Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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English (Indian) – Border

September 30th, 2011 · No Comments · Border, English (Indian)

by Nishank Motwani

Niyantrand Rekha, Seema, Vastvik Niyantrand Rekha,

Relates to National Border; Border (military); Line of Control; Line of Actual Control

The Hindi word for national borders that delineates the territorial contours of modern India is vastvik rekhas (national borders) but in military parlance is seema (border) – the latter refers to the territorial positions on the ground and delineations on a map that require active protection by the Indian armed forces. The word rekha embodies a meaning from the ancient Sanskrit epic Ramayana, which portrays it as a manmade contour inscribed in soil. Rekha and seema signify the essence of manmade borders and the strict principle of adhering to all types of observable and established borders. Both terms also express the recognition of borders as a customary law which functions at an individual and state level. At a micro or individual level this would characterise ownership of housing property and/or farmland and at the macro or state level this would signify territorial boundaries of states in the modern era. The principle often refers to mutual respect of each other’s borders and the rewards each side would gain by fostering close relations. Conversely, if borders are violated, countermeasures ranging from: defensive patrolling, border fencing and lighting, exchange of fire, limited strikes across the border and/or a full-military response against the aggressor could be actioned. Moreover, disrespecting observable, disputed and/or established borders adversely impacts bilateral relations and is considered to demonstrate the selfish and untrustworthy nature of that state and its leadership.

When New Delhi makes reference to India’s borders with her neighbours it reflects the traditional and non-traditional security challenges it is being confronted with. Hence, the protection of the seema (border) is fundamental to the security of the country. In terms of traditional security challenges, the threat from Pakistan and China over disputed territories in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (which China calls “South Tibet) respectively have heightened New Delhi’s concerns about its neighbours irredentist objectives. The Line of Control and Line of Actual Control (vastvik niyantrand rekha) with Pakistan and China respectively illustrate the outstanding disputes and unsettled borders that have continued to pose significant security threats to India’s territorial integrity. The wars of 1947-1948, 1965, 1971 and a limited conflict in1999 with Pakistan and 1962 with China have demonstrated just how fragile New Delhi’s security environment actually is. Moreover, senior members of the Indian military have voiced their concerns about the risk of threats from Pakistan and China merging into a “collusive threat” – especially since both are allies, nuclear armed and have been at war with India.[1]

In terms of non-traditional security challenges, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence have listed a number of concerns: illegal migration, smuggling of contraband (arms, bombs and counterfeit currency), trans-border crimes, sabotage, presence of foreign insurgent groups, terrorists and their continued infiltration attempts and anti-national acts as activities that must be prevented by safeguarding and protecting India’s seemas (borders).[2] The combination of these threats has demanded that India deploy vast resources to maintain constant surveillance on its settled and unsettled borders from the time of its independence in 1947. In fact, New Delhi’s concerns with respect to its seemas extend beyond its adversarial and competitive relations with Pakistan and China respectively as seen by the countermeasures it is implementing with respect to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. These include the near complete fencing of the 4,096 km Indo-Bangladesh border and the deployment of vast numbers of security personnel along the seemas of each of the four states. This is not to say that New Delhi does not appreciate the security efforts of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar but rather that the limited capabilities of these friendly states are inadequate at preventing hostile activities against India. Moreover, the purpose of these defensive measures is to prevent Pakistan and China from using friendly territories to channel their anti-India activities. Hence, by using seema, New Delhi also indicates the countermeasures it is employing to shield India from a fragile security environment.

The concept and importance of seema surkasha (border security) has been popularized in the Indian consciousness by memories of previous wars, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. The personal experiences of current and former military officers, soldiers, paramilitary forces and police personnel guarding the borders have passed down generation to generation and have been kept alive due to India’s multiple engagements in its sixty-four year history. The effect of these personal experiences have generated tremendous interest and patriotism in the civilian domain spawning movies and television shows based on actual or hypothetical events set in a previous and ongoing conflicts.

India’s historic and contemporary security challenges have positioned its seemas as a key security concept rather than just lines on a map. The border security concept addresses the specific threats emanating from states sharing borders with India and the necessary countermeasures to safeguard India’s territorial sovereignty and interests. The reference to seema and rekha in Indian security discourse forms a potent narrative about the relations New Delhi holds with its neighbouring states. The defensive measures being taken by India to protect its rashtriya seemas (national borders) will undoubtedly continue as Asia’s balance of power changes with China’s rise and as India attempts to shape, control and absorb the strategic challenges it is being presented with. For India, the importance of maintaining a constant vigil on its settled and unsettled seemas is imperative for its rashtriya suraksha (national security) because weakly guarded frontiers could not only encourage hostile states to stake their claim on contested territories militarily but also considerably erode India’s ability to protect its friendly neighbours from external aggression – a situation that would adversely impact India’s influence and role of providing security and stability as the guardian of the sub-continent’s strategic location.



[1] James Lamont, “India concerned over military gap with China”, The Washington Post, 6 September 2011, at [accessed 6 September 2011].

[2] See, “2009-2010 Annual Report”, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, pp. 1-221; “2009-10 Annual Report”, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, pp. 1-215.


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