From enclaves to homeland: The ‘new Indians’ get their first taste of azadi

From enclaves to homeland: The ‘new Indians’ get their first taste of azadi

By PREETI SINGH | | 13 August, 2016
Jihad Hussein Obama with his mother, Asma Bibi.
After the historic Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement was reached last year, a number of refugees were granted Indian citizenship, which makes this Independence Day their very first as Indian citizens. But life in the former enclaves is still a struggle, writes Preeti Singh.

dispute over land between two countries is not new to this world. All countries across the world have gone through this and some are still struggling to get their geographical borders redrawn. Amid all this, what often goes unnoticed are the struggles of ordinary people residing in such disputed lands. 

Bangladesh and India are two such countries which share a highly complicated border-problem. As per Wikipedia, the origin of the Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves dates back to the 18th century.  And according to a popular legend, the enclaves were used as stakes in card or chess games centuries ago between two regional kings, the Raja of Cooch Bihar and the Maharaja of Rangpur. As far as historical records are concerned, the little territories were apparently the result of a confused outcome of a 1713 treaty between the Kingdom of Cooch  Bihar and the Mughal Empire. Possibly, the Kingdom and the Mughals ended a war without determining a boundary for what territories had been gained or lost.

Last year, when the Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement was implemented, both countries swapped these pockets of land, and the “enclave islands” ceased to exist. Both Bangladeshi and Indian citizens inhabiting the enclaves on either side of the border were given a choice to stay back and assume the nationality of the country the enclave was situated in, or go back to their homeland. Many families residing in the Indian enclaves, then occupied by Bangladesh, opted for Indian citizenship recently. And it has now been a year for these “new” Indians in their old home, where they will be celebrating their first Independence Day along with the rest of the nation.

Youth-focused content portal 101India.com has come out with their latest documentary releasing this Sunday, which explores what it means to live in these enclaves — this “no-man’s land”.

Diptiman Sengupta, who is also featured in the documentary, is an activist fighting for the rights of the people living in the enclaves. Sengupta’s father started this fight in 1995 and later he joined the movement in 1999. He wanted to dedicate his entire time to this movement which is why he decided to quit his plush job. He believes that fighting against inequality is in his blood. He says, “I left my corporate job in 2008 because this is a very controversial international issue. I had to visit Bangladesh frequently, so I quit my job. My grandfather and my father all fought for the unprivileged people, and so this came to me as a legacy.”

There are 51 former Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Till 2015, people living here were neither Indian nor Bangladeshi, living like unclaimed entities over unclaimed territories.  “It’s a feeling of how your father may deny accepting you as his child and you end up not getting accepted even by other people,” says Diptiman Sengupta.

The film features a young boy named Jihad Hussein Obama who doesn’t know his nationality.  His name has been wisely chosen by the people of the community living in the enclave. Sengupta explains: “Actually, the word jihad means struggle for the unveiling of the truth. It doesn’t mean killing or harming people. So, in this boy’s family, everyone is named as Hussein. Hussein is a family name. We kept his name Jihad because we are fighting for his rights as a human being and want this issue to be at the forefront. And we chose Obama because this boy was born on 29 March, 2010 and if you see the American president Barack Obama’s record in 2010, there was some controversy going on regarding his name because of which he was in global news. We thought that such a controversial name would help in getting the limelight it deserves. Name makes a difference because each name has a story attached to it.”

Sengupta wanted to depict how the birth of this boy had brought revolution in both the countries  “When he was about to be born, his mother, Asma Bibi, was not allowed admission in any of the hospitals in Bangladesh. We fought for it and got her admitted showing proper address. I believe any true story works for the media and this helped in our case as this issue was massively covered by media across the world. When it comes to human rights and democracy in India, when an Indian doesn’t have any rights as an Indian, it is against the constitution. In such a situation, the constitution gets weakened and the government cannot afford that,”  he says.

Still from  the documentary No-Man’s Land?There are 51 former Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Till 2015, people living here were neither Indian nor Bangladeshi, living like unclaimed entities over unclaimed territories.  “It’s a feeling of how your father may deny accepting you as his child and you end up not getting accepted even by other people,” says Sengupta.

People living here had been denied the most basic civic amenities for years. Sengupta says, “Three hundred years ago, there were no hospitals and medical facilities but humans survived. Same is the case with these people. Since they are born, they see that they don’t have basic facilities like education, health. The only work they can do is agriculture. They become habituated and learn to adapt to prevailing situations.” 

On asking Sengupta about the decision to migrate to India that Bangladeshis living in the enclaves took last year, he says, “The issue is not about shifting to a new country. These people didn’t have any country, so getting a country is more than enough. They chose the particular country they wanted to be a part of according to their needs and facilities. Actually, man likes to live in society, and have an identity of his own. This is a basic right. So the fight was for identity.  A country cannot be made without the people.” 

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