DINHATA (INDO-BANGLA) BORDER:Sheikh Mansur was filled with joy and sported a smile on his face as he became an Indian citizen on Saturday. For this old man, this was the third instance of freedom knocking at his doors.
“Did any community in the world ever get freedom thrice?” he asked, adding, “we first participated in the freedom struggle against the British and got East Pakistan in 1947. In 1971, we fought an armed battle with the help of India and our new nation of Bangladesh was born. But then, we were staying in this Poatur Kuthi enclave belonging to Bangladesh in India and living as stateless citizens without any rights. Today, we have become really independent. This will bring us light and end 68 years of sufferings and torture. We are true Indian citizens now.”
After the formal function on Saturday morning, people burst with joy as the tricolour was hoisted amidst clapping and shouts of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharatmata ki Jai”.
As the villagers collected packets of Bengali sweets, some of them recalled their miseries of the past. Young men were bubbling with enthusiasm and discussing where a school would be set up, a primary health centre would be built and new roads would be laid. Till date, they had no basic amenities and could not even study in Indian schools or receive medical treatment at Indian government hospitals.
The boys, who could enrol themselves in schools legally, had two fathers. Since their biological fathers were Bangladeshis, they had to obtain papers from Indian citizens, who would certify as the “legal father” to enable them to enrol in schools in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The plight of pregnant mothers was unthinkable. Being Bangladeshis living in enclaves within India, they could not get admitted to state-run hospitals even when they were in a critical state.
People still recount the incident of Asma Khatun, who became a legend as she gave birth a child in government hospital. She reached there while in labour but her husband Shahjahan Ali was threatened with arrest. Ali said, “We were told to get an Indian citizen, who would certify to be Asma’s husband, or face arrest. We refused the first option, as it was humiliating for us. Ultimately, when Indians too supported us, Asama delivered our son inside the hospital.”
As a symbol of their demand for human rights and the agitation for exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh, they named their son Jehad Hussain Obama. Why Obama? asked Express. To this, he quipped, “That was because in 2010 when Jehad was born, (Barack) Obama was the US’ first coloured President.”
The newfound freedom has changed the outlook on life of many. Said 20-year-old Jamal, who has travelled to North India, including New Delhi, “I gave up studies after Class IX as there was no future. I too had another Indian father. Now, I feel like enrolling in school again. While travelling by train to New Delhi and Rajasthan, I was very scared as I had no proof of identity. The man, who took me along, was an Indian and ensured against arrest.” Like Jamal, another young man Amir recounted being nabbed by the BSF men when he had crossed over to the other side of the road and thrashed badly.