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Namasudra

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Namasudra is an Indian avarna community originating from certain regions of Bengal, India. They lived outside the four-tier ritual varna system and thus were outcastes.[citation needed]

History

The community was earlier known as Chandala or Chandal,[1][2] a term that was used by the Bhadralok community (Brahmins, Baidyas and Kayasthas) and Muslims to refer to people belonging to diverse endogamous groups of similarly-despised social position and was usually considered as a slur.[3][4] They were traditionally engaged in cultivation[5] and as boatmen[6]and were considered as untouchables among the Hindu community.[7]

In the 1870s, '' Chandals of Bakarganj and Faridpur boycotted caste Hindus '' when they refused to accept an invitation to dine from a Chandal headman.[8][9] Joya Chatterjee mentions that henceforth they "battled continuously to improve their ritual position" in the society and later claimed the "more respectable title of 'Namasudra' and Brahmin status".[9]

These movements that sought for the assertion of Dalit identities, originated in the 1870s[10] and helped them seek upward mobility by infusing a sense of self-respect amidst the community.[11]They demanded elevated social status including a right of entry to kayastha-organised pujas and two-third share of the crop-produce.[12] Gradually, they started refusing to work for lower-caste Hindu and Muslim landlords and even boycotted the upper caste Hindus.[2]

Overall, Sekhar Banerjee noted a distinct theme of sanskritisation in the dynamics of the caste.[12]

In between, the Matua sect, which was established by Harichand Thakur in the late nineteenth century among the community in the eastern India (and later organised by his son)[10], challenged the very idea of hierarchy in the local society along with other Hindu religio-cultural aspects and choose to entirely subvert it but failed.[13][14]Whilst the sect did play an important role in organizing the social-protests[10], the broader community returned back to the theme of sanskritisation, whilst still ascribing to the other ideals of the sect.[14]

Niharranjan Ray, a historian, believed that they have a closer relation with north Indian Brahmins, saying "they are of the same line as the Brahmans of north India; indeed there is a closer relation between the north Indian Brahmans and the Bengali Namahsudras than between the north Indian Brahmans and the Bengali Brahmans, Kayasthas and Vaidyas."[15]

Freedom Movement

Integration into national polity

In colonial bengal, the Namasudras constituted the second largest Hindu caste.[16]

Beginning the Swadeshi period (1905-11), as the Namasudras and other untouchable castes increasingly self-asserted their independence from the upper castes and threatened to distort the Hindu-societal-structure, the bhadralok politicians of Bengal faced the first resistance.[17]

The Hindu solidarity soon followed in realizing that the alienation of lower-castes might hamper it's plans of offering an united opposition against the British and the Muslims, as conversions became abundant and threatened to dwindle the numbers of Hindus[18][17][19].Subsequently, the All India hindu Mahasabha, Bharat Sevasram Sangha et al actively started to mobilize the lower-caste-people.[18][13]

In the late 1930s, especially after the Poona Pact, the Namasudras of Bengal Presidency, British India, increasingly adhered to a loyalist stance to the British Government, which was supposedly it's best chance to upgrade their socio-economic condition and all throughout[20] and they consistently remained alienated from the nationalist politics.[21]This further enraged the bhadralok class of politicians.[20]

Overall, numerous measures were taken over the course of years[22] to alleviate the concerns of the community and to ensure that they were gradually inculcated into the nationalist political-fabric of the nation.[19]Un-touch-ability was propounded as a vice and there were campaigns for providing them with better social rights.The Congress also contributed to these causes via their political programs, largely for the same goals.[23]

The Dalit of Bengal, thus became intrinsically involved in the Partition movement, and the Namsudras along with Rajbanshis became the two groups that majorly dominated Dalit politics in the province.[1]

According to Banerjee, the aim of the Hindu campaign, throughout the years, was to merely induce the lower castes record themselves as Hindus, which would inflate their numbers and thus, assist them in the redistribution of provinces during partition of the nation rather than to harvest a social reform.[24][25]The main aim was to agglomerate the lower castes in the fold of Hindus and unitedly fight against the Muslim and the British.

