‘When I saw the ugly display of hyper-nationalism during a friendly gesture’

Wagah border might be known for its dramatic display of beat parade, but the same nationalist fanfare often blurs the line of a friendly gesture. Here, Free Press Kashmir’s senior correspondent narrates her experience as a visitor to the border ceremony.

A visit to Wagah border is an emotional rollercoaster for a Kashmiri. The feeling of going to the other side often brings tears to one’s eyes. Because on the other side, live our relatives and cousins, who fled to Pakistan, when the partition of 1947 exposed the fault-lines in the Indian sub-continent.

With high expectations and enthusiasm to see how Pakistan looks, I travelled to Wagah. As a Kashmiri, I was more interested to see how this ceremony takes place on the other side of the line.

As I reached there, I saw people running in groups. Men in uniform were managing the crowd. Announcements were being made over public addressing system, asking people to take care of their baggage, and beware of pickpockets.

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

After brief frisking, I stepped inside the stadium, raised around the gate on both sides.

People were pushing each other to make sure that they get the best possible view. Almost everyone from the Indian side was carrying a flag. The audience wore Indian flag as badge of honour on their caps and cheeks.

The guy who painted the flag approached me. When I saw a colour box in his hand, I thought it might be a custom on Indian part to put a tikka or something like that.

But I was surprised to know that the ‘symbol’ was actually a proof of one’s nationalism.

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My polite refusal made the painter a bit angry: “Madam, ye tou sab lagatai hai, desh ke pyar k leyai” (Madam, everyone wears this for the love of their motherland.)

The ceremony was colourful, but the loud exhibition made it a fanfare of nationalism. The men in uniform on the Indian side provoked people to cheer louder and shout slogans for India. The visitors were reduced to cheerleaders.

For the overzealous crowd, the idea of nationalism was perhaps cheerleading. But, as we believe in Kashmir, the idea of nationalism is beyond that. It’s a form of humanism — which encompasses all, and makes one to respect other’s sentiments.

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

After standing in front of the gate that separates two nations, I felt like I wasn’t witnessing a ceremony any longer. The scene reminded me of all those harrowing stories about the tormented lives, divided by these gates. And the very remembrance belittled the significance of the scene — the gate opening ceremony, two men in uniform displaying their armed strength and then tagging it as a ‘friendly moment’.

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Amid commotion, I wasn’t able to make out what was happening on the other side. The loudspeakers placed on both sides only made it a shrill ceremony. The nationalistic crowd adds to the din by shouting anthems and songs and thereby making a mockery of a friendly gesture.

I decided to leave.

But, as soon as I reached the exit point, I was stopped by a guard: “Why are you leaving?”

I told him that this was not what I consider a friendly gesture, wherein we’re not allowed to witness the other side. I stopped short of telling him, “What makes this hyper nationalist event a friendly gesture?”

“I did not find a place to sit,” I told him.

He asked me to wait for a few minutes, till the VIP corner gets vacant. I moved towards an ice cream vendor. A few minutes later, the guard whistled, signalling that the VIP area is now open to public.

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For the next two hours, I was trapped in an audience that seemed to be expressing an emotion of being ruled by someone, as if they were still under the Imperial British control.

I had no idea what was going on the other side of the gate, still. Nothing was clearly visible or audible.

The announcer on the Indian side was asking people to shout louder. And when people would make less noise, he would convey his displeasure by placing a hand on his forehead.

Being a friendly gesture, I would’ve preferred to see how Pakistani men in uniform perform their parade and as a mark of respect for my neighbour, I should’ve raised a slogan in their favour to create a sense of belongingness and friendship. But perhaps, it was too much to ask.

Wagah could’ve been a place where both nations could’ve come together and let people enjoy and experience diversity. But on the contrary, the ceremony is just a loud nationalist event.

The Indian ceremony involves a dance show wherein women from the audience assemble a few metres away from the gate and dance on patriotic songs.

Wagah border ceremony looks more like a representation of the unfriendly relation between the two nations in a non-violent form.

Two commandos from each side stand on the line and face each other for few minutes till the flag ceremony is over and in between all this songs and slogans of nationalism and patriotism are played loudly. I wonder how weird would it be for both of them to face each other.

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It reminds one of the partition blues and legacy.

There’s no natural border between India and Pakistan. Cyril Radcliffe, the English lawyer who marked the border between the two nations when the British quit India in 1947, drew lines that went right through people’s homes, dividing fields, pastures and villages. Those lines, as Wagah makes one believe, seem to have divided hearts, too.


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