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Punjab Punjabi and Punjabiyyat
Selected Columns / Articles
BY
ISHTIAQ AHMED




Punjabis without Punjabi!

Ishtiaq Ahmed

For quite some time now reference is being made on both Pakistani and Indian Punjabi Internet networks to a UNESCO report that allegedly predicts that in the next 50 years the Punjabi language will become extinct. I have tried in vain to get hold of the report to make sure it is not a hoax. My dear friend, Sardar Gobind Tukhral, has assured me that some such a report did appear, which warned that many languages were fast disappearing. Languages threatened with extinction are spoken by miniscule tribes whose members are dying out or being assimilated into the mainstream. However, this explanation cannot apply to Punjabi.

Demography and power -- political, economic and military -- do not suggest that the Punjabis are by any means a weak nationality or ethnicity. Consider the fact that some 100-120 million human beings can be classified as ethnic Punjabis. Punjabi is an Indo-Iranian language within the larger family of Indo-European languages. The Punjabi people are a mixture of perhaps one of the most varied ethnic pool in the world, as Punjab has been receiving waves and waves of people entering the subcontinent from the north-western mountain passes, as well as smaller movements from the south and east of the subcontinent towards this region.

The current breakdown of the Punjabi people is roughly like this: Eighty million Punjabis live mainly in Pakistan's western Punjab and constitute 55 percent of its total population; 30 million in India, mainly in Indian eastern Punjab but with a strong presence in Haryana and the greater Delhi region. Roughly, that translates to three percent of the total Indian population. Some 10 million are dispersed outside the Indian subcontinent, with strong presence in Britain, North America, Southeast Asia (nearly 130,000 Sikhs in Malaysia alone) and the Middle East. In terms of religious affiliation, some 54 percent are Muslims, 29 percent Hindus and 14 percent Sikhs. A three-percent minority is Christian.

With regard to power, the situation is even more dramatic. Pakistan is virtually a Punjabi state in terms of political, military and, now, even economic power. On the other hand, while in India Punjabis are a small minority they are one of the most prosperous nationalities, East Punjab being one of the top three big states enjoying the highest per capita income. The Indian military has a disproportionately larger number of Punjabis, especially among officers.

Three Indian prime ministers -- Gulzari Lal Nanda, Inder Kumar Gujral and Dr Manmohan Singh -- can be classified as bona fide Punjabis, while the mother of Jawarhal Lal Nehru was not only a Punjabi but from Lahore. Two Nobel Prize winners have been Punjabis: Professor Hargobind Khorana from India and Professor Abdus Salam from Pakistan. When it comes to Bollywood and Lollywood as well as cricket and other sports, Punjabis are conspicuous in all these branches of public life. Given such favourable data, how do we explain the rapid decline of the Punjabi language?

We need to understand this in terms of both historical and contemporary contexts. With regard to the historical explanation, it is to be noted that Punjabi never attained the status of state language of a sovereign state at any point in time and remained the language of the common people. However, between the 16th and first half of the 19th century Punjabi culture flourished as the Sikh Gurus, Muslim sufis and the Hindu bhagtis ventilated their anti-establishment messages in a strong Punjabi idiom. However, when the only son of the soil, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839), founded a kingdom in this region, official communications continued to be conducted in Persian.

After the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, they decided to introduce Urdu as the state language as it was already in use in other territories under British control. It was also felt that urban Punjabi was a close kin of Urdu and Hindi. This is, of course, true and there is no reason not to acknowledge this affinity. In any case, Punjabi never received the patronage of the state. The first modern Punjabi dictionary was produced in the mid-19th century by Christian missionaries based in Ludhiana.

The first half of the 20th century found the communal virus infecting Punjabi identity. Ironically, the first provocation came from the Sikhs, when Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) began to insist that the Punjabi language was the exclusive preserve of the Sikhs. Not surprisingly, both Hindus and Muslims who had strong cultural links with the rest of India began to assert that their "mother tongue" was Hindi and Urdu, respectively. Such communalisation culminated in the partition of India in 1947, which in reality was the partition of Punjab and Bengal. The partition of Punjab took place over the bodies of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Punjabis. The veteran Indian journalist Rajinder Puri captured the agony of the Punjabis in the following words:

"After partition the Punjabis disappeared. In West Punjab they became Pakistanis. In East Punjab they became Hindus and Sikhs. They also became Akalis and Congressmen, Arya Samajists and Jan Sanghis. Never Punjabis."

This was written in 1985. One can expand on this process of fission and say that the Pakistani Muslim Punjabis became Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadis, and from time to time one hears also about them becoming Saraiki-speakers and Potohari-speakers in opposition to the Lahori-speaking Punjabis, while in India, besides the Hindu-Sikh distinction, the Sikhs went on to distinguish themselves as Khalsas and other sects.

In Pakistani Punjab, Punjabi continued to be degraded as an inferior language, and if ever a case of self-inflicted cultural suicide, or rather genocide is to be taken up by the Security Council (under the UN Convention on Genocide cultural genocide is considered a major crime against humanity), it will be the sui generis mistreatment by the Punjabi ruling elites of Pakistan of their own mother tongue. The situation is better in Indian Punjab because Sikh identity is inseparable from the Punjabi language and Punjabi is the official language of that province, but Hindi and English are encroaching upon Punjabi as Sikh peasants become urban dwellers and develop unorthodox lifestyles.

In the next article we will review what can be done to restore Punjabi to its proper status among the living languages of the world. To fight the uphill battle for Punjabi we would need the help of all Punjabis.

The writer is a professor of political science and a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore. Email: isasia@nus.edu.sg

Curtsey: The News: Saturday, May 24, 2008

Op-ed: Punjabis and their identity

Ishtiaq Ahmed

I am convinced that Punjabiyat will not die away or remain forever hostage to communalism on the Indian side or self-denial on the Pakistani side. In the years ahead, the people of the old historical Punjab are likely to realise that they need to cooperate in order to make efficient use of the water resources in the region and benefit from trade Individual and group identities are formed in relation to other individuals and groups. Therefore identity is both self-defined and other-defined, besides being multi-dimensional. Identity satisfies psychological or emotional needs and is needed for finding anchor in the social world as well as for building solidarity. Almost all individual and group identities contain multiple elements; something which makes possible adjustment to the circumstances, but also introduces a degree of unreliability since identity responses can be capricious and unpredictable and therefore easier to manipulate by ruling elites. One can, however, argue that identity is not something merely subjective and objective criteria can also be employed to define it. Thus the speakers of a language can be categorised according to an objective criteria — all those who speak a particular language belong to one group. The problem is that such objectification may not be the primary element in the self-definition or other-definition of all those who speak that language.
Religion, sect, caste or biradari could be even more important.
No other linguistic nationality displays this malaise of conflicting dimensions more than speakers of the Punjabi language. The Punjabis and their cultural-geographical space, Punjab, have been fractured many times in the modern period beginning with the British conquest in 1849. At the beginning of the 20th century revivalist movements emerged among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and although all three communities spoke Punjabi at home, Muslims began to declare Urdu as their mother tongue; Hindus identified themselves with Hindi, and Sikhs with Punjabi. The communalisation of Punjabi identity culminated in the division of Punjab in 1947. The Hindu-Sikh majority East Punjab was awarded to India and the predominantly Muslim areas in the western districts were given to Pakistan.
In 1956 the former princely states of Patiala, Faridkot, Kapurthala and others were amalgamated into East Punjab, but this did not satisfy the Sikh leaders of the Akali Dal who began to campaign for a compact Punjabi-speaking province. In reaction Punjabi Hindus, under the influence of various communal parties as well as the Congress Party, declared Hindi and not Punjabi as their mother tongue. It resulted in the Punjabi Suba agitation launched by Master Tara Singh and later Sardar Fateh Singh. In 1966 Mrs Indira Gandhi conceded the demand of the Sikhs. Accordingly only Punjabi-speaking areas remained in East Punjab while those areas in which Hindi was the main language were awarded to Haryana and some to Himachal Pradesh. Such redrawing of borders did not satisfy some Sikh nationalists who launched the Khalistan movement in the hope of establishing an independent Sikh state. The Indian state reacted with all the might at its disposal and between June 1984 and early 1990s the Khalistanis and the Indian police and security forces were embroiled in terrorism against each other which resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people. At present it seems that the Indian government has brought the situation under control.
The Pakistani Punjab emerged as the dominant province in the Pakistani dispensation, although the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs were initially overly represented in the government as well as the state machinery. During the mid-1950s West Punjab ceased to exist and the whole of West Pakistan was ruled from Lahore, the capital of Punjab. This was not liked by the smaller provinces and that scheme had to be abandoned after the fall of Field Marshal Ayub Khan from power in 1969. After the secession of East Pakistan, the Pakistani Punjab became also the numerically preponderate province. Under General Ziaul Haq the Punjabi presence in the economy, politics and military became even greater. The intriguing aspect of this success story is that the Pakistani Punjabis were able to achieve pre-eminence through a negation of Punjabi culture. In the 1980s an attempt was also made to bring out a daily newspaper in Punjabi, Sajjan. It was published for a while but went out of print because neither the government nor the private sector helped it through advertisements and public notices.
Thus all governments, including those of Punjab, curbed Punjabi literacy and instead promoted Urdu as the medium of instruction and expression in school. Until the early 1990s, members of the Punjab Assembly were forbidden to address the House in Punjabi. This ban was removed by Hanif Ramay who at that time was the speaker of the Punjab Assembly. Some valiant champions continue to propagate the cause of the Punjabi language but this is confined to small intellectual circles. They have been demanding that Punjabi be taught in school at the primary level, but no government has accepted this idea.
Ironically despite much emotional emphasis on Urdu the Pakistani power elite relies on English to maintain an exclusive control over the state. Urdu serves as the cement on the broader literary and cultural level in all urban areas of Pakistan and Punjabis are as good as its native speakers, the Mohajirs, in using it. There is therefore no objective advantage in cultivating Punjabi because English and Urdu are more effective than Punjabi as means of domination. The Punjabi language therefore is relegated to informal day-to-day communications and is likely to remain so unless something dramatic happens to alter that situation. Therefore, in my opinion, a study of identity in general and the position of language in particular should be located within existing power relations and material conditions.
However, I am convinced that Punjabiyat will not die away or remain forever hostage to communalism on the Indian side or self-denial on the Pakistani side. In the years ahead, the people of the old historical Punjab are likely to realise that they need to cooperate in order to make efficient use of the water resources in the region, benefit from trade and particularly if they want to avoid extinction because any future war between India and Pakistan will always inflict irreparable damage and loss on this region and its people. Such a realisation will surely create the awareness in favour of beginning a dialogue between them. That dialogue can only be conducted in Punjabi, both in the spoken and written form because trust and confidence can best be built in a language which goes to the heart. We only have to start singing Heer Waris Shah from our border post at the Wagah and let's see how the fellow on the other side responds. The author is an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se

