“Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
At the beginning of August, I took a six-hour road trip which took me through four European countries. From the very modern conurbation of the Netherlands Randstad, we drove past the busy port of Antwerp just missing the massive traffic jams, skirted Brussels to enter picture post-card perfect pastoral scenes with undulating green fields, cows, streams and farmhouses, past pretty Luxembourg which looms just past a large IKEA store and finally into France, which surprised us with hills large enough to look like small mountains. Six hours. Four countries. Not one passport check.
And where were we headed? To a very old city, named for the crossroads it has always straddled, not famous around the world for its stunning Cathedral but for having been the bone of contention for centuries between
France and Germany. Strasbourg. Today, Strasbourg is home to several
When I am abroad these days, I am filled more and more with a wistfulness, “I wish everyone at home could have this.” I don’t feel envy because I know each community has done its time, paid its dues, but when will the turn of ordinary Indians come?
Southasia, Europe and
India lie at three points on a
continuum of integration, each having something to learn from the others about
resolving conflict and finding a way to work and live together.
When I was writing my doctoral dissertation on national integration processes in South Asia, I would read comparisons of
India and Europe
that I always found interesting. I was examining national integration from the
point of view of secessionist movements, so I had a strong sense of the
shortcomings of existing policies and programmes. However, these other political
scientists were looking—rightly—at Europe and India representing two levels of
integration. Europe was moving from sovereign
warring states, to states in a contract to coordinate defence and foreign
affairs, migration and employment policies and a common currency. India was past
that, and trying to create a common national identity. Europe, these scholars
would say, had a lot to learn from India. True, I suppose, especially as the current economic crisis
is fuelling nativism and xenophobia even in more liberal and inclusive European
states, even before a common European identity could emerge.
Southasia, in turn, has a lot to learn from
We have a real sense of shared heritage, with all our stories cross-referencing
events and locations across borders. Our places of pilgrimage are scattered
across the subcontinent. Our languages are common to more than one nation-state
and our cuisines are distinctive but related. But we cannot visit each other easily
or plan school tours or promise pilgrimages without elaborate visa procedures.
Where Europe has effaced those obstacles, we
have erected and fortified them.
I started this post two months ago. This month, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union, experts had many things to say, most derisive. This is a continent that fought bitterly for centuries, they said. “Is it meant to be an incentive for the EU to get its act together on the financial crisis?” “This award recognizes past accomplishment as the Obama one does potential.” I say it doesn’t matter.
older and more deep-rooted than the ones in Southasia. If they could be put
aside, for any reason, in order for people to move freely in search of work,
education or just for tourism, I say it’s a fine thing to emulate. If no-visa,
no-passport travel is a distant dream, let us make consular access easier and offer
visas-on-arrival as much as possible. The children of Southasia deserve free
access to their shared heritage at the very least.