‘More or Less’ Refugee?: Bengal Partition in Literature and Cinema

           In this thesis, I problematize the dominance of East Bengali bhadralok immigrant’s memory in the context of literary-cultural discourses on the Partition of Bengal (1947). By studying post-Partition Bengali literature and cinema produced by upper-caste upper/middle-class East Bengali immigrant artists, such as Jyotirmoyee Devi’s novel The River Churning (Epar Ganga Opar Ganga 1967, Bengali) and Ritwik Ghatak’s film The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara 1960, Bengali), I show how canonical artworks have propounded elitist truisms to the detriment of the non-bhadra refugees’ representations. To challenge these works, I compare them with perspectives available in other refugee writers’ texts. These include Dalit first-generation literates’ experiences, as described in Adhir Biswas’ memoirs Deshbhager Smriti (Memory of Partition 2010, Bengali), Allar Jomite Paa (Stepping on the Land of Allah 2012, Bengali), and Manoranjan Byapari’s autobiography Itibritte Chandal Jibon (Memoir of Chandal Life 2012, Bengali). As well, I examine the alternative bhadramahila’s ethos, as portrayed in Sunanda Sikdar’s memoir Doyamoyeer Katha (Doyamoyee’s Tale 2008, Bengali). This examination expands the knowledge of Bengali refugee identity in India beyond fixed bhadralok immigrant-produced stereotypes, in the interest of a more egalitarian and complex understanding.

           To develop this thesis, I consult literary, historical, filmic and sociological documents on the Partition, feminist theories, theory of affect and theories of trauma and memory. I situate my readings of bhadra and non-bhadra refugees’ artistic representations within major historical contexts-–India’s Partition (1947), the Indo-Pakistan War (1965), the Liberation War of Bangladesh (1971), and the Left Front’s forming government in West Bengal (1977). Placed against these moments, the texts in hand record Bengali refugees’ migration to India in different phases, and their dissimilar post-Partition experiences. The Introduction outlines the origins of identity-markers bhadralok, chhotolok/Dalit and bhadramahila, observing the role bhadralok play in Bengal’s Partition, the exploitation of Dalits in communal conflicts and the East Bengali bhadralok’s resettlement in West Bengal. Chapters 1 and 2 analyse memoirs on Bengal Parition written from non-bhadra perspectives. Chapters 3 and 4 study mainstream oeuvres and identify their allegiance to bhadralok ideology. My research, thus, revisits and compares the affective accounts of refugee bhadralok with alternative texts.

Sarbani Banerjee
Western University


Sarbani’s dissertation, “‘More or Less’ Refugee?: Bengal Partition in Literature and Cinema”, is available for viewing and download at Scholarship@Western. The recommended citation for her dissertation is as follows:

Banerjee, Sarbani, “‘More or Less’ Refugee?: Bengal Partition in Literature and Cinema” (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. Paper 3125. http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/3125