Review of Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, Caste and Partition in Bengal: The Story of Dalit Refugees, 1946–1961.

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Caste and Partition in Bengal is about the darkest chapter in modern South Asian history: the Partition of 1947 and its immediate aftermath. It investigates the role religion and casteism played in fomenting bigotry and hatred among the various faith groups, resulting not only in the unprecedented bloodshed of more than one million people but also in the ultimate break-up of the subcontinent along religious lines – with visions of separate homelands for Muslims in Pakistan and for Hindus in India or Hindustan. Within this broad canvas, the authors delimit their study to the fate of the Dalits of East Bengal/East Pakistan, who were forced to evacuate their ancestral land and undertake a tortuous journey in search of an arcadia in West Bengal, which either they never reached or, after reaching, they were denied rehabilitation by their bhadralok
(gentleman) counterparts. While the high-caste Hindus who came soon after Partition were greeted warmly for the considerable social and cultural capital they brought with them, the impoverished Dalit refugees who started migrating willy-nilly after the riots of 1950 were received with apathy and resentment and forced to live in subhuman conditions in enclosed camps for several years before many of them were dispersed to the uninhabitable terrains of Dandakaryana and elsewhere, outside their traditional linguistic and cultural domain. The authors explain that they decided to concentrate on the caste issue because, despite the fractured and hierarchical nature of Hinduism, the adherents of the faith have often been treated as a monolithic group in Partition historiography of India and Bengal, thereby eliding the voices of minority groups such as the Dalits or the Namasudra peasants of East Bengal, who have historically been ostracised from mainstream Hinduism.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Specialist publicationNew Zealand Journal of Asian Studies
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2023


  • Hinduism
  • Caste System
  • Dalits
  • Partition literature
  • Religious hatred
  • violence
  • South Asian studies
  • History
  • South Asian history


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