As the clock struck one minute past midnight (1801GMT Friday), thousands of people who have been living without schools,clinics or power for a generation erupted in cheers of celebration fortheir new citizenship.
“We have been in dark for 68 years,” saidRussel Khandaker, 20, as he danced with friends in the Dashiar Chharaenclave, which belonged to India but has now became part of Bangladesh.
“We’ve finally seen the light,” he told AFP.
Atotal of 162 tiny islands of land — 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in India– were officially handed over to the countries surrounding them onSaturday after Dhaka and New Delhi struck a border agreement in June.
Theland-swap means some 50,000 people who have been living in the isolatedenclaves since 1947 will now become part of the countries that surroundtheir homes.
In Dashiar Chhara, thousands of people defiedmonsoon rains to celebrate, marching through rain-soaked muddy roadssinging the Bangladeshi national anthem and shouting: “My country, yourcountry. Bangladesh! Bangladesh!”
Others lit 68 candles to mark the end of “68 years of endless pain and indignity”.
Sharifa Akter, 20, held a candle in her hand and smiled. “I cannow fulfil my dream to be a top government bureaucrat,” she told AFP.
Maidul Islam, 18, said the handover meant “we’re now human beings with full human rights”.
Officialsfrom Bangladesh and India are set to hoist their respective nationalflags over their new territories on Saturday morning in formalceremonies.
– ‘Oh what a joy!’ –
The enclaves date back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes.
Theparcels of land survived partition of the subcontinent in 1947 afterBritish rule and Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
Bangladeshendorsed a deal with India in 1974 in a bid to dissolve the pockets,but India only signed a final agreement in June when Prime MinisterNarendra Modi visited Dhaka.
In the final hours before thehandover, villagers held special feasts and joined prayers in mosquesand Hindu temples to usher in the new era.
Prodeep Kumar Barmansang a devotional song praising Hindu Lord Krishna as he led his troupenear a temple at the main bazaar in Dashiar Chhara, singing: “Oh what ajoy, what a joy!”
Plans for more lavish festivities have beenscaled back as India is observing a period of national mourning forformer president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who died this week.
“Thisis the biggest celebration of my life. I can’t describe how I feeltoday,” said Parul Khatun, 35, a resident of the Indian enclave of KotBajni.
Both India and Bangladesh conducted surveys this month asking enclave residents to choose a nation.
Theoverwhelming majority of people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladeshopted for Bangladeshi citizenship, but nearly 1,000 people on theBangladesh side opted to keep their Indian nationalities.
They now have to leave their homes by November for India where they will be resettled in the state of West Bengal.
Thedecision has split some families along generational lines, withambitious young people moving to India and leaving behind parents whoare either afraid to move or just want to stay where they grew up.
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