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Attari and Wagha

by Nyla Ali Khan, 16 June 2017

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sacw.net - 16 June 2017

A couple of days ago, I got a chance to go to Attari Railway Station and Wagha Border, on either side of which the flags of India and Pakistan are brandished with pride as well as a belligerent ferocity. I witnessed the histrionics and performativity of the Border Security Force of India and Pakistan Rangers. Disregarding the sweltering heat, frenetic and excited crowds waving the flags of their respective countries and dancing to Bollywood songs that evoked a frenzy. The complex and elaborate performance of the two sides, which I saw, was symbolic of the combative and truculent narratives of nationalism in the subcontinent.

It was a sentimental visit for my mother, because that was the closest she got to the city of her birth and the city where her maternal grandfather is buried: Lahore. In her mind’s eye, she was traversing spaces created by political, cultural, and religious differences. Such memories and stories challenge the notion of nationalism as an alliance that is forged with people from the same linguistic, cultural, and religious background.

The predominant theme of my work is the crossing of frontiers of nationality, culture, and language in three areas of the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. To that list, I would add my attempt to cross the barrier of citizenship as a self-conscious political philosophy. I hope, through my work, to make my readers aware of the humanist response to the ridiculousness of war, a response that transcends national boundaries and barriers.

It is an unfortunate fact that all the historical, political, and social events that led to the catastrophe of 1947 can best be understood within the explanatory frameworks of religious and familial obligation. This molding of collective subjectivities by the evocation of pan-national religious affinities results in the stifling of minority voices that express divergent cultural and social opinions. The narrator of Ghosh’s Shadow Lines observes, “As always, there were innumerable cases of Muslims in East Pakistan giving shelter to Hindus, often at the cost of their own lives, and equally in India of Hindus sheltering Muslims” (229-30). Such people demonstrate the “indivisible sanctity that binds people to each other independently . . ., for it is in the logic of states that to exist at all they must claim the monopoly of all relationships between peoples” (230). Since these two nations were founded on the idea of religious difference, the religious agendas of right-wing organizations and militaries now rule over the Indian subcontinent.