The tricolour had started fluttering in the Bangladeshi enclaves here since early Sunday morning. When Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina finally inked the Land Boundary Agreement in Dhaka formalising these territories as a part of India, the area erupted in celebrations.
For the first time in his life, 25-year-old Zainal Ali strode out fearlessly from his Mashaldanga enclave to buy sweets and tricolour flags from the Dinhata market nearby. “Overnight, there is a feeling of freedom. Ours had been a life in the shadows — no sense of belonging to any country, no citizenship, no basic amenities. Everything we did had an air of illegality. All this has come to an end,” he said.
Zainal’s grandfather Asgar Ali, said to be 105 and the oldest man in the enclave, hoisted the tricolour at a ceremony. “I have got the nation of my dream. It comes at the fag end of my life, still it comes. I saw Jawaharlal Nehru and Jinnah divide India and I saw Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman sign the treaty to settle the enclave issue. But things dragged on for so long,” he said.
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In Bangladesh, in the Indian enclaves that went to its possession after the deal, residents put up the Bangladeshi national flag atop their houses.
Among those celebrating on the Indian side was 5-year-old ‘Jehad’. He is famous for being perhaps the first child in the enclaves to be born in an Indian government healthcare facility. His mother Asma Biwi had refused to give birth at home, and his parents had sat in protest when the doctor at Dinhata turned them away. The boy acquired his name due to this act of defiance of his parents.
Golam Mostafa, who lives in one of the Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, said, “A lot of rumours were being floated that the treaty would open floodgates of influx into India. But that hasn’t happened.”
Azizullah Islam, who also lives in an Indian enclave, said, “People are happy to have their identity. The rest they will sort out with time.”
An inspector at a border outpost of the BSF, who did not want to be named, said the end of uncertainty was good. “Till now we did not know if the enclave dwellers on the Indian side were our friends or enemies. But now things have been sorted out.”
“The Land Boundary Agreement not only sets a geographical territory in order but sets right a long-standing aberration of humanity,” said Diptiman Sengupta, who has been fighting for the rights of people living in the enclaves.
With the treaty, 111 Indian enclaves spread over 17,160 areas go to Bangladesh while 51 Bangladeshi enclaves comprising over 7,110 acres come to India. Notionally, India stands to lose around 10,000 acres of land to Bangladesh.
The population stays on an ‘as is where is’ basis, but if anyone wants to migrate to either country, it will be allowed.