Curtsy:Daily Times February 23, 2003

Punjabi identities before the Punjab's partition

Ishtiaq Ahmed

’’The emergence of revivalist religious movements in the early 20th century as a reaction to the proselytising activities of Christian missionaries resulted in the establishment of community schools and colleges as well as newspapers and magazines by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. These developments helped promote a more exclusive and puritanical religious identity’’

Much has been written on the question of Punjabi identity but as yet the scholars are not agreed on whether such an identity was important in the lives of the Punjabi-speaking people or that religion, caste, biradari (kinship lineage) or sect played a greater role in creating networks and solidarity groups. I think the notion of a composite Punjab in which all Punjabis shared a strong sense of solidarity, derived from their common culture; as well as the one that religious differences make for a permanent conflict among Punjabis are exaggerated — each of these is an oversimplification of reality.

Pre-colonial Punjab had been under Muslim rule for several centuries till Maharaja Ranjit Singh established his kingdom at Lahore in 1799. Ranjit Singh initially used overwhelming force to pacify the Muslim ruling class of the Punjab, but once he consolidated his power he ruled in the traditional manner — as a patron of all communities. The three main communities of the Punjab — Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — were represented at his court and held positions of authority in the state. After the British annexed the Punjab in 1849 by defeating the Sikh armies in a number of battles they continued with a tolerant approach to religion.
Prakash Tandon, whose Punjabi century 1857-1947 (of 90 years!), is a classic account of the pre-partition Punjab notes that Brahmins were not a privileged class among Punjabi Hindus. As was common elsewhere in India, Punjabi Muslims and non-Muslims did not eat together and marriage between them was taboo. Hindu eating habits were governed by rules of pollution and were also applied by the superior castes against lower ones.

Dietary rules were so elaborate (and absurd) that even Brahmins and Khatris could not eat together. Hindus and Sikhs, of the same caste, on the other hand, could eat together and even inter-marry. Cross-community marriages took place especially among the trading castes of Khatris and Aroras.

Some villages and areas were entirely Muslim or Hindu-Sikh but there were mixed villages and urban localities too. Sikh and Hindu landowners and cultivators employed Muslim tenant cultivators, artisans and the lower service castes. Similarly Hindu service castes served in pre-dominantly Muslim villages. There were some villages in which both Muslim and Hindu landowning and cultivating castes lived together. Sir Denzil Ibbetson notes in his famous Punjab Castes that the agricultural castes of the Punjab identified among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs shared the same gotras (kinship lineages). Conversions from the Hindu trading castes and Brahmins to Islam were few.

However, changes in social structure and communal organisation began to take place after the British established modern education institutions and a capitalist economy. Muslim aversion to British rule prevailed even in the Punjab. In fact during the 19th century Wahhabis had gained influence in the Punjab as a result of the jihad movement launched by Syed Ahmed Shahid Brelvi. Moreover, modern banking and investment procedures introduced by the British were unacceptable to the Muslims. Due to such factors Hindus and Sikhs left Muslims behind in educational and economic terms.

The stratum that gained most from the opportunities created by the colonial order was the Hindu trading castes of Khatris and Aroras and Sikhs of the same stock. Hindus and Sikhs were the first to take to modern education and establish modern businesses and enterprises. From the beginning of the 20th century urban Hindus and Sikhs established a firm hold over the modern economy. Hindu-Sikh partnerships and joint business ventures were noteworthy but Muslims were almost invariably excluded.

The emergence of revivalist religious movements in the early 20th century as a reaction to the proselytising activities of Christian missionaries resulted in the establishment of community schools and colleges as well as newspapers and magazines by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. These developments helped promote a more exclusive and puritanical religious identity. Moreover, while all three communities spoke Punjabi at home, Muslims began to declare Urdu their mother tongue in the census records, Hindus identified themselves with Hindi, and Sikhs with Punjabi. These processes were certainly accentuated in the new colonies where in upwardly mobile Hindu families while the educated men progressively liberalised their social attitudes the women continued to represent traditional puritanical values.

Som Anand the author of, Lahore: Portrait of a Lost City, provides insight in how upwardly mobile Hindu Khatri families continued to practise the pollution code against Muslims:

"To keep themselves away from the Muslims' 'polluting touch', the Hindus had set-up many barriers in their daily life. My mother, for example, would never allow any Muslim to enter her kitchen. No cooked food was accepted from them. I remember how, if any of our Muslim neighbours even sent any special dish for my father, it never went beyond the dining table, a place where she did not take her own food. While eating she would never allow any of her Muslim friends or neighbours to touch her. During my childhood such inhibitions were generally not observed by male members of educated Hindu families. (Women have always been more conservative in these matters.) Some decades earlier these rules formed a strict code of conduct for all, no matter how educated or enlightened a person might be.

"The absurdities of such Hindu restrictions notwithstanding, the Muslims had come to accept them as a law of nature. Their older generation knew the limits of a relationship with the Hindus and considered it improper even to offer them drinking water from their utensils.... The Hindus have always complained of Muslim fanaticism but they have never understood that the walls they raised around themselves could have not resulted in any other attitude....
"It took many centuries for the Hindus of Punjab to realise how absurd and harmful their anti-Muslim prejudices were. In this respect the first current of change was felt during the Khilafat movement in the early twenties. Though the spirit of Hindu-Muslim amity received many reverses in later years, at the social level the urban elite had changed its code of conduct for the better. This was due, in part, [to] Western education. What this change meant was evident in my father's attitude. When he was young, my mother used to recall, he would come back to change his clothes if a Muslim had touched him while walking in the bazaar; but during my childhood in Model Town, father had several Muslim friends and he considered my mother's inhibitions a sign of backwardness."

Curtsey:Daily Times June 20, 2006

The Punjab: ancient and medieval roots

Ishtiaq Ahmed

There is no doubt that the idea of theological equality of human beings came to the subcontinent through Islam; that it helped create an egalitarian social order is however a myth. As elsewhere, Muslims of foreign origin or who claimed foreign forbears kept a social distance from the local converts. The high-born ashraf and ordinary Muslims lived virtually separate lives The oldest description of what we now know as the Punjab is the Rigvedic Sapta Sindhu, or 'land of seven rivers'. Of the seven, River Indus was the most important. One of those rivers, the Ghaggar, also known as the Sarasvati, dried up long ago. It still flows as a seasonal river originating in Himachal Pradesh, flowing through Haryana and Punjab and into the Rann of Kutch.
The popular theory is that 'Punj-aab' is a Persian reference to the five rivers — Ravi, Sutlej, Beas, Chenab and Jhelum. The name was first used by the Mughals for their possessions in the five interfluvian zones. Maharajah Ranjit Singh considered his kingdom to include Punjab as well as Multan in the south and Kashmir in the north. The British extended the boundaries of their Punjab province in the east to the banks of the Yamuna.
The aboriginal proto-Australoids, and later the Dravidians, are believed to have been present at the time of the influx of the Indo-Europeans or Indo-Aryans from around 1500 to 1000 BC. The revisionist Sangh parivar theory, that the Aryans are indigenous, is discounted by serious research.
The Hindu four-fold varna or caste system, as it has come to be known, comprising Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra took shape after the Indo-Europeans defeated the local people. The so-called Untouchables were defeated tribes and peoples — proto-Australoids and Dravidians that did not flee southwards and were forced into performing unclean tasks.
However, in the beginning the caste system was not rigid or watertight and Greeks, Scythians, Huns, Shakas, Kushanas and other groups which entered the subcontinent after the early Indo-Europeans were absorbed into it. Most of the current inhabitants of the Punjab are progeny of those tribes and local people mixing over generations. Arabs had been settled in Multan and the adjoining areas since the early 8th century. In the 11th century Turco-Afghans started invading the subcontinent from the north-western mountain passes. Mahmud of Ghazni annexed Lahore in 1021 AD. From that time onwards, a Muslim presence in this region became permanent.
The rise of Buddhism, in the period between the pre-eminence of orthodox Hinduism and the advent of Islam, had mellowed the harsh features of the caste system; indeed roving monks, carrying the ideas of service to humanity that the Buddha had taught his disciples, made headway in the Punjab and the rest of the Indus valley.
In the Punjab a synthesis between Hinduism and Buddhism was worked out by Gorakhnatha, who was probably born in this region between the 10th and 13th century AD. The Gorakhnathi yogis or wandering sages retained features of the Shaivite Hindu cult while accepting monotheism and Buddhist and Islamic influences. They were opposed to caste distinctions and ritual purity. Muslims were also attracted to their syncretism. The classic example of this is Ranjha, the lover of Heer, having his ears pierced, donning a saffron robe and joining the order of the Gorakhnathis.
A controversy has always existed about the nature of conversions to Islam in India in general and the Punjab in particular. I checked the census records from 1881 to 1941 for the whole of Punjab, including the British territories and the princely states, and found that Muslims did not become a majority until 1911 (51.1 percent).
It stands to reason that excessive force the Sangh Parivar alleges Muslims used to convert people is a gross exaggeration. Had excessive force been used not a single Hindu would have been left around. The most likely process was as follows: first Muslim rule was established and consolidated through military victory. Then the Sufis began preaching conversion to Islam. They adapted their missionary inputs to local customs and traditions so that the local people were not alienated from their roots.
There is no doubt that the idea of theological equality of human beings came to the subcontinent through Islam; that it helped create an egalitarian social order is however a myth. As elsewhere, Muslims of foreign origin or who claimed foreign forbears kept a social distance from the local converts. The high-born ashraf and ordinary Muslims lived virtually separate lives.
The example of famous Sufi, Bulleh Shah (1680-1758), illustrates this point. A Syed (putative descendant of the Prophet peace be upon him), he became a disciple of Shah Inayat Qadri who was not a Syed but an Arain and a gardener by profession. Bulleh's family protested but he would not listen; instead he sang praise for his guide and master. This story is well known and my old friend and now distinguished playwright, Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, has very successfully presented it in his play, Bullha, which has been shown all over East Punjab and I believe West Punjab. (I am a proud recipient of that play on CD from him via the Punjabi writer, Ninder Gill, who lives in Stockholm and met Shahid in India.)
What is less known, however, is that no match could be found as a consequence for Bulleh Shah's sister who remained unmarried, because no Syed would marry into a family that had reversed the order of master and disciple: it seems a Syed taking lessons in spirituality from a non-Syed was considered improper. Thus a modified caste system (ideas of the polluting touch of inferior human beings or separate dietary codes for separate sections of Muslims have never been a part of Islamic theology) permeated Islam with the claimants to foreign blood asserting superiority over Muslims belonging to local tribes and castes. To this day, putative Syeds are most reluctant to give their daughters in marriage to non-Syeds.
So, from where has come the idea that Islam stands for complete equality of all human beings or at least all believers? I believe that it was in the wake of the French Revolution, which proclaimed the novel idea that all human beings are not only equal and free but should also enjoy equal rights (and not simply theological equality) that Muslim intellectuals began to emphasise Islam's egalitarianism. The second influence, and perhaps the more profound, was that of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A third source was the Turkish war of independence led by Atatürk which resulted in the establishment of a modern republic in 1924.
Prior to that, the ulema mainly emphasised monotheism in opposition to idol worship and polytheism. Unfortunately with the rise of Wahhabism in the 1970s, the monotheistic aspect of Islam gained the upper hand and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 added a fanatical character to political Islam. Consequently egalitarianism has been reduced to merely romanticising Islam of the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and his pious successors or the time only of Hazrat Ali (656-661).
The author is an associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se
Curtsey:Daily Times July 11, 2006

