‘Stateless’ enclave dwellers finally getting a country

Dinhata (West Bengal), July 31 (IANS) Having been “stateless” for 68 long years, more than 51,000 enclave dwellers will finally have a country of their own, when at the stroke of midnight Friday-Saturday, the historic exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh takes place.

Decades of isolation and deprivation has given way to hope and ecstasy as almost all the houses inside the enclaves have prepared some kind of celebrations to mark the historic day when finally they will unfurl the flag of a country they call their own.

There are 14,000 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian territory, with a total area of 7,110 acres, while there are 37,000 people living in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, with a total area 17,160 acres.

The 111 Indian enclaves are located in the Bangladesh districts of Lalmonirhat (59), Panchagarh (36), Kurigram 12 and Nilphamari (4) while all the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves are situated in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal.

The swapping is in pursuance of the inking and exchange of documents of the Land Boundary Agreement on June 6 in Dhaka, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

The LBA was first inked in 1974 by then Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“The day has arrived when we can proudly say we are Indians, we will no more have to hide behind fake identities to get our children admitted in schools or avail medical services. July 31 is surely our independence day,” said Ruhul Sheikh of Mosaldanga enclave in Cooch Behar.

The Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Co-ordination Committee (BBEECC), an organisation fighting for the rights of the enclave dwellers, has planned several celebrations at the Mosaldanga enclave on Saturday to mark the historic occasion.

“As part of the celebrations, we will light 68 candles to mark the years the enclave dwellers have remained stateless. Besides, a documentary will also be screened highlighting their struggle,” said BBEECC assistant secretary Diptiman Sengupta.

However, Sengupta expressed concern that people with criminal antecedents could use the moment to become citizens of a particular country to escape the law keepers of the other nation.

“There are criminal cases either in Bangladesh or India against many of the enclave dwellers. So they could use the occasion to get citizenship of one of the nations where they would not have to face legal action. The BBEECC has already handed over lists of such people to both India and Bangladesh authorities.”

The district administration too has planned celebrations but it will be a low key affair owing to the national mourning being observed following the death of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

“As part of the celebrations, the tricolor will be hoisted in all the 51 enclaves but will be subsequently put on half mast as the country is in national mourning,” said Cooch Behar District Magistrate P. Ulagnathan.

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