Dotted lights pierced the midnight darkness to herald a new dawn of freedom in 111 enclaves that became part of Bangladesh as the clock struck a minute past midnight on Friday.
The swap of little ‘land islands’ with India put an end to one of the most complex and puzzling border disputes the world has ever seen.
Bangladesh flags fluttered over every house that was illuminated with 68 earthen lamps to symbolise the end of that many years of neglect and deprivation.
Scenes of joy were also witnessed in the enclaves that became part of India, but somewhat muted as the nation was mourning former president APJ Abul Kalam, BDnews reports.
President Abdul Hamid on Friday congratulated the people of enclaves on the eve of the swap of 162 enclaves between Bangladesh and India as per the Land Boundary Agreement.
In a congratulatory message, the President said the exchange of enclaves is an historic moment for the two countries which has been resolved after long 68 years.
"The initiative to specify land boundary which was introduced through Mujib-Indira agreement in 1974 is being implemented in 2015 due to the sincere wish of both Bangladesh and India," Abdul Hamid added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a congratulatory message said, "After long 68 years, the enclave people got their identity, scope for living in specific land, the national flag and map of their beloved motherland."
The PM also said there is no distinction between the people of the enclaves and other citizens of the country.
"The government would take all kinds of steps to undertake such project to improve the lifestyle of the enclave people," she added.
With the exchange of enclaves between two countries, around 50,000 people have finally been able to purge the ignominy of being subjugated in one’s own country.
The people of these pockets had been effectively cut off from the country they belonged to and forced to live in another in a bizarre arrangement.
According to the Land Boundary Agreement between the two neighbours, from Aug 1, some 17,160 acres of land within Bangladesh territory became part of it.
Similarly, 51 Bangladesh’s enclaves spread over nearly 7,110 acres within India became part of that country.
The land swap has finally rectified the territorial anomaly and settled the boundary between the two countries.
The genesis of the problem goes back to 1947 with the partition of India after the end of British rule.
In 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement was signed to settle the vexed issue inherited since the hurriedly drawn boundary after the partition. To operationalise the agreement, a protocol was signed in 2011.
On May 7, after India’s Parliament ratified the agreement, the decks were cleared for the exchange of enclaves.
Accordingly, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit, LBA ratification documents were exchanged.
As these enclaves were cut off from their country, there was virtually no administrative or government presence there.
The residents were denied access to basic facilities like government schools, health centres, electricity or even the judiciary.
As a result of such peculiar situation, many could not provide education to the children while others had to forge identities to send their wards to schools.
But as they were residents of enclaves, they were deprived of job opportunities.
In India, all the enclaves are in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal while in Bangladesh they are scattered across Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Kurhigram and Nilphamari districts.
President of the Bangladesh unit of the Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee Mainul Haque told bdnews24.com in order to mark the end of 68 years of exploitation and neglect, that many number of earthen lamps or candles were lit in all the enclaves on either side of the border.
All the dark alleys in the enclaves were lit up with torches and hot air balloons were also sent up in the sky.
National flags were hoisted in all the enclaves.
Haque said to make the day memorable, the citizen committees of the enclaves organised games, dramas and other cultural events.