Tale of a Migrant City: CRG’s documentary on refugee colonies

CRG’s documentary film (second in the series Calcutta: Migrant City) seeks to answer a bunch of questions: Who were the refugees to West Bengal? What caste/ class groups did those settling in South Calcutta belong to? What was the land they settled on like? What was the politics and economics of this settlement? Who used to live in this land before the refugees came in? Where did they go? How is the refugee colony represented in literature and cinema? How did they refugee women eke out their own identity in the big city? What part did they play in refugee movements? And lastly–where does the refugee colony stand today vis a vis the neoliberal flows of capital? Shreya Das contextualises this film in the light of existing, canonical works in Partition Studies.

Continue reading “Tale of a Migrant City: CRG’s documentary on refugee colonies”

“Bari Jabo Kobe?” : Plight of a homeless young Rohingya

Adrija Maitra

(Adrija is an intern at Mahanirban Calcutta research Group and can be reached at eshamaitra07@gmail.com)

“When will I go home?”* With a look of half uncertain hope and half despair, fourteen year old Safi Akhter just wanted me to answer this question. I had gone to meet her to document her personal narrative – the journey from her homeland Myanmar, where she was born, to the land where her parents currently live in, India. She has been living in India for a year now, although if given a chance, she would go home. (I interviewed her as a part of my ongoing research project on the Rohingyas, which aims to adopt a gendered lens on the Rohingya international crisis. Safi is the sole Rohingya girl in West Bengal at this moment, and thus, her narrative will add a first-hand dimension to my research undertaking.)

Safi belongs to the Rohingya community, a minority Muslim community who call the now Rakhine state of Myanmar their homeland. According to the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), “Muslim Arakanese or Rohingya are indigenous to Arakan. Having genealogical linkup with the people of Wesali or Vesali kingdom of Arakan, the Rohingya of today are a perfect example of its ancient inhabitants.” The golden age of the Muslim Arakanese culture came during the 15th century, under the Mrauk-U dynasty (1430-1784). The royal court patronized Arakanese literature, Muslim titles were adopted by the Mrauk-U kings, coins were minted in which was inscribed an Islamic declaration of faith, and also took inspiration from the dressing sense of the Persian rulers.

The Rakhines entered the Arakan kingdom around 10th century, although tensions between the Rakhines and Rohingyas emerged only after the British conquest of Arakan in 1825. Thousands of Bengalis, especially from Chittagong, migrated to Arakan to work in the British colonial plantations which boosted the imperial economy. The Rakhines bitterly resented this influx of “illegal Bengalis” taking away their jobs, and thus, in post-colonial Burma, the Rohingyas were discriminated against. Ethnically and culturally distinct than the Burmese, the latter viewed the Rohingyas as a remnant of their oppressive, exploitative, and colonial past. Therefore, the 1982 Burmese Citizenship Law recognized 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, excluding the Rohingyas, rendering them stateless. Against such a historical-cultural-political backdrop, Safi experiences reality.

Safi has grown up in a village which she calls Harifara, in Myanmar, with her maternal grandmother (nani), a maternal uncle, and his daughter Zayida. Her parents moved to India when she was 4-5 years old, and listening to her childhood experiences it seemed that she hardly has any memories with her parents. There was but one trip that she had made to India with her parents, of which she couldn’t recount any particulars. She remembers playing with Zayida in their home in Myanmar, and spoke of her cousin with a smile. “Why did you leave Myanmar?” I asked her. “Because my parents are in India.”  Her countenance, almost within a fraction of a second, became grave and thoughtful. Continue reading ““Bari Jabo Kobe?” : Plight of a homeless young Rohingya”

The sweat of Kolkata: Paying homage to its people and their “labour-power”

Texts and images by Giorgio Grappi.

(Dr. Grappi works on the transformation of the State form and logistical corridors. He explored India several times. The pictures attached to this text were shot in 2011. He can be reached at giorgio.grappi@unibo.it)

Kolkata_037Kolkata is many things. Kolkata constantly changes. Kolkata reshapes itself. Calcutta lasts. Under the scratches of its many developments, the people of Kolkata ignite the city with their labour power. At the outskirts of the city, moving from Howrah towards the ancient French colony of Chandannagar, the blackened bricks of the old mills dot the green fields of Bengal.


Once, this land was the promise of colonial development. Then it became the dream of an independent India, fluctuating between the words of the poet, the guns and the bombs, and the workers’ sweat. On the opposite side, Rajarhat is now becoming the Pandora’s box of the dreams of the uninhibited middle class. Rajarhat wants to forget Calcutta, yet Rajarhat is Kolkata. Continue reading “The sweat of Kolkata: Paying homage to its people and their “labour-power””

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