TODAY -
Indo-Bangla border
Man made fences fail to snap emotional/familial ties

Source: The Sangai Express / Laishram Shamungou

SOHRA (Cherrapunjee), September 12: Although the once flourishing border trade activities between the two neighbouring countries of India and Bangladesh ceased after Bangladesh, the erstwhile East Pakistan, became an independent country along with erecting barriers to demarcate the two countires, the emotional bonding among the people living in the Meghalaya on the Indian side exist even today.

The sense of camaraderie that pervades in the hearts of those living on either sides of the border is so infectious that a team of journalists from different parts of the North Eastern States who undertook a study tour conducted under the theme of ‘Lived realities at the border’ recently by Panos South Asia, Guwahati office could not help but sit up and take notice of the inalienable human bonding.

Till the time the British landed on the soil of Sylhet town of Bangladesh in 1765, Khasis, Jaintias and Garos living in the Northern-Eastern part of Meghalaya bordering Bangladesh used to have not only flourishing trade in limestone, silk, wax, honey, fish and rice but also maintained alliance with people from beyond the border.

There was no restriction on movement of the people and students from either sides of the border adn they used to cross in search of knowledge and studied either at Dhaka or at Shillong.

That time, people were well-off and had enough income at their disposal.

But today the situation is different.

With limited scope for generating income, people took up whatever odd jobs that they could find to sustain the family and the number of school dropouts has been on the rise.

Prof Dr Graham Nongkryugrih of Department of Sociology, North Eastern Hills University (NEHU) informed that in ancient times, people living in the border areas of Meghalaya used to go to Sylhet every day to get fresh fishes for the morning meal.

Dawki, Nongjari, Mojai, Shella, Ballat and Mowdon were the main trading centres of Meghalaya at that time.

But today inspite of sharing a distance of 443 kms long border with Bangladesh, the ancient trading centres of Meghalaya do not function any more.

Without possessing valid visas and related documents, people are not allowed to cross the border, and solemnisation of inter-caste marriages has become a thing of the past.

Prof Nongkryugirh said even if he wants to conduct research on Khasis, Jaintias and Garos, such restrictions prevented him from going to places located beyond the border.

Giving an example of the existence of the alliance among the people on both sides of the border in the past, 76-year old K Romesh Giri, who is the son-in-law of late Prof GG Swell, former Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha and chief of Laitkynsew village located in the border Shella-Bholaganj Assembly Constituency disclosed that former Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia was born of a Khasi woman.

At present there are over 100 villages inhabited by Khasis, Jaintias and Garos in Bangladesh, Giri said.

After the partition of Pakistan and formation of Bangladesh which was earlier known as East Pakistan in 1971, people living in the border areas of Meghalaya used to go and market their products like limestone, betel nuts, fruits, etc in Bangladesh and imported rice and fish from there.

After now we have to procure all the goods required from Shillong, he informed, while suggesting that reviving the border trade might help the people living in the border areas of the two neighbouring countries.

Anish Marak, a farmer living Shella village, which used to be one of the main border trade centres in ancient time, recalled that before partition he was in possession of some paddy fields in Sylhet.

But after the fencing of the border area, he cannot go to his field for work and reap the fruits of labour.

When asked whether any person is not allowed to cross the border even for a while, he replied permit is required for doing so.

In such a situation, the paddy fields located on the side of Sylhet are being tilled by the Bangalis and giving some portion of the rice produced as taxes to the land owners.

Secretary of Shella village Brostar Well Ora conveyed that the people living in the border area suffered from the scourge of malaria every year claiming many lives as there is no adequate health care facilities.

In case of emergency, the patient has to be taken to Shillong in the ambulance of the BSF for necessary treatment.

Officials of the Border Out Post (BOP) of the 35 Bn BSF posted at the village informed that fencing of the border areas is being carried out and no one is allowed to cross the border from either sides without proper permission even for the purpose of cultivating the lad in the zero point of the border.

They also disclosed that it was the first time that mediapersons have ever visited the area.

It may be recalled here that in case of border area of Manipur, along with the proposal given to its Myanmar counterpart by the India Government for fencing the Indo-Myanmar border on the side of Moreh of Manipur for over a distance of 20 kms, movement of the people from either sides of the border is permitted for some limited hours.

However, in the remaining parts of the 350 km long international boundary, there is free movement of people and trading activities.

On the other hand, after the incident of killing 16 BSF personnel by the Bangladesh Rifles on April 19, 1995, Border Management Department of the Union Home Ministry started fencing of the border area in Meghalaya.

Till March last year, fencing of the border for over a distance of 2,187 kms has been completed.

Meghalaya became a full-fledged State on January 21, 1972. Besides, Bangladesh and Myanmar, North Eastern States share International boundary with China, Bhutan and Nepal as well.


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