ENCLAVE SWAP: People celebrate freedom at midnight

Mustafizur Rahman
People at Dasiarchhora enclave in Phulbari of Kurigram inscribe the word ‘Swadhinata’ with candles, left, and bring out jubilant procession carrying the national flag as Bangladesh and India swap enclaves as per Land Boundary Agreement midnight past Friday.— Sourav Loskar

People at Dasiarchhora enclave in Phulbari of Kurigram inscribe the word ‘Swadhinata’ with candles, left, and bring out jubilant procession carrying the national flag as Bangladesh and India swap enclaves as per Land Boundary Agreement midnight past Friday.— Sourav Loskar

Enclave dwellers both old and young, men and women celebrated ‘freedom from confined life’ of 68 years in a festive mood by lighting 68 candles in each enclave and hoisting the Bangladesh national flag at midnight past Friday, the very moment when 162 such territories in Bangladesh and India ceased to exist.
The enclaves that remained outside government purview for decades took on a colourful look as the muddy roads were decorated with archways, while enthusiastic people carried aloft banners and festoons to celebrate the occasion.
The long-cherished dream of the people living in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 51 Bangladesh enclaves inside India came to reality as the governments of the two countries are now going to provide them with citizenships following the transfer of the territories between the two countries under the land boundary agreement signed back in 1974.
‘We all are celebrating freedom from a confined life of 68 years here in the enclaves. This is emancipation from humiliation and deprivation. We have been virtually stateless, as the people in the enclaves did not have any official identity since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent,’ said Nazrul Islam, a local leader at Bhiturkuti, an Indian enclave located in Lalmonirhat.
He told New Age that all the residents were busy celebrating the moment their enclaves merged with Bangladesh territory.
‘Our joy knows no bounds today. Everyone in the enclaves is in a jubilant mood. The great thing is we are getting a national identity,’ said the 53-year old man involved with the movement for exchange of enclaves under the LBA.
Residents from several enclaves said they offered special prayers on Friday at mosques and temples and would light candles and hoist Bangladesh national flags at 12:01am Saturday early hours to celebrate the merger of the Indian territories.
They said it was an offence for them to trespass into Bangladesh territory marked by some pillars set up during the British regime.
‘But the reality was that we had to trespass everyday and show false identity for employment and other services as there is no authority to look after the welfare of the people in the landlocked areas. We had no other option but to face humiliation and harassment,’ said a resident at Dasiar Chhara, the largest Indian enclave inside Bangladesh.
To mark the occasion, the local administrations in
Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Panchagarh and Kurigram Saturday morning will hoist the national flag in the 111 enclaves now falling under their jurisdictions, said officials at the home ministry.
The government on Thursday issued a gazette notification declaring that all the ‘111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh measuring areas of 17160.63 acres and 2267.682 acres of Indian land adversely possessed by Bangladesh in six spots will be the integral part of Bangladesh from August 1, 2015.’
And on the other hand, ‘51 Bangladesh enclaves in India with areas of 7710.02 acres and 2777.038 acres of Bangladesh land adversely possessed by India in 12 spots will be excluded from the Bangladesh territory,’ according to the gazette signed by senior secretary of the land ministry Mohammad Shafiul Alam.
The government issued the gazette in pursuance of the instruments of ratifications exchanged in Dhaka on June 6, 2015, to bring into effect the 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement and the 2011 Protocol for exchange of 162 enclaves, transfer of adversely possessed areas and demarcation of 6.5 kilometres of unmarked border lands.
The 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into two countries had left the enclave people virtually stateless as the hastily drawn maps of India and Pakistan by the Radcliffe Commission created pockets adversely possessed land along the border of the two countries and caused a lot of confusion.
Neither India nor the then Pakistan had taken responsibility of the people living in the enclaves along the border in misery, without basic amenities, often facing humiliation for not having any valid identity.
A total of 39,621 people out of over 40,600 living in 111 Indian enclaves have sought to become Bangladesh citizens while 979 of them have opted to retain Indian citizenship, according to a joint survey conducted in July 6-16.
None from the Bangladesh enclaves in India with the number of population there being around 15,000 had opted to move to their mainland, the survey found.
An enclave resident who wishes to move to his or her mainland will have to complete all formalities between August 1 and November 30, 2015 as set out in the modalities finalised recently for the implementation of the LBA.
The Indian enclaves are located in Bangladesh’s northern districts of Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagarh and all the Bangladesh enclaves are in Cooch Behar of West Bengal.

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