Following Independence, the Partition of India made a significant impact on Kumartuli with the immigration of East Bengali Kumars. Politics at large, on the national and state levels, influenced the Kumars. Partition reshaped the fabric of Kumartuli and created new lines of conflict and hostility. In the historizing narratives of the Kumars, and especially among the East Bengalis, Partition is a moment that recurs in many conversations: a moment which shaped and to a certain extent still shapes who they are today, for they came as Bengalis but were received as Bangals, the second rate and unrefined East Bengalis. The narratives of the East Kumars mainly concern the animosity expressed by the West Kumars rather than sectarian strife between Hindus and Muslims preceding and during the Kumars’ migration.
For those who lived at that time, the hostility towards the East Bengalis was inscribed on the images themselves, with the introduction of an East Bengali style in Kolkata as the most visible evidence. Perceptions concerning artisanal quality and work ethics also became important in the fight concerning who the proper Kumars were. Testimonies of Partition are also visible in the spatial distribution of workshops as the East Kumars dominate the south- eastern corner of Kumartuli, with their businesses named after localities in former East Bengal.
Kumartuli, which is usually referred to as a caste based neighbourhood of image makers, is a partly segregated society, as the following narratives will show. In order to appreciate these narratives properly, we need to delve more deeply into the historical situation and contemporary experiences concerning mainly caste and the fight for independence that highlight the hostility between East and West Bengalis. A notion of caste does matter, but not in any way that would unify the two groups of Kumars. The concept of adibari or ancestral home is more important in creating solidarity. The Kumars are conscious of being a caste, but they are not caste- conscious in the sense that they have any deep knowledge of their caste or emphasize its importance in everyday chores or politics.
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