Ki Bolche Bangla: How New & Old Citizens Will Vote In Cooch Behar

BJP has been very subtle about CAA-NRC-NPR this election season, so will they be able to retain Coochbehar?

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The BJP had made significant inroads in North Bengal’s Coochbehar in 2019 by winning over the Koch Rajbonshi community through its promise of granting them citizenship. However, throughout their election campaigns, the saffron brigade has been subtle about the Citizenship Amendment Act.

So The Quint reached Cooch Behar to find out what do the locals have to say about this, and on what issue will they be voting on?

The Baishguri village in Cooch Behar’s Mathabhanga constituency is a good microcosm of the politics being played out in the district. The Hindus in the village, almost entirely Rajbongshi, identify more as Hindus than Rajbongshis. And their problems aren’t caste specific either. Like Pili Barman, who complains of her broken house, lack of jobs and safe drinking water. But that is not what she’ll vote on.

Barman wants a safe environment for women where they can roam around freely. Although she hasn’t faced any threat to her safety, she has heard her relatives narrate instances of such problems in their areas. Aaroti Barman echoes a similar sentiment, but also adds the need for employment.

However, there is also a communal angle that is playing out in Cooch Behar

Santoshi Barman, a BJP worker said that this vote is not between TMC and the BJP but between ‘Hindus and Muslims’. He further alleges that since the TMC came to power, “Hindu women are raped by Muslim men”.

The opportunities that Muslims get, we don’t. A Hindu rashtra is required. Every country has a religious affiliation like Pakistan, Bangladesh. But what affiliation does our country have. It’s Bharat that’s okay. But has Hindustan ever been declared?
Kamini Barman, BJP worker

In the Muslim locality of Baishguri, the sentiment was a little different. While the villagers complained of the same civic issues, they were clear about their vote, which too, had nothing to do with their living situation.

While many of them had problems accessing basic amenities like clean water, most of them were more scared of being deported from the country through the NRC.

There are many poor people, illiterate people who don’t have papers. A lot of people may have been born here but they don’t have the papers. It will be bad for the poor people.  
Jaharul Miya, Local

In 2015, India and Bangladesh signed the historic Land Boundary Agreement which solved the long-standing problem of enclaves or chhitmahals in both countries. These enclaves were land-locked areas in both India and Bangladesh that were technically a part of the other country, which meant that its residents had a stateless existence. After the agreement, both countries internalized the enclaves within their land, additionally about 990 residents in the Indian enclaves of Bangladesh, chose to cross over to India.

They were housed in settlements camps in three places in Cooch Behar. One of them was in Dinhata. About 6 months ago, the families in that camp were relocated to these government apartments.

Residents like Hafizul Miya and Narayan Barman are worried that they have not been given any ownership documents of the apartments. They are scared that this way, they might not be able to prdouce the required documents during the CAA-NRC exercise.

The government has given us an apartment but we have no documents to say it’s ours. Tomorrow if the government says that we have to move to a kuccha house, then we have to go to a kuccha house. If it’s in our name then we can atleast say that this is in our name and we won’t go. 
Nonita Barman, Local

However, the most stark difference in the lives on these erstwhile enclave dwellers is pointed out by Osman Ghani, who works as a doctor of sorts for the residents here. Osman talks about his first attempt at buying a piece of land in India.

Three days after the registry, on 26 June 2019, I lost possession of my land. I took some people, went to the person I bought the land from and all of us together went to see the land. Even the former landowner was not allowed onto the land by the locals. We then sat down with the locals. They told us clearly that we don’t want a Muslim here. Registration has been done in my name, papers are in my name, but I’m not being able to go to my land. 
Osman Ghani, Local

While people here seem to be facing the most basic civic issues everyday, that is not what they’re going to be casting their vote on. Because they’ve been indoctrinated into thinking that there are other “larger issues” that they should think about before voting. Which is why it is all the more important to ensure that our politicians are talking about the right things and the same goes for our media.

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