“Zakiganj may turn into another Teknaf,” said Azir Uddin, an undergraduate student from Zakiganj upazila in Sylhet.
Echoing Azir, Samir Das, a school teacher from Barhal area in the upazila, said: “We are beset with various problems. Our farmlands are shrinking day by day. Our children are not getting jobs after finishing their studies. Now if many people come here crossing the border, we will plunge into a deep crisis.”
They were talking with this correspondent at Sabur Ahmed’s tea stall near Zakiganj Land Customs Station in Sylhet on Monday.
The discussion was about the recent publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Indian state of Assam. They were expressing their concern over the exclusion of about 19 lakh residents from the NRC list.
At one stage, Sabur Ahmed joined the discussion. He said the Rohingya influx has resulted in many problems in Bangladesh.
It has become difficult to send them back now, he pointed out, adding no such situation should be allowed to arise in Sylhet.
The river Surma flows calmly by the tea stall where the discussion was going on. On the south bank of the river is Karimganj in the Indian state of Assam; on the north bank is Zakiganj of Sylhet district in Bangladesh. Residents on both sides of the river have suddenly been gripped with a different kind of anxiety.
The final NRC in Indian state of Assam was published on Saturday. The 19 lakh residents who have been left out of the list have suddenly become stateless. It has created restlessness in the state. On the other hand, people living on the Bangladesh side of the border fear that these stateless people might be forcefully pushed into Bangladesh, which might push the locals into a precarious condition.
Though the BJP government in India has not directly stated that these ‘stateless’ people will be pushed back to Bangladesh, many leaders of the ruling party are saying that those who are excluded from the NRC are Bangladeshi nationals. This is what has made residents of Zakiganj fearful about the probable infiltration of the huge number of Indian citizens who have been left out in the NRC.
Zakiganj shares about 54 kilometres border with Karimganj and Kachhar districts of Assam. Besides, Kanaighat and Beanibazar upazilas of Sylhet are also closely linked with Assam state. The upazilas of Barlekha, Kulaura and Kamalganj upazilas of Moulvibazar are also situated in the Assam border.
This correspondent also talked to workers’ leader Mohammad Mohsin of the same area.
Mohsin who lives at Atgram area in the upazila said if anybody wants to infiltrate into Bangladesh illegally from India, they must be resisted.
No crisis like that involving Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar should arise here, he said.
Meanwhile, local media worker Al Mamun thinks that Indian government has taken an inhumane decision by leaving out 19 lakh people from NRC list. He said the restlessness created on the other side of the border has given rise to fear in the mind of ordinary people on this side.
The people of this area are usually faced with various problems, Mamun said, adding that any fresh infiltration of people from India might put the livelihood of the locals in serious danger.
It will have a negative effect on the economy, he observed.
The tension and concern among ordinary people, however, had no outward manifestation. The border area remains calm as before. No additional vigilance by the Border Guard Bangladesh or any other force was visible.
Mir Md Abu Naser, officer-in-charge (OC) of Zakiganj thana, however, said they are on alert following the restive situation in Assam.
The administration has been keeping strict vigilance so that nobody can cross the border illegally. He said the police has talked to local public representatives so that residents do not panic in the wake of the situation in Assam.
Jahangir Alam, a sub-inspector of police who is in charge of immigration at Zakiganj, said the immigration police has remained alert so that none can enter Bangladesh illegally, taking advantage of the situation.
Local public representatives also said that they will work with ordinary people to face any crisis that might erupt following the Assam NRC.
Zakiganj Municipal Corporation Mayor Md Khalil Uddin said, “This is an internal issue of India. We hope the Indian government will find a proper solution to the problem. Our people are very much aware of the overall situation.”
Zakiganj Upazila Parishad Chairman Lokman Uddin Chowdhury said, “such a decision by the Indian government is sad. We and our people will stand by our government to face any situation.”
Nayek Subedar Robiul Islam, Zakiganj camp commander of BGB, said, “We have been given directive to remain alert at the border and we are on alert.”
“Besides, we have requested the local people to inform us of any information about illegal infiltration they might get.”