Indo-Bangladesh Enclaves – Beyond the Boundaries !

In 1947, when India got partitioned, the princely states of Cooch Behar went to India and Rangpur to Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan). With this, the people of these two princely states also became citizens of India and Bangladesh respectively. The border was marked by Sir Cyril Radcliffe in a haste and nonchalant manner, without  understanding the ground realities !! The line drawn in the map by Sir Radcliffe has many complexities, which are yet to be addressed by both the countries. There are villages, where the border is drawn in such a way, that sometimes the verandah of one house lies in Bangladesh, whereas the kitchen lies in India. Both the countries have owned the people living there but without providing them rights to live with dignity and as human beings.

Out of many villages in Cooch Behar and Rangpur, 162 were caught on the wrong side of the border; small Indian islands are surrounded by Bangladeshi villages and vice-versa; these 162 villages are the Indo-Bangla enclaves or chitmahals (paper palaces). Historically, these enclaves are the result of gambles between the Kings of the then Cooch Behar and Rangpur, which were never sought for clarification while drawing the border on the map. At present, about 100,000 people live in these 162 enclaves, without any basic living conditions. The worst part is their national identity ! No one has a clear national identity; neither Indian nor Bangladeshi – mostly known as the “nowhere people“. They do not have any identity, no passport, no voter-card, no water, no electricity, no hospital, no school, no sustained mode of income, no roads and no civil society. They are like foreigners staying in another country, without any link with their own country. Even, they are not entitled to get a birth and a death certificate, let alone access to medicines, healthcare and other facilities.

Out of these 162 enclaves, 51 Bangladeshi enclaves are inside the Indian territory and the rest 111 are Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh. Both the countries do not want to give up their rights on these enclaves so far as the land mass is concerned. The irony with the fate of these people is that their respective countries also do not treat them well; mostly, they are labelled as spies and harassed, or are branded with all types of anti-national tags and always looked down with suspicion. Due to the Indo-Bangla fences (roughly 2,400-mile) recently built by India, their lives became tougher. They can go to their own country only in the day time, and have to stay back in the foreign country in the night ! This, not without harassment at the border posts and or paying a bribe. Out of this 2,400-mile border, due to the enclaves, there are 21 miles (34.5 km) that cannot be fenced, cannot be flood-lit or gated and in many cases is simply not policed at all.

This has become a major diplomatic stand-off for the last 66 years, without any major change on the ground. Efforts are sporadic from both the sides, without any clarity of thoughts and political will, mainly due to vote-bank politics. India backs the people who want to stay in India, despite the fact that they are legally Bangladeshi. The same stand is also maintained by Bangladesh. But it is yet to be ratified by both the countries. After  1947, though there was a political desire to de-enclave this and both India and Pakistan (then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) agreed in 1958 for a political solution, it could not be ratified due to various reasons. Nothing happened again till 1971 when Bangladesh was formed, as both India and Pakistan were mostly at war. In 1974, both India and Bangladesh agreed either to exchange the enclaves or at least to provide easy access to the enclaves; Bangladesh quickly ratified but India could materialize only a little.

In reality, neither India nor Bangladesh have allowed the people of the enclaves to choose a side (nation) solely on their own conviction, though there are accords signed recently (September,2011) between both the countries. The reason – India gets less land and more people as compared to Bangladesh which gets more land with less people. With major political parties opposing in India, the impasse is understandable. Moreover, it is yet to be ratified by the Indian Parliament also, which is mostly non-functional these days due to huge corruption issues. Referendum is also completely ruled out due to other demands and political or social or legal implications.

Then, what should be done to bring justice to these long-neglected people ? Don’t you agree that it is a humanitarian issue, irrespective of Indians staying inside Bangladesh or Bangladeshis staying inside India ? One ought to visit the enclaves to realize how awfully unconcerned or inhumane we are, by not taking a firm decision and not giving them their basic rights. It is definitely not a matter of patriotism, or a political win or loss, or a country’s win or loss. Rather it is an issue of delivering basic human rights to people living in abysmal conditions and to set them free from all sorts of burden, bondage, slavery, suspicion, hate, and rights violation. Moreover, with this cul-de-sac, both the countries are also violating the very essence of their respective Constitution- failing to guarantee the fundamental rights of their people.

Aamjunta – what is your opinion ? How long can we impose this political embargo on our own people ? By doing this, we are also encouraging criminal activities through Maoism, Terrorism and Fundamentalism in these enclaves that has already started spreading its vicious tentacles to other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Therefore, with utmost sincerity, I urge the politicians, bureaucrats, social-activists and citizens of both the countries to look into this matter with a big heart and resolve the issue of the enclaves for the sake of humanity at least. Otherwise, our future will never forgive us. Let us live and let live beyond the boundaries.

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border ?” – Pablo Casals

-Jai Hind

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