“They had entered my Uncle’s house. Every one started running… even I did. My maternal Uncle’s house was 3 villages far from ours. We would just run and reach there whenever we wanted to. Each and every bit of the road was memorized by us. But that day… I was scared. I reached the makeshift bridge and couldn’t cross it any more. My cousin came and held me from behind and dropped me home safely. But then just after four days, they reached our village too. We left everything and just ran away…,” – Gurupada Bacher, a refugee from Khulna district of Bangladesh, who was rehabilitated in India after the 1964 East Pakistan Riots.
While the 1964 riots are lesser-known, the year saw a massive exodus from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) towards the Indian borders.
In India, the refugees were provided relief in temporary relief camps in Assam, West Bengal and Tripura. Hundreds of refugees were then resettled in Dandakaranya (now Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh).
“I was just thirteen when we migrated. Nothing was left there and whatever was with us was looted while we were migrating. When we reached India, it was almost a warm welcome. We were served Khichri and given blankets. We stayed in camps for a year or two and then were rehabilitated in Maharashtra,” says Dr. Santosh Sankhari, who completed his M.B.B.S in 1986 from Government medical college of Nagpur.
Dr.Sankhari and Gurupada Bacher were just two among the thousands of families that migrated to India after the 1964 riots.
“Everyday was a struggle, but all thanks to the Indian government who gave us the opportunity to live our lives with dignity once again,” Dr.Sankhari says.
After a degree in medicine, Dr. Sankhari worked as a medical officer in CRPF for two years. He then started his practice in Chandrapur, Maharashtra where there were huge numbers of migrant Bengalis still struggling to make ends meet. He would treat these patients for free or a nominal fee.
Today, one of his sons is a paediatrician, following the footsteps of his father, and another son works at a multi-national company in Bengaluru. According to Dr. Sankhari, everything he or his family has achieved today was because the Indian government gave them shelter back when they needed help.
Uma was eight when she left her birth place Khulna with her family and a few others. After a year of staying in the camps the kids were sent to the army camp to stay in a hostel and continue their studies.
Photo Source – Flickr
“The army camp had classes till 7 and then we went to Mana camp to study further. My father had cataract and lost his eyesight. My brother got a job as a teacher, but then he had his own family. So I would take tuitions to support my education. There were many of my friends who would work as daily-wage labourers in the night, especially in the coal mines to pull the coal wagons and would study in the day,” says Gurupada Bacher
With not many allies, the refugee community grew closer and supported each other in every possible way. Uma and Gurupada married in 1972. Gurupada got a job and the couple made sure that their children break free from economic disadvantages through education.
“I knew right from the beginning that the poverty, the humiliation, the helplessness everything can be won over only through education and so I did not compromise on my children’s education, come what may,” says Uma Bacher
Uma and Gurupada’s son, Dr.Gautam Bacher is a lecturer at BITS, PILANI, Goa campus. Their daughter, Manabi Bacher Katoch, is an author at The Better India. They all believe and say just one thing in unison, that they owe everything they are today to India.