Those who ran from India to India

  • Pramod Giri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 16, 2015 13:11 IST
Young girls in Poaturkuthi get ready to participate in celebratory functions on the occasion of the former enclave's merger with India on July 31. (Samir Jana/ HT photo)

Bangladeshis in India are happy that they are now Indians. Indians in Bangladesh are, at least officially, happy that they are now Bangladeshis, or have the option of coming back to India. But this supposedly happy story of the India-Bangladesh enclave exchange deal that was implemented on July 31 seems to have several rough edges that have so far been ignored.

The story of a fragmented people, crisis of identity and insecurity is refusing to end happily, as there is still a forgotten group - about 15,000 individuals - who were forced to run away from Indian enclaves to mainland India. Their story is still unfinished. In 1949, when the Cooch Behar kingdom finally signed the instrument of accession to India, all the king's landholdings in East Pakistan became Indian territory. But they were without any trace of Indian governance - no policeman, no babu, no political party, no constitutional rights. Only non-government committees - two of them are worth mentioning - fought, and are still fighting, for the rights of the people who live in the 162 Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves that were exchanged formally.

While Diptiman Sengupta, chief coordinator of the Bharat Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC), is effusive about the success of the committee that his father set up in 1999, more than 15,000 Indians have a different story to tell. The Indian Enclave People's Committee (IEPC) represents Indian enclave dwellers who were tortured and ousted from the land in phases until 1993 and now live in different refugee camps all over north Bengal. They ran away from India to India.

The reason is simple: Since the enclave lands are extremely fertile and there has never been any presence of the Indian government there, East Pakistani land sharks - from as far away as Noakhali and Mymensigh in south Bengal - came in to capture land, crops and women. IEPC advisor Pradip Sinha Roy said the torture - quite well planned, he said - began once Cooch Behar signed the instrument of accession in 1949. These people now have no clear idea of their fate as the lands they owned in the enclaves have become Bangladeshi territory. Though the Centre has announced a huge compensation package for the exchange dwellers, this group doesn't figure anywhere on the agenda.

Meanwhile, Sengupta of the BBEECC - which was dissolved on August 9 following the exchange deal - declared immediately after the Indira-Mujib land boundary agreement of 1974 was ratified by Parliament that a "historical wrong has been corrected". It looks like a personal victory for the Senguptas as it was Diptiman's father, Dipak Sengupta, a former Forward Bloc legislator from Sitai in Cooch Behar district, who first started corresponding with the Centre and the West Bengal government on the exchange deal on February 21, 1994. Diptiman said, "The exchange of enclaves is a reprieve for the people who had been living in inhuman conditions for ages without any national identity." But another fight for identity and justice has just begun. Sinha Roy of IEPC demanded: "The former Indian enclave dwellers, who were ousted by Bangladeshi goons, must be compensated. They can't be ignored."

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