The legacy of Choudhary Rahmat Ali

Ishtiaq Ahmed

“Rahmat Ali was despised by the Muslim League which found his schemes drastic and impractical. However, his belief that Hindus and Muslims were two irreconcilable nations became the raison d'etre of the movement for Pakistan which later picked up momentum” President General Pervez Musharraf has decided against bringing Choudhary Rahmat Ali's remains from England where he has been buried since 1951 to Pakistan for burial in Islamabad. There can be no denying that Rahmat Ali was a more determined advocate of Muslim separatism than Iqbal whose idea of a Muslim state in north-western India did not necessitate a complete break with the rest of India. However, the legacy of Rahmat Ali is controversial.
Rahmat Ali was born in a traditional Muslim family on November 16, 1897 in village Mohar, tehsil Garhshankar, in the Hoshiarpur district of undivided Punjab. Although he did not complete the law degree from the Punjab University in Lahore, he seems to have had great acumen for property disputes. He helped the powerful feudal family of southern Punjab, the Mazaris, win a dispute over their estate. According to Professor KK Aziz, Rahmat Ali was paid Rs, 67,000 for his services. He must have rendered an extraordinary service that earned him such a large sum of money in the early 20th century despite the fact that he was not a qualified lawyer. With this money Rahmat Ali joined Cambridge University in England in the early 1930s when he was 35. In 1933 he and some other students produced the pamphlet Now or Never, in which the idea of a separate Muslim state, called Pakistan, was presented. It was an acronym derived from the five Muslim majority regions of north-western India: Punjab, Afghania (North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Sindh and Balochistan. Rahmat Ali began to lobby conservative British politicians to support his political schemes. He wrote a letter in 1935 to a lord in which he said:
"We, the Pakistanians, have lived from time immemorial our own life and sought our national salvation along our own lines. PAKISTAN has retained, during the whole of its existence, its own law and has cherished its own religious, spiritual and cultural ideals, which are basically different from those of HINDOOSTAN. We have, as a nation, nothing in common with them, nor they with us. In individual habits, as in national life, we differ from them as fundamentally as from any other civilised nation in the world" (KK Aziz, Complete Works of Rahmat Ali, 1978: 24).
He never explained or discussed why British lords or British colonialists in general would be interested in building a Muslim power. Such an omission appears odd, to say the least. The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I had been executed ruthlessly by the same imperialists to whom Rahmat Ali was making his supplications. For him the idea of 'Indianism' which the Congress stood for was a cover for enslavement by Hinduism. The kernel of his litany was that Hindus and Muslims could not constitute a single, composite nation. However, his scheme left the Muslims of Hindu-majority provinces and of Bengal, where they were a majority, outside Pakistan. That meant Pakistan catered for only 22 million Muslims out of a total of 80 million in the early 1930s.
He subsequently came up with the idea of Muslim-majority 'Bang-i-stan' in Bengal and several smaller Muslim states in different parts of India where Muslims – although in a minority within a larger Hindu-majority region – were concentrated in pockets. These statelets were to be called Siddiqistan, Farooqistan, Haiderstan and Osmanistan after the pious caliphs of Islam. Some other enclaves as Maplistan on the Malabar coast in southern India and some in Sri Lanka were also proposed. He also proposed a separate Sikh state, Gurustan, in the Punjab (that its borders would coincide with those of his scheme for Pakistan did not bother him) and a 'Dravidia' in south India.
Although his main criticism of Hinduism was that it discriminated against other racial and religious groups, he had no solution to the problems of the most oppressed sections of South Asian society: the so-called untouchables. The reason was that untouchables everywhere were at the bottom of or outside the social system, even in Muslims and Sikh communities, but were not in a majority anywhere. Consequently his exclusive religious nationalism left the majority of them within Hindu society.
Also, without wholesale ethnic cleansing neither Pakistan nor Bang-i-stan nor the more impractical Muslim enclaves surrounded by Hindu majorities all over India were possible, unless he hoped that the colonial system could be persuaded to do so by force of arms. Rahmat Ali wanted Pakistan to be joined to other Muslim states such as Afghanistan and Iran and perhaps beyond, resulting in a great Asiatic Muslim super-state. He was a political maverick whose ideas would later influence rightwing nationalism and expansionism in Pakistan. He can be considered the political guru of General Ziaul Haq whose fascination for an Islamic super-state extending from Pakistan to central Asia is well known.
The ISI pursued that objective relentlessly until 9/11 put a stop to it. The indigenous ideological roots of the Afghan jihad can be traced to Rahmat Ali's vision of an expansive Muslim state. The US-Saudi financial-military help came in handy for this project in the 1980s.
We should remember that Rahmat Ali was despised by the Muslim League which found his schemes drastic and impractical. However, his belief that Hindus and Muslims were two irreconcilable nations became the raison d'etre of the movement for Pakistan which later picked up momentum. The construction 'PAKISTAN' was ingenious in that it captured the idea of purity ('pak' means pure) and by that token, the separateness of Muslims.
Choudhary Rahmat Ali remained hostile to Mohammad Ali Jinnah for accepting a much smaller Pakistan in 1947 – as if Jinnah could have chosen a bigger Pakistan!
On the other hand, his contribution in having coined the name Pakistan and campaigning for it indefatigably was ignored by the Muslim League at that time. In fact it must be granted that it was his gut-reaction type of reasoning which the Muslim League finally adopted, propagating the idea of Pakistan among Muslim masses. He lived for a while in Lahore after Pakistan came into being but felt unrecognised and unwelcome. He went back to England in 1948 where he died in 1951.
Curtsey:Daily Times August 30, 2005

The election results: an historical class comparison

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

“Khan's PTI 'tsunami' was confined to the urban youth, unfairly described as the MacDonalds-oriented upper middle class” Mian Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won most votes and seats in the May 11, 2013 Pakistan general election. Partly this derives from the first-past-the-post system that favours the big, established parties. The counter-argument that Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) would produce an upset was popular among the media 'analysts'. That the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) would be punished for failing to provide good and effective government proved to be true. So, how do we explain the two surprises? I would like to draw upon class analysis on an historical-comparative basis. The key province is always Punjab. The year is 1937 when the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru announced that the zamindari system and big landlordism would be abolished if his party came to power. It produced a reaction among the Muslim landowning classes, which flocked to the Muslim League — a process that gained momentum in 1944 and paid rich dividends in the 1946 election when the Muslim League became the refuge of the landlords and the Punjab Unionist Party was sidelined because the British had abandoned it in favour of the Muslim League. Has something of that sort happened this time? Yes, though in a different way.
The landed gentry were already behind the PML-N and stayed put while the Pakistani establishment did nothing to alter that. Moreover, this time the propertied classes were all Muslim by religion and therefore not divided between the bourgeoisie, which in 1937 was entirely Hindu and some Sikh, while the landlords were almost entirely Muslim. In comparative terms, Imran Khan proved to be the Nehru of 2013 and the propertied classes punished him in a more effective manner because they were a united force. But hold on. How do we explain that in 1970 the PPP succeeded in defying and defeating the formidable landowning and bourgeois classes of Punjab and triumph so massively? Bhutto's PPP was a party of the poor, urban and rural, the petty-bourgeoisie and radical intellectuals. Its appeal was not about taxing the rich while maintaining the shape of society more or less as it was, but in a promise to abolish the old order altogether and usher in one based on Islamic socialism. We all know that Bhutto did not mean all that just as the Muslim League had no intention of introducing an Islamic order free from exploitation when it won Muslim votes in 1946. That is, however, another matter. I think Khan was more honest with regard to his intentions and objectives, but in politics honesty is not always the best policy.
I remember in December 1970 we were campaigning in Gujrat on behalf of the PPP's Syed Amir Hussain Shah. As was standard practice, we visited many villages meeting the notables and then moved on. The wind was blowing in our favour and we were elated. In one place, we were stopped by a crowd and a young man said, "Sahnoo pata hai keh tussi chaudhrian val hee jao ge, te sade jesey gharibaan val nahin aao ge par assi vote Bhutto sahib nu hee dena hai" (We know you will visit only the landlords in the village and not visit us poor people, but still we will vote for Bhutto Sahib). For someone like me from Lahore this was a revelation. I noticed that the poor population in all villages lived separately and comprised artisans and landless labourers. They always clapped and waved but were taken for granted by us and therefore neglected.
It was the urban and rural poor and radical students like us who believed that Sahir Ludhianvi's 'Wo subha kabhi to aye gee' was about to dawn. I remember running alongside Bhutto's truck from the Lahore Railway Station through Mcleod Road, Beadon Road and up to the Governor's House. Had he continued further I am sure on that day I and hundreds, in fact thousands like me, would have continued running. What happened subsequently, we all know. The left, deluding itself that a revolution was on the way, launched industrial strikes that included gherao and kabza (encircle and capture) actions. Bhutto responded with police repression and opened the doors to the landowners. Islamic socialism was stymied.
Khan's PTI 'tsunami' was confined to the urban youth, unfairly described as the MacDonalds-oriented upper middle class. I think the PTI's support was much broader, but Khan failed to break through into the rural areas. Without the village poor being motivated and mobilized, the essential numbers needed to repeat 1970 were not there. Khan dominated the election campaign and represented the anti-status quo aspirations but his mass base was much narrower than what Bhutto galvanised in 1970. The PTI and other parties as well have lodged complaints about rigging and that can in principle mean a shift in the final distribution of seats, but it will not alter the result in any meaningful way.
In other parts of Pakistan the politics of ethnicity prevailed. Interior Sindh voted for the PPP while Karachi and Hyderabad for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Khan's Pakthun ethnicity was a help. His playing footsy with the Taliban and the Awami National Party's dismal performance in office amid allegations of mass corruption compounded by the Taliban's terrorist campaign against it benefited the PTI. In Balochistan the result is more varied and even the PML-N has found a foothold in that province. Some of it has to do with the ethnic plurality between on the one hand Pakhtuns and on the other the Baloch-Brauhi groups and the strong influence of the Islamist Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.
On the whole, I think it is good that Nawaz Sharif won the election. He is best suited to lead Pakistan out of the current mess, but in order to do so he will have to make a clean break with the legacy of corruption and rightwing appeasement.
Curtsey:Daily Times May 26, 2013

