CAA, Modi emerge as a beacon of hope for mini Bengal in Pilibhit

| | Pilibhit
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CAA, Modi emerge as a beacon of hope for mini Bengal in Pilibhit

Sunday, 14 April 2024 | Biswajeet Banerjee | Pilibhit

CAA, Modi emerge as a beacon of hope for mini Bengal in Pilibhit

In the rural expanse of Pilibhit, where the tranquility of village life intermingles with the echoes of a tumultuous past, a vibrant community has carved out its own enclave, fondly referred to as `mini Bengal’ which seamlessly mingles with the rural plains of Uttar Pradesh.

Here, amidst the verdant landscapes and rustic charm of Ramnagri village, the identity struggle of its residents, mostly migrants from Bangladesh, finds expression in a profound question that cuts through the air: “Aapni ki Bangali (Are you Bengali)?”. This question encapsulates the identity struggle of the majority of residents. For the approximately 1 lakh migrants who sought refuge in India during the tumultuous 1970s, fleeing religious persecution and strife, Pilibhit became a sanctuary.

There are 10 gram panchayats — Kundannagar, Bidhipur, Najaulia Natka, Gabia, Maharajpur, Nagoria Lalpur, Ramnagra, Sela, and Dhuria — where they all reside, transforming these villages into ‘mini Bengal’, where their lifestyle matches that of any village in Bengal. They communicate with each other in Bangla and even dress like the villagers of rural Bengal.

Subal Das, 82, a patriarch of the community, encapsulates their journey, stating, “We have left our land... but not our culture. Our culture is our strength, no matter where we are.” This sentiment reverberates through the alleys of Ramnagri, where Bengali traditions intertwine with the rhythms of rural life.

Sripal Biswas, a custodian of community history, recounts the trials of their parents’ migration, highlighting the precariousness of their status amidst uncertainty. He says most of the natives here came from Jessore, Khulna, Faridpur, Dhaka, and Barishal districts of erstwhile East Pakistan during the 1971 war.

The majority of the residents of these villages belong to Namasudra and Poundra communities — a group that historically faced untouchability in Bengal — but are treated as a general category. “Our children were born here and grew up here only, but still they were denied voting rights,” said Biswas.

Amidst this backdrop of uncertainty, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) emerges as a beacon of hope. Deepanker Mistri, 24, a tech-savvy entrepreneur, explains its significance, stating, “The CAA has come as a breath of fresh air for us. It provides a pathway to citizenship for many who have lived in limbo for decades.”

With the CAA taking center stage in Pilibhit’s political discourse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership garners unwavering support. Manoranjan Das, a vocal proponent of Modi, asserts, “We will vote for Modi, whoever the candidate is. His leadership gives us hope for a brighter future.”

Despite political promises, disillusionment prevails among the residents. “Beyond words, nothing has been done to change our lives,” laments a resident.

Manoj Bishai echoes this sentiment, expressing skepticism towards political rhetoric. “We voted for the Congress after Indira Gandhi helped us, but her successors and local Congress leaders have not been helpful at all,” he remarks.

Despite strides made in obtaining voting rights for some through naturalisation, discrimination persists. Narayan Mahato, 78, highlights the challenges faced by his children, denied voting rights due to their migrant status. “PM Modi has given us the CAA weapon, which will certainly end our woes and help our children lead a better life,” he states, hopeful for recognition and respect.

As this mini Bengal in Pilibhit navigates bureaucracy and political uncertainty, their faith in the CAA and Modi’s leadership remains unwavering. In the verdant fields and bustling markets of Ramnagri and beyond, their aspirations for recognition and citizenship stand as a testament to resilience and hope amidst adversity.

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