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Education, Training and Refugee Rehabilitation in Post-partition West Bengal

Kaustubh Mani Sengupta ( teaches at the Department of History, Bankura University, West Bengal.

The article studies the role of education and training in the rehabilitation of Hindu refugees in post-partition West Bengal. It shows how class, caste, and gender inflected the schemes of school education and training, the assumptions of government proposals and the belief of the bhadraloks. Schools occupied an important position in the refugee squatter colonies set up by the early migrants. On the other hand, for the subaltern refugees, depending solely on government help, schemes of agricultural and vocational training were deemed fitter, as that would help in economic rehabilitation faster. For the state, these refugees needed to contribute to the larger development projects of the period and become a labouring contributor to the society. These different experiences underline the ways through which social and cultural assumptions get reproduced even during extreme moments of crises.

This article is part of the research done as a postdoctoral fellow for the Transnational Research Group on “Poverty and Education in India,” funded by the Max Weber Stiftung. I thank all the participants of the workshops for their comments and suggestions.

This article focuses on two sites of concentration of the Hindu refugees who settled in West Bengal after the partition. First, it looks at the refugee colonies which were built and maintained by the refugees themselves, and second, the government-run refugee camps. It discusses the way schools were established and maintained in the colonies, the problems encountered by the residents, the rationale behind vocational training institutes, and the role of the government in rehabilitating the refugees. “Refugee” was not a homogeneous category; class, caste or gender identity of people often determined their status as refugees, and the government rehabilitation schemes drew clear correlation between caste and occupation. The refugees in these colonies belonged to a
distinctly different class than those who were forced to take shelter in various government camps. These internal differences among the refugee population also shaped their approach towards education. A discussion of education, vocational training and occupation leads us to the crucial link between the discourse of rehabilitation and development in the initial decades of independent India.

Education in the Colonies

Almost 60% of the migrants from East Bengal who came till 1949 were non-agriculturalists (Chatterjee 1990). The major part of these migrants settled in the colonies in and around Calcutta (Chaudhuri 1983; Sen 2014). They were mainly from the upper caste—the bhadralok, and had some means to rehabilitate themselves in the new land. In their world view, standard school and college education for their children was the only way to move out of their present situation. After securing the basic necessities of life, they would always try to establish a colony school. As a colony resident reminisced,

Now we need education. Without it, the next generation is doomed. These uprooted, supine families will not be able to stand up again on their feet. Thus a few enthusiastic people jumped into this noble work. “Noble”, since there were no political help, financial strength, or even manpower. (Datta 2011: 170–71)

Also, most of the upper castes’ members coming from the eastern part of Bengal had prized education as a means of earning their livelihood for centuries. Dipankar Sinha (2000: 148), during his fieldwork in the Bijoygarh refugee colony, also found that “Education … is perceived as the best way to embark on the path of social mobility.” Holders of higher education degrees within the community had a distinct status; respect was accorded to the “mastar moshay, who was consulted ­before taking various decisions. Lack of education was more harmful than the actual material poverty which they faced during these years. The sense of nostalgia for a place which they had to leave was always associated with a past of respectability linked with one’s culture, education and position in the society (Chakrabarty 1996).

The present inhabitants of the colonies remember the past struggle as one of triumph, carving out a place of their own in the city. Education played a significant role in establishing themselves, not only in economic terms but also on the social ladder. Thus someone who is a bank manager now, born and brought up in Shahidnagar colony, would start narrating his experience of going to school with the fact that he had no shoes to wear during his student life, but with proper education he has managed to earn that later in his life.1 The physical features of the colonies also give a sense of this sentiment. The main structures that came up once a colony was established included the markets, a temple and a school. This was the pattern in almost every colony. Children of the colony would go to the school within the colony for their initial education. These schools played an important role in defining the character of the colony. The critical place of shiksha or education in the local life of the colony is evocatively described in a narrative by an erstwhile resident of a colony:

Those days, the local school and the locality were indivisible. The school was the most potent source of imaginative mapping. The press for shiksha was enormous ... The locality in the late evenings would take the proportions of a factory, the shiksha factory, with loud readings—rendered in a variety of styles—emanating from different houses. Shiksha would help us win recognition from Calcutta of our bhadralok status, something we thought we rightfully deserved but were deprived of. More importantly, it would demarcate us from the subaltern people of our locality, only few of whose kids could complete their schooling. (Ray 2000: 166)

It was essential to mark the difference between the bhadraloks and the subalterns within the colony. Education would separate the two and help in maintaining the hegemony of the bhadralok, which they were accustomed to in the previous years.

