Guest post by Delwar Hussain, anthropologist and author of Boundaries Undermined: The Ruins of Progress on the Bangladesh-India Border (2013 Hurst). You can follow Delwar and his work on Facebook.

Boropani is a small, bustling village creviced in between a particularly remote part of the margins of Bangladesh and India. Before departing in 1947, the British divided it in two along with the rest of the subcontinent: one half of Boropani went to newly demarcated India and the other to erstwhile East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh in 1971). The maelstrom that Partition was, its reach and magnitude, continues to be felt in a myriad of personal, psychological, social, spiritual, economic and political traumas, increasingly rendering the border one of the most dangerous in the world.

The Zero Point separating the two halves of Boropani (D. Hussain).
Today the two halves of Boropani are at the centre of a booming cross-border coal trade, something that had existed even in pre-colonial times. The mines are now located in Indian Boropani. Bangladeshi migrants have to illegally cross the boundary to work in the mines, joining labourers from across the subcontinent. The movements are facilitated by the border guards of both countries for which they are illicitly paid a sum of money by the managers of the coal mines who require employees.

The trade in coal itself is ostensibly legal, the market for the “black gold” being the growing number of brick kilns that feed the ongoing “development” of Bangladesh. It is out-of-the-way communities and places such as Boropani that are at the centre of the industrial revolutions that are taking place in India and Bangladesh and which their growing economies are ostensibly based upon. It is here that the highest prices are being paid in both environmental terms as well as the toll taken on human lives.

Coal depots on the Bangladeshi side of Boropani (D. Hussain).
Despite the ruptures that boundary delineations have brought in their wake, historically composed relationships in Boropani - as well as across the entire length of the 2,500km border - refuse to wane. Connections have simply adjusted, taking account of new and ever changing realities. It is to prevent such linkages, to separate India from Bangladesh and Indians from Bangladeshis that Delhi has embarked on a project to build a fence around its neighbour.

The barricade has yet to arrive in Boropani. The road that the double barbed-wire fencing will be constructed upon can be seen from the village. It is a scar of earth carved out on to the side of the limestone hills. No one knows when the work to erect it will start let alone finish. More importantly, no one knows what it will mean for the coal trade which so many individuals, families and communities on both sides of the border and further afield are dependent upon.

What the people of Boropani say is that they will just adjust their lives to the fence as they have done with all the other changes that have been imposed here. “What else can we do?” they ask. Most agree that it won’t last long, pointing to other relics in the borderlands, previous state attempts at severing the two halves. One person summed it up by saying that the Indian and Bangladeshi states are only a few decades old, whereas the hills, where Boropani is located “are millions of years old. They may stop us from crossing for a few years, but it will never be forever.”

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Hussain, D (2013) Of Mines and Margins. Available at: (accessed [date]).