By Prachi Mishra
Recently Bangladesh and India sealed a historic land pact, ending the boundary dispute through exchange of territories. This agreement will allow people living in border enclaves to choose whether they want to live in India or in Bangladesh, with the option of being granted citizenship in the newly designated territories.
This land swap agreement deal has brought into focus the significance of national borders and their role in forming national identity of a citizen. It has raised several questions like how with a stroke of pen, a new territory is created, granting a new national identity to the citizens and how rigid are the identities thus formed.
National identity can be termed as one’s sense of belonging to a particular nation. It is something which differentiates a set of people belonging to one nation from the people of other nations.
However, this concept again raises a variety of questions – How is this sense of belonging created? Is national identity determined by the spatial demarcations? How stable are such identities? Does birth in a country determines one’s national identity? And most importantly do the individuals themselves have a role in the construction of their national identity?
In order to determine what forms a national identity, it’s necessary to talk about the concept of nation and what constitutes it. A nation can be referred to as a definite social space demarcated and bounded by territory. These definite boundaries create a sense of belonging to a particular space. However, these spaces are not that definite as we have seen in the historic partition of India or in the recent land swap deal.
When a nation is partitioned, borders are drawn between the two nation-states, separating one from the other. The border lines thus drawn, contribute only to problematize the situations and relations of a large number of people across it.
After the partition the refugees’ identities undergo a significant transformation, dictated by the changing landscape. A new national identity which is based on geographical grounds is imposed upon them.
Then, another factor which seems to be essential to create a sense of belonging is the law or the legal institutions of a nation. The people have some common legal institutions and a single code of rights and laws for all the members of the community. However one might question that the people, whose national identity is determined by these laws, are they involved in the making of such laws?
Other than the legal system, another factor which evokes a sense of belonging is the common civic culture. The common culture and religious practices are used to create a sense of belonging to a unified nation. Ethnicity is said to be one of the major influence in determining the national identity.
While talking about the concept of national identity one also needs to consider the effect of globalization in identity formation. In the modern world people migrate from one nation to territory, but do their national identity also changes?
One might question that when a new territorial boundary is etched, forming a new space, do the ethnicity and the adherence to specific set code of rights and laws also undergo a transformation? Can cultures be contained within boundaries demarcated by maps?
The geographical boundaries determine a demarcated territory of a state. However, these boundaries are dynamic and unstable; they change, shift and rearrange themselves as a result of multiple factors like politics, religion and language. So it won’t be erroneous to say that concepts like ‘nation’ and ‘national identity’ based on the geographical borders seem to be in flux rather than fixed.