Tales of India-Bangladesh Border | Milaap

Tales of India-Bangladesh Border

It's Vijay Dashami (the 10th day of Navratri), Durga idols are being immersed in the waters of Ichamati from the two opposite banks of Ichamati. It's a sight to behold, crowds have gathered on either side of the river to watch this. However, immersions on these two banks are unlike all others. The two banks are of two different countries- India and Bangladesh. The west bank is Indian and the east bank is Bangladeshi. Crowds have gathered in Taki, India- a place frequented by tourists mostly to see the immersion of idols from the banks of these two countries.  

Taki is 73 km northeast of Kolkata. Here Ichamati runs between these 2 countries. Boats on the river carry flags of their respective country and the water is patrolled by BSF (Border Security Force) and BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) on boats.

India-Bangladesh border is unlike most borders. This border has often been romanticized in Bengali films and literature, such as the film "Sankha Chil"- where it's shown that Bangladeshi and Indian people coexist at some places without being separated by fences. Sometimes the border runs through the same house dividing one house into the Indian and Bangladeshi territories. Films such as "Bishorjon" shows the two countries being separated by a river, and people of these two countries falling in love irrespective of their religion or nationality. Often such films depict people of the two Bengals sharing the same history, culture, and lifestyle and yet separated brutally.

Tourists get excited at the thought of seeing the border. Mathabhanga is a town in the district of Coochbehar in North Bengal. Just as people flock to Taki to see Bangladesh on the opposite bank,  where people come to see the border outpost of BSF- a high fence. Bangladesh probably lies around half a kilometer inside the fencing. When a group of people traveled in a toto (battery operated e-rickshaw) to this fencing out of their eagerness to see the border, an old man was seen cutting paddy almost near the fence on the opposite side. This group of tourists asked excitedly whether he is Indian or Bangladeshi. He replies that he's Indian and goes to the other side as an agricultural laborer. He is asked whether he is paid in Indian rupee or Bangladeshi. He says he's paid in Indian rupee. He says he comes inside the fencing at around 8 in the morning, after submitting his voter-identity card and making an entry at the gate of the Border Outpost. While going out at around 12 noon, he takes back his voter-identity card and cuts his name from the list. The group took a couple of photos standing before the fence with the man working on the other side of the fence.

The more famous border area is Teen Bigha Corridor in Mekhliganj, North Bengal. Teen Bigha Corridor came about in the year 1982, in an agreement between India and Bangladesh. It's a strip of Indian territory connecting the Bangladeshi territories of  Dahagram and Angarpota through India. Teen Bigha Corridor is unique in its design- it's a crossroad, with Indian territory on 2 opposite ends and Bangladeshi territory on the other two opposite ends. Bangladeshi vehicles pass on this road through Indian territory. Often Indians are allowed to enter a bit inside the Bangladeshi territory and buy Bangladeshi goods.

When the group excitedly reached Teen Bigha Corridor in the hopes of entering into Bangladesh and buying something as a souvenir, they were informed that they would not be allowed to cross the Bangladeshi border. Two days back there was a skirmish between BSF and BGB and so Bangladesh wouldn't allow Indians on their soil. A group of 7-8 other people who had also come to this place to see Teen Bigha, were gathered at the gate of Bangladesh-India. One of them put a foot inside the gate and announced excitedly in jest that at least he has put a foot inside the Bangladeshi territory. In the full fifteen minutes that the group strolled on the roads and the small field on the side of the road, several Bangladeshi vehicles- totos, overcrowded van cycles, motorbikes were seen plying on this road. The group took photos, posing before this road, some took photos before the board which welcomes visitors to Teen Bigha.

The proposed Tetulia Corridor similarly would connect Chopra in the district of North Dinajpur to the towns of Jalpaiguri and Mainaguri in the Jalpaiguri district in North Bengal through Tetulia Upazila in Bangladesh.

However setting aside the border as a site for tourists or for love stories across the two countries, what does it mean for the many Indians affected by this border? Mayna Roy is one such woman, whose family has suffered because of the India-Bangladesh Barricade.  

Mayna is a 41 years old resident of a village in Mekhliganj. Her family comprises of her husband, two sons, one daughter-in-law and a grandchild. They primarily engage in agriculture and jute business. She says, "My father-in-law's house that is my original house is near the Teen Bigha location. We have agricultural lands there. But when the road was build in Teen Bigha, and the barricade was erected, then all the lands went to the other side of the barricade. We never received any compensation in the form of cash or land from the government because of this. My brother-in-law is farming in those lands now. There is a gate, people have landed on the other side of the barricade are required to go in at a certain a time and come outside at a certain time, submitting their voter-identity cards at the gate. In this manner, farming can't be done efficiently. We can't farm in those lands like how we farm in lands here. Sometimes because of some crisis between the two countries, they don't allow anyone to go to the other side of the barricade for days- this way farming can't be sustained. When the barricade was erected, my father-in-law told my husband- the youngest son, to settle in someplace else, as they were unsure what would happen next in the Teen Bigha area. He bought 6 bigha (measuring unit) of land here (nearby their current place of resident) for my husband. So we came here and settled, built a house from the money earned by my husband from working in Kerala as a mason. We faced a lot of difficulties starting everything anew in this new location and nurturing our children here. I couldn't even educate my sons because of our financial problems."

The overlooked aspects of India-Bangladesh border is often such stories of people who have suffered economic loses and have never been compensated by the government. While issues such illegal immigration, dacoities, smuggling in the border region consume our attention, issues such as these are often forgotten and remedies are never sought.