Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

Remaking maps

Boundaries of nation states are made and unmade by history, politics and wars. Sometimes they can be the result of a hasty job - like Sir Cyril Radcliffe's boundary-making between India and Pakistan in August, 1947. But changed borders may be matters of life and death for the people living on them. For those living in enclaves between India and Pakistan or Bangladesh since 1971, however, the result of the division was even more curious. They did not have to leave their homes - they simply lost their countries. They lived on land belonging to India, but did not qualify as Indian citizens. The same happened to the people who lived on Pakistani and, subsequently, Bangladeshi territory but would have none of the citizenship rights of those countries. By international laws of territorial sovereignty, they were not Stateless people, but that was hardly any comfort for them. They had no access to the laws of the land to which they technically belonged. The result was a strange existence without the fruits of citizenship and without the protection of the State. That will now be painful history for the people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves within India and 111 Indian enclaves within Bangladesh.

  • Published 3.08.15
  •  

Boundaries of nation states are made and unmade by history, politics and wars. Sometimes they can be the result of a hasty job - like Sir Cyril Radcliffe's boundary-making between India and Pakistan in August, 1947. But changed borders may be matters of life and death for the people living on them. For those living in enclaves between India and Pakistan or Bangladesh since 1971, however, the result of the division was even more curious. They did not have to leave their homes - they simply lost their countries. They lived on land belonging to India, but did not qualify as Indian citizens. The same happened to the people who lived on Pakistani and, subsequently, Bangladeshi territory but would have none of the citizenship rights of those countries. By international laws of territorial sovereignty, they were not Stateless people, but that was hardly any comfort for them. They had no access to the laws of the land to which they technically belonged. The result was a strange existence without the fruits of citizenship and without the protection of the State. That will now be painful history for the people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves within India and 111 Indian enclaves within Bangladesh.

If past history of the subcontinent created the problem, its present history made it difficult to find a solution. The souring of India-Pakistan relations almost immediately after Partition left no room for a review of the issue of enclaves. The birth of Bangladesh led to New Delhi and Dhaka signing in 1974 a land boundary agreement that provided for an exchange of these isolated pockets of territory. The fact that it took the two countries another 41 years to carry out the job has much to do with the changes in India-Bangladesh ties. Besides, India-baiting played its part in Bangladesh's domestic politics for many years. Managing the borders between the two has often led to friction, especially after India decided to erect barbed wire fence along them as a security measure. The success in the enclaves issue has its lessons for leaders of both countries. They need to realize that India-Bangladesh relations should no longer be held hostage to their domestic politics. There are other issues, such as the sharing of waters of the Teesta and other rivers, that the two countries need to resolve. They must show more of the pragmatism that made the exchange of enclaves finally possible.