Understanding the social-life at the borders along with the political hullaballoo at these spaces can add to the growing discourse of border area studies
The famed return of Haji-Pir pass through Tashkent in 1965 elbowed befall of the Chamb-Jaurian tragedy at Akhnoor in the Jammu Province, and saved the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri from being cut-off through the only road-route that connected these twin-districts with rest of the state. However the return of the mighty pass could do nothing for the precarious future that lay ahead for these districts as ‘terrains on the front’, terrains that are chiselled time and again thus delimiting the rugged LoC in the state. The return of the Haji-Pir, the pass stood tall in the vicinity of Poonch and Uri, truncated the 40 kilometres connectivity between the two border lands of Poonch and Uri, as a large portion of the Poonch-Uri road fell in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region after the return. Recently as there are talks of reviving the road connectivity between Poonch and Uri under the 80K crore development package promised to J&K, half of which is meant to be utilized on connectivity and roads, one needs to look at what dwelled so far as ‘lives’ in the mutually exchanged lands of Haji-pir.
The last few sentences where on one hand spoke about the cartography, lines, borders, maps, roads and links in brevity; on the other hand they were silent on the living and the dead that belong deep down there, beneath these fluctuating boundaries and lines. There’s life that breathes in these turbulent lands, and these lives do not see these hostile geographies as mere ‘agreements’ cut out on papers. Rather they have been reconstructing these war-mongered lands through their ‘everyday-lives’, lives that are minds with belligerent memories of violence and uncertainty, and also with memories of ‘home’. It is these homes that have weaved all these memories into primordial-linkages and through several networks of engagement these linkages have constructed everyday life on these lands into communities of history and destiny (a termed referred to by Anthony D. Smith, a scholar of Ethnic and National Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology). Thus these histories of belonging challenge the static-narratives through which these lands were exchanged and were made cartographic-borders, borders bereft of life and the living. Those who belong to these lands have carved beautiful niches out of these hostile geographies, for these lives and their antecedents lived in symbiosis where the people belonged to the land as much as the land belonged to them.
One such home, located in the belly of haji-pir is the home of Mohammad-ud-din Fouq(named changed for security reasons), an octogenarian who has lived through these agreements but has been writing his own history of belonging through narratives that rips the agreements apart into several pieces. Located at the last ridge from the Indian side in village Terwan in district Poonch, Fouq belongs to those unsettled homelands where a huge chunk of village population lives beyond the barbed-wires, outside the so called structured-surveillance of the state. The village falls on the same Poonch-Uri road that connected the two places before 1947. Fouq’s house stands tall in the vicinity of Haji-pir. A life of resilience but lived through testimonies that have the potential to uproot any human spirit from such tough terrains, Fouq’s love for his small space in this borderland speaks volumes about the concept of ‘belonging’. The house is a lonely shack and walking beyond 200 metres from his backyard one hits upon the area that is heavily mined. This mined area is a small forested patch beyond which the contours become fuzzy as the two sides merge irrevocably into each other. But lives that dwell near such zero points do not live with these categories that have incessantly divided the terrains over the years. They dwell with the same sense of belonging which rejected and challenged these charters on which the states negotiate their sovereignty by living on and on through ruins and repairs.
This village extreme is also famous for a stone, a stone which has a giant opening in it. The extreme point referred to as ‘selli-tharr’, (selli means stone) has been named after this stone that is believed to have healing properties. Therefore whenever one falls ill in the village, one is taken to the stone and after passing the body through the opening one is supposed to have been cured of all ailments. The path to the stone passes through the mined area, which further means that in order to heal a body; several others that accompany it are risked. While these lines were exchanged, did the political in it care for the social and cultural that they were jeopardizing down there? I think not.
Going beyond the social, let’s focus on the psyche (psychological) that perceives the social. The psyche of life is such that Fouq while grazing his cattle one fine morning lost one of his legs some twenty years ago. Without any change in his psyche he has been absorbing the mayhem as ‘the normalcy’ in his surroundings. Continuing with his life, he had to normalise the violence again when one of his sons Akram (name changed for security reasons) lost his left leg as well some years ago. The psyche did perceive the social differently this time and changed its social by manifesting the social not by fear-psychosis but through silence and words. Akram continuously lives in shock and depression, and has become a writer and a poet. Today, as Akram continues to write his wrecked normalcy in Urdu, Fouq rears his goats somewhere on those lands that disabled his, and the mighty political still conspires to save an inch here and another inch there in their diplomatic wings. The psyche (human life) thus has been responding to both the political and the social by normalizing its own disability, a disability that constructs one’s idea of home before the idea of life itself. Lives still breathe, half broken lives, as the borders become tense yet again now and then, in the shadow of Haji-Pir.
A space can only be understood through the people and their lives along with the political and economic engagements that these people have with each other and with the state. If we dig a little deeper, perhaps we shall find millions of such borderlands craving for a more open and borderless world. It is entirely up to the states that hold the territorial sovereign rights to these spaces whether to let them breathe by loosening their strings or letting them gasp for air by tightening the ropes even more.
Therefore narratives such as Fouq’s comprehend the political at the borderlands through the lens of the social that dwells underneath. From restricted movement in one’s own homeland to the fear of shattered homes under cross border shelling, from the serene surroundings bestowing peace to the overwhelming chaos, from the shared nationality to the threatened sense of selfhood, the idea of normalcy moves from different junctions and projects itself as a torn-fictive normalcy which cries out for rescue at these lands.
The discussion should raise several important questions for those who project the survival of beings at the borders as something different from what it means to live at the borders. Understanding the social-life at the borders along with the political hullaballoo at these spaces can add to the growing discourse of border area studies. Scholars can initiate by bringing out the narratives of lived experiences that engage deeply with the sense of normalcy as understood by the borderlanders who live at the most vulnerable zones at the front. Within this perception of normalcy one can explore the concept of home and homeland, which is uncertain, unresolved since decades but yet home, as elaborated by Gloria E. Anzaldua’s in her classic Borderlands/La Frontera where she narrates the trials and tribulations of life at borders.
(Author is Researcher at JNU, working in the field of borderland-Studies)