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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

Landlords in Burma, refugees in Bettiah, 14 families pay a price for returning to homeland

Members of as many as 14 families, who were born in Myanmar, later came back to India, hoping for a brighter future back home, but have since then been living in a “refugee camp” near Hazaribag locality within the periphery of Bettiah

patna Updated: Jan 03, 2019 09:41 IST
Sandeep Bhaskar
Sandeep Bhaskar
Hindustan Times, Bettiah
A visit to the refugee colony exposes the sufferings of the ill-fated people. Their dwellings are ramshackle and crumbling.(File)
A visit to the refugee colony exposes the sufferings of the ill-fated people. Their dwellings are ramshackle and crumbling.(File)
         

Locally known as Burami, their forefathers hailed from Bhojpur district and were taken to Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) during the British rule in India. Members of as many as 14 families, who were born in Myanmar, later came back to India, hoping for a brighter future back home, but have since then been living in a “refugee camp” near Hazaribag locality within the periphery of Bettiah, the district headquarters of West Champaran district, about 220 km north of the state capital Patna. They claim they are fed up by the ‘false promises’ and hence do not intend to live here any further.

“We came to India on a pure sense of belongingness more than four decades back, but this nation doesn’t seem to have accepted us. We do not exist for the government. Or else, we would not have been reduced to scum on the earth like this,” said Dhanwanti Devi, venting her anger.

“We came here following a call from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. If Indiraji is no more, wasn’t it the responsibility of the successive governments to fulfil the promises made to us by her. If we mean nothing to the government, it must make arrangements and send us back to Myanmar,” say residents who beat a hard time to live with dignity and provide comfort to their children.

Weak and frail, 76-year-old Girija Prasad Kushwaha’s eyes twinkled as nostalgia gripped him as he referred to his days of yore when life was smoother during his stay in Sematar in Zeyawaddi district of Burma.

“We owned around 100 bighas of cultivable land and had entitlement for many agriculture related facilities in Burma. We agreed to return to our home country after the Indian government assured us of providing land and protecting our identity here. However, they put us in refugee camps instead and are still making us run from pillar to post for our basic needs,” said Kushwaha, who was born in Burma, in fluent Bhojpuri dialect.

In the evening of his life now, Dashrath Chauhan, another Burami, claimed to have inherited about 200 bighas of land at Hasnapur in Tango district of Burma from his forefathers.

“Our forefathers hailed from Bhojpur district of Bihar and were forced to migrate to Burma by the British to look after their agriculture work there. Life was a lot smoother there. Many of us in the due course of time owned vast tracts of land with only exception that we could not sell them. Today, we are forced to lead a refugee’s life,” says Chauhan.

A visit to the refugee colony exposes the sufferings of the ill-fated people. Their dwellings are ramshackle and crumbling. The male members either work in the fields as labourers or pull rickshaw whereas female members work in stone crushing factories or as domestic help in well-off families.

Owing to constant financial hardships, their children skip school to work to supplement family’s income. Worse days are ahead for them as the Bettiah Raj officials have served notice, asking them to evict their homes as the refugee camp is built on their land.

West Champaran district magistrate Dr Nilesh Ramchandra Deore said, “We will study and take necessary steps if these people have valid documents in support of their claims.”

First Published: Jan 03, 2019 08:56 IST