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Monsters Ball: Vote politics, welfare schemes change life of Asurs

Published:

ALIPURDUAR

:

Mahishasur

, the shape-shifting demon from Hindu mythology whom goddess Durga slays in an epic fight, makes a symbolic appearance in Bengal every year as part of the state’s autumnal celebration of good triumphing over evil.
This election season, Mahishasur’s supposed descendants in Bengal are in focus, courted by both

Trinamool Congress

and BJP as the community revisits and reconciles to its inherited legacy that once caused bruising stigma.

Titusma Toppo, who used to be bullied in school over his identity, has just filed a legal affidavit reclaiming his inherited surname, Asur (literally meaning ‘demon’).
“Times have changed. Govts at the Centre and the state have come up with several

welfare schemes

for us. I had dropped my surname in favour of ‘Toppo’. I am legally getting it back,” he said.

Many among the Asurs, one of the oldest Scheduled Tribes of Bengal, had left the state and discarded their surname to escape discrimination. A reverse migration has been taking place, particularly in the Alipurduar belt of north Bengal, since TMC and BJP started rolling out welfare measures targeting the marginalised community.
Over the past four years, many such families scattered across the neighbourhoods of Alipurduar have received new homes under

PMAY

.
The majority of them, employed in tea plantations, have also been offered land by Bengal govt and financial assistance under the Cha Sundari scheme. Areas like Uttar Line, Dakshin Line, Buxa Bazar and Kalkut, where most members of the tribe used to live in shanties, have transformed into localities with brick-and-mortar homes.
This is in contrast to how the Asurs used to be treated until a few years ago. During Durga Puja, community members would stay indoors lest they face casteist slurs and generally hurtful comments linking them to the mythical demon whose death the festival commemorates.
“Life has changed for the better in the last few years. We got a new home under PMAY in 2020. In the last six to seven months, several members of my family received land pattas,” said Nandu Asur, who lives in Uttar Line with his extended family of 12.
Nandu worked at Majherdabri tea estate for most of his life and earned wages that were never enough. He now gets a pension of Rs 2,000 a month.
Nandu’s son Bijoy, who had moved to Gujarat to work as a carpenter there, has returned to Alipurduar. He has a tea estate job and is hoping for a wage hike and a plot of land like his family members received from the state govt.
The number of Asur families in the belt has increased from 29 four years ago to more than 70 now, with a total population of around 3,500. Along with the improvement in living conditions, there has been a noticeable change in the aspirations of the

Asur community

, too. Most parents now want their children to get an education rather than start looking for work as soon as they become eligible.
(With inputs from Subhojyoti Kanjilal in Kolkata)

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