COOCH BEHAR (WB), Aug 1 - At the stroke of Friday midnight, 51,000 stateless people of India and Bangladesh attained freedom when the two countries ended more than six decades of their lingering wait for citizenship by exchanging 162 adversely-held enclaves between them.
Seconds past midnight, hundreds of people in the India-held enclaves, including Madhya Masaldanga, came out of their homes, hoisted the Tricolour and danced in joy as the much-awaited exchange of enclaves � 111 of India and 51 of Bangladesh � came into effect.
The exchange of enclaves was made possible under the Land Boundary Agreement signed between the two countries recently.
About 51,000 residents of the enclaves, who have been stateless for decades, have chosen the country they want to live in. A total of 14,000 of them living in Bangladeshi enclaves, which have now merged with India, have become Indian citizens. All the Indian enclaves are located in West Bengal�s Cooch Behar district.
Barring less than 1,000 people, the rest living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh have become Bangladeshi citizens.
As many as 111 Indian enclaves measuring 17,160 acres became Bangladesh territory. Similarly, 51 Bangladeshi enclaves measuring 7,110 acres became Indian territory.
Though no official ceremony was held, an organisation named Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC) organised a ceremony at the Madhya Masaldanga enclave adjacent to the Dinhata subdivision of Cooch Behar. It was an enclave of Bangladesh encircled by Indian territory.
For the first time, the residents of the enclaves will get identity papers and land in their own names, putting to an end the agony of the residents that started in 1947 with the Partition.
�For us this is nothing but second freedom. India might have got freedom in 1947. But we got our freedom today as from now on we will be citizens of a country. We will also be called Indians,� said an 18-year-old enclave dweller, while waving the Tricolour. � PTI