Lok Sabha Elections 2024: The Mini Bengal In Pilibhit Pins Hopes On CAA And PM Modi, Insights From Locals

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: The Mini Bengal In Pilibhit Pins Hopes On CAA And PM Modi, Insights From Locals

There are around 1 lakh refugees from Bangladesh who had made around a dozen villages in Pilibhit as their home.

BISWAJEET BANERJEEUpdated: Saturday, April 13, 2024, 08:39 PM IST
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“Aapni ki Bangali (Are you Bangali)”, a voice called me as I approached a small market in Ramnagri village. An affirmative answer led to swarming of people around me – majority of them illegal migrants from Bangladesh who migrated in 1970s during war.

There are around 1 lakh refugees from Bangladesh who had made around a dozen villages in Pilibhit as their home. They have all fled because of one reason — religious persecution of the Hindu minority by Islamists.

Crossing rivers and thick forests, they found their passage to India, where they lived in refugee camps for many years, until the Government of India acknowledged their problems and provided the necessary means for their survival.

Bengali Culture Thrives In Sharda Sagar Dam Villages

There are 10 gram panchayats — Kundannagar, Bidhipur, Najaulia Natka, Gabia, Maharajpur, Nagoria Lalpur, Ramnagra, Sela and Dhuria — all situated on the banks of Sharda Sagar dam. They have transformed these villages into `mini Bengal’, where their lifestyle matches that of any village of Bengal. They communicate with each other in Bangla and even dress like the village folks of rural Bengal.

“We have left our land … but not our culture. Our culture is our strength, no matter where we are,” Subal Das, 82, said. His son runs a Bengali sweet shop in Ramnagri.

Sripal Biswas says most of the natives here came from Jessore, Khulna, Faridpur, Dhaka , and Barishal districts of erstwhile East Pakistan during the 1971 war.

“Our parents kept entering India illegally. While the early arrivals were granted citizenship, the late comers were not. Many of them, even today, fear detention or deportation,” Biswas said.

CAA Implementation Sparks Hope And Action In Pilibhit

The implementation of CAA has come as a waft for fresh air for them, and naturally Citizenship Amendment Act has emerged as a focal point in the electoral landscape of the Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency. After its announcement people are submitting their forms online on the CAA portal.

Deepanker Mistri, 24, who runs the cyber cafe, said the migrants first have to submit the CAA form online and keep the hard copy with them to present it before government officials when they personally come for inspection.

The people whom this reporter spoke are enthusiastic about CAA and would vote for Modi. The change of candidate in Pilibhit this time from Varun Gandhi to Jitin Pradasa does not matter for them. “We will vote for Modi, whoever the candidate is,” declared Manoranjan Das.

Expectations vs. Reality

As these migrant Bengalis have a huge population political leaders visited their home frequently during elections. They also remember former President Pranab Mukherjee visiting them during the time of campaign in 2012. He was serving as a cabinet minister in the erstwhile UPA government and was tasked to campaign for the party in Pilibhit ahead of the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

A few months ago, BJP Bengal leader Shantanu Thakur visited the community and assured them of all the support necessary.

But beyond words, nothing has been done to change their lives, they complain.

"But this time we hope that Prime Minister Modi and the BJP will held us get our citizenship. Every single vote will go to them no matter what because no one else will speak up for us. We voted for the Congress after Indira Gandhi helped us, but her successors and local Congress leaders have not been helpful at all," said Manoj Bishai.

Challenges Faced by Namasudra And Poundra Communities

Although some of them have acquired voting rights after naturalisation, they are still treated as a general category, whereas many of them belong to Namasudra and Poundra communities — a group which historically faced untouchability in Bengal.

Narayan Mahato, 78, says that his children were born here and grew up here only, but still they were denied voting rights. “Not only this, the government and police term us illegal migrants Now, fortunately, PM Modi has given us the CAA weapon, which will certainly end our woes and help our children lead a better life,” he said.

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