Kolkata: Trinamool-led state government has decided to build a memorial at the Marichjhapi island in Sunderbans in South 24-Parganas district in the memory of Bengali refugees killed in police firing in 1979. At that time, CPI-M led Left Front was in power.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made the announcement today in the state Assembly while delivering a speech on a proposal to rename West Bengal as “Bangla” in all languages.
The renaming proposal was passed by the Assembly unanimously; it will now be sent to the Union government for its nod. The new name will come into effect only if the Centre agrees.
Ironically, the announcement to build a memorial at Marichjhapi comes at a time when some 90-lakh Bengali speaking people in Assam are having sleepless nights for fear of being branded foreigners in the wake of the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The Marichjhapi memorial will also cause extreme unease to the CPI-M as it was under the first Left Front government when an economic blockade and police firing killed several Bengali refugees who had settled in the island.
The Independence in 1947 split India into two parts along religious lines. A vast part of undivided Bengal province went into the territory of the Islamic country Pakistan and this made the Hindu Bengalis from there to cross over to whatever is now India.
While the educated and the rich settled themselves well in Kolkata and other cities, the poor Hindus were sheltered in inhospitable terrain in Odisha and Chhattisgarh in a region broadly called the Dandakaranya.
After CPI-M led Left Front was elected to power in Bengal in 1977, those sheltered in the Dandakaranya started moving into Bengal and settled themselves on Marichjhapi island, which is part of the Sunderbans forest reserve.
In January-May 1979, Jyoti Basu led Left Front government launched a massive offensive to drive out these settlers from the forest reserve. This led to the deaths of several people, unofficial records putting the number close to 1,000.
The settlers eventually had to vacate Marichjhapi ~ while many went back to the Dandakaranya, a fairly large section settled down in slums in North and South 24-Parganas.