Five-year-old Jehad Hussain Obama was irritated and bored to death on Friday. While all the boys and girls of his age group were playing and watching the villagers through a hectic day to prepare for the midnight celebration of their ‘freedom’, Jehad was forced to give a series of sittings before print and electronic media from different parts of the country besides submitting to the dozens of enclave dwellers who dropped by to cuddle him.
After every pose before the camera the frisky five-year old would run away and his father would run after him to bring him back for the next sitting as another team of journalists arrived by then.
Speaking to the media is nothing new to this boy. Being the first and only enclave resident to have a real Indian citizenship document, he is a celebrity since birth.
Throughout Friday, the boy in shorts and half sleeve shirts stood like a metaphor for the aspiration of the 14,000-odd Bangladeshi enclave residents who yearned for citizenship status in India.
Five years ago, when Shajahan Ali took her pregnant wife to a hospital in Dinhata (Cooch Behar), the hospital authorities refused to admit her because Shajahan and his wife were Bangladeshi infiltrators. Policemen reached the hospital soon and threatened to arrest the duo. But soon residents of Madhya Mashaldanga village gathered in large numbers and demanded that the police have to arrest all of them. Finally, after hours of chaos, hospital authorities agreed to admit her.
Policemen reached the hospital again, soon after the birth of the child, asking Ali to leave with his wife and newborn son immediately. Villagers stood in support again.
Finally, when the two-day-old boy and his mother, Asma Bibi, were released, a few thousand enclave residents took out a rally, toured the whole town and walked 20 km back to Mashaldanga. The doctors were forced to issue him a birth certificate with his father’s real name and address.
It was their first victory towards getting Indian citizenship.
The boy was soon named Jehad. Since then, whenever a media person visited Mashaldanga, villagers took him or her to Jehad’s home, without exception.
This village, just like any other enclave, is a land full of absurdities. A hen and its four ducklings, all pet of Shajahan Ali, perhaps describe the absurdities that prevail here. The hen was given to hatch a few eggs of ducks, and now when the four month-old ducklings get into ponds, the desperate ‘mother hen’ often ends up plunging in the water too.
In this land of confused identities, almost every youth has his birth certificate, or school certificate, with a fake father’s name. Twenty-three year old Surma Bibi first was admitted to a school showing her maternal uncle, Hatem Ali Khondkar, an Indian citizen, as her father. At the time of getting a birth certificate for her child, an uncle of her husband, Shajahan Ali, was shown as her father.
Fabrications are common in every household. But to avoid future implications of having a wrong father’s name, the smarter ones toil to find out people of the same name and similar age group in neighbouring villages and use that person’s voter identity card for documentation.
In this land where almost every other document is fabricated, it was no wonder that little Jehad got all the attention. Since Thursday he had to appear for about two dozen interviews. Finally on Friday afternoon he broke down in tears.
But there were hardly anybody at home to console him. Almost none in the village was home throughout the day. All household activities were abandoned to make the celebrations a remarkable event.
“We hardly had time to cook and eat. We spent least time on cooking today,” Roshanara Bibi, 30, told HT as she ran towards the celebrations venue to stand in a queue and practise singing India’s national anthem.
Only Jehad’s mother had to keep returning home to ensure that her son behaved appropriately with the media.
From Friday midnight, when 14,856 Bangladeshi enclave-dwellers in Indian became Indian, Jehad will not remain the only bona fide Indian. Perhaps the harassed boy will be happy to lose his exclusive tag.
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