The election results: an historical class comparison

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

“The information one gets from human rights organisations from both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab is that sexual harassment of low caste/low community women is widespread”

I have had the privilege of freely visiting both sides of the Punjab. The two Punjabs are similar, but also different in many ways, one being the situation of women.
The differences are easily noticeable. East Punjab has been a progressive state within the Indian Union and has done well economically and educationally. Girls and women enjoy much greater freedom of movement in that part and have higher visibility in the social and cultural life of towns and cities.
In my search for oral histories on Punjab's partition in 1947 my assistant Vicky and I and later Hitesh Gosain and Virinder Singh visited many villages. To my great surprise the doors were almost always open and one could literally walk into any house and talk to the women — young, middle-aged and old. Often we would ask for the male head of the family, and if he were not home we would be told where to find him.
In sharp contrast, when Ahmad Salim and I visited villages in the Pakistani Punjab there was no question of seeing a female face. I don't know if it was always like this since I am a city bird, having lived all my 26 years in Pakistan in the urban centres. There is, however, no doubt that more and more girls in the Pakistani Punjab go to school and college and the old Lahore-Rawalpindi Grand Trunk road is filled with girls going to and coming back from school and college. Invariably, they move in groups and are almost always on foot.
I am told that during the Khalistan insurgency women were forced away from the public sphere in East Punjab too. But that has changed for the better. In Pakistan the grip of fundamentalist Islam remains firm and I don't know when moderate Islam will begin to make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. Arranging one mixed marathon in Gujranwala — once a sleepy old town of pehalwans (wrestlers) and their akharas (wrestling and training arenas) but now a stronghold of gun-totting jihadis and their madrassas — is hardly indicative of any change.
However, common to both Punjabs is the fact that women who belong to the lowest sections of society — low status communities in the Pakistani Punjab and Dalits in the Indian Punjab — continue to be sexually exploited by the affluent and those exercising authority within the rural social structures. Let me give two examples.
I received an urgent appeal issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission that Miss G and her mother M were gang-raped in Kabirwala (a hamlet close to Multan) and the criminals were the henchmen of a provincial law minister. Please note that we were dealing with someone supposed to uphold law and monitor human rights violations in the Pakistani Punjab!
The two unfortunate women belonged to a depressed community or caste called Batti (presumably a different caste altogether from Bhatti who are Rajputs). The mother and daughter were first abducted and then gang-raped. Miss G had managed to educate herself and secured an MA in Education, notwithstanding opposition from the upper castes. She was working as a teacher in a school, but her services were terminated and she and her family were allegedly told to leave Kabirwala by the police and the civil administration.
The second case is that of a Dalit girl, B, of village Burj Jhabbar in Mansa district, East Punjab. She was gang-raped on 6 July 2002. Her father went to the police who initially refused to file an FIR. However, public protests forced the police to register an FIR a month later. It led to convictions of three assaulters, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, the Sarpanch (headman) of the Panchayat and his elder brother, an ex-sarpanch — both local leaders of the Congress party — became sworn enemies of the girl's father. He was first attacked in August 2005, then again a second time in December 2005 and finally on 5 January 2006 allegedly by minions of the headmen. His arms and one leg were badly injured and had to be amputated. Those involved in the atrocity have not been arrested yet.
Throughout this terrible ordeal the police and the civil administration were most reluctant to help even though the girl's father belonged to a radical peasant organisation, the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, and was able to mobilise mass protests and demonstration all the way to the capital Delhi. Even the Indian Zee TV showed a defiant and fearless fellow lying on a cot with his arms and one leg severed from his frail body. An FIR has now been registered against the headman and his brother.
It can be argued that gang rape is rare and one should not pass a harsh judgment on the overall situation in the two Punjabs. But the information one gets from human rights organisations from both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab is that sexual harassment of low caste/low community women is widespread. Short of rape and grievous physical assault, many other injuries and indignities can be inflicted on the poor in the rural areas.
Poverty, low status, and stigma deriving from the caste system in the Indian Punjab and its variant of biradari system on the Pakistani side, combine to deny millions of human beings their basic right to be recognised as human beings. It also renders them vulnerable to unpaid or underpaid labour, and in the case of women to sexual exploitation. That is surely not the type of Punjab we want to idolise and idealise on both sides of the border.
Curtsey:Daily Times October 17, 2006

400 years of Guru Granth Sahib

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“From a sociological point of view, we find Guru Gobind Singh to be one of the earliest leaders of peasant rebellions in South Asia. His followers began to be called sardars (chiefs) and wore a turban. Under the prevailing norms of society only the upper classes or castes could wear a turban or ride a horse. Ordinary people had to walk and go bareheaded”.

The Sikhs are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the compilation and installation of their holy book, the Adi Granth at Amritsar in 1604 by their fifth Guru, Arjan (1563-1606). The Adi Granth was later modified slightly to include hymns by Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Rai, the last Guru. The later, inclusive version became known as Guru Granth Sahib. It contains, besides the works of the Sikh Gurus, writings of several Hindu and Muslim sages and holy men. Altogether there are 3,384 hymns of which nearly 1,000 are attributed to non-Sikhs. Among the Muslim saints whose contribution to the Guru Granth Sahib stands out clearly is Shaikh Farid. This way Sikhism is an eclectic rather than an exclusive creed. This breadth of vision truly captures the essence of the spiritual and humanist traditions of South Asia.
The hymns included were originally composed in several languages including Punjabi, Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian but have been made accessible to the Punjabi readers in the Gurmukhi script in which the Guru Granth is written. Recently it has been rendered into the Persian or 'Shahmukhi' script which should make it easier for people in Pakistan to read it.
The founder of Sikhism, Nanak Chand (1469-1539), was born into a Khatri family at Talwandi (now called Nankana Sahib) in the present-day Sheikhupura district, about 55 kilometres from Lahore. He was influenced by various contemporaneous reformist movements of which three need special mention.
One, the Bhakti movement that originated among Hindus in South India but found eager disciples in northern India from Islamic background such as the great Bhagat Kabir (1398-1448); two, the Sant tradition of wandering sages that was prevalent in north India; and three, Sufi Islam. Guru Nanak, as he came to be known, stressed the worship of one God and the brotherhood and equality of man. Sikhism accepted the system of rebirth or transmigration of the soul but not the idea of gods taking human form.
Nanak ran into trouble many times for chiding the Muslim and Hindu religious and political establishments for their corrupt ways. However, he never preached violence. He advised his disciples to actively participate in practical life with a view to achieving salvation through hard work and piety rather than by hermetic withdrawal and solitary meditation. To provide a practical example of collective welfare, Nanak founded a system of free community kitchens (Langar). He was able to persuade his followers who came largely, though not exclusively, from Hindu ranks to eat together and thus reject untouchability. Among his disciples was the Muslim musician Bhai Mardana who accompanied him wherever he went, but never felt compelled to change his religion.
Before his death, Guru Nanak nominated one of his trusted disciples, Angad (1504-52), as his successor. This was resented by some of his followers who instead proclaimed Nanak's eldest son, Sri Chand, as their guru and founded the Udasi sect. The succession of most of the later Gurus was also challenged by contenders and pretenders. The Gurus claimed neither to be the incarnation of God, as was the case of Hindu gods, nor prophets receiving direct revelation from God as in the Islamic tradition. They made the modest claim of being spiritual guides who were not to be worshipped or considered infallible. However, their followers gradually hallowed much of their spoken words and deeds, thus creating a Sikh dogma and orthodoxy.
Sikhism made headway largely among the agricultural and artisan castes of Punjab. Among them, the Jats were the most numerous and became the backbone of the Sikh movement. It remained a peaceful reformist sect during the time of the first four Gurus. The Emperor Akbar was impressed by the learning of Guru Arjun and honoured him with expensive presents and grants in land and revenue. But the rise of Sikh power in north western India was looked upon with concern by the later Mughul emperors who ordered military action against the succeeding Sikh Gurus.
The tenth and last Guru of orthodox Sikhs, Gobind Rai (1666-1708), abandoned the conciliatory policy which had characterised the attitude of his predecessors. He maintained a well-trained and disciplined army. In 1699, Gobind Rai summoned his followers to Anandpur in northern Punjab. At this gathering he decided to organise the Sikhs along distinctive lines and instituted the system of baptism. Five men, a Brahmin, a Khatri and three men from the lower castes were chosen to drink Amrit (nectar) out of one bowl to signify their initiation into the fraternity of the Khalsa (literally, the pure). They were given one family name: Singh, which means a lion. Further, five emblems were introduced: hair and the beard were to be worn unshorn all the time (kes); a comb was to be carried (kangha); knee-length pair of breaches were to be worn all the time (kach); a steel bracelet was to be worn on the right hand (kara); and a sabre was to be carried all the time (kirpan). Gobind Singh declared that there was to be no other Guru after him. The Granth Sahib was to be the ever-present Guru from where the Sikhs were to seek guidance.
From a sociological point of view, we find Guru Gobind Singh to be one of the earliest leaders of peasant rebellions in South Asia. His followers began to be called sardars (chiefs) and wore a turban. Under the prevailing norms of society only the upper classes or castes could wear a turban or ride a horse. Ordinary people had to walk and go bareheaded.
Unfortunately Sikhism did not succeed in eliminating caste prejudices. Most Jat Sikhs look down upon the inferior castes and the former untouchable ranks, known as Mazhabi Sikhs. Still the egalitarian message of Sikhism is undeniable. A visit to East Punjab can easily confirm that.
Perhaps the most outstanding contribution of the Sikh movement to the service of humanity has been the daily free and open kitchen that serves all irrespective of caste and religious considerations. Nobody needs to starve in East Punjab no matter what the circumstances. All Punjabis can be proud of the welfare idea Guru Nanak gave the world.
Curtsey:Daily Times September 07, 2004

