegal migrants’ settlements in Rajarhat’s suburbs, which look like an extreme case of migrants’ marginalization and isolation, inhabitants of the colonies were enjoying networks beyond their community. It could be the religious network, embodied by the mosque which the migrants visit for festivals as well as networks brought by their profession like housemaid in the nearby buildings.  

The Self-Organized Networks of Migrants 

It is clear that in Bengal, migration was a slow process. During my research, most of the people I have met had taken the decision to leave considering several factors and successive events, rather than one decisive point. Nevertheless, often the decision has been made after a precise fact that can be told by the migrants as the turning point which made him or her leave (as a quarrel with Muslim neighbors over the share of fishing rights in an irrigation channel, or a long decrease in bidi selling on which the family is relying). But it is clear that this is more about a subjective limit of people beyond which they consider it is not any longer worthy to stay and protect their capabilities implied in their situation. And this limit is all but a predefined set of conditions. It must be considered as an evolution in the subjective perception of the situation, which is also fed by the collective discussions over the issue, and the evolution of the political framework. Indeed, through official statistics and different discussion, it is clear that the increases in population flows from Bangladesh can often be related to the deterioration of the communal relationship in the country. But even concerning this more objective point, the Bangladeshi political framework, one can find many differences in people’s perception of State’s behavior toward them.  

Thus, migrants chose at one point to give up their social and spatial situations, in terms of outcomes and networks, to move on the other side of the border, which can be attractive as it is not seen as a real foreign country. This migration doesn’t plan to ever come back and aspires to reach a similar condition from its previous one (this is actually partly true and as we will see, mostly depends on a religious bias; thus, many Muslims who cross the border plan to come back after an undefined time of staying; they are therefore not looking for the same facilities and the same degree of integration than the migrants I am presently talking about). Indeed, the migrants have tried to use their skills and to find themselves in an environment where they can reproduce, in some part, their former networks and social behaviors. This is clearly embodied in the gathering of migrants according to their place of origins or their caste as long as it was possible to them[13].  

I have seen an example of migratory niche in Kakdwip, South 24 Parganas. The city has been growing very fast over the last decades, due to a large inflow of migrants from Bangladesh. This is no secret there. Most of the migrants are involved in job related to fishing, and many of the names one can read on the shops’ boards are titles from the jalia caste, and more especially from the sub-caste of the jalia-Kaibartya. There, I have talked to the headmaster of one of the colony’s school, which indicated that the government, through its help for the building of the school, has recognized these illegal migrants. He explained to me that when a new and young migrant is coming, an old migrant who already has got voter card from the local administration, presents himself as the father or the mother of the newcomer. With the help of a local political leader, the migrant is given a new name according to his new parent’s and enrolls on the voter list by the same token. Thus, the homogeneity of the migrants’ community is strengthened by this process of regularization and solidarity. There, the migrants have an opportunity to realize themselves according to their skill and their former situation in Bangladesh, which can highly contribute to their identity resilience. This is interesting to notice the role of the names in this process. The new name given to the migrant legitimizes him for the government, but also in order to find work and maybe to socialize in his new place of living, the migrant has to endorse a new identity.  

The importance of belonging to such a community to be recognized by the Indian government clearly appeared to me as I met a boat-maker in Debnagore, South 24 Parganas, who has left Bangladesh in 1987. This man has not changed his name as he crossed the border and after some time, he went to this area where he could live from his skills in boat-making (as the jalia of Kakdwip are gradually coming South to find an environment similar to their place of origin and where they can realize themselves in their former occupation). Therefore he is the only one in the area to have his title and it has till today made impossible for him to get any official Scheduled Caste certificate from the State and the facilities that come with it. Nevertheless, as he has found a place to sell the boat he is making himself in his house, he is able to develop his abilities and his family’s perspectives.  

The Migrants’ Networks in the West Bengal Political System 

The issue of migration from Bangladesh has been an important social and political debate in West Bengal, as it questions the relationship between Indian and Bengali identity and the legacy of Partition. It must also be replaced in the context of the newly independent state construction and the struggles to negotiate a new place in the society from its different groups. Indeed, the migrants have to fit to the national and federal conditions to claim for their regularization. There is therefore a dialectical relationship between migrants and the politics in West Bengal, to get the votes of the formers in exchange of their integration in the system. The emergence of the Left Front, which has ruled West Bengal for almost 40 years, is thus strongly correlated to the organization of the refugees’ movements in the late 60’s[14]. Nevertheless, the political commitments of the refugees cannot be reduced to the Left Front or even to the official political sphere.  

