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Refugee Settlements and the Role of Education in Post-Partition West Bengal

The project studies the role of education and school in the lives of the refugees who settled in West Bengal after the partition of British India in 1947. Most of the early refugees from East Bengal belonged to the upper or middle caste groups–the bhadraloks. They tended to gravitate towards the urban centres, more specifically to Calcutta. An acute housing crisis forced a majority of them to forcibly occupy barracks and empty tracts of lands and to build up squatter colonies there. After securing the basic necessity of life, the members of the colony would look to establish a school, as they regarded education as the utmost important element for the children of refugee population to survive in the alien land. This was a common pattern without any exception – either a particular colony had a school for itself or a few colonies collectively would develop a school. The study explores the possible reasons behind the importance that education had among the refugees – was it their bhadralok baggage that made them invest their capital, labour and time in developing neighbourhood schools; or was educating their children necessary to ensure a job in the foreign land? Also, what were the cultural significances of building up a school in a colony, where did the money come from, who taught in these schools and what were their relations with the government sanctioned education board?

Kaustubh Mani Sengupta