There were differences in the way schools came up in different colonies. For instance, in the Jadavpur–Baghajatin area (located in the southern fringes of Calcutta), 10 colonies collectively started out to establish schools. However, internal differences led to the Baghajatin colony—the largest in terms of area and people—seceding. The other colonies disapproved of this move as this was seen as a harmful example for the united movement of the refugee population. The golden jubilee volume, commemorating the founding of Shahidnagar (another colony in the south of the city), mentions that,

The founders of Shahidnagar were far-sighted people. They were not satisfied with claiming land and establishing the colony there. They skilfully tried to establish a healthy community life in the colony. At the outset, they embarked on establishing an educational institution and a market. Jointly with Bibeknagar Colony, they established ­“Adarsha Shikhayatan,” “Adarsha Balika Shikhayatan,” and three primary schools. The former schools have been elevated to higher secondary standard. Even today, in the governing bodies of these two schools, representatives from Shahidnagar are elected. In Ward No 8, Shahidnagar colony Committee established the primary school, Shahidnagar Bidyapith. Education has spread in Shahidnagar. Perhaps, today, there is no illiterate in Shahidnagar. (Chakrabarty 2012: 103)2

Novel Process

An interesting aspect to look at is the land on which the schools came up. Sometimes an existing structure would be repaired; at others, a new space would be cleared out. Most of these colonies came up on somebody else’s land, thus the name jabardakhal colony (forcefully acquired colony). To establish a school was often seen as a territorial claim, legitimising the space of the colony, or, as Manas Ray mentions, giving the locality a “moral sanction.” In fact, Ray’s narrative of the way the school came up in his colony of Netaji Nagar gives us a fine insight into the process:

There was one occasion when the cops intervened in support of the landowners. This was when the local high school came up. On the basis of prior information, Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code was enforced in that area. The idea was that it would stop the workmen from working in that premise. A mistri by the name of Haronath Karmakar, a local resident of ward number 7, vowed to raise the school house of Netaji Nagar Vidyamandir in one night. He took the measurements, completed all the necessary spadework in his and his neighbours’ courtyards: bera, tin roofs, wooden poles. The place of the proposed school building was guarded at night and Haronath with a few helpers raised the structure in one night. The responsibility of the local people was to collect flower pots and place them there. The teachers had been appointed beforehand and when the police came the next morning, they found the school already in function. An injunction was obtained from the court preventing the destruction of the school building. In about a couple of years, the girls’ school, Adarsha Balika Vidyamandir, was constructed at a separate premise. The local people were desperate for these schools since the schools would give the locality the moral sanction it needed. (Ray 2000: 166–67)

In case of colonies managed by cooperative societies constituted by their own members and with government recognition from the beginning, land for schools and colleges were ear-marked in their initial layout and distribution of plots. In Madhyamgram–Nababarrackpore area in North 24 Parganas district, as many as six schools were established within a span of 10 years, between 1950 and 1960. In 1950, separate schools for boys and girls were established. The cooperative society of the colony provided the land and initial funds for these schools. The schools started on 3 January 1951, with 27 girls and 52 boys. The executive committee of the cooperative colony society acted as the ad hoc management committee for both the schools (Datta 1984: 380–81). But separate committees for the schools had to be formed to get government recognition and financial aid. In 1952, both the schools were recognised by the state government. Significantly, even after recognition from the government, it was decided and agreed by the education department that in the school committee four members from the cooperative society of the colony would always be present.

Unlike the schools in Madhyamgram, most of the schools established in the colonies had to face great difficulties in accumulating money to start and run them. There was no regular source of finance. Government aid was hard to come by. In Shahidnagar colony, for instance, government recognition came only in the 1970s, after two decades of precarious survival.3 The Sammilita Vidyalaya adopted a unique technique. Students, especially girls from the colonies, spread throughout the city to collect money in boxes. This box collection was a novel means of gathering money to establish a school. Eminent college and university teachers wrote the letters that these students used to appeal for funds. One such appeal was as follows:

Please Help the Sammilita Udbastu Bidyalaya

In absence of adequate number of educational institutions, thousands of refugee students are denied of any opportunity of getting an education. We are happy to know that middle class refugees in Jadabpur area have organised themselves to establish a higher secondary English [medium] school called “Sammilita Udbastu Bidyalaya.”

