PRIS­ON­ERS OF THE PAST

Four years after the ex­change of en­claves be­tween Bangladesh and In­dia, the new cit­i­zens of In­dia are still wait­ing for ba­sic rights

India Today - - INSIDE - By Romita Datta

Four years after the ex­change of en­claves be­tween Bangladesh and In­dia, the new cit­i­zens await their ba­sic rights

AT THE STROKE OF MID­NIGHT ON JULY 31, 2015, 51 en­claves in Bangladesh were cel­e­brat­ing be­com­ing a part of In­dia. After decades of state­less ex­is­tence, their in­hab­i­tants fi­nally had a home­land. The land­mark Land Bound­ary Agree­ment signed in 1974 had fi­nally come into force, and 162 pock­ets of land that ex­isted as en­claves in In­dian and Bangladeshi ter­ri­to­ries were merged with the coun­tries that sur­rounded them. To mark the day, they sang the na­tional an­them, dis­trib­uted sweets, the fes­tiv­i­ties last­ing for days. Voter ID cards, Aad­haar cards and some ra­tion cards were promptly dis­trib­uted since the state assem­bly elec­tion was around the cor­ner. The new In­dian cit­i­zens looked for­ward to a fu­ture filled with hope and pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Al­most four years later, they are still fight­ing for proper doc­u­men­ta­tion, land al­lot­ment, in­fra­struc­ture and ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion and ben­e­fits from var­i­ous gov­ern­ment schemes, such as the Kanyashree Prakalpa, in­cen­tivis­ing a child’s higher se­condary ed­u­ca­tion, or Yu­vashree, to pro­vide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to young job seek­ers. For a while, gov­ern­ment funds were avail­able to build pucca struc­tures like In­te­grated Child De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices cen­tres, com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment cen­tres, so­lar ir­ri­ga­tion pumps and green­houses, but most of these are now de­funct. Thirty tube wells in­stalled in Ba­tri­gachh, a for­mer en­clave which is now part of West Ben­gal’s Cooch Be­har district, in 2018, have long stopped work­ing, as have half the so­lar panels meant to power the ir­ri­ga­tion pumps.

“The gov­ern­ment spent five lakh ru­pees to build [a green­house] with­out train­ing us on how to use it. They should have used the money for build­ing toi­lets in­stead,” says Bipin Chan­dra Bar­man of Bakalich­hara, an­other for­mer chhit (as the en­claves are called), which houses 215 fam­i­lies but only 704 vot­ers. Ba­tri­gachh res­i­dents, too, are fac­ing sim­i­lar quan­daries. “The block de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer (BDO) came the other day and threat­ened to ar­rest us for defe­cat­ing in the open. I asked him what we were sup­posed to do in the ab­sence of even a sin­gle toi­let here in our chhit of 238 fam­i­lies,” says Noor Haq. Since the district ad­min­is­tra­tion had al­ready de­clared Cooch Be­har district, of which Ba­tri­gachh is now a part, ‘Nir­mal Bangla’ (be­ing 100 per cent free from open defe­ca­tion) in 2017, Haq was pub­licly rep­ri­manded by BDO Sou­vik Chanda for his im­per­ti­nent ques­tion.

Un­der Mis­sion Nir­mal Bangla, es­sen­tially a re­brand­ing of the Swachh Bharat Mis­sion by West Ben­gal chief min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, an in­di­vid­ual is sup­posed to get a sub­sidy of Rs 12,000 for a con­structed toi­let, with the Cen­tre and the state shar­ing the funds in the ra­tio of 75:25. The funds are yet to trickle down to the en­claves. The one or two toi­lets con­structed have been built by in­di­vid­u­als who bore the whole cost them­selves by tak­ing out loans or mort­gag­ing a por­tion of their land to the lo­cal san­i­tary­ware shop.

Chanda ad­mit­ted that the erst­while en­claves could not be cov­ered un­der Mis­sion Nir­mal Bangla be­cause the base­line sur­vey for toi­lets was con­ducted in 2012 when they were not a part of the In­dian ter­ri­tory. “We have just com­pleted

“Yes, we have voter ID and Aad­haar cards, but we’re still for­eign­ers on our own land” MO­HAM­MAD ALI, Fish­er­man in Ba­tri­gachh chhit

the sur­vey of the houses left out. It will take time,” says Chanda. He has no an­swer as to why no ac­tion was taken in the past three years since the ex­change of en­claves.

