Borders and Boundaries

As an academic my main pre-occupation has been centred around the partition of India and creation of Pakistan in 1947. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend time on both sides of the border, comparing the impact of this division on the people of Punjab; the area that has been severely affected by the decision taken in 1947. From being the bread basket of British India and the major recruiting ground for the colonial Indian army, East Punjab becomes the hostile border with Pakistan and West Punjab, while politically dominate, recedes culturally. The culturally, linguistically and economically rich land of Punjab is Balkanised after 1947 and now exists as a mere skeleton of its former self. The land has been reconfigured along religious identities which evaporate the pluralistic history; it tries to re-imagine itself for the new global order but lacks the former strength it had.

For the past 14 years I have crossed the official border crossing at Wagha/Attari between India and Pakistan numerous times; I’m lucky because I don’t have a green or blue passport, both of which immediately open you up tedious amounts of scrutiny. By virtue of being “foreign” and at the same time a “desi”, you get to experience this place in a different manner. Although I have Indian heritage, the Indians are on the whole sterner, matter of fact during the immigration and customs. Sometimes I will strike a conversation and there is rare chance to get their views. For example, during my last trip, the Indian official wanted me to recommend some history books to read, especially those that were impartial. On the Pakistan side, there are of course always questions, inquisitions about what, why, who…but there appears to be more “conversation”. There is always intrigue and sometimes joy that a “foreigner” would want to spend time in Pakistan. I have also been unlucky enough to be stuck on both sides of the border just as it is about to close for crossing. And both sides have blamed the other, “madam ji, we will let you go through but the Indians/Pakistanis will not accept you”. Both behave in this rather childish and tit for tat manner. It is a shame then that politics is also conducted in this manner. While Delhi and Islamabad exchange words of war, the ordinary people suffer, as they have suffered in the past 69 years.

The new global trend for hyper nationalism, as seen in the impact Trump is having in America, the growing influence, both emotionally and politically, of right wing politics can also be seen in the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, and so socially progressive countries which are now retracting and adopting more defensive policies. While in India, the impact of Modi and his cosy relationship with RSS has unleashed and legitimatised a form of nationalism and patriotism which makes it difficult to question governments and their policies. In the name of showing loyalty to the state, Indianess/Hinduness and the armed forces, it has become unpatriotic to say anything which may offend. Have we become so insecure that we cannot even tolerate any scrutiny? Surely we need reflect on our past and how we face the challenges of an increasingly globalised society. We cannot live in isolation, putting up barriers, preventing the movement of people and creating homogenous spaces. India and Pakistan did this in 1947 and we live with the legacies of that today. Homogenous (religiously or ethnically) societies does not equate with security, peace and harmony. Look at the challenges Pakistan has faced since it was founded as a country for the Muslims of India. Working together for a solution is the only option. But amongst this raft of change has also been the enormous disconnect between the politicians and the people and this is a global challenge.

It is therefore staggering to think that as we approach 70 years of independence, little has been gained and little has been achieved in our relationship with our closest neighbour. We cannot deny that we were once attached together and there are many cultural, ethnic, linguistic commonalities that unite us, yet we are determined to focus on the differences and maintain the status quo of a sibling rivalry. Unfortunately, there is no parent who can step in try to patch up things, we have to be mature enough to do that ourselves. Otherwise, this rivalry will remain for the next 70 years. People away from border states like Punjab and especially Kashmir cannot comprehend the negative impact this rivalry has had on the mind-set and livelihoods of the people. They live in the shadows of this rivalry, even though there is much more which unites them than divides them. They also have a right to live in peace and aspire for prosperity, we should not be so selfish to deny them this.

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