As India and Bangladesh exchanged enclaves at the stroke of midnight Friday, over 14,000 residents of Bangladeshi enclaves in India were added to the population here. More are expected to follow by the end of November.
Amid slogans of “Bharat Mata ki jai” and fireworks, the national flag was hoisted at midnight by TMC MLA Rabindranath Ghosh. The flag, however, was kept at half mast in view of the national mourning for former President A P J Abdul Kalam.
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A few thousand people from different enclaves, or chhits, gathered at Madhya Moshaldanga to celebrate the occasion. Most of them were wearing caps and badges in the colours of the national flag. Looking forward to their new lives, some of them made their way to the stage to recount the problems they faced as residents of ‘chhitmahals’.
The oldest resident, Asgar Ali, 106, can barely hear, but was more than happy to get on the stage and wave the Indian flag. “They keep asking me how I feel. How do you think I should feel? I saw British rule, and later lived in this country afraid of the Border Security Force (BSF). They would beat us up if we were caught outside the enclave. My days are numbered now. I hope the next generation lives a better life,” he said.
“I have lost my husband and two sons. I had no reason to live, but witnessing this historic moment has at least assured me that my grandchildren will have a brighter future,” said Sadhana Chakraborty, 86.
“I was a young man when India attained independence from the British. Later when Bangladesh was created, I was left wondering what next. It took another 44 years to bring us complete independence. Now I can die in peace,” said Md Ali Gazi, 90.
One resident, Shah Jahan Miya, recalled how the hospital refused to admit his wife for delivery. “My wife, Asma Bibi, and I told the doctors at the district hospital that if we were living illegally, they should call the police and get us arrested. Since there were many of us at the hospital, about 50, the doctors finally gave in,” he said.
Mayamana Khatoon, who contested the last assembly elections, said: “I knew I was up against veteran politicians and realised that there was very little chance of me winning, but it helped me make a mark as a ‘chhitmahal’ dweller. We were looked down upon for a long time.”
TMC MLA Ghosh promised civic facilities within six months. “Different government departments like the PWD and the PHE will work on a war footing to provide good roads, electricity and drinking water. They will get jobs and other social security,” he said.
But Udayan Guha, Forward Bloc MLA from Dinhata who shared the stage with Ghosh, said: “I don’t think providing civic and other facilities will be so easy. I am not expecting roads to be built overnight.”
On Saturday morning, Cooch Behar District Magistrate P Ulganathan hoisted the national flag at Poaturkuthi, with SP Rajesh Kumar Yadav by his side. “From this day onwards, 51 ‘chhitmahals’ have become a part of India and those who have opted to stay here have become Indian citizens. We will work to give you your fundamental rights,” said Ulganathan.
Yadav assured that law and order would be maintained. “The areas will automatically fall under the nearest police stations and there will be regular police patrolling in these places to ensure law and order,” he said.