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Temple village on vigil after border standoff

Feb. 5: Sukumar Chatterjee lights another cigarette as he sits on the banks of the almost-dry Mahananda river, which separates Bangladesh and India, as he keeps watch on the movement across the border.

Chatterjee, 45, does not belong to the BSF. He is a resident of the Purano Bazaar-Phansidewa border village some 28 km southeast of Siliguri. The men in the hamlet take turns to maintain vigil through the night.

Tension gripped the village a fortnight ago over additions to a Shiva temple. The Bangladesh Rifles had objected to the construction of a permanent structure within 150 metres of the zero line.

In mid-January, BDR personnel, accompanied by a Bangladeshi villager, had waded across the Mahananda and handed over a letter to the temple committee, asking it to stop construction and demolish whatever it had built.

The Satgachhi deadlock has added to the tension. Villagers, who fear that the BDR could enter their territory and play mischief, have decided to keep round-the-clock vigil on the border.

Tension over the temple was palpable when The Telegraph team visited the village this afternoon.

“Ever since the temple issue cropped up, we have noticed a lot of activity across the Mahananda. Though the area is sparsely populated, there has been a flurry of activity at the mosque across the river. Besides BDR personnel camping within its complex, we have noticed a large number of people assembled there. Besides keeping constant vigil, we have built a bamboo watchpost for BSF personnel,” said Chatterjee.

Mohammad Bakhtiar Ali, who is giving Chatterjee company, said the BDR could use the Satgacchi imbroglio to fan communal tension.

“We live in complete harmony here. Work on extension of the temple had started in 1984, but because of funds constraints it could not be completed. The village is united on the temple issue. Why should the BDR have any objections to the temple if a mosque can exist within 150 yards of the zero line on the Bangladesh side' They did not raise any objections in 1984, why are they doing it today' We smell a rat somewhere,” Ali said.

A BSF official patrolling the border road at Phansidewa echoed the villagers. “Border patrolling has been intensified. We too have noticed a lot of activity across the border. Besides the regular deployment of BDR, we have seen people gathering inside the mosque. The temple issue is a touchy one and, we are on extra alert here,” he said.

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