Anxiety & hope as residents fast for smooth swap

India and Bangladesh national flags at Mashaldanga Bangladesh
Half red and half tricolour flags flutter at every corner in villages inside Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves located in each other's territories along the border. Along with the flags, there are banners with a slogan that reads: "Hoy nagarikatwa, nai mrityu (either citizenship or death)". A slogan that sums up the mood in these villages as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in Dhaka to ink an agreement on the exchange of these enclaves.

When asked which country the flags represent, 16-year-old Bilkish Khatun said, "We do not know which country we belong to. We do not know what our identity is. So, we have made these flags to show our pain...we are living in no-man's land for the last six decades. This flag represents half Bangladesh and half India."

Bilkish has to go to school in an Indian village with a fake identity card as she — a resident of a Bangladeshi enclave — is not allowed to study in an Indian school. "We do not want to survive in this way... We cannot live like thieves day in day out," she added.

As the big day nears, the residents of these areas are both excited and anxious, a feeling they had never encountered in the last 64 years.

Ever since the first census was conducted at Chitmahal towards the end of July 2011, residents of these enclaves along the Indo-Bangla border, who have been facing an identity crisis for the past 60 years, have started dreaming of a better future with a citizenship of any of the two countries.

Bellal Hussain, a resident of Mashaldanga, a resident of a Bangladeshi enclave in India, said: "Since morning, I could not leave my radio as I am waiting for the ultimate news about the fate of the enclaves we are living in. Since our birth, I have been living in this village and I know the pain of being a resident of an enclave. Nobody in our village has taken food the entire day as they are observing fast as a part of their prayer to Allah. We are praying for our identity and our nationality."

The residents of the enclave did not go to the fields and children skipped schools as they did not want to miss out on any news on the enclaves and remained glued to radios, following every bulletin.

Silently bearing the "insult" of being termed foreigners in both countries, the residents started a movement to achieve their national identity.

"We had lost all hopes before we heard that our Prime Minister will visit Bangladesh and the enclaves will be given their proper identity. The day the census team reached our villages for a headcount, we started hoping. Earlier, we never had any hope of getting an identity. It seems that after 64 years, both the governments have taken us seriously and will definitely settle the issue," said Akbar Ali, a 60-year-old resident of the area.

Led by Diptiman Sengupta — who is leading the movement — around 5,000 villagers living in Bangladeshi enclaves visited the District Magistrate's office in Coochbehar on Tuesday and submitted a a memorandum.

"We have written a letter to the Prime Minister and to the Chief Minister, which we submitted to the DM as a part of our deputation. We have asked both of them to solve this issue as lives of 50,000 people living in both Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves depend on this meeting.

They were counting days and today, the final day has come."

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