The effort of the refugees is highly commendable. But their financial strength is very limited—it is impossible for them to carry out all the initial expenses of the school. Thus, we hope that people of this country, especially those who value education, will generously help to build the school for the refugees. We shall be really pleased if you help to make the effort a successful one. (Sen Sharma 2004: 28–30)

This was an exceptional case. Usually, the residents bore the expenses of starting the school, and tried to get sanction from the government later. Government recognition for these schools was crucial as it would mean credible degrees and also financial aid. However, recognition by the board of secondary education posed several problems. Often, two or three schools rose in close proximity within the colony. But, this closeness proved to be a detriment in getting the approval from the board which held that there was no need for so many schools within such a short distance (Sen Sharma 2004: 38). To get the recognition, a proper school building and qualified teachers were essential. It was almost impossible to get qualified teachers, with proper degrees, to teach in these schools because of financial constraints. Most of the colony schools started with part-time teachers, often members of the colony. In this respect, the Sammilita Vidyalaya was much more organised. It had a separate committee which looked after the appointment of qualified teachers. In the golden jubilee volume of Dumdum Sri Aurobindo Balika Vidyamandir, Keshab Ranjan Dutta writes,

It was only recently at that time that millions of uprooted Bengalis from east Bengal started settling down here in Dumdum area. Dumdum of that time and now—there is a huge difference. Hapless people were all around. We gathered them to move forward. Ordinary people of Khudiram Colony came forward. We started collecting one or two rupee from them. The issue of getting a school building was also resolved … we could induce a few educated local people to become a part of the governing body of the school. The chairman and vice-chairman of south Dumdum municipality were among them. They helped in gathering the few thousand rupees that were needed to be deposited for the recognition of the Madhyashiksha Parshad [Board of Secondary Education] … Many people came forward to teach with little or no pay at Aurobindo Bidyamandir during its infant stage. My wife and I were also a part of that group. (Datta 2011: 171)

The school became the site for collective action; it captured the united spirit of the colony residents. It was not only a successful project which, once achieved, was complete; rather it was needed to be preserved as it promised a secure future as well.

This belief in education as the cultural capital comes from the experience of the colonial past (Acharya 1995; Bhattacharya 2005). Colonial pedagogy and the discourse propagated by the Bengali textbooks portrayed the picture of an “ideal” obedient boy who succeeds in life in contrast to his antithetical figure. Curiously, this pedagogic enterprise mirrored a version of the “civilising mission” of the colonial state and the ways through which it wanted to constitute a colonised population of obedient servants. The ideal vision of childhood and children in post-partition period was, in a sense, a continuation of colonial politics (Balagopalan 2002; Bandyopadhyay 2013).

The colonial education system destabilised the earlier networks of pathshalas or indigenous schools where formal education was imparted to poor children who were simultaneously learning the trade of their parents. Colonial policies favoured the elites, and produced the discursive division between mental and manual labour. This construction of childhood played an important part in the rehabilitation project of the bhadralok refugees. The presence of a large numbers of schoolteachers, lawyers, and salaried professionals among the early refugees gave the colonies a distinct class as well as caste identity.

Educating Refugees from Agricultural Families

The government demarcated the poor refugees into two broad groups—those coming from rural and agrarian backgrounds, and those who were non-rural. The rehabilitation programme followed this division while proposing various schemes. For the first group, the government sought to set up agricultural colonies so that they could continue with their traditional occupation. The non-rural refugees were encouraged to get vocational training so that they could gain employment. In both the cases, the government wanted the refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible and become a labouring contributor to the society at large. While the colony refugees clung to basic education for various reasons, the government emphasised on traditional occupation and vocational training for the subaltern refugees.

The poor migrants from East Pakistan looked for government help when they came to West Bengal, mainly after the communal violence of 1950. They were first sent to various relief camps and then to government colonies spread across the state and outside it. There were three basic types of camps opened by the government—worksite camps, permanent liability camps/homes (henceforth homes), and women’s camps/homes, sometimes with overlaps in the members of these camps (Basu Ray Chaudhury 2009).4

Classifying the refugees according to their occupation was seen as the crucial first step towards rehabilitation. In this the government often assumed ready correspondence between caste and occupation. As Bandyopadhyay and Basu Ray Chaudhury (2014: 7) mention in their work on the Namasudra refugees,

At Sealdah Station they were asked about their identity, given a registration card and sent by train to a refugee camp. It was at these registration desks that their identity as Namasudra cultivator was permanently inscribed on their cards—no matter what their real occupation or qualifications were.

