As the month of August descended in 1947, Cyril Radcliffe’s pen divided a nation into two, named India and Pakistan. Pakistan was internally divided into the East and West. Millions of people bid a tearful adieu to their homes in which they lived for generations.
Many Indians migrated to Pakistan. And many Pakistanis migrated to India.
In the midst of this migration spree, Tripura occupied an important position for the Eastern wing of Pakistan which later came to be known as Bangladesh. Influx to Tripura continued even after the birth of Bangladesh.
Although most of the migrants to Tripura pre-1971 and a substantial number of migrants post-1971 are now deceased, a handful of those who settled in Tripura after the fall of Dhaka still summon memories of their abandoned residences.
A legion of these people had to forfeit their properties in the form of lands, wetlands, and mansions, all of which established their affluence. Those who were blessed with education could land jobs in government sectors, whereas the uneducated group had to eke out a living from day-labour, rickshaw-pulling, and other such manual jobs. And, the uneducated outnumbered the educated.
The influx from Bangladesh to Tripura spurred ethnic tensions, as the indigenous tribes of the state called Twipras constituted the majority section of the population pre-1947. However, Twipras have been relegated to a minority as the influx from Bangladesh mounted a toll over them.
India’s maiden population census was conducted in 1872. As per that census, Tripura had 262. 58% were “Twipras,” while the remaining 42% were Bengalis and Manipuris. According to the 1901 census, Tripura had an overall population of 173,325, of which 76,000 were indigenous and 43,894 non-indigenous.
The indigenous lot consisted mainly of Twipras, Jamatias, Reangs, and Noatias.
In contrast, according to the latest census in 2011, indigenous tribes now account for 31.8% of the total population in Tripura.
Historically speaking, in the epoch of princely Tripura, large parts of Comilla, Brahmanbaria, Sylhet, Chittagong, and Noakhali formed a part of the king’s estate called “Chakla Roshanabad” -- and so, most of the residents of Agartala can trace their ancestral roots to Comilla or Brahmanbaria.
A huge number of Bangalis in Tripura, now and then, lament the loss of property and loved ones in the land of their ancestors
While the residents of North Tripura have ancestral ties to Sylhet, those of South Tripura can trace back their roots to either Chittagong or Noakhali.
Due to the avalanche of refugees from Bangladesh, the tribal populace was outflanked. Sachindra Lal Singha, the first chief minister of Tripura and an alumnus of Comilla Victoria College, rehabilitated the refugees in barren lands located in the midst of hilly interiors -- which are still predominantly inhabited by the indigenous tribes. This rehabilitation was done in the mid-60s.
In 1971, Sachin Singha played a decisive role in the liberation war of Bangladesh. He unsealed the borders in Tripura for those grief-stricken refugees who were scampering for safety.
Many of the migrants who were granted Indian citizenship long ago now hold leadership roles of the state. A coterie of them has decided to tell their stories.
Stories of separation
Tapas De, a member of Tripura’s Legislative Assembly from 1972-77 representing the Congress, migrated to Tripura from Comilla in 1965.
He was a classmate of Major Dalim, who is known to have played a role in Bangabandhu’s assassination. Both of them pursued their IA at Comilla Victoria College in 1961-63.
De’s family was estranged and left Comilla in 1965. However, his uncles chose to remain in their ancestral home. In his political life, he remains a staunch disciple of Sachindra Lal Singha, even to this day.
Dr Bikash Roy, who is a National Award-winning child specialist in Tripura, came here along with his family in 1950 bidding adieu to their ancestral abode in Habiganj, Sylhet, with a heavy heart. He still recalls those days of fun and vigour during Dol Purnima and Durga Puja at their Sylhet residence.
In fact, his family owned a huge property. Now settled in India, Bikash still keeps in touch with one of his childhood friends in Bangladesh, a man named Alauddin who is a resident of Montala Madhabpur.
Tripura’s leading economist Prof Arunoday Saha was born in Chandina of Comilla. He came to India as an infant snuggled in his mother’s arms. Love for his ancestral soil often makes him visit Bangladesh.
He is welcomed warmly by the locals in his ancestral neighbourhood.
Moreover, he was a visiting faculty at Dhaka University apart from Indian universities. He does not regret settling in India as life there has granted him considerable success. In his professional life, he retired as the first vice-chancellor of Tripura Central University.
Settlement and success
Biman Dhar, a leading journalist of Tripura was born in Comilla. He, with his entire family, migrated to Udaipur sub-division of Tripura in 1948.
Throughout his life, he was associated with Dainik Sambad, the largest circulated daily of Tripura. He covered the 1971 liberation war as Udaipur Correspondent with the aforesaid daily.
In those days, Udaipur was a hotbed of liberation war activities next to Agartala.
It was the safest place for the rehabilitation of refugees as it is the only sub-division of Tripura which shares no border with Bangladesh.
Dhar was a witness to the arrival of Tajuddin Ahmed at Udaipur. He was also a witness to the presence Taheruddin Thakur who himself hailed from Udaipur and following the birth of Bangladesh became the Minister of State for Information in Bangabandhu’s cabinet.
Dhar added that Thakur’s father was a sub-jailer at Udaipur. Nevertheless, Dhar no longer has connections in the form of friends and relatives in Bangladesh. His deceased father-in-law Biren Dutta was a popular leader in Tripura and held the revenue portfolio as Minister in Chief Minister Nripen Chakraborty’s cabinet.
CM Chakraborty also hailed from Bangladesh, and for this reason he was scorned by an insurgent leader, who belongs to one of the state’s indigenous tribes, as “a refugee chief minister.”
By and large, a huge number of Bangalis in Tripura are now established in their respective spheres of life, but still there comes a time now and then when they lament the loss of property and loved ones in the land of their ancestors.
Shilajit Kar Bhowmik is the Dhaka Tribune’s Tripura correspondent.