Genisis of Indo-Bangla border dispute

SHILLONG, APRIL 20: With tension easing between India and Bangladesh and the situation returning to normal in Pyrdiwah, Dawki and Lyngkhat sectors of Meghalaya, it is instructive to recall that due to a lack of political will, these 265 acres of land are still classed as "disputed."

In 1955, a similar intrusion took place at Pyrdiwah by the then Pakistani government. Islamabad claimed that the fertile lands of Pyrdiwah and Borhil areas belong to East Pakistan. However, a year after the intrusion, the Pakistanis were pushed back.

The then local MLA of the State Assembly, Mr Maham Singh, wrote to the Assam chief minister asking him to clarify the government's stand on the fate of Pyrdiwah and Borhil. The then Chief Secretary of Assam, Mr ANM Saleh in reply stated: "It appears from the proceedings of the joint meeting that no decision was taken to include the area in Pakistan." Mr Saleh was referring to a meeting between the deputy commissioners of United Khasi and Jaintia Hills (India) and Sylhet (Bangladesh) held at Jaflong on February 3, 1956.

Mr Saleh had even advised Mr Singh to tell the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills DC to press his Sylhet counterpart "for recognition of the status quo" and to allow Khasi cultivators to cultivate in their lands without any hindrance from Pakistani nationals and police till final demarcation of the area.

That was the status quo of Pyrdiwah and Borhil till the next intrusion by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) on Monday. However, there was no political will on the part of our leaders to see that the dispute is permanently settled after the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Infact, the Secretary of the Dorbar Hima Mylliem and expert in Khasi ancestral lands, Mr B Nishan Wahlang, warns, "Unless the Union Government reacts immediately and decisively, the recent clash between the BSF and BDR in the border areas may lead to international interference as happened in 1971."

"The Indira-Mujib Pact between the two countries (India and Bangladesh), will not solve the boundary dispute, unless the pre-independence boundary dispute of between the erstwhile Assam and East Bengal provinces is seriously taken into consideration," he stressed.

Mr Wahlang said that prior to independence in August 1947, in accordance with the June 3 plan, two Boundary Commissions were set up to demarcate the boundary of British India into two dominions-India and Pakistan. One was to deal with the partition of Bengal and the separation of Sylhet from Assam and the other with the partition of Punjab.

Each commission consisted of a chairman and four members, two nominated by the Congress and two by the Muslim League. With the consent of both the parties, Sir Cyril Radcliffe was appointed chairman of both the commissions.

The Bengal Boundary Commission was required to demarcate the Muslim majority areas of Sylhet district and the contiguous non-Muslim majority areas of adjoining districts of Assam-the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district. These factors are responsible for the present tension in Lyngkhat, Dawki, Umsyiem, Pyrdiwah, said Mr Wahlang.

Even at that time there was a difference of opinions among the members of the commissions. Finally all the members agreed that the chairman should give his own award. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was ready with his award on August 13, 1947.

At that time the non-Muslims of Bengal complained that the area of West Bengal under the Radcliffe award as compared to that in the previous notional division, had shrunk. They also protested against the transfer of Khulna and Chittagong Hill Tracts to East Bengal. The Muslims, on the other hand, deplored the loss of Calcutta, Mursidabad and parts of Nadia district.

The Radcliffe award had satisfied none and the Hindu press characterised it as self contradictory, anomalous, arbitrary and unjust to Hindu Bengal. Similarly the Muslim press declared that Pakistan had been cheated, the award was biased and reeked of partiality. But everyone agreed that the award should be accepted for the time being with adjustments later on through negotiation.

The incidents at Pyrdiwah and Mankachar are a manifestation of the unresolved issues of history. A permanent solution to the problem is essential for the sake of peace and security of both India and Bangladesh.

- By GW Pohti