Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Kaustubh Mani Sengupta.
Kaustubh Mani Sengupta joined the Max Weber Stiftung Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India” after finishing his PhD in 2013. In his current project, he is looking at the ways West Bengal refugees negotiated with the post-colonial situation and the role of education in their lives.
The project studies the role of education and school in the lives of the refugees who settled in West Bengal after the partition of British India in 1947. Most of the early refugees from East Bengal belonged to the upper or middle caste groups–the bhadraloks. They tended to gravitate towards the urban centres, more specifically to Calcutta. An acute housing crisis forced a majority of them to forcibly occupy barracks and empty tracts of lands and to build up squatter colonies there. After securing the basic necessity of life, the members of the colony would look to establish a school, as they regarded education as the utmost important element for the children of refugee population to survive in the alien land. This was a common pattern without any exception – either a particular colony had a school for itself or a few colonies collectively would develop a school. The study explores the possible reasons behind the importance that education had among the refugees – was it their bhadralok baggage that made them invest their capital, labour and time in developing neighbourhood schools; or was educating their children necessary to ensure a job in the foreign land? Also, what were the cultural significances of building up a school in a colony, where did the money come from, who taught in these schools and what were their relations with the government sanctioned education board?
The bhadralok colony-dwellers formed only a section of the refugee population. Among the migrants from East Pakistan, there were poor cultivators, artisans, petty traders and others. They lacked the minimum means necessary for setting up squatter colonies. They took refuge in the government camps. These camps had government-run schools and training centres. The camp population was often transitory in nature as the government tried to rehabilitate the inhabitants somewhere permanently. Did the curricula in these schools and centres take into account the possible temporariness of the population? Often the pupils in these schools were first-generation school-goers – how did the primary education mould their life-cycles, what were the drop-out rates and how important was the vocational training among the downtrodden refugees – these are some of the issues that the project will address.
In brief, the project critically interrogates the role of education in the development of a group of people who were trying to carve out a niche for themselves in a new country. The post-partition period was a critical phase in the biography of the new nation as well. The refugees as well as the government, both were trying to work out a way to move ahead, leaving behind the tumultuous last few years. The broad sets of sources for this study include various government reports, school magazines and commemorative volumes, refugee memoirs and oral narratives.