Thursday, March 23rd, 2023 10:53:20

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Updated: May 18, 2013 11:07 am

The people of Indian chitmahals (enclaves) stuck along India-Bangladesh border are leading a miserable life. Out of bounds to mainland, they are being subjected to numerous atrocities perpetrated by the Bangladesh police and the goons backed by them


Case Study A

“I was a permanent inhabitant of Chitmahals in Kote-Bhajni. On one wintry morning in 1979, one Ataur Hussain, a well-known landlord of Bangladeshi village, appeared at our door along with 15 goons and asked me to vacate the land immediately. However, upon enquiry, he told me that I had sold the land to him. He showed the document registered in the Haldibari sub-register office under Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. I had no choice but to vacate 128 bighas of land I had inherited. After that, I went to Mekhliganj in Jalpaiguri district along with my family and took shelter at our relatives’ house. My family consisted of six members, including my wife, three sons and a daughter. Our days began to pass in great hardship. In the meantime, I sold my wife’s ornaments and filed a suit against Hussain in the Mekhliganj sub-divisional court. Even after winning the case I could not occupy my land and property. Meanwhile, my wife died. My younger son is a labourer, elder son is a rickshaw puller. My present address is the camp erected by Public Work Department road near Deshbandhu Colony. I make kagojer thonga (paper bag),” reminiscences septuagenarian Umesh Rai Barman of Kote Bhajni Chitmahals under Haldibari police station of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.

Case Study B

“It was my wedding anniversary. The Bangladeshi police station under Panchagarh district is just beside my house. The officer-in-charge with a dozen of policemen suddenly attacked us to loot our property. They confined us in a room and decamped with all our valuables. The Bangladeshis even dishonour our women. If we lodge any complaints against robbery or theft, nothing happens,” regrets 55-year-old Keshab Deb Singha of Dahala Khagrabari Chitmahals under Haldibari police station of Jalpaiguri.

Chitmahals is commonly used to define enclave. Here, Chit means ‘a fragment’ and Mahal means ‘land’. Thus, it is called—Chitmahals (that is, a fragment of land or a piece of land). Geographically, it is explained as land-island, but geographically it is ‘separated from the mainland’.

Enclave is an execrable plot of land that has created a great excitement in the present political turmoil in Asia. The inhabitants of the Indian enclaves are in fact debarred from all sorts of constitutional rights that the people of mainland enjoy.

They have not even their ration cards. Astonishing fact is that since 1951, no census was done and as a result no true figure of population is known. However, presently it is thought to be approximately one lakh. But in 1951, this figure was about 1,200.

Although, 80 per cent belong to Muslim community and the 20 per cent consist of Koch Rajbongshi (Scheduled Castes) and Adibasi Santhal Munda clan (Scheduled Tribes) living in Indian enclaves. There is no Post & Telegraph Communication system in these enclaves. Here, the people listen to radio and watch television channels of Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

According to Indian Constitution, the citizens of these enclaves are the true inhabitants of the Indian Union and as such, they have the rights to enjoy all fundamental rights granted by Articles 14 to 32. But in fact, the Government of India has no sovereign powers over these territories.

The enclaves were small parts of Kamrup Kingdom, which is clear from the census report of 1951. The Maharaja of Cooch Behar ruled these enclaves. Later, these enclaves came under the administration of British, when the East Indian Company captured the Estate of Cooch Behar. They liked to continue the same arrangement.

As per local government officials, in 1937, NC Mustafi on behalf of the then ruler of Cooch Behar and AC Hartley, on behalf of the British Government, jointly made a map of these enclaves.

India began to exercise its control since the merger agreement, on August 28, 1949, between the Government of India and the ruler of Cooch Behar. The Raja of Cooch Behar ceded his estate to the Government of India later on. According to the records of the Government of India Gazette, 1977, after the partition, an agreement was made on August 28, 1949, between the Governor General of India and Maharaja Jag Dipendra Narain of Cooch Behar to provide administration under the authority of dominion of Indian Union. Later, Cooch Behar was merged in India.

According to the versions of the observers – the rulers of these states gifted a piece of land in honour of the visiting rulers, whenever they paid visits to each other’s areas. As per another version, the rulers were renowned gamblers and they used to give a piece of land upon losing to each other in gambling. The piece of land so given away is called—Chitmahals or enclave. These enclaves are all located in the part of Cooch Behar (now in India) and Rongpur (earlier in East Pakistan and now in Bangladesh) during English period.

On the other hand, the locals believe that these enclaves were created during the conflicts broken out in the 16th century between the then Rajas of Cooch Behar and the Mughals. The Mughals could not drive away the inhabitants of the Indian enclaves, and later the areas became the part of Cooch Behar kingdom. Of them, a part merged with the then British district Rongpur, presently in Bangladesh.

During the invasion of Mughul general Mirjumla in 1661, Cooch Behar was an independent estate. Mirjumla was partially successful and some parts of that estate came under the sway of the Mughals. But the people, who lived there, paid their loyalty to Nazim and Nawab of Bengal.

