“We fail to understand how a person could be registered for the purpose of issuance of a voter card before he could become a citizen of this country”
Calcutta High Court in the case of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors
Enclaves, also known as chmohol, refer to a part sovereign territory surrounded by another sovereign territory. The residents of Indian enclaves and Bangladesh enclaves were isolated from their respective motherlands, lacking access to essential amenities such as education, healthcare, land, markets, and livelihood opportunities. To address the challenges faced by enclave dwellers, the Land Border Agreement (LBA) was implemented. Bangladesh had 111 Indian enclaves, while India had 51 Bangladeshi enclaves. According to legend, this can be attributed to a whimsical series of chess matches between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Maharaja of Rangpur. Despite the arrival of the British, the borders of the enclaves remained unchanged, retaining their status as sovereign princely states. However, when the Radcliffe Line was drawn in 1947 to separate India and East Pakistan, small parcels of land fell under the jurisdiction of different countries. The resulting hostility from the partition led to a virtual lockdown for the enclave population, severely limiting their access to vital necessities such as hospitals, schools, and markets.cl
The Struggle for Citizenship:
For the enclave dwellers, life is a complex puzzle, as they neither hold full Indian citizenship nor are they considered outsiders. They find themselves in a state of limbo, discriminated against both by the nation and within the nation. Despite their close ties to the land they inhabit, they have long struggled to obtain official recognition as Indian citizens.
In 2015, a significant development took place when the Land Boundary Agreement was finally fully implemented. As part of this agreement, 979 residents from Indian enclaves in Bangladesh made the choice to return to India. In return, 14,864 Bangladeshi citizens residing in enclaves within India were granted Indian citizenship, effective from August 1, 2015. While these individuals have been informed of their Indian citizenship status, the crucial step of issuing an official gazette regarding their citizenship has yet to be taken.
Section 7 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, stipulates that when any territory becomes a part of India, the Central Government must, through an official gazette, declare who is a citizen of India and specify the effective date. Despite the enclave dwellers being provided with voter IDs and their participation in elections, they still lack proper documentation to prove their Indian citizenship. The Central Government has yet to issue the official gazette confirming their Indian citizenship.
The Threat of Statelessness:
The delay in notifying the Indian citizenship of the erstwhile enclave dwellers has created a cloud of uncertainty that looms over their lives. This situation becomes particularly concerning in light of the Central Government’s proposal to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2019. This poses a significant threat of statelessness for these individuals, as they have not received official recognition as Indian citizens through an official gazette. The struggle for citizenship among the enclave dwellers in India is a poignant story of uncertainty, unfulfilled promises, and the need for proper documentation. After the Nehru Noon Agreement’s unsuccessful attempt in 1958, a significant turning point occurred in 1971 when Bangladesh was liberated. On May 16, 1974, the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) was signed between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, aiming to resolve long-standing territorial disputes. However, the LBA faced substantial opposition due to concerns about an unequal exchange of land, leading to its non-implementation. This article delves into the intricate history of the enclave dwellers’ citizenship status and the challenges they continue to face.
The Legal Conundrum:
The unfulfilled promises of the government have evolved into a legal issue, further complicating the citizenship status of the enclave dwellers. Due to ignorance and ambiguity in the citizenship process, these individuals continue to question their status in the country. They are often used as political vote banks, adding to the complexity of their situation. It has now been six years since the Land Boundary Agreement was fully implemented in 2015, yet the enclave dwellers still do not hold full Indian citizenship.
The plight of the enclave dwellers in India is a testament to the complexities of citizenship and the need for transparent and efficient government procedures. Their struggle for recognition as Indian citizens continues to be marred by delays, ambiguity, and the looming threat of statelessness. As we move forward, it is crucial for the Central Government to expedite the issuance of an official gazette confirming the Indian citizenship of these individuals, ensuring they can enjoy their rights and contribute fully to the nation.
About the author …
I am Akshita Chand. A law graduate from Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan. I am a legal enthusiast with interest in the field of research and writing.