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            Volume 11 |Issue 18 | May 04, 2012 |


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Special Feature

Trapped In Between

For years, the residents of enclaves in both India and Bangladesh have suffered. In a bid to stand up for themselves, people from different enclaves went on a hunger strike for almost a month. They have long been ignored by both the Indian and Bangladeshi governments. the Star's correspondent from Thakurgaon describes the woeful conditions the residents are living in.

Quamrul Islam Rubaiyat

Enclave People's Fast Unto Death programme in Panchagarh. Photo: Quamrul Islam Rubaiyat

For Tofiruddin, life's more than just a struggle. The obscurity of living in an enclave has taken a toll on him and his family. Trapped due to the failing negotiations between India and Bangladesh, he doesn't know if the crisis will ever end.

"I have four children, three sons and a daughter. My elder son Rashidul obtained an SSC certificate from a Bangladeshi school by hiding his real identity. Recently my son was selected for a job in a private company but couldn't join since he wasn't able to provide his birth certificate details," says Tofiruddin.

Tofiruddin, of course, isn't the only one leading a difficult life. Several other residents of enclaves share similar experiences. The majority of them live below the poverty level and earn their bread through agriculture. Even there, a large number of farmers are cheated. "Bangladeshi traders always give us a low price for our agricultural produce, as compared to the Bangladeshi market price since we live in an enclave," explains Foizul Haque, a 65-year-old resident.

Around 200 people from different enclaves, including women and children, participated in a hunger strike in between March 18 to April 10, beside the Dhaka-Panchagarh Highway near the Puthimari enclave. They pressed home a three-point demand which urges governments from both the sides to ensure fundamental rights of people living in enclaves and allows them free movement with passports to perform their religious duties.

They also demanded an implementation of the India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement of 1974, popularly known as Indira-Mujib Pact that enables them to get all the rights and facilities as lawful citizens.

Procession of Bangladeshi Enclaves People in India. Photo: Diptiman Sen Gupta

"We no longer want to remain in an adverse and uncertain situation. We want to ask the prime minsters of both countries to know which country we belong to. We do not bother about who inked a protocol about enclave swapping with whom. We want to be Bangladeshi citizens. If the exchange does not work out, we will restart our strike," exclaims Mofizar Rahman, Chairman, Garati enclave, adjacent to Hafizabad and Haribhasha union parishads.

Bangladesh has 111 enclaves, Indian territories surrounded by Bangladesh, in nine upazilas of four districts – Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram and Nilphamari, and 51 exclaves (Bangladesh territories surrounded by India) in Cooch Behar district.

The enclave residents have no official right to receive government jobs. They live without basic health and other facilities such as subsidised food and free primary education. They have been compared to stateless people because no country takes responsibility for them. They feel alien in their own homeland.

On September 6, ‘2011 the governments of India and Bangladesh agreed to swap 162 enclaves and with residents were given the option to choose their nationality. However, till now nothing of that sort has happened. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Shingh's recent visit gave the residents a lot of hope regarding their deserved rights and facilities as lawful citizens, but their dream is yet to come true.

Leaders of India-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (IBEECC) of Bangladesh Chapter say that enclave-residents are frustrated as there was no timeframe mentioned for the exchange of enclaves. "It was just a renewal of Mujib-Indira Treaty of 1974. Nothing new was added to the deal for relief of the enclave people," claims a member of IBEECC.

They continue to live in abysmal conditions, with lack of water, roads, electricity, schools and medicines. Crime also is rampant, as complaining means crossing the international boundary due to the lack of law enforcement resources. Residents of the enclaves may only go to their respective countries on the production of an identity card and after seeking permission from the border guards, causing much resentment.

Enclave people's hunger strike. Photo: Quamrul Islam Rubaiyat

The youngsters in these areas have been suffering the most. There are no schools or colleges in the enclaves. They did try to set up a madrasa to educate their children several years ago but it was closed due to financial crisis.

"Our children have to take admissions in Bangladeshi schools by providing false addresses. If our real identities are revealed at schools, our children can't continue their education due to different types of complexities," says Abdul Aziz, a 65-year-old freedom fighter. "There are times when even hospital authorities do not admit enclave-patients, showing different reasons," he adds.

The lack of law enforcement agencies has lead to a high crime rate in these areas." Criminals from Bangladesh take shelter here since this is a safe place for them," says 55 year-old Amirul Islam.

Residents also claim that a group comprising of Bangladeshis and enclave-residents murdered Monsur Ali (April 17, ‘2010) and his daughter Goleja Begum Gadi (April 21,'2010) in broad day light. The criminals, however, are yet to be brought to book as the victims were enclave people.

Enclave people withdraw hunger strike.

Previously, the enclave-residents observed different programmes including 'silent procession', 'night spending without light', 'No stove lighting', 'mass signature collection to create opinion on the issue' to press home their demand of exchange of enclaves, in Panchagarh and Kurigram districts.

Bangladeshi enclave-people in the Indian side, under the banner of India-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee of Indian Chapter, also took part in a hunger strike held at Nawhata sub-divisional town's Public Ground in Cooch Behar district in India from March 12 on the same issue.

People in the enclaves hope that Indian Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Dhaka on May 5, can solve the ongoing crisis. "We are hopeful of living a healthy life with basic amenities as citizens after the exchange of the enclaves," exclaims Md Ayub Ali, resident of Garati enclave.

The enclave issue is a matter that has its roots in the pre-partition period. Historians say that these territories were part of high-stake card or chess games between the kings of Cooch Behar and Rangpur and handed over to each other in payment for the gambling debts.

After the partition of India in 1947, Cooch Behar district was merged with India and Rangpur went to the then East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971. In 1974, both countries agreed to exchange the enclaves or at least provide easy access to the enclaves, but since then little has materialised.

The residents from enclaves have been suffering for a long time now. With no fundamental rights and being disowned by both the countries, these people have nowhere to go. With so many ongoing problems in between India and Bangladesh, one wonders if the issues regarding the enclave-residents can be solved anytime soon.


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