“After the partition of 1947, and the advent of the modern concept of boundary, the villagers had to take note of the new state borders in their daily engagements, as crossing those boundaries became an illegal activity. To add to their helplessness, the borders nastily ran through villages, markets, rivers and even

through people’s houses.”

–Willem Van Schendel

 

The existence of enclaves between countries is not a new phenomenon, however, the story of the enclaves between Bangladesh and India, in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, is one that is unique and has been of a great interest to cartographers. The formation of enclaves between the Bangladesh-India border came about in the aftermath of the 1947 partition of the subcontinent due to the arbitrary drawing of borders by the departing British colonialists. What was so unique about these enclaves was that the Indian enclave was surrounded by a Bangladeshi enclave which was again surrounded by an Indian enclave, surrounded by Bangladesh. This distinctive geographical expanse presented a very difficult situation for the people who were living in these overlapping enclaves. While the citizens living in these enclaves had a space to reside in, they were more or less considered as stateless people, because in order to get access to schools, hospitals, market-places and other basic amenities, they had to cross over to the enclave belonging to the other country. This not only required a visa, according to the laws pertaining to India and Bangladesh, but they also had to go through numerous bureaucratic hurdles to have access to basic services and resources as they were considered as illegal citizens in the enclave right next to theirs.

While there was an attempt by the two countries to settle this border complexity in 1958 in the form of the Noon-Nehru agreement, the issue was not resolved due to mutual discontentment up until 2015 when a partial territory exchange was carried out between India and Bangladesh. However, the issue still remains somewhat unresolved for the citizens of the enclaves, as they await their citizenship rights.