The separation made in the camps point to a crucial feature of this period. Further, they write,

This is not to suggest that some form of caste segregation was maintained in the camps; this is to indicate however that caste mattered in governance and in everyday social relations even in extreme situations of deprivation, despite the currency of a levelling discourse of victimhood, appropriating all those displaced and destitute people into a new collective category called the “refugees.” (Bandyopadhyay and Basu Ray Chaudhury 2014: 7–8)

In the Cooper’s camp, Dhubulia camp in Nadia and the Bagjola camp in 24 Parganas, the Namasudras constituted almost 70% of the total population.

For the rehabilitation of the refugee agriculturalists (or those who were thought to be agriculturalists by the government), it was assumed that providing them with a piece of land would be enough. Initially, three basic schemes stemmed from this assumption—the Union Board scheme, the Barujibi scheme, and the Horticulture scheme.5 But there were major flaws in the conceptualisation and implementation of these schemes, often resulting from the faulty classifications, poor quality of land, and the fundamental assumption that a cultivator family would like to till the soil for generations. 

As the report of the Committee of Ministers for the Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons in West Bengal noted as early as in 1954,

Most of the families sent to these colonies were non-agriculturalists, mainly drawn from the lower middle class, and many of them were not familiar with vegetable cultivation at all. Further, the sites for these colonies also do not appear to have been selected with proper care and attention and, in some cases, soil was not suitable or irrigation facilities were lacking. The proximity to market is also very important for these colonies, but many of them are located at a considerable distance from Calcutta which is by far the most important community centre. (p 10)

These criticisms were not taken into account as such. The recommendations for the agriculturalist families forwarded by the Committee for Reorganisation of Camps, Permanent Liability Institutions and Homes in 1955 would establish this point. It suggested that the agriculturalists should be given land in the western part of the state, knowing very well that the soil quality in that region was much inferior. For the committee, this did not matter. They opined:

Each family should be given a piece of land for vegetable gardening with separate hutments and a monthly allowance for the family. The idea is to rehabilitate the boys of the families on the adjoining cultivable lands after they have had training for a number of years in agriculture.6

Basic Education in Agricultural Colonies

In these agricultural colonies, the committee recommended opening of schools for the basic education of boys and girls. But basic school education was not enough. Modes of agriculture and rural crafts such as carpentry were to be a part of the curriculum, so that “by the time their education is complete, they will be ready to go to the land allotted to them in the adjoining area.”7 During their years in basic education, the boys were required to develop the adjoining land with tractors. The committee recommended that when the boys start cultivation or set up any other business in the locality, three successive years’ income should be taken into account before any cut in doles was made, as complete rehabilitation may take seven to 10 years. The committee was aware that there was a chance of resistance from the agriculturalist families in following this scheme of things. Crucial policy formulations were spelled out next:

The plea, as far as can be foreseen, would be that the boys would be deprived of higher education thereby. Higher education has not taken us anywhere and we are not settling agriculturist families as non-agriculturists on principle. The plea, therefore, would be in most cases groundless.8

To induce the families the committee decided to provide them with tractors, hoping that, “This may prove attractive as the use of tractors does do away with a certain amount of drudgery.”9 In this scheme of rehabilitation, basic school/college education was seen as unnecessary for certain occupation groups. The state did not want to spend much time and money on the education of children from agricultural background as that would probably slow down the economic rehabilitation of these families. The emphasis on providing tractors is also instructive. Manual labour might make these boys averse to cultivation. New labour-saving technology was introduced to attract them to their traditional vocation. This was also the general trend in wider economic planning of the period with focus on big science, technology and mechanisation to accelerate the economy of the country.

