ABSTRACT

When the government-sponsored midday meal programme for primary schools was introduced in West Bengal in 2004, it was widely reported in Kolkata newspapers that in a number of districts, caste Hindu parents objected to their children eating cooked meals prepared by volunteers from the Scheduled Castes. 1 The situation embarrassed the leaders of the ruling Left Front government, as it clearly showed that caste had not disappeared from West Bengal. If we take this as a direct evidence to argue that caste still matters, then why has there been no strong Scheduled Caste movement in this province, when such movements were so powerful before 1947? There can be many explanations, such as the absence of caste-based aggressive landlordism; the ambivalence of Bengali modernity; or the advent of leftist ideology, land reforms and the panchayati raj , which eradicated extreme forms of untouchability, contained violence against Dalit and resulted in their (limited) empowerment. 2 While there is some truth in all these explanations, this chapter seeks to point out that the Scheduled Caste movement before 1947 was most powerful in east and north Bengal. Therefore, the loss of that spatial anchorage as a result of Partition and the consequent physical displacement and dispersal of a large section of the Dalit peasant population of Bengal certainly had an adverse

impact on their social and political movements, which were now overshadowed by their struggle for resettlement.