South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

India is a big country and it shares boundaries with countries like Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. India share maritime borders with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Thailand. So, naturally there are many towns, villages on or just before the border. India shares hundreds or thousands of km of borders with these countries. The life in these villages is quite different from the mainland. Though, conditions on different borders are different and so life style.

Pradeep Damodaran is a journalist and a writer. He visited ten towns situated on the borders. He visited border villages in North, East, West and South. The outcome of his visit is an interesting book Borderlands. He visited known and much not known towns or villages like Dhanuskodi, Minicoy, Hussainiwala, Raxaul, Gangtok, Jaigaon, Tawang, Moreh, Villages on India-Bangladesh border and Campbell Bay. The general impression in India is we share boundaries only with Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh. But, this is not a reality. We share boundary with few other countries also.

Hussainiwala, Raxaul, Gangtok, Tawang and Moreh are quite known. Hussainiwala is in Punjab and shares border with Pakistan. We know much about Attari / Wagah border near Amritsar for the ‘beating the retreat’ ceremony. At Hussainiwala also retreat ceremony takes place every evening with the soldiers on either side stomping their feet as hard as they can and trying to outdo each other in throwing up their legs as high as they can. The difference is at Attari / Wagah daily hundreds of people assemble to watch the flag-lowering ceremony, while in Hussainiwala only few turns up. It was in Hussainiwala on 23rd March 1931, British imperialists discreetly brought bodies of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev and cremated on the banks of Sutlej. The cremation site became part of Pakistan after partition. But, in January 1961 the area was returned to India when the two countries exchanged enclaves.

People do visit Hussainiwala to see Martyr’s Memorial park. Chandiwala village is on the banks of the Sutlej and is on the border. The author says the major issues before the residents of this village are of schools and flooding of Sutlej. The children have to travel more than 15 km to attend school. Obviously, they live on fear as they are on border. But, lack of basic facilities worried them more.

Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is known for dispute with China. Arunachal shares international border with Bhutan, China and Myanmar. Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, is likely to visit Tibet next month and China has warned India of ‘severe damages’ to the relations it exiled Tibetan leader proceeds with a Tawang visit. China also calls Arunachal as South Tibet. Tawang is known for Monasteries and often described as much more scenic and beautiful than Switzerland. But, reaching Tawang is not easy. The author says with no access to Tawang by air, tourists as well as locals had to endure the arduous journey to reach the scenic hill town. It is predominantly inhabited by Monpa tribe.

Moreh in Manipur is on the border of Myanmar or Burma. As it is on the border it has developed into a big market place. It is also a cosmopolitan town with sizeable Punjabis, Tamils, Bengalis, Rajasthanis, Nepalis lives along with local Meiteis and other hill tribes. At one time Tamil Sangam used to have over 3,000 family memberships. Now, it has gone down to around 400 because of some riots. Tamu, is across the border in Myanmar. People living on the border areas easily go to each other’s country and get essentials. Moreh is also seen as a gateway to the South East Asia. The scenario is quite similar in Raxaul in Bihar. Just across is Birganj of Nepal. The border here hardly matters as people routinely travel across. As Nepal is a landlocked country most of the goods goes to Nepal via Raxaul-Birganj road. Many Raxaul residents works in Birganj as it has many industries. Some time traders who come to Raxaul for business prefer to stay in Birganj as it has better hotel facilities.

Dhanushkodi is close to Sri Lanka. It is believed that it was here Lord Rama commanded his army of apes to build a stone bridge across the Palk Strait, enabling him to reach the island of Lanka. The meaning of Dhanuskodi is ‘tip of the bow.’ Sri Lanka is only 18 nautical miles away. The villagers of Kodi and surrounding areas suffered worse during Sri Lanka’s war with LTTE. The villagers are primarily fishermen. They faced worse kind of atrocities from the Sri Lankan Navy during the ‘war.’

The tiny island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep is not easy to reach. The nearest Indian island is Kalpeni, which is 114 nautical miles away. The closest land mass is Thurukanu of Maldives, which 70 nautical miles away. The islanders have to take permit to go to mainland. Sailing has been the most popular profession in Minicoy. Even though they are Indians they find it extremely difficult to travel mainland. Ship is the only way to reach Minicoy. Lakshadweep Tourism offers special packages to tourists.

When we utter word ‘border’ it automatically generates curiosity. The author has given how people live on the border. We share borders with different countries and life of people living on these borders is influenced by what kind of relations we have with the country across the border. The border towns also see heavy movement of armed forces. The life of people living on the borders needs to be improved.

Updated On:  Mar 18, 2017