Intercepting interviews, photographs, and historical records with incisions, markings, and drawings made from a prohibited cough syrup and phantasmic engravings on a stone post, the artist deals with the sense of ambiguity, perpetual statelessness, and entrapment experienced by those living in the enclaves, upon the formation of national boundaries.
Locally known as Chhitmahal,1 where chhit means a fragment—that which is part of a whole, but not integrated into it—the enclaves are pockets of India within Bangladesh, and pockets of Bangladesh within India. During interviews with the artist, enclave/chhit-dwellers retell how their predicament is the result of their highly fertile lands becoming pawns in a chess game between the neighbouring rulers of the princely states of Cooch Behar and Rangpur, where the former integrated into India and the latter into Bangladesh. Historians, on the other hand, say that the reason for the creation of the enclaves was more likely a case of feudal state systems that prevailed pre-partition.
For those who live in one country surrounded by another country, walking in a straight line over a few kilometers, or sometimes even a few hundred meters, over invisible borders in any direction makes them illegal. The absence of any identity card (the fate of those born in the enclaves) means the denial of basic civic rights and services, making subterfuge a way of life in the enclaves, as it is for several others, who live on the edges of countries.2
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- 1. There are 111 Indian Enclaves and 51 Bangladeshi chhitmahals. There have been several contradictory population estimates, of which the latest is 51,000 people.
- 2. Since the project was shown in 2013, legislations have been passed dismantling the enclaves recently – on May 7, 2015 the revised Land Boundary Agreement, which was initially proposed in 1974, was ratified. The physical exchange of the enclaves is currently on and is expected to be fully implemented fully by June 30, 2016. Only 2% people have registered to move upon the swap.