Bengali-speaking families in Singapore: Home, nation and the world

Source of Publication

International Migration


This paper examines the notions of "home," "nation" and "the world" among the Bengali-speaking families in Singapore. The forces of globalization have played a significant role in making the Bengali-speaking families transnational, first by uprooting them from Bengal, a territory now shared between Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, and then re-linking them to a complex web of relationships redefining the contours of community. The Bengali-speaking families in Singapore belong to two distinct "communities": Bengalis from West Bengal, India who are predominantly Hindus, and Bengalis from Bangladesh who are predominantly Muslims. They formed two different "communities" not simply on the basis of differences in religion but also in terms of social networks and ties. Common language, similar food habits and love for certain cultural practices like cricket and adda, are not enough to bring them into the fold of a common Bengali community. The division in the Bengali-speaking community is influenced not so much by religion but nationalism. Nationalism, however imagined, continues to play a powerful role in the globalized world, especially among transnational communities. Yet, the two "communities," one from Bangladesh and the other from West Bengal, are not antagonistic to one another by any means; their relationship is an ambivalent one based on a tacit principle of "civil inattention." The situation changed in the 1990s when Bengali was introduced as a second language in Singapore, and a Bengali language school was set up thereafter. The two communities were drawn into a common physical space and a new set of social ties and networks began to emerge, opening and redrawing the boundaries of community. The paper demonstrates how nations separate a people who share a common notion of home, as well as how cosmopolitan world-views redraw the contours of community. © Journal compilation © 2008 International Organization for Migration.

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Author First name, Last name, Institution

Habibul Haque Khondker, Zayed University