Phulia, West Bengal has an unsurprisingly dull history. It is not a particularly old town, nor was it the site of a a famous battle. However, since it is situated so close to the border with Bangladesh, it does have one of India’s most fascinating refugee stories since Independence.
In 1971, East Pakistan became Bangladesh after decades of misrule from Islamabad. However, the repression did not stop, and refugees continued to pour over the border looking for a more stable life.
While most refugee stories the globe over talk about desperation and poverty, a small group of skilled craftsmen moved into Phulia to defy those expectations. The city of around 55,000 people – as of 2011, never mind 1971! – suddenly became the premier place on the planet for the production of the famous Tant Sari.
While the craft has stayed alive over the last four decades, the market has continued to shrunk as bigger industrial competitors have taken over sari demand and resources have become more and more expensive.