A recent article in Washington Post  described the border issues between India and Bangladesh, existing since the Partition of India in 1947, as finally resolved through bilateral negotiations. For decades many enclaves of both countries remained within other enclaves, which, in turn, remained within other enclaves, and so on. Below are the graphics from the article.


The above example shows India’s territory within Bangladesh, which is an enclave within India’s territory that itself is an enclave within Bangladesh, and all of them in a modestly-sized area. This begs a question if the imposed boundaries on arbitrarily created political regions on a map—in India and Bangladesh or elsewhere—align with those that the local residents perceive in their mind as their own space of living and socioeconomic interaction?

Most likely not. Yet, maps that outline residents-perceived (vernacular) regions seldom find their way to the desks of top decision makers, which in terms of developing a relationship between nations may often lead to unintended consequences.

In 2011, The Economist’s article “The land that maps forgot” summarized the misalignment of boundaries well:

The people who actually live in enclaves (and counter-enclaves) in a certain sense “don’t see” the borders. They speak the same language, eat the same food and live life without regard to the politicians in Dhaka, Kolkata and Delhi. Many of them cross the border regularly (the bribe is US$6 a trip from the Bangladeshi side).

A few years ago, away from Cooch Behar, on the eastern border with India, I met a man who lived smack on the border between Tripura state and Bangladesh. His living room was in Bangladesh, his toilet in India. He had been a local politician in India, and was now working as a farmer in Bangladesh. As is typical in such places, he sent his daughters to school in Bangladesh, and his sons to India, where schools, he thought, were much better. To his mind, the fence dividing the two countries was of little value. But, he conceded, “at least my cows don’t run away anymore.

Maps and Misalignment of Political and Vernacular Boundaries (Part 1)
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