Accepted Paper:

(Un)finished places: from refugee colony to residential neighborhood  


Annemiek Prins (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how two 'Refugee Colonies' in post-Partition Kolkata have evolved from makeshift camps to residential neighborhoods. I will take changes in housing and land legislation as a point of departure for analysing how East-Bengali refugees have claimed a permanent presence in Kolkata.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the tension - inherent to the experience of migration - between temporary and permanent settlement by foregrounding the dwelling experiences of residents of two 'Refugee Colonies' in Kolkata. Following the 1947 Partition of the Indian sub-continent, Kolkata witnessed a massive influx of potentially permanent newcomers from what was previously known as East-Bengal (contemporary Bangladesh). Depending on their time of arrival these newcomers were administratively categorized as 'refugees', 'old migrants', 'new migrants' or 'displaced people'. The purpose of this ever-expanding and convoluted legislative taxonomy was to restrict the number of East-Bengalis who could be considered 'proper' Partition refugees and were therefore entitled to permanent rehabilitation. This narrow legal definition of refugeehood mirrored the institutional unwillingness to recognize the crowds of migrants as anything other than temporary guests. However, as I will demonstrate in this paper, the newcomers themselves continuously defied and undermined institutionally framed ideas about their future repatriation or resettlement. Instead, they strived to make their presence in Kolkata more permanent as they appropriated and developed low-lying swamplands, constructed their own houses out of bamboo, and launched a political campaign for land titles. Through these material and political practices East-Bengali newcomers gradually anchored themselves in the history and landscape of the city, thereby sending out the unequivocal message: 'we are here to stay'. By focusing on the ways in which Refugee Colonies developed from makeshift camps into permanent residential neighborhoods, I seek to make sense of the spatial-temporal dimension of the transition from newcomer to citizen.

Panel Mig005
Refugee visions and realities: interpreting time with people on the move