I have seen the stamps of this connection in a village of Nadia. There I have met the current chairman of the city, as well as the former chairman of the 70’s and other politically involved people from different parties. They told me that until the late 70’s, it was considered as “natural”, for both the state and the population, to provide help to the new comers, on the behalf of a sense of solidarity toward other Hindus. Some of the people I have met had also come from East Bengal in the early times of Partition to be able to lead their professional activities. At that time, the political leaders used to provide ration and voter cards to the migrants in exchange of some help for their campaigns. If you have someone of your family already enrolled on the lists, it was easy to get enrolled and to produce official papers thanks to your relative. Such practices are still going on nowadays, as I have been told. To enroll new people, some political leaders don’t erase dead people from the voter lists and then provide their identity to the migrants. 

The very old relationships between local politics and the migrants in their integration have created networks which are now working without their conditions of birth, like the emergence of the Left Front or the official “natural sense of solidarity toward the migrants”. This is also partly due to the clientelist features of the political system of West Bengal, where being a member of a party clearly increases one’s capabilities. Nowadays, as the Central State position over migration from Bangladesh has deeply changed, local political leaders cannot overtly speak about their current relationships with migrants. Once I have been told that migration was not a problem in West Bengal anymore and in the same time, that it was not a good idea to lead a research on this topic, for it won’t please the authorities.  

The Religious Bias  

It is important to me to stress the religious bias I have noticed in the study of this population flow. Though the Muslim migrants are, according to the officials, far less numerous than the Hindus, they have been crossing the border from nearly 60 years in a constantly growing flow. Moreover, Muslim migrants cannot claim for the same rights than the Hindus, as they are not raising any sense of solidarity, except the noteworthy case of the Liberation War when the population of West Bengal has provided help to the refugees from East Pakistan (but at that time, it was clear in every minds that this migration was temporary, as I have been told several times by the then political leader I have met). I have met in Habra a man who talked for a long time about the many Muslims who were living in the area under an Hindu name, and were thus enjoying the State’s facilities (especially the education system), with the help and silence of the local party. It is interesting to notice that words that are used in the official policies as well as in the informal conversations, such as refugees or illegal migrants, clearly refer to a religious based population. In spite of this, people are reluctant to overtly talk about the religious factor of the migration. Here I can refer one more time to Hannerz’ work on networks. In his book, Exploring the city, Hannerz writes that the networks that one person can enter are limited by his or her characteristics, such as the ethnic group, the religion, the social class etc. But another specific feature of West Bengal political life is that people rather like to talk in terms of social classes, than in terms of castes or religions. This is mostly due to the official communication of the Left Front as it was ruling the State.[15] 

Moreover, since the eighties, the Muslim migrants have been more and more stigmatized in the official speeches. This process have been especially fed by the movements in Assam in the late 70’s, the propaganda and ruling of the BJP that have led to the erection of the border fence, and the terrorist paranoia of the 21st century. Thus, it is getting harder and harder for a Muslim migrant to show clearly his religion. He cannot also raised an obvious sense of solidarity among Indian Muslims as they are facing a dilemma, according to their struggle to get more considerations in Indian policy and to avoid any suspicion about their loyalty to the State. Muslim migrants can therefore either choose to disguise themselves in Hindus (by changing their names for example), either to gather themselves in small communities in the suburbs not to raise attention and to preserve an inner solidarity.[16] 

As a multiethnic country, India’s government has to manage a balance between the different groups of the nation. Through a static conception of demography, it is trying to keep a statu quo in the religion’s share in the whole population. Muslim migrants, adding to the natural superior growth rate of the population, are then perceived as a threat to the demographic balance on which “communal harmony” and political power is constituted. We can compare this evolution with Israel’s case, where such considerations are backing the refusal of the right to return for the Palestinians and encouraging the “return” of the Jewish diaspora. In India, it is also considered by the government that Hindu migrants must enjoy facilities to get citizenship. So it is possible to find new categories which, beyond the notions of legality/illegality (which only refer to the legislation of the Central State), define migration according to its impact on the demographic balance of the immigration country, and thus reveal the vision of the Indian society carried by the government.           

