History Enclave1

Published on August 6th, 2013


The Extraordinary Enclave: Dahala Khagrabari #51

By Tor G. Jakobsen

Most students of Political Science have heard about enclaves. Its definition is when a territory (of e.g. a country or municipality) is completely surrounded by another unit’s territory. It is thus an enclave of the surrounding unit, and an exclave of the unit with whom it has legal and political ties. Famous examples include the Baarle-Hertog which consists of 22 Belgian exclaves surrounded by Dutch territory, as well as Llivia which is a Spanish exclave within France.

The presence of enclaves may complicate relations in international politics. Most history students are familiar with the German pre-WW2 demands for its exclave of Eastern Prussia, and this was part of the conflict that eventually led to the German invasion of Poland.

To complicate things further, there are also examples of enclaves within enclaves. The previous mentioned municipality of Baarle-Hertog (which was Belgian, surrounded by Dutch land) also contains Dutch exclaves, namely those of the Dutch municipality of Baarle-Nassau (as seen in the illustration).

However, there exists one even more extreme example. In the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal (the border between India and Bangladesh) there are 24 so-called second-order enclaves (similar to the Belgian-Dutch example), and even one third-order enclave. This is a piece of India within Bangladesh, within India, within Bangladesh.

Naturally, the situation in Cooch Behar can be frustrating, with visa requirements and border violations. Many of the people living there are poor and have no passport, and can thus not leave their enclaves. The islands of land in this region are the result of ownership arrangements made by local princes centuries ago.

The third-order enclave in question is called Dahala Khagrabari #51. The size of this Indian parcel of land is a mere 7000 m², and is actually owned by a Bangladeshi farmer who lives nearby in the surrounding Bangladeshi second-order enclave (called Debidoda), which is surrounded by an Indian enclave surrounded by Bangladeshi territory.

The Indian and Bangladeshi governments are aware of the difficulties facing the residents of the two countries enclaves in the Cooch Behar district, and they have announced their intention to resolve the problem by exchanging 162 enclaves.


*Dahala photos by Brendan Whyte

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