Monday, 18 July 2011

Census starts in Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves

Sheikh Hasina and Monmohan Singh are expected to discuss the enclaves in September

Census-taking has started in India and Bangladesh's enclaves as on Thursday 14th July, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh.

Enclaves are pieces of land detached from a country's main territory and surrounded by foreign land. India has 111 enclaves inside Bangladesh and Bangladesh has 51 Bangladesh enclaves inside India.

Folklore has it that the enclaves resulted from the losses incurred by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Faujdar of Rangpur gambling on pieces of land during chess matches.
Historians, however, believe the situation came out of peace treaties between the kingdom of Cooch Behar, now in the Indian state of West Bengal and the Mughal Empire, which ruled much of South Asia, according to the Times of India.

The current census, which is expected to take a week to complete, is the first of its kind since 1971, when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan.

In 1974, Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed a pact with his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi to exchange the enclaves. The agreement was never followed through on, and poor bilateral relations has meant that the enclave issue remains unresolved.

The enclaves remain hugely underdeveloped, with its inhabitants often lacking access to running water, electricity, health, education and security facilities. In reality, the enclaves inhabitants are largely stateless. They formed the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC) to agitate for greater rights, and have carried out a number of limited censuses.

The 2011 census will be carried out by 56 teams working in Bangladeshi enclaves and 91 teams in Indian enclaves. Each team is made up of one official from each country.

The number of people in the enclaves is estimate to range from 150,000 to 300,000, although even with this new, focussed survey, getting an exact number of residents will be difficult.

BBEECC's leader Diptiman Sengupta welcomed the initiative, but warned the difficulties the census-takers will face. "Both governments will have to be aware that touts are active to register intruder's name in the list. Similarly, there are several people who reside outside for a living. And several families have lost their land in river bank erosion. Officials will have to take necessary action to sort out these problems to get a genuine account."

Regardless of the technical difficulties the census officials may encounter, the process is undoubtedly a positive step forward for those who live in the enclaves. Singh is due to visit Dhaka in September, and it is thought that he might sign an agreement on the enclaves with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina. It is thought that some of the smaller enclaves may be swapped.

It is understood that residents of the enclave will be allowed to chose which country to be resident of when the enclaves are finally swapped.

Sources: AFP, Times of India

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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