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Home > Citizens Action and Concerns for Peace in South Asia > War and Peace at the Wagah Border

War and Peace at the Wagah Border

by Saurab Ali Chhachhi, 9 November 2010

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It 
is
 64
 years
 since 
the
 Radcliffe
 line 
cut
 through 
the
 village 
of
 Wagah 
in
 Punjab,
 the
 east
 going 
to 
India 
and 
the
 west 
to
 Pakistan.
 Events 
at
 the
 Wagah
 border
 reflect
 the 
tensions 
and 
hostility 
since
 partition
 as 
well
 as 
the
 aspirations
 of
 ordinary
 people
 for 
peace
 and 
friendship.
 On 
14th
/15th 
August
 2010, 
I 
was
 at
 the
 Wagah
 border 
where 
I
 witnessed 
two
 ceremonies: 
the
 official
 Beating
 of 
the
 Retreat 
(lowering
 of
 the 
flags)
 by 
the 
Indian
 BSF 
(Border 
Security 
Force)
 and 
the
 Pakistani
 Rangers
 which 
is
 held 
everyday
 since 
1959 
and
 the 
midnight
 candle light
 vigil
 held 
every 
14/15th
 August
 by 
peace‐activists
 from 
both 
sides.




5 pm ‐ 7 pm



At 
dusk
 I
 sat
 down 
in 
the 
front 
row 
of 
the
 stands 
facing 
two
 gates ‐
the 
side 
I 
was
 on 
said
 INDIA 
and
 the 
gate
 on 
the
 other 
side 
said
 PAKISTAN.
 On 
the 
Pakistani
 side 
loudspeakers
 were 
blaring
 with
 patriotic
 songs
 and people
 were
 waving
 huge
 flags
 and
 dancing 
to 
mark
 their 
independence
 day. 
On 
the 
Indian
 side 
a
 group 
of
 students
 were 
performing
 a 
play
 (it
 was
 basically 
a 
man
 shouting
 at
 the
 top 
of
 his
 voice) 
interspersed
 with 
patriotic 
songs
 as
 well.
 Finally 
the
 bugle 
rang
 out 
and 
the 
parade
 began
 on
 both 
sides 
synchronised
 with 
each
 other.


 Two
 women 
(for 
the 
first
 time 
this
 year) 
marched 
at 
a 
fast
 pace 
across
 and 
saluted
 the
 Commander,
 positioning 
themselves 
at 
the 
corner
 of 
the
 Gate.
 They 
were
 followed 
by
 6 
feet 
tall
 border 
guards 
speed
 marching 
with
 extended
 arms,
 stamping 
on 
the 
ground
 and 
then 
giving
 a

 high‐kick
–
it 
was
 quite 
incredible
 –
 each 
time
 they 
raised
 their 
legs 
they 
almost
 hit
 their 
heads!
 Then 
followed
 a
 peculiar
 ritual‐
almost
 like 
a
 dance
‐

goose‐stepping 
then
 a
 series
 of 
head 
and
 shoulder
 jerky
 movements
 which were 
full
 of 
aggression.

 At
 regular
 intervals
 slogans 
were
 raised. 
As 
one 
side
 shouted
 Zindabad
 (Long 
Live) 
the
 other
side
 would 
shout
 Murdabad 
(Death 
to) 
in 
reaction.

The
 gates
 were
 opened, 
the 
flags
 of 
both
 countries
 were 
lowered
 for
 the
 day
 and 
after
 a
 brief
 handshake, 
the
 gates
 were
 closed.
 The
 whole
 ceremony 
was 
quite 
absurd
 and 
the
 soldiers 
looked 
like
 roosters
 dressed, 
on 
one
 side 
in
 brown 
and 
red
 and 
the
 other
 side 
in 
black 
and
 white 
strips,
 with 
plumbed 
turbans,
 strutting 
and 
preening,
 which 
made 
me
 want 
to 
laugh.
 However 
it
 was
 not 
really 
funny
 since 
the 
ritual
 was 
also 
the
 assertion
 of 
territorial
 control
 and 
power 
and
 the 
body 
movements
 conveyed
 aggressive
 threats.
 Though 
the 
aggression 
has
 been 
toned
 down 
(earlier 
the
 soldiers 
showed 
clenched 
fists
 and
 made
 contemptuous 
gestures
 with
 their
 thumbs), 
yet 
we 
could 
see
 that
 thousands
 of 
people 
on 
both
sides
 of 
the 
border
 (it 
is
 estimated that
 15,000 
come 
every day
 to 
witness
 this
 ceremony
 from
 both
 sides!) 
were 
being 
instigated 
into 
hatred
 and
 competition. 
It 
is 
ironic
 that 
this
 ceremony 
is 
actually
 planned
 by 
both
 sides
 and 
they
 practice 
together, 
yet
 the
 message
 that 
is
 sent
 is
 of
 war 
and 
enmity.



