The story about the loss of indigeneity of the Kashmiri pandits is known to all. Little do we know that there are several other communities in India apart from the Kashmiri pandits who have lost their roots, home and identity in the fight and struggle for independence. The Sylhetis are one of such communities that belonged to Bengal, but their belonging fell as a controversy eventually during and after freedom fighting.
Also, we all know about the partition of Bengal in 1905. But the one that happened in 1874 was an unreported one. That was the partition of Bengal from Sylhet. Sylhet produced one of the best qualities of tea. Business through Bengal took longer time because of the distance and Shillong was closer to Sylhet comparatively. Hence, the Britishers appended Sylhet to Assam which made it easy for the Britishers to capture over this area through Assam. It was claimed by the Britishers that this decisionwas due to administrative purposes. Rather, it proved to be strongly and evidently economic. Neither Assam nor Sylhet supported this decision, hence it resulted in creating an immense disturbance in the socio, cultural and psychological factors. It was quite a blow for the Sylhetis because this was the first time the experienced being pulled out from the roots.
There were referendums in the year 1924, 1926, 1930 and 1940. In 1924, most Hindus and Muslims voted for reunification with Bengal. The result of the voting was overlooked and forcibly discarded by the Britishers. The same happened in the other following referendums until 1940.
In the time-being, Muslim league emerged and escalated. Jinnah had Assam in his plan and since his plan was all the time territorial. The partition, is looked at as a conflict between Bengalis and the Assamese, which in reality is quite the opposite. The Assamese also were in the apprehension and agonythat Assam might go to Bangladesh (Pakistan back then). Assam was predominantly a non-Muslim province; the district of Sylhet is Muslim. There had been a demand again pleading to merge Sylhet with Bengal in the event of partition of Bengal. The district of Sylhet consisted of 36% of Muslims and 60% of Hindus but there was no conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims.
Eventually, the pressure from the Muslim league intensified in Assam. Telegrams regarding the Sylhet issues were sent to the Chancellor by Liaquat Ali Khan and Jinnah. Their active attention on Assam was because of their intent to capture this region. The final referendum took place on July 6th, 1947. Knowing the weather conditions in Assam in the month of July, many people couldn’t cast their vote. Therefore, the result was reported as 56.56% of the Sylhetis voted for joining Sylhet with East Bengal in Pakistan, and 43.44% voted against. It was after the 1947 referendum that Nehru came into the picture after receiving many queries and complaints. After the involvement of the Indian leaders, people demanded for a second referendum, but it was disapproved.
Finally, when the partition happened the controversial status of Sylhet turned more grave. In order to make Assam more homogenous and stronger, the leaders of Assam believed that removing Sylhet would be appropriate as Assam was a Hindu majority region. Violence wasn’t witness right after the referendum. As and when Bangladesh formed, there were Muslim forces who tried to control and change the outlook of the localsand that is when violence started becoming prevalent in the district.
In 1971, when Bangladesh was formed, it was the biggest turning point for the Sylhetis. Acceptance from Bengal, Assam or NE were rejected and overruled. Yet, theSylhetis built up dreams and expectations of regaining their roots someday but in the bargain lost everything they had. Affluent families came to the roads having lost their properties and roots in Bangladesh and home in Bengal.
Over the years the Sylhetis became resilient and accepted their situation. Since there has been no specific differentiation between infiltrators and migrants, the Sylhetis came together with other communities, losing their original legacy and indigeneity, which now only remains in the anecdotes of history.