Calcutta Research Group, (25-30 November 2018)
Note for Field Trip
Calcutta is a city of migrants. The urban expansion of Calcutta is inextricably linked to British colonial trade and commerce and associated population movement. As a hub of colonial trade and commerce, and the erstwhile capital of the British empire, it has received waves upon waves of migration. People from various countries and occupations, of varied descent, came to the city with their specific knowledge practices. In the process, the city has acquired a sizeable cosmopolitan migrant population including the Jews, Armenians, Parsis, Afghans and Chinese. They were early migrants to the city who arrived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They have adapted well to the city and curved out a distinct space for themselves in physical, economic and cultural senses. The Jews and Parsis came to the port city as traders. Belilios Street, Ezra Street and Synagogue Street (with three synagogues) stand testimony to the once remarkable presence of the Jews in the city. A significant number of Armenians came as refugees on Indian shore before the British. They established themselves as a prominent business community in Calcutta that ran coal mines, indigo and shellac business and built some of the city’s famous landmarks including Stephen Court on Park Street and the iconic Grand Hotel at Esplanade. Some Afghans or ‘Kabuliwalahs’ came to Calcutta from Afghanistan to escape the conflict in their homeland. They have traditionally worked as moneylenders. Chinese migration which started from the 19th century and earlier, became synonymous with leather (tannery) ceramic, catering and personal care industries and appropriated a distinct space for themselves which in Calcutta’s Chinatowns located at Tiretta bazaar and Tyangra in the east. Existence of the large immigrant trading communities of diverse origin in the central part of the city in the so called ‘cosmopolitan’ or ‘brown’ town, located in between the traditional native or ‘black’ in the north and the European ‘white’ town towards the south have lent the urban morphology of Calcutta its distinct characteristics.
From the second half of the 19th century, with the growth of industrial units like jute, cotton, engineering industries, Calcutta saw its first significant labour migration to the suburbs of Calcutta. While some of them became ‘settled’ inhabitants of the city, others remained migrant-settlers, going back to their villages at specific times of the year and returning to their places of work afterwards. Over the years the city has developed its distinct labour migrant quarters, including the coolie lines in the Calcutta dock area and migrants dwelling (traders and coolies from UP-Bihar areas) in the Posta Burrabazar area, and in the numerous slums and illegal squats spread throughout the city Calcutta.
Migration to the city drastically increased from the late colonial period. Calcutta was faced with a veritable population churning from the late 1930s with the onset of the Second World War and increasing communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. Around the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 migration of Hindu refugees from East Bengal reached the proportions of an influx. Post partition refugee influx, it is often said has turned Calcutta from a ‘city of migrants’ to a ‘city of refugees’. The suburbs of Calcutta in the north, south and east have grown exponentially due to a heavy concentration of East Bengali refugees. They are located in numerous refugee colonies in the Tallygunge-Dhakuria-Jadavpur-Behala areas in the south, and in the Baranagar, Lake Town, Dumdum areas in the north. The proportion of the city’s Muslim population have dwindled and erstwhile Muslim dwellings in different parts of the city and suburbs have turned into East Bengal refugee quarters. Migration to Calcutta has continued in the post partition period, from across the border as well as from the rural areas of Bengal. Calcutta’s wetlands in the east have been particularly volatile as it came under processes of unequal and exclusive urban expansion. These parts have seen spates of displacement and cropping up of new migrant quarters. Apart from this the poorest of the migrants from the rural areas in West Bengal and from across the border continue to trickle in and find shelter in precarious makeshift shanties by the city’s sewerage canal banks, railway lines, under the city’s footbridges and flyovers.
In this background we will organise two field visits with the workshop participants to Calcutta’s different migrant quarters. The first group will visit the erstwhile settlements of Calcutta’s old cosmopolitan migrants concentrated in parts of west and central Calcutta. The highlights of the trip include a visit to the Posta Bazar, Bara Bazar, Synagogue Street, Grand Hotel and New Market and Park Street. The second group will visit Calcutta’s labour migrant quarters spread around different parts of the city. It includes a visit to Khidirpur docks and migrant dwellings around the Bantala Leather Complex in the East Calcutta Wetlands. Both the trips will end with a visit to Calcutta’s Chinatown in Tangra.
Related Information Regarding the Field Visit:
|The first group will visit the erstwhile settlements of Calcutta’s old cosmopolitan migrants concentrated in parts of west and central Calcutta. The highlights of the trip include a visit to the Posta Bazar, Bara Bazar, Synagogue Street, Grand Hotel and New Market and Park Street.||The second group will visit Calcutta’s labour migrant quarters spread around different parts of the city. It includes a visit to Khidirpur Docks and migrant dwellings around the Bantala Leather Complex in the East Calcutta Wetlands. Both the trips will end with a visit to Calcutta’s Chinatown in Tangra.|