Indo-Bangladesh Border: Clock Ticking Down to Historic Exchange of Enclaves

By Shahriar Sharif

2015-07-31
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150731-BD-enclaves-620 Enclave residents from Domar, Nilphamari district, on the Bangladeshi side of the border with India, gather to celebrate the borderland exchange, July 30, 2015.
BenarNews

Updated at 8:47 a.m. on 2015-08-02

Last-minute preparations are underway on both sides of the Bangladesh-India border as the two countries approach the hour just after midnight Friday, when they will begin exchanging 162 enclaves that dot their shared frontier.

The exchange will end a decades-old border dispute and affect more than 51,000 stateless people from each country, who have been living in enclaves on the wrong side of the frontier. The residents of these enclaves, which were created 68 years ago as a by-product of the partition of India, finally will be recognized as citizens of Bangladesh or India.

The historic occasion will also mark the start of the implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), a landmark deal signed between the neighbors four decades ago. But the land swap itself will take 11 months to complete.

Under the agreement, India will hand over 51 enclaves, consisting of 2,877 hectares (7,110 acres or 4.45 square miles) to Bangladesh, and Bangladesh will give India 111 enclaves comprising about 6,944 hectares( 17,160 acres or 27 square miles).

According to a survey carried out in 2011, some 37,000 Indians live in 111 enclaves on the Bangladeshi side. Of them, all but 979, who have opted to go to India after the handover tomorrow, will be given Bangladesh citizenship.

“We’ve landed property inside the Bangladesh territory here and we don’t face have any problems here. At the same time, we live cheek-by-jowl with our Muslim neighbors,” Bijoy Chandra Barman, a resident of an Indian enclave on the Bangladesh side, told BenarNews, giving his reason for not opting to relocate to India after the handover.

Likewise, some 14,000 Bangladeshis, who live in the 51 enclaves inside India, will be given Indian citizenship, although it was not immediately clear how many of them wanted to move back to Bangladesh.

68 candles

On Thursday, people on either side of the frontier were busy erecting makeshift stages for holding cultural programs to celebrate the historic event, which will come at 12:01 a.m. Saturday (local time).

To mark the occasion, they will light 68 candles, one for each year of the enclaves’ existence.

“The candlelight is to highlight the terrible conditions under which they lived for 68 years,” Diptiman Sen, secretary for the India-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, told BenarNews by phone from Cooch Behar in West Bengal, where the 51 enclaves are located.

“We’ve also arranged cultural programs to celebrate the event as well as prayer meetings in mosques and temples on both sides,” he added.

In addition, the national flags of Bangladesh and India will be hoisted in the enclaves for the first time.

But the main event, he said, would be held in the Moshaldanga enclave in Cooch Behar. There, a documentary film depicting the history of enclaves, their residents’ way of life and their struggle for recognition for nearly seven decades will be screened, among other activities.

Although no official programs have been scheduled to mark the event, in Dhaka on Thursday the high commissioners from both countries signed maps pinpointing the enclaves that will be swapped.

“We’re proceeding according to plans and everything will be ready for the final handover tomorrow midnight,” Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haq told BenarNews on Thursday.

LBA: A 41-year process

The Land Boundary Agreement first was signed in 1974 between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, then the respective prime ministers of Bangladesh and India.

While Dhaka ratified the agreement shortly afterwards, New Delhi failed to do so because of internal opposition to the handover of the enclaves.

After repeated attempts since 1974, the Indian parliament finally ratified the agreement last May, clearing the way for the final exchange.

In June, during his first official visit to Dhaka, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, signed off on a protocol that cleared the way for the Aug. 1 land swap.

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