There were some small autonomous pockets or isolated island areas were born in and around the independent estate, Cooch Behar. For diplomatic cause, the British honoured the independence status of those tributary estates or those autonomous small pockets.

According to the Report of the Survey & Settlement Operations, 1931-1938 made by C Hartley, Cooch Behar had initially 158 enclaves of its own of which 44 of them, were in the then Undivided Rongpur district of East India Company, that is, pre-partition district of Jalpaiguri (presently, Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal) and one was then Undivided Goalpara district of undivided Assam, which is also presently known as another Indian state of Assam.

Although Jalpaiguri district was formed out of the undivided British district Rongpur in 1868, the enclaves of Coooch Behar were also under the administration of the districts of Undivided India-Dinajpur, Rongpur and Jalpaiguri before August 15, 1947 (that is, in the pre-partition times).

During partition in 1947, the problems were created, when Sir Cyril Radcliff, while dividing the then Undivided Bengal drew an arbitrary line and put many enclaves in the rule of the Nawab of Dhaka, which in fact owed loyalty to the then estate of Cooch Behar in East Pakistan. Those areas legally should belong to Cooch Behar into India. Likewise, a certain areas in Cooch Behar estate that woe allegiance to Dhaka remain in India due to the socio-geographical location.

These enclaves are places having a little link with the mainland. These enclaves are but the No Man’s Land lacking touch with the Indian administration. Indian enclaves are very much fertile and famous for paddy, jute and tobacco fields besides bamboo and mango orchards.

Over and above, the enclaves’ inhabitants grow pineapples, jackfruits and different types of vegetables, including a host of cash crops. Although, they do all agricultural works without any facility of irrigation. The enclaves’ farmers raise more than two to three crops a year depending upon rainwater and primitive wells. Apart from this, another occupation of the residents of Indian enclaves is fishing.

The enclaves do not have any provision for purchasing and disposing of lands. The Indian people, who intend to live in these enclaves permanently, have only the right to register their plots of land in their names.


  1. A) The Cooch Behar district of West Bengal has world’s biggest cluster of exclaves and enclaves. As many as 1.25 lakh people live in 95 Bangladeshi enclaves, spreading over the areas of 12,289.37 acres.
  2. B) After ‘Tinbigha Corridor’ in Cooch Behar was handed over to Bangladesh on June 26, 1992 on lease for 999 years, as many as 52,000 people were left with uncertain future.
  3. C) By 1994, India and Bangladesh identified as many as 225 enclaves. Of them, 130 enclaves belonged to India, while the rest belonged to Bangladesh.
  4. It has been decided and agreed as per Indira-Mujib Accord of March 1974 that both the countries would give up their claims over these existing enclaves (which are small patches of land owned by both the nations well inside each other’s territory) and populace living in these aforesaid enclaves would be given the choice of going to either nation.
  5. E) Indian enclaves are under Indian police station– Dinhata, Sitalkuchi, Mathabhanga, Mekhliganj and Haldibari, while Bangladeshi enclaves are under Bangladeshi police stations—Panchagarh, Boda, Debigonj, Patgram, Hatibandha, Kaliganj, Lalmonirhat, Phulbari and Bhurungamari.

Note: The Dahgram-Angrapota enclaves of Bangladesh is an area of 07.15 square miles (international boundary length of 32 kilometres), which is situated inside the Indian territory (near Cooch Behar district in West Bengal). The Article I of the Indira-Mujib international border pact offered that India would retain Berubari Union in return for retention of aforesaid Bangladeshi enclaves—Dahagram and Angrapota enclaves without compensation for any additional area going to Bangladesh. The pact offered for a corridor to be given to Bangladesh connecting these enclaves to the Bangladesh mainland so that proper administration could be provided to these enclaves by Bangladesh. An agreement for leasing an area of size of ‘3 bighas’ to make the corridor was signed on October 7, 1982 between the foreign ministers of the two nations. The corridor has been made and leased in perpetuity to Bangladesh. The modalities for lease and use of the corridor have been spelt out in detail in the agreement of 1982.

Here, the cultivators are deprived of their rights because of the might of Bangladeshi land-sharks. Sometimes, the villagers are compelled to leave their paternal property. On the other hand, the Bangladeshi land-sharks are swallowing the lands of Indian enclaves by threat or money. More than 40 to 45 per cent of land belonging to Indian enclaves have been purchased by Bangladeshis in the guise of being Indians. The Intelligence agencies have reported that there are 40-50 transfers of land of Indian enclaves between January 2000 to March 2000 alone. However, an agreement was signed between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistani Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon on September 10, 1958.

According to that agreement, it was decided that old Cooch Behar enclaves of India in Pakistan would be exchanged against the Pakistani enclaves in India. As per Nehru-Noon pact 1958, the total land area of Indian enclaves is about 32 square miles while the Bangladeshi enclaves has 18 square miles. It is a fact that this agreement puts much stress upon the implementation of Indira-Mujib agreement. But, this time it was decided that India would receive lesser area of land from Bangladesh than it would enjoy as per Indira-Mujib pact 1974 in comparison to Nehru-Noon pact of 1958.