Beating the retreat ceremony at the Wagah border
picture by Saurab

11 pm ‐ 12 am


In
 contrast 
to 
the
 cacophony 
of 
the
 evening,
 the
 border
 was
 quiet as 
50 
peace
 activists 
walked
 towards 
the
 gates
 with
 candles,

 shouting
 slogans
 of 
peace
 and
 friendship.
 (“Pak­ Hind 
awaam
 dosti
 zindabad”
 “jung 
nahe
 aman
 chahye,
 bomb
 nahe 
roti
 chahye”).
 The 
candles 
were 
placed
 on 
the
 gates
 and
 flickering 
in 
the
 dark
 sent
 out
 rays
 of 
hope.
 The 
vigil
 has 
been
 organised 
for 
the 
last
 15
 years
 by
 well‐known 
journalist
 Kuldeep
 Nayar 
and 

this
 year
 was 
special
 due 
to 
a 
peace
 caravan 
that 
was 
organised
 simultaneously 
from
 Mumbai 
to 
Wagah
 in 
India
 and
 Karachi
 to
 Wagah 
in
 Pakistan
 by 
Dr.
 Sandeep
 Pandey
 (a
 Magsaysay award
 winner) 
from
 India
 and 
my
 father 
Karamat
 Ali
 (founder 
of 
the 
Pakistan
 Peace
 Coalition) 
among
 others.

 Prominent 
among 
the
 participants
 were
 Mahesh 
Bhatt
 (a
 Bollywood
 film
 director),
 Aitzaz
 Ahsan
 & 
Iqbal 
Haider (leaders
 of 
the 
lawyers
 and 
human 
rights
 movement
 in 
Pakistan)
 and 
Kamla
 Bhasin
 (a
 well
 known
 feminist/songwriter
 who
 was 
one 
of 
the 
first 
to 
build
 bridges
 between
 Indian
 and
 Pakistani
 women).
 It 
was 
very
 moving 
to 
hear 
Iqbal
 Haider’s 
emotional
 appeal
 as 
he
 repeated 
in 
front
 of 
the
 gates: 
“Darwaza 
khol
 do,
 logo 
ko 
milne
 do" (open 
the 
gates, 
let 
the 
people
 meet).
 However
 the
 people 
from 
the
 Pakistani
 side 
were
 unfortunately 
not
 allowed 
to 
come 
to 
the 
border 
this 
year.
 The
 guards
 who
 had
 been
 performing 
the 
parade 
earlier 
were 
also
 there
 and
 ironically
 when
 we 
asked
 them
 about
 the
 India‐Pakistan
 situation, 
they
 said
 that 
they 
wanted
 the
 conflict 
to 
end
 so
 we 
could 
live 
like
 normal
 neighbours. 
As 
part
 of
 this 
vigil
 thousands
 of 
people
 had
 gathered
 at 
Attari 
(a 
near‐by 
village) 
under 
a 
tent
 where 
singers,
 artists 
and
 poets 
from 
both 
countries
 performed
 around
 themes
 of
 peace
 between
 the 
two
 countries.



Although
 I
 had
 seen 
the 
beating
 of
 the 
retreat 
in
 2001 (when
 I
 was
 eight)
 from
 the
 Pakistani
 side
 as 
well, 
I 
found
 the 
experience 
this 
time 
very
 disturbing, 
as
 I
 understood 
its 
meaning
 and 
implication. 

It 
was
 quite
 frightening 
the
 way 
people
 could 
show
 so
 much 
hatred
 and 
animosity 
towards
 one
 another
 and
 how
 the
 ridiculously
 choreographed
 ceremony 
orchestrated
 a
 sense
 of 
jingoistic
 nationalism.
 Since
 my 
father 
is 
from
 Pakistan 
and
 my 
mother 
is 
from
 India,
 when
 I 
see 
this
 kind
 of 
hatred
 I 
feel 
as 
if 
I 
belong
 to 
No‐Man’s 
Land 
(the 
sliver
 of
 earth
 between 
the 
gates) 
as 
in 
Sadat
 Hasan 
Manto’s 
brilliant
 story
 Toba
 Tek 
Singh.



At 
the 
same 
time
 I 
think 
that 
there
 is 
great
 inspiration
 and 
hope 
in 
the 
growing
 peace
 movement 
and
 initiatives 
like 
the 
peace 
caravan 
where
 activists

 planted
 peepal
 trees
 (symbolising 

wisdom
 and
 peace)
 along
 the
 border 
in 
soil
 mixed
 from 
both 
countries 
this
 year.
 As
 these
 peepal
 trees,
 under
 which 
Buddha,
 the
 expression
 of
 compassion 
and 
ahimsa
 (non‐
violence)
 achieved
 enlightenment,
 grow, 
I
 believe 
and 
hope 
that
 we 
Indians
 and 
Pakistanis
 can 
follow 
in
 his
 footsteps.



 (a 
shorter
 version
 of 
this 
is 
printed 
in
 a
 school
 magazine)
 






Beating the retreat at Wagah
picture by Saurab