1984 — carnage of Sikhs

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“A democracy must draw a line between the interests of the ruling political party and those of the state. As prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh must demonstrate clearly that his government respects the rule of law and is not party to the conflict 21 years ago Indian democracy has been put to a major test that will establish whether the rule of law applies to culprits whose party is in power or only to common criminals and political adversaries”

Justice Nanavati's report on the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 has been released. Although it stops short of categorically implicating Congress stalwarts, it states that the massacres were not spontaneous revenge killings, but were organised and executed under a chain of command.
Lest we forget, the carnage continued for three days. The police remained passive and ineffective. Harrowing scenes of savagery were enacted in the Indian capital and in other parts of India. The report, however, is confined to evidence gathered in Delhi. The official figure of those killed is 2,800 but it is widely believed that at least 4,000 Sikhs lost their lives.
The present Congress-led government initially tried to wriggle out of the responsibility for holding accountable some party stalwarts and ministers by saying that their was no firm proof of their complicity in the massacres. Other political parties condemned that almost universally. Not only have the main adversaries, BJP and its allies in the NDA, demanded that action be taken, Congress' own allies such as the CPM and the CPI have also forcefully demanded that the criminals should be brought to justice. Sikh demands for justice and compensation for the victims were raised in the parliament and all over East Punjab. Zee Television's Punjabi Alpha news channel showed Sikh protests all over Punjab and even Haryana, UP and Bihar.
On August 10, 2005 Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh promised in the Lok Sabha that proceedings would be initiated against alleged culprits. This is reassuring because a democracy, more than any other system of government, must draw a line between the interests of the ruling political party and those of the state. As prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh must demonstrate clearly that his government respects the rule of law and is not party to the conflict 21 years ago.
Having said that, the fact remains that the 1980s was a troubled decade for India. The Hindu community felt beleaguered by rebellions among non-Hindus. In addition to the insurgencies in the Christian and Buddhist north-east, the Khalistan movement emerged in Punjab. Later, Muslims in the Indian Kashmir also started a movement for independence. The roots of the problem in Punjab went back to the previous decade.
Upon her defeat in 1977 following the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, Mrs Gandhi had begun to look for an ally who could be used against her main adversaries in the Punjab, the Akali Sikhs. She set her eyes on a charismatic Sikh priest, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. He could capture the fancy of many a Sikh youth with his grand recital of the militant struggle of Sikh gurus and heroes against powerful oppressors such as the Mughals and even Hindu rajas. Thousands flocked to his sermons. This focus on Sikh identity would soon transform into a secessionist movement.
Bhindranwale was greatly emboldened by the response he got and decided to go further than just attacking the Akalis for being bad and cowardly Sikhs. He started accusing the Indian state of being against the Sikh religion and community. Of course, he could not explain why Punjab was the most prosperous state in the Indian union and the Sikhs the most well-off community in India.
It was perhaps the very prosperity of Punjab that had induced a less religious lifestyle as young Sikh men began to cut their hair and women took to jeans and athletics, which incensed the fundamentalist Bhindrawale.
In 1980, Mrs Gandhi was back in power. Now she looked upon Bhindranwale's growing popularity as a threat to her power and to the unity of India. By 1982 the Golden Temple complex at Amritsar had become the headquarters of a quasi-government presided over by Bhindrawale, ordering assassinations of Hindus and moderate and secular-minded Sikhs. This caused jitters in the corridors of power at Delhi and Hindus in general began to fear another partition.
Mrs Gandhi then committed a fatal blunder. In flagrant disregard of advice given by sincere Indians, both Hindus and Sikhs, such as former prime minister IK Gujral and Khushwant Singh, she ordered the Indian military to storm the Golden Temple to flush out the Sikh militants. The army launched an attack on the night of June 5-6, 1984. Operation Blue Star killed several hundred Sikhs, including not only the militants who put up fierce resistance but also many innocents who were attending a festival. The attack on the holiest Sikh shrine in the country led to protests by Sikhs all over India and abroad.
Extremists vowed revenge and acts of terror were carried out both by the Sikh militants and functionaries of the Indian state. Things came to a head with the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. Immediately afterwards, hordes of angry lumpen elements poured out on the streets in Delhi and a spree of Sikh blood-letting began. As always, the story was not one of all Hindus turning upon Sikhs. Hindu friends and neighbours protected many Sikhs, but in those few days being a Sikh meant being a target for barbaric assault. A Sikh friend of mine who was a senior diplomat had to hide for several days.
Khushwant Singh, the eminent writer, saved his life by taking refuge in the Swedish embassy. He has written that when the crowd was pursuing him he felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany. A more telling condemnation of mob terrorism linked to a chain of command cannot be imagined.
Indian democracy must do everything to bring the culprits to the book and adequate compensation should be paid to the Sikh victims and their families. Democracies do not allow collective punishment of whole communities. That is what happened in Delhi in 1984.
Curtsey:Daily Times August 16, 2005

Son of the soil and his Janam Bhoomi

Ishtiaq Ahmed


'Father found it impossible to set up practice in Gujranwala because all the proceedings were in English and he was not proficient in that language. We had been totally ruined. There was a ten-member family to support. He decided to become a petition writer. He could never adjust to the rupture with his moorings in Amloh and died a broken man'
It is my firm conviction that peace between India and Pakistan can be consolidated only if we involve the common people in the peace building process. The borders of India and Pakistan were drawn in the blood of innocent Punjabis in 1947, but the old connections were not severed altogether.
I interviewed Dr Khushi Mohammed Khan, a long time resident of Hamburg, Germany, on 16 and 17 July, 2003, and again on 13 July, 2004, about his visits to his hometown, Amloh, in the former princely state of Nabha, East Punjab. His is a story which confirms my belief that the social capital created over many generations by the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities of pre-partition Punjab was not dissipated entirely when that province was partitioned in 1947. The following is his fascinating story.
"I was born on 12 October, 1930, in a small town, Amloh, Nabha State, East Punjab. My father was a pleader in the lower courts. All communities sought his services because he was known for his honesty and hard work. We had a good middle-class social standing, belonging to the Rajput biradari. Nabha was a border state on the eastern outskirts of Punjab and therefore removed from the main theatre of communal tension in western and central Punjab. Consequently we escaped communal rioting till the partition of Punjab was implemented.
"Initially, not many Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab headed towards Nabha State, but then the numbers began to grow. The Sikh Mahraja saw to it that peace was kept in the main towns, but in the rural areas raids began occurring on Muslim villages. Reports of massacres from all over Punjab were trickling in and the Muslim minority began reluctantly to prepare for the journey across the border. My father wanted to stay put but my mother pleaded with him not to risk his and his family's lives. Finally on 18 September 1947 he decided to take us to Pakistan.
"We left with a caravan which walked to the Pakistan border, taking the Ferozepore-Kasur route because the Amritsar-Lahore arena was at that time notorious as the killing field for refugees moving in either direction. Fortunately we arrived safely in Kasur. We spent the winter in a tent, and then moved on to Gujranwala.
"My father found it impossible to set up practice in Gujranwala because all the proceedings were in English and he was not proficient in that language. We had been totally ruined. There was a ten-member family to support. Therefore he decided to become a petition writer. It meant sitting on the floor in the veranda of a tehsil court and writing applications for people in need of such service. He could never adjust to the rupture with his moorings in Amloh and died a broken man.
"In 1949, I wrote a letter to Dr Girdhari Lal, the father of my playmate, Ashwani Kumar Sharma. Dr Lal, a Brahmin, was the only qualified medical practitioner in Amloh. He was kind and considerate and respected by everyone. A reply arrived and thus Ashwani and I began to correspond with each other. We remained in touch until 1958.
"In the meantime, I received master's degrees in economics and English literature and began a career as a lecturer which took me to different parts of West Punjab. In 1963, I went on a scholarship to Germany where I secured a PhD in development economics. I returned to Pakistan but failed to get a reasonable job as corruption and not merit had become the way to success. Back in Germany, I set up a family and began working as a researcher and university teacher. My professional engagements took me to many parts of the world, but my heart and soul continued to long for a visit to my place of birth, or as they say in Hindi, my janam bhoomi, Amloh. I revived my contact with Ashwani Kumar who insisted that I should visit them.
"But at that time East Punjab was in turmoil. The Khalistan insurgency was in full swing and getting a tourist visa was well nigh impossible for an ex-Pakistani. However, as luck would have it a famous Indian academician, Prof AM Khusro, who had previously been the Indian ambassador to Germany, came to do some research at the German Overseas Institute where I worked. I told him my story and requested his help in getting the visa. That kindly man helped me and I could visit India.
"I arrived back in Amloh in 1982 — after 35 years. The small town had changed somewhat but its people were as good-hearted as before. I was given a rousing reception: one that is given only to long lost sons-of-the-soil. Ashwani and other childhood friends took me through the main streets in a procession. Old men and women came asking about my family. A friendly competition ensued as to who should invite me for lunch and who for dinner. Old Hindu habits of Muslims being barred from the kitchen were no longer practised. I received real Punjabi hospitality wherever I went. A public meeting was arranged in which the speakers referred to the common Punjabi heritage emanating from the contributions of Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar, Baba Guru Nanak and other great souls.
"I requested that I should be permitted to sleep the first night in our old house where I was born. Its current owner was a Sikh refugee family from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). They were only too glad to let me fulfil my desire.
"I felt I owed something to my home town and its people. Consequently I established an educational foundation "Munshi Ji" (the name by which my father was usually known and addressed). I deposited a sizable amount of cash in the local bank. The procedure is that from the interest which accrues annually, deserving students of poor background are given scholarships. Both boys and girls benefit from the programme.
"I have visited Amloh several times since. My stay is with my schoolmate, Ashwani Kumar, whose children treat me as their elder. With multiple visa entries in my passport granted by the Indian embassy in Germany, I now spend equal time in both Punjabs whenever I am in the subcontinent."
Curtsey:Daily Times August 01, 2004

