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How this border transformed a subcontinent | India & Pakistan


This is the Golden Temple.
People come here from all over the world to
bathe in its waters,
to look at the Holy Book that
is inside of this middle Golden Temple
and to just experience the holiness of
this place.
This place is the epicenter of Sikhism.
It sits right here in
northern India in a city called Amritsar.
Close by there’s another important Sikh site
called Kartarpur.
It was established by the founder of Sikhism
more than 500 years ago.
It’s the place where he spent the last years
of his life and
it is the second holiest place in Sikhism.
For centuries, Sikhs have been able to make pilgrimage between these two sites
to move freely throughout their heartland.
But in 1947 a British lawyer drew a border here
turning what had been British India into
two new countries, India and Pakistan.
I could only call it one of the most bizarre
lines, which were ever drawn across a map
It went right here with the Golden Temple
on one side
and Katarpur on the other.
Thanks to this border Sikhs in India are now
cut off from their holy site.
So many come here to a platform that the Border
Patrol set up.
The platform looks across the border
where with the help of telescopes,
Sikhs can look at their holy place just three
or four kilometers away.
In addition to cutting off communities from
their sacred sites,
this border separated families, cut across
rivers, forests, farms, railroad tracks.
Today this border is heavily fortified with
nearly all 3,000, plus kilometers fenced.
It’s lit so well that you can see it from space
and barely anything or anyone crosses over it
When we talk about the drawing of the line,
what was the most painful was the division
of families which took place
and that is a very big reality.
This is the story of a violent
separation.
One of the most traumatic events of the 20th century
It’s the story of how a hastily drawn line
on a map separated one people into two.
This is a horror story.
What we saw was a town soaked with the stench of death.
In the train of murder and arson, come the
refugees.
Their suffering is the new tragedy of India.
Many will never reach their new land.
These are the things that are setting the
heart burning on either side of the line.
The sun is setting and I’m walking along one
of the oldest roads in Asia
One that used to connect this region but today
a border runs through it
and instead of connection and trade what you
see here is this:
There’s barbed wire, there’s fences, there
are officers everywhere
and yet, there’s also ice-cream and popcorn
and paraphernalia.
This feels like a sporting event.
You can buy keychains of machine guns.
Thousands of spectators file in, filling this stadium
that looks down on the border.
On the other side Pakistanis are doing the
same.
Then, both sides start their different show.
Two hours of chanting and dancing
Then the finale, a face-off between the
two sides.
They strut back and forth in this coordinated
choreography
and it all ends with the lowering of
each flag and the closing of this gate.
This bizarre border show plays out every
evening.
But this ceremony, this fence, this intense
nationalism
If you rewind just a little in time, none
of this existed.
The British controlled parts of
India for nearly 200 years
but by 1947, a strong movement of independence
was swelling across the subcontinent
while back in Britain, the country was in
massive debt after fighting World War II
and didn’t have the resources to
hold on to their colony
so they started making plans to leave India.
British officials thought that a proper transfer
of power would probably take around five years
but when the British leader in charge arrived
in early 1947,
he hastily decided to shrink their exit timeline
and so what needed five years would now
need to be done in just four months.
British India was to be split into two
independent nations,
a mostly Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu majority,
but officially secular India.
To do the actual drawing of the border, the
British brought in a lawyer from London.
He arrived the month before the British
were supposed to leave India.
He hadn’t been to British India before and
didn’t know much about the region.
He had no idea about India, no idea about
Indian geography, no idea about Indian politics.
And yet, he was the one drawing the lines
on the map that would affect millions of lives.
During his visit, this British
lawyer looked at maps and census data,
focusing on the maps that showed
religious identity of people in India.
India has a wide variety of religions
and based on these census maps,
you can see that people of all religions lived
amongst each other all over the region.
So to draw the line the British lawyer
looked at individual districts
putting any district that had a Muslim majority
population into the new country of Pakistan,
while Hindu and Sikh majority
districts would be kept within India.
Based on this method the lawyer began to
see what a border might look like.
He only had five weeks to do this.
