ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Poetics of Resistance:  Reflections on the Oral Folk Poetry from Refugee Camps in India’s North East during Bangladesh Liberation War


Acharjee Sushrita - Department of Language and Literature, Adamas University and Department of English, Jadavpur University, India


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 In 1971, the civil war in Pakistan and the prolonged genocide in present Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) perpetrated by the West Pakistani army led to a great influx of refugees who were desperately crossing the porous borderlands of the eastern states of India. Drawing on ethnographic research, the paper aims to explore various folk forms of poetry which emerged out of these refugee camps and guerrilla army training sectors during the war, such as the poems and lyrics collected and translated by ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya from camps in Calcutta, Kalyani, Bangaon in West Bengal, kabigān (a form of oral poetry where the poet spontaneously composes verses to be performed at a public gathering) or hāture kabitā (poems to be read aloud in the middle of a hāt or marketplace) written and performed by refugees from Assam’s Barak Valley and collected by historian Shahid Quader Chowdhury, and several other forms of spontaneous poetry collected by citizen journalists from the camps in Tripura. Besides problematising aesthetic practices and their relationship to the idea of a nation, citizenship rights, and national identities, to what extent do these poems — loka kabitā or folk poetry, open up a discursive space where shared cultures, histories, and memories play a momentous role in political mobilisation and exhibit potential to create radical alterity within the ‘national’ culture and history? This would be the overarching question the paper seeks to probe into.