Happymon Jacob, a columnist with The Hindu and an associate professor of disarmament studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, was provided exclusive access by Indian and Pakistani armed forces to explore the regions surrounding the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. His research is laid out in his recent book “The Line of Control: Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies,” which documents various aspects of civilians’ and soldiers’ lives on both sides of the border and considers broader questions about nationhood and identity.
In the following excerpt, he looks closely at how the imposition of a border has affected life in Behroti. A village around a kilometre ahead of the Indian fence on the Line of Control, it was captured by India during the 1971 war in Jammu and Kashmir and split in half, with the regions on either side allocated to India and Pakistan. Jacob recounts anecdotes of villagers who had to navigate red tape to cross over to the other country—such as obtaining a visa from Delhi in order to visit family members who live less than a kilometre away—and contemplates the psychological effects that such a divide could engender in citizens living near the LOC.
Identity and sovereignty take on completely different meanings in an area where borders are blurred and political lines on a map don’t correspond to actual geographical/residential divides. What India means in New Delhi is poles apart from what it means to a person living 100 metres from Pakistan. His/her relatives are on either side of the LoC. They can see each other from across the border but they can never meet. Here, the Indian state is present through the barrel of a gun. On the LoC, nationalism often feels oppressive and existential questions are all too real.
Life in Behroti village in the Mendhar tehsil of the Poonch district symbolises the worst that modern states and nationalism can do to people. What’s even worse is that they won’t talk about it, or rather, they would tell you the exact opposite of what they feel, more often than not. That’s what nationalism does to you—it makes you do and say things you wouldn’t otherwise. People like us don’t realise the inherent double-talk, but the ones physically inhabiting the fringes of the territorial state do.