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BJP-TMC Violence Brings 'Harmad' Back to Provoke Bengal's Curiosity. But What Does the Word Mean?

Leaders of both parties have alleged that ‘Harmad’ are killing their local workers for political domination.

Sujit Nath | News18.com

Updated:June 15, 2019, 8:20 AM IST
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BJP-TMC Violence Brings 'Harmad' Back to Provoke Bengal's Curiosity. But What Does the Word Mean?
A woman walks past political murals and posters in Kalighat district. (Image: Reuters)
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Kolkata: Harmad. This simple two-syllable word is back in political parlance to stump Bengal watchers. Nine years after triggering a row between then Union home minister P Chidambaram and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, ‘Harmad’ is now the bone of contention between the BJP and Trinamool Congress amid a wave of political violence and blame-game.

Leaders of both parties have alleged that ‘Harmad’ are killing their local workers for political domination.

On June 9, TMC general secretary Partha Chatterjee wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, saying: “We are deeply concerned with the manner in which the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an advisory regarding the law and order situation and has drawn conclusions on the breakdown of the constitutional machinery in Bengal. In fact, BJP is taking the help of ‘Harmad’ of a political party that ruined Bengal over 34 years to spread terror by resorting to violence, anarchy and lawlessness.”

As is apparent, ‘Harmad’ has been used in the past to refer to CPI(M) cadre and leaders.

But what does it actually mean? According to Bengali scholar and former Jadavpur University professor Achinta Biswas, it means nothing.

Explaining how the word entered political discourse, Biswas said, “It is a distorted form of the Dutch word ‘armada’, which means pirates or goons known for their brutality. In the 18th century, the Dutch brought this word to Bengal and over time ‘armada’ became ‘harmad’. Some people claimed the Spanish brought this word to Bengal, but I am not sure about that.”

The word became so entrenched colloquially that it entered the Hobson-Jobson dictionary in 1886, Biswas said. “In those times, several words originated from Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish in Bengal. For example, the word ‘Nilam’ was coined by Portuguese from Hindi. Also, if you go through Hobson-Jobson dictionary, you will find the existence ‘Harmad’ since its publication in 1886. But the fact is that it’s a distorted version of ‘Armada’.”

In December 2010, then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had raised strong objection when an official letter sent by Union home minister P Chidambaram over rising violence in the state carried the word ‘Harmad’.

Angry CPM leaders had then too pointed out that no such word actually exists and that Chidambaram should have consulted officials with knowledge of the Bengali language before drafting the letter.

A similar row has erupted now with Bengal BJP fuming over inclusion of the word in Partha Chatterjee’s letter to Amit Shah.

“The Trinamool Congress letter written by Partha Chatterjee to the Union Home Minister is an act of immaturity. He used the word ‘Harmad’ in an official letter. What is the meaning of ‘Harmad’? Who knows the meaning of this word in Delhi? I think he should learn how to draft an official letter,” said BJP leader Mukul Roy.

Chatterjee was not available for comment despite repeated attempts to reach him.

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