Millions of religious minorities migrated to India from East Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947. In this process, the upper caste and elites resettled to various parts of India. However, the lower-caste refugees were exiled to inhospitable camps in Dandakaranya. In 1977, the Left Front party won the election in West-Bengal with the promise to relocate the Namshudras (lower caste) to Marichjhapi, an island in the Sundarbans. Soon after, they reversed their promise and restricted the entry of the refugees to Bengal.
Thousands of refugees, nonetheless, defied the Government and moved to Marichjhapi. Within two years, they built embankments, roads, fisheries, a dispensary, and a school. In response, the State Government surrounded the island with police boats to isolate them economically. On 13th May 1979, they burned the entire settlement, persecuted thousands of villagers, and dumped their bodies in the Raimangal River, the actual number of casualties being unknown.
My work probes this massacre and traces the structure of violence linked with migration and resettlement back to the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic. The Mahabharata has a distinct influence on the cultural imagination of the nation’s majoritarian religion. In this text, the upper-caste Pandava kings, aided by Krishna, conflagrated the Khandava forest and banished the indigenous Nagas and Mayas to build their kingdom’s capital, Indraprastha. Despite the contextual disparities, in these two events, there exists a dialogue to bring forth the systematic violence attending to geopolitical contestations.
I grew up listening to the stories of the trauma of displacement my ancestors faced. My project engages with the survivors of the Marichjhapi massacre and locates the current socio-political constitution of the Namshudras in Bengal and Odisha. This work revisits an ancient myth in the light of reality now and adds a new dimension to my project, universalizing the tales of human deprivation of a community.