People on the edge

Joykanta Barman, 74, a subsistence farmer, head of a joint family of nine, is confused and angry. The boundary line between India and Bangladesh runs along the edge of his house. Barman had learnt to live with it until he heard of the government's plan to erect a fence that might leave his entire village of 86 houses outside India. "How can this be allowed? We have been living here for more than 14 generations, and you want to push us out into Bangladesh?" says Barman.

A barbed-wire fence being erected 150 metres inside the Indian territory all along the border with Bangladesh in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and West Bengal will leave hundreds of Indian villages out. Barman's village, Durganagar, is one of 19 such villages in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal.

At present, international border is the line one can imagine between pillars that dot the countryside here—pillar number 960 is right in front of Barman's house, and across the road is Bhothaat, a Bangladeshi village.

"It is the government's headache how they construct the fence. Even now we are exposed to dacoity and theft and what not because of the open border. Once they erect the fence and leave us out, we will be looted and killed in broad daylight," Barman says. However, hundreds of families located on the zero line have been shifted, while hundreds more are waiting.

Barman and his fellow villagers are not the only victims of this quirk of history. Residents of Chota Garaljhora, a few kilometres northeast of Durganagar, are caught in a more peculiar situation—the village protrudes into Bangladesh like a balloon. It has an 18.9-km barbed-wire fence around it, except for a 300-metre opening that connects it with the rest of India through a 400-metre long corridor just 23 metres wide at the narrowest point.

... contd.

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