Leaving aside their frustration and bitterness triggered by the absence of any basic infrastructure facilities in the area since becoming Indian citizens exactly a year and 15 days ago, the 15,000 odd residents of the erstwhile enclaves are set to celebrate Independence Day – their second in life.
These citizens who lived without any citizenship for 68 years since Independence had their got their homeland on July 31, 2015, when they became Indian citizens following the implementation of the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement. They celebrated with bursting crackers, as it was the first time they got the right to hoist the Indian tricolour. They celebrated August 15 with greater fanfare.
Overall, 14,864 residents of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India became Indian citizens, while 922 residents of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh migrated to India.
In less than a year, however, their illusion of El Dorado faded and the new Indian citizens descended on the streets to protest the apathy and negligence of the administration in developing infrastructure in the erstwhile enclaves where no basic facilities like roads, drinking water connection and electricity lines exist.
The bitterness reached such an extent that instead of celebrating the first anniversary of their Indian citizenship, they organised a protest on the midnight of July 31, 2016 in a bid to tell the world that they are living in the same darkness as before. During daytime they took out a silent procession, covering their faces with black pieces of cloth.
“However, August 15 is a special day. Our protest is against the administration of Cooch Behar district but not against India. We’ll celebrate Independence Day like everyone else in the country. We will resume our protest after the I-day celebrations,” said Diptiman Sengupta, the leader of the ex-enclave dwellers.
Villagers said they have not availed any of the basic facilities offered by the Central and state governments because the district administration has failed to record land holdings. “Without land records, we cannot apply for agriculture loan, crop insurance and house building schemes like Indira Awas Yojna. Electricity is yet to arrive. No school, health centre or road have been built,” said Joynal Abedin of Madhya Mashaldanga.
Some of these new Indian citizens told HT, however, said that they will lack the enthusiasm to celebrate the day that way they did last year because their first full year as Indian citizen has been full of despair.
The news of fast development initiatives in the erstwhile Indian enclaves in Bangladesh (that are now part of Bangladesh) has farther fueled grievance among the residents. To protest, ex-enclave dwellers recently put up hundreds of scarecrows across their farmlands with posters written ‘this is me’ hanging from the neck.
“Our dreams have been dashed too soon,” said Usman Gani, who migrated from Bangladesh opting for Indian citizenship and is living in a makeshift and rehabilitation camp at Dinhata in Cooch Behar district since November 2015.
“Sometime we feel we have made a mistake by opting to settle in India,” the despair was evident even over phone.