DHAKA, Nov 26, 2015:
The last Indian families trapped in enclaves in neighbouring Bangladesh for decades finally headed home in emotional scenes on Thursday, after the resolution of one of the world’s most intractable border disputes.
Thousands of people living in the enclaves – pockets of one country’s territory surrounded by the other – had been kept in stateless limbo for nearly 70 years as India and Bangladesh failed to resolve the dispute.
Almost 50,000 residents were cut off from their national governments on the other side of the border, unable to access vital services like hospitals, schools and police.
But a historic land swap between New Delhi and Dhaka in August officially dissolved the enclaves and allowed residents to choose where they wanted to live.
“Forty-eight families crossed the border on Thursday from Bangladesh. They are among the last who have now gone to India,” said Bangladesh border official Shafiqul Islam.
Most residents opted to become citizens of the nation that surrounded their former enclaves. But nearly 1,000 Indian villagers living in Bangladesh decided to head across the border.
“Indian officials treated us with sweets as we crossed the border. I hope our new life in India has such an auspicious start,” Harish Chandra Barman told AFP from a border post with his wife, toddler son and parents.
Villagers have a deadline of November 30 to cross over, but the last major group of families left Bangladesh on Thursday.
There were heart-breaking scenes as families left behind elderly parents who could not face the upheaval of moving, and brothers and sisters who made different decisions.
“This might be the last time I see them,” Barman’s distraught wife Rani Golapi said of her parents and siblings who opted to stay.
Many families carried sacks of food as well as livestock despite India’s West Bengal government promising the families a small home and medicines as part of repatriation packages.
The enclaves dated back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes. The parcels of land survived partition of the subcontinent in 1947 after British rule, and Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
But after the landmark deal in August, the 162 pockets of lands – 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in India – were officially dissolved, with the territories handed over to the nations that surround them.
All of the 15,000 Bangladeshis who lived in enclaves in India opted to stay and become Indian citizens.