People still suffer: Jhumur Pandey

Suranjana Choudhury
Translated by Suranjana Choudhury

Those who had partitioned this country had committed a crime. 

Though two-nation theory was cited as its cause, it was essentially a religious division. How could they think that one religious group would be on one side and the other group would remain on the other side?It was not a practical possibility and it never did become one. People are suffering its consequences till today. 

Whenever we think about partition, we refer mainly to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). We have hardly followed any news about thousands of people who were displaced from West Pakistan(now Pakistan) and were categorized as refugees to be dispersed across Delhi and other places. 

In the recent times, some intellectual Hindu Bengalis have raised concerns that around 164 tea gardens have remained with Bangladesh because of this partition. We are all aware that the British in 1932 had brought in people from Southern India, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and even some Chinese mechanics to work in these tea gardens. But these people from 164 tea gardens did not leave East Pakistan to be here in this country. They lost their loved ones forever. This plight is also another consequence of partition. The voting that took place in Kazi market to decide if Sylhet would remain with India or go to East Pakistan was primarily a communal process. This kind of petty politics and greed for power keep playing with people's lives. Ordinary folks continue to suffer, they are being constantly exploited. They are repeatedly used-as one would use utensils-by some greedy, manipulative people. 

One tends to forget that they are human beings made of flesh and blood, they too possess some self respect and honour. One day they too might suddenly rebel. The voting did take place but these unfortunate tea garden workers did not have voting right, otherwise Sylhet would have been a part of Assam in India. Communal riots sparked, houses were burnt and people crossed borders in desperation. There were cases of death, rape, sleeplessness and starvation everywhere. People out of acute starvation searched for starch to feed themselves. And amidst this scenario some politicians were dreaming - yes, they were dreaming of power. Power renders people shameless and heartless. They played with people's lives without any sense of remorse or sadness. 

The tea garden people who did not have voting right were mostly Hindus, a very few were Christians too. Naturally Muslim votes were cast in large numbers and Sylhet went to Pakistan. People of Assam and erstwhile Cachar (now Barak Valley) had marital and other forms of relationships with the workers of tea gardens. Everything ended there, visits stopped on both the sides. Such levels of pain and grief were caused to the people. Partition lead people nowhere. Many composed songs, Ritwik Ghatak made films on partition. Huge number of people crossed Kushiara to arrive here, many died on their way. 

My grandfather Harendra Kumar Bhattacharjee was a Swadeshi, later he became a Communist. He had to serve prison sentences several times in his life. He worked tirelessly arranging food and shelter for the people who came here. My younger aunt Neela Bhattacharjee (later Pandey) constantly helped my grandfather. She was engaged with social service throughout her life. Mother Leela Pandey and patetnal grandmother Bilassundari Pandey also worked for the refugees. They spoke to the British officials to arrange for their stay, they also helped in getting plots of land. They provided shelter to these refugees in their own house for several months. When my grandfather was working for the refugees, he would not visit home for days together. It was really sad that during his absence my grandmather Prathiba Bhattacharjee fell ill and passed away when she was only twenty eight years old. My mother during her stay in Kablicherra would cry narrating this episode. My grandmother would have survived if she had received proper medical treatment. Irony is that my grandfather was a doctor. Again in '71, the war between East and West Pakistan began. Once again people started coming, schools and colleges were crowded with refugees. 

Finally, war torn East Pakistan gave birth to the free nation of Bangladesh with help from Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Russia. A lot of people went back, many stayed back too. All these were primarily consequences of partition. Today NRC causes another kind of harassment. It is not just Hindu Bengalis, but Hindus, Muslims, Manipuris, Dimasas, Khasis, Jaintias, Chakmas, Rias, Kukis, Rajbongshis, Ruknis, Mizos, Hmars and many other communities residing in tea gardens are being harassed because of NRC. All these are ploys of some politicians and intellectuals. No one cares to know about the opinion of common folks. Media could have done a better job, but they don't do so. However, there are few rational and sensible people who must be saluted. It is important to forget differences based on community, religion, caste and class and support humanity. People continue to bear the wounds caused by partition; it hasn't healed yet. A lot of literature has been written about it. I have also written a short story titled "Mokkhoda Sundarir Harano Prapti" and its translation has been published in Debjani Sengupta edited collection Looking Back (The 1947 partition of India)

When Adhir Biswas, the proprietor of Gangchil, had approached me for editing a volume on partition I was not very sure if I could do it. He is one person who knows how to get a literary work completed. And actually, when I was asked to edit something on partition, I realised that I too had a responsibility. I progressed slowly out of this sense of responsibilty. I am thankful to all the contributors for their writings. Partition has been very tragic and painful. There is absolutely no room for forgiveness. There remains unending pain and suffering. People have not been relieved of this searing pain even today.

About the Author: Jhumur Pandey was born to a progressive and culturally conscious family in Katlicherra tea estate of Hailakandi district, Assam. Her father Binay Kumar Pandey and mother late Leela Pandey were actively involved in social work. She started writing at an early age and her writings have been published in various journals and magazines. Pandey mainly writes about the predicament of tea garden workers and other marginalised communities. Her works have been published in many languages including Tamil, Telugu, Oriya, Marathi, English, Hindi, Assamese, Manipuri, Sadri. An avid Sitar player, she is also engaged in women's rights movement and other social welfare activities. She also works in urban slums and tea gardens.

Translator's Note- Many of us do not know how partition had impacted India's northeast. The dominant narratives of partition focus on Punjab and Bengal and fail to record this crucial dimension of history and geography. Partition is still a compelling reality here in the northeast affecting lives of many communities in more ways than one. However, in the recent times some serious efforts have been made to investigate the unexplored chapters of partition here. One must note that the factors and processes that initiated partition of northeast were very complex and layered. The onus is on artists, writers and researchers to bring forth different dimensions and insights concerning this historical episode. Jhumur Pandey edited collection on partition writings from India's northeast is a significant contribution in this regard. By including diverse voices and views, Pandey succeeds in highlighting the plurality of experiences related to partition dynamics in India's northeast. Her introduction to the volume (the one which I have translated) is a valuable commentary on the need to look back and preserve partition memories. 

Bionote: Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her essays, translations and reviews have been published in different journals and magazines including, The Wire, Biblio, The Statesman, Café Dissensus, Humanities Underground, Coldnoon Travel Poetics and Elsewhere. She may be contacted at 

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