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Indians, only during ballot

Raiganj, Feb. 10: Rafiqul Islam, resident of a border village in North Dinajpur, simply loves elections. He has nothing to do with politics, though.

“During elections, I can get into my country unhindered. The BSF does not lift a finger to search or stop us as we go through the fence to cast our ballots,” the man, in his 50s, said. “But it’s another story in other times.”

Islam would not call the remnants of his village, now lying on the other side of the BSF-erected fence, “India”, no matter what. To him, India is where he can “move about” unquestioned.

“It’s neither India nor Bangladesh. We are on another planet,” he said. Islam belongs to one of the 20 families left to fend for themselves at Koyladangi village, now split into two with the fence running through the middle.

While most residents of the village in the Raiganj subdivision moved away with the erection of the fence seven years ago, Islam and his family hung on. “We did not want to leave our home, where our family had lived through generations. We are, of course, now paying the price for the mistake,” he said.

Now, he said, he was “too old” to move elsewhere. “I don’t have the money either.”

As the BSF steps up efforts to complete the fencing along the 227-km border the district shares with Bangladesh, to prevent infiltration, residents of the “cut-off” villages worry that their problems will multiply.

With the BSF, which opens and closes the gates built in the fence twice daily, limiting their access to the “mainland”, the Indian citizens have no one to turn to in emergencies. “The jawans refuse to open the gates even when someone falls sick and needs to be hospitalised,” another Koyladangi resident said.

Villagers living on the other side of the fence said they often had their harvest stolen by armed gangs from Bangladesh. “But they can’t go to anyone to complain. Even if they manage to get past the fence with the help of the BSF, police refuse to visit these villages for investigation,” Bindol gram panchayat pradhan Bharati Burman said.

The problems are acute in Koyaldangi, Makrahat and Jogipara villages, which come under her panchayat. Nearly 70 families from the hamlets have been living in the cut-off villages.

Many of those who moved away from these villages still mourn the losses. “We are broke. The little money we had was used to buy land after we were forced to leave our village seven years ago. When crop fails, we starve,” Ganesh Jogi of Jogipara said.

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