Wednesday, 19 January, 2022
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Namasudras are getting closer to BJP in West Bengal. There is a tradeoff

Although the CAA has sparked huge protest among the Muslim minority, it seems to be attracting voters from the Namasudra community towards the BJP.

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The Namasudra community of West Bengal is gradually moving towards the Bharatiya Janata Party, evident from the latter’s win in constituencies dominated by the caste group. In fact, the BJP’s entry in the state was marked by its victory in Namasudra-dominated Basirhat Dakshin assembly constituency in 2014. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Shantanu Thakur became the first non-TMC/non-CPM leader to win from Bongaon, a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Castes. In an obvious attempt to further tap into the community’s vote bank, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, during his November visit to Bengal, broke bread at a Namasudra household.

The growing support for the BJP among the Namasudras is worth examining because the community is known for its anti-Brahmin mobilisation in the past, whereas the BJP is widely recognised as a Brahmin-Bania party. By tracing the genealogy of the evolution of Namasudras, and their problems and pattern of political mobilisation, we can see how the community’s current inclination towards the BJP came about.


Also read: Why Congress is walking tightrope on CAA: Fiercely against it in Assam but muted in Bengal


Namasudra and Matua movement   

Namasudra is a Dalit sub-caste, traditionally known as chandalas. Historically, this caste resided in the eastern and central parts of colonised Bengal, mainly in the regions of Barisal, Faridpur, Dhaka, Jessore and Khulna. After being treated as untouchables for generations, they began mobilising against the Brahmanical caste hierarchy in the 19th century, under a socio-religious protest sect named Matua and acquired their current name Namasudra.

The Namasudras registered their first political protest during the anti-Partition movement of Bengal in 1905 by refusing to participate in it. Later, the group got further organised under the banner of Matua Mahasangha, a religious reform movement. In the 1937 provincial election, majority of the 30 reserved seats in Bengal’s 250-seat assembly was won by independent candidates supported by the Namasudras. Their support would have been crucial for coalition partners Krishak Proja Party and Muslim League to form a government because no political party, including the Congress, had secured a majority. In the 1946 election, members of this community were able to win some seats such as Jessore, Khulna, South Bakarganj among others, which helped B.R. Ambedkar get elected to the Constituent Assembly.


Also read: Shah’s CAA dilemma, Ram vs Durga, Dinesh Trivedi — Every day has a new twist in Bengal


Partition and the division of Namasudras

The Partition of 1947 divided the solidarity of this community because areas inhabited by the Namasudras went in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Those areas were a trade-off for the city of Kolkata. P.R. Thakur, then leader of the Matua Mahasangha, decided to side with the Congress and migrated to West Bengal with his followers and settled in Thakur Nagar. Jogendra Nath Mandal, another important Namasudra leader, sided with the Muslim League to become the first law minister in the Mohammed Ali Jinnah government. But he had to return to India in 1950.


Also read: Why PM Modi referred to Assam’s ‘mool niwasi’ 7 times in his speech but skipped CAA


Religious persecution of Namasudras

Soon after the Partition, Namasudras started facing religious persecution in East Pakistan. They were landed gentry, so communal violence was unleashed on them in 1950 to evacuate them and settle migrated Bihari Muslims. The community, yet again, faced targeted violence during the struggle for Bangladesh. On both the occasions, Namasudras had no choice but to migrate to India.

The migration status brought them a new refugee identity. They were initially sent to refugee camps for rehabilitation in Dandakaranya, Chhattisgarh. When some of them tried to return and settle in Marichjhapi, Sundarban, the West Bengal police shot them dead in what came to be known as Marichjhapi massacre.


Also read: Why Bengal can vote for BJP, even though Mamata Banerjee is still invincible


Refugee status and Sanskritisation

Although the Namasudra community had organised under an anti-Brahminical sect, its members faced religious persecution in East Pakistan. The Pakistani State defined them as Hindus, forcing them to identify themselves as Hindus. Their migration to India and the quest for assimilation in the newly formed nation-state further pushed them to swear by the Hindu identity.

Historian Sekhar Bandyopadhyay argues that Sanskritisation began before Partition, but gathered momentum post-Independence. Namasudras adopted Sanskritisation measures to proclaim Hindu identity so that they could live peacefully in India. Sanskritisation seems to have brought the community one step closer to the BJP. However, their identification as Hindus should not be seen in isolation without analysing the social conditions they were subjected to, both before and after Partition.


Also read: Mamata visited 19 temples, 1 Muslim shrine in 28-hr Nandigram tour, before returning injured


BJP’s carrot and stick policy

The migration in West Bengal, unlike Punjab, happened in three waves — at the time of Partition, in the 1950s, and then in the 1960s.

In the first wave, it was majorly the ‘upper’ castes who left Bengal. But in the second and the third waves, much of the migration was of the lower-caste Hindus, mainly the Namasudras. The dominant castes, with adequate resources, self-help groups and financial contacts succeeded at resettling in West Bengal. But the opposite happened to the Namasudras who had meagre to no resources, and limited contacts in the state. They had to rely fully on government support systems, failure of which could render them helpless. As a result, the refugee question could not be settled.

The Citizenship Amendment Act 2003, passed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, denies citizenship to those who migrated to West Bengal after 25 March 1971. The law is a major cause of concern for the members of the Namasudra community. However, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 provisions that illegal immigrants of Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who entered in India before 31 December 2014, would receive citizenship.

Although the CAA has sparked huge protest among the Muslim minority, it seems to be attracting voters from the Namasudra community towards the BJP. The Act, whose rules Home Minister Amit Shah has promised to implement after the vaccination exercise gets over in the country, seems to be working well for the BJP — as a trade-off between votes and citizenship rights. 

