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Shashank Mittal asked: What is the difference between frontier and boundary in the context of India?

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  • Pushpita Das replies: A frontier, etymologically, suggests what lies ahead or “in front” of an inhabitation. So, a frontier is an area that is ahead of a hinterland. It is an area towards which an ecumene (inhabited land) can expand. Generally, frontiers are not recognised as a legal or political concept.

    A boundary indicates the limits of a political spatial unit. In other words, it is a line that defines or limits the territorial extent of the sovereignty of a state. A boundary binds together an area and its people under one sovereign government and law. It is also a legal and political concept.

    Frontiers are outer-oriented as their attention is directed towards outlying areas. Therefore, frontiers manifest centrifugal forces whereas boundaries are inner-oriented and are created and maintained by the will of the central governments. Furthermore, frontiers are often seen as integrating factors because as a zone of transition between two ecumene, frontiers are meeting places for people subscribing to different socio-economic and political ways of life. It is the place where differences are blurred. The boundaries, on the other hand, are separating factors, as it separates political units from one another and remains a fixed obstacle to free integration across the line.

    As a sovereign independent country, India does not have frontiers. It has well-defined land boundaries measuring 15,106.7 km with its seven land neighbours. During the colonial times, India had large areas, especially along its north-western and north-eastern peripheries, which did not have defined boundaries. However, as British India extended its administration, delimiting the territorial extent of the empire in these remote areas became necessary. Thus, in the northwest, the Durand Line was drawn in 1893 to define the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. In the northeast, the McMahon Line was drawn in 1914 to delineate the territories between British India and Tibet.

    The frontier policy of the British India government had a semi-legal connotation in the sense that it delineated the approach to be followed to establish control and extend colonial authority in the outlying areas. The British went on to form the North–West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 1901 and the North East Frontier Tracts (NEFT) in 1917. The term “frontier” was used in both cases because the British lightly administered these areas as they were inhabited by tribespeople, most of whom had very little interaction with the outside world. The British allowed the tribespeople to lead their lives according to their own customs and traditions with minimum external interference. Post-Independence, India gradually extended its administration in the interior parts of the NEFT. In 1954, the NEFT was renamed the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). In 1972, NEFA was inaugurated as a Union Territory and renamed Arunachal Pradesh, which formally became India’s 24th state on 20 February 1987.

    Posted on 19 April 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.