(This story was originally published on 29 March 2019, and has been republished on the event of World Refugee Day.)
Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
Camera and Script: Tridip K Mandal
The Bamunigaon refugee camp is merely 65 kilometres from Guwahati, Assam’s capital and the biggest city in the northeast. But it seems Bamunigaon is stuck in a time warp.
The refugee camp was set up in 1964 to settle Hindu refugees coming from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Even after 55 years, nothing much has changed – there are no paved roads, water connection or electricity supply from the grid. And for the residents, there is no identity of their own.
Almost 126 families live in Bamunigaon and they continue to struggle to prove that they are Indians. Even now, they are called ‘refugees’ and ‘Bangladeshis’.
“Despite being Hindus and living in India, we are called Bangladeshis. We have been living and voting in Assam. We feel really bad that we are called Bangladeshis.”Paresh Das, Resident, Bamunigaon Refugee Camp
The camp has almost 5,000 voters and they will, in all likelihood, vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, something they have been doing till date. But the recently conducted NRC (National Register of Citizens) exercise in Assam has put the residents in a precarious condition. Most people in the camp haven’t made it to the NRC, an exercise done to identify illegal foreigners living in Assam (the cut-off date for which is 24 March 1971).
“My family migrated to India from East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) in 1964. We first came to a refugee camp in Karimganj and finally reached here in 1967, well before the 1971 cut-off date of NRC. How is it so that our name is missing from the NRC?”Hemanta Chakraborty, Resident, Bamunigaon Refugee Camp
Most Hindu refugees coming to India from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in the mid and late 60s were issued a ‘Relief Eligibility Certificate’ by the government of India and it clearly states that the refugees left their homeland due to atrocities.
“Lot of atrocities were committed against us. They said Hindus should go to Hindustan. This is Pakistan, we can’t keep you here.”Rosendra Hajong, Resident, Bamunigaon Refugee Camp
They had pinned all their hopes on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) brought by the NDA government. The Bill proposes to give Indian citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Parsis and Buddhists coming to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But the Bill was not passed in the Rajya Sabha.
“This Bill will be a big relief for all those whose names were not included in the NRC.”Kripesh Deb Rai, Resident, Bamunigaon Refugee Camp
The refugees of this camp are now hoping that the BJP-led NDA comes back to power in the Lok Sabha elections so that the Bill can be reintroduced with some modifications, passed in the Parliament and finally, they can call themselves Indians.