The Muslim migrants I have met are generally poorer than the Hindus and their motives are mainly economic. They seem to live in a great uncertainty expressed in their fear when I asked them. These migrants are living on small earning. The people I have met in Rajarhat are earning between 500 and 1000 Rs. a month with important irregularities in their incomes and a significant share of the women are working outside of the colony. They are spending between 200 and 400 Rs. per room to the owners of the parcel who are living in the same part of the city. They are saving very few money and their remittances are therefore quite low. Nevertheless, they are not planning to go back to Bangladesh before many years. They have paid an average of 1000 Rs. to cross the border and cannot visit their relatives on the other side. But they are regularly joined by people coming from the same area. Most of their financial networks are limited to their colony and the small grocery shop of an Indian family that is just besides it. The physical appearance of the colony is reflecting the isolation of its inhabitants as all the rooms are turned toward the inside and then looking like a fence. It is even possible to see doors at the entrance of some of the colonies. I have not been surprised when in Habra, I have been told that many Bangladeshis nationals, especially students, are pretending to be Hindus by changing their name in order to register in school or enjoy wider networks.  


It is natural for me to try to see the diversity and the complexity of the phenomenon. It is obvious, after meeting these different actors that all the people who are crossing illegally the borderland since 1947 cannot be analyzed under the same paradigm and the same approach. Moreover, this process cannot be understood without a historical perspective that shows how the hosting conditions have gradually changer in one hand, and how the profiles of migrants have determined their strategies of integration or surviving. It is therefore necessary to clearly identify which characteristics are relevant to divide the migrants’ population into different groups, according to the networks they can mobilize and thus to the degree of free choice in the decision they are making.  

During my research, it has appeared clearly that the religious factor was very important in this approach. Indeed as they cross the border, the migrants will naturally fall into one of the religious groups that form Indian society and then beneficiate from the facilities provided by the statute of this group in the whole society. But the geographical location of the migration is also of a great importance. Because I have not been able to lead a proper enquiry on the very border areas, I have not referred to this point as often as it would be necessary in a paper on this subject. Nevertheless, I have read and heard that the specific ruling of these areas, added to the great poverty there, has noteworthy consequences on the everyday life of the hosting and migrating populations and that they were unable to establish safe  and long lasting networks to face the uncertainties. Furthermore, for many of the border inhabitants, crossborder activities and migrations are part of the routine and a necessity to survive.  

Nevertheless, I have clearly seen that the first three decades of an overtly welcome policy toward the refugees from the then East Pakistan has contributed to create networks which nowadays make the migration easier and harder to find for those who represent the Central State. This situation is specific to West Bengal and cannot be broadly associated with the situation of the other North-Eastern States. The current migration is therefore a part of the broader history of post-Partition population flows. 

I would like to warmly thank Parnab Das and Ayanangsha Maitra, who have been my guides during this research in West Bengal, as well as the Calcutta Research Goup’s members 


Refugees in West Bengal : The State and Contested Identities, Pradip Kumar Bose, ed., Calcutta, Calcutta Research Group - 2000
Social Networks and Migration, Far West Nepalese Labour Migrants in Delhi,
Susan Thieme, LIT Verlag Münster – 2006
Exploring the city
, U. Hannerz, Columbia University Press – 1980
The Bengal Borderland, Beyond State and Nation in South Asia
, Willem Von Schendel, Anthem Press – 2005
The Tragic Partition of Bengal
, Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Indian Academy of Social Science – 2002
The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal,
Ranabir Samaddar, New Delhi, Sage Publication -1999
Trapped in No Man's Land : Pattern and mechanism of migration -legal and illegal- of human beings, particularly women, adolescents and children between West Bengal in India and Bangladesh », Compiled by Veena Lakhumalani, Social Development Consultant, Kolkata, Groupe Développement – November 2010

La Dynamique interne des réseaux migratoires dans les pays en développement », Christophe Z. Guilmoto & Frédéric Sandron, Paris, Population n°55 – 2000

The Importance of Caste in Bengal », Uday Chandra & Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Economic and Political Weekly – November 2012
Caste and Politics in West Bengal », Sarbani Bandyopadhyay, EPW – December, 2012 