He later wrote that it would have taken years
to settle on a proper boundary
and that’s because this method
of drawing the line conceals
that within these districts there were
sizable communities of all religions
that had been living side-by-side
for centuries all throughout India.
August 15 1947, Independence Day for India
and Pakistan
The British lawyer left that day.
He would never return to India again.
Two days after independence the borders were
made public,
prompting more than 14 million people to leave
their homes, their lives
for what was now their side of the border.
We were told that you have to cross the border
to India.
Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan moved into
India
and many Muslims in India moved into the new
Pakistan.
These were people who were indeed forced to lose their entire homes, their memories, their childhood
and the things they saw.
It was one of the largest
forced migrations of people ever
and it was chaos, a chaos that led to widespread
unspeakable violence
cities on fire, sexual violence against women,
trains, full of dead bodies.
The survivors I talked to were just
children when all of this happened.
The division of the sub-continent became
known as the partition of India.
A phrase synonymous with trauma fueled by
the reckless mismanagement of an imperial
power.
I’m in a small village right near the border on the Indian side that used
to be a Muslim community before
partition.
And in the middle of town is this shrine
where residents would conduct ornate Muslim
burial practices on these graves.
Look at the original maps at the British drew
up when they were trying to draw this line.
This town was actually in Pakistan in most
of the maps.
But in the end the British lawyer
decided to draw the line here.
The people here discovered that they
were now a part of the new country of India
and so many of them fled just across the border
to the new state of Pakistan
and they left this place empty.
But just as Muslims were leaving this
village for the new Pakistan,
Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan were coming
across into India and some ended up here.
The Hindus and Sikhs that now live in
this community have taken it upon
themselves to continue the Muslim traditions
that this community was based off of.
They continue to maintain these graves and
these symbols
even though they don’t necessarily pertain
to their own religion.
This is a sign of respect, of common
identity in spite of the border.
But this is just one side of the story.
The sub-continent echoes and shudders to
the sounds of a full-scale undeclared war.
Within just a few months of drawing this border,
India and Pakistan were fighting an all-out
war.
One that centered on this region in the north,
which both sides claimed as their own.
The new countries would fight several
more wars over the years,
a border fence would eventually fortify
the majority of this boundary,
and both countries would acquire nuclear weapons
turning up the tensions and deepening
the division.
But if you take away the geopolitical bluster,
the nukes, the barrier, the trauma of partition,
you can still see how much these two countries
have in common.
I’m at a school in Delhi.
Students are skyping with a school in Pakistan.
These kids are speaking a similar
language and it takes them just minutes
to dive into the common roots of their
culture.
This shared identity with these kids are
feeling isn’t uncommon in India and Pakistan.
Same language, same taste, same food
Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs used to live
together,
attend each other’s social
functions, marriages, everything.
We have this divide now.
If you stand in the wall
city in Amritsar and
you stand in the walled city in Lahore
believe me, the smells, which is a kind
of giveaway are the same.
I’m visiting a group of Sikhs coming off
the train.
They were able to get a visa to go visit this
religious site
that most have to see through a telescope.
So with all these cultural similarities, all
these happy faces, shared interests?
How do you explain this?
You see, it is a politician, who poisons
people’s minds.
The divide is created, nurtured, fostered
because it suits a certain politics.
Over the years, politicians on both sides have
exploited tension
with the other side to stoke feelings of nationalism.
Back here at this viewing platform, there
are construction vehicles everywhere.
For years, the Sikhs have lobbied for
easier access to their holy site
and after years the two governments
finally agreed to build a
little notch into this border,
a corridor that will allow Sikhs
to freely access their site without a visa.
These four kilometers will restore a small
part of what was once the Sikh heartland.
But for millions of Indians and Pakistanis
who continue to live
with the repercussions
of the traumatic events of 1947,
this fortified and volatile border remains
unchanged.
If anything, it’s getting thicker.
Seventy years later, the shadow
of partition continues
to divide families, halt trade, cut connection,
stop cooperation, instill fear, promote hatred
and the people who live in its shadow on
both sides, old and young,
continue to live with this division that’s superimposed
upon their history of deep connection.

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