Who are the Amra Bangalis?
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As trains pull into West Bengal, passengers find the station names in Hindi and English smeared with black tar, leaving only the Bengali version visible. That's about the highest visibility secured so far by Amra Bangali, a radical pro-Bengali group that has now imposed a bandh in Siliguri and Dooars in protest against the demand for Gorkhaland.
On Thursday, the Amra Bangali, together with the Banglabhasha Bachao Samiti and Jana Jagaran Morcha, managed to bring Siliguri to a halt with its bandh call.
The group—that says it's important to speak Bengali and adapt to Bengali ways to live in what it calls "Bangali-stan"—is not restricted to West Bengal but to some parts of neighbouring states and even countries where Bengalis have immigrated to.
Sparked off by the 1983 Assam movement better known to Bengalis as the "Bongali Kheda" or "Drive away Bengalis" movement, Amra Bangali enjoyed a short stint in the spotlight in the mid-eighties when it even won some gram panchayat seats in border districts.
It is a frontal organisation of the Ananda Marg, the sworn enemies of the CPI(M). Amra Bangali was set up by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, who set up the Ananda Marg. Over the years, its physical presence has all but disappeared as mainstream Leftists promoted some other outfits that made strident calls to promote the use of Bengali and the cause of the Bengalis.
Amra Bangali never became violent or "exclusive", but its demands are radical. It wants a Bengal that is a self-contained socio-economic zone with people speaking the same language and wearing the same attire. There should be no imports into the region—and no export of raw materials either.
The Bangalistan envisioned by the group would include parts of Assam, plains of Meghalaya, West Bengal, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Bihar and Jharkhand. In fact, its territorial ambitions are international—it wants Nepal's Jhapa district, Myanmar's Arakan area, and the whole of Bangladesh.