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March 17 – Birth Centenary of BangabandhuMujibur Rahman

Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 13:30 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 08:03 [IST]

March 17 – Birth Centenary of BangabandhuMujibur Rahman

March 26 – Bangladesh Independence Day

Refugee Relief Stamp

Refugee Relief Stamp?! The 2K kids may not have heard of this; why, for that matter even the 80s kids may not be aware of it. Postal stamp, revenue stamp, service stamp and court fee stamp, yes, but what is refugee relief stamp? Was it issued during the 1947 partition of India & Pakistan when Sikhs and Hindus (totalling 7.2 million / 70.2 lakhs) fled from West Pakistan & East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to India?
No, this pinkish monochrome stamp was issued 24 years later in1971 when East Pakistan proclaimed independence and blossomed as a new nation called Bangladesh. On 26th March 1971, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence and an independent sovereign Bangladesh was born. But the victory came only on December 16, 1971 after long nine months of liberation war. This time the inflow of refugees from across our eastern border was much higher; it was estimated that about 10 million / 1 crore people fled to India. While the EuropeanUnion countries are crying hoarse over the trickle of refugeesnow, just imagine the magnitude of India’s burden half a century ago! India had to manage and did the situation, and the issue of Refugee Relief Stamp (RRS), an indirect tax, was just one of the strategies to handle the massive inflow of refugees, unprecedented in world history.
The Indian Government, as an immediate measure,levied a 5 paisepostal surcharge with effect from 15th November 1971 on all mails (except the humble post-card, newspapers, articles for the visually challenged, items posted in Field Post Offices [FPOs] meant for armed forces, and theState of J&K), Money Orders, First Day Covers and Telegrams, for the relief of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In order to implement this Postal Tax immediately throughout our vast country with umpteen post offices, the post masters were authorised to overprint existing definitiveseries stamps locally, by using rubber stamp impression.Cost-effective instant solution! Such a new Refugee Relief Stamp could be issued and circulated only from 1st December 1971. Until then rubber stamp impression of ‘Refugee Relief’ was used mainly on the ‘Family Planning’ definitive series stampalready in circulation then; the rubber stamp impression was in English in South India where Hindi language is anathema, and in Hindi in rest of India.
Back in 1971, five Paise was a considerable amount; no easy coming and no easy going. There were coins of 1 paisa, 2 paise, even the odd 3 paise, then 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 and 1 rupee. People used to call the 25 P. and 50 P. coins as quarter anna and half anna respectively, as 1 rupee = 16 annas.  But all these coins, except the 1 rupee coin, have lost their value and totally disappeared. Because, even a cup of the humble tea costs, at the least, 10 bucks! So, back in 1971 the Indian government was able to raise a considerable amount through this RR Stamps, though the postal staff had their own headache of separately accounting for this RRS. Even the government departments that use the exclusive Service Stamps had to pay this postal tax for refugee relief by affixing Service Stamps with the special marking of ‘Refugee Relief’.
Out of the 10 million / one crore (I am comfortable with crores than million, billion and trillion) Bangladeshi refugees, who were mostly Hindus, it is estimated that while about 8.5 million (85 lakhs) might have returned to the new nation after its birth pangs had subsided, 1.5 million (15 lakhs) of them might have stayed back in India itself. A considerable number of these families were settled in the various islands of Andaman Group of Islands, particularly in Neil (Shaheed), Havelock (Swaraj) Islands and in Middle/North Andaman Islands. I met a few of them in 1979 during my North Andaman trip and here is a description from my travel jottings of such a settlement of Bangladesh refugees there:-
 “Then we went to the nearby Billyground area (billy=cat in Hindi). It is also called Hari Nagar. As the bus was proceeding, the misty view of Padmanabhapuram, a Keralitesettlement, caught my eyes. From Hari temple (hence Hari Nagar) on a hillock we had a fantastic view of paddy fields surrounded by hills withKorangNallah (stream) flowing through. Jai Bangladesh (the erstwhile East Pakistan) refugee settlers (mostly Hindus?) live here. An elderly Kali PodhaSaha carrying his infant grandchild SanjibSaha attracted my camera at Billyground. A lad I talked to had lost his father in the up-rise. He reached here some years back with his mother, uncle and other relatives. Land was allotted 5 years later. It seemed to me that the settlers are a bit laidback. Huts are in tattered condition. Plenty of cattle, hence milk was selling @ one rupee per pound (1/2 a kg. / one Horlicks bottle measure. Horlicks was then sold in glass bottles as plastic containers were not ubiquitous in 1970s). Due to water shortage, paddy crop could be raised only once annually. But because of late rainfall, second paddy crop had also been raised now, I was told. Vegetables and some cash crops are also grown. Plantain and arecanut plantations are raised, they said. Not much of coconut trees. However, no scarcity for drinking water. There are many perennial sources that supply water 24 hours. Water taps are seen on the street side. Billyground has a school, hospital and a market. Rosagulla is famous; what with a fair number of Bengalis around, it is but natural! ”
As I was surfing the internet to verify facts & figures on RRS, I came across some new details which I was not aware in 1971 as a 15-year-old boy casually collecting stamps.I am sad now that I have in my collection only a few of those pinkish Refugee Relief Stamps and not the over printed /rubber stampedFamily Planning stamp which is a collector’s item. I dug deep into my haphazard philatelic collection but no luck.  This postal levy for refugee relief was in vogue from 15 Nov. 1971 to 31 March 1973, when things started settling down in the new nation of Bangladesh and refugees trickled back to their homeland.When this postal levy ended on 31 March 1973, those who possessed (hoarded) stamps bearing the inscription "Refugee Relief" were allowed to handover such stamps to the District Collector who either paid the value in cash or in regular stamps.
    I am glad that I have in my collection the commemorative stamp “Jai Bangla” issued by India Post on 10 April 1973 under ‘Thematic Category’.  I am also a proud owner of just only one Bangladesh stamp that depicts a farmer tilling his land in Amar Sonar Bangla. I wonder if India Post issued a stamp honouringBangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but I am unable to find any such stamp in my trash-like collection. 2020 is Mujib’s birth centenary year; Mujib was born on March 17, 1920 and assassinated on 15th August 1975.  Today, even after nearly 50 years, this 5 Paise pink stamp of 1971 is a testimony for India’s empathetic action towards the enormous issue of Bangladeshi refugees.
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Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi