Tens of thousands suffer inhuman life in Bangladesh-India border

 

About 50,000 people are living inhuman life, almost stateless, in the enclaves along the Bangladesh-India border since the great partition of India by the British colonial ruler in 1947.

The residents of the enclaves live in abysmal conditions, with a lack of water, roads, electricity, schools and medicines. Crime also is rampant, as complaining would mean crossing the international boundary due to the lack of law enforcement resources. Residents of the enclaves may go to their respective countries only on the production of an identity card, after seeking permission from the border guards, causing much resentment.

Recently the neighbouring countries have moved towards an agreement to absorb the enclaves, but the resulting nationality of the current residents remains an impediment as it could have implications for border disputes in other parts of the region

In September 2011, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed an accord on border demarcation and exchange of adversely held enclaves between the tow neighbours. There are 102 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 71 Bangladeshi ones inside India. Inside those enclaves are also 28 counter-enclaves and one counter-counter-enclave.

Under this agreement, the enclave residents were given the option to continue residing at their present location or move to the country of their choice- either Bangladesh or India.

The enclave residents, however, continued by launching series of movements including demonstrations, submission of memorandum and other unique movements like observing “light-off night” and  “no-cooking of day meal” movement in their desperate move to put pressure on both the governments to implement the accord.

Meanwhile, movement has also been raised inside India by the Indian opposition parties against Monmohon-Hasina agreement on border demarcation and swapping the enclaves. The opposition puts forward the argument that the Indian constitution do snot allow any government or political party to handover any inch of land to any other country or individual foreign national.

Indian government under the pressure from both pro-and anti swap groups have come up with a clear statement last week saying that an amendment to the Constitution is being drafted to enable the exchange of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in the Indian territory.

Earlier this month, Indian opposition CPI leader Prabodh Panda raised the issue in parliament asking the government to take urgent steps to exchange the enclaves and provide much-needed relief to thousands of people living in these areas.

Panda had said 37,100 Indians were living in these enclaves and 14,200 Bangladeshis living here, as per the latest census carried out jointly by both countries.

“These large number of people of both countries are deprived of political rights and do not enjoy social facilities that are necessary for development of individuals in a free society,” he had said.

Indian enclaves in Bangladesh are spread over 17,149 acres of land, while Bangla enclaves in India were located in 7,110 acres, Panda had said, observing that the problem had been persisting since Independence and not been resolved even after the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement.

Responding to Mr Panda, Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has said “The government is committed to the earliest implementation of the Protocol and Land Boundary Agreement (between the two countries) that would result in exchange of enclaves.”

The Protocol and the Agreement, signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September last year, are subject to ratification by both governments.

“The ratification, therefore, necessitates an amendment of the Constitution. Necessary preparations to place a draft amendment bill before Parliament are underway,” Krishna said, adding that these would “enter into force on the date of exchange of Instruments of Ratification” and facilitate the exchange of these enclaves.

Victims of Royal chess game

The Indo-Bangladesh enclaves, also known as the chitmahals are the enclaves along the Bangladesh–India border, in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.

The enclaves were used as stakes in card or chess games centuries ago between two regional kings, the Raja of Cooch Behar and the Maharaja of Rangpur. The little territories were the result of a confused outcome of a treaty between the Kingdom of Koch Bihar and the Mughal Empire.

After the partition of India in 1947, Cooch Behar district was merged with India and Rangpur went to then East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971. In 1974, both countries agreed either to exchange the enclaves or at least to provide easy access to the enclaves, but little materialised. Talks between the two countries on the issue resumed in 2001, but the lack of a concrete time frame relegated the issue to the back burner keeping thousand of people suffer in an almost a stateless life.

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