Smita Khator

Bengali Language Initiative

Grant Period: Two years

The Partition, as a significant chapter in Indian history, has been extensively researched in recent times. Ways of looking at the phenomenon of the Partition, particularly that of Bengal, have changed considerably in the last two decades. In comparison to earlier efforts that documented events, more recent studies focus on the lived experience of the refugees and the factors shaping the cultural identity of the Bengali middle class in the post-Partition period. Smita Khator’s project addresses the significant lacunae in research-based writing on the Partition in Bengali.  

Smita is an independent researcher whose interest in post-Partition history was triggered by her stint as a research assistant for Manas Ray’s novel-writing project on a refugee colony in post-Partition Kolkata. Smita’s project would aim to put together and consolidate a spectrum of print sources that are essential for mapping the cultural identity of the Bengali middle class in the post-Partition context. The highlight of her study is the investigation of middle class identity formation through the juxtaposition of two different, but equally tumultuous historical periods––the years following the Partition and the decade of political and cultural upheaval beginning in the mid 1960s. Through newspaper reports and announcements from the first period (1947-1951), the study will document how the influx of millions from East Bengal created the refugee segment and left an indelible impact on the social and cultural life of West Bengal. She will go on to pay particular attention to the changes within the refugee segment in the following decades, especially in view of the significant social and economic changes taking place in West Bengal during 1966-1977.

While the history associated with the Partition is vital to the understanding of the formation of the modern Bengali psyche, the food revolution and the Left Front’s ascension to power during the 11-year period between 1966 and 1977, is no less important to Smita’s research. This period is important for two reasons. The famine and the food revolution shook the foundations of the Congress party and it gradually lost its political influence in post-independence Bengal. Secondly, the vacuum in the political sphere contributed to the ascendancy of the Left. This period also witnessed a resurgence of unprecedented violence as a result of the Naxalbari movement. Smita’s choice of Bengali newspapers and journals as a primary source of information is well justified. A widely read and popular publication like Ananda Bazar Patrika has been selected because the newspaper and its allied journals have forged middle class Bengali taste over the years.

Detailed chronological documentation of journals and editions of Ananda Bazar Patrika from 1966-77 will form the base of a first-of-its-kind public archive that will be housed in the Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal Memorial Archive in the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. The archive is expected to appeal to historians, sociologists, and scholars interested in political, cultural and gender studies, and trigger further research in the area. Smita envisages a second outcome to be an anthology of thematically selected documents in one or two volumes with a detailed introductory essay mapping the production of news in Bengali and its impact on middle-class cultural identity, and the creation of a new middle-class readership/viewership.