It propagandized the local peasant-rebellions between Namasudras and Muslim community across Dacca et al with religious colors thereby increasing communal tensions and prospects of partition.[26][27][2][28]In some places, the Namasudras even sided with Muslims against the socio-economic oppression of Hindu zamindars but it was again branded as a communal riot.[27]The Bengal Congress also contributed to the cause.[27][29]Nonetheless, the organised efforts to articulate the Hindu identity somewhat worked and some of the riots did have a religious flavor.[30]

Gradually, whilst many leaders of the caste-movement increasingly associated with the Hindu narrative[31], and many Namasudras associated with the views of the Hindu solidarity[32], there was still a lack of consensus among the masses.In fact, there was a strong discontent among Namasudras that they have been supposedly cheated by the enumerators of the 1941 census where they were recorded as Hindus instead of mere Namasudras.[24]

But, by 1947, a majority of Namasudras actively associated them with the Hindus and that the partition was inevitable, their primary aim was to keep their habitat- the districts of Bakarganj, Faridpur, Jessore and Khulna within the Hindu majority province of West Bengal.[10]But, they managed to maintain a a separate caste identity, all-throughout.[33]

Ultimately, the efforts of the campaign failed to achieve much of it's desired goal as districts that were mostly inhabited by Namasudras, did go to East Bengal[34][35] despite vehement protestations by the Namasudras.[10]

Post-independence

Migration to India

Whilst an assemblage of relatively well-off Namasudras immediately migrated to India, using their resources of property, the poor peasants et al chose to stay.[10]Sekhar Chaterjee notes that despite Jinnah's promise of equality for all, they were soon subjected to '' a process of ‘Othering’ '' as the state sought for '' greater Islamization of the polity ''.[10]An acute economic crisis in certain districts of east Bengal and that in a labor-surplus market, the Muslim landlords preferred to employ coreligionists, was another mitigating factor.[10]All these coupled with numerous provocations ranging from unlawful occupation of land to public humiliation of women and direct instruction to leave the country led to a build up of insecurity among the Namasudra populace.[10]

Finally, beginning January-February, 1950, the Namasudra peasants decided to migrate to India[1][36] in large numbers and this continued till 1956, with about ten thousand refugees entering every month.[10]Retaliatory communal violence across both sides of the border also contributed to the cause.[10]There was again a mass-migration post the Hazratbal riot in 1964.[10]A police intelligence report in June 1952 reported that '' About 95 per cent of the refugees are Namasudras ''.[10]

Condition in India

Whilst most of the Namasudra refugees who arrived after 1950, were automatically designated as cultivators without any means for survival and were thus dispatched to official refugee camps, some did independently settle across villages in Nadia, Basirhat et al. The latter were often involved in violent fracases with the local Muslims and cross-border communal rivalries, in search of land and livestock, were reported too.[10]That they had to also contend with the local Hindu upper castes, made the situation worse.[10]

Those who were dispatched to the refugee camps spend months in imposed idleness whilst being rewarded with a meager cash dole and weekly ration.[10]They were restricted from going out of the camps, look for jobs or interact with the local population, who were often deeply suspicious of the refugees.[10]Thereafter, they started mobilizing themselves under the umbrage of Bastuhara Samitis (refugee associations) and other leaders like Ramendra Kishor Mullick, who claimed to be close to P. R. Thakur and Manohar Roy, who claimed himself to be a right hand man of Jogen Mandal to protest against the camp administration in a variety of forms.[10]

Finally, the government, in early 1956 announced the Dandakaranya Scheme of rehabilitating them in a region consisting of 78,000 square miles of inhospitable unirrigated land in the tribal areas of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.[10] The scheme was compulsory, pending which the refugee camps were to be closed down.[10]Some were also rehabilitated to neighboring provinces of Assam, Bihar, Orissa and the Andaman Islands.[10]

The schemes were heavily protested and in March-April 1958, umbrella-refugee-organisations (United Central Refugee Council (UCRC) and the Sara Bangla Bastuhara Samiti (SBBS)) organised satyagraha campaigns, with political patronage, that lasted for about a month and resulted in the arrests of 30,000 refugees.[10]Most were camp-refugees and 70 percent of them were Namasudras.[10]

Gradually, the campaign, as to an acceptable solution of the refugee issues began to lose momentum as the organisations were more interested in exploiting the refugee-base, as an exercise in electoral constituency building for the political parties.[10]

By 1965, 7,500 refugee families were forcibly settled over there and because of their dispersal, the Namasudras, who were till-then a closely knit community, as to local-geography, lost their capacity to organize powerful protest movements.[10]

Banerjee has noted that throughout the times, the Namasudras whilst existing in the refugee camps, did not articulate their caste identity; they along with all others shared the common tag of refugees.[10] And that this led a large section of the Dalit-community to lose their distinctive and autonomous political voice.[10]But, nevertheless some means (following different rituals et al) were adopted by them to distinguish from other castes and maintain a conscious identity of their original identity.[37]

Overall, whilst these attempts at altering the social scape improved situations to some extent, discrimination was still markedly abundant and the domination by upper castes continued even post-independence.[38]

