The contradictions in the life of 95-year-old Amorto Burman continue to amaze her. She lived in a village that was contested by three countries at different points of time, but belonged to none. By the time she became a citizen of the country she was born in, she had lost her ability to see her new home. Now, as she goes to vote for the very first time, she is told that she is 49 – the same age as her son.
Amorto is one of the thousands who moved to Cooch Behar district from her former home in Rangpur (Bangladesh) following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement in July last year. She is also one of the oldest. However, the election voter card hurriedly issued to her and her son Kartik Burman lists their year-of-birth as 1967. “Both of us are 49-years-old. Life never made sense in the enclaves. It still doesn’t,” Kartik says, with a slight trace of a smile.
Kartik traced the error to the initial headcount that took place in Bangladesh in 2011 after talks between former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. This, according to the district administration, served as the basis for the exchange of people after the Land Boundary Agreement was signed. But with no immediate plans of ratifying the agreement, this headcount was not done “as effectively as it could have been”. “We weren’t given any advance notice. One day they just turned up and gave us our voter cards. They didn’t ask for our ages, which we were told were marked according to the initial headcount,” said Kartik.
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Interestingly, none of the enclave residents were given ration cards, due to the model code of conduct being put in place.
Spending most of her days indoors in the small temporary home that she has been provided by the authorities, Amorto recalls her ‘confused’ memories. “I remember being born in India before independence. I remember hearing about Tagore and Gandhi. I don’t know if they were alive at the time but I remember seeing the angrez (British). So they must have been alive,” she says.
Even after enclaves were exchanged in July last year, lives of residents of settlements in Cooch Behar continue to be punctuated by errors that confuse timelines and geographies, as expressed by the 95-year-old. “One day, I was told I am free from the British and we were Pakistanis. Then I was told I was Bangladeshi. Then I was told that I was an Indian but in Bangladesh. None of it made any sense. I just knew that I was from Rangpur, the chiit (enclave) I was born in,” Amorto says.
Undeterred by the circumstance of being the same age, both mother and son are looking forward to voting for the first time as Indian citizens. Meanwhile Amorto reflects, “My son tells me that both sides of the border look exactly the same. I can’t see. But I think life is also very similar here. There too, we were just numbers for the government. Here, we are just voters. We aren’t really people. A mother and son could be the same age. As long as they both vote, who cares?”