Migration of Enclave Dwellers to the Indian Mainland Begins
The first batch of migrants from the Indian enclaves along Bangladesh arrived on the Indian mainland on November 19.
They came! In files, from across the border, came wizened old men, new-born infants in their mother’s laps and the young and firm – their eyes shining with the new-found liberty. They were the first batch of migrants from the Indian enclaves along Bangladesh to arrive on the Indian mainland on November 19.
Altogether 65 people of 19 families from three Indian enclaves – Gotamari 135 and 136 and one from the Lotamari enclave – made the crossover through the Changrabandha check-point in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The displaced persons would be accommodated in shelters at Mekhliganj in the district.
‘Expecting 220 Indian Families to Migrate’
“The migration would continue till November 26. We are expecting 220 Indian families to migrate during this period,” stated the Cooch Behar district magistrate, P Ulganathan. The migration was scheduled to begin on November 1, was postponed to November 6 and then to an unspecified date “after Diwali”, eliciting questions over the exercise.
Outcome of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA)
The enclaves issue is complicated. Those were dismembered landmasses of India and Bangladesh embedded in each other’s territory before their assimilation with the country they stood against on July 31 this year.
The assimilation exercise was the outcome of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed between India and Bangladesh on June 6, 2015 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the neighbouring country.
Under the LBA, 111 Indian enclaves spread over an area of 17,160 acres (approximately) merged with Bangladesh on 31 July midnight and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves an area of 7,110 acres (approximately) assimilated with India on the same night.
The option to relocate to the country of their choice was offered to all enclave dwellers. While no one from the Bangladeshi enclaves that merged with India chose to relocate to their mother country, 987 dwellers of the Indian enclaves opted to relocate to the Indian mainland. The number, however, could vary in the future.
Indians Now Have a Nation of Their Own
Having lived as nowhere people since birth, these forgotten Indians would now have a nation of their own. “All of us from the enclaves are either peasants or manual labourers. We are happy with the arrangements made here to rehabilitate us. Although we are Indians we languished as nation-less people in the enclaves when the boundaries were drawn. We finally have a country of our own and now wish to contribute in nation-building,” summed up 65-year-old Bhabendra Barman, who migrated along with his family.
There was apprehension that those who had opted to relocate to India would have to make distress sale of their landed property in the enclaves. The assistant Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Sudip Mitra, who accompanied the first batch of migrants to Changrabandha, however, put that fear to rest.
“Most of the potential migrants have been able to sell off their properties at reasonable prices instead,” he claimed. “Moreover, the Bangladesh government has assured compensation for those who would not be able to sell off their properties before migrating,” he added.
A warm welcome was extended to the migrants, as they trooped in to the tunes of the police and Border Security Force bands at Changrabandha, holding aloft festoons projecting Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It was their way of saying “thank you!”
(The writer is a Siliguri-based freelance journalist)
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