The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stranded six melt in dark

Balurghat, March 3: They returned the way the Satgachhi snake-charmers had, under cover of darkness.

The six Bangladeshis stranded on no-man’s land across the Hili border entered their homeland early this morning after spending 12 nights under the sweltering sky.

Last month, relations between Delhi and Dhaka had poisoned over the issue of the entry of the 213 snake-charmers stranded in Cooch Behar. The standoff ended with the Bangladeshi foreign minister ordering the border force to allow the nomads to enter the country, which they did in the dead of night.

Around 3.30 am today, jawans of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) opened the gates to the six people, who were returning from a pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif when they were denied entry into the country.

Though the Bangladesh government made no official announcement, South Dinajpur superintendent of police Saroj Gazmer confirmed that the six persons had been “taken back into their country”.

Mohammed Kamal, 30, his wife Sajeda Bibi, 23, their three children and another man, Mohammed Saiddul Alam, 30, had been stopped by the BDR on the night of February 20 for being “Indian nationals in disguise”.

The Border Security Force (BSF) refused them permission to enter India as they were Bangladeshi nationals. A flag meeting between BSF commander D.R Rathore and BDR’s Major Qurban Ali the next day failed to break the deadlock.

The group took shelter near border pillar 284/50-s and, without food or blankets, braved the elements for a day. No help came from the Bangladeshi administration but a local club, the Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangram Samity, supplied them food rations, water and polythene sheets for putting up a makeshift tent.

Help also came from Indian villagers who gave food and milk to the stranded pilgrims.

The Bangladeshi club even approached the BDR with a copy of the voters’ list to prove the identity of the adults and reason with the border force to take them back.

When that failed, a desperate Kamal threatened to throttle his son as he felt this was the only way to make the jawans understand their plight.

Members of the Bangladeshi club, on hearing the news of the BDR’s softening of stance, said the “sudden change” in the attitude of the Bangladesh government was prompted by their decision to stop the supply of provisions last weekend.

“The steadily deteriorating condition of the immigrants, especially the children — Russel, 5, Rubel, 2, and Rabiul, 1 — raised fears of a casualty in the BDR camp. That is why, they decided to take back their nationals before things went out of hand,” said Shyamal Biswas, a resident.

Residents like Paresh Sarkar and Bishnu Das, living on tenterhooks since the escalated border tension following the deadlock and the exchange of fire between the BSF and BDR that came in its wake, can breathe easy again. “We can finally sleep in peace,” they said.

In a separate incident, 13 other immigrants were “officially” pushed back today.

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