Crackers were burst and people rejoiced as India and Bangladesh exchanged enclaves at the stroke of midnight on Friday-Saturday, ending the 68 years of stateless existence for over 51,000 enclave dwellers.
Around 14,000 people living for so long in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in the Indian territory, and another 37,000 residing in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, now have a country of their own.
The Bangladeshi enclaves are now a part of India, while the Indian enclaves join Bangladesh.
Torches and candles were lit, people came out of their houses, burst crackers and hugged each other as part of the celebrations with their eyes shining bright with hope.
Their facial expressions showed ecstasy after decades of isolation and deprivation during which they were denied even the basic civic amenities.
History was written as India gave away to Bangladesh a total area of 17,160 acres, covering the 111 enclaves and in return received 7,110 acres comprising 51 enclaves.
As the clock struck 12, the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Co-ordination Committee (BBEECC) – an organisation that fought for the rights of the enclave dwellers — celebrated the occasion in Mosaldanga enclave of West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.
Sixty-eight candles were lit, marking the years the enclave dwellers have remained stateless. Besides, a documentary was also screened highlighting their struggle.
The Cooch Behar district administration has planned celebrations at 9 a.m. on Saturday. However, it will be a low key affair owing to the national mourning being observed following the death of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
“As a part of the celebrations, the tricolour will be hoisted in all the 51 enclaves but will be subsequently put on half mast as the country is in national mourning,” said Cooch Behar District Magistrate P. Ulagnathan.
The 111 Indian enclaves are located in the Bangladesh districts of Lalmonirhat (59), Panchagarh (36), Kurigram 12 and Nilphamari (4) while all the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves are situated in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal.
The swapping is in pursuance of the inking and exchange of documents of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) on June 6 in Dhaka, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
The LBA was first inked in 1974 by then Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.
“July 31, 2015 will thus be a historic day for both India and Bangladesh. The day marks the resolution of a complex issue that has lingered since independence. It also marks the day from which enclave residents on both sides of the border will enjoy the benefits of nationality of India or Bangladesh, as the case may be, and thus access to civic services, education, healthcare and other facilities provided by the two governments to their respective nationals,” said an official statement released by the central government.
Other steps with regard to implementation of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and 2011 Protocol are underway in accordance with agreed modalities between the Indian and Bangladeshi governments, it said.