Seventy-two-year-old Bhupal Chandra Mandal, originally from Bangladesh's Khulna district, was first served a "Quit India" notice in 2005, depriving him of all the benefits of government schemes despite possessing ration and Aadhar cards.
Alongside Mandal were 1550 others, scattered along the Bay of Bengal coast in Kendrapara district, who were served a similar notice.
Mandal says he is "extremely happy" and burst into tears, recounting the horrors of being labelled a "foreigner" for the last 15 years. Strangely though, this "foreigner", like others of his ilk, has been allowed to vote in every election.
“I have got a rebirth,” he says, responding to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by Parliament last week.
Mandal fled Bangladesh after Muslim fundamentalists butchered both his parents in the build-up to the Bangladesh war in 1971 and settled in Chitpur area of Kolkata before coming to Batighara at the invitation of his elder brother, who had settled here earlier. Strangely again, his nephew Sapan is the local ward member.
Like Mandal, hundreds of Bangladeshis living in the area for ages have got a fresh lease of life with the CAA. “Celebrations broke out on the streets the day the Bill was passed in Parliament. People danced in joy and burst crackers to celebrate the occasion,” recalls Baikuntha Mandal, ward member of Kajalpatia village. Not everyone is ecstatic, though. Dhananjay Mandal of the same village, for one, is apprehensive that something could still go wrong. “Doubts will remain till we are given citizenship,” he says.
Significantly, none of the 1551 families branded "foreigners" and served the "Quit India" notice in 2005 is Muslim. Asked to explain this, Jamiuddin Khan of Khola village, one of a handful of Muslim families in the area, says; “Hindus fled Bangladesh and came here after they were persecuted by the Muslim majority in 1971. The few Muslim families settled here are from Medinipur in the erstwhile Bardhman kingdom of West Bengal. They have duly got pattas from the then Bardhaman ruler who owned this area,” he says.
Jamiuddin Khan says there are no Muslims from Bangladesh who settled in the area.
“Sections of the media mislead people by showing visuals of people alighting from boats at the Kkharinasi pheri ghat and passing them off as Bangladeshis coming to settle here. But they are local people who go to Paradip in search of work and have no choice but to use the waterway in the absence of road communication out of the area,” he adds. The reporter too had to take a boat to cross the bridge to reach the area where the Bangladeshis are concentrated.
A heartening feature of the area is the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of Bangladeshis, migrants from West Bengal and local Odias. Everyone says there has never been a problem between these communities, unlike in the case of Assam. “We have the best of relations with the Bengalis, both from Bangladesh and from West Bengal. We take part in their celebrations and they take part in ours,” says Sarat Chandra Das (64), a retired school teacher and a native Odia of Batighara village. “The Bengalis stand shoulder to shoulder with us when we are in trouble and we do the same when they face any difficulty,” concurs Manjulata Barik of the same village.
Not all is well over the CAA in Odisha, though. Muslims are up in arms against the Act. They marched in a procession on the streets of Bhubaneswar to protest against it on Tuesday. “We had thought Naveen Patnaik is a secular man and voted overwhelmingly for him in the last elections. But now, we feel cheated because his party supported the Bill in Parliament. He must make amends and work for its repeal,” says one of the protesters.
Caught in a cleft stick over the rising anger among the Muslims in the state, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had assured a delegation of Muslim organizations from Bhadrak, Balasore and Jajpur districts on December 14 that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will not be implemented in Odisha and the interests of Muslims will be protected.
That, observers say, is a classic case of "running with the hare and hunting with the hound".