Twenty-three days after 2,000 people were trapped between the borders of India and Bangladesh in Tripura’s Sipahijala district, unable to access markets in the Indian Territory due to lockdown, the local administration Thursday delivered them food, rations and other daily necessities.
The 600-odd Indian families live in 11 different enclaves outside the barbed wire fence along the Indo-Bangla border in Tripura. Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced nationwide lockdown on March 25, these people found themselves trapped between the two countries as BSF shut their border gates for them to prevent transmission of coronavirus. Border Guards of Bangladesh denied them entry into Bangla soil as well, rendering them helpless.
To them, hunger was a far more potent threat than coronavirus.
Over three weeks on, the local administration has coordinated steps with BSF, Tripura Police has got fair price shop dealers to deliver ration supplies to them near the border gates.
However, only basics like rice, atta, salt and the like are being delivered now and the administration hopes to deploy village panchayats, Red Cross volunteers into action to deliver them vegetables, oil, medicines and other essentials.
Speaking to Daily News Update.com, Sonamura Sub-Divisional Magistrate Subrata Majumder said everyone in 10 out of 11 habitations where Indians live outside the border fence were delivered ration supplies. However, BSF has declined to open the border gates at Kali Krishna Nagar village of Sonamura sub-division, despite the district administration ordering them to do so.
“We have distributed ration to all 10 habitations. We shall continue the initiative till the end of lockdown. But BSF jawans at Kali Krishna Nagar village have refused to open the gates. We have informed the SDPO and SP. We are hopeful of solving this impasse as soon as possible and deliver them their ration,” the SDM said.
Asked if he has any alternative mode of ration delivery in mind, he said, “It is our mandate. We have to cover them like other habitations. There is no other alternative”.
According to the govt decision, fair price shop dealers would deliver supplies in front of border gates to families stranded outside. The delivery would be made twice every week – Monday, Thursdays or Fridays. One person from each family outside the fence would be allowed to come inside. The administration has also asked panchayat and Red Cross volunteers to collect vegetables and other necessities for them twice a week as well.
Tripura shares an 856 km long international boundary with Bangladesh. Nearly none of this stretch has got any ‘No Man’s Land’ and zero line acts as boundary between the two lands. Indian side has barbed wire fence erected 150 yards inside the zero point, Bangladesh has its border pillars.
Due to several contentions about this border, the eventual fencing alignment sliced through residential households of many living in the bordering villages. Some houses were literally divided midway with some rooms allotted in Indian territory and others on Bangla soil. Many of those who survived this fate like Esak Miah, Abul Kasem, Jahangir Alam and others of Kali Krishna Nagar, Machima and adjoining villages, found their homes inside the Indian territory but out of barbed wire fence, especially at Sonamura sub-division in Sipahijala district.
Abul Kasem, a resident of Machima village at Sonamura, 65 Km from here, said, “I have a family of six. We have some crop fields and three cows, all outside the border fence. Since the lockdown was first imposed, border gates were opened only once. We are short of oil, onion, chillies, cattle feed and pulses. We have got roughly seven days stock of rice and there is no way to go and collect it from the fair price shops unless border gates are opened for us”.
Kasem knows nothing about any decision to allow them inside the barbed wire fence for collecting vegetables, ration, nor has he seen anybody deliver their ration near border gates. Some of their relatives tried to deliver them rationS but were turned back by BSF guards on duty.
Esak Miah, a 58-year-old farmer also from KK Nagar village, had a question for the authorities: “We are Indian citizens. Why are we not allowed to enter our own country to collect food and sustenance provided to us by our government? Are we Bangladeshi nationals? Does anyone bother if we die here?”
Seru Miah, 77, said he sustains his family of 18 with his paddy fields. His rice stocks have nearly run out and many in the family are spending days half-starved.
Jasim Uddin, Moinuddin, Ramzan Ali and many others like them have a similar experience.
A senior official of the local administration has said all fair price shop dealers are on the ready to deliver ration. However, sources informed that villagers from Boxanagar, Bhabanipur etc. who received the supplies today, got only rice and atta and other supplies are still awaited. Many villagers, who depend on selling milk and vegetables are tensed as their produce is being wasted every day.