This rigid classificatory principle was severely criticised by the opposition on the floors of the state assembly. For instance, Gour Chandra Kundu, Member of Legislative Assembly from Ranaghat in Nadia district, sharply asked if it was not possible to think of “changing of categories”:

Do something to generate employment … for this, if you need please make “change of categories”. But the hon’ble minister stated that categories cannot be changed. Why not? A farmer’s child in Pakistan need not be a farmer here again. Why can’t he be a weaver, or a labourer in the industries? Why can’t he become a clerk? He can very well start his own business. (WBLA 1963: 190)

These questions were crucial and often people found ways of moving away from their traditional occupation. Faced with dire necessities, people were ready to change their vocation and take up new avenues. Government rehabilitation schemes missed this attitude.10

Since educating the refugee children living in the government camps and colonies were least of the authorities’ concerns, the basic educational facilities available there was inadequate and of poor quality. A review committee was formed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment of the Government of India in the late 1960s to specifically look into various aspects of refugee rehabilitation in West Bengal. One of the committee’s reports focused on the educational and medical aid provided in the government-run refugee camps and homes. After conducting their survey in four districts of West Bengal, they came up with the following information. Most of the refugee camps and homes had primary schools, and the total number of schoolgoing students was 5,639 (Committee of Review of Rehabilitation Work in West Bengal 1974: 10). But the committee reported that the existing arrangement for primary education in the homes was “highly inadequate and unsatisfactory.” The attendance in these schools was extremely low and irregular. The registers were not properly maintained and often showed inflated numbers, the committee alleged. The school buildings were in poor condition and the necessary teaching aids were not supplied. Most of the teachers were untrained; some of them did not even have the minimum educational qualification. The committee observed that out of the 150 teachers attached to the primary schools in the homes, 70 passed the matriculation examination (Standard X). Only 20.7% of the teachers were trained to teach in a primary school. The Committee of Review of Rehabilitation Work in West Bengal surmised,

It has been reported that this poor attendance is primarily on account of lack of interest of teachers, lack of proper academic atmosphere, lack of proper teaching aids and other economic factors. Whenever the children get some job they give up their studies and take up the work for their living. (1974: 13)

For the dismal state of affairs of schools in the homes, the committee blamed the lack of initiative of the teachers and the rehabilitation department. They strongly proposed that all the schools should be put under the administrative control of the state education department. Everything—from the teachers’ qualifications and pay scales to the curriculum and grants—should be according to the guidelines of the education department (1974: 28).

We can get a glimpse of the grim situation of school education in the camps from the memoirs of the Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari (2012) as well. Byapari was born sometime in 1950–51 in Barishal, East Bengal. He came to West Bengal with his family within a couple of years. From Sealdah station they were sent to Shiromonipur camp in Bankura, a district in the western part of the state. Byapari gives a detailed description of the camp. The infrastructure was inadequate to say the least. In Shiromonipur, for more than 2,000 refugees, there were only two tube wells to obtain water for drinking. The sanitation system was non-existent. There was a dispensary with one doctor but with hardly any medicine. A primary school was opened but it did not run for long. Bypari vividly describes the enthusiasm of his parents when he went to the-school in the camp for the first time. For them, school education held an esteemed position. They probably expected that with proper education their son would be able to move out of the wretched life of a refugee. However, their hope was soon dashed. When Byapari went to attend the school after a bout of sickness, he found that it was already shut.11

Schemes of Vocational and Industrial Training

In 1953–54, the Ministry of Rehabilitation report noted,

It was realised in the very beginning that the younger people among the displaced persons should be given training in various technical and vocational trades so that they may be properly equipped for ­earning a living. This was specially necessary because of big development projects all over the country which required thousands of technicians and skilled workers of all types. (1953–54: 15)

The huge influx of people from non-agricultural background flocking to urban areas needed to be rehabilitated through proper employment. The vocational training institutes were crucial in this respect. According to a government report,

To deal with the situation, a three-pronged plan was formulated. Firstly, the machinery of Employment Exchange was utilised to secure for them employment in Government and private service on a priority basis. Secondly, arrangements were made for imparting vocational and technical training to the non-agriculturalist families and inmates of Camps and Homes to equip them for starting their own business or securing employment in industries. Lastly, industries, medium, small, cottage and cooperatives and Training-cum-Production centres were encouraged to be set up extensively to open new avenues of employment for the displaced persons. (Ministry of Rehabilitation 1960)

