Jubilation and Anguish Mark the Swapping of Bangladeshi Enclaves 

After living in isolation for 68 years, the dwellers of the 51 enclaves would at last have a nation of their own.

Updated01 Aug 2015, 08:30 AM IST
India
4 min read

Night, as it follows day, would come tonight too, but the hours of darkness would bring along an unbridled aspiration for the 14,854 residents of the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves that assimilated with India at the stroke of last midnight.

The same night, however, proved listless for many of the 41,449 residents of the 11 Indian enclaves that have gone to Bangladesh also at the stroke of last midnight.

After living in isolation for 68 years, often sneaking in and out of India to fulfill even the most basic of needs, the dwellers of the 51 enclaves would at last have a nation of their own. Their joy is therefore boundless. Preparations to celebrate the historic moment is in full swing, but toned down in solemn remembrance of the just departed former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam.

Formal Exchange Takes Place

“No official celebration would be held to observe the moment, as the nation is in mourning,’” said the Cooch Behar district magistrate P Ulganathan. It is learnt that a programme for exchanging land deeds of the enclaves to be swapped between the two countries was also called off today due to the mourning.

The enclaves exchange is pursuant to the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed between India and Bangladesh during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the neighbouring country on June 6. By the agreement, India would get 51 Bangladeshi enclaves while Bangladesh would get 111 Indian enclaves.

The enclave dwellers were given the option to opt for Indian or Bangladeshi citizenship. While all 14,854 residents of the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves have opted for Indian citizenship, only 980 persons out of 41,449 residents of the 111 Indian enclaves have chosen to opt for Indian citizenship. Many find the figure bogus and cite coercion behind the paltry number.

A little boy waves the tricolor as part of the enclaves celebration.
A little boy waves the tricolor as part of the enclaves celebration.

Celebrations Begin

The crossing over of the people would begin on November 1 and continue till November 31 unless the timeline is extended.

The Bharat Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Committee (BBEECC), which had been at the vanguard of the enclaves exchange movement since the 1980s, have arranged a central function at Mashaldanga, a Bangladeshi enclave to observe the momentous event.

“Every house in the enclave would light 68 lamps in remembrance of the 68 years the dwellers languished as nationless people. The Indian flag would be hoisted at midnight and adequate illuminations have been prepared for it. But the flag would fly half-mast thereafter in remembrance of Dr Kalam,” said BBEECC assistant secretary, Diptiman Sengupta.

A documentary on life in the enclaves prepared by acclaimed director, Shamim Akhtar Ansari would also be screened at the celebrations along with events that proved turning points in the enclaves exchange movement.

There is elation among the beneficiaries. “Two years ago my friend Saddam Hussein and I had to suppress the name of our fathers and address to enroll in a college in Cooch Behar district. Such subterfuge won’t be required ever again once we officially become Indian citizens,” claimed a beaming Joynal Abedin, a resident of Mashaldanga enclave.

A section of Indians living in enclaves in Bangladesh walk through their village, making clear which side of the border their loyalties lie. (Photo: BBEECC, Bharat Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee)
A section of Indians living in enclaves in Bangladesh walk through their village, making clear which side of the border their loyalties lie. (Photo: BBEECC, Bharat Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee)

What Mars the Jubilation?

Then there is a mother’s relief for her son. Five years ago, Asma Bibi, a Mashaldanga enclave resident was down with labour pain. She was surreptitiously brought to Dinhata Hospital for childbirth where the doctors refused to admit her since she was technically Bangladeshi. The BBEECC intervened and Asma was treated in the hospital and delivered a male child.

Although the hospital authorities treated Asma for childbirth, they refused to issue a birth certificate for the infant. Given the conditions under which he was born, all went to christen the child as Jehad, meaning holy war. “My son would at last get a birth certificate, which would help him get admission in educational institutions and get a job in future,” says a happy Asma.

The jubilation, however, stops short when it comes to organizations such as the Chhitmahal United Council (CUC). “While the residents of the Bangladeshi enclaves have reason to celebrate, our Indian brethren in the 111 Indian enclaves would spend the night in anxiety. Many out of the 41,449 Indian residents have been barred from opting to relocate to India. It is a night to shed a tear for these deprived souls,” says CUC adviser, Debabrata Chaki.

“The CUC,” he added, “would draw the President of India, the Prime Minister and West Bengal Chief Minister’s attention to this barefaced discrimination.”

(The writer is a Siliguri-based senior journalist)

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Published: 31 Jul 2015, 11:58 PM IST
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