Thakurnagar

A prominent Namasudra leader Pramatha Ranjan Thakur, who was once elected to the Constituent Assembly with Congress support and opposed reservation for the Scheduled Castes whilst advocating for drastic social reforms, emerged as a new political as well as spiritual figure-head across the entire span of the refugee crisis.[10]

In December 1947, Thakur purchased a piece of land in North 24-Parganas, about 63 kilometres away from Calcutta, between Chandpara and Gobordanga and started a venture named Thakur Land Industries Ltd for purposes of refugee-rehabilitation.[10]This led to the establishment of Thakurnagar which has the distinction of being the first Dalit-refugee colony in India which was started by an independent Dalit initiative.[10]The locality gradually grew in size and within the next ten years, more than 50 thousand Dalit refugees, mostly Namasudras, had settled down over there.[10]

That, he was the Guru of the Matua Mahasangh (MM), which was established by his great grandfather H. Thakur and had a huge following among the Namasudras, propelled Thakurnagar into a major cultural center for them.[10]

In 1986, MM was formally registered in West Bengal as a socio-religious organisation and one of it's major aim was to mobilize the dispersed Namasudra community and to convert Thakurnagar into a new cultural and spiritual hub for a Namasudra renaissance.[10]In 2010, it claimed to have nearly 50 million members, belonging to 100 to 120 thousand families.[10]

On the occasion of baruni mela – the major festival of the sect – lakhs of devotees from all over India were reported to visit Thakurnagar, in the sort of an annual pilgrimage.[10]

The members of the community have been reported to have fared quite well, post 1980 but despite their educational and social progress, the class has remained politically marginal and have often actively negotiated with mainstream political parties for political empowerment.[10][39]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. Sage Publications. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-76199-849-5. 
  2. ^ a b c Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (1990). "Community Formation and Communal Conflict: Namasudra-Muslim Riot in Jessore-Khulna". Economic and Political Weekly. 25 (46): 2563–2568. 
  3. ^ Sarkar, Sumit (2004). Beyond Nationalist Frames: Relocating Postmodernism, Hindutva, History. Permanent Black. ISBN 9788178240862. 
  4. ^ Viswanath, Rupa (2014). The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India. Columbia University Press. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-23116-306-4. 
  5. ^ IBP USA (2012). Bangladesh Country Study Guide Volume 1 Strategic Information and Developments. International Business Publications USA. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-43877-389-6. 
  6. ^ Bose, N.K. (1994). The Structure Of Hindu Society (Revised ed.). Orient Longman Limited. pp. 161–162. ISBN 81-250-0855-1. 
  7. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara (1998). Changing Borders, Shifting Loyalties: Religion, Caste and the Partition of Bengal in 1947. Asian Studies Institute. p. 1. ISBN 9780475110473. 
  8. ^ Sarkar, Sumit (2004). Beyond Nationalist Frames: Relocating Postmodernism, Hindutva, History. Permanent Black. ISBN 9788178240862. 
  9. ^ a b Chatterji, Joya (2002). Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947. Cambridge University Press. pp. 191–194. ISBN 978-0-52152-328-8. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. "In Search of Space;The Scheduled Caste Movement in West Bengal after Partition" (PDF). Policies and Practices. 59: 2. 
  11. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  12. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  13. ^ a b Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. p. 214. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  15. ^ Ray, Niharranjan (1994). History of the Bengali People: Ancient Period. Wood, John W. (trans.). Orient Longman. p. 28. ISBN 0-86311-378-8. 
  16. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. p. 33. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  17. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  18. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  19. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. pp. 70–71. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  20. ^ a b Chatterji, Joya (2002-06-06). Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521523288. 
  21. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. p. 34. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  22. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  23. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  24. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  25. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  26. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  27. ^ a b c Chatterji, Joya (2002-06-06). Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521523288. 
  28. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. pp. 217,221,224. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  29. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  30. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. pp. 216,218. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. p. 225. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  32. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  33. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. p. 236. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  34. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  35. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Śekhara; Sekhar (2011-10). Caste, Protest And Identity In Colonial India. Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9780198075967.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  36. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. p. 234. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  37. ^ Dasgupta, Abhijit; Togawa, Masahiko; Barkat, Abul (2011-06-07). Minorities and the State: Changing Social and Political Landscape of Bengal. SAGE Publications India. ISBN 9788132107668. 
  38. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004-08-19). Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. SAGE Publications. p. 75. ISBN 9780761998495. 
  39. ^ Bagchi, Suvojit (2016-04-26). "In West Bengal, the die is cast here". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2018-09-19. 

Further reading