No decent jobs for this community in Bengal as they have ‘fake fathers’kolkata Updated: Sep 24, 2017 08:10 IST
A number of people face problems as the name of the father on their Aadhaar and voter identity cards doesn’t match that on their school-leaving records.(HT File Photo)
Two years ago, Sapikul Ali Miyan was ecstatic.
The 21-year-old had just become an Indian citizen, one of 15,000-odd Bangladeshi immigrants living in enclaves in West Bengal whom India decided to formally accept as part of a landmark agreement.
Miyan and others looked forward to identity cards that would open doors to `formal education, jobs and a better life, free from the constant fear of deportation and persecution. Many in the enclave described the day as a second independence day.
But now, the same identity cards have come back to haunt them. Miyan, now 23, wants to join the army but is stuck – the name of his father on his Aadhaar and voter identity cards doesn’t match that on his school-leaving records.
The reason: Miyan is one of 1000-odd people who used names of their neighbour or family friend in place of their father on school records because they weren’t eligible to study in Indian schools.
Miyan, son of Asgar Ali Miyan of Poaturkuthi village, used the name of a family friend -- Lutfar Mallick of Patharda village – in his school records because the latter was an Indian citizen.
He said he did it because the Bamanhat High School in Dinhata wouldn’t admit a child from the enclaves, which were embedded in India geographically but didn’t belong to any country. “There are many in our locality willing to join the Army. However, there is no way one can even apply since we are all stuck with school leaving certificates carrying the wrong father’s name and address,” says Miyan, 23.
Most of the 1,000-odd young men and women are in their 20s and 30s but forced to work as part-time labour, masons and agricultural labour. They say the government should have created some provision because forging fathers’ names was the only way they could access education.
“Everybody born in the enclaves had to use fake fathers and addresses to get enrolled in schools. However, about 1,000 youths who are in the job market now face this problem,” said Diptiman Sengupta, convener of the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee that spearheaded the dwellers’ movement for citizenship.
In July 2015, India and Bangladesh swapped enclaves in each other’s territory as part of a historic agreement that took 40 years to finalise. India took in 14,856 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves and Bangladesh accepted 37,369 living in 111 Indian enclaves -- 979 of whom chose Indian citizenship.
On the Indian side, the enclaves were strewn across West Bengal’s Cooch Bihar district comprising of expansive plains where the international border was often a paddy field or an electric pole with few patrolling soldiers.
Families in these areas had lived in harmony for several generations, and would effortlessly cross the open border. Locals said the “fake fathers” agreed to let enclave dwellers use their names out of empathy and some also paid visits to schools when guardians were called.
Sengupta argued the case was exceptional and needed the government to adopt a policy for allowing corrections. “Otherwise, the past will continue to haunt them forever. The issue needs to be raised in the assembly but the local MLA is silent,” said Sengupta.
Local Trinamool Congress leader and Dinhata MLA, Udayan Guha, said the administration was looking into the matter. Kaushik Saha, the district magistrate, told HT that he was not aware of the problem as he was new to the district.
“I have been travelling from pillar to post and have written from the local block development officer, chairman of school education board to the chief minister and the President of India, requesting that we should be allowed to rectify our school records and certificates. We have no heard from anyone so far,” said Rahaman Ali, son of Naskar Ali, who has the name of neighbour Shahar Ali as father in school documents.
A batch of students also met officials from the secondary and higher education boards in the state. Officials told them that the records cannot be changed without a bill passed in the assembly.
But Miyan isn’t giving up hope. “We fought for decades to get our citizenship. We will fight through this.”