[1]“Adjustment and Transition in a Bengali Refugee Settlement : 1950-1999”, Dipankar Sinha in Refugees in West Bengal : The State and Contested Identities, Pradip Kumar Bose, ed., Calcutta, Calcutta Research Group - 2000
[2] See « La Dynamique interne des réseaux migratoires dans les pays en développement », Christophe Z. Guilmoto & Frédéric Sandron, Paris, Population n°55 – 2000, « Relative deprivation and international migration », O. Stark & J. E. Taylor, Washington, D.C.,in Demography vol.26 – 1989, « Theories of International Migration : A Review and Appraisal », D. S. Massey ed., Population and Development Review, Vol. 19, N°3- 1993, Social Networks and Migration, Far West Nepalese Labour Migrants in Delhi, Susan Thieme, LIT Verlag Münster - 2006
[3] My definition of a network here is influenced by Ulf Hannerz's in Exploring the city, U. Hannerz, Columbia University Press - 1980
[4] The choice of the network theory as the more relevant to analyze these population flows has been also made by Jyoti Parimal Sarkar in the article « Bangladeshi Migration to West Bengal : a cause of concern »
[5] See The Bengal Borderland, Beyond State and Nation in South Asia, Willem Von Schendel, Anthem Press - 2005
[6] See The Tragic Partition of Bengal, Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Indian Academy of Social Science - 2002
[7] The Border Security Force (Amendment) Bill 2011 presented to the Lok Sabha on November, 2011
[8] See“Inde-Bangladesh, la frontière déjouée ; Une région, deux pays… Et une intense contrebande », Elizabeth Rush in Le Monde Diplomatique – August 2012, “Jhoola aids Bangla cattle smugglers : BSF Puzzled, Wants More Outposts”, J. M. Pandey in The Times of India, Kolkata – September 4, 2012
[9] See the fact findings section of MASUM website for more information about the violence against Indian citizens on the border areas on http://www.masum.org.in
[10] See « Trapped in No Man's Land : Pattern and mechanism of migration -legal and illegal- of human beings, particularly women, adolescents and children between West Bengal in India and Bangladesh », Compiled by Veena Lakhumalani, Social Development Consultant, Kolkata, Groupe Développement – November 2010
[11] I have been inspired here by the article ”Foundation of a Refugee Market : A Study in Self reliance Initiative”, Dipankar Sinha in  Pradip Kumar Bose - 2000
[12] Here it can be interesting to refer to some literature produce by the migrants or the refugees before them to understand the mindset of these people. See Alamer Nijer Bari (Alam's Own House) by Dibyendu Palit
[13] I have here based my analysis mainly on The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal, Ranabir Samaddar, New Delhi, Sage Publication -1999
[14] “The UCRC : its Role in Establishing the Right of Refugee Squatters in Calcutta”, Arun Deb in Pradip Kumar Bose - 2000
[15] See « The Importance of Caste in Bengal », Uday Chandra & Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Economic and Political Weekly – November 2012 ; « Caste and Politics in West Bengal », Sarbani Bandyopadhyay, EPW – December, 2012
[16]  “Politics and origin of the Bangladesh-India border fence” Riswana Shamshad Monash Asia Institute

Tiina Seppälä
Tiina Seppälä is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lapland, Finland. Her main responsibility was supervision of BA seminar & thesis of Department of Social Studies. Also she is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Governing Life Globally- Project, The Academy of Finland, University of Lapland form August 1,2011-July 31,2012. Her Ph.D. thesis was 
Globalizing Resistance against War? A Critical Analysis of the Theoretical Debate through a Case Study of the ’New’ Anti-War Movement in Britain. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 193. (354 pp.) 

Her Internship Report (October 2011-March 2012)

I would like to warmly thank the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) for accepting me as a Visiting Research Scholar in the organization, from the beginning of October 2011 until the end of March 2012.


I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity, the honor as well as the pleasure of working with such a group of intelligent, good-hearted, deeply motivated, and passionate people. 


As a part of my post-doctoral research on social movements against neoliberal development in India, I have greatly benefited from the CRG’s expertise on issues such as forced migration, development induced internal displacement, and social movements. The opportunity to be part of the research group has helped me to establish important contacts with both academics and activists who are relevant to my study.    


The hospitability that I have experienced at the CRG has been beyond my expectations.


