THEY were first called "migrants" - an innocuous term - when they left Noakhali in small groups and crossed over in the last three months of 1946. But when Gandhiji's fearless "One-man Army" failed in riot-scarred Noakhali as well as in other districts of East Bengal and Partition struck with full force, "migrant" was found to be too weak and inapposite an expression to label the sufferers. They arrived, ravaged and terror-struck, in waves and were called "refugees" or, in Bengali, udbastu.
The massive exodus began in 1947 and continued right into the 1960s. How many came? Without indulging in statistical jugglery, it may be safely assumed that before the 1970s, five million refugees had left East Bengal for
The comparison with
But even these creative records could hardly conceal the naked disparity. While the Centre had spent Rs. 9.80 every month on every single refugee on an average who came from West Pakistan, it had allotted a meagre Rs. 1.20 on a single refugee who crossed over from
The answer is simple - by fighting heroically against stifling odds. Indeed, this determined battle for survival turned the "victim" looking vacantly at Sealdah station into an agent and protagonist. The refugees spread out in refugee camps, then moved out of the camps to build colonies in snake-infested, marshy lands, established small businesses and acquired skills, made the optimum use of the scanty help they received, and within the course of two decades, set up 171 habitable colonies. These new settlements which are now decidedly middle class in character and an integral part of the State's landscape bear witness to the days and nights of relentless struggle. Even their names are revealing - "Bijoygarh" which means "Fortress of Victory", "Saktigarh" or "Fortress of strength", "Pratapgarh" which meaneans "Fortress of Might".
The Left Front in
"Refugee", the word of sympathy was also used during the Bangladesh War in 1971 when eight million people - Hindus and Muslims - entered