Matua community in West Bengal is 3 crore strong, but citizenship cloud has made them mere political pawns for decades
She could no longer ride bidis to earn a living. And its construction sites have stood still. For Putul and Nanda Maulik, a couple in their late fifties, coronavirus – the induced foreclosure should have been the most troubling time of their lives. But they have seen worse. “We lived the first 20 years of our life in insecurity and fear,” says Putul, 57, while making bidis at the door of his tin-roofed house. “As a woman, I would always be afraid to leave my house.”
Until 1984, they lived in Bangladesh, enduring hostility and persecution from the majority of Muslims in the country. “I was harassed and abused,” says Nanda, 59, a day laborer. “Our locality had very few Hindus. We didn’t complain to the cops for fear of backlash. When we couldn’t take it anymore, we decided to escape.
Eight hours on foot, followed by a nervous bus ride, took them to Shishir Nagar, a quiet little village in the Nadia district of West Bengal, which shares its eastern border with Bangladesh. This is where they made a living for the past 37 years. “I get 140 rupees for 1,000 bidis a day and he gets 250 rupees as a daily wage,” says Putul. His eyes still on the bidis.
With the Assembly elections underway in West Bengal, she has her eyes on something else: citizenship.
Putul and Nanda belong to the Matua community. Classified as a listed caste group, the Matuas are lower caste Hindu refugees who trace their ancestry to ancient East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh after the partition of 1971. As farmers in Bangladesh, they migrated to the West Bengal for decades escaped persecution and are concentrated in the districts of Nadia, southern and northern Parganas and Malda, among others. With a population of over 3 crore, Matuas has the capacity to influence around 70 Assembly seats in West Bengal.
In the 2019 general election, the BJP pocketed a significant portion of the vote from Matua, who until then had been overwhelmingly in the TMC corner. Narendra Modi had started his Lok Sabha campaign from Thakurnagar in the south of 24 Parganas – the Mecca of Matuas – seeking the blessings of Boro Ma, the matriarch of the community. She belongs to the family of Harichand Thakur, who formed the Matua Mahasangha in East Pakistan in the mid-1800s.
By winning four of the SC’s 10 reserved seats in West Bengal, the BJP’s main argument for wooing Matuas was to promise citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has now become the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). .
For all intents and purposes, however, the Matuas are citizens of India, says Kapil Krishna Thakur, Dalit writer and CPI politician from North 24 Parganas. “They have the voter card, the Aadhaar card and all the relevant documents,” he said. “No law supports their discrimination. But people on the ground are sometimes threatened or blackmailed. Not everyone is aware of their rights. And there are elements that exploit that.
Putul says this is precisely the uncertainty they want to get rid of. “We are always more scrutinized than others during verification campaigns,” she says. “We are always asked for more papers and documents in government offices to prove that we are citizens of India.”
About 10 to 15 years ago, Nanda’s brother landed a government job. The joy of getting a job quickly turned into a bitter experience. “We have been asked for bribes because we are refugees. We were told that if we didn’t pay we would lose the job, ”says Nanda. “We come from a poor family. People exploit this because we don’t have a lot of power. “
More than a decade after this bitter experience, Putul and Nanda are now worried about their son, Raju, 28, who is working hard for the exams that may land him a job in the public service. “What if he fails the exam but doesn’t get the job because we came from Bangladesh?” Nanda asks.
The BJP has successfully exploited this insecurity. Mukul Adhikari, 31, a BJP candidate from Ranaghat South Assembly constituency in Nadia, says the refugees support the BJP because it is the only party fighting for their citizenship. “70% of the people in my constituency are Matuas,” says Adhikari, who himself belongs to the community. “CAA will happen and they will get citizenship.”
However, more than a year after the CAA was adopted, the central government has not even framed the law, let alone implemented it. At a rally in Thakurnagar, Amit Shah said in February that the CAA would be implemented after the COVID-19[female[feminine the vaccination campaign ends and the Matuas will be “respected citizens” of India. At the end of March, Modi traveled to Bangladesh and interacted with the community of Matua.
Critics, however, say the BJP is bluffing and misleading the community.
“The Matuas want unconditional citizenship, but there is no such provision in the law that was passed. This is the reason why the development of the rules is delayed. The Union Interior Minister is telling lies to the people of Bengal and bluffing the Matuas, ”said Prasenjit Bose, organizer of the Joint Forum against the NRC. Thread.
To counter the rise of BJP within the community of Matua, Mamata Banerjee announced 1.25 lakh “pattas”, or land titles, to refugees in West Bengal. Banerjee has carefully cultivated this vote bank for years and has even been appointed chief patron of the community. She reiterated that their voting rights automatically establish them as citizens of India. Regarding political overtures, Boro Ma’s son, the late Kapil Krishna Thakur, became an MP in 2014 on the TMC ticket.
However, his brother, Manjul, who was a TMC minister, joined the BJP with his two sons Subrata and Shantanu. The family, which still wields considerable influence in the community of Matua, is divided along party lines. However, the citizenship card tips the equation in favor of BJP.
Harshit Mondol, 70 halwai with its store near Shishir Nagar, claims the CAA is correcting the 2003 “kaala kanoon”, which was adopted under the then NDA government led by Atal Bihar Vajpayee. The 2003 Citizenship Amendment Act contained a provision. Those who sought refuge in India after 1971 were labeled as illegal migrants. “People in our community have often faced harassment when they obtained passports or caste certificates,” Harshit says. “We are often labeled as strangers. Members of our community have also been arrested as foreigners. If you want to find a job or get a job, you can’t get around the police or the bureaucracy. And we are always afraid that something will go wrong for us because we are refugees.
Raju, the son of Putul and Nanda, who studies day after day to enter the civil service, says he does not know anyone in his community who has been refused a job but has heard that “it is more difficult. for us than for others ”. . “If we get the citizenship card, it will be a huge burden on us,” he says. “Even though we have all the documents, we feel like infiltrators. Citizenship will end it.