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

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Things We Did While Waiting for the Fence

Boundaries Undermined: The Ruins of Progress on the India-Bangladesh Border by Delwar Hussain (London: Hurst), 2013; pp 187

The anthropologist in the field searches for a textured object of study; one that can allow the unravelling of a series of interlinked concerns, and the peeling of layer upon layer of interpretation. From the concentric Balinese cockfight (Clifford Geertz) to South Africa’s black churches (Jean Comaroff), many such moments are a combination of planning and serendipity. Both these elements are at play in this Delwar Hussain’s first book. It is a work animated by the mapping out of institutions, networks, and lives that are built up, then hollowed out, and finally replaced over a half century of postcolonial development, industrialisation, deindustrialisation, and neo-liberalisation. Within the India-heavy focus of South Asian Studies, this book is part of a welcome new generation of scholarship about Bangladesh.

When Hussain first arrives at the Zero Point of Boropani (dipping into the Bangladesh district of Sylhet and the Indian state of Meghalaya), his object of study is the security fence that India is building along the border with Bangladesh. The proposed fence, when completed, would encircle the entire country. This was characterised in the Bangladeshi press as a hostile move from the Indian state, directed at the very country whose 1971 independence from Pakistan would have been impossible without the active support of the Indian government of that time. Bangladeshi “illegal migration” is a hotly-debated topic inside India, especially at election time when the bogey of “Bangladeshi” can be folded into political scaremongering about changing demographics in some Indian states. Incidents of Indian Border Security Force (BSF) shooting at Bangladeshis trying to cross into the country has created mounting anti-India sentiments inside Bangladesh (pakhir moto marche/“shooting them like birds” is a common, incorrect characterisation in Dhaka political addas I have attended). The fence represents another step in attempting a permanent closure of the border, against the potential porosity and fluidity of border lives.

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