Bangladesh`s stateless people demand citizenship

Virtually stateless residents of several Indian enclaves in Bangladesh have kept their homes in dark at night.

Dhaka: Virtually stateless residents of several Indian enclaves in Bangladesh have kept their homes in dark at night in an unusual protest to demand implementation of an agreement giving them Bangladeshi citizenship.

Thousands of people in the enclaves also marched in the streets on Saturday before refusing to light lamps at home in an attempt to draw the attention of authorities, protest organizer Mofizar Rahman said.

A similar "night without lights" protest will take place on Sunday, he said.

There are 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi ones inside India with a combined population of 51,000, a legacy of fighting between 18th century kingdoms and some absurd map drawing during the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent.

The enclave residents have no official right to receive government jobs. They live without basic health and are also deprived of facilities such as subsidized food and free primary education. They have been compared to stateless people because no country takes responsibility for them.

On Tuesday, during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the two South Asian nations signed a protocol to resolve the enclave issue. No details were given, but Singh said the issue would be resolved without dislocating people, indicating that the two countries would absorb the enclaves in their territories and give its residents citizenship.

But the agreement did not outline a timeframe.

"We want Bangladesh and India to immediately solve the problem and give us citizenship," Rahman said.

"We have no country, the governments should feel the pain. We want a specific timeframe to get the job done," he said.

Most of the residents of the enclaves inside Bangladesh are Muslims and they already have a social life with Bangladeshi people. They want to be part of Bangladesh.

Although they are officially stateless, they regularly walk over to Bangladeshi areas for work without hindrance. Saturday`s protest march was held in Panchgarh town in Bangladesh, which adjoins some of the enclaves. The town is 215 miles (344 kilometers) north of the capital, Dhaka.

Bureau Report

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