Enclaves await Indo-Bangla treaty with bated breath

Enclaves await Indo-Bangla treaty with bated breath

Centenarian Sheikh Salauddin has been greeting people with a toothless grin ever since the Parliament ratified the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh.

Salauddin’s grandson, Nizam, explained the nuances of the treaty and he is happy to be free finally, a feeling that eluded him even in 1947.

He hopes to die a happy man, a bona fide citizen of an independent nation.

Salauddin is one among the 37,000 people who have been leading a life without nationality. He is among those who have fallen through the lines on maps, living like a “nowhere” man for decades.

“We are neither Indians nor Bangladeshis. We are lost between nations and no one was bothered about us for six decades. Now I feel I can die in peace. At least I will be put in a grave that will belong to a nation,” he said.

The Bharat Bangladesh Chhitmahal Samannay Committee (BBCSC), an NGO, has been coordinating with both India and Bangladesh for the smooth exchange of enclaves for the last two decades.

Diptiman Sengupta, chief-coordinator of BBCSC, feels their movement has finally been justified.  There are over 51,000 such people on either side of the border, with 37,000 living in Bangladeshi enclaves in India and around 14,000 living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, he said.

People in these land “islands” on either side of the border have lived a strange life for decades.

All eyes are on the ceremony that will take place in Dhaka on June 6 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina will sign the historic treaty which will provide these people a chance to live as citizens of a nation.

“Ever since the news spread that the Indian Parliament has ratified the agreement, the mood here is of jubilation. People are finding it hard to contain their happiness and the agreement is all the people can talk of,” said Sengupta.

“I have not seen India becoming an independent nation on August 15, 1947, but the mood is somewhat like that, as if people of enclaves have gained freedom. They are ecstatic now they will be recognised as citizens. What started with the Quit India movement in 1942, seems to be ending here in 2015,” Sengupta added.

“Till date their only source of income was agriculture but they will be able to apply for government jobs, look for other opportunities,” he said.

Sengupta pointed out that the biggest achievement would be that after almost seven decades of independence, India will be able to guarantee Constitutional rights to a large group of people who have been otherwise disenfranchised.

“Before 1952, enclave residents enjoyed a certain degree of free movement between two countries but when passports and visas were introduced in 1952, their lives have become difficult. While it was the same year that they lost voting rights, since these people are not part of a vote bank, politicians of both countries lost interest in them,” he said.

According to local folklore, the enclaves were formed as a result of a high stakes game of chess between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Zamindar of Rangpur.

While history suggests otherwise, their lives have been as unreal as the unbelievable story of their origin. After June 6, they can only hope their lives will truly change, towards a positive direction.

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