Contested Spaces of Exchange: Informal cross-border trade on the India-Bangladesh border

Alison Brown, Bhaskar Chakrabarti, Peter Mackie, Crispian Fuller, Rajesh Bhattacharya , Soumyabrato Bagchi, Debapriya Chakrabarti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The India-Bangladesh border is the world’s fifth longest land border, a focus of political tension in an area with vibrant informal economies. Cross-border communities share culture and language and informal cross-border trade is well-established. This paper explores informal cross-border trade (ICBT) on the Indian side of the border, examining its actors, power relations and spatial dimensions, and the vulnerabilities of those involved. Debates on the social and cultural roots of ICBT, and the vulnerability of small-scale entrepreneurs to a complicit state, and powerful middlemen in lucrative sectors of ICBT, inform the analysis. The trade is theorized through the lens of jugaad, the Indian term for ‘making do’ and ‘instinctive creativity’. The research draws on case studies of three cross-border sectors, every-day trade in small household goods, the politically sensitive cattle trade, and cross-border medical/healthcare services. The mechanisms of jugaad are seen to some degree in all three case studies, but heavy state regulation gives advantage to controlling middlemen and state officials. Finally, we argue that ICBT is a critical component of the wider political economy in the border regions of West Bengal, and that the forgotten sector of ICBT could, if supported by light-touch regulation, have important poverty-reduction potential in enabling livelihoods for marginalized border communities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalForum for Development Studies
Early online date27 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Nov 2023


  • Informal economy
  • informal cross-border trade
  • jugaad
  • India-Bangladesh border

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities


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