Lahore — a Muslim city!

Ishtiaq Ahmed


”If the obsession for confessional purity is allowed to keep eliminating all anomalies, the Shia-Sunni divide might prove fatal to the 'homogeneity' of Lahore and Punjab. As long as the people of Lahore remain peaceful and perform their civic duties they should be left to practise their distinctive beliefs and thus add to the richness of its cultural life”.

The most dramatic change in Lahore's cultural personality in 1947 was that after August 14 it became an essentially Muslim city. Almost all the Hindus and Sikhs left and it received refugees from East Punjab, especially Amritsar but also Jullandhar and Ludhiana, and some from the Urdu-speaking areas of northern India and Hyderabad Deccan.
In the subsequent decades, the city has expanded in all directions and new residents have continued to arrive from various parts of the Pakistani Punjab. Many old Lahoris whose roots predate the founding of Pakistan, complain that their sophisticated city and its relaxed lifestyle have been gradually subverted by the boorish and clumsy manners of these nouveau riche, especially since large number of villagers and small town dwellers, after making a fortune as migrant workers in the Persian Gulf region or in other parts of the world, have settled in the new localities on the outskirts of the city. Thus demographic change has continued unabated and from a petite city of around 700,000 in 1947, Lahore is now home to more than six million people.
I remember that Lahore of the mid-1950s and the 1960s was a very dainty city. St Anthony's High School at Lawrence Road, where I studied, was a very popular place. The Mall, the Lawrence Gardens and the various restaurants made our city a most lively place. During the 1965 war with India, Lahore was in a very exposed position and the booming of guns and deafening sounds of supersonic air force planes breaking the sound barrier created a new sort of excitement.
The next important period in Lahore's history was the 1968 mass movement to oust Field Marshall Mohammad Ayub Khan from power. That was followed soon by the meteoric rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the political horizon of Pakistan. Bhutto quickly won the sympathy and admiration of the people of Lahore and every time he was in town mammoth crowds gathered to listen to him or participate in the marches arranged by his Pakistan People's Party. The anti-climax to his popularity came in December 1972 when workers took over various factories all over Pakistan. He unleashed considerable repression and the workers were forced to run for safety. At that moment, he decided to elbow out the leftists in his party and welcome the landowners.
The coming into power of General Muhammad Zia ul Haq in 1977, by overthrowing ZA Bhutto, changed the character of Pakistan from a Muslim state with some liberal graces into an Islamic state distinguishable by its obscurantism. This meant that a deliberately dogmatic Islamic identity had to be fostered on Pakistan and indeed on Lahore. A cousin of mine tells the story that a friend of his who was a programme producer at the Lahore unit of the Pakistan Television was summoned by the military administrator of Lahore in the early stages of General Zia ul Haq's takeover of power. He was ordered to prepare a script for a television programme on the history of Lahore. Some days later, he returned with an outline. Not surprisingly he had begun the history of Lahore with the legendary origin of its name associated with Lav/Loh, son of Rama. The colonel listening to the script became livid with rage and demanded the deletion of any such reference. Instead the story of Lahore was to begin with the arrival in Lahore in 1039 of the Sufi-saint Data Ganj Baksh from Afghanistan along with the army of Masud of Ghazni.
Did Lahore transform into a homogeneous city (by implication one that is free of fissures and deep cleavages) when the non-Muslims left? Indeed no comparable slaughter of citizens has taken place in Lahore after 1947, but in 1953 a virulent anti-Ahmadiyya agitation broke out in Lahore. Some Muslim League leaders masterminded it. There was considerable loss of life and property. The same Ahmadiyya community had played an active role in the promotion of the Pakistan demand in 1947 and the Muslim League had counted it among the Muslims. In 1974 they were found to be holding beliefs contrary to the teachings of Islam and declared a religious minority by the National Assembly.
Earlier in 1972 my alma mater, Forman Christian College, was nationalised along with some other colleges in the Punjab, which were under the control and management of Christian missions. Mission-run schools were not nationalised. This was indicative of a populist and erratic policy of nationalisation represented by the Pakistan People's Party. From what I have heard the nationalisation ruined the best teaching institutions in our province, which the Christians had been running so successfully. The tiny Christian community protested and pleaded but was ignored. The eviction of Christian staff from FC College by the police and other authorities was carried out in a most brutish manner. It is to the great credit of the present government that the management of FC College has been returned to the Presbyterian Mission and it has been raised to the level of a university.
From the late 1980s onwards, the tranquillity between the Sunni and Shia communities of Lahore was undermined by terrorism. Behind the Shia-Sunni terrorism was the international rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia to dominate the Muslim world. It resulted in proxy wars between their protégés all over the Middle East and Pakistan. Lahore became an arena for sectarian killings. Sectarian militias began to engage in recurrent and protracted terrorism in Lahore. They did not hesitate to kill people belonging to the other sect even if they were praying or mourning death. Desecration of each other's mosques, graveyards and such other places peaked during the 1990s. If the obsession for confessional purity is allowed to keep eliminating all anomalies, the Shia-Sunni divide might prove fatal to the 'homogeneity' of Lahore and Punjab. As long as the people of Lahore remain peaceful and perform their civic duties they should be left to practise their distinctive beliefs and thus add to the richness of its cultural life. It is therefore all the more important that the state remains neutral on matters of religious affiliation and curbs all extremist groups while protecting peaceful citizens irrespective of which religion they adhere to.
Curtsey:Daily Times June 21, 2005


Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech and Islamists

Ishtiaq Ahmed


In 1985 separate electorates were reintroduced (they had been abolished in 1956 when Pakistan was declared a republic), whereby non-Muslims were to constitute a separate body of voters and thus entitled only to elect non-Muslim legislators to the various assemblies. Their right to take part in ordinary law making was severely restricted. Thus the fundamentalist lobby completely undermined the August 11, 1947 speech of Jinnah The Quaid's 11 August 11, 1947 speech is an anathema to the Islamist (fundamentalist) lobby in Pakistan. It is considered an aberration and not surprisingly the recent moves in Pakistan to raise its status have been condemned by the Jamaat-e-Islami and other rightwing parties.
The most intriguing aspect of the Pakistan story is that if the main Islamist groups opposed its creation — as is commonly believed — then, how could they gain control over the state and impose their repressive version of Islam on Pakistan? This has been a difficult puzzle to solve for scholars who concentrate on the constitutional aspects of the evolution of the Pakistan demand and neglect or trivialise the electoral campaign launched in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab, Sindh and the NWFP in the end of 1945. The fortnightly confidential report of February 2, 1946 sent by the Punjab governor, Sir Bertrand Glancy, to the viceroy, Lord Wavell, it is observed:
"The ML (Muslim League) orators are becoming increasingly fanatical in their speeches. Maulvis and pirs and students travel all round the province and preach that those who fail to vote for the League candidates will cease to be Muslims; their marriages will no longer be valid and they will be entirely excommunicated... It is not easy to foresee what the results of the elections will be. But there seems little doubt the Muslim League, thanks to the ruthless methods by which they have pursued their campaign of 'Islam in danger' will considerably increase the number of their seats and Unionist representatives will correspondingly decline."
The Muslim League allied itself to the largest group among religious leaders, that of the Brelavis who controlled thousands of mosques and Sufi shrines in the Muslim majority provinces such as Punjab. Some dissident Deobandis, such as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and their factions also entered the Muslim League fold. These clerics were won over because an understanding was given that Pakistan will be a state based on Islamic values and laws.
A problem that the Muslim League had to deal with from within the Muslim community was the fact of bitter sectarian divisions. For example, the Shia minority was wary of a Muslim state coming into being that might be based upon Sunni principles. This is evident from the correspondence between the Shia leader Syed Ali Zaheer and Jinnah (who was a nominal Shia himself) (Bakshi, SR, The Making of India and Pakistan, Select Documents: Ideology of Hindu Mahasabha and other Political Parties, New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publication, 1997). The Ahmadiyya group was also reluctant to support the demand for a separate Muslim state because of fear of persecution. (Report of the Court of Inquiry, 1954: 196). It was only when a leading Ahmadi, Sir Zafrullah, was won over by Jinnah (he later very ably pleaded the Pakistan case before the Punjab Boundary Commission) that the Ahmadiyya leadership started supporting the demand for Pakistan. To all such doubters, Jinnah assured that Pakistan will not be a sectarian state. Consequently the majority of Shias and the Ahmadiyya as a whole supported the Pakistan demand.
There is, however, an element of surprise in the way the Shariah-oriented constituency advanced its influence once Pakistan had come into being. Its leader was Abul-Ala Maududi, an arch fundamentalist, who during the freedom struggle stood for the establishment of an Islamic state and opposed the idea of a national state of Muslims. He believed that Jinnah and other leaders were too Westernised and secularised to work for the glory of Islam. He began revising his position by asserting that the Muslim League had achieved its goal by invoking the name of Islam and therefore Pakistan was potentially an Islamic state. This assertion was largely true. In 1951, he prepared a 22-point programme which proposed thorough Islamisation of Pakistan at all levels. Although the principle of elections was accepted, the Shariah was to be the supreme and only source for regulating the constitutional, legal, political and other sectors of life.
The Islamists had to wait until July 5, 1977 when General Muhammad Zia ul Haq captured power by overthrowing the elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, the process of relying on Islam to define national identity, constitution and law had already begun under the modernists. General Zia was a follower of Maududi and sympathised with the Deobandi form of Islam. He visualised a social order in which all sectors of life including administration, judiciary, banking, trade, education, agriculture, industry and foreign affairs were regulated in accordance with Islamic precepts. In 1979, Zia announced the imposition of the Hudood Ordinance, based on primitive forms of punishment for adultery, false accusation of adultery, drinking alcohol, theft and highway robbery. In 1985 separate electorates were reintroduced (they had been abolished in 1956 when Pakistan was declared a republic), whereby non-Muslims were to constitute a separate body of voters and thus entitled only to elect non-Muslim legislators to the various assemblies. Their right to take part in ordinary law making was severely restricted. Thus the fundamentalist lobby completely undermined the August 11, 1947 speech of Jinnah. In 1986 a Blasphemy Ordinance was enforced which made any derogatory remark about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) a serious crime.
Zia was killed in a plane crash on August 17, 1988. After him elected governments came into power but none dared repeal the Islamic laws introduced by him. His Islamisation policy paved the way for the growth of an oppressive and anti-intellectual environment in Pakistan. Cleavages between the Sunni and Shia sects deepened and widened. Many Christians and Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy and harsh sentences have been passed on some of them. Women in general have been victims of the so-called moral uplift and correction campaigns of the state. Externally, Pakistan got involved in fostering the arch fundamentalist regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan. These policies began to be abandoned after 9/11 under pressure from the USA. Under the present circumstances the probability of Islamist resurgence is rather small.
Curtsey:Daily Times January 04, 2005


