Bangladesh, India swap land in historic deal

Bangladesh and India start process of swapping tiny enclaves to end more than four decade long border dispute that has left thousands stateless

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Two South Asian countries, Bangladesh and India, have started a historic land swap process that will end one of the world's most difficult border disputes after nearly 70 years.

Bangladesh and India will swap tiny parcels of land surrounded by each other’s territory on Friday, hoisting their national flags in 162 enclaves - 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in India - in accordance with the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement.

More than 50,000 people reside in the enclaves and are legally stateless and deprived of citizenship. Those who have lived stateless in the enclaves for more than four decades will finally receive citizenship and all the benefits, following a historic border deal in June.

People in the enclaved territories have started celebrations hours before the official land swap ceremony and there will be a special event on midnight to light 68 candles to mark the years of stateless limbo they have suffered.

"This is the biggest celebration of my life. I can't describe how I feel today," Parul Khatun, a resident of the Indian enclave of Kot Bajni, told AFP.

"I'll be a Bangladeshi citizen who can enjoy all the benefits," she said. She told AFP that she was previously not accepted in an Bangladeshi hospital because she did not have a national identification card.

"The 68 candles mark our 68 years of endless pain since 1947 and the agonies and poverty we faced living in no-man's land," said Golam Mostafa, another resident in an Indian enclave.

The inhabitants of the enclaves were given the right to choose between becoming citizens of either of the two countries. Both countries asked residents in the territories for their choice. According to AFP, most people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh requested Bangladeshi citizenship.

The others who opted for Indian citizenship will have to leave their homes by November to resettle in the Indian state of West Bengal. All the Bangladeshis living in India have decided to receive Indian citizenship.

Bangladesh’s war of independence against Pakistan brought about its sovereignty in 1971, when the country was renamed Bangladesh from East Pakistan.

India’s border dispute with Bangladesh has been ongoing since 1971 and the country signed the deal which aimed to solve the dispute only last month, 41 years after Bangladesh.

Border problems between India and its neighbours - which occupy a central place in the agenda of Indian-Pakistani and Indian-Bangladeshi relations - can be traced back to the partition of British India in 1947.

The dispute is also said to date back to arrangements made between local princes after a 18th-century chess games.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in June that the changes will provide a “permanent settlement" and resolve all "long-pending boundary issues" with Bangladesh.

"This would contribute to a stable and peaceful boundary, better management and coordination of the border and will lead to enhanced security as well. This reflects the collective will of the nation to build constructive relations with our neighbours," Modi added.

TRTWorld and agencies