Divided nations: a snapshot of life on either side of the India-Pakistan border

It’s one of the most contentious strips of land in the world – but how is day-to-day living on the partition line? A pair of BBC journalists investigate...

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Adnan Sarwar explains what life is like on the Pakistan side of the border

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My family is originally from a village between Islamabad and Lahore, and we came to Britain during the 1970s and settled in Burnley in Lancashire. When I was little, I understood little about partition – I knew India and Pakistan had split but I had no idea just how great a tragedy it was.

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In the programme [Dangerous Borders: a Journey across India and Pakistan, Mon 9pm, BBC2] the film crew and I took a road trip through Pakistan that lasted five weeks, during which we travelled along the spine of the border.

India tends to be seen as a safe country, while Pakistan is viewed as the bad one next door, a dangerous place full of terrorists. We expected there to be some security issues, but the Pakistanis we met were really welcoming.

One of the crew was white and kept being pulled out of his vehicle. He was worried why it kept happening, but they just wanted to take photographs of him because they hadn’t seen a white person for such a long time.

We wanted to get behind the headlines to understand what Pakistan is like today. It was so enlightening to see so many stereotypes turned on their heads – women who were fighter pilots, men who were fashion designers and so on.

I asked everybody what they felt about India. The people I met on my travels had less of a problem with Indians than some of the Pakistanis I used to know in Burnley.

Partition wrecked people’s lives, and neighbours and friends killed each other. I remember sitting with a Sikh man in a temple in Lahore and thinking, 70 years ago you might have tried to kill me, and me you. That just seems extraordinary.

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Adnan Sarwar meets members of the Siddi community in Pakistan

The British were in India and now we have Indians and Pakistanis in Britain. People in this country need to study partition because it created a massive amount of bloodshed. I remember reading about a British officer during partition who recalled how helpless he had felt as hordes of people went past him.

I served in the British Army for eight years in Iraq, Kuwait and Cyprus, and that officer’s words reminded me of when I was a soldier in the Iraq War and being told that we were there to help people, but feeling unsure if that was really what we did.

When I first went to Pakistan I was travelling through a country that was completely alien to me. But by the time we reached the halfway point in the journey – when I went to meet my mum, who had flown out to join me – I felt like I knew her and myself so much better.

I’m planning on taking a few white friends on holiday there next year, and my hope is that by watching the programme it may show Pakistan in a different light and persuade others to visit, too. 


Babita Sharma explains what life is like on the Indian side of the border

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I am familiar with India because of my job as a BBC journalist. I covered the 2014 Indian general election, but I’d only really been to Delhi and Mumbai, and had never visited the border regions. In making this programme, I got the chance to walk in the footsteps of my parents and grandparents.

My father was only four years old when he and his family went from what became the Pakistan side of Punjab to the Indian side in 1946, the year before partition. I’d heard stories from them, but it was only when I got there that I really understood the level of destruction and tragedy that partition created.

I travelled 2,000 miles along the Indian border, from Gujarat to Rajasthan and then on to Punjab, the region that bore the brunt of partition. I got a sense that a seed was planted in Punjab that people there have never been able to reconcile, a deep burden they still carry with them to this day.

The further north we went, the heavier the journey became. In Kashmir, we found ourselves getting tear-gassed after Friday prayers and had to film on our phones because the Indian authorities would have confiscated our footage if we had got caught.

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Babita Sharma in the Thar Desert, which spans both India and Pakistan

Before making this programme, I hadn’t realised that there are 20,000 families in Kargil in Kashmir who are permanently divided because their relatives live on either side of the line of control. Talking to people there, they feel that the British left some of the border towns in a complete mess.

As a British Indian, I was trying to work out what that meant for me. If it wasn’t for partition, after all, my father might have stayed on the Pakistan side and not come to England. Going there gives you a bit of clarity. I have a much clearer understanding of what my parents and grandparents went through and the way I have been wired.

My parents are from India, but my dad was born on what is now the Pakistan side. I had hoped that we would get to visit Sialkot, the village in Punjab where he was born, but travelling there from the Indian side was impossible. We were eight miles from the border and could see Pakistan, but there was no way I could cross.

That is the reality – partition has meant that there is a permanent division between the two countries, and I can’t visit the place where my father was born because of everything that has happened since.

As told to Safraz Manzoor 

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Dangerous Borders: a Journey across India and Pakistan Monday 9.00pm BBC2