Punjab
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War through Pantomimes: Wagah Border and the Beating Retreat Ceremony

The handshake statue in Wagah

The soldier in the black clad Pathani Uniform beat his feet high. The Indian BSF Soldier raised his feet also high to touch his “pagdi” (headgear) and then spread both his arms wide and increased his presence. Then he adjusted the tips of his moustache as if to display his masculinity. If someone asks me the best way to resolve issued between two enemy countries, I would suggest the beating retreat ceremony of Wagah to be one way this could be achieved.

To those who are not aware, the Wagah border is situated roughly 30 kilometre from Amritsar. The Indian side is a village called Attari, while Wagah is in Pakistan.

The Indian side was filled with people right from the start. The infrastructure also is better in the Indian side with a whole stadium in two tiers set up in place. There are huge LCD screens and speakers also in Indian side, which seemed to be lacking in Pakistan.

The Indian Side was filled to the brim. The whole spectacle is better enjoyed from Indian Side

The most notable difference in India is the presence of women in the ceremony throughout. The women spectators are given a chance to stand in line and run towards the gate with Indian flags in their hand. They are also given a chance to dance to some songs in front of the gate ( at a distance). BSF also has women jawan in the beating retreat ceremony, all of which was lacking in Pakistan. While the women from India side were dancing and creating waves, there was a one legged performer wearing a long Kurta with something in Urdu written over his chest and a flag in hand, trying to entertain the Pakistanis.

The Indian side with women celebrating while the lone guy with Pakistani flag trying to cheer up crowd in Pakistan

The whole spectacle is without doubt a better experience if viewed from the Indian side. You can join in the crowd and shout slogans and there is a conductor from BSF who will prompt you and choreograph your slogans.

There were even Europeans in the Audience. I doubt how they would have seen this whole spectacle. Once a part of a large group of countries with watertight borders and greater enmity, the current generation of Europeans must be unaware of the kind of controls that borders can place. To them it might even be amusing that such exuberant display and competitiveness could be present at an International Border. A time may come when India and Pakistan are back to being brothers and there is free movement of people, goods, ideas and capital. As of now, after the latest attack in Pulwama, the future seems bleak and the enmity only seems to ignite further.

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