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  Opinion   Columnists  06 Jul 2020  Shreya Sen-Handley | Is nationality fluid, are borders futile?

Shreya Sen-Handley | Is nationality fluid, are borders futile?

Shreya Sen-Handley is the author of the recently published Strange: Stories, the award-winning Memoirs of My Body, and a forthcoming book of travel misadventures.
Published : Jul 6, 2020, 7:05 pm IST
Updated : Jul 6, 2020, 7:05 pm IST

What are borders but human constructs, appealing to our basest instincts — cruelty and greed?

Of course China and India are not the only perpetrators, or even the worst. Historically the European nations have displayed an enormous appetite for appropriation. PTI Photo
 Of course China and India are not the only perpetrators, or even the worst. Historically the European nations have displayed an enormous appetite for appropriation. PTI Photo

Suddenly, two weeks ago, an Indo-China border skirmish spewed into the news. The first intimations were that a few Indian soldiers had died fighting a Chinese incursion into Indian territory.

Then it grew to a full-scale battle killing at least 20, before it diminished into a staring contest. The border hadn’t been violated either apparently, or so it was said. But whichever version you believed, the fact is that people died. And over what?

 

The right to lay claim to a clod of soil that belonged to neither. Or if the idea that it is all Mother Earth’s is too wishy-washy for you, let’s say instead that it belongs to us all — natives of this planet. Or did, till the greedy began appropriating and apportioning.

Because what are borders but human constructs, appealing to our basest instincts — cruelty and greed?

Of course China and India are not the only perpetrators, or even the worst. Historically the European nations have displayed an enormous appetite for appropriation. And destruction. In the pursuit of the first, they ravaged lands and murdered millions, as we all know (despite their comprehensive whitewashing of hundreds of years of history).

 

The Chinese government hasn’t fought shy of getting sticky fingered either, dipping them into Tibet, Taiwan, and other Ts. The Israelis have been covering themselves with gory glory in the Middle East since the middle of the last century.

The US, natural heir to the European powers, has invaded countries left, right and centre. But with uneven success, embarrassing them into further excesses. The Russian bear has smashed its way to all the honey it can paw (as cute a vision as this might conjure, it really isn’t). Then there’re our own controversial contortions up North.

Alongside ploughing into places we shouldn’t, we, humans, also build barriers to keep others out. Prime recent examples being Trump’s Mexican wall, Brexit, and the global mistreatment of migrants made ever clearer by the pandemic.
It’s a long list, because as nations, we’re almost all guilty of greed and violence.
Border clashes then have been around as long as borders.

 

But is it just rampaging governments and rapacious corporations working hand in glove to get their dirty nippers on everything? Aren’t property disputes a feature of our daily lives too?

“The Englishman’s home is his castle” they say, and the more stick-in-the-mud sort certainly believe it. They also believe your home is THEIR castle. Which must explain colonialism, but I didn’t know how true it still is till it happened to us! Here in Sherwood Forest, we live cheek by jowl with squirrels, birds, bees… and the occasional light-fingered neighbour.

One of whom decided that some of our land was his, despite the deeds saying otherwise. After putting up with months of unpleasantness, we decided to walk away from the dispute. The contested strip of land would have done no more than given our children an extra yard in which to play, but we prized our peace of mind so much more.

 

Most of all, left untended as it has now been for years (so awkwardly placed was it for our neighbour to use — almost as if it was meant to be in our garden!), this no-man’s land has erupted into a riot of long grasses, wildflowers, and visiting wildlife, that is a daily delight.

In life, we are constantly erecting or bulldozing barricades that we pretend, in language, not to like — “I felt fenced in”, “It bordered on insanity”, “His anger knew no bounds”. But where’s the need for walls and silos when we are all just human? If you prick me, do I not bleed?

If attacked by a virus, do we not lock down? If I’m travelling, do I not carry documentation of my identity, underpinned by that noxious fabrication — nationality?

 

And that’s precisely what’s bothering me today (besides the pandemic, injustice, inequality, corruption, yada, yada, yada). Today I complete 20 years in Britain. Twenty years of being a British resident, whilst remaining an Indian citizen, because I haven’t got around to changing a situation I consider perfect.

Of belonging nowhere. Or better even, EVERYWHERE.

So many of us have ties to more than one country. We have parents, siblings and old friends spread across the earth. We have lived, worked and loved in different locales, retaining links with many, or at least happy memories. Britain is my home. I have lived here for most of my adult life. Here, where I met and married my husband, we have raised our beautiful children.

 

India is also my home. That is where my parents dwell, and going back is always a homecoming. I grew up in the Philippines and so, that too is home. As are Bangladesh and Burma, lands of my ancestors, whose tales live on in me. France, where we often holiday, is a home away from home.

And the Mediterranean, with its unexplained lure, is the home of my imagination. Everywhere is home, and most of us have mixed allegiances. So, why construct watertight compartments like nationalities? All it does is create factions and conflict. Why add to the ruin of the planet by wasting passport paper on concocted personalities?

All it does is cause heartbreak when, as the tides of history wash over our castles in the sand, changing borders, and taking our hard-won identities with it, we are left as we began — just human.  

 

Yet the sensible keep prevailing upon me to make a choice, to pick a side in these heartless times of detainment and deportation, and they are undoubtedly right. And though I’d like to let it slide like every other year, oblivious to labels and legalities, loving people and places where I will, and just being me — because that’s the only ownership that should matter; over our own lives and deeds — I sense a decision in the offing. 

Tags: india-china border dispute