A 150-year-old Durga Temple located in no-man's land between India and Bangladesh near Assam's Karimganj district is all set to host the Durga Puja festival.
The temple was a part of Narendra Malakar's property. He was a landlord during the British period. In a demarcation drive, a border was drawn between the house and the Durga Temple of Narendra Malakar. The area came under fencing in 2008 and a year later BSF jawans discovered the temple. With the help of locals they started Durga Puja celebrations there which attract thousands of devotees during the festival every year.
During Pujas, the BSF opens the border gate from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm every day where only devotees are allowed to enter. An on-duty BSF official said, "Not only locals, our jawans celebrate Navratri by offering puja in this temple. We have people from various parts of India in our force and this temple beyond fencing unites everyone. We only allow devotees to go beyond the fencing gate during the festival."
Locals made a committee to take care of the temple and BSF officials helped them. The area near the temple has started getting basic facilities like electricity and better mobile network with the help of BSF officials.
Champak Malakar, president of the Manikpur Durga Puja committee said, "This puja helps us to get united. The officials from various parts of India join us as fellow devotees. They helped us to improve the common lifestyle here. Maa Durga is blessing us from beyond the fencing."
President of Manikpur Durga Puja committee, Parimal Malakar informed that people from entire Karimganj district extend their support to conduct this Durga Puja. He said, "Initially the puja started with the help of BSF but later a lot of people started visiting the temple. We needed money to arrange prasad. Now a family pays the amount for making the idol. Some other families give groceries for cooking khichdi (which is distributed as prasad during puja). Last year, we didn't distribute khichdi due to Covid-19 but this year things are better."
Karimganj shares a 92 km-long border with Bangladesh, mostly with Sylhet district of that country. Manikpur Durga Mandir is the only temple located on no-man's land in the district. Apart from that, there are nine Indian villages located beyond the fencing. But only in one such village, Durga Puja is celebrated. The village named Gobindapur has 44 Indian families, 42 of them are Hindu houses and they used to conduct Durga Puja before the pandemic.
Local resident Titu Namasusra said, "Till 2019 we organised Durga Puja but due to Covid-19, we stopped it temporarily. We don't take support from outsiders; it's our own Durga Puja. If the situation allows, the puja will be conducted next year."
The other villages beyond fencing in Karimganj are, Lafashail, Jarapata, Latukandi, Kuorbag, Mahisaahan, Tesua, Barmagul and Deo Tuli. The BSF allows residents of those villages to enter into Indian land for various purposes. They conduct monthly Covid-19 tests for each villager. But according to the BSF officials, no person has been found positive till now.
Champa Rani Namasusra, a 50-year-old resident of Gobindapur informed that they went through a tough time during lockdown but things have started normalising. "BSF officials closed the gate permanently during lockdown. But they supplied food and also allowed NGOs to send us essentials. Our children are now going to school after crossing the fencing gate. We all have taken the vaccine for Covid-19 and we were allowed to go to government hospitals for that. It's sad that we cannot conduct Durga Puja this year but it'll happen once the situation normalises."
Several organisations like Ram Krishna Mission Seva Samiti, Lions Club have distributed new clothes amongst residents of these villages before Durga Puja.