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Dhaka Tribune

Rooted to their enclaves

Update : 20 May 2015, 07:44 PM

With the Indo-Bangla Land Boundary Agreement set to become a reality, enclave residents, technically Indian citizens, are concerned about their rights to their land.

While displacement is not among their utmost concerns, since they will have the option to choose their domicile, the imminent implementation of the agreement raises a deep concern over their land that they have enjoyed for generations.

Mostly arable, the enclaves have never really been subject to strict legal obligations and as such the locals have come to enjoy rights to their land by inheritance.

However, the 2011 protocol, signed by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart of that time, Manmohan Singh, moves away from what the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement stipulated, seeking to maintain the status quo of adverse possessions instead.

Azizar Rahman, a resident of the Balapukuri enclave, said: “I have no official documents of my land. We use stamp on a white paper for selling and buying lands. We have been living here for generations.”

Asked what he will do after the LBA is implemented, Azizar, who grows crops on a small patch of land surrounded by Bangladesh, said: “We neither want to move to Bangla nor to India. We want to stay here.”

Only about 350 people live in that enclave. And having lived for so long in such proximity have turned them into a big family. “All the residents are like relatives. Where would I go?”

Citing a field-level consultation with people living in the Bangladeshi exclaves in India, an Indian foreign ministry booklet on the LBA also says that “people residing in the areas involved did not want to leave their land and would rather remain in the country where they had lived all their lives.”

Like many other enclave dwellers, Azizar too has managed a Bangladesh national identity card with his name but under a fake address. His son Afjal Hossain, who pulls a rickshaw in Dhaka, is married to a Bangladesh woman and has a child. Such marriages are also very common in the enclaves.

The issues centring on possession and management of land have other facets as well, which may complicate things once the two governments start implementing the LBA.

For an outsider, it would be impossible to know where Bangladesh territory ends and an enclave begins. In most cases, it is Bangladesh on one side of a road and an enclave, officially India, on the other and only the locals can distinguish.

The Balapukuri enclave is just 3km away from Patgram upazila headquarters. The entrance to the enclave is muddy and rough. The 350 residents have no option but to come to Bangladesh for everything. Most of them are poor farmers. Some of them pull rickshaws and vans.

Abul Hossain, a Bangladeshi citizen, bought 1.5-acres of land inside the Balapukuri enclave from a Hindu family when they migrated to India.

“Enclave people do not have any documents of lands and properties. I do not know what will happen to our lands. We want a fair survey to know who owns how much. We do not want to lose out,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Sabuktageen Rumi, 75, a resident of the Khengir Chhit enclave, has 3.50 acres inside the enclave and 2.5 acres outside, just like many other enclave dwellers.

“We are happy that the India-Bangladesh treaty has been done at last. Now, we want to have an identity. We want to live in Bangladesh on our lands and with proper documents,” the old man said.

Baskata is the biggest enclave in Lalmonirhat district. As many as 55 out of the 111 Indian territories in Bangladesh fall within the boundaries of this district. Out of the 5,000 people living in Baskata, many are Bangladeshis who had moved into the enclave after losing their land to riverbank erosion.

Bangladeshi citizen Momtazuddin, who lives in Baskata, said: “20 years ago, Dharla river ate up all the land I had. Then I bought some lands from a Hindu family and started living here.”

Moksul Haque, another resident of Baskata, has a different fear. “As we do not have any documents, influential and powerful people may try to grab our lands during a land survey. We will not be able to go to court because we have no papers.”

Because these enclave people are not entitled to any legal services, they maintain a low profile and avoid chaos.

Golam Matin, chairman of the Chhitmahal United Council, said: “We are more concerned than happy. Land grabbers may pose a big problem. A fair share of lands for enclave people is our main demand. We want the government to involve the enclave dwellers in this survey.”    

Asked whether the enclave people will go to India after the LBA is implemented, Motin said: “Why will people go to India? They were born and brought up here in Bangladesh.”

The leader of the enclave dwellers also warned of dire consequences like riots if the two governments did not handle the situation carefully.

When contacted, Haider Ali, a government land surveyor for the Patgram upazila in Lalmonirhat, said: “Land management will be a big problem. But we are waiting for a government decision. We will act exactly as the government tells us. It will be hard to say anything before that.”

The good thing is that the 2011 Hasina-Manmohan Protocol looks to “allow people living in these adversely possessed areas to remain in the land to which they have deep-rooted ties, sentimental and religious attachments.” 

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