ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Divided Bodies

Crossing the India-Bangladesh Border

There has been a global proliferation in high security barriers, xenophobia and the deep suspicion of Muslim migrants. The overlap of migration, politics, and national security requires us to shift attention to the actual experiences of migrants if we are not to be trapped in the prison of ideologies and legalities. It is especially critical to recognise that the spectrum of everyday mobility, political violence, and territorialities merit to be investigated in one analytic frame.

In September 2013, a United Nations (UN) population factsheet reported that Asia hosted the second highest number of international migrants (after Europe) and the highest number of refugees.1 Derived from population censuses and registers, representative household surveys and other UN records, the statistics indicated that m­igration among developing states of the South was higher than migration from such states to the North. In underscoring that nine out of 10 refugees were located within a small cohort of developing states such as J­ordan, Palestine and Pakistan, the r­eport echoed what Aristide Zolberg urged 30 years ago. Zolberg argued that the tensions produced by the disintegration and decline of imperial states, along with the emergence of new postcolonial states in the mid-20th century were refugee-producing processes and explained the high circulation of refugees among developing regions (1983: 36-37).

Closer to south Asia’s borders, Joya Chatterji in her recent historiography of the Bengali diaspora affirms Zolberg. She persuasively shows that the partition of the Indian subcontinent (August 1947) and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent Bengali nation state (1971) led to internal displacements and international migrations within the r­egion at greater scales than from its devastated borders to Britain and other advanced economies (2013: 274). The India-­Bangladesh border, a product of these political cartographies, is also relevant in the context of the UN international m­igration factsheet. This enumerated 3.2 million Bangladeshis residing in I­ndia. While Indian political parties quickly appropriated this number to a­ffirm India’s worst paranoia of porous borders and “infiltrating” Bangladeshis, Bangladesh predictably rejected the f­igures. The release of the UN statistics in September 2013 coincided with strong civil society protests in Bangladesh over India’s “shoot to kill” policy and indiscriminate firings at the international boundary. The same month, Amiya Ghosh, an Indian border force constable who had shot 15-year-old Felani Khatun at the India-Bangladesh border three years ago, was acquitted. Felani’s body hung from India’s new border fence with Bangladesh, a project under construction that slowly and substantially re-configures the border landscape. The fence also runs through the heavily militarised north-east India that shares complicated boundaries with Bangladesh.

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