Politics · Wear Your Voice Magazine

India Renews Plans to Finish its Border Walls, Because Trump

*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, May 3, 2017.*

India already has extensive border walls along its boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh, but Trump has inspired it to finish the job.

It’s not bad enough that India has a fringe group that worships Donald Trump as a god, and that the rise of ultra right-wing racist nationalism in the West is contributing to attacks on African students in India. Now, inspired by Trump’s Mexican wall rhetoric, the Indian government has renewed plans to finish building their own walls on the Pakistani and Bangladeshi borders.

Already, 90 percent of the India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh borders already contain fences, but the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told CNN that they still have concerns about terrorists breaching those boundaries. He claims more action has to be taken also to prevent illegal immigration, especially from Bangladesh. There are an estimated 15 million undocumented Bangladeshis living and working in India.

The Independent Journal Review estimates that roughly 1,800 miles along the Pakistan border and 2,500 miles on the Bangladesh border are unwalled and unfenced. India leaders would like to take care of those areas.

We have another similarity to the Trump administration in how these Bangladeshi border-crossers are treated: The Seeker reports that Bangladeshi immigrants who agree to convert to Hinduism are treated far more leniently than Muslims who refuse. Those who accept are granted a “homecoming;” the consequences for their illegal immigration are waived and will not affect their future residency and employment in India.

Because some of the terrain under discussion for India’s wall development involves the perilous and territorially disputed mountain territory of Jammu and Kashmir — over which India and Pakistan have been fighting since 1947 — as well as large bodies of water and rivers between India and Bangladesh, construction is tricky business.

Center for Policy Research national security expert Bharat Karnad told CNN:

“These are permeable borders. You cannot seal them off no matter how hard you try, no matter what high technologies you try to import.”

The Indian government already had to scrap plans to construct a so-called embankment along 179 kilometers of land on the International Border in Jammu after Pakistan escalated their protest to the UN National Security Council in 2015.

The existing lighted security fences on the India-Pakistan border are so plentiful they can even be seen from space. There are an estimated 50,000 lightposts with approximately 150,000 floodlights on the border. This fence, as well as the ones in Bangladesh, are manned by the world’s largest border force, numbering 250,000 soldiers.

India Pakistan Border fence NASA

India’s Pakistan border fence as seen from space. Image courtesy of NASA.

The fact that Donald Trump has inspired India to return to these kinds of solutions is profoundly unsettling. Worse, these ongoing border disputes can be traced directly back to the decolonizing of the Indian Subcontinent after the expulsion of the British Raj, called Partition. It was, in fact, the British who drew up the lines we see on maps divvying up what are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. And here we are, 70 years later, and these post-colonial conflicts are going as strong as ever. There have already been four armed and military conflicts between India and Pakistan on account of border disputes, and India’s new motivation to finish their walls could easily provoke another.

Ironically, India also shares borders with China, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, but there are no plans for border defense walls with any of those nations. What we are seeing in India is a specifically post-Partition socio-cultural side effect, which is troubling on so many levels. Let’s not forget that these are nuclear nations with a hugely fraught relationship that has only worsened since Trump took power.

And even though there have been a number of Indian immigrants to the United States who have been assaulted and murdered since Trump’s Electoral College win, and Donald Trump himself has made a number of racist and problematic comments about Indians, it is beyond disturbing that the country continues to look to his policies for guidance. Trump has gone so far as to sign a new executive order that would begin to dismantle the H-1B visa for skilled immigrants, which many Indians rely on to live and work in the U.S., while maintaining the H-2A/H-2B structure for unskilled workers like those he personally employs. Yet, Indian politicians continue following in Trump’s footsteps. Internalized racism much?

When it comes to size, though, Donald Trump’s Mexico wall has nothing on India’s new fences: the Pakistan and Bangladesh walls would be in the vicinity of 5,000 miles. The US-Mexico border is a mere 2,000 miles. Because in our Trump world, size matters.

Featured photo by Adam Jones. Creative commons license.