Life is stranger than fiction

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“Azmat Bibi or Naseeb Kaur's story confirmed that whatever happened in 1947 was an aberration, reflecting the pathological politics of those times. Once peace was restored the traditional wisdom of the Punjab, which has always been pluralistic, again became the distinguishing feature of the 'ways of the people' of this region”.

The story of Azmat Bibi or Naseeb Kaur is a surprise find during my ongoing research on the partition of the Punjab in 1947. It is living testimony of the almost unlimited ability of people to innovate and adjust and go on with life, if allowed to do so. 'The ways of the people' is the name we should give to a study of how people actually live their lives rather than what their respective dogmas prescribe.
In some bizarre sense great literature is dependent upon extraordinary situations in which human relations are tested to the limit. Gifted writers bring their own imagination and creativity to bear on such events. The result is literary creation of everlasting beauty — even when the subject matter is extreme human suffering. Yet, some real-life stories defy the literary imagination because even fantasy is circumscribed by pre-conceived notions about what is possible and what is not.
In August 1947 the Muslim population in what became East Punjab was on the run. Nobody had prepared them for the eventuality of leaving their ancestral abodes for a Muslim state to be called Pakistan. The attacks against Hindus and Sikhs started in March 1947, serving as a warning of what could happen if the Punjab was divided. Forewarned meant forearmed. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs sent their families to havens east of Lahore before partition.
The Muslims of Ropar and the surrounding villages were among those who had made no preparation to leave their homes. Scores of such villages, inhabited by Muslim Gujjars, were surrounded by Sikh hordes seeking revenge for the crimes committed against their co-religionists by the co-religionists of those villagers in western Punjab! This included the villagers of Dangoli, some 10 kilometres from Ropar (now called Roopnagar!). A massacre took place in which thousands were killed. My old friend, Chaudhri Abdul Wahid, belonged to Dangoli. I recorded his story on December 20, 2004 at Multan.
As a child of five or six, along with his family he fled Dangoli for Pakistan. Many of his relatives were killed before his eyes and his mother died in the camp at Karauli because of extreme unhygienic conditions.
On November 29, 2005 when the sun had begun to set, I arrived at Dangoli along with Hitesh Gosain and Virinder Singh from Delhi. It was amazing that the details which Chaudhri Wahid had given me were confirmed by an elder, Amar Singh, who told us that he was a Harijan but his sons had done well because of reservations for the former untouchables (his change of name from a Hindu to a Sikh form was indicative of how Dalits tried to elevate their social standing). He had later served as the lumberdar (headman) of the village. Talking to him, I learnt of a Muslim woman who had become a Sikh; she lived in the village Phul Khurd close to Dangoli. At around 7 pm we arrived at Phul Khurd. Meeting her was not a problem. We walked into a traditional peasant home with cows, buffaloes and goats in the compound. Naseeb Kaur turned out to be a kind and sweet looking women. She told me that she was only seven at the time of partition. Her village was set on fire and she was separated from her mother. A woman found her and brought her to a Sikh overseer who worked in the water department. That woman later left for Pakistan. Naseeb Kaur told me:
"My chachaji saw me and liked me immediately (she referred to the Sikh overseer as her uncle; her own father died when she was only seven month old). He had himself participated in the raids on Muslims many times but to me he was like a father. He had a daughter already but after I joined the family two sons were born to him and he prospered in some business that he started. He believed that I had brought good luck to him and his family and whenever he went out he would say that I was the source of all the happiness in his life.
"I was named Naseeb Kaur. I did not know my real name at that time. When I grew up I married a Sikh and now I have children and grandchildren. But all those years I could not forget my Bibi (mother) who loved me greatly. I used to think about her everyday. "She had also survived the slaughter and reached Pakistan safely. She had married again but never stopped thinking about me. Then she met the woman who had given me to the Sikh gentleman. In 1990 she came to my door and told me she was my mother. Of course I recognised her and she recognised me. She told me that my Muslim name was Azmat Bibi.
"We met after 43 years. I was now a Sikh and had a family. My mother was a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day. I told her that my adoptive parents and their children had treated me very well and the whole village had been kind to me. I also told her that I had become an orthodox Sikh and was very attached to my faith and family.
"She went back satisfied that I was happy. Then I visited Pakistan and met my relatives there. My mother had two sons. Then my uncles and aunts also met me. I have visited Pakistan three more times. They have all accepted me and always send gifts to my family. Nobody has tried to persuade me to return to Islam. We are all happy with the way life has gone on since the partition of the Punjab in 1947." I felt much moved by this amazing account of human endurance and how people approach life in practical rather than doctrinal terms. Azmat Bibi or Naseeb Kaur's story also confirmed that whatever happened in 1947 was an aberration, reflecting the pathological politics of those times. Once peace was restored the traditional wisdom of the Punjab, which has always been pluralistic, again became the distinguishing feature of the 'ways of the people' of this region.
Curtsey:Daily Times December 13, 2005


Prithviraj Kapoor: A centenary tribute

Ishtiaq Ahmed


The irony could not be ignored that we had gone past Samundri, a small hamlet, for the first time in our life without even having a good look at that rustic community while Prithviraj could not visit it after 1947 although he longed for it until his last moments. It captured the tragedy of partition One of the most impressive men to play lead roles and later unforgettable character roles in Indian films was the late Prithviraj Kapoor. He played Alexander the Great in Sikander (1941); Judge Ragunath in Awara (1952); and, Akbar the Great in Mughul-e-Azam (1960). He would have been 100 this year. He was born on November 3, 1906 and died on May 29, 1972.
Prithviraj spent much of his childhood in Samundri, West Punjab, where his grandfather had settled although their ancestral roots were in Peshawar. His career spanned the era of silent films into the early 1970s. He had the privilege of acting in the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara (1931). His Prithvi Theatres staged plays for more than 16 years. Among them the Pathan based on Hindu-Muslim unity was the most famous.
Prithviraj was not only a great film personality, he was also a dedicated social worker. He collected money for Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab and East Bengal who fled to India in 1947, but when rightwing Hindus wanted revenge from Muslims and threatened to drive them out of India he campaigned vigorously against it in the best traditions of Gandhian humanism. In real life he represented Pathan and Punjabi large-heartedness at its best. As nominated member of the Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajha Sabha, Prithviraj pioneered a bill for the abolition of the death penalty.
I first came to know him as Justice Ragunath in his illustrious son, Raj Kapoor's, magnum opus, Awara (1951). I saw it first in 1962 and then went on to see it 24 times more; on one occasion every matinee show for a week until my pocket money for that month was all spent. That infatuation was disrupted visually when India and Pakistan went to war in 1965, and Indian films could no longer be shown in Pakistani theatres.
The idealism of the film — that nobody is born evil or low and we are all largely, if not wholly, a product of circumstances quite beyond our control, was a message that went to my heart readily, although I now realise that class barriers can successfully be overcome only in films and never or rarely in real life.
Prithviraj played the ultra-conservative, stone-hearted judge who abandons his pregnant wife merely on a suspicion to protect his false honour and vanity. The story was written by Khawaja Ahmed Abbas and V. P. Sathe.
Then something happened which brought back Prithviraj into my life. During the summer holidays of 1972 I and a friend, Khalid Mahmood, decided to pay a surprise visit to another friend, Rana Afzal, who hailed from Gojra, a small town close to Lyallpur (Faisalabad). We arrived in Gojra via Samundri on a hot afternoon and Rana Afzal was indeed the perfect host. At 1.30 pm All-India Radio's Hindi Service announced a recorded interview with Prithviraj (he had died a few weeks earlier, but we did not know that). To my great surprise Prithviraj began by talking about his childhood in Samundri and particularly mentioned Hameed Pehalwan with whom he spent much of the time. He also talked Peshawar a great deal. It was a strange coincidence that Khalid and I had just been in Samundri, perhaps only an hour earlier, where the bus stopped to drop and pick passengers. To hear someone talk about Samundri from his deathbed thousands of kilometres away in Mumbai was a very moving experience.
The irony could not be ignored that we had gone past Samundri, a small hamlet, for the first time in our life without even having a good look at that rustic community while Prithviraj could not visit it after 1947 although he longed for it until his last moments. It captured the tragedy of partition. Irrespective of whether it was good or bad politically, it shattered the lives of millions of ordinary human beings. Rana Afzal and Khalid Mahmood belonged to refugee families from East Punjab. Their elders also talked about their lost homes so the Punjabi trauma had hit all communities devastatingly.
In Stockholm I met Riaz Cheema and we became close friends. The Kapoor Saga connected with him too. His maternal uncle Chaudhry Naimatullah and Prithviraj were class fellows first in Edwards College, Peshawar, and later at Law College Lahore. Both were very keen sportsmen.
On one occasion, Naimatullah answered the roll-call in a class at Law College when Prithviraj was playing truant but the teacher immediately sensed that the latter was absent, probably because Prithviraj was too stunning a personality not to make a difference when absent from the class. Both Naimatullah and Prithviraj continued to exchange letters much after partition.
One day in 1986 I had gone to rent video-films from the Bhatti Brothers in our locality of Sollentuna. There I glanced through the latest number of Star Dust in which an interview with Raj Kapoor had been published. It began with Raj saying that his family was originally from Samundru. I knew Samundri had been misspelt as Samundru, but it gave me an excuse to write to him. On May 7, 1986 I wrote to Raj in which I mentioned my visit to Gojra in 1972 that had taken me past Samundri and how it coincided with his father reminiscing his childhood in Samundri on All-India Radio.
A prompt reply dated May 12 1986 written on RK Films & Studios official letter pad arrived in which Raj Kapoor told me that his family hailed originally from Peshawar, but his grandfather retired as Tahsildar from Samundri and settled there. He thanked me for sharing with him my craze for Awara. He then spelled out his vision of the future:
"My conviction is that Humanity ultimately will have to have one religion which shall be based on love, non-violence and deep understanding of ethical values. Sooner or later the geographical and religious barriers will vanish and a new era will begin, the era of love, hope and humanism".
This idea found expression in RK films' Henna, which preached India-Pakistan concord. Unfortunately Raj Kapoor died suddenly on June 2, 1988. It was produced by his son Randhir and released in 1991. Prithviraj's youngest son, Shashi Kapoor and Raj's sons, Randhir and Rishi, visited Pakistan during Nawaz Sharif's premiership. They went to Peshawar and filmed their old family house. I wonder if they went to Samundri as well.
Curtsey:Daily Times November 07, 2006


