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Dissertation Project of Rohit Kumar Mishra

Selfhood, Othering, and Belongingness: Exploring Contestation, Identity Formation and Cultural Integration among Ghoti and Bangal Communities of Kolkata, India

In the popular parlance of Bengali culture, Hindu Bengali speakers in metropolitan Kolkata, India, are divided into two sub-groups: East Bengali refugees known as Bangals, and natives of West Bengal, referred to as Ghotis. This project explores the socio-cultural, political and economic contestation between these migrant and local communities. The study employs participant observation and open-ended interviews to examine Bengali politics of contestation, identity formation and cultural integration in different settings. Through a historical and ethnographic study of conviviality1, communality, and its denial in Kolkata, it will contribute to general theoretical debates on borders, integration and refugees in anthropology and social sciences.


There was not much of South Kolkata until Hindu refugees from ‘East Bengal’ sought shelter and set up their homes. ‘Squatters’ colonies’ were set up in the city’s southern fringes to accommodate the refugees. Azadgarh, Bijoygarh, and Bikramgarh in South Kolkata are some of the approximately 150 squatter colonies in the city2. In this study, I investigate the practices of Commoning— the collective management and stewardship of shared resources by communities, promoting cooperation, inclusivity, and sustainable practices  (Kolioulis, 2022)— among the migrant communities in squatter colonies during their post-partition rehabilitation process and how it shaped their social and political lives3. Furthermore, I examine the practices and processes of boundary maintenance, distortion and dissolution between these migrant and local communities to ask how boundary markers are selectively manipulated to assert or deny commonality.


East Bengali Hindu refugees are still called ‘refugees’ and ‘colony dwellers’ by their Ghoti neighbours in these area (Sinha, 2000). Most migrants of these squatter colonies still have not received land rights4. Moreover, insufficient documentation keeps them on the edge of being excluded from India’s controversial National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) database, which can lead to a cut in social welfare, even detention and deportation5. I identify these multi-scalar exploitations and oppression, wherein the Bangal community members become the subject of social stigmatization even after seven decades after the partition. The study also investigates how these two communities, along with other inter-state migrants, shape the cosmopolitan Kolkata.




1 The term ‘Conviviality’ here refers to situated social interaction and differences within and between migrant flows and locals ( Neal, Sarah, Katy Bennett, Allan Cochrane, and Giles Mohan. 2019. “Community and Conviviality? Informal Social Life in Multicultural Places.” Sociology, 53(1) 69–86.).  

2 See https://daily.jstor.org/kolkata-and-partition-between-remembering-and-forgetting/

3 Led by Guha, a team of anthropologists from the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) highlight the lives of 'self-settled' refugee squatters, whose rehabilitation was entirely the result of their own efforts. See B. S. Guha, Memoir No. I, 1954. Studies in Social Tensions among the Refugees from Eastern Pakistan, (Department of Anthropology, Government of India), Calcutta, 1959

4 See https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/in-nrc-wary-refugee-colonies-cheer-and-doubt-over-cm-land-right-promise-6144852/

5 See https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/in-assam-and-bengal-the-bjp-s-contrasting-approach-to-caanrc-101616669484933.html 


Works Cited

Kolioulis, A. (2022). Defining and discussing the notion of commoning. GOLD VI Working Paper Series #14, 1-27.

Sinha, D. (2000). Adjustment and Transition in a Bengali Refugee Settlement: 1950–1999. In P. K. Bose, Refugees in West Bengal: Institutional Practices and Contested Identities (pp. 142–62). Calcutta: Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group.


Short Biography

Rohit Kumar Mishra is a researcher in the field of socio-cultural anthropology who is interested in topics such as conviviality, commoning, ethnicity, migration, and refugee crisis. After completing his MA in Modern Indian Studies at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS) - Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Rohit is currently pursuing his PhD at a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne and investigating socio-cultural, political and economic contestation between east Bengali migrant and local communities in Kolkata, India.



“An Ethnographic Enquiry into the Citizenship Status of Bangladeshi Migrants in West Bengal, India”, funded by Kreativität im Studium, University of Göttingen.


Contact: mishrar.bscSpamProtectiongmail.com