Changes in Border policy and Border identities: A case study of the Indo-Bangladesh border enclaves

This project will be the first ethnographic study of the effects of the implementation of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) ratified by the Government of India on 7 May 2015. The LBA transforms the status of hitherto stateless poor Hindu and Muslim communities living in the “enclaves” along the Indo-Bangladesh border, which were until now often self -administered territories. It seeks to understand, on the one hand, how these policy changes are translated into daily practices of governance at the border and, on the other hand, how they affect the lives and livelihoods, patterns of mobility and identities of marginalized communities with a precarious legal and economic existence. The multi-sited ethnography will be undertaken in selected erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves (now Indian Territory in the border district of Coochbihar, West Bengal) and some erstwhile Indian enclaves in Bangladesh from where people are now likely to move to India. In the case of the Indo-Bangladesh border in question, the state has been present at the border but absent in the enclaves. In the absence of passports, visas and check posts, travel between enclaves was illegal and crossing the border risky (Van Schendel, 2002). The project is a unique opportunity to document and understand all the changes along the border and in the enclaves as they unfold after the sudden ratification of the LBA. The study will use participant observation, focus groups, life-histories, semi-structured interviews of enclave residents, BBEECC activists and leaders, government officials, border security personnel and employers in the border economy interested in profiting from the availability of cheap undocumented migrant labour. Contributing to the dissertation of the field researcher, Ms Sen Mookerjee, the project will lead to joint publications involving the two PIs, the Indian project partner and the field researcher. Our report with policy recommendations will address the effectiveness of the newly acquired citizenship rights for enclave dwellers, the efficacy of the LBA for humanitarian borderland governance and its implications for movement of goods and people across the border.

Prof. Shalini Randeria

Prof. Ranabir Samaddar