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A Welcome Swap: It Took 68 Years, But 50K People Are Celebrating This Historic Deal

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By Sanjana Chowdhury:

At the stroke of midnight on 31 July, more than 50,000 India-Bangladesh enclave dwellers finally became free. In this historical land swap between India and Bangladesh 14,214 residents of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves within India became Indian nationals henceforth. Of the 37,000 people from Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, only 979 have opted for Indian nationality. Since Friday midnight, 111 Indian enclaves of an estimated 17,160 acres were turned over to Bangladesh, while 51 Bangladeshi enclaves measuring 7,110 acres became parts of India.

Image source: youtube.com
Image source: youtube.com

The residents of these enclaves or ‘chhitmahal’s’ finally found an identity after 68 years of wait. Before 1 August, 2015 they had no nationality. They were the residents of nowhere lands. For the first time since 1947, they can “walk outside the enclave without the fear of being apprehended by the BSF”. Many people left the enclaves with fake documents in search of jobs, but now they can enjoy the fundamental rights as Indian citizens.

This complicated situation has come to a successful conclusion with the exchange of 162 enclaves between India and Bangladesh. A statement from External Affairs Ministry has designated July 31 as a historic day for both countries for “it marks the resolution of a complex issue that has lingered since independence” in 1947.

Image source: mygoldenbengal.wordpress.com
Image source: mygoldenbengal.wordpress.com

Game of Lands

Local mythos attributes the formation of enclaves to royal games of chess. Maharaja of Cooch Behar and Faujdar of Rangpur district in Mughal Bengal are said to have staked these segments of land in chess, thereby creating a fragmented boundary. However, Brendan R. Whyte, in his book ‘Waiting for the Esquimo: a historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh’ provides a more historical reason behind the enclaves. Mr. Whyte writes, “The majority of the Cooch Behar enclaves today were formed by the treaties of 1711 and 1713 by which the Maharaja of Cooch Behar [again] bought his autonomy after a long war with the Mughals.”

During Sir Cyril Radciffe’s partition of Bengal in 1947, these enclaves were left as they were because Cooch Behar, as a Princely State, was not a part of the British Indian Empire. Later, in August 1949 Cooch Behar acceded to the Dominion Government of India by Cooch Behar Merger Agreement, and the enclaves in erstwhile East Pakistan came under Indian rule and trouble began. Despite so many change of hands, for the enclave residents these were merely nominal as they remained in a stateless limbo.

Exchange of Enclaves

In the past, it has been tried many times to come to an understanding regarding these problematic tracts of land. In 1958, then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and Prime Minister of Pakistan, Feroze Khan Noon, unsuccessfully attempted an exchange of enclaves through Nehru-Noon Agreement. In 1974 Indira Gandhi and then Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed the Land Boundary Agreement commonly called Indira-Mujib Pact.

Due to the complicated situation, the chhitmahal dwellers never received basic amenities from either Indian or Bangladeshi government for the past 68 years. Without schools, hospitals or police stations, these lands became the centre of criminal activities. At last, in May, the parliament unanimously approved the 119th Amendment of the Constitution, ratifying the Land Agreement Bill.

The enclave population is now hopeful that when the swap is over in November the governments would start developing respective territories and provide their citizens with fundamental rights and basic civic amenities. According to Land Boundary Agreement, Indian government has sanctioned Rs 3,048 crore for rehabilitation of those affected by the land swap.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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