Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I was looking into India's border disputes a few months ago when I came across the word 'exclave'. I wasn't familiar with the word, so I decided to look into it. What I found was truly bizarre: 'exclave' means territory of one country that is entirely surrounded by the territory of another country (embassies and such are a different case of course); and that there were a 100 odd Indian exclaves in Bangladesh, with a similar number of Bangladeshi exclaves in India. 

Some of these exclaves were created due to a treaty in 1713 between the Mughals and Cooch Behar (now a district in West Bengal), and were added to subsequently due to other botched up treaties between various parties. In any case, the issue was unresolved during the partition in 1947, when Indian exclaves ended up in East Pakistan, or when Cooch Behar joined India in 1949 bringing East Pakistani exclaves with it. The situation would not be so dire, had the relationship between India and Pakistan been friendly. But given the animosity between the two countries, and the subsequent troubled relationship that India has had with Bangladesh, the people in the exclaves on both sides have truly been abandoned. Sometimes I can't help but think that the Brits intentionally left the subcontinent with as much trouble as they possibly could, or that they just didn't care. 

The people living in these exclaves do not have healthcare, education or electricity, nor do they have representation. The borders of the exclaves on each side are patrolled by the military of the surrounding country, and people inside can only leave to go back to their mother country, and that too with much difficulty. There is no police within the exclaves, so crime rate is high, and more importantly they are vulnerable to unhindered looting and such from citizens of the surrounding country (the military only keeps the residents in, it doesn't protect them). Many simply flee to the mainland leaving their home and land when they decide that the situation is not bearable any more.

Is India so big that it can just abandon tens of thousands of its citizens for over sixty years without care? I do not intend to trivialise the border disputes that India has with its neighbours, but even during war enemies exchange captives: how a country could leave so many of its citizens without protection in a hostile country for so many years is beyond me. 

There finally seems to be some movement on the issue. A straight swap is being considered by the government, with choice being given to residents of each exclave on which country they want to belong to. But, India stands to lose around 10,000 acres in a straight swap (there's more Indian land in Bangladesh), so who knows, a resolution might end up being delayed for a few more decades if India decides that land is more important than people. 



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  2. That's one enlightening write-up. "Exclaves" - one of the zillion things that many of us do not even know exist. It's hard to imagine how those people have been living there without electricity and education for over 60 years!
    And your conclusion is so true. Isn't it incredible how sometimes even nations behave so much like some selfish individuals? The whole issue is so analogous to a family drama. Two siblings fighting for a piece of inherited land and completely neglecting the other handicapped/less-fortunate siblings of one's own!!