Lost on the way to Dohagram Angorpota

Our correspondents navigates his way inside Indian Territory to a Bangladeshi enclave, where thousands get locked in and sealed off from outsiders upon nightfall.


    In the northern districts where Bangladesh meets India, there are no street signs to tell you where you are.

    So after hours of driving down narrow roads flanked by verdant green paddy fields, my cameraman and I had to admit we were lost.

    Thankfully, we spotted a fire station where a jovial fire chief greeted us. We asked him for directions to Dohagram Angorpota, a Bangladeshi enclave inside Indian Territory.

    He told us that he knew exactly where it was because it is an area he has been assigned to cover - at least during the day.

    “If there is a blaze during the day my men can be there in no time at all, but if there is a fire after six o'clock in the evening, the people there have to handle it on their own," he said, as he twirled his perfectly parted moustache.   
    Indian border guards control the access points to this Bangladeshi village inside the Indian Territory.

    At night they close off the parameters of the area, effectively locking thousands of people inside their community and sealing it off from outsiders. 
    There are 55 such enclaves in India and 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh.

    The enclaves were created hundreds of years ago when the region was one territory. Landlords and kings would play a game called pasha in which they bet parcels of their land.

    A recent head count organised by the two countries revealed that 51,000 people live in these no man's lands.
    Last July, enclave inhabitants on both sides were asked to choose which country they wanted to belong to. It turned out that feelings of national allegiance went hand-in-hand with religious beliefs.

    The people of Dohogram Angorpota said they would prefer to be Bangladeshi. Most in this enclave are Muslim and feel closer to Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country.

    Similarly, residents of the Indian enclaves inside of Bangladesh are overwhelmingly Hindu and they seek allegiance to India.
    Rezaul Rahman, the headmaster of Dohogram primary school, says: "There is no religious tension, just closer affinities."
    At his school, pupils already consider themselves Bangladeshi.

    They start each day by singing the Bangladeshi national anthem together and they follow a Bangladeshi curriculum, even though students at all the schools around them follow the Indian system.
    Authorities from Bangladesh have officially asked India to grant it 24-hour access to Dohogram Angorpota.

    People here have set their hopes high for the outcome of the Indian Prime Minister Mamohan Singh’s two-day visit to Bangladesh, which begins on Tuesday.

    One of the most important issues under discussion during the visit is the signing of an agreement that formally recognises each other's enclaves.
    Shortly after Bangladeshi independence in 1975, Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Muja and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to an agreement over these parcels of land.

    But Sheikh Muja was assassinated before the agreement was signed.

    His daughter, Sheikh Hasina is now the country’s prime minister and she is determined to finalise the agreements made by her father. 

    For people living in enclaves, the agreement means the formal recognition of a national identity which continues to be strong.

    The people I met in Dohagram Angorpota have been yearning for this sense of belonging and for the recognition of a nation they desire to belong to.



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