Freedom at Midnight: enclaves swapped in Border deal

Wednesday 05th August 2015 05:47 EDT

India and Bangladesh swapped land along their border, ending decades long dispute that had left more than 50,000 people virtually stateless. At midnight the stranded, landlocked islets known as enclaves; 111 Indian plots in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladesh parcels in India, hoisted new national flags. Their residents now have a choice: Stay and change nationalities, or move.

No one from the Bangladeshi enclaves in India has chosen to cross over as per figures released by Bangladeshi officials. Abdul Jalil, a Bangladeshi farmer in the Karala enclave in India’s Cooch Behar district, said he was changing nationality to keep his land. “I was born here, my father and my grandfather died here,” he said about the enclave he grew up on, a small plot of land with a dozen houses and a mosaic of jute and rice fields. “From Saturday, I’m an Indian.”

The Cooch Behar administration has arranged temporary camps to accommodate the 900 odd enclave dwellers who have opted to come over to India. Land for the new residents seem to be an issue, however, Forward Bloc MLA from Dinhata Udayan Guha is confident that it won't be a problem. “There are many people in Bangladesh who had land in the Bangladeshi enclaves on the Indian side. Now the government may acquire the land and distribute them among the new settlers,” Guha said.

Afarul Haque, who had to be smuggled out of Bengal so he can take up a job in Rajasthan, the deal means beginning of a new life. “I had to use fake documents to get admission in school, where I learnt about the fundamental rights that an Indian citizen enjoys. This included right to employment. Now, I will be able to exercise this right and not feel insecure while taking up a job,” he said.

Cooch Behar Sub-Divisional Officer Krishnava Ghosh said, “The administration will work as quickly as possible to provide all facilities to them.” District Magistrate P Ulganathan, also said the procedure of giving these enclave dwellers has begun. “They will now get addresses. Then, land will be detected in their holdings. Following this, Aadhaar card will be issued to them,” he added.

Cooch Behar Trinamool Congress president and MLA Rabindranath Ghosh said the entire process will be completed in six months. “Work is afoot to give these people voting rights before the state polls next year. After inclusion of their names in the voters’ list and Aadhaar, their children would be admitted to schools. They would be given civic facilities like electricity and potable water,” he added.

When India gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and was split into India and Pakistan, each region was allowed to pick whether it wanted to be part of India or Pakistan. The bubbles of land were stuck away from their mainlands as their surrounding areas chose to be part of the opposite country and the new border was created.

The total number of new Indian citizens will be 15,193 and the swap will be completed by November.

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