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Bangladeshis in Italy  

Andrea Priori

The Bangladeshi population in Italy boomed in 1990, spreading from Rome and forming local enclaves shaped by migration chains; it is the second-largest Bangladeshi group in Europe and sees a preponderance of Sunni Muslims, a large majority of working-age men, and poor access of women to employment. Although both Italian institutions and migrant associations promoted a monolithic image of the “Bangladeshi community” as a category of political visibility, Italian Bangladeshis present considerable variety in terms of geographic origin and ideological affiliations and important differences in terms of social origins between endangered middle classes and urban middle classes with steady economic situations. Interaction with the Italian institutions results in further differentiation between “legal” and undocumented migrants, which overlaps, in part, with that between those in northern Italy, where Bangladeshi workers are generally entitled to full rights, and those in Rome and the south, where the informal economy is widespread. The large presence of undocumented working-age men fuels marginality and exploitation, both by natives and co-nationals. Patronage relations between co-nationals are crucial in providing access to emigration, housing, and employment and add to the dynamics of self-organization, especially in the case of secular associations. A peculiar characteristic of Italian Bangladeshis is the tendency to form mononational organizations (both secular and Islamic) that proliferate by virtue of scissions, along with transnationalism and entrepreneurship. In contrast, the new generation tends to move beyond communal introversion and transnationalism, but this is limited to only those with promising careers. Even among young people, extensive areas of marginality exist; this results in the persistence of attitudes typical of the migrant generation and reproduces among those who grew up in Italy the distinction, characteristic of the situation of the migrants, between those who have been successfully incorporated into Italian society and those suffering social exclusion.

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Religion and Migration in Rakhine  

Michael W. Charney

The historical migration and religious development in Rakhine (Arakan) up to the end of the second decade of the 21st century is complicated. This region was a crossroads for South and Southeast Asian civilizations and existed at the overlap of the frontiers of Islam and Theravada Buddhism. Existing in an ecological niche with a difficult topography and climate and a low population base, Rakhine social and state formation was built around inclusivity and tolerance. Although for much of its history the dominant religions of the population of the region were animism and then Brahmanism, successive waves of immigrants from both Bengal and Myanmar meant that Islamic and Theravada Buddhist influence was very strong. The early modern kingdom that emerged at Mrauk-U, its main political center, was built on maritime connectivity with the Indian Ocean world and developed a court culture that was both Muslim and Buddhist and ruled over a population that was religiously heterogeneous. Toleration was challenged, however, by the conquest of Rakhine by Myanmar in 1785 and efforts to eradicate local religious autonomy. Things did not improve under British rule after the British annexation of 1826. The Myanmar and British rulers of Rakhine politicized the region’s history and tried to retell the history of the region in ways that excluded some populations and included others, leading to efforts to force the Rohingya out of Rakhine from August 2017.

Article

Religion, Caste, and Displacement: The Matua Community  

Carola Erika Lorea

The struggle against untouchability, the religious history of Bengal, and the study of postcolonial displacement in South Asia can hardly be considered without paying attention to a roughly two-hundred-year-old low-caste religious and social movement called Matua. The Matua community counts at present fifty million followers, according to its leaders. It is scattered across a large area and connected through a trans-local network of preachers, pilgrims, institutions, print, and religious commodities. Most Matua followers are found in West Bengal; in southern Bangladesh, where the movement emerged in the 19th century; and in provinces where refugees from East Bengal have resettled since the 1950s, especially Assam; Tripura; the Andaman Islands; Uttarakhand; and the Dandakaranya area at the border of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. Building upon an older Vaishnava devotional stream, the religious community initiated by Harichand Thakur (1812–1878) and consolidated by his son Guruchand Thakur (1847–1937) developed hand in hand with the Namashudra movement for the social upliftment of the lower castes. Rebelling against social marginalization and untouchability, and promising salvation through ecstatic singing and dancing, the Matua community triggered a massive mobilization in rural East Bengal. Partition and displacement have disrupted the unity of the Matua movement, now scattered on both sides of the hastily drawn Indo-Bangladesh border. The institutional side of the Matua community emerged as a powerful political subject, deeply entangled with refugee politics, borderland issues, and Hindu nationalism. In the 21st century, the Matua community represents a key element in electoral politics and a crucial factor for understanding the relation between religion, displacement, and caste, within and beyond Bengal.