Crowds cheer land swap be­tween In­dia, Bangladesh


Ju­bi­lant crowds cel­e­brated Satur­day as Bangladesh and In­dia swapped tiny pock­ets of land, end­ing one of the world’s most in­tractable bor­der dis­putes that has kept thou­sands in limbo for nearly seven decades.

As the clock struck one minute past mid­night (1801 GMT Fri­day), thou­sands of peo­ple who have been liv­ing with­out schools, clin­ics or power for a gen­er­a­tion erupted in cheers of cel­e­bra­tion for their new cit­i­zen­ship.

“We have been in the dark for 68 years,” said Rus­sel Khandaker, 20, as he danced with friends in the Dashiar Ch­hara en­clave, which be­longed to In­dia but has now be­came part of Bangladesh.

“We’ve fi­nally seen the AFP.

A to­tal of 162 tiny parcels of land — 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in In­dia — were of­fi­cially handed over to the coun­tries sur­round­ing them on Satur­day af­ter Dhaka and New Delhi struck a bor­der agree­ment in June.

The land swap means some 50,000 peo­ple who have been liv­ing in the iso­lated en­claves since 1947 will now be­come part of the coun­tries that sur­round their homes.

In Dashiar Ch­hara, thou­sands of peo­ple de­fied mon­soon rains to celebrate, march­ing through rain-soaked muddy roads singing the Bangladeshi na­tional an­them and shout­ing: “My coun­try, your coun­try. Bangladesh! Bangladesh!”

Oth­ers lit 68 can­dles to mark the end of “68 years of end­less pain and in­dig­nity.”

Shar­ifa Ak­ter, 20, held a can­dle in her hand and smiled. “I can now ful­fill my dream of be­ing a top gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crat,” she told AFP.

light,” he told

“We’re now hu­man be­ings with full hu­man rights,” said Maidul Is­lam, 18, of the han­dover.

Of­fi­cials from Bangladesh and In­dia hoisted their re­spec­tive na­tional flags over their new ter­ri­to­ries on Satur­day morn­ing in for­mal cer­e­monies.

“We sang the na­tional an­them as we raised the Bangladesh flags at 6:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) in all 111 en­claves that are now part of Bangladesh ter­ri­tory,” said Shafiqul Is­lam, chief gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tor in north­ern dis­trict of Debiganj.

‘Oh what a joy!’

Is­lam said the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment would now roll out a “fast-track master plan” to de­velop the en­claves. The plan in­cludes build­ing new roads, schools, power lines and clin­ics.

In­dia has added more than 15,000 new cit­i­zens to its pop­u­la­tion, while over 36,000 en­clave res­i­dents took Bangladeshi na­tion­al­ity un­der the his­toric agree­ment.

In West Ben­gal state’s Mashal­danga en­clave, the main site for cel­e­bra­tions on the In­dian side, res­i­dents have for decades lived as Bangladeshis in the for­eign land.

Hav­ing opted for In­dian cit­i­zen­ship un­der the deal, they ral­lied with torches, let off fire crack­ers and hoisted the In­dian flag to celebrate their “free­dom.”

“We have waited so long for this mo­ment,” said a ju­bi­lant res­i­dent, Ta­pas Das.

Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, chief min­is­ter of West Ben­gal where most of the en­claves were swapped, hailed the agree­ment in a tweet.

“Thou­sands of peo­ple will get new iden­ti­ties. Con­grat­u­la­tions to them,” Ban­er­jee said on Twit­ter.

Lo­cal rul­ing politi­cian Rabi Ghosh said his gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­ity is to reach out to his new com­pa­tri­ots and to see their chil- dren go to schools and sick get treated at hos­pi­tals.

“By De­cem­ber we will en­sure all vil­lages are con­nected with roads, elec­tric­ity and drink­ing wa­ter,” Ghosh told AFP.

The en­claves date back to own­er­ship ar­range­ments made cen­turies ago be­tween lo­cal princes.

The parcels of land sur­vived par­ti­tion of the sub­con­ti­nent in 1947 af­ter Bri­tish rule, and Bangladesh’s 1971 war of in­de­pen­dence with Pak­istan.

Bangladesh en­dorsed a deal with In­dia in 1974 in a bid to dis­solve the pock­ets, but In­dia only signed a fi­nal agree­ment in June when Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi vis­ited Dhaka.

In the fi­nal hours be­fore the han­dover, vil­lagers held spe­cial feasts and joined prayers in mosques and Hindu tem­ples to usher in the new era.

Prodeep Ku­mar Bar­man sang a de­vo­tional song prais­ing Hindu Lord Kr­ishna as he led his troupe near a tem­ple at the main bazaar in Dashiar Ch­hara, singing: “Oh what a joy, what a joy!”

Plans for more lav­ish fes­tiv­i­ties have been scaled back as In­dia is ob­serv­ing a pe­riod of na­tional mourn­ing for for­mer pres­i­dent A.P.J. Ab­dul Kalam, who died this week.

“This is the big­gest cel­e­bra­tion of my life. I can’t de­scribe how I feel to­day,” said Parul Khatun, 35, a res­i­dent of the In­dian en­clave of Kot Ba­jni.

Both In­dia and Bangladesh con­ducted sur­veys this month ask­ing en­clave res­i­dents to choose a na­tion.

The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple liv­ing in In­dian en­claves in Bangladesh opted for Bangladeshi cit­i­zen­ship, but nearly 1,000 peo­ple on the Bangladesh side opted to keep their In­dian na­tion­al­i­ties.

They now have to leave their homes by Novem­ber for In­dia where they will be re­set­tled in the state of West Ben­gal.

The de­ci­sion has split some fam­i­lies along gen­er­a­tional lines, with am­bi­tious young peo­ple mov­ing to In­dia and leav­ing be­hind par­ents who are ei­ther afraid to move or just want to stay where they grew up.


Bangladesh of­fi­cial Md. Nasir Ud­din Ahmed, wear­ing a white cap, raises the na­tional flag af­ter Bangladesh and In­dia of­fi­cially ex­changed the ad­versely pos­sessed en­claves at Dashiarch­hara, in Kuri­gram en­clave, Bangladesh, Satur­day, Aug. 1.

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