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The marooned people

As states remain intransigent,enclave-dwellers must depend on the support of individuals

Written by The Indian Express | Published: July 27, 2012 12:19 am

Moved by the plight of people living in enclaves along the India-Bangladesh border,according to a report in this paper,Gabriela Korzeniec,a German citizen,has offered to sponsor the education of a girl child there and an NGO has nominated an eight-year-old who goes to a Cooch Behar school as a possible beneficiary. Individual initiatives like Korzeniec’s may be the only chance enclave-dwellers have of improving their quality of life. For decades,they have been at the receiving end of a massive cold shoulder by the Indian and Bangladeshi governments,who have preferred to look the other way rather than tackle a tricky territorial issue. For the children of the enclaves,school lies in another country. There are no schools or hospitals inside the enclaves.

An international enclave is a portion of one state surrounded completely by the territory of another. According to official estimates,there are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. These were created when borders were drawn between India and East Pakistan,which later became Bangladesh. Since then,the state has receded,leaving about 51,000 people marooned in these tiny pockets of land. They were not counted in any census until 2011,when a joint census was conducted by the two countries. They don’t vote and they bear none of the markers of citizenship,be it birth certificates or passports,which means they can’t leave the enclaves legally. Cut off from the administrative offices of their country’s mainland,they can’t even acquire these documents. Children from enclaves in North Bengal are often admitted in schools there under the name of relatives living in India. However,in recent years,primary schools have started demanding birth certificates and the enclave-dwellers have none to show.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September last year,it was agreed that the enclaves would be swapped,integrating them with the state they were surrounded by. A curious anxiety has gripped the Indian government since then,with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raising the spectre of an “influx” from Bangladesh and the Guwahati High Court ruling that a constitutional amendment would have to be made before land could be exchanged. While the state remains intransigent,children from the enclaves might not even reach school in the first place.

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