Indian border 'stateless' demand citizenship rights

  • @AndrewBuncombe

Hundreds of effectively stateless people trapped in enclaves on either side of the border between India and Bangladesh are demanding the immediate implementation of an agreement to allow them to receive citizenship.

The residents of a total of 111 Indian enclaves located inside Bangladesh have been marching and declining to light their lamps at their homes for two days in a show of anger about the details of a recent undertaking agreed between the two countries to address the anomaly. People in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves inside India are also unhappy.

Since 1947, the people have been likened to stateless people because the authorities on neither side of the border has displayed a willingness to take responsibility for them. They have no official right to receive government jobs. They live without basic health and are also deprived of facilities such as subsidised food and free primary education.

Last week, when Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh travelked to Bangladesh, the two countries signed a new protocol to resolve the long-standing issue. No details were given but Mr Singh said the matter would be dealt with without forcing people to move, suggesting the two countries would absorb the enclaves in their territories and give its residents citizenship.

But what has angered the estimated 50,000 people affected by the anomaly is that the agreement contained no fixed timetable for action.

During their demonstrations this weekend, residents demanded that the protocol proceed straight away. Protest organiser Mofizar Rahman told the Associated Press: “We want Bangladesh and India to immediately solve the problem and give us citizenship. We have no country, the governments should feel the pain. We want a specific timeframe to get the job done.”

Most of the residents of the enclaves inside Bangladesh are Muslims and they already have a social life with Bangladeshi people. They want to be part of Bangladesh and although they are officially stateless, they regularly enter Bangladeshi areas for work without hindrance.

Two years ago, Time magazine reported that Indian border security guards on duty there said the enclaves dated back to the time when the areas were part of princely states, controlled by the Raja of Cooch Behar and the Nawab of Rangpur. The two rulers that faced each other near the Teesta River, staked games of chess with plots of land. To settle their debts, they passed chits back and forth. In 1947 when Sir

Cyril Radcliffe drew up the border between what would be an independent India and a newly created Pakistan, those enclaves were passed to the respective new nations.