Fair And A Bond At International Border

Every year ‘Hujur Saheber Mela’ is held annually along the international border between India and Bangladesh on 18th February. Mela (a Fair) constitutes a unique bridge between the two nations, just near the zero-line on the India-Bangladesh International Border (IBIB) at Chilahati, under Haldibari town/Police Station of Coochbehar district of the Northeastern Indian State, West Bengal, where the mausoleum (Mazar) of Pir Hujur Saheb is situated. Even in times of animosity between the two nations, it has acted as a catalyst in bonding people across the boundary.

Huzur Saheber shrine on the Indian side of the India Bangladesh International Border at Chilahati
A view of the Huzur Saheber shrine on the Indian side near the IndiaBangladesh International Border at Chilahati, under Haldibari town/Police Station of Coochbehar district of Northeastern Indian State, West Bengal.

The only exception to this close bonding was in 2001, after the terror attack on the international frontier guard – Border Security Force of India (BSFI) by the Bangladesh Defence Rifles (BDR) jawans. At that time, there was a military build-up along the border, and people from across the border could not participate. Now, in an environment of peace, the event is set to become famous.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm among people living across the border. In this connection, BSFI has made extensive arrangements. For it has been a symbol of brotherhood and communal harmony for around 65 years,” revealed a BSFI official posted at the local Indian International Border Out Post (IIBOP).

A Bangladeshi septuagenarian pilgrim, who comes to pray at Hujur’s grave, said, “The mela along with the Akramia Esale Souab (religious meeting) is held in memory of the spiritual leader, Hujur Saheb, on the fifth and sixth day of the Beg”ali month of Falgun every year. People of all sections or casts, creeds, colours, communities and religions gather at the fair. Most of the visitors come from Bangladesh. It is believed that if one prays for anything with heart and soul, Hujur Saheb fulfils the prayer.”.

“In fact, the tradition began in 1943 – the year Sahi Sufi Khandekar Muhammad Ekramul Haque (popularly known as, Hujur Saheb) passed away. Both Bangladeshi Hindus and Muslims crossed the IBIB at will and lit candles at Hujur Saheb’s Dargah (The Mosque erected by the grave of a Mohammedan saint) to pray for health, rain and good harvest.”

“Our Hujur Saheb was born in 1846 at Punashee Shareef, Kandi, (now) in Murshidabad district of Eastern Indian State, West Bengal (WB). At a very early age, he came to his grandfather Ajijur Rahaman at Jhajhali (now) in Coochbehar district of West Bengal and studied up to class X …”

– Muhammad Anisur Rahaman, a resident of Chilahati of Nilfamari district of Bangladesh.

Sayed Fazlul Haque, a man from Bogura, a district headquarter town in Bangladesh, who says he does not have a passport, but comes every year, said, “We enter mostly during the evening, light candles at the Hujur Saheb’s Mazhar-e-Sharif (that is, shrine) in the morning, buy food, cloths, and other mementos, and then we return.”

According to Muhammad Abdul Quadir Sarkar, a member of the mela committee, “The two-day long mela begins at the sprawling ground around the memorial of our beloved Hujur Saheb, which is a blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture. From both sides, approximately 4-lakh to 5-lakh visitors make deals of about 2-crore to 3-crore rupees through more than 3,000 to 3,500 shops. Traders from Indian States like – Gujarat, Bihar, Assam, Rajasthan sell their wares, from wooden horses to tractors in this fair. Although, the main attraction of the mela are the camels brought from another Indian state, Rajasthan …”

In spite of the security restrictions in view of the border problems between the two countries, the fair has drawn huge crowds every year. And seeing this, Dr Firoz Alam Beg of the Bangladesh district headquarter town of Nilfamari appealed, “Devotees from across the border want the Government of India to loosen the rules on these particular two days.”

“As an inhabitant of the international boundary, I may say, there are many temples and mosques all along the international boundary. In our North Bengal Sector of West Bengal State area – there are four or five of these kinds of Milan Mela (union fairs) each and every year. This union mela of Chilahati village is indeed the oldest one. Further, it has its own history for the people of the two Bengals, ‘East Bengal’ and ‘West Bengal’. The earlier name of Bangladesh was East Bengal, while West Bengal is the state of India’s get together and assemble at the village fair. Both sides share their weal and woe with love, respect and intimacy during in this particular festival,” said Mansur Habibullah, a local student of the Konamukta village under Sub-Division and Police Station (PS) – Dinhata of Coochbehar district.

“This has happened due to the drawing of an ‘illogical’ and ‘unscientific’ arbitrary line by the so-called British Engineer, Sir Cyril Radcliff, who divided the two nations (India and Pakistan) in 1947. After the partition, a section of so-called ‘engineers’ of the Indian Central Public Works Department made the IBWBF without our proper consent, interest, safety, security and measurement! As a result, so many things are today situated either in ‘No-Man’s Land’ or ‘Zero-line Area’ and similarly either Indian side or Bangladesh side as well are either ‘outside of the IBWBF’ or ‘inside of the IBWBF’,” stated several social experts. The Indian authorities either deny this or don’t want to hear this logic at all.

It is a fact that the Islamic State of Bangladesh, erstwhile East Bengal, locally called – Purbo Bango or Purbo Bangla, and later renamed East Pakistan, locally called – Purbo Pakistan [of West Pakistan, known as – Poshchim Pakistan] of present Pakistan State, and then Bangladesh, after 16th December, 1971, is closely connected, socially, culturally, economically, demographically and ecologically, to the Northeastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, West Bengal and also with the Mizoram.

In 1947, during ‘partition’ between India and Pakistan, a serious problem had been created, when Sir Cyril Radcliff, the British Engineer, while dividing former Undivided India through drew an arbitrary line and as a result, there were several problems created, which still exist. Even, after the independence of Bangladesh, when the Government of India wants to protect the country (after mounting threat of unabated illegal infiltration, smuggling, anti-Indian activities, fanatic religious fundamental activities and insurgency works) by making or erecting the International Barbed Wire Border Fencing (IBWBF), International Border Bridge (IBB) and International Border Road (IBR), that had been taken up in the year 1986-1987 along the India-Bangladesh International Border (IBIB) that creates also difficulty for the some Indian and Bangladeshi peoples, who live in the IBIB areas and their lands, houses, schools, temples, mosques, playgrounds, shops, markets, and etcetera have been fallen outside of the IBWBF

Shib Shankar Chatterjee is a former BBC, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Statesman & The Telegraph Contributor-cum-Correspondent from Northeast India, who specializes in investigations of important issues affecting the people of South Asia, specially, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Myanmar.