Hindu legal codes and democracy

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“Village communities were peaceful and shared each other's joys and grief and matters of common interest were discussed regularly in the public space. Deep friendships and family relations were also established, but whereas Muslims would not hesitate to eat food prepared by Hindus and Sikhs, the latter two accepted only uncooked items and fruit from Muslims”
My last column, (There is many a slip betwixt cup and lip, Daily Times, April 18) has generated controversy in India as well as Pakistan. In this article I shall respond to some of the points and concerns raised by my Indian readers.
One argument which was used by many critics is that the Manusmriti is not a religious code of the same status as the Islamic Sharia; several other Hindu legal codes have been in operation in different parts of India.
This might be true, but I don't know of any such code that does not uphold the caste system and the practice of untouchability, and which was systematically enforced everywhere in India.
Even in the Punjab, where the Sufi and Sikh movements had weakened the hold of Manu's laws, the villages had separate wells for Hindus-Sikhs, on the one hand, and Muslims, on the other, a fact I discovered during research on the partition of the Punjab in 1947. My enquiries showed that village communities were peaceful and shared each other's joys and grief and matters of common interest were discussed regularly in the public space. Deep friendships and family relations were also established, but whereas Muslims would not hesitate to eat food prepared by Hindus and Sikhs, the latter two accepted only uncooked items and fruit from Muslims. Such distinctions were even observed in urban areas until 1947. The veteran Indian publisher Dina Nath Malhotra, whose father Rajpal was murdered by a Muslim youth Ilmuddin in Lahore on April 6, 1929, for publishing a book called Rangeela Rasul considered scurrilous to the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) writes:
"During the summer months in Lahore, young Hindu volunteers from good families used to haul trollies of cool water scented with kewra and sandal on Nisbet Road and other areas, offering with courtesy water in silver tumblers to every passer-by. But it was limited to Hindus only. When a Muslim, even if decently dressed, came forward to get a glass of water, he was given water in a specially reserved inferior glass, the water being taken out from a bamboo funnel more than a yard long." (Dare to Publish, New Delhi, 2004, page 59) Such practices ultimately played a very important part in not only making the call for a separate Muslim state attractive to Muslims but also in giving some sort of perverse legitimacy to vengeance and cruelty that attended the partition of the Punjab. Now, Muslims in the Punjab were a dominant group despite being economically weaker than the Hindus and Sikhs. Moreover, against the Hindu idea of mleccha (unclean foreigner) applied to Muslims the latter had an equally damning word for them, kafirs (infidels). But vis-Ã -vis the so-called untouchables, the rules of pollution and contamination were much worse. Let me give an example. Some years ago, an Indian political scientist, Dr Rajesh Kharat, visited Stockholm and gave a seminar in our department on the ongoing violent conflict in Nepal. He brought up the problem of untouchability prevalent in the mountain kingdom and explained that it was not only poverty but also the curse of routine discrimination and humiliation that drove thousands of young Dalits into the fold of militants.
I invited my Indian colleague home where during dinner he narrated to my horrified wife and children his family history. He belonged to the Mahar caste of untouchables from the state of Maharashtra. (The great Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar, it may be mentioned, was also a Mahar. The Mahars did not perform any unclean function such as cleaning latrines yet were considered an untouchable caste.) Only 60 years ago, like all other Mahars, his grandfather had to carry a bell around his neck to announce his presence when he entered areas where the upper castes were present, so that they could move away to prevent being contaminated by his shadow! Additionally, he had to carry a broom in his hand and clean the earth if he walked into places where the upper castes could be found. Each place where he set his foot became so completely unclean that any contact with such a spot was devastating for the twice-born Hindus. The man's grandson is now a university professor in the Political Science Department at Mumbai University. Things in the so-called "civil society", however, are not yet receptive to such change. Dr Kharat and his wife tried to buy a flat in some middle-class localities but nobody was willing to sell them one. I don't know if he finally succeeded in the effort.
I think these two examples should suffice to establish my main point: whatever variations existed within the Hindu legal system none was commendable for a modern democracy in which citizens enjoy equal rights and equal status. In fact by introducing reservations or quotas for the untouchable castes and tribal people the founders of modern India showed exceptional foresight which was a result of their enlightened, secular worldview that sees equality as a pre-requisite of a democracy.
Jawaharlal Nehru and other secular leaders must be given great credit for putting their trust in the Dalit leader, Dr Ambedkar, for framing a progressive constitution. They firmly resisted pressure from rightwing Hindus in the Constituent Assembly to give Hinduism special privilege as the cultural identity of India.
Let me give an example to prove that things are improving for the better. I received an email from Premkumar Harimohan in which he writes, "I am a Hindu Brahmin from Bangalore, Karnataka state, who feels that that the first Indian and shahid was the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, who with his father General Hyder Ali Khan had the most secular government ever in India and who gave up his life on the battlefield for India. That is why whenever I go to India I go to the patriots' mazar to offer homage to them and join the presiding maulvi, Syed Akhtar Husain, at namaz. Tipu Sultan is always remembered at a Hindu temple in Najangud 10 miles away from the mazar as the greatest benefactor the temple ever had."
On April 10, 2006 a young Muslim boy, Jawaid, gave up his life trying to rescue people surrounded by flames at the Meerut Trade Fair where more than 100 people died, but he managed to save many children. The TV reporter paid him a glowing tribute. That too is something to value.
Curtsey:Daily Times April 25, 2006


The heart must beat for peace

Ishtiaq Ahmed


If Hindus could apologise for their caste prejudices against Muslims and Dalits and Muslims were to disown the marauders who came to India only to loot its temples and people the reconciliation between our peoples would be truly genuine and everlasting. As two friendly nations we can surely build lasting peace In the last few weeks I have written occasionally about some wrongs of the Hindu Right and not surprisingly they were hysterical about what I wrote. Some used abusive and derisive language, but I was able to persuade some of them to look at the situation from a different perspective and indeed if the heart is pure and the conscience alive people do listen and some did.
However, a large number of Indian and Pakistani readers who regularly follow my columns became worried about my commitment to peace between India and Pakistan and the millions who live in these countries now that I am no longer "soft on Hinduism". My honest answer is that I have no grudge against any religion as long as it is not used to discriminate or humiliate or persecute innocent human beings. If it is, then I will not hesitate to speak out against it. If anything the recent experience has convinced me that truth is too valuable a social value to be confined to a few or the select. It should be shared as widely as possible.
The recent weeks were an eye-opener too. The success with which the RSS and its affiliates have indoctrinated their cadres should outdo the efficiency of any Islamic madrassah, but since the Hindu Right has not struck terror in the West only Muslim extremists have been exposed for harbouring malevolent ideas and beliefs.
The saving grace is that the extremists are a tiny minority. The vast majority of people in all cultures normally are at peace with their religious and cultural identity. For them it is a personal marker. They understand their faith as a call to do good rather than harm others. Among them a constituency for peace can be cultivated. One can always discuss good and bad, but through education and knowledge we can try becoming better human beings.
I believe peace, friendship and solidarity between Indians and Pakistanis are both a moral necessity and a historical imperative, if we are ever to get out of the rut of poverty, illiteracy and injustice. But simultaneously we must take very seriously the concern for human dignity and security that all human beings prioritise and expect their governments to provide them with.
Human dignity means accepting that all human beings are worthy of respect and are entitled to equal rights and freedoms. Security must be seen as a complex social construct, which conveys different meanings to different groups, societies and states. At one point in time, Catholics and Protestants looked upon each other with great hatred. They fought bitter wars in Europe. That animosity survived in a violent form in the current period only in Ireland and even there it is now on the way out.
Closer home, in the Indian subcontinent, relations between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have also fluctuated historically. The clