Kolkata: Refugee Influx

The Partition of Bengal in 1947 was the cause of a massive refugee influx between 1947 and 1971.  Not only was there an unprecedented strain on infrastructure systems; space itself became a diminishing commodity.  Of the early wave of refugee families, 55 per cent were high-caste and 13 per cent middle-caste.  Of the refugee families, 50 per cent of those coming from rural areas and 67 per cent of those from urban areas were high-caste.  Of the refugees settling in ‘village’ area, in ‘town’ areas and in ‘city’ areas, 33 per cent, 60 per cent and 58 per cent respectively were high-caste.  Kolkata had an estimated 350 colonies with 550,000 in refugee population.  By 1955, the refugee population had a labour force participation rate of 36.9 per cent.  Unemployment rates became high for the resident population, but more so for the refugee population at this point.



There were breakouts of violence, tension, etc.  There were many efforts to contain the issues brought on by this wave of refugees, but all attempts were either futile or resulted in latter aftermath regardless.  For example after 1964 the plan was to herd the refugees to far off regions, but these policies cut against the grain of the refugees’ own efforts to rehabilitate themselves by seeking land, work and social support in places where they had kin or connections.  The government’s refugee policies were a dismal failure, turning the refugee camps and colonies into dangerous pools of discontent.

The slum community in Kolkata today can be greatly attributed to this refugee influx; a large portion of the authorised slums are Refugee Resettlement Colonies.






Chatterji, Joya.  “The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India”
“Calcutta”, Concept Publishing Company
Satterthwaite, David.  “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings”

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