Different Identity Formations in Bengal Partition Narratives by Dalit Refugees

Abstract: This essay examines the representation of Dalit refugees’ experiences in post-Partition West Bengal through Adhir Biswas’ memoirs Deshbhager smriti ([Biswas, Adhir. 2010. Deshbhager Smriti. 4 vols. Kolkata: Gangchil], Bengali) and Allar jomite paa ([Biswas, Adhir. 2012. Allar jomite paa. Kolkata: Gangchil], Bengali) and Manoranjan Byapari’s autobiographical work Itibritte chandal jibon ([Byapari, Manoranjan. 2012. Itibritte Chandal Jibon. 1 vol. Kolkata: Kolkata Prakashan], Bengali). In terms of the literary representation of Bengali refugees, until recently it was only the voice of the bhadralok class that was heard, which spoke for all sections of refugees. I suggest Bengali refugeeness cannot be constructed as a “homogenized” phenomenon belonging only to the bhadralok class. Such a representation screens the non-bhadralok Dalit and Muslim refugee’s voice, whom the East Bengali bhadralok had socioeconomically subjugated up until Partition. Lacking the pre-given criteria for being considered “refined” – high caste, economic empowerment and cultural and social capital – but progressively acquiring them under the auspices of post-Partition social dynamics, how do Biswas and Byapari encounter the signification of bhadralok? What new notions of “bhadra” and “Dalit” are formed in their respective situations as a result of marriage between the “refined” and “unrefined” ways of living? In answering these questions, this essay approaches the bhadralok--chhotolok undercurrents in the above texts and examines the difficulty of pinning down their identities within any single category.

Sarbani Banerjee
Taylor and Francis Online