They indulged in mad celebrations after India won the World Cup on April 2. They danced and cheered and coloured their faces with the tri-colour, which was yet to be washed off when this correspondent visited the small village called Haripukur at Bangladesh border on April 3. The celebrations were still on.
Haripukur is a village in Hili, South Dinajpur district, and is a part of Balurghat assembly constituency. The village has around 250 voters, but because of its geographical location, it has been left outside the Indian barbed wire fence. “India could not put up the fence on the international line as there is a rule that no fence could be set up within 150 metres of the concrete international post,” said a BSF officer.
This creates major problems for the residents. The movement of villagers is restricted and people can move only at the mercy of the Border Security Force (BSF). Movement after sundown is impossible even in cases of emergency.
“We have permission to go inside the barbed wire fence only between 6am to 7pm (in summer) and the timings change according to seasonal changes, for no fault of ours. The location of our village is a major cause of concern for BSF and so we are not allowed to cross over after dark. We have to show our identity cards to the BSF when we go into our own country even during the daytime,” said Manik Sheikh, 24.
“Leaders of the ruling party, RSP have been told about the problems several times. But we weren’t even assured of better medical facilities in our village. As a result most of the villagers would vote for a change this time. Everyone wants to see whether conditions can change if a new ruler enters,” said Manik.
Haripukur is a step away from a Bangladesh village. Houses are located on both sides of the thin line and concrete posts separate India and Bangladesh. “We are proud to be part of India but the way we are treated in our country makes us very sad,” said Md Atiar Rehman, 28.
“Even the Bangladeshi village, which is smaller than our village, has electricity. We see their houses lighting up every evening. We are still in darkness after so many years of Independence,” said Rehman.
“We bought extra diesel to run generators so that we could watch the World Cup matches on television. We collected money from all families to buy the extra amount of diesel to watch the matches,” said Arman, 28, a villager.
“When Bangladesh, which is much smaller than our country, could provide power supply to its village, we believe that our country can do the same. We feel there is lack of will and therefore we feel neglected,” said Arman.
“All the families depend on agriculture for livelihood and villagers have to use 60 to 70 machines to supply water to the farmland. Diesel is the only option to run so many machines to pump water. One litre of diesel costs R41.7, which is very costly for us. On top of that we are ill-treated by BSF and at times we feel neglected,” said Younis Sheikh.
The only time when the village comes to the limelight is during the run up to the elections. “We feel important during the campaigns but things go back to normal after the elections get over. We still cast our vote even this year because it is our democratic right,” said Mohtab Mondal, 45.
Most residents of the Haripukur village said that they might consider a change to see whether their own conditions improve. The villagers are considering casting their votes for the Trinamool Congress candidate from Balurghat, Shankar Chakraborty, and not the seven-time RSP winner Biswanath Choudhury.
Trinamool built a pucca road from the barbed fence to the village after a Panchayat member was included in the Zila Parishad. “We did not even have a proper road all these years,” said Md Rabi-ul-Islam.
“We invite Bangladeshi neighbours if there is a festival or a marriage in our village, even they extend invitations and we attend their festivals. Cooked food is also sent across the international boundary, to our next-door neighbours.
“The BSF or BDR don’t object to this co-existence. At times an Indian takes care of a Bangladeshi baby when the baby’s mother is busy,” said a villager.