Written By Sara Manni
Reinforcing the Bloody Line
Published: January 18, 2019
Reinforcing the Bloody Line
As any long-term traveller of India, I head up to Amritsar to admire the famous Darbar Sahib, the Golden Temple. It is a chilled Sunday afternoon and we have just completed a harsh visit to the Museum of Partition, very touching and absolutely crowded. However, it is since we have arrived that any rickshaw driver, restaurant tender and local tourist suggests us to go to the Wagah Border. “You can’t miss the ceremony!”, “I came here all the way from Delhi just to see it!”.
We decide to go. The street that goes to the Wagah-Attari border, connecting Amritsar to Lahore, is the famous Grand Truck Road, one of the oldest streets of the sub-continent, crossing all the way from Bangladesh to Afghanistan. It used to be one of the busiest streets of British India. Now it can be taken as the symbol of the new global order, where the flow of capital continues but the flow of masses is stopped. Indeed, goods (including drugs), financial capital, human capital – in this case white tourists and Indian or Pakistani citizens rich enough to obtain a visa- cross the border while common people cannot.
Our driver, an old man originally from a village next to Amritsar, tells us that his grandfather used to consult a dentist in Lahore, and the whole journey won’t take more than 30 minutes by train. Now, for him visiting Lahore is bureaucratically impossible.
We reach our destination. After a few security checks, we can walk towards the Zero Land. We are welcomed by a huge set of vendors offering anything you would want in a stadium: chai, pop-corns, cold drinks, Indian flags, hats with written HINDUSTAN. Sadly, we are not going to a match, we are going to the Wagah-Attari border, the most controversial scar left by Partition.
It was created in 1947, following the decision of the independence leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and M.A. Jinnah, to apply the Two-Nations Theory and create two countries. Sir Radcliffe, called to come for his first time to India to stand as chairman of Boundary Commission, was given less than three months to draw ‘the bloody line’ based on the presence of Hindus and Muslims and never officially defined other factors. With this exercise of social engineering, the Indians and the Pakistanis had to be created, while the composite Punjabi identity needed to be undermined. The 13th of August 1947 that line became the border.
At the end of the busy street, we find ourselves in a sort of stadium. The difference is that between the Indian and the Pakistani stand – which is smaller – there is a gate. We are asked to sit down because the ceremony is starting. The soldiers start their choreographic march, or as Kalra and Purewal call it, their obscene dance of aggression, while the MC start yelling to get the public excited. The soldiers reach the gate, pull their sabres off and literally show they muscles to the Pakistani ones who are doing the same beyond the gate. At every incitement, people stand and shout “Hindustan! Hindustan!”, while from the other side you can hear “Pakistan! Pakistan!”. People applaud, cheer, jump, scream in a turbulence of excitement and hate which I can only compare to the vibe of the final game of the world cup.
Yet, this time is not a sport game, it is a border-enforcing ceremony. And this is not any border, it is the border that once drawn generated the largest number of refugees in human history, displacing between twelve and fifteen million people. I must stand up when the MC asks to do so but my brain is somewhere else. I feel a tear dropping. My mind goes back to the lectures I attended on the literature of Partition and on Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s Khol Do. I see these women shouting against the others beyond the fence and I cannot stop thinking about their grandmothers, probably victims of Partition. It is estimated that about 44,000 Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women were raped, killed, forced into marriage or converted. These women would be forcefully sent to their newly defined ‘homes’ during Partition and then, after Partition, repatriated against their will by the state promoting their ‘rehabilitation’. Most probably their families would have then rejected them.
At the end of the ceremony, I meet a group of girls and I ask them what their thoughts about the show are. One of them says: “It was amazing. I am glad I came here to sustain my nation. My grandparents fought for our freedom”. The misperception of Partition, the unnarrated history, is then clear. It was not a war. None fought pro or against any state. It was an explosion of communal violence after the imposed definition of a new identity.
And here comes my question. Why is this exercise of nationalism necessary?
Benedict Anderson (1983) defines nations as imagined communities, i.e. socially constructed communities of people perceiving themselves as belonging to the same group. In our case, the colonial state defined the new communities based on their moral unity – religion, but the British India communal identities were the outcome of a process which constructed both particularistic identities and moral unity. The outcome is the creation of territorial nation-states. Nations in which citizenship is the relation between the individual and the state, not the relation between the individual and the embedded community. Indeed, Partition did not solve the appeal to a moral unity and for this reason, the tension between India and Pakistan is not yet solved. Both states need to continuously act to physically and symbolically to maintain their territorialities to represent, through the border, a national culture. Therefore, if Partition is viewed not only as a mere imposition of colonial leadership but as a larger process of interaction between state and the arenas of everyday conflicts, we can better understand the hyper-nationalistic rhetoric of the two countries, trying to fight against the ongoing fear of internal division and social instability.
Blog Post wrote as an assignment for the module Issues in Borders and Development at SOAS, Univeristy of London.