Born in India, alien at home: Border dwellers' plight

Born in India, alien at home: Border dwellers' plight

Disowned by his own country, where he was born more than 30 summers ago, an Indian man is now forced to live as an illegal immigrant in Bangladesh, far from his family which has been yearning to see him for over a year. And his plight exemplifies the pitiful story of over 50,000 people who are victims of the unratified India-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement.

Like thousands of poor and unlettered people living in homes abutting the border, he is devoid of any proof that he was an Indian born in a border enclave in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district. Ruhul Amin Sheikh, 32,  is now illegally living at his aunt's home in Bangladesh after Indian authorities "forced" him out of his own country.

Amin's ordeal started more than a year ago when his seven-year-old daughter's wish for a new dress for Durga Puja took him to Delhi to work as a construction worker. Charged with being an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, he was kept in 14 days' judicial custody for a consecutive 26 times - 364 days or nearly a year - in the capital before being escorted out of the country.

Like most of the others born in the enclave, Amin doesn't have a document to establish his identity as an Indian and grew up without any access to education, electricity and other basic necessities.

The Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC), an NGO working for the cause of enclave dwellers, said Amin was brought from Delhi in early August and "illegally" transported out of India by the police.

"Amin was transported out to Bangladesh by the authorities without informing the Bangladeshi high commission, which is illegal. Moreover, Amin was identified as a resident of Mosaldanga in the 2011 Census. So how can he be an immigrant?" BBEECC coordinator Diptiman Sengupta asked while speaking to IANS.

Forced to take refuge at his aunt's place in Kurigram district of Bangladesh, Amin said he was in dire straits and, at times, even thinks of committing suicide.

"I kept pleading that I was an Indian but they never listened. First they jailed me and now they have driven me out of my own country. What wrong have I done? Just because I don't have a paper, do I cease to be an Indian," Amin told IANS on the phone from an undisclosed location before breaking down.

Living in constant fear of getting caught and jailed by the Bangladeshi authorities for illegal immigration, Amin's stay there is no less a struggle.

"My aunt is very poor and with me joining in, getting a square meal a day itself is a big struggle. I have not seen my two little children for more than a year. I don't know how they are. I feel so helpless that I often think of ending my life," he said.

Back home, Amin's family - ailing parents, wife and two children - are also staring at an uncertain future.

"So far we had the consolation that he was in India and would come back some day. But all our hopes are fast evaporating now. I don't know if he will ever return. I have lived my life, but what about his children? Will only a piece of paper decide their fate?" asked Tozammal Sheikh, Amin's father.

Sengupta, who has been fighting for Amin's cause, has now has written to the state administration, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, as well as the Bangladesh foreign ministry in Dhaka and the country's high commission in Kolkata. But none of the governments seems to be sympathetic to Amin's plight. Sengupta is yet to get any kind of reply from either side.

"We have received Sengupta's letter and are looking at what can be done in the matter," a Bangladesh High Commission official here said. The Cooch Behar district administration, with characteristic bureaucratic indifference, said it has informed the higher officials concerned, who are now looking into the matter.

While Amin has faced a worse fate, his fellow enclave dwellers are no better off. Devoid of an identity, they are vulnerable to state action and compelled to live in misery forever for want of employment opportunities.

The struggle of these enclave dwellers for their identity only got longer after political parties, including Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stymied the India-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement (LBA) which envisages exchange of 162 enclaves.

"The LBA getting stalled is bad news. The exchange of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in Cooch Behar with the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh would have given a new lease of life to the over 50,000 border dwellers," said Sengupta.

"The prime minister's visit to Dhaka in 2011 had raised our hopes, but now it seems we have a very long fight in our hands," Sengupta said, adding that despite having jurisdiction, the Cooch Behar district administration has been unsympathetic to the plight of thousands of Ruhul Amins living in the enclaves.

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