ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Understanding nations and borderlands through the people’s movement in the former Bangladeshi enclaves of India.


Ghosh Anindita - University of Illinois at Chicago, History, Chicago, United States


16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


 Along a short stretch of the otherwise long borderland of India and Bangladesh were a series of more than two hundred enclaves and exclaves (locally known as Chittmahal) shared by India and Bangladesh but located in each other’s territories. These enclaves were exchanged in 2015 through the Land Boundary Act between the two neighbor nations. Popularly seen as a freedom movement in these scattered spaces, the people of the Chittmahals struggled with the two nations to be absorbed into the one they were surrounded by. The Land Boundary Act was preceded by a two- decades long people’s movement in the Chittmahals of India and Bangladesh.

Through my paper I explore the peoples’ movement in the erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves in India. I rely on interviews and private archives in the former Chittmahals, and government archives in India to understand the complexities of their struggle to be included into a welfare state machinery. This paper was thought of during my recent trip to the newly added villages of India and visits to the archives in Delhi and Cooch Behar (the district of Bengal where the Chittmahals are located). These residents were disenfranchised from being a part of any nation for decades. Their political imaginations of a nation and borderland informs us about unruly nation formations in South Asian beyond decolonization. This people’s movement constitutes an excellent study of the residents of the borderlands and how they spatially challenge and imagine the nation.