Bangladesh, India restore train link after 43 years

On board Friendship Express, April 14:

Huge crowds of cheering people lined the railway tracks on the border between India and Bangladesh today as passenger train services between Kolkata and Dhaka resumed after a gap of more than 40 years.

The service was suspended after a 1965 war between India and Pakistan, when Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan, and the reopening caps years of negotiations on restoring links between the two parts of Bengal.

A train carrying 65 passengers rolled from India into Bangladeshi territory through the Darshana border post, about 320 km west of the capital Dhaka, at about 12:25 pm (0625 GMT), an AFP reporter said.

At least 10,000 people braved hot and humid weather to “welcome the passengers with flower petals and bouquets as they arrived,” Bangladesh Railways chief commercial manager Abdul Haq said.

Passengers said they were overwhelmed by the event, which coincides with the first day of the Bengali New Year.

“I had a bout of nostalgia since I boarded the train this morning. It is the same track that I and my father used to travel on. The same old villages are here,” said Nihar Ranjan Saha, who was travelling to his ancestral village.

“I am spellbound seeing thousands of people coming to greet us. We almost forgot that we’re the same people living across the border,” Saha said.

Another Maitree (Friendship) Express covered with flowers was also travelling in the opposite direction from Dhaka.

“It’s a historic occasion for both the countries. We will be more closer after the resumption of the India-Bangladesh passenger train service,” said Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.

In India, his counterpart Pranab Mukherjee hailed “a historic moment for India and Bangladesh.” One of the passengers on the India-bound train, K.S Zaman, who was visiting relatives in Hawrah near Kolkata where he was born 78 years ago, had made the journey before the service was cut off 43 years ago. “In early 1965, I vividly remember the rundown train packed with passengers,” said Zaman, who boarded the train with his wife, daughter and two grandsons.

Zaman and his family migrated to Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, after riots during the partition of British India.

“After the partition, I started visiting my relatives from 1952. But everything changed after the 1965 war. People of Bengal who have been together for thousands of years became the victim of politics,” he said.

Novelist Imdadul Haq Milon said, “I was a student of Class V when the Indo-Bangla train was suspended. I heard stories of how our parents used to visit Kolkata on the train. I cannot miss this opportunity,” he said.

Officials said the new service would run twice a week.

Security was tight with some Hindu groups in India opposed to the new link.

On Sunday, Indian police found and defused six small home-made bombs near the railway tracks along the train’s route, police inspector general Raj Kanojia said.