You might have heard about Matuas and Namasudras on the news, as a key vote bank in the West Bengal elections. But who are they? Namasudras are a Scheduled Caste of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Matua is a religious movement started by Namasudra leader Hari Chand Thakur to foster equality among castes and genders.
Namasudras have consistently influenced Indian history and politics. However, their achievements are not really a part of history lessons in schools, and not broadcast on the news either. Namasudras led the first general strike in India on record in 1872. They lobbied to institute reservation for Scheduled Castes in Bengal in 1906. They are also responsible for electing BR Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Indian Constitution in 1946.
When India was partitioned, the areas of Bengal with Scheduled Caste strongholds became part of Pakistan, and later Bangladesh. These Dalits were religiously persecuted there following Partition and the Bangladesh Liberation War, and have been fleeing to India. So a significant proportion of Dalits in West Bengal are from refugee families. In fact, BJP won many SC seats in 2019 in West Bengal due to their campaign promising citizenship to these refugees with CAA.
Our reporter Suryatapa Mukherjee spoke to Mamata Bala Thakur, a former member of Lok Sabha and a Trinamool leader, about her family’s political history. She is Namasudra, and a Matua Ma, as in, a religious elder of the Matua community. The history of the Namasudra Thakur family is closely tied to the political history of Scheduled Castes in Bengal.
How the Bengali chotalok shaped India’s destiny
Celebrating Dalit History : The 1873 Namashudra Strike
Problem of Caste and Identity: The Namasudras of Colonial India