east bengali

East Bengali Refugees

East Bengali Refugees are people that left East Bengal following the partition of Bengal, which was part of the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.


In 1947, Bengal was partitioned into the Indian state of West Bengal and the Pakistani province of East Bengal. East Bengal was later renamed East Pakistan, which subsequently broke away from Pakistan to form the independent country of Bangladesh. Most of Sylhet district in Assam also joined East Pakistan and was subsequently considered to be East Bengal.


The majority of East Bengali refugees settled in the new state of West Bengal, but a significant number also moved to the Barak Valley of Assam and the princely state of Tripura which eventually joined India in 1949. Around 0.5 million were also settled in other parts of India, including the East Pakistan Displaced Persons' Colony (EPDP) in Delhi (subsequently renamed Chittaranjan Park) and Orissa. The estimated 0.5 million Bengalis in Delhi and 0.3 million in Mumbai are also largely East Bengali refugees and their descendants.


The vast majority of East Bengali refugees and migrants were Hindus, though a significant number of Bengali Muslims opted to make their permanent base in West Bengal after partition despite having origins in what fell in the new Pakistan. Their reasons included ideology (in that they opposed the division of India on the basis of the Two-Nation Theory emphasizing incompatibility of Hindus and Muslims), as well as professional and family ties.

The fact that Muslims stayed back or some crossed over was not due to any opposition to the Two-Nation Theory. It was simply because it was convenient for them as Indians were more tolerant towards them than their counterparts in erstwhile East Pakistan. Hindus continued to flee till late 70's from Bangladesh as they were treated as second grade citizens. In cases appearing in the printed media--even after Hindu women continued to be raped, their houses plundered by their professed Muslim friends--the Police in East Pakistan (Bangla Desh ) ignored their complaints and mostly sided with their tormentors in extorting their own pound of flesh (pun intended ).


The exact number of refugees has never been officially collected and estimates vary considerably.

In the immediate aftermath of partition, commonly attributed figures suggest around 3 million East Bengalis migrating to India and 864,000 migrants from India to East Pakistan. Indian government estimates suggest around 2.6 million migrants leaving East Bengal for India and 0.7 million migrants coming to East Pakistan from India.

Further Migration


In 1950, it is estimated that a further one million refugees crossed into West Bengal. The 1951 Census of India recorded that 27% of Kolkata's population was East Bengali refugees.


Migration continued, primarily from East Pakistan to India, right up to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, both on an on-going basis and with spikes during periods of particular communal unrest such as the 1964 riots and the 1965 India-Pakistan War, when it is estimated that 600,000 refugees left for India. Estimates of the number of refugees up to 1970 are over 5 million to West Bengal alone. This includes around 4.1 million coming between 1946-1958 and 1.2 million coming between 1959 and 1971.


Another major influx came in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War. It is estimated that around 10 million East Bengali refugees entered India during the early months of the war, of whom 1.5 million may have stayed back after Bangladesh became independent.

The outflow of Hindus from East Bengal had a particularly negative effect on the Hindu community of East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh, as a significant portion of the region's educated middle class and political leadership left. The heights reached by many of the East Bengali migrants and their descendants, including Amartya Sen's Nobel Prize and Megh Nad Saha's pioneering work in Astrophysics are considerable.

Notable Refugees and Migrants


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