There were three types of schemes for technical and vocational training. First, schemes administered by the Directorate General of Resettlement and Employment (DGRE) under the Ministry of Labour; second, schemes administered by the state government; and third, the schemes run by the Ministry of Rehabilitation. Titagarh, Gayeshpur and Habra emerged as the prime centres for vocational training run by the state government in West Bengal. The trainees were provided with a monthly stipend of ₹30, and were helped by the government to find suitable employment or set up a small business after the completion of their course. Also, there were centres where fine arts, printing, weaving, tailoring, welding, toy and basketmaking, pottery, and designing were taught. By 1960, rough estimates suggest that 25,000 displaced persons, including 17,000 women were provided training in 34 vocational training centres, of which 20 centres were for women (Committee of Review of Rehabilitation Work in West Bengal 1971: 6). In addition to this, in these centres there were “facilities for training and employment in Japanese type of machines and cottage industries, such as Garobo plant, Nissoku looms, braiding machines and oil expellers” (Committee of Ministers for the Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons in West Bengal, 1954: 14).There were also training-cum-production centres where the passed-out trainees had an opportunity to earn a daily wage. They were given a wage of one rupee per day for the initial year. After that, the wage increased as per the capacity and the job done by the individual (Report of the Ministry of Rehabilitation, 1956–57: 15).

In 1956, the Ministry of Rehabilitation decided that a vocational training-cum-production centre should not have more than eight trades. The period of training varied according to the requirements of the different trades. The government wanted to place the new trainees in production centres and put their trade in the market. This was a period of an extended training which would generally be for one year. The trainees were to be taught to produce goods according to standard specifications to compete in the open market. Also, it was decided that,

To encourage them to receive training in production, wages should be given. 50% of the wages thus earned should be handed over to them in cash and the balance deposited in the post office in their names. They should be permitted to withdraw the money thus deposited when they leave the home or complete their training. This saving will serve the purpose of providing them with some capital to give them a start.12

The products made by the displaced persons needed a market. The central advisory committee formed to provide suggestions to the ministry proposed that the government should promote the sales of the products made by the refugees in local as well as international markets. The products should be of good standard and production should be related to the scope of marketability. Sales emporiums were to be opened in different cities across the country. At Esplanade, in Calcutta such a centre was inaugurated by the state government. Other than these emporiums, one member also suggested that local shop-keepers might be contacted to promote these items. Paid hawkers who would take the items to individual households were thought to be another option.13

Special emphasis was put on the economic rehabilitation of the displaced women. Life in camps and colonies was harsh on the inmates. It pushed men as well as women to “come out” and look for a job. In the urban colonies, many women started teaching in the newly-established local colony schools. Education offered the women an opportunity to move out and contribute to the family’s income (Chakravartty 2005; Weber 2006). Other than being teachers, women started to enter a variety of professional spaces, from merchant offices to sellers. For the women in camps, however, the situation was different. They had to depend on government schemes to get the training followed by a job. Women up to 35 years of age were encouraged to get preliminary education which would help them in their vocational training. Exceptions could be made for the meritorious girls. A condensed course for the school final examination was proposed for them so that they could pass the examination in two or three years and train to become teachers or nurses. If they went to higher level schools and colleges, they were encouraged to learn shorthand or typewriting.14

One of the chief aims of the Committee for the Reorganisation of the Homes for the Displaced Persons was “to make them self-sufficient.”15 The committee specifically looked into the ways women could gain employment through proper training. But, here too, similar to the case of agricultural colonies, they had their assumptions regarding the class of women who were thought to be “proper” for the vocational training schemes. In their view, “the women from middle-class families with sons above the age of ten form a class altogether, and their rehabilitation will be a difficult task.”16 They recommended that these women should be given houses in government colonies located in industrial areas where they could seek jobs in small industries. Their children could go to the local schools and “later get absorbed in the industries sponsored by government where preference will be given to the boys and girls of the middle-class refugee settlers.”17

Two specific proposals of the Central Advisory Committee which sought to train the women of the permanent liability homes and infirmaries in various crafts so that they could gain an occupation are insightful to understand the official logic and ways of dealing with the issue of economic rehabilitation. The first proposal came following a meeting held on 5 July 1955. It proposed various craft courses and their duration. The subjects that were agreed upon included tailoring (for a period three years), weaving and bleaching (two years), sebika or caregiver (one year), typewriting (nine months), senior and junior teacher training (one and two years respectively), bookbinding and papermaking (six months), etc.18 However, within two years, the committee observed that even after the training, inmates of the homes were not able to find gainful employment. They continued to occupy the homes and so the government thought of another set of training courses.