First and foremost, I want to thank Dr. Ranabir Samaddar, the Director of the CRG, for his invaluable help and encouragement that he has given me for conducting my research. I also want to express my deep appreciation for Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury for assisting me with my research as well as for inviting me to give a lecture at the Rabindra Bharati University. The lecture, titled ‘Critical Theory in Political Practice? Rethinking Theories of Global Resistance through the New Anti-War Movement’, was based on my PhD thesis (2010), and I gave it on 30 January 2012 at the Department of Political Science.   


Special thanks belong to Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, who was of great help to me when I was looking for an organization where to do some voluntary work. Anasua helped me to get in contact with Dr. Jana of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), for which I did three small case studies by interviewing trafficked girls and women who had been rescued by the DMSC. Additionally, I wrote a funding application (draft) for the DCSC’s anti-trafficking program.


From the CRG, I thank also Suhit K. Sen, Madruresh Kumar, Mitilesh Kumar, Paula Banerjee, and all others, who have shown their support and interest in my work.


I want to express my warm appreciation for wonderful and amazing M. Chatterji for all the help I have received form her in regard to various practical and organizational issues.  


During my visit at the CRG, I have gathered a lot of empirical material for my research on resistance against neoliberal development in India, and particularly the case of Rajarhat New Town Project in Kolkata.


I have concentrated on one of the most active and radical social movement organizations of the area – the Sanhati Collective. It is an autonomous collective which explicitly declares that it ‘fights neoliberalism in Bengal and beyond’. Sanhati was founded in 2006, and ever since it has been involved in many different kinds of struggles dealing with, for example, land ownership issues, development projects, dams, and nuclear plants.


For the purposes of my study, I have conducted several in-depth interviews and discussions with the main coordinator of Sanhati as well as women activists who are involved in struggles against forced land acquisition and displacement caused by neoliberal development projects. Moreover, I have interviewed (twice) Mr. Pramod Gupta, the director of the documentary film Aamader Jomite Oder Nagari [Their Township on Our Land] which deals with land acquisition and displacement of people in Rajarhat. Mr. Gupta is an independent documentarist who knows many Sanhati activists, and has given the Sanhati Collective permission to post his documentary films on the Sanhati website.


I have also interviewed Mr. Nilotpal Dutta, the Secretary of the Rajarhat Jami Bachao (Save the Rajarhat Lands) Committee, and while visiting villages in Rajarhat with him, I have talked with altogether 17 (ex-)farmers, (ex-)fisherman, activists and villagers. In addition to these materials, I have collected books and articles published by Sanhati as well as videos and documentaries that deal with development and land acquisition related struggles in West Bengal.

During my stay, I have presented two research papers. The first one I presented at the “Cultural Transformations: Development Initiatives and Social Movements’” Conference, organized by the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society (IACSS) at the BRAC University, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 17–18 December, 2011. My paper was titled ‘Women against Development: An Outline for a Case Study of Grassroots Movements in India’.


The second paper I presented at the CRG research seminar on 15 March, 2012. It was titled ‘Movements against Neoliberal Development in India: The Case of Rajarhat New Town Project in India’.  In the same seminar also my colleague Dr. Leonie Ansems de Vries, presented a paper titled ‘On (Im)mobility of Political Life’. 


From Kolkata, I will now continue to Kathmandu where I will be a Visiting Research Scholar at the Nepal Institute of Peace (NIP) for the next 3 months, until the end of June 2012. While in Nepal, I will continue my research, and hope to keep in close contact with people at the CRG. I am also interested in publishing a paper on my research, for example, in the CRG’s Policies and Practices -series.


I hope that the contact between us will remain close, and that in future there could be more collaboration between the CRG and the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland.

Katrin Renschler
MA in Sociology from Bielefeld University. Joined the MCRG as a Research Associate in February 2012. She is a PhD researcher and part of the DAAD-project “A New Passage to India”. Her primary academic interest focuses on everyday practises of democracy in Northeast India. Placing particular attention to the state of Meghalaya, she is investigating local conceptions of democracy and the ways in which they are negotiated in interactions between non-state and state actors, characterized by asymmetries of power and leading to different forms of resistance. Her further research interests include the nexus between development and conflict, ethnicity and minority rights.

