9776 dwellers of Cooch Behar will cast their votes for the first time on 5 May when West Bengal enters its final phase of Assembly Elections.
On August 2015, following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement, Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely held enclaves. As a result, over 14,000 residents of Bangladeshi enclaves became Indian citizens.
In the exchange, over 37,000 dwellers in Indian enclaves became Indian citizens while 922 of them opted for Indian citizenship and have been living in Enclave Settlement camps in Cooch Behar.
The feeling cannot be described in words. It can only be experienced. Our four generations have lived a stateless life but on Thursday all that will change forever. From being stateless to becoming an Indian citizen, we have come a long way but it is just the beginning. We are still without the basic necessities - be it guaranteed employment, drinking water, education and healthcare. But we are increasingly becoming hopeful because the politicians now realise our vote counts.Joy Prakash, Enclave Dweller
New Citizens Forced to Live in Camps Without Basic Facilities
Despite the general excitement surrounding the new voters, there are some who are ready to shun their democratic right as a mark of protest against unfulfilled promises.
Under the banner of Amra Chitmahalbasi (We the Enclave Dwellers) and led by Masum, a human rights organisation, over 100 of the ‘new voters’, have been demonstrating for the past few days demanding the basic facilities accorded to a citizen.
Mausam secretary Kirity Roy stated that the new citizens have neither the rights, facilities available to a citizen nor any documents to fight for their rights. They are being forced to live in camps, they are still stateless.
Claiming that the enclave dwellers were being enlisted as voters without being provided with citizenship, Roy even moved the Calcutta High Court seeking its intervention.
TMC Assures Commitment Towards Enclave Dwellers’ Welfare
However, MLA Udayan Guha asserted Trinamool Congress’ commitment towards the welfare of the enclave dwellers.
Countering Guha’s claims, Akshay Thakur of the AIl India Forward Bloc accused both the BJP-led central government and the Mamata Banerjee regime of “betraying the aspirations of the enclave dwellers”.
Diptiman Sengupta, who has been fighting for their cause for the last two decades, admits the enclave dwellers have still miles to go but is opposed to the idea of a vote boycott.
Yes, the dwellers are still without basic facilities and it’s miles to go before they can avail even the minimum infrastructure. But that can be achieved only when they have a representative to voice their concerns. All the enclave dwellers are eager to vote and elect the representative who will fight for their rights.Diptiman Sengupta, Citizen Rights Coordination Committee