Dinubala Ray shows off her Aaadhar, PAN and ration cards. It’s been just three years since she, one of the inhabitants of a ‘no man’s land’ between India and West Bengal, got her citizenship. However, she now knows it won’t be easy to be accepted as Indians.
When they were residents of the Indian Enclave in Bangladesh, they were never accepted as citizens by Bangladesh. However, now as citizens of India, they feel they were better off ‘stateless’.
The India-Bangladesh enclave issue has been simmering ever since India’s Independence. A small piece of land which is surrounded by the territory of a neighbouring country is called an enclave. Post-Independence, there were 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, which in turn had 51 in India. On July 31, 2015, the countries exchanged the lands with an aim to recognise these people as citizens of the respective countries.
About 110 km away from Cooch Behar town, Dhabalsati-Mirgipur, now a part of Cooch Behar district, was once an Indian enclave in Bangladesh. The village has around 200 villagers comprising 38 families. Even though they all have got ration cards, PAN and Aadhaar cards now, they are yet to get their land documents.
Dinubala belongs to one such family. “We were better off being ‘stateless’. It was easier to sell our land without papers then. We can’t find any buyer now,” she says, hinting that recognition as citizens of India has brought them under the ambit of a country’s land laws making it difficult for them to buy and sell land without papers. “It’s also being difficult to find a match for my daughter. Don’t know how to solve this problem,” she rues.
Dinubala’s daughter Mamata has completed her masters in education from Mekhliganj in Cooch Bihar. “Earlier, we had to use the address of our close relatives in India to get admissions in educational institutions. With Indian citizenship, such issues have faded away. But where are the job opportunities?” she asks.
Other residents of the enclave too have similar stories to share. Some are even speaking of launching larger protests. According to Anil Ray Lashkar, they have not been given the ownership of lands even after their physical exchange between the two countries. “We aren’t sure whether there is any end to these legal disputes.”
Political violence here has also become a reason to worry for these ex-enclave residents. Living on land belonging to Bangladesh for so long, they never had voting rights before the exchange of the enclaves. “We never knew, what BNP or Awami League were,” they said. However, the scenario changed after July 31, 2015, and they got the taste of the politics in practice here, which has left them petrified.
Earlier, they had no country, no security. They hoped Indian citizenship would change all that. However, the upgrade in state from being stateless has not really worked out for these people.