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What Happened In Marichjhapi?


Rajat Roy

MARICHJHAPI: CHHINNO DESH, CHHINNO ITIHAS (BANGLA) (MARICHJHAPI: A TRUNCATED LAND & ITS TRUNCATED HI
Edited by Madhumay Pal
Gangchil, Kolkata, 2010, pp. 369, Rs. 275.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 4 April 2010

On January 31, 2010, a group of writers and human right activists were assembled in Kolkata to remember an event which took place in a remote island called Marichjhapi in Sundarbans exactly 31 years earlier. Among them some villagers were also present who were members of that refugee community who had come to settle there (Marichjhapi) in 1978 and later in 1979 were forcibly driven out from the island and pushed back to the settlements in Malkangiri, a hilly forest tract in Orissa, and other camps in erstwhile Madhya Pradesh, under the Dandakaranya Development Authority.The villagers had a story to tell. Nirmal Dhali (56), one of the early settlers, who came all the way from Malkangiri, recounted how they were allured to Sundarbans by a minister of the first Left government who went to visit the Dandakaranya Refugee camps in early 1978 (according to one version the visit took place in November-December, 1977), and issued an open invitation to all to come and settle in West Bengal in general and in Sundarbans in particular. Throughout the 1960s a few lakh of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan were brought to Dandakaranya and they were asked to make their home there. While in a few places like Paralkot in Madhya Pradesh the refugees got relatively good cultivable land and access to irrigation water, the areas like Malkangiri and Umarkot in Orissa were just the opposite. Faced with tremendous hardship in an alien land, there was always a yearning for their ‘homeland’. And that sentiment always got encouragement from the Left leaders in Bengal. Prior to 1977, barring a brief stint with power in 1967 and 1969, when the Left were in the opposition in Bengal politics, Jyoti Basu and other Left leaders often used to oppose the resettlement of the refugees in Dandakaranya and demand that they be allowed to settle in West Bengal. So, the call given by the Left Front minister was not taken lightly by the refugees. They came and tried to make an uninhabited island named Marcihjhapi in Sundarbans their new home. The eyewitness reports of those days published in local newspapers gave a detailed account of how they were trying to build their home with hard labour and sheer willpower to survive, establishing schools for the minors, running a makeshift dispensary to take care of the health problems, building boats for fishing and steadily setting up an administration of their own. From March 1978 onwards they started arriving ...


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