Bangladesh-India Citizenship Pact, Like Fall Of Berlin Wall

An agreement reached last month between India and Bangladesh has given citizenship to 50,000 previously stateless people who lived in disputed territory.

Celebrations in Kurigram, Bangladesh this summer of the historic pact
Celebrations in Kurigram, Bangladesh this summer of the historic pact
Bismillah Geelani

COOCH BEHAR â€" This is the first time the Indian national flag has been hoisted in Cooch Behar, near the India-Bangladesh border. People have been celebrating by setting off firecrackers, shouting slogans and lighting candles.

Diptiman Sengupta is among those jubilant after a landmark agreement signed between India and Bangladesh last month ends a border dispute dating back to 1947 that rendered some 50,000 people stateless.

"Today we have an identity," Sengupta said at a recent celebration. "We have a country now, and our right to be counted among humans has been established. We had no country, so we were not considered human."

When India was partitioned and Pakistan created in 1947, what is now Bangladesh was also included in Pakistani territory. The boundaries were drawn by British authorities and left parts of one country surrounded by another. Known as enclaves, the areas were impossible to control. As a result, tens of thousands of people living in the areas couldn't enjoy any benefits of citizenship.

In the wake of the recent Land Boundary Agreement, the two countries have exchanged thousands of acres of land, and those living in the enclaves were given the right to choose their citizenship.

Most people in the enclaves are Muslims, and about two-thirds of them chose to become formal citizens of Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The others chose India. The agreement is being hailed in both countries as groundbreaking, and both have welcomed their new citizens and assured them that they will receive help to become integrated.

Double celebration

On the other side of the border, in Dashia Choda, hundreds of people also marched in the streets, waving Bangladeshi flags and cheering.

"We thank Allah that we have finally been freed," says Mehfoozur Rahman, who helped lead the celebrations on the Bangladeshi side. "Now we will be independent citizens of this country."

Journalist Nilova Roy Chaudhury, who has covered the plight of the previously stateless people, says that they didn't have access to even the most basic civic services such as education or health care, much less the right to buy property.

"These people were essentially in an enemy territory," Chaudhury says. "So you had Indians living in the territory of Bangladesh and vice versa. It was a mess. They were just left there to their fate."

In 1971, Bangladesh broke free of Pakistan with help from the Indian military. The two friendly neighbors then agreed to resolve the border dispute in 1974, but political compulsions in both countries delayed that process for more than four decades.

Asma Bibi was in labor when an Indian hospital refused to admit her five years ago. "The doctors said, "Go away, you are a Bangladeshi and we won't admit you,"" she recalls. "I told him I live in an enclave and needed his help, but he didn't listen. When I refused to leave the hospital, he demanded our documents. We had none, so he threatened to have me arrested."

After hundreds of people protested in front of the hospital, Bibi was allowed to give birth there. But she has not yet been able to get a birth certificate for her child.

Rashid Ali had a similar experience. He couldn't admit his son into an Indian school until one of his Indian friends agreed to pose as the boy's father. None of the children from the enclaves uses the real names of their fathers in school records.

"It's so painful to see your son naming someone else as his father, but we had no options left," Ali says. "This is the only way we can give our children an education. I'm illiterate, but I don't want this to happen to my son. He must study at any cost."

Zauqi Ahad, Bangladesh's Deputy High Commissioner in India, says, "The India-Bangladesh relationship has to be taken to new heights. So I think it's the beginning of that journey that we are now witnessing."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has characterized the agreement as an historic event for both countries. "Some people have compared it to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I think they are quite right," he said.

But Modi is upset by what he has described as a "cold response" from the international community. "Had this event taken place anywhere in the developed world, it would have been celebrated the world over as a historic moment and would have certainly qualified for a Nobel Prize," he said. "But since we did it nobody will talk about it because we are poor nations."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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