This time the training did not require the women to go out of the domestic sphere to work. The idea now was to introduce “a well thought out course of intensive training in the trade/profession of ‘Domestic Service and Attendance’.”19 The duration of the course would be one year, and young boys (between 14 and 18 years) and widows (25 to 45 years) were to be chosen for the training. Two considerations should be kept in mind during the framing of the syllabus, opined the committee—first, the age group of the trainees, and second, “the minimum standard of attainment at the end of the course should be as near as possible to that of a tolerably good domestic servant …”20 The committee prepared a draft syllabus that included preparation of beverages like tea, coffee, fruit juice and vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food items; preparation of two to three Indian sweets; “planning and preparation of entire meals like breakfast lunches for different groups at various income levels.” Cleaning the house, especially taking care of metal, glass, wood and leather items, books and clothes; knowing how to disinfect a room, eradicating mosquitoes, flies, bugs and other domestic vermin; and general training in the work of an ayah, bearer, or personal attendant were the other areas of training.21 After training in the homes, a period of apprenticeship was expected at any first-class hotel/restaurant. The employment prospects for this kind of training were good. The committee opined that, “It is a matter of common experience that in big cities like Calcutta a fully qualified and honest person can hope to get a salary of at least ₹40 per month or ₹30 per month, with board and lodging for the work of a cook or a bearer, respectively.”22 With experience, the salary would increase. The superintendents and teachers were instructed “to impress upon the trainees these possibilities of a good and clean life and higher prospects for them in this field of service and employment.”23 This training course clearly articulated the terms in which single women of a particular class and age were to be a part of the working group in the city. The creation of a space for working women was circumscribed by a particular idea of the private—a hotel or the residence of a wealthy person; they could participate in the domain of the workforce in terms of the boundaries etched by the state.24


K C Neogy, the first Minister of Relief and Rehabilitation of the Government of India, mentioned in the assembly:

Sir, what is meant by permanent rehabilitation? Permanent rehabilitation means creation of employment … permanent rehabilitation can be achieved satisfactorily only as a feature of the general development of the country as a whole … It is simply impossible to think in terms of rehabilitating them without at the same time proceeding with measures which would lead to the development of the resources of the country as a whole. (cited in Menon 2003: 175)

But this bringing together of objectives—development and rehabilitation—did not produce the desired result. In repeated reports and pamphlets, the government had to accept the failure of their schemes and design new ones to tackle the situation. Formal education and vocational training were crucial in helping the refugees to find employment and become useful contributors to the society. But here the class character of the refugees and the colonial past played a crucial role. To the upper caste bhadralok refugees, formal education was the only ladder to gain social respectability in the new land. Schools and colleges were important features of the urban refugee colonies. On the other hand, for the government, dealing mainly with subaltern refugees in various camps, generating employment quickly was the necessary aspect. For economic rehabilitation, more stress was put on agricultural and vocational training and basic school education suffered. The government sought to dovetail the refugee rehabilitation programme with development of independent India. In the Second Five Year Plan (1956–61), rehabilitation schemes were discussed in a separate chapter. With focus on heavy industries and employment, the planners could not avoid taking up the subject. More importantly, they noted that, “Increasingly, rehabilitation programmes are being coordinated with general programmes of economic and social development” (Planning Commission 1956–61, Ch 30). In fact, as Valeska Huber (2016: 97) has argued, in postcolonial democracies like Egypt and India, 

planning was never merely economic but also fundamentally social …Educational planning as a subfield of central planning is particularly well suited to shed light on this social dimension. For many leaders of decolonization process, it formed a central building block in the endeavour of creating “new men” and “new societies.”

In India, training became important to produce employment, and one of the major aims of the five-year plans was to provide sustainable jobs to the people. “Manpower” was an asset to the nation, and with the refugees pouring in large numbers, they were needed to be harnessed into schemes of national development. This article shows how the experience of rehabilitation differed according to the social identity of the refugee, where the refugees themselves as well as the state had distinct imaginations regarding the suitability of certain vocations for them and, in turn, reproducing the dominant
division of labour in the society.


1 Personal interview with Chanchal Sengupta, Shahidnagar Colony, Kolkata, 18 February 2014.


2 See also the account of establishing the school in Bijoygarh, the largest colony in Calcutta, situated near Jadavpur in the southern part of the city (Datta 2001; Chakraborti et al 2007).

3 Personal interview with Soumen Chakrabarty, Shahidnagar Colony, Kolkata, 24 February 2014.

4 Those who were deemed unfit for any work were sent to Permanent Liability camps. In the women’s camps, mostly women without any male member of the family were sent. In the worksite camps, refugees were engaged in various jobs to develop the area of the campsite where they would be rehabilitated.

