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Here, the region emerges as a tension between projects seeking to codify space along nationalist and often communal lines and a set of lived relationships and mobilities with contingent and unstable ties to such projects.

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These debates are characterized by persistent breakdowns of attempts to forge durable solutions to questions of territory and citizenship for enclave residents. Yet, if these negotiations have failed to yield exchange, we should not be misled into thinking that they have not been productive of territory. Indeed, national debates have produced the enclaves as particular kinds of spaces.

This nationalist view of space does not constitute the only possibility for imaging borders and territory. A bottom up view produces a fundamentally different picture. I accordingly contrast the geopolitical history of the chhitmahal with a brief look at the lived experiences of one enclave, Dahagram, that has been at the heart of debates about the LBA. Not surprisingly, such a view yields a markedly different picture of life and space at the border. Yet, what I am more interested in are the ways that quotidian negotiations of projects of rule—often for purposes as straightforward as economic gain—highlight new forms of territoriality at the border.

What emerges is not a rejection of official projects of control, but a transformation of them. Why do these tiny blips of territory provoke such animated responses? One way to answer these questions would be to take the rhetoric of the current debate over the LBA seriously.

Divided Country cartoon 1 of 6

A point that regularly emerges here is the disparity in the amount of land to be exchanged. Yet, as Das and Raju point out, this 10, acres is land that Indian officials can neither access nor administer, as it falls on the wrong side of the international border with Bangladesh. It is only nominally part of India. Moreover, the land differential is so comparatively small that this concern might justifiably be read as a petty calculus of exchange.

Such concerns are clearly urgent and crucial in parsing the contemporary debate over the LBA. Yet, to see the conflict as a clash between national and regional politics, or as a squabble over small amounts of land, obscures the problematic place of the enclaves within counterpoised Indian and Bangladeshi national imaginations. At Partition, a number of chhitmahal found themselves on either side of a new border. Yet, these conflicts remained largely matters of local negotiation between populations both inside and outside of the enclaves and government officials struggling with the complexities of the new Partition boundary.

With the emergence of national debates over exchange, however, the enclaves began their transformation from one of a series of spatial problems into sensitive spaces—impossibly marginalized, yet increasingly central to national imaginations of territory. They reflected a decidedly optimistic technocratic perspective on territory—one that imagined that border issues could be resolved with a stroke of a pen.

In early September, the two heads of state met in Delhi to hammer out the contours of just such an agreement. The Cooch-Behar State had little bits of territory all over, and some of those fell in Pakistan and some in India on partition. So, it has been decided ultimately that we should just exchange them. By tying the question of territory together with citizenship, Vajpayee reframed the chhitmahal not just as zones filled with criminals and smugglers, but also as spaces within which Indian [Hindu] citizens clung to tenuous national territory.

In short, the enclaves became territorial symbols—spaces encapsulating the antinomies of post-Partition belonging. In the face of increasing opposition, Nehru was forced to qualify his earlier enthusiasm in a statement to the Lok Sabha in At the time I was clear in my mind that the whole agreement, in spite of certain aspects of it which were not agreeable to us, was profitable and advantageous. I did not realise then that there is a certain human aspect of it.

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The results were the LBA, also known as the Indira-Mujib Accords, which proposed a wholesale exchange of the enclaves on either side of the border with one exception. Bangladesh was to relinquish its claim on a disputed border area known as Berubari. Bangladesh soon ceded Berubari. However, the struggle to open the Tin Bigha Corridor was to become a morass of nationalist and increasingly communal politics.

The Bangladesh Observer reported that supplies of food and medicine in the enclave were scarce and that several residents had died from starvation and lack of medical care.

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In a heated debate, Amar Roy Pradhan, an MP from West Bengal, dismissed concerns over the census, suggesting that the suffering of residents of Dahagram was inconsequential compared to the suffering of over , Indian citizens living in Indian enclaves inside of Bangladesh.

This and ensuing debates indexed the enclaves to broader concerns in the relationship between India and Bangladesh. These included the rights of citizens of both states at the border, the sovereign control of space, and the sanctioned violence real and imagined against those living on this contested edge of territory.


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The return of democracy to Bangladesh eased the politics of opening the Corridor, but not the nationalist rhetoric around it. Initially, the Corridor was open for only one hour a day. This amount of time was gradually increased until, in , it was opened for 12 hours a day, during daylight hours. Moreover, the Corridor transformed Dahagram into the most closely monitored chhitmahal along the border, surrounded by BSF watchtowers and regularly patrolled by armed paramilitary border guards from each country. It also points to ways in which territorial imaginations and cartographic anxieties become inextricably linked to territorial practicalities and attempts to resolve and rationalize space.

