Home > 2016 > Can we Think of South Asia without Borders?

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 28 New Delhi July 2, 2016

Can we Think of South Asia without Borders?

Friday 1 July 2016, by Ambrose Pinto

In dealing with neighbours, much of the energy of the leaders of South Asia is spent on responding to ceasefire violations on the borders. Each of these countries has become enemies of the other. There is rhetoric of hate, insecurity, control and domination in the public statements of all leaders of the neighbourhood as they respond to these violations. The daily news about new accumulation of increasing numbers of nuclear weapons and satellite launches as a part of competitive security measures to threaten or to express the military might of each of these countries towards the others is making the region more and more insecure. When India explodes a Hindu bomb, Pakistan has retaliated in the past by a Muslim bomb. China’s domination of the area has compelled India to become more security-conscious. Sri Lanka and Maldives continue to have problems with India and they look for their protection by aligning with other military forces.

Large spending on security is also threatening the life and livelihoods of the poor in South Asia. The money that should have been spent on the poor for food, clothing and shelter is simply being wasted in buying sophisticated weapons. Nuclear installations in the region have seen vociferous protests by the public in each of these countries. Is there a way of moving beyond these insecurities to make the region secure? Nuclear weapons, increase of armed forces, spying and improving sky security measures have not helped to make these regions secure. It has only increased suspicion among and with nations.

Though India claims that it is a peaceful country, Pakistan has accused India of playing a subversive role. India views Pakistan as an enemy territory. India has its complaints on China and similarly China has its own suspicions about India. Sri Lanka has had its problems with India. So is Bangladesh. And all this happens because of borders. There are armed forces with guns and bombs at the borders. We have been told that they are there to protect citizens. And the environment at the borders is quite hostile. This hostility cannot make people of the region safe. Is it possible to think of security differently by breaking down borders for free movement of people and goods? Can we think of a borderless South Asia?

Borders do not make Countries Safe

The objective of strong borders is to make citizens safe. That is the thinking of the state. Erect boundaries, place armed forces, keep arms and ammunition to attack the enemy and the countries will remain safe, the leaders of each of these countries hold. Once the borders are safe, the countries within will be safe is the argument. But citizens have never felt safe with armies protecting borders and sometimes even killing civilians and members who defend. Individuals from one country who travel to other countries constantly complain about being held up at borders but we do not want others to enter our country. Once borders are erected people of the other side become the “other”. The ‘other’ is a foreigner and cannot be allowed to move inside “our” territory. Should we allow this suspicion to take over our lives?

All borders are imaginary. They do not exist in reality. They are artificially constructed by selfish and vested interest leaders. Is it possible to pull them down and destroy them? The peoples of South Asian countries, unlike their leaders, do not want walls of bricks and mortar to separate them but desire human hearts to be united. Is it possible to build solidarities among the peoples of South Asia by breaking down borders? Once the borders are got rid of the “other” will disappear and the mental framework of how we view the other will change. When the Berlin Wall was brought down, there was euphoria on both sides of the borders. Like the Germans we in South Asia are one people. Do we need these borders that create hostilities? Much of the money that we spend on buying weapons of mass destruction can be used to ameliorate poverty.

Borders are not Normal

Borders surely are not normal. They are arti-ficially constructed. Indo-Pakistan borders are the making of two communal sets of leaders. It is likely that a majority of Muslims and Hindus may not have been in favour for the establish-ment of two nations. As long as there was no plebiscite on the issue it is difficult to say whether people desired a partition at all. People were not consulted.

During the British rule there were no borders and all of South Asia was one. Even in Europe borders came into existence after the 19th century. Even those borders are now trans-cended and Europe is coming together with Euro as a single currency with freedom of movement for people, goods, services and borderless ‘Schengen Area’. If European countries have succeeded to come together after years of separation and suspicion, why not South Asia? Among South Asian countries India is a powerful state. It is possible for India to take the initiative to unite the countries of South Asia? India has already made proposals for open borders for trade. But a border that is open to trucks, buses and trains and at the same time closed to people is not logical and right.

Right to Live in any part of the Globe should be a Basic Right

In principle if all people are equal, they have equal right to live in any part of the globe. Earth is a free gift to humans. Humans should not have a right to own what is freely given and every person should have the right to make use of the free gift. That is why we need to break down all borders to maintain a liberal culture. How can the right to freedom of movement be realised if borders restrict? It is totally wrong on the part of states to define a territorial right of abode. This defining of the territorial right of abode is to serve dominant interests of the landowning classes to maintain control over people. While such control deprives people of their right to live in any part of the earth, it provides the ruling classes control over the people.

A South Asian economy as it becomes more and more Asian and global, the challenge democracy would face is to organise extra-territorial democracy. The recognition of human rights should be independent of any specific ‘state citizenship’. If human rights are universal there should be a universal access to a home or a right to live in any part of South Asia or the globe. Everyone must have the right to cross national borders and to settle where they desire. The globalised world is already a single system of networks from pipelines to broadband to the high speed trading of the financial markets and product supply chains.

Everything has in practice functioned unhin-dered by national borders. What is now required is to develop a case for a “homeland to be bound together” in the legal and normative senses. Legally we need to opt for one Constitution and at the level of norms all need to be included beyond mental frameworks that term people of other countries as the “other”.

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore. He can be contacted at e-mail: 23ambrose@gmail.com