5 The idea of Union Board scheme was to rehabilitate displaced persons, with the help of Union Board presidents and local schoolteachers, in small batches in different “mauzas.” A small honorarium was also supposed to be given to the teachers for their cooperation. Second, there was the Barujibi scheme, where two bighas of land was assigned for betel-leaf cultivation and eight cottahs of land was given for homestead plot.

6 “Recommendations of the committee for re­organisation of camps, permanent liability institutions and homes for the displaced persons classed as the ages, infirm unattached women and their dependents, [1955],” File No 7, Ashoka Gupta Papers, School of Women’s Studies [SWS], Jadavpur University [JU], p 4.

7 See note 6.

8 See note 6. Emphasis added.

9 See note 6.

10 Life stories shed interesting light on this phenomenon. Autobiographies written by the refugees give us a glimpse of these various activities. See Pal (2009) and Byapari (2012).

11 For a critical view of government rehabilitation policies, the differences between bhadralok and Dalit refugees, the import of education for bhadralok of Bengals, and the possibilities of emancipation inherent in having proper education, see Byapari (2012). Also, on education and Dalit refugees, see Banerjee (2017).

12 Reorganisation of homes and camps for unattached displaced women or/and old and infirm displaced persons from East Pakistan, 9 February 1956, Ministry of Rehabilitation, Ashoka Gupta Papers, SWS, JU, p 5.

13 Copy of a note placed before the Central Advisory Committee at its meeting held on 25/11/1955’, File no 7, Ashoka Gupta Papers, SWS, JU.

14 See note 6, p 4.

15 See note 6, p 8.

16 See note 6, p 8.

17 See note 6, p 8.

18 Minutes of the meeting of the sub-committee appointed by the advisory board for women’s rehabilitation, 5 July 1955, File no 7, Ashoka Gupta Papers, SWS, JU.

19 “Supplementary agenda of the Meeting of the Central Advisory Committee to be held on 10 January 1957,” 28 December 1956, GoI, Ministry of Rehabilitation, Ashoka Gupta Papers, Subject File no 2, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

20 See note 19.

21 See note 19.

22 See note 19.

23 See note 19.

24 The government proposition may have been prompted by the fact that in post-partition Calcutta, refugee women and girl-children entered the sphere of domestic work in large numbers, slowly driving out male workers from this particular labour-market (Chakravarty and Chakravarty 2013).


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Banerjee, Sarbani (2017): “Education Intercepting the Dalit Way of Being,” Interventions, Vol 19, No 5, pp 724–37.

Basu Ray Chaudhury, Anasua (2009): “Living Another Lives: Un-Homed in the Camps,” A Basu Ray Chaudhury and Ishita Dey (eds), Citizens, Non-citizens, and Camp Lives, Policies and Practices 21, Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata.

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Chakravartty, Gargi (2005): Coming Out of Partition: Refugee Women of Bengal, New Delhi: Bluejay Books.

Chakravarty, Ishita and Deepita Chakravarty (2013): “For Bed and Board Only: Women and Girl Children Domestic Workers in Post-Partition Calcutta (1951–81),” Modern Asian ­Studies, Vol 47, No 2, pp 581–611.

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— (1971): Report on Industrial Training Institutes for Displaced Women from East Pakistan in West Bengal, New Delhi: Government Press.

— (1974): Report on the Educational and Medical Facilities for the Inmates of Permanent Liability Homes and Infirmaries in West Bengal, Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation, New Delhi: Government Press.

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Huber, Valeska (2017): “Planning Education and Manpower in the Middle-East, 1950s–60s,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 52, No 1, pp 95–117.

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— (1956–57): Report of the Ministry of Rehabilitation, New Delhi: Government Press.

— (1960): Training and Employment Opportunities for Displaced Persons from East Pakistan, New Delhi: Government Press.

Pal, Sadananda (2009): Eka Kumbha: Ek Udbastu Kumbhakarer matimakha Atmakatha, Kolkata: Camp.

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Ray, Manas (2000): “Growing Up Refugee: On Memory and Locality,” Refugees in West Bengal: Institutional Practices and Contested Identities, Pradip Bose (ed), Calcutta: Calcutta Research Group.

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WBLA (1963): West Bengal Legislative Assembly Debates, Vol 35, No 1, 22 February, Government of West Bengal, Calcutta.

Updated On : 25th Jan, 2018


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