“Kasba jeno Mashaldanga, (Kasba looks like Mashaldanga),” wrote Jaynal Abedin, an enclave dweller who is now an Indian citizen, in a WhatsApp message, after he arrived in Kolkata Thursday morning.
This message was in reference to a Durga puja pandal organised by Kasba Shakti Sangha Club, which has chosen to showcase life in enclaves (chhitmahals) of Cooch Behar’s Mashaldanga area as its theme this year. The theme becomes topical after India and Bangladesh successfully began the exercise of exchanging enclaves in accordance with the Land Boundary Agreement on July 31 this year.
The initial stir created by posters and hoardings which read ‘Chhitmahal at Kasba’ had prompted Raktim Das of Citizen Rights Co-ordination Committee (CRCC), erstwhile Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC), to contact the puja organisers here. Since then, the Kasba Shakti Sangha Club indulged in a lot of research and hard work, which culminated into a puja pandal in the form of a miniature enclave village.
“Durga puja in Kolkata is a fight of themes and this year, size of idols has taken the front seat. But when I heard of this idea, I thought it is something to do with real situation and people. I came here and started working with the puja committee since then,” Das said.
Spread across seven kathas, the puja pandal has model kachcha houses with thatched roofs and shops with about 60 idols of villagers and livestock. A barbed wire fence is seen running across a pond, depicting the division between India and Bangladesh.
The actual mandap which houses the idol of Goddess Durga has been pushed to the periphery to ensure that the village looks as real as possible. Paddy and banana trees, similar to those seen at the Bangladeshi enclave of Mashaldanga, have also been grown here. Models of the 250-year old temple at Shiboprasad Mustafi enclave and that of a shrine have also been created here.
“We had intended to depict the extreme penury that these enclave dwellers, now Indian citizens, live in. We put in an honest effort and hope people like what the end result has been. The newly found independence of enclave-dwellers had attracted international media attention and thus when we were organising this, mediapersons from across the country had contacted us about it,” said Sanat Mukherjee, secretary of Kasba Shakti Sangha Club.
As opposed to the trend of pujas being inaugurated by celebrities and top political leaders, this one at Kasba would be declared open by former enclave dwellers on Friday. “About 10 of the most prominent faces of the enclaves who have been in the news would be present here for the inauguration as well as for the next 10 days to interact with visitors and talk to them about their struggle before getting Indian citizenship,” Das said. The inauguration of the pandal would be done through hoisting a flag, just as had been done on July 31 midnight at the enclaves, he added.
Two of the enclave ‘celebrities’, Asma Bibi and Jehad Hossain Obama, have already arrived here. Known as the first child born at the Bangladeshi enclave in India with his own identity, Jehad was born after his parents put up a demonstration at the government hospital where Asma was admitted, protesting against the norm of hospitalising pregnant women at enclaves after assigning them fake identities. Doctors later gave in to the protests and Jehad was born as an enclave resident.
Diptiman Sengupta, chief coordinator, CRCC, who would be present at the inauguration, said, “It is touching to see how mainstream people have welcomed the enclave dwellers with open arms. It is a success after a struggle for decades.”