Piyush Kanti Sarkar was in his teens when he and his relatives came to India as refugees from Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district decades ago.
He died several years later after retiring as a primary school teacher, leaving behind a family with feet firmly planted on Indian soil and a life free from past struggles.
In a twist of fate, his son, now in his mid-fifties and a West Bengal government employee, has been striving over the past month to pave the way for the first batch of Bangladesh residents who will step into Indian territory on Thursday following a land swap agreement between the two countries.
“I have to ensure these people do not face the problems that my father did,” Pranab Sarkar said.
The two nations kicked off on August 1 the process of exchanging 162 landlocked islets, or enclaves, with more than 50,000 virtually stateless residents to mark the resolution of a complex border dispute that had lingered since Independence.
Around 19 families are expected to cross the Indo-Bangla border in Cooch Behar around 90 km from Siliguri on November 19 to settle permanently in India.
They will come from two enclaves, Gotamari and Lotamari, which are now part of Bangladesh in accordance with the pact. A second batch of 31 families is expected to join them on November 23.
The entire process of migration has to be completed by the end of this month.
“The state government and district administration have made elaborate arrangements to ensure the enclave dwellers don’t face any harassment here,” Sarkar said. “An enclave settlement camp has been set up close to the Changrabandha border and Mekhliganj town where they will stay. We have tried to provide them with every facility.”
The camp has dwelling units to accommodate 48 families. There are classrooms for children, units under the government’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, common dining halls and toilets, cattle sheds, etc.
As the news of the migration spread, local villagers started opening grocery shops just outside the enclave.
The land accord was originally established in 1974 by prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.