Thakurnagar: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited by the Bangladesh government to attend its 50th Foundation Day function on March 26, the Matua community was clearly on the mind of the PM. He made it a point to visit the Orakandi city where the shrine of Harichand Thakur, a revered figure of the community, is located.
A week ahead of voting in the Matua community areas in West Bengal, it is not the election or the fear of COVID-19 that’s on the mind of the community. Instead, all that they are bothered about is respect for Harichand Thakur and that is what a majority of Matua people are talking about.
On April 8, when eNewsroom visited Thakurnagar, it found a large number of members belonging to the Matua community travelling to Thakurbari to celebrate Baruni Mela – this fair marks the birth anniversary celebration of Harichand Thakur. It takes place after 10 days of Holi (Dolyatra) during which people from the community visit Thakurbari to take a holy dip in the Kamanasagar pond.
Matuas were moving in small groups, dancing and chanting Hari Bol on their way to Thakurbari. They stayed up all night and took a dip in the man-made pound early in the morning. Last year, because of the imposition of lockdown, Baruni Mela could not take place.
In the constituencies in North 24 Parganas district, voting will take place on April 17 and April 22, which includes Santipur, Ranaghat Uttar Paschim, Krishnaganj (SC), Ranaghat Uttar Purba (SC), Ranaghat Dakshin (SC), Chakdaha, Kalyani (SC), Haringhata (SC) and Bagda (SC), Bangaon Uttar (SC), Bangaon Dakshin (SC), Gaighata (SC), Swarupnagar (SC), Baduria, Habra, Ashoknagar and Amdanga areas. In all these areas, the Matua voters voters play a decisive role.
The Matuas, most of whom have migrated to India from Bangladesh post the 1990s, are yet to get Indian Citizenship and the BJP had raised this issue just before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. It paid dividends for the saffron brigade who for the first time won 18 out of 42 seats from Bengal.
However, after amending India’s citizenship law (Citizenship Amendment Act), the Modi government has not been able to frame rules till date and this has irked the Matua voters.
Proud about the community
Subrata Biswas, who has a readymade cloth shop near Thakurnagar railway station, spoke about the community for over 45 minutes and pointed out how the Matua community despite being a much neglected Scheduled Caste (Namashudra) community have realised the importance of education and today around 75% of its population in Bengal are educated.
“There is also equality among the male and females of the community, hence daughters also get good education just like the boys of the community,” he said, adding, “Matuas are also not a very religious community. In our community, Harichand Thakur is a sacred figure. And we do not follow any ritual of the Hindu religion. In fact, Harichand Thakur had mentioned his religion as Matua, when he had to write about the religion he belonged to.”
The Matuas prefer to remain silent on who they will to vote for
Significantly, Biswas who spoke at length about the community, did not want to reveal who he would vote for. “I will not tell whom I will vote for. I will not do any political talk,” he categorically told eNewsroom.
Not only Biswas, a woman in her late sixties who had travelled all the way from Berhampur to participate in Baruni Mela, also did not want to talk about politics.
Mamata govt’s work has many takers
“My daughter has got a cycle, and son got Rs 10,000 and we get free ration every month,” said an elated Shilpi Ray, a Thakurnagar resident, who has a stall at the fair.
Biswas did not want to talk about politics, but shared that the Mamata government has done good work in Thakurnagar and for the Matuas, “I can say this much that Didi (Mamata Banerjee) has done a lot of work for the community and Thakurbari. Railway line up to Thakurbari, establishing a university, distributing cycles to the girls are some of the work that she has done for the community.”
Snehashis, a videographer, who comes from the Matua community, was revisiting Thakurnagar after 2003-2004. He said, “The area has developed so much that I could not recognise this to be the place where I spent my childhood. There was no road, no lights, no facility for drinking water taps then. The area around Thakurbari is also so clean now.”
Biswas, who is close to Thakurbari, also said that till Bado Maa, wife of PR Thakur, was alive, Mamata Banerjee shared a very close relationship with her. PR Thakur, a lawyer, was the grandson of Guruchand Thakur who was the son of the venerated Harichand Thakur. “On the demands made by Bado Ma, Mamata Banerjee did several works for Thakurnagar. It started when she was railway minister and it continued till Bado Maa passed away in March 2020, at the age of 100 years.”
But now employment is a major issue
However, now the issue is no longer limited to development, but has spanned over to unemployment of youth, which has become a major concern for the Matua community.
“We have been voting for Didi in the past, but this time I somehow didn’t like the way she spoke about unemployed youth. During a rally, she questioned the youth as to why they were sitting idle after completing their education. Why were they not working or running a shop? How can she say so, for this, our sons have pursue higher education?,” said Sudha Dey, who runs an eatery near Thakurnagar railway station, said.
Non-Matua people like Babumani Dev, a tutor also claimed so, “The movement under the aegis of leaders like Guruchand Thakur was aimed to promote education amongst the Matuas. But now with the community strong in terms of education, the youth are looking for jobs, and the lack of good employment opportunity is creating resentment among them.”
Also read: WB Polls: Parties Vie for Matua Votes with Doles, Citizenship Issue Looms
Originally Published in The ENewsRoom