CAA fuels poll season hopes in Pilibhit’s mini-Bengal - Hindustan Times

CAA fuels poll season hopes in Pilibhit’s mini-Bengal

By, Pilibhit
Apr 16, 2024 05:22 AM IST

In 10 gram panchayats with a population of 70,000 Bangladeshi Hindus in Pilibhit, most are making a beeline to register as Indian citizens as their cause finds poll-time resonance

A cluster of 10 gram panchayats in Pilibhit district’s Puranpur tehsil with a population of 70,000 Bangladeshi Hindus is abuzz with activities these days.

Villagers at a cyber cafe in Ramnagara village in Pilibhit district to submit applications meant for uploading on the citizenship portal. (HT Photo)
Villagers at a cyber cafe in Ramnagara village in Pilibhit district to submit applications meant for uploading on the citizenship portal. (HT Photo)

Keen to shed the Bangladeshi tag and become Indian nationals, many members of the community can be seen filling up application forms, collecting photocopies of documents and assembling at cyber cafes in village markets to collect details about the Indian Citizenship portal launched after the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rules by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on March 13.

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These 10 gram panchayats — Kundannagar, Bidhipur, Najaulia Natka, Gabia, Maharajpur, Nagoria Lalpur, Ramnagra, Sela and Dhuria — are all located near the Sharda Sagar dam in Pilibhit which goes to polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha election on April 19.

Almost a mini-Bengal, a small market has come up in the middle of the village dotted with cyber cafes, provision stores, medicine stores, eating joints serving Bengali dishes and various shops to serve the demand of the local people.

The locals’ cause found poll-time resonance when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a public meeting in Pilibhit on April 9, said the people who fled due to atrocities in foreign countries, are Hindus and Sikhs, “they are our own people and should be given citizenship” even as he attacked the Congress and Samajwadi Party for opposing CAA due to their “appeasement policies”.

The families staying in Pilibhit, who have come from other countries will benefit from CAA, the prime minister said.

Less than a week later, Dipankar Mistri, 24, resident of Ramnagara village in Puranpur tehsil of Pilibhit district, was seen scanning the applications submitted by villagers for uploading on the Indian Citizenship portal.

A Class 12 passout, Mistri set up a makeshift cyber cafe near Sharda Sagar Dam that touches the border of Uttarakhand and Nepal.

“I have been uploading the applications of villagers on the portal. I know the eligibility norms and documents that are required to apply for Indian citizenship. A majority of the villagers’ applications have been uploaded. Initially, there were some hiccups due to the extra documents sought by MHA, but the matter has been sorted out. We are eagerly waiting for Indian citizenship to get rid of the Bangladeshi tag,” he said.

Mentioning his roots, he said, “My grandfather migrated from Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, during the 1971 Indo- Pak war to seek refuge in India. We were allotted land near the Sharda river in Pilibhit. My father started agriculture on the land. I was born in Ramnagara village. Though we have been living in the area for three generations, the local administration treats us as outsiders. We have to run from pillar to post to get the benefit of government schemes. The Indian government’s announcement about granting us citizenship has come as a ray of hope. We will be treated on par with Indian citizens and India will be our homeland.”

A majority of the settlers have Aadhaar cards, voter identity cards and ration cards and their children are enrolled in local schools.

“We have all the documents provided by the government to the citizens, yet our fate hangs in the balance. Once we are registered as genuine citizens, we will live comfortably without harassment by the local police,” said Vishnu Mandal, a villager.

Harshit Mahto, 78, who came from Faridpur district in Bangladesh, said, “We have been staying in Pilibhit for three decades. My children were born and grew up in Ramnagara village, but our grievances are not disposed of by officers of Puranpur tehsil, under which the village is located. For jobs abroad, we require passport, but our application was rejected during police verification.”

Suval Das, 80, came to the village from West Bengal but is treated as a Bangladeshi by the local administration. His son Sameer Das runs a sweet shop in the market.

“Our name has been deleted from the voters’ list,” Das said and added, “I have submitted documents to officers, but the names of my family members have not been registered in the electoral roll. Our children are denied government jobs.”

Suchitra Das, 55, who migrated from Jessore district in Bangladesh, said, “The documents submitted for registration are required to be attested by local resident. A Sikh farmer Manjit Singh had attested my documents and is the witness in my case. I deposited 200 at the cyber cafe for uploading the documents on the portal whereas the government has fixed a charge of 55 per form.”

The CAA amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to pave the way for providing Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis who migrated from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014.

Under the 2019 amendment of the Act, migrants who entered India till December 31, 2014, and had suffered “religious persecution or fear or religious persecution” in their country of their origin would be made eligible for accelerated citizenship.

As the polling day drew near, majority of the Bengali community members welcomed the Prime Minister’s assurance regarding citizenship and expressed support for the BJP in the Lok Sabha election.

Dr Mukund Biswas, who runs a medical centre, said his forefathers migrated from Khulna in Bangladesh to Ram Nagara in Pilibhit district.

“In 1989, we were relocated near Sharda Sagar Dam after our village was eroded due to a change in the river course. We are settled on irrigation department land and are not permitted to construct pucca houses. A majority of the migrants are forced to live in hutments for several decades,” he said.

A Pilibhit district administration officer said the administration had conducted a survey in 2019 in the 10 gram panchayats, in which Bengali speaking people, are settled to collect details of those who migrated from Bangladesh.

“After the Lok Sabha election, the district administration team will visit villages to collect the details of people who have applied on the citizenship portal,” he said.

Sunil Gangwar, a BJP district unit leader said, there are 6.5% Bengali voters in Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency.

“The BJP government is committed to their welfare and the community will support the party candidate in the Lok Sabha election,” he said.

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    Rajesh Kumar Singh is Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times at the political bureau in Lucknow. Along with covering politics, he covers government departments. He also travels to write human interest and investigative stories.

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