Friday 7 August 2020

Refugee Relief (India, 1971)

This stamp saves lives….

Between November 1971 and April 1973, India levied a 5 paise surchage on all posted materials (with a few exceptions). The surcharge was a way of fundraising to help provide support to Bengali refugees who were fleeing into India from conflict between Pakistan and the newly proclaimed independent Bangladesh. (Fighting had started in March 1971; India joined the conflict in December that year.)

By October 1971, over 10 million refugees were had fled to India. Negotiations with the UN hadn’t identified any way of funding support for refugee camps and so the Refugee Relief Tax was born. Stamps had been used before, usually to fund war efforts – in the pre-digital era, they were a way of generalising fundraising across the population in increments that people could hopefully afford to pay (that said, 5 paisa at the time was a significant increase in the price of postage). At first, “regular” stamps were overprinted with the words “refugee relief” but over time, new stamps were specifically printed to sit alongside the regular ones.

I’m just blown away by the creativity of the idea of raising finance using something as everyday and seemingly mundane as posting a letter.

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