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  • Ramanjit Singh

Where the End is so Abrupt


Several major cities of Punjab; Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Ferozepur, Amritsar and Lahore are situated just few kilometers from the border. I often wondered what affects a border this close has on the psychology of people who live near it, how it affects their views about the people on the other side, how it affects their day to day lives as barbed wires separating the once united communities are just a short distance away.

Author Jennifer Yusin's term describing the ungraspable logic of this separation as "geography of trauma" can aptly be applied on how Sialkot is split from its twin city of Jammu. Sialkot is about 7 kilometers from the Indian border. On a clear night, one can see the city lights of Jammu from Sialkot. On a clear day, one can see the snow capped mountains of Jammu and Kashmir from Sialkot.

History of any city is intertwined with its people and their culture. It is also intertwined with the relationships a city nurtures over time with other cities and towns that are situated close to it. Sialkot's proximity to Jammu is one such example. In pre-Partition Punjab, Hindu Dogras once formed a sizable minority in Sialkot and Muslims formed a sizable minority in Jammu. The economic development of Sialkot is well known where Muslim artisans and Hindu-Sikh entrepreneurial class together developed the city and made it one of the major industrial cities of pre-Partition Punjab.

In the book titled, 'Fieldwork in South Asia: Memories, Moments, and Experiences', author Ali Khan writes this about Sialkot,

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Another evidence of the close proximity between the two cities is also mentioned in this article,

"They (workers) would travel to and fro daily by train running between the two cities. The rail fare from Jammu to Sialkot was only 4 annas, equivalent to 25 paisa of today. A special small train comprising one large couch having carrying capacity of 200 passengers, would make few sorties between the two cities. The passengers travelling between R.S Pura and Sialkot had to pay only 1 anna as fare.

During summer months, on Sundays in particular, many groups of people from Sialkot would come to Jammu for picnic at the Ranbir Canal banks where they would have dip in the icy cool water of the canal to beat the heat. Bringing with them buckets of mangoes and milk in the bottles, they would cool these in canal and enjoy consuming the same."

Just like Lahore-Amritsar, a similar story is about the proximity between Kasur and Ferozepur. A mere 20 kilometers or less in a straight line separates the two cities yet the border has created a distance that is unsurmountable. In most cases these bordering towns and cities are less developed than the rest of the cities located in the interior. Both the business community and the provincial governments hesitate to invest in these towns because of their proximity to the border. Sadly, these towns that once were thriving and completely integrated with the rest of the country have now become a living legacy of the pre-Partition era.

Centuries old connections between these two cities abruptly came to an end in 1947. Once a railway line connected Ferozepur to Peshawar. Hussainiwala-Kasur Railway link in Ferozepur was also called the "Gateway to Lahore". Hundreds of people from towns like Kasur, Lahore and Ferozepur used to disembark here to work in the mechanical engineering workshop which was situated just across this station. Around 1912, this track also saw the first run of the Punjab Mail that once linked Bombay to Peshawar via Lahore (link to article).

The loss of these connections, the sheer horror of letting a land so intertwined with its people, history and economy, to simply let the British, with full support of the spineless political class, cut the country in two just because one side didn't want to live with the other was illogical in a scale that both countries still to this day are paying the price of that blunder.

You see, the Partition didn't recognize the full potential of future prosperity that all communities could have enjoyed if the country had remained united. Sialkotis could go and sell their products in Bombay or Calcutta. Kasur and Ferozepur could have become the Gateway for West Punjab and Northwest Frontier Province to the rest of the country for freight and passenger rail traffic. Access to a larger Indian market for their products could have further strengthened Punjab's economic dominance in a united India.

But somehow religion became paramount in the political discourse of the 1940s and everything else became secondary. No one talked about the financial and economic boost that all communities could have enjoyed, specially in Punjab, if India had remained united. If one talked about religion, I wish someone could have countered by talking about financial prosperity, access to markets and progress for all.

Dragging everyone else into this mindless religious morass about one's fear of living with the other community was a mistake. We could have had a different Punjab.


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