Her Internship Report

Ajapa Sharma
Ajapa Sharma is a third year undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA. Her month long internship at CRG and stay in Calcutta was funded by the McCollough Center for Global Initiatives at her college through the Global Summer Studies Fellowship. She is currently studying Sociology and South Asian History. Her interests pertain to borders and minority politics in South Asia and hence she chose to study the Gorkhaland movement in Darjeeling.

Her Internship Report
I would like to thank everyone here at CRG for their warm hospitality here at Calcutta and for their immense support without which I could not have done this work. I would specifically like to thank Dr Ranabir Sammadar, Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhary, Prof. Subhas Ranjan Chakravorty and Prof. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhary. I came to Calcutta through Mount Holyoke College’s Global Summer Studies Fellowship. What drew me to Calcutta is my interest in social movements and South Asian borders. I come from a background in Sociology and History, particularly South Asian history. The Gorkhaland movement interested me because   it concerns a population and a place that is not only marginal to the imagination of the Indian nation state but also literally on the geographical margins of the Indian map. My research pertains mainly to the Hills of Darjeeling. I visited Darjeeling from the 13th to the 31st of July and met with individuals from different professional backgrounds who could be described as members of the civil society. Darjeeling, a colonial frontier land is today in Independent India a peripheral region. In looking at Darjeeling as a peripheral region. I have understood the movement in Darjeeling whose longer historical demand has been the recognition of the cultural and linguistic difference of the Gorkhas not as an ethnic separatist movement but as a movement for cultural, political and economic integration of a borderland into the Indian state. In looking at the Gorkhaland movement I have focused on how the emergence of spearheads and political power centers that claim to represent the entirety of the demands of the population under question have coerced and co-opted other civic and political bodies and individuals into silence. Even though many may have divergent political viewpoints, the subtle and not so subtle coercive nature of political parties such as the GNLF in the 80s and GJM recently create situations differences are silenced or silently ignored. As national parties have little leverage over the specific ethnic demand within the state and the center and therefore lost following in the hills over the years and non political parties cannot claim political representation under what has become a development state, a regional party such as the GJM has become powerful in the hills. These parties therefore have worn a façade of bearing popular mandate. As state and central government locate these power structures for negotiation, there is a further silencing of alternate and dissenting political viewpoints. Whaile the emergence of a monoparty culture in Darjeeling has made it difficult for there to be a democratic dialogue and democratic process in Darjeeling, the state and central government’s negotiation specifically with these power centers creates a further silencing of alternative voices. The center as the Darjeeling case suggests sustains undemocratic forces in the periphery further alienating the people of Darjeeling from a democratic engagement in the Indian nation state. 

If one is to look beyond the past two and half decades, one is able to see that language and cultural recogniton of the Gorkhas was the main cause of the various political and civic bodies that sprung up in Darjeeling. Bodies such as the Pranta Parishad headed by literary figures like IB Rai were focused solely on the recognition of the Nepali language. The CPI (M) with its large following among the tea plantation workers was mainly concerned with the working class cause. What the GNLF did then was to claim that it represented all the aspirations of the Indian Nepalis in Darjeeling. Ghisngh brought up questions of citizenship and the security of Nepalis in India following the exhortion of a large number of Nepalis from the neighboring states of Assam, Bhutan, Meghalaya. Ghisngh played into the fear of political marginalization in the Indian Nepalis. The multitude of causes that it claimed torepresent allowed the GNLF to move into trade unions, started a women’s wing, a youth wing and moved into other bodies including organizations based on language. The separate state demand encompassed a myriad of other demands. If alternative voices sprung up, violence was used to silence them. After the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, as scholars like Subhash Ranjan Chakravorty have noted, there was the consequent weakening of the voices of the different alternative voices in Darjeeling. The opposition,  the CPRM, a regional offshoot of the CPI M lost following.

With this backdrop in mind I looked at the recent movement. The GJM like the GNLF was able to mobilize its following with the claim that the demand for a separate state encompassed every other demand of the people of Darjeeling. The inetersting question here is what made it possible for the GJM to mobilize people under the not so new demand of Gorkhaland 20 years after. While the silencing under Ghisingh created a desperate need for the vocalization of discontent among the people of Darjeeling, the issue of identity re emerged after the popular TV show, Indian Idol featured a Indian Nepali called Prashant tamang who won the show through popular voting mainly in the Darjeeling hill region. While the TV show itself might not have been the most important factor in the movement, it created discussions of citizenship and marginalization of Indian Nepali. *** So what we see here again is the rallying the same sort of emotive responses towards fear of marginalization as was the case of Ghisingh. The GJM’s ways of rallying people are not entirely different from the GNLF’s in the 80s. Like the GNLF, the GJM formed its women’s wing within a couple of months of its formation. The GJNM (nari morcha) played a crucial role in rallying the support not only of the more cosmopolitan women of Jwalapahad in insisting that at least a woman from a family must attend its meetings and rallies, but also by rallying the women tea plantation workers through its collaboration with trade unions. It was the women’s wing of the GJM the Gorkha Nari Morcha that obstructed Madan Tamang, the president of the ABGL or Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League from making his public speech in June 2008.  Similarly the Gorkha Janamukti Yuba Morcha was formed to rally the youth of the region under GJM.

A particularly interesting slogan from the movement goes like this:

Agi Agi hida Yuba, Cheli Timro Saath Chinn
Agi Agi Hida Cheli, Mahakal timro saath chha.

Move ahead youth, the women are with you
Move ahead women, Mahakal is with you.

The women formed a key part of the movement but I’ve found that even as a part and wing of the GJM, they do not have a distinct voice. On asking a member of the Nari Morcha why there were few to none women in the tripartite talks, the respondent replied that she could not answer that question and one would have to  ask the central committee regarding this.

The systematic creation of political wings with the membership of specific interest groups allowed the GJM to co-opt alternative interest groups into the movement. The membership of the GJM after 2008 was diverse, ranging from members of Ghisingh’s party, lawyers, academic intellectuals willing to chart out a plan for Gorkhaland, businessmen and others. In 2008, a civil society forum was started in Darjeeling. But as the chairman notes it has been difficult for the forum to maintain a membership that does not overlap with that GJM (the power center). The close kinship and patron client relations in Darjeeling’s closely bound community, as many of my interviewees noted makes it even more difficult for alternative and dissenting voices to resist.  The idea that one has to participate in the movement even just to “show his face” to his neighbor runs strong. Before the signing of the Pintail agreement, The GJM sent out notices to organizations like the Hotel Owner’s association to be present at the signing and also stipulated the dress code for the event. One of the members of the hotel owners association noted, “Bimal Gurung would have probably not even noticed that we weren’t there but because the owner of the next door hotel would be there, I had to go.”

Mechanisms like social ostracism where neighborhoods decide not to talk to families that do not send a participant in the GJM rallies are coercive social mechanisms of rallying people. However, it was not only through the subtle coercion of members from a diverse range of fields that the GJM was able to rally its support, underneath the seemingly Gandhian methods (as Gurung put it) of revolt was violence and terror. Not only were the houses of Journalists who were critical of the GJM ransacked, there were outright verbal warnings given to The clear example is of course Madan Tamang, The GNLF leader hacked in the middle of the day at Chowrasta in May 2010. Madan Tamang’s murder is symbolic of the silencing of the critical alternative voice against the GJM. Madan Tamang as close sources claim had 2 years ahead of the recent GTA agreement warned the public of the the possibility of an agreement less than an a separate state. Although a candle rally took place after Tamang’s death and his funeral saw popular anguish against the alleged GJM, the anguish watered down. The curious escape of the alleged Nickole Tamang from the CBI and the state and central government’s inadequacy in providing a substantive justice to Tamang are indicative of the state’s unwillingness to deal with alternative political figures in the region. It is interesting to note that although parties in the opposition such as the CPRM and the ABGL in some ways voice their critical opinions of the GJM, these parties are weakened to the point that they are not taken into account by the state and central government. The democratic mechanisms of dialogue have failed in Darjeeling with the emergence of power structures such as the GJM and the democratic process is put further at risk by the state and central government’s failure to bring into account the alternative voices in the hills. There is a certain silent skepticism in the hills regarding the recent agreement. On the day of the signing of the agreement I asked a businessman who runs a famous café in Darjeeling whether the agreement is what the people of Darjeeling mobilized for. He replied, “well it is better if you ask political people but the GJM says it is a step towards a separate state and it probably is so.”

Rajni Soren

Rajni Soren  was an intern at CRG in  the month of  May  2006 . She is a law student  at NALSAR, University  of law, Hyderabad. She  works on issues of displacement and  refugee flows. At CRG she worked under the supervision of Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury. She also assisted various other work in CRG. During her internship she completed a fact sheet on "Displacement in Jharkhand". The report is available on Refugee Watch Online.

