Over 50,000 people were living in the 111 Bangladeshi and 51 Indian enclaves on the Indo-Bangla border, cut off from their parent nations. At midnight on July 31, 2015, the enclaves were attached to their host countries
The people of Dashiarchhara have been formally recognized citizens of Bangladesh for the past four years. The exchange of enclaves may have delighted the former denizens of a geopolitical limbo, but their delight with their newfound constitutional rights is marred by lack of jobs.
Over 50,000 people were living in the 111 Bangladeshi and 51 Indian enclaves on the Indo-Bangla border, cut off from their parent nations. At midnight on July 31, 2015, the enclaves were attached to their host countries.
The Dashiarchhara enclave consists of three wards from three different unions - Fulbari Sadar, Kashipur, and Vangamur in Kurigram’s Fulbari upazila.
In these past four years, Dashiarchhara has drastically changed. Fundamental necessities like roads, schools, and medical facilities have been set up. Over half the area is connected to the power grid and the rest is expected to follow.
Abdul Khalek, an 80-year-old resident, said: “The government built roads and schools, distributed sanitary latrines, set up tubewells and deep tubewells for drinking water and irrigation. We are very happy as citizens of our motherland.”
Julekha Begum, a 55-year-old woman, expressed her relief at becoming a full-fledged citizen:
“We feel a lot better now. We were like caged animals before, unable to move anywhere. I have rented out my house to Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation who are training women to enter the workforce,” Julekha said.
The repatriation of the region has put an end to the smuggling of phensedyl, cattle, and motorcycle, after law enforcement agencies were installed.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental and important changes has been in education. With three new government primary schools and four private high schools, all children in the enclave are in the education system.
Growing up hearing tales of their parents’ woes has instilled great hope and ambition in the children as they see and experience the recent changes.
However, there are some who are disgruntled by the development. Abdul Jalil’s 33 acres were appropriated for a school. He asked for a teaching and staff position for a family member and neighbour in return, but did not receive any feedback.
Unemployment the key grievance
Before the exchange, half the people of Dashiarchhara worked in India. But afterwards, they became unemployed as there is only a limited demand for farm labour. The lack of industries is a crucial factor.
Despite the widespread unemployment, people appear to be doing their best to keep their chin up.
Moqbul Hossain used to work in Delhi and earned nearly Tk2.5 lakh annually. He saved Tk1.5 lakh every year in a deposit in Bangladesh, which has now become his only source of funds after returning and finding himself jobless.
The local consensus is unanimous. Though they are happy to be Bangladeshis, their plight would be alleviated if they had jobs.
Masuma Arefin, the upazila nirbahi officer, said: “We are going to build a multi-storey ICT facility to help local residents learn skills and training to find employment.”
False promises divide families
During the 2015 exchange, some people opted to move to India for citizenship, fracturing families. However, they now wish to return after discovering that India’s promises to provide them with basic amenities never materialized.
Moneji, a 45-year-old said: “I have a daughter and a son. My son went to India when he was enticed with offers of Tk5 lakh and a home. But he got nothing. He wants to come back, but we now have wired fences marking the territory.”
Mosharraf Hossain’s two brothers are in a similar dilemma, lamenting to him of their plight whenever they speak.
He said: “As Indian citizens, they are utterly destitute, whereas they have ancestral land here in Bangladesh.”