Ethnological Diversity of Sunderbans

Gautam Kumar Das

Sunderbans presents ethnologically the aspect of international borderline areas of the part of two districts - North and South 24 Parganas. Most of the inhabitants are outsiders having their routes either in the adjacent Midnapur district or from the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat of the newly emerged nation Bangladesh that show a high immigration which attracts reclamation land of almost free of cost and it is mostly of a permanent character. At present, in general, the entire population of the Sunderbans may be classified into four divisions – Midnapuria, Baangal (East Bengalese), Mohammedan and tribal communities. In this respect Sunderbans suggests points of resemblance to the unity of diversity through different culture, customs, rituals and long-established practices, though the people in general, considered as living in relationship and fellowship in the society despite the co-existence of the rich and poor in the same hamlet.

Ethnologically, among the Midnapuria and Baangal, the settlement of sacerdotal class of Hindus like Brahmins has not taken place in the areas of the Sunderbans since its reclamation, but of late they are settled performing priesthood in the villages, many of them are also landholders, and others are employed in Government jobs particularly in the primary and secondary schools. Many also of these Brahmins, either landholders or employed as teachers or secretaries of the Gram Panchayets, act as priests and religious instructors to the lower castes. Kayastha, the writer caste of Bengal, are rare visible, though a few are immigrated for employment in schools recommended by the School Service Commission. In majority, Poundra Khatriya or Pod community is numerous in numbers, followed by Mahisya, Namasudra, Bagdi, Mahara, Baule, Moule and Jele. Pod community, large in numbers, scattered all over the areas of the Sunderbans, is classified into four sub-castes based on their occupations by L. S. S. O’Malley in his ‘Bengal District Gazetteers, 24 Parganas’ (1914) – ‘More than half the Pods of Bengal are residents of the 24 Parganas, practically all the remainder being found in adjoining district, viz, Khulna, Midnapore, Howrah, Jessore and Hooghly. There are four main sub-castes, viz. Chasi Pod, Mecho Pod, Tanti Pod and Bhasa Pod or Dhamna Pod. The differentiation between them appears to have had its origin in differences of occupation, as indeed may be gathered from the names…the Bhasa Pods appears to be a comparatively recent accretion from outside. The name Bhasa means ‘floating’, and tradition has it that the Bhasa were washed over to the 24 Parganas from Hijili and other places in Midnapore in the cyclones of 1824 and 1834’.  Further, Annu Jalais tells a tale on the naming of Pod community in her book, ‘Tiger of Forest’ (2009) hearing the story from a person belonging to the same community – ‘Parasuram needed people to come and fight on his side, we got so scared that we crouched, hiding our faces in the upturned earth of our ploughed fields and sticking our buttocks up in the air. When Parasuram saw this, he said, why, these are not people, they’re just bums? Since then, we’ve been stuck with our names and we don’t really fancy it’. The rest is the tribal community and they are brought from the different areas of Bihar for the reclamation purpose of the Sunderbans with a hope of distributing them reclaimed land free of cost of a lifetime during British era and they have not frittered away such opportunity. Mohammedans of the Sunderbans are generally converted Muslims from the lower caste Hindus in order to escape or supposed to be greatly relieved from the torture and tyranny of the upper caste Hindus. These lower caste people lived early in the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat of Bangladesh and presently in the Indian part of Sunderbans after their gradual immigration with time.

These people of the Sunderbans, irrespective of their caste and communities, stand united to perform social and cultural activities like fairs for religious ceremonies in the villages where minor articles, brass ware, utensils, furniture, toys and various eatables are sold in the fair ground. Even they establish market places in the villages according to their necessity. Further, Sunderbans is peculiarly liable to be infested by banditti off and on who ravage the land, forest and water courses in armed bands numbering several hundred particularly in the border areas of the Bangladesh Sunderbans. Apart from such minor irregularities, people of the Sunderbans are simple minded personality; they respect them who know to do the same. They are very friendly, emotional and mixed practical.

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Sep 24, 2019

Gautam Kumar Das [email protected]

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