Islands of Misfortune: Chars in Boundary Rivers Shared by India and Bangladesh

Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University
Journal nameAsia and Africa Today
EditionIssue 10

Chars are river islands that emerge and disappear due to fluvial processes within river-beds of rivers belonging to the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin. Some of these islands are large and fertile enough to be used in agriculture, other are utilized by fishermen and smugglers. Chars provide shelter for millions of people in Bangladesh and northeastern states of India including the most impoverished sections of rural communities. Charland inhabitants share a specific mindset that is open to change of environment and frequent resettling because of island erosion and natural disasters. Parts of the border between India and Bangladesh are formed by rivers, thus control over chars on such rivers is a matter of dispute between the two states. Neither international law nor legal framework of Indo-Bangladesh relations cover the status of borderline river chars, which leads to unilateral actions in attempts to claim these land parcels. The most notable cases are Muhuri river char dispute and New Moore island dispute both of which included displays of military force. An analysis of efforts by India and Bangladesh to resolve these issues provides some insights into the decision-making process on both sides and allows discerning the general patterns that India and Bangladesh follow in building up relations with their neighbors. The evolution of approaches to the chars issue reflects the changing dynamics of relations between successive governments in Delhi and Dhaka. In South Asia, land possession is one of the most valuable assets, which ensures that control over charlands will continue to be highly contested in the poorly demarcated and geographically fluid areas of the Indo-Bangladesh frontier.

Keywordschars, river islands, territorial disputes, New Moore island
Publication date19.10.2018
Number of characters594
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