top of page

Paper 36

Problematizing the Hegemonic Conceptualization of Refugeehood in West Bengal: A

Study of Manoranjan Byapari’s Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a


Ms Damayanti Das

PhD Scholar, Department of English, Raiganj University, West Bengal, India


In 1947, the partition of India resulted in the division of Bengal province along the

communal line. In Bengal-oriented partition history, literature and films, the trauma and

identity crisis of the East Bengali refugees are explored significantly. But how far the

exploration of partition engages with the refugee experiences in totality is a relevant query

since it is marked by a politics of silence on caste. It appears that the mainstream assertion

that the caste system is rather alien to Bengal's progressive intellectual atmosphere has

excluded the Dalit refugee perspectives. The cultural hegemony of the upper-caste Bengali

Bhadraloks has controlled knowledge production about partition so persistently that the

conscious attempt at universalizing the selective partition experiences from the upper-caste

perspective has been highly successful. But the trajectory of partition history is much wider

than what is imagined by the celebrated Bengali Partition narratives and films by upper-caste

intellectuals, as is evident in Manoranjan Byapari’s Interrogating My Chandal Life: An

Autobiography of a Dalit. The post-partition reality presented by the Dalit refugee Byapari

in his autobiography highlights the glaring absence of lower caste writers from the canon of

Bengali Partition literature. Evidently, the legitimacy accorded to upper-caste refugee

experiences and the suppression of the voices of lower caste refugees are parts of a

hegemonic project of not acknowledging the creative output outside the arena of the upper-

caste bhadraloks' literary establishment. The celebrated partition narratives by upper-caste writers do not engage with the caste dynamics governing the social relations in post-partition West Bengal. But Byapari shows that beneath the façade of caste neutrality, the

discriminatory attitude of the West Bengal government was largely responsible for hindering

the upward mobility of the Dalit refugees. But its reception of the East Bengali Caste Hindus

was preferential enough. According to the author, it was the upper caste Hindus who

migrated on the eve of partition or a little later when communal violence in East Pakistan had not yet erupted on a large scale. This group was supported by the West Bengal government in terms of relocation, jobs and subsidies. He says that the concept of good governance is still a sham for the Dalit refugees since they are regarded as the unacknowledged other of the citizenry. It can be said that in West Bengal, the tradition of enjoying caste privilege and its public repudiation go hand in hand with caste- blindness in partition discourse. Through a close reading of Byapari’s autobiography, I would like to study how Byapari, an East Bengali refugee without caste privilege, interrogates and redefines the concepts like refugeehood, belongingness and citizenship in this Hindu majoritarian state and how his literary agency registers his traumatic past and the journey of his identity construction from a Dalit refugee standpoint.

Keywords: Hegemony, majoritarian, universalize, refugeehood, Bhadralok

8 views0 comments
bottom of page