Following Mitchell , one might argue that territory here emerges as the mutual constitution of affective representation and reality—a particularly problematic and emotive enframing of space. Seen as such, the enclaves represent a territorial impasse—the inability to disentangle concrete space from the imagination of it as simultaneously threatening and under threat. Such an impasse does not, as we have seen, preclude meaningful transformation in border-politics. Indeed, attempts by political leaders to think past this impasse have lead to concrete changes in life at the border. But it does systematically efface other possible imaginations of territory and region.

How might we think beyond this impasse? My suggestion here is that we begin by considering the spatial imaginations and negotiations of those who live in the enclaves themselves. The articulation between the enclaves as imagined and concrete spaces has crucial implications for the lives of those living there. Indeed, the outcomes of the broad debate over Dahagram and the Tin Bigha Corridor have been central features of life in the enclave. Yet, at the same time, life in Dahagram is shaped by more than these framings alone. It is a fluid negotiation of a range of processes that converge in sensitive space.

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Meanwhile, numerous development initiatives were at work within the enclave. These had produced, among other things, paved roads that saw little or no use by motorized vehicles, a fully constructed functioning hospital that had never opened for business, and a model village project devoid of denizens.

Local transportation was limited to rickshaws and cycle-vans. People were anxious about the future and, especially, about the Corridor, often suggesting that the BSF could close the Corridor for good on a whim. In short, life in Dahagram seemed oppressively marked by broader tensions over the border and their corresponding politics and anxieties.

In my absence, the enclave had transformed into a frontier boom-town. Now, instead of rickshaws, I traveled to Dahagram via a regular tempo van. The two hubs of activity in the enclave—Guchogram near the Tin Bigha Corridor and Bongerbari, the administrative and political center of the enclave—were bustling and crowded not just with people but also hulking and brightly colored transportation trucks.

There was a steady stream of traffic moving through the Corridor. Moreover, the atmosphere seemed to have shifted from one of anxiety to one of comparatively prosperous optimism. This opening, thus far, represented the only tangible outcome of the new debates over the LBA. The opening marked a significant moment in the history of the enclave. Now, while the Corridor remained under the administration and control of the BSF, enclave residents could come and go, day or night. Signaling the national significance of both the Corridor and of Dahagram, the opening was presided over by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, the first visit by a head of state to Dahagram since before the opening of the Corridor in A new brick and concrete memorial to her had been raised in the center of the enclave.

Give them what they ask for. Things are good here now. Every available plot of land seemed covered in corn husks and stalks from the recent harvest. A number of new godowns had been built since my last visit, all now bursting at the seams. The large trucks in the enclave were being stacked high with sacks of corn as well.

Yet, its transformation of the enclave was especially stark. They had done this by partnering with a national bank which offered a microcredit scheme whereby Doyel would hold the provisional land titles of farmers in Dahagram and guarantee loans for farmers to purchase seed stock. As the NCC official who visited the enclave to launch the scheme made clear, the loans-for-corn-seed program was not framed as a strategy to expand agricultural markets, but rather as a gesture to honor the struggle for the enclave and to help its downtrodden and marginalized residents.

Others complained that recalcitrant farmers in the enclave had forced Doyel out of business by failing to repay their loans. These new migrants were known locally as Bhatiyas outsiders , and though they remained politically marginal within Dahagram, they quickly emerged as central economic players, expanding existing holdings and experimenting with new strategies for capital accumulation. This new syndicate began providing seed and fertilizer at preferential prices to farmers in Dahagram in exchange for purchasing rights to the harvested crop.


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  • This allowed them to develop a monopoly on corn exports from the enclave. Such recognition would allow Bengali to be used in government affairs. It was led by Mufti Nadimul Quamar Ahmed. When the state of Pakistan was formed in , its two regions, East Pakistan also called East Bengal and West Pakistan , were split along cultural, geographical, and linguistic lines. On 23 February , the Government of Pakistan ordained Urdu as the sole national language, sparking extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan.

    Facing rising sectarian tensions and mass discontent with the new law, the government outlawed public meetings and rallies. The students of the University of Dhaka and other political activists defied the law and organised a protest on 21 February The deaths provoked widespread civil unrest led by the Awami League , later renamed the Awami League.

    After years of conflict, the central government relented and granted official status to the Bengali language in The events caused the people of East Pakistan to abandon the Muslim League.


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    • Until , when the state declared that both Bengali and Urdu would be state languages, the language movement continued. Great differences began developing between the two wings of Pakistan. While the west had a minority share of Pakistan's total population, it had the largest share of revenue allocation, industrial development, agricultural reforms and civil development projects.

      Pakistan's military and civil services were dominated by the Punjabis. Bengali participation in the military was very low. The British preferred to recruit Punjabi Muslims. The Punjabis dominated the army Pakistan inherited from British India's military.