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21 December, 2007

Villagers on Bangladesh border are locked out of the country every night

Several thousand Indian citizens living in villages on the Bangladesh border, stretching a long distance from near Kolkata to Tripura, lose their right to move within the territory of India for 12 hours every day. They are locked out at night.

According to a note circulated by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, there are more than 170 villages along the India-Bangladesh international border.

Some tears ago the Government of India had erected barbed wire fences along the border to check illegal migration. Several Indian villages are outside the fenced area. As the clock strikes 6 in the evening the gates along the barbed wire fences are closed for the night. As a result, residents of the villages that lie beyond the fences are locked out of the country – until the clock strikes 6 again, in the morning, and the gates are opened.

There were unresolved boundary disputes between India and Pakistan at the time of Partition. After the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh signed a pact providing for a 100-metre wide no man’s land along the border.

The no man’s land falls outside the fences. Once the gates are closed, people living in that area will not be able to cross over even if there is a medical emergency. When marriages and other social functions are take place, the villagers obtain prior permission from the concerned District Magistrate, who will then arrange to keep the gates open for the visitors to return home.

Veteran journalist Mrinal Talukdar of UNI has made a short film of 20 minutes, titled “Nobody’s Men” about the residents of these villages. The film was shot at Lafsai and Jarapata, two border villages in the Sutarkandi area of Karimganj district in Assam.
“Nobody’s Men” is among the 13 movies selected for screening during the International Film Festival to be held at Mumbai from February 4 to 9, 2008.

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee has said it will send a fact-finding team to Sutarkandi and initiate action on the basis of itsrecommendations to ensure that the part-time Indian citizens the benefits of full-time citizenship.

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