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India and Bangladesh: calculus of territorial dispute settlement February 8, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author: Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 10 October 2011.

On 7 September 2011 in Dacca, the prime ministers of India and Bangladesh signed a landmark protocol to their 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, providing for final settlement of their long-pending boundary issues.

Given that instances of territorial dispute settlement in this sovereignty-conscious region have been few and far between, this exercise in statesmanship is both commendable and long overdue. A review of the principles and processes underlying the compromises reveals useful insights into territorial dispute settlement at New Delhi’s end.

The India-Bangladesh boundary is no ordinary one. Hastily constructed in the dying days of British colonialism, it was the longest international boundary created during the age of decolonisation. The border was intended to separate a contiguous majority area of Muslims from that of non-Muslims — but for only about a quarter of its length does it separate a Muslim-majority in Bangladesh from a Hindu-majority in India. As many as 162 tiny enclaves (111 Indian and 52 Bangladeshi) dot a section of the frontier: in the extreme an Indian enclave sits within a Bangladeshi enclave, itself situated within a larger Indian enclave, all surrounded by Bangladeshi territory!


Book review: Bina D’Costa’s ‘Nationbuilding, Gender and War crimes in South Asia’ (London, New York: Routledge, 2011) May 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

In her new book, Bina D’Costa provides a convincing picture of the role of war, war crime (especially against women) and myth in the construction of modern South Asian nation-states. The story of the women caught up in the violence of 1971 is movingly told, in terms of how they originally suffered and how they continue to suffer due to family and societal ostracism, the re-emergence of the religious right in Bangladesh and the failure of the state to acknowledge their stories or suffering.

I liked a great deal about this book – its density, its extensive reading into the problem, its intellectual subtlety and especially its use of history.  Dr D’Costa argues convincingly that the atrocities of 1971 cannot be understood without reference to those of 1947; that South Asia is not just India, but constitutes a culturally inter-connected set of countries that interact constantly over porous borders; and that the analysis of nation-building should incorporate the micro-level stories of women as well as the macro-level ones.  This last is especially difficult to bring off analytically, and D’Costa accomplishes it superbly.

Women fighters during the 1971 war.


Partition: the price of freedom and the price paid by women August 6, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : D'Costa, Bina, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Bina D’Costa

The dawn of freedom from colonial rule in the subcontinent has forever been marked by the agony of Partition.  The bloodshed, sweat of terror and the tears of helplessness made the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan simultaneously the most signifying and the most traumatic moment in South Asia’s history.  What has often been forgotten, however, is the price paid by women and children.

Partition was about two specific incisions.  Firstly, the territorial incision emerged from a political conflict over the ownership of a state – a conflict about who ought to acquire the moral and legitimate authority over the entire population and colonised territory left by the British Raj. Secondly, the creation of Pakistan was a partition not simply of the subcontinent but also of the Indian Muslim community itself.

british india map

Map of British India just prior to Partition.