Just a few hours before the Prime Minister's visit to Kolkata on Sunday, nearly 2,000 Bangladeshi nationals staged a demonstration at Metro channel, in the heart of the city, demanding immediate recognition of their identity as Indian by speedy exchange of enclaves.
The agitating Bangladeshis are actually residents of Bangladeshi enclaves located inside Indian mainland in Cooch Behar. Since Partition, these small patches of land remained inside Indian territory, isolated from Bangladesh, but officially as part of Bangladesh. Similarly thousands of people in Indian enclaves remained isolated from India inside Bangladesh. Since Independence, these people virtually remained stateless, deprived of basic services and with an identity crisis as none of the governments do not accept them.
To ease the situation, long back in 1974, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had signed an agreement with her Bangladesh counterpart Seikh Mujibur Rahman where both countries had accepted to exchange the enclaves and to merge the enclave lands with the mainland. But since then nothing happened.
For the past few years, enclave dwellers of both countries have floated a common platform - Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC) and raised their voice to both governments demanding speedy exchange to end the land lock.
The movement however prodded both the governments to conduct a census at enclaves in 2011 for the first time since independence. And the enclave exchange issue is a major one in coming bilateral meet in Dhaka where Indian premier will meet his Bangladesh counterpart.
The leadership of the forum however fears that influential sections of both governments are active to delay the process citing security reason. "We know who all are trying to delay the process and how their vested interest will be harmed after the exchange. So we have come to Kolkata along with nearly 2,000 enclave dwellers, who are officially Bangladesh national so that the PM comes to know about our plight," said Diptiman Sengupta, assistant secretary of BBEECC.
"It's our appeal to the Prime Minister to take prompt action to end this unbearable humiliation of thousand of people who are struggling for minimum identity," said Ahsan Hasan, another leader of the forum.