‘Prove we’re not Indians, we'll return to Bangladesh’
Along this fenced international border, Bangladesh is both a myth and reality. It does exist on the other side, but nobody wants to acknowledge its existence due to the fear of being dubbed an illegal migrant.
Twenty-three-year-old Nekib Husain has spiked hair, Bollywood-inspired looks and a chunky wristwatch. His phone alternates between Aircel, an Indian telecom firm, and that of a Banglalink Telecom radio signal provider.
Arsan Ahmed, in sharp contrast, is scrawny and sports a jaded lungi. Despite staying metres away from Bangladesh, both insist that they have no idea about a country their forefathers came from.
“How do I know what Bangladesh is like? I don’t even know where it is,” Ahmed says. He is lying, of course.
People from his village, as well as others in the vicinity, queue up at the border gate at 7 am every day, waiting it to be flung open.
The international border runs through people’s homes and farmlands. So, many farmers like Ahmed cross over to work in their lands after showing official residence certificates and signing registers kept with Border Security Force (BSF) personnel.
“We have registered land ownership papers, but people still allege that we are Bangladeshis,” Ahmed's brother, Faizul, says. “So, we prefer not to talk. If you prove we are Bangladeshis, we will go back. But prove it first.”
BSF company commandant Ras Narayan Rai says that claims of illegal migration are exaggerated. “What are we here for?” he asks. But, despite these assertions, anti-migrant activists in Assam say a faulty law scrapped by the SC has helped thousands of migrants become “naturalised”.