‘Was first in family to apply for citizenship under CAA in Bengal, now others will’ | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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‘Was first in family to apply for citizenship under CAA in Bengal, now others will’

May 31, 2024 10:17 PM IST

Eight persons in West Bengal were given their certificate of Indian citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act on Wednesday

KOLKATA: The year was 2004. The Khaleda Zia government was in power in Bangladesh. Even though Debaprasad Gain has forgotten the exact date, he said he vividly remembers that it was a dark and cold winter night.

Santilata Biswas 52, received Indian citizenship on Wednesday
Santilata Biswas 52, received Indian citizenship on Wednesday

“There were five of us, all from Dumuria in Khulna. It was around 1:30 am. A tout helped us cross the Ichamati River and entered India through Hasnabad in North 24 Parganas. I just had 700 in hand. The touts on the Bangladeshi and Indian side had taken 100 each to help us cross the border,” said Gain.

The 38-year-old is among the eight people in West Bengal to get the certificate of their Indian citizenship from the ministry of home affairs on Wednesday.

“Hindu men were killed and women were raped. And if anyone protested, they would either be killed too or sent to jail after being charged with false cases. Even I had to spend three years in Khulna jail. A jail employee gave me 700 the day I was freed and advised me to flee to India. I didn’t even go home that day and came straight to India. My family and relatives came later,” he told HT.

Gain who now has an Aadhaar card, an election ID card, a ration card and even an Indian Passport, runs a small shop selling wooden furniture at New Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas. A Hindu couple who also came from Bangladesh long before he did, helped him to find a home in a slum and settle down.

“I was the first person in my family to apply for Indian citizenship as the others were scared. Now they will follow suit. Even though I had all documents, some residents would taunt me because I had come from Bangladesh. Today even I can say that I am Indian,” said Gain, a member of the Matua community.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act was a major political issue in the runup to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal with the ruling TMC that it wouldn’t help the refugees and that the state government wouldn’t allow it to be implemented in the state.

Among those who received the certificates were a couple, Sharbari Das, 52, and his husband who asked to remain anonymous. They had crossed over to India on September 5, 1994.

“We have all the documents, starting with the Aadhaar card, PAN card, and EPIC (Election ID card). But in some corner of our hearts, we knew they weren’t authentic and genuine. We always had an apprehension that even our children might face problems in the future. Hence, we applied for Indian citizenship. Now we are genuine citizens of India. This feeling can’t be expressed in words,” said Sharbari’s husband, who earns a living giving tuition.

CAA fast-tracks citizenship to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi and Sikh refugees who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before December 31, 2014, to escape religious persecution.

A section of the Matua community, a Hindu sub-caste under the SC category, in West Bengal, have been demanding operationalising the law that would help them get Indian citizenship. The community is spread over at least 70 of the 294 assembly seats in the state, comprising at least seven Lok Sabha constituencies.

Even though 52-year-old Santilata Biswas received her citizenship document on Wednesday, her husband’s application is still pending.

“The officials have assured me that even my application won’t be rejected. I have been asked to bring just one more document. We didn’t face any kind of harassment during the procedure. The officials at the post office helped us a lot,” said Tarak Biswas, a 59-year-old labourer from the Matua community. Biswas said he was just 17 when he crossed the border to enter India from his ancestral home in Bangladesh’s Khulna district.

“I can’t explain the feeling... We thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shantanu Thakur (BJP MP and leader of the All India Matua Mahasangha). I would urge everyone who had come to India like us, apply for the citizenship,” he said.

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