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Can Literature Help Us Respond to the China–India Border Clash?

A Donkey’s Wisdom

The recent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley has unleashed a new wave of anti-China sentiment and violent rhetoric in India. Can literature help us respond to the China–India border clash more ethically. Krishan Chander’s 1964 novel Ek Gadha Nefa Mein (A Donkey in NEFA), based on the 1962 China–India border conflict, offers a way of denouncing the destruction of war without leaving unquestioned the inherently violent task of drawing and defending national borders. The satirical novel tells the story of its protagonist, a talking donkey, caught in the front-lines of Tawang, and bearing witness to the atrocities of war. Through his witty and wise donkey, Chander challenges us to shift the terms of our outrage beyond national categories and to stand instead on the side of a humanism that knows no national borders.


The June 2020 clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley has unleashed a new wave of anti-China sentiment in India, adding fuel to the China-bashing already aflame during the current global pandemic. Amid calls to boycott all things Chinese and to stage “Sino satyagraha,” responses to the conflict have once again brought virulent expressions of violent nationa­lism into the centrestage of public discourse. Perhaps, more disconcertingly, we have grown to accept such rhetoric as understandable responses to territorial disputes. Even for those of us inclined to conceive of nations as constructs and of borderlines as porous abstractions, the outbreak of military conflict brings into sharp focus the indispensability of nati­onal categories and the high cost of ­human life claimed by the labour of defending national borders. Territorial conflicts demand that we think in the vocabulary of violent nationalism, a language in which responding to the clash mandates more violence, as articulated in declarations of moral outrage and ­superiority, vehement calls to avenge ­India’s dead, and rallying cries for exacting revenge upon China.

Can we strive to understand and res­pond to the China–India border clash differently, to still express our anger, mourn our losses, and denounce expansionism but in a language that does not leave unquestioned the inherently violent task of drawing and defending national borders? Apprehending the border clash through literature could provide one path to this end. And since comparisons between the events of June 2020 and the China–India border war of 1962 already abound, turning to the literature of 1962 could prove instructive. The bookworms among us need not look too far; the ­beloved writer Krishan Chander once again beckons us to reread his words in light of our present times.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2020


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