For years, children of Bangladeshi enclaves in India used names of distant relatives or Indian citizens in neighbouring villages as that of their fathers to get enrolled in Indian schools. Many went on to pursue higher studies, using the same name of the father.
But in June 2015, India and Bangladesh, in the presence of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina, formalised the agreement to swap land enclaves. Within months, as many as 14,856 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves on Indian soil were absorbed into the country.
And these included some very worried children, youth and their parents. Because their school certificates had the wrong names of the fathers. There was concern all around — it made them ineligible for jobs, bank accounts, loans, passports and work permits. There would also be problems with inheritance later.
While people fretted, one young man from a former enclave in Cooch Behar district decided to take matters into his own hands. Rahaman Ali, now 26, began knocking doors of the administration to get his father’s name changed on his Madhyamik (secondary board) certificate.
A resident of Poaturkuthi village under Dinhata sub-division (over 700 km from Kolkata), Rahaman did the rounds for almost three years. In April, the secondary board finally responded and issued him a certificate with the corrected name of his father. His success story has spurred an estimated 4,000 others like him from the former enclaves to line up for a similar correction in their certificate.
Rabindranath Ghosh, Minister for North Bengal development and MLA from Cooch Behar, said: “We are aware that names of pseudo-parents are still there in education certificates. There are thousands. This is creating a lot of problems for people, especially the youths from former Bangladesh enclaves. We have written to different boards, following applications from such students. Now the process has started and one has been cleared. Others will follow suit.”
A Cooch Behar administration official said: “After the exchange of enclaves, the matter was brought to our notice by youths. We are preparing a database of such students and youth who were forced to use false names of their parents. We are sending letters with proof to various boards. Rahaman has been cleared by the secondary board. This is the first step. Others will be done soon.”
Rahaman told The Indian Express: “While enrolling in a school in India, I used the name of one Saher Ali who used to live in Khontamari on the Indian side, about 2 km from my village. I could not use my father Naskar Ali’s name. I cleared the secondary examination in 2008. Thereafter, Saher Ali became my father on paper.”
He wrote to the education boards but nothing happened. Finally, he turned to the District Magistrate who forwarded his plea to the boards. This April 15, the secondary board responded. He was issued a certificate with the correct name of his father. “Hundreds like me can now apply to get the names of their real parents in the certificates,” he said, adding he hopes to be a teacher once he completes a B.Ed.
Sapikul Islam, also from Poaturkuthi, gave up plans of joining the Army. He too had used the name of a relative on the Indian side to enrol in school. “I cleared the physical fitness examination two years ago. But my friends told me that there would be verification of the certificate and I could be jailed if they discovered the names of my real parents. So I dropped it. Now that Rahman has got his certificate, there is a ray of hope,” he said. For now, he works on a farm and rents out a tiller machine.
Diptiman Sengupta, convener of the Citizens Rights Coordination Committee and a member of the BJP, said: “There are around 4,000 such people who face this problem. Finally, the administration has woken up. Rahaman had been trying (to correct the certificate name) for very long. I hope the others can do it too.”