Christopher Bass 

Christopher Bass was a trainee researcher at CRG in the month of June 2006. He is an English and French major at Millikin University, Illinois, USA.  In addition to interning with the Calcutta Research Group, he has studied in Paris and Montpellier, France.  In spring 2006, Chris was awarded his honors in English for his thesis, [In]Sanity and Discontent: A Postcolonial Inquiry into Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea. In this project he inquired into both the postcolonial and feminist critical interpretations of Rhys' West-Indian text.  Chris Bass also received the Conant Award, for the strongest interpretive and critical paper in the Millikin English department, for his thesis. His presentation of a cameo of this paper at the 2006 Illinois Philological Association Conference, held at DePaul University, was well received by the academic community.  Chris is also the recipient of the 2006 Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF), which was made available by Millikin University. This funding secured the financial support for his internship at the CRG. Currently, Chris is involved in a collaborative research and the writing of a related article comparing the representation of immigrants in American and Indian newsprint.    

His Internship Report 

I would like to thank the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) for allowing me to work as an intern with the organization.  I enjoyed working and discussing with such knowledgeable and passionate "academic activists." As an intern I was fortunate to work under the guidance and support of Dr. Paula Banerjee.  It was an honor to work with such an impassioned and dedicated academic.  Dr. Banerjee's knowledge and interest in the issue of migration also helped guide my own research. 
The opportunity to be an intern with the renowned researchers of the CRG greatly influenced my receiving the competitive Summer Undergraduate Research Funds (SURF) from Millikin University of Illinois, USA, my home institution.  Receiving the research funds allowed me to collaborate with my advisor on a comparative analysis on immigration and its representation in American and Indian newsprint. The CRG internship became an essential venue for this continuing research.

My internship with CRG significantly contributed to my research on immigration and media. The CRG library is comprehensive. My access to the organization's collection of periodicals enhanced my understanding of the current situation with immigration in India.  Of particular benefit to me were the articles from the Assam Tribune, The Shillong Times, and other local papers from the northeastern regions of India. Also included in their periodical archive were the major dailies, such as, The Times of India and The Telegraph.  The assortment of both local and national newspapers in the CRG collection makes a vast range of opinions on immigration, which vary from region to region, easily accessible for researchers like me.  In addition to the research on periodicals, I was also able to use a selection of theoretical and political texts, such as Marshal Mcluhan's Understanding Media, B. Manna's Mass Media and Related Laws in India, Rita Manchanda's Media Crossing Borders, and The Global Media by Edward Herman and Robert McChesney.  I used these texts as a means to build a contextual base on which to theorize my own thesis.  The extensive textual collection yet again made me realize that the CRG is engaged with the most current political discourse.  I was able to use their wide selection of texts in researching the issue of how the media intersects with and interprets issues of immigration. 

Besides research, my internship involved assisting in various office assignments and participating in the preparatory meeting for CRG's annual winter migration course. The meeting was designed as a venue for the reflection on the course from the previous year and also as space for the discussions about the necessary improvements for the upcoming 2006 winter program. I was impressed to see how well the CRG embodies the John Dewey model of "action-reflection-action" in everything that they do. My responsibilities for the meeting were to welcome and register the notable guests as well as take the minutes of the suggestions and comments offered during the meeting. Working with these various assignments allowed me to interact with academics from all over the globe.  I was honored to meet the representatives from the embassy of Finland, academics from the northeastern regions of India, and professors and publishers from New Delhi. Although I was impressed with the overall academic discourse of the meeting one particular suggestion, which generated much discussion, stands out in my memory. It is a suggestion that is a strong evidence of CRG's commitment to students from every continent of the globe. It was argued that additional efforts would be made to provide students from economically depressed nations with the opportunity to attend the course-particularly students from Africa.  For me, this discussion highlighted CRG's passion for teaching beyond the limits of one nation or continent, thus proving that their course is not restricted by borders and boundaries. 

On my return to the United States, my research continues, and its success is indebted to my exceptional experience with the CRG.  I hope to remain in contact with the members of CRG.  The organization was a gracious host for me in India, and I am hopeful for a future association and/or collaboration with the group.


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