Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju
Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju

The reformatting of India

The India that emerged from the Constitution of 1950 does not do justice to the shared history of the Subcontinent, or the genius of its own citizens.

(This is an essay from our 2013 print quarterly, 'Are we sure about India?'. See more from the issue here.)

It has been six and a half decades since India the nation-state was established as a truncated version of historical 'India'. The single Subcontinental colony was divided into three nation-states, later to become four. Because the largest emerging nation took the name 'India', the term 'Southasia' gained currency to describe the broader Subcontinent and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the world tends to regard India as the inheritor of the region's Indic legacy. India constitutes a large part of Southasia physically, is geographically central, contains the bulk of the Subcontinent's population, and is the economic powerhouse of this part of Asia. For the sake of the people of India as well as of Southasia, whose future is defined to such a large extent by India, it is important to ask: are we sure about India as it is constructed? Is it time to consider reformatting?

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was vehemently opposed to the Partition of the Subcontinent, while contemporary nation-builders in India and Pakistan did not think that the new borders would act as hard barriers to movement between the newly forged countries. Despite the trauma, violence and horror of that cleaving, in the early post-Partition years it remained relatively easy for Indians and Pakistanis to visit family and friends on the other side. As late as 1956, steamers continued to chug up from Calcutta to Assam through the water channels of East Pakistan. However, the continuing trauma of Partition resulted in harder and narrower definitions of the nation-state in subsequent years, leading to the calcification of borders and the rejection of the broader and more fluid identities that the Subcontinent offered.

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Himal Southasian