Arvind Kumar @arvind_kumar__ is PhD Scholar, Royal Holloway, University of London. Manisha Majumdar @manishamajumdar is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU. Her work focuses on the Namasudra community. Views are personal.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. This article is co-authored by a lady from JNU and published in The Print. So it ticks all the right boxes for political correctness. How will our luddite liberals, selective secularists and loony Left rubbish it?

  2. Namahsudras were always Hindus. They have Sanskrit-derived names like otgher Bengalis, and participate in ALL Hindu festivals, rituals and socio-religious practices like marriage, annaprasan, sradh, etc.

  3. This kind of whitewashing while being a PhD makes a mockery of trials and tribulations suffered by Hindus.

    J N mandal did not just return. After leading Hindu community to stay back in east Pakistan he was responsible for their killings. Once mawali maskin sidelined him he had no place to go but return to India. Wish he had same foresight as Babasaheb Ambedkar.

    Maricjhapi is a blot on our democracy much before Kashmiri Hindu genocide. Communist just like their masters Stalin and mao massacred their own people with impunity. Yet the bhadralok is servile to them.

    Here we are again half a century later with Bengali Hindu facing the same situation like 1905, 1946, 1947, 1971. Yet again if they don’t learn their lessons they will soon run out of places to run.

    The only thing that should matter is you are Hindus first. Everything will be okay afterwards and no one needs to what jati gotra you belong to.

    Jisne shaastra uthaya wo shastri

    Jisne shastra uthaya wo shatriya

    • cPlease understand D. Syama Prasad Mookerjee demanded and had Bengal partitioned. His plea was Hindu culture and religion for which he wrote to Mountbatten a secret letter saying even if India remained undivided Bengal must be partitioned. The upper caste politicians do not tell reason publicly. They tell things that keep them in safe haven. Please note that 69% of Brahmans belonged belonged to west Bengal, a proportion no other caste boasted except Mahishya with 82%. 66% of Kayastha and 64% of Baidya belonged to East Bengal where as 92% Namasudras were from East Bengal. Kayastha 16,00,000 and Baidya [a very small caste, less than 1,30,000 souls jumped to Dr. Syama P. Mookerjee’s bandwagon and deceived the entire population for partition of Bengal. Brahmans were less than 15,00,000 as against 22,00,000 Namasudras. The Namasudras were scattered as refugees all over India by the uppter caste lords who were rulers after indpendence.
      Nobody will realise their pains and sufferings.
      Maharashtra was untouchaed by partition and hence Dr. B R Ambedkar did not had the misfortune to suffer the fate as a disenfranchised man.
      This tragedy nobody understood.
      Brahmans had no way out but to demand partition as they had opporessed, expoited and cheated every one right and left—low castes, untouchables and above all the Muslims who became their inveterate enemies.

      • In eyes of Muslims all Hindus, whether Brahmin, Dalit or OBC is kaffir and does not deserve human rights. becoming Buddhist or Jain would not help either. According to Islam Jews & Christians are Dhimnis with certain rights, all other faiths are Kaffir. It is only matter of time when they have power to impose their idea like Taliban, Al Qaeda or ISIS did.

        It is time brain dead people like you understand that fact, unless of course if you are a Taqiyya.

  4. bjp has not even mentioned CAA in its electoral campaign for this election and the matuas have understood that they have been taken for a ride. and no rules for identification have been laid down till now. there is strong discontent. and again matuas have been given aadhar cards, ration cards, voter Ids and have been regularly voting also. enjoying all the benefits as enjoyed by any other indian citizen. the pundits may be proved wrong agian.

    • CAA is on the card, unlike people like u who profit from muslims butchering dalits, atleast the dalit lead BJP is doing something about it. Matuas never got voter cards or land, that was the upper caste syed muslims, u got no idea

  5. Arvind should have been bold enough to write who was the Brahmin ruler who ordered the shooting down of thousands of Namshudra Dalits in Marijhapi.
    None other than comrade Jyoti Basu, the PB member of CPIM and the then CM of W Bengal. This is program larger than Sikh massacre of 1984. Come name and shame him.

    • All true, except that Shri Jyoti Basu was a Kayastha, or to be precise, Kulin Kayastha. He was not a Brahmin.

      • Kulin Kayastha? What is that? Who had done investiture for them as kulin?
        Did a king of Ballal Sen’s temperament decorate the servants who accompanied the imported Brahmins from Kanauj. This seems ridiculous. Why were Brahmans of Kanauj who had/have surnames Dwivedi, Trivedi, Chaturvedi, Tewari, Pandey, Shukla, etc denominated as Banerjee, Chatterjee Mukherjee on their arrival in Bengal overnight? Same argument hold water for Kayasthas?
        Do anybody know W. C. Bonnerjee [first President of Indian National Congress in 1885] was a kulin Brahman? Bonnerjee’s ancestor was, on father side Balla Sen, a Sudra who had a Brahmin concubine on his mothe’s side. Baidya ruler of Bengal fathered a child on his concubine. The basterd, it is claimed, was a scholar and was annointed as a kulin, called Panditratni. Douting Toms, if any may please read the following two volumes:
        1. John Wilson, Indian Caste, 1877. [This writer was the first Vice-Chancellor]
        2. Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Hindu Caste and Sect, 1896.
        Ask any question to clear doubts, I’ll clarify.

  6. Just proves how other parties and political analysts focussed on dividing the Hindu on caste lines. BJP is clearly pan-caste party focussed on uplift of all sections of society.

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