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Bangla enclaves rejoice over deal

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By ANANYA SENGUPTA
  • Published 15.09.11
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Dhaka, Sept. 14: The Indo-Bangla land-swap deal that has enraged Assam triggered impromptu celebrations in Bangladesh, with residents of several enclaves rejoicing at their opportunity to choose their citizenship and enjoy the benefits it entails.

Soon after the deal was announced, people came out of their homes and distributed sweets among neighbours.

The euphoria, however, was soon clouded by doubts since there was no time frame for the exchange of enclaves.

“I have waited for decades for this. With the visit of the Indian PM and the subsequent announcement of the deal, I had hoped that finally I might be granted my plea to become a Bangladeshi citizen. But all my hopes were dashed. I implore the two governments to implement the 1974 Mujib-Indira land boundary agreement without any further waste of time,” said Md Golum Mostafa, the general secretary of Bangladesh chapter of the movement for the implementation of the Mujib-Indira Agreement.

Inhabitants of the 111 Indian enclaves in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari and Panchagar districts of Bangladesh had even staged a protest two days ago demanding the implementation of the agreement.

They said they were tired of living without water or electricity in their enclaves, which also had no education infrastructure.

People living in these enclaves also have no right to vote. Neither can they sell their land for sustenance.

“Forty-five years ago, I had gone to Dinhata land office for a land registration of my enclave area. The Indian police detained me as a Bangladeshi citizen. I told them that I was a resident of Vitor Kuti Enclave 152 of India, but they didn’t believe me. After a lot of bargaining they set me free. Since then I haven’t gone back to India,” an English daily quoted 73-year-old Abu Baker Siddique as saying.

During a recent survey of the enclave, when residents were asked which country would they prefer to live in — a majority chose India.

It was this frustration that Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi sought to end once and for all during his visit to Dhaka.

Talking to The Telegraph just after the deal was inked, Gogoi said, “This has gone on long enough and I do not see any reason why the people of the enclaves need to suffer more. I do not want to prolong it,” he had said, even when protests were raging in his own state against the deal.

For those living in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, there is a sense that the people have finally been freed from decades of imprisonment.

“I cannot describe the feeling. When the news came in, the entire enclave was out on the streets. Everyone was enjoying and dancing on the streets. We are thankful to Sheikh Hasina for keeping her promise of opening the Teen Bigha corridor for us. She had promised so in 2010 in a video conference with us, and we are thankful to her. I am also thankful to the chief ministers of all those states who had come to Dhaka and made this deal possible. I am thankful that they didn’t behave like Mamata Banerjee. It is like Id all over again, and we now have new hope,” said Bakhtar Hussain from the Dahagram-Angarpota enclave in Lalmonirhat.

“Our only request is that she ensures that the deal is implemented as soon as possible so that we can hold our heads high,” said Hussain, who is in Dhaka for medical attention.

It is not just the people of these areas who are happy with the land-swap deal. The media, too, is very positive about the outcome of Manmohan Singh’s visit and have lauded the chief ministers of the four states accompanying the Prime Minister for the deal.

“It is for the first time that such a good number of influential Indian politicians at the state level travelled to Bangladesh. Indeed, as far as we can recall, visits by politicians from India’s Northeast have been conspicuous by their non-happening. The visit by the chief ministers should be an opportunity for their states and for Bangladesh to facilitate people-to-people links in terms of cultural and economic exchange,” wrote a leading English newspaper days after Singh left for Delhi.