04 Aug 2015 17:16 IST

Immigrant songs and relocation woes

Lack of political freedom and fear of persecution among causes for Hindus to migrate to India

Bijay Krishna Burman (62) of ‘No 78 Garati’ in Panchagarh district of Bangladesh is annoyed. Garati is one of the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, merged with the neighbouring nation on August 1. Though Hindus are a micro minority (85), constituting three per cent of the population (2,675), most of them own large tracts of land, and Bijay is the richest of them all.

His father and grandfather were the first village heads after the Partition in 1947. Though a large chunk of Hindus subsequently stayed away from Bangladeshi politics, Bijay continued to draw support from his Muslim neighbours.

Naturally when his nephew Dwijen opted to migrate to India taking advantage of the land-swap deal; Bijay had to do the explaining. “Dwijen is leaving under pressure from his Indian wife,” he says with a long face.

But that was not enough to survive him the village banter. “Why would you stay with Mollas (Muslims), go to your country,” asks Mofijuddin (60) in mock seriousness. The next moment he turns emotional, “We took care of you for so long. Now you guys are leaving us. Don’t you feel any pain in leaving us behind? Most of the Hindus in the village echo Mofijuddin’s sentiment. Initially, out of 24 Hindu families, six expressed interest in migrating to India. At the end of the deadline for giving options on July 31, only Dwijen stuck to his decision.

“Why should I leave for India. I do have some relations there. But they don’t care much about me,” says Basudeb Burman (25), the only landless among the Hindus here. Garati is an exception.

Local MP Nazmul Haq Pradhan of Jatitya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) describes it as a mark of communal harmony in Bangladesh. JSD is a socialist force with limited support in the Bangladeshi electorate. The party is now in government, in coalition with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami league.

Haq, who had won the seat in a opposition-less election in 2015, is right in so far as Garati is concerned. But the experience of this correspondent in several large enclaves in at least two Bangladeshi districts suggests that Garati may also be an exception in the volatile socio-political atmosphere of Bangladesh.

Take the case of Najirganj, some 30 minutes from Garati that has 100 Hindu families out of a total of 400 families.

By November, 12 Hindu families combing 54 people will be migrating to India. All have reasonable land assets, and some of them like Jaiprakash, who belongs to the former landlord family of the village, claim to have as much as 100 bigha farmland.

The only reason cited behind the decision is social persecution. The claim is confirmed by Russel, the local head of Jubo League, the youth organization of Awami League. “Hindus don’t enjoy political freedom and live under constant fear,” Russel says. The allegation is not unfounded.

There are very few Hindus at the forefront of Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee leadership that has been fighting for land swap deal in both the countries. The situation is just the opposite in India where Muslims outnumber Hindus by a wide margin in BBEECC leadership.

“As a minority group, Hindus were always afraid to come at the forefront of the movement,” says Najrul Islam of Dasiar Chhara in Kurigram district. Dasiar Chhara was the largest Indian enclave contributing nearly one-fifth of the total enclave population (over 37,000) in Bangladesh.

Why fear?

Out of approximately 980 families migrating to India, 75 per cent are Hindus. And, all those who will be coming from Panchagarh are Hindus. This includes a single block of 255 Hindus from Debigunj.

Despite having a strong support base for rightwing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); Panchagarh had historically been peaceful when compared against the neighbouring Nilphamari (that has enclave population) and Thakurgaon districts. It is therefore surprising that at a time when the Hasina government is going all out against Islamists; Hindus are leaving Panchagarh.

Tajul Islam a local transport operator blames it on deterioration of Panchagarh’s law and order in the recent times due to rising factional feud among Awami League leadership and the fear of a backlash among Hindus.

“The past may be haunting minorities. Hopefully, the government’s effort to protect the secular fabric of the nation will bear fruit with time,” says a prominent Bangladeshi politician on condition of anonymity.

Pressure against migration

There are also allegations of political pressure to prevent migration, especially that of Muslims to India

“Had they allowed people to express opinion in a free and fair manner, many more would have opted for Indian citizenship,” says Mizanur Rahman of Dasiar Chhara in Kurigram. Mizanur is already keeping in touch with the Trinamool leadership in West Bengal.

A total of 284, including 136 Muslims opted for Indian citizenship from this enclave. Many of those opted to leave Bangladesh had already been illegal migrants to India. Mofijuddin, for example, lives with his family in Delhi.

The BBEECC leadership rubbishes such claims. “We surely don’t want anyone to leave the country. But Indian representatives expressed full satisfaction at the arrangements here,” says Abraham Lincoln a prominent BBEECC leader in Bangladesh and senior Awami League functionary in Kurigram.

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