The people of enclaves cultivate paddy and rear animals, like cow, buffalo, goat, hen and swan. The people work here as daily labourer, rickshaw-puller, vegetable seller, carpenter and cobbler. Most of the Chitmahalsis are agriculturists.

No election has been held either for village panchayat or state legislative assembly since 1952. The inhabitants do not get their names in voter list. The inhabitants of the Indian enclaves have been deprived of the rights to exercise franchise like other citizens of the country. This happens during the Assembly and Parliamentary polls in West Bengal. The officials say that as these people do not possess any identity card, they are not allowed to cast their votes. They cannot enter the main land without the permission of BSF jawans.

Administrative & Security System

With the merger of Cooch Behar in India and introduction of passport system, the inhabitants of these enclaves began facing many troubles as limitations were placed on their movement. Following the atrocities committed by Pakistani Army in 1971, the Hindu families, who continued to live in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh were displaced by force and most of these enclaves were been taken over by Pakistani Army. However, on the other side, the inhabitants of Bangladeshi enclaves, who had left, indeed, come back and claimed their land based on legal papers or documents. The populace of Bangladeshi enclaves inside India are better off than the populace of Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh.

Indeed, the inhabitants of the Indian enclaves, who are separated from mainland, feel the need to enter their own motherland under the cover of darkness. There are about 130 enclaves in Bangladesh, where more than a lakh Indians live, who have practically no relation with the people of their homeland.

These enclaves exist within Bangladesh and as such, the inhabitants fail to enjoy administrative facilities of India. They live neither as Bangladeshi nor as Indian. They do not know what to be done, if there is any theft, robbery or any crime that often occurs during harvest or watering the land.

There is undeclared jungle raj in the Indian enclaves unleashed by Bangladeshi anti-social elements. The people of the Indian enclaves have been facing such fearful life since 1947. These enclaves belong to India, but have existed in Bangladesh and that is why the Government of Bangladesh cannot take any step to provide security to the inhabitants of these Indian enclaves.

Apart from this, molestation in temples is a common feature in this place by the Bangladeshi miscreants. The inhabitants of the Indian enclaves have to endure everything silently. The inhabitants can’t lodge a complaint in police stations in Bangladesh, if any unlawful activities, including murders or rapes are committed by a Bangladeshi. Ironically, even the Indian police station does not receive any complaint made by the inhabitants of the Indian enclaves. The Bangladeshi anti-social elements often set up open gambling centres in the villages of Indian enclaves and create various troubles.

Thus, repression on one hand and lack of protection on the other have compelled the people to build village defense party (VDP) or village defence force (VDF), popularly known as Gram Surkhha Samiti (GSS) consisting of 40 to 50 persons of an enclave. The people of the Indian enclaves are harassed more often than not and their houses are burnt down, crops are razed and properties are looted.

The people of the Indian enclaves have been deprived of the facilities of education. The absence of educational institutions deprive the children their fundamental rights of right to education in these areas. Under this prevailing situation, many parents send their children to attend Bangladeshi schools. There are some schools in the Indian enclaves but these schools many a time lack basic facilities, including blackboards, desks or benches. Some schools have one or two teachers but they are untrained. It is also an astonishing fact that there is one or two schools in some enclaves but there is no enrolments. Further, there is no scheme to provide books and study materials. But, these are available in the schools of Bangladeshi enclaves, enticing the students of Indian enclaves. Sometimes, the Indian students have to get permission from BDR personnel to attend their schools in Indian enclaves. For this, they require Indian Identity Card (IIC), but they do not have any opportunity to get the IIC, forcing them to depend upon Bangladeshi schools and colleges for fetching their educational degrees.

The enclaves lack good health service, forcing the inhabitants of Indian enclaves to join Bangladesh hospitals. In some enclaves, there are one or two small health centres, but they are not well equipped. Here, doctors are quite helpless and as such instead of giving medicines, they offer only prescriptions.

The Chitmahals and their children do not have any opportunity of vaccination for want of medical facilities. The lack of basic health facilities result in high mortality rates.

The Chitmahals have no strong organizations. Failing to make both ends meet, their life totters on the edge of poverty all time. However, by 1960, an organisation Chitmahals Utbastu Samiti was formed. But among the members of the organisation, the original Chitmahals were only handful. Therefore, the question of rehabilitation of the uprooted Chitmahals got priority instead of solving their chief problems. In 1997, the members of the Indian Enclave Refugee Association (IERA) sent several points memorandum to the then Indian premier Inder Kumar Gujral stating their pitiable plight. But then nothing happened. “It is very remorseful for us that we have not done anything for these people so far their rights, security and rehabilitation are concerned …”, says a septuagenarian of Haldibari area in Coochbehar district, Sailen Chakraborty, who is the member of IERA.

The Chitmahals living under the perennial shadow of poverty, want the government of India to protect them from the anti-social elements of Bangladesh and its security forces. Moreover, they want the enclaves of India to be linked with the mainland whenever or wherever possible. They want some of the clauses of Indira-Mujib agreement to be implemented soon.


(All photos by Shib Shankar Chatterjee)

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