NO COUN­TRY FOR NEW CIT­I­ZENS

Four years after get­ting the sta­tus of In­dian cit­i­zens— Aad­haar cards and voter IDs—Ba­tri­gachh res­i­dents are still run­ning from pil­lar to post to meet their ba­sic needs. Politi­cians have lit­tle time and no in­ter­est in ad­dress­ing their con­cerns since out of the pop­u­la­tion of 14,215 in the 51 en­claves spread over an area of 7,110.02 acres, only some 8,000 are reg­is­tered vot­ers. The en­clave dwellers are yet to re­ceive job cards, pen­sions, un­em­ploy­ment al­lowances, widow al­lowances and other so­cial ben­e­fits from gov­ern­ment schemes. “Yes, we have a voter ID card and an Aad­haar card, but we are still the out­siders, for­eign­ers on our own land,” says 82-year-old Mo­ham­mad Ali from Ba­tri­gachh, while re­pair­ing his fish­ing net, his main source of sus­te­nance. Ali was a prom­i­nent spokesman for the in­hab­i­tants of the en­claves, press­ing for both coun­tries to com­plete the ex­change and has, over the years, faced it all—hu­mil­i­a­tion, ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing from the Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force, the state po­lice and the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers—all to just be recog­nised as a cit­i­zen of In­dia. But cit­i­zen­ship has brought fresh woes.

While Bangladesh has com­pleted the process of land dis­tri­bu­tion among the res­i­dents of the for­mer In­dian en­claves it ac­quired by July 31, 2016, West Ben­gal has been more lack­adaisi­cal about in­te­grat­ing its new cit­i­zens and their lands.

Within a few weeks of be­ing is­sued iden­tity cards, peo­ple saw that their IDs were full of er­rors, which made get­ting a job dif­fi­cult. “For most of us, the first let­ter of our names is used, N for Na­jemul, for in­stance. Em­ploy­ers don’t ac­cept such cards for re­cruit­ment,” says the res­i­dent of Ba­tri­gachh. “There are few jobs for the en­clave peo­ple. Lo­cal peo­ple treat us with sus­pi­cion even though we are cit­i­zens. The men are all go­ing to Delhi, Haryana, Ben­galuru and Ker­ala,” says Roushan, who works as a labourer in a cashew fac­tory in Ker­ala.

“Our boys are not even con­sid­ered for the civic po­lice. They have set up ICDS cen­tres but don’t em­ploy peo­ple from within the en­claves,” says Ni­tai Chan­dra Das of Shib Prosad Mustafir chhit. The young peo­ple liv­ing in the chhits es­pe­cially have a deep sense of dis­sat­is­fac­tion with their new lives in In­dia and even held a demon­stra­tion last year to ex­press their wish to go back to Bangladesh.

PO­LIT­I­CAL BAT­TLES

Ac­cord­ing to Haq, the big­gest ben­e­fit of the ex­change so far has been the al­lot­ment of ra­tion cards which en­ti­tles them to sub­sidised ra­tion of 15 ki­los of rice and 20 ki­los of wheat. “Even here, we have to shell out a por­tion of our ra­tion to the ra­tion dealer,” he says.

Peo­ple of Shib Prosad Mustafir chhit, which houses 65 fam­i­lies, are yet to get even the ra­tion cards. Though they have elec­tric­ity in their homes, there are no street lights or pucca roads, only slim, muddy paths that be­come swamps dur­ing the mon­soon. “Be­tween the elec­tric wires and poles hang­ing loose and the kuchcha roads, we shud­der to think what will hap­pen if the area gets one or two spells of heavy show­ers,” says 65-year-old Biswa­bandhu Bar­man of Shib Prosad Mustafir chhit, who main­tains that his en­clave is among the most ne­glected ones. “It’s be­cause we sup­port the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a district which is a Tri­namool Congress strong­hold. We of­ten get picked up by the po­lice on false charges. We were not even al­lowed to vote dur­ing the pan­chayat elec­tions,” he adds.

Though ini­tially all the chhits suf­fered the same de­pri­va­tion, things

“The land al­lot­ment was done in haste and just prior to the elec­tion, ob­vi­ously to serve a pur­pose and not with se­ri­ous in­tent” DIPTIMAN SEN­GUPTA, Co­or­di­na­tor, Bharat Bangladesh En­clave Ex­change Com­mit­tee

changed after the BJP in­creased its vote share from 10.5 per cent to 28.5 per cent in the 2016 Lok Sabha by-elec­tion in Cooch Be­har. The pen­e­tra­tion of the BJP in the for­mer en­claves, which are spread over five assem­bly seg­ments of Cooch Be­har, as well as the rest of the district, might prove to be dan­ger­ous for the TMC ahead of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion.

In en­claves with a con­cen­tra­tion of Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, such as Mashal­danga, de­vel­op­ment has been fast. Ac­cord­ing to Diptiman Sen­gupta, the co­or­di­na­tor of the Bharat Bangladesh En­clave Ex­change Com­mit­tee, this is the TMC’s way to ap­pease the mi­nor­ity group. Sen­gupta, an ac­tive mem­ber of the BJP now, be­lieves this tac­tic will not work since a ma­jor­ity of the chhit peo­ple be­long to the indigenous Ra­jbong­shi tribe of North Ben­gal which con­sti­tutes 51 per cent of Cooch Be­har’s pop­u­la­tion. “Though the Mus­lims con­sti­tute 28 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, they are es­sen­tially Ra­jbong­shis, and eth­nic­ity can­not be ig­nored for re­li­gion,” says Sen­gupta. He added that his party is try­ing to cash in on the dis­con­tent among the Ra­jbong­shis with the TMC.

Mean­while, the TMC has be­gun the process of land al­lot­ment. The land dis­tri­bu­tion started only a few weeks ago even though Ma­mata had asked the Cooch Be­har ad­min­is­tra­tion to speed up the process at a pub­lic meet­ing on Oc­to­ber 31, 2018. But the cit­i­zens are still un­happy. “The gov­ern­ment is giv­ing us land with­out spe­cific lo­ca­tion and de­mar­ca­tion. Even the quan­ti­ties dis­trib­uted do not match with what we had in the en­claves,” says Ali, who says that be­fore the ex­change, he owned 96 bighas of land, most of which he had lost due to river ero­sion. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has now al­lot­ted him pa­pers for pos­ses­sion of a mere six kot­tahs, or about 0.3 bigha.

Sid­diq of Poaturkuthi en­clave has been al­lot­ted 16 kot­tahs of land (about 0.6 bigha) whereas he used to once own nine bighas. “These are not iso­lated cases. There are com­plaints in close to 90 per cent cases. The pa­pers or deeds handed over to them just men­tion the size of the land with no other spec­i­fi­ca­tion. This land al­lot­ment was done in haste and just prior to the elec­tion, ob­vi­ously to serve a pur­pose and not with se­ri­ous in­tent,” says Sen­gupta. Ac­cord­ing to Joinal Abe­din, a res­i­dent of the Mad­hya Mashal­danga chhit, land with­out own­er­ship rights makes them in­el­i­gi­ble for agri­cul­tural loans, kisan credit cards, potato bonds and farm sub­sidy.

Ac­cord­ing to TMC MLAs Rabindranath Ghosh and Udayan Guha, the BJP is try­ing to play with fire. “Ev­ery­thing will be done legally. They are try­ing to incite the en­clave peo­ple and Ra­jbong­shis against the Tri­namool, but such cheap pol­i­tics will not pay div­i­dends,” says Guha.

COST OF CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP Lack of street light­ing means the res­i­dents of Shib Prosad Mustafir chhit have to use lamps if they want to step out of the house after dark

SUBIR HALDER

EMPTY PROM­ISES Res­i­dents of Ba­tri­gachh stand in front of so­lar panels which be­came de­funct within months of be­ing in­stalled

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