Where do I belong? Who am I? I don’t understand. Even an Indian dog has a better life.” Mohammad Shahjamal Sheikh, enclave dweller.
The India – Bangladesh border is deceptive. After partition in 1947, scattered pockets of India remained in Bangladesh territory and vice versa. For over 60 years these pieces of land have remained disputed, and its people, in limbo.
There are 102 Indian enclaves or ‘chitmahal’ on the Bangladesh side; 71 Bangladeshi enclaves on the Indian side. They house roughly 50,000 (official figure – unofficial figure, it is said is almost double) people on both sides of the border. The residents lead a life of ambivalence and a problem far deeper. These people have lived for sixty five years without any identity, rights, any means of livelihood other than subsistence farming, infrastructure, or any law and order enforcement.
On paper they are Bangladeshis living inside in India, illegally, and Indians living in Bangladesh, illegally. It is a strange case of bizarre geography. The day to day struggles are far too many. There is no electricity, no roads, schools, hospitals, police stations. They have to leave the enclaves for just about anything, and if they are caught, they are considered illegal immigrants for lack of papers.
Both governments have tried to resolve the issue from time to time but it has always resulted in political logjam. In 2011 September both governments signed a treaty to resolve the enclave issue. According to the treaty the enclave dwellers have the option to stay or reside in a country of their choice. But it has not been enforced and it is difficult to say how long it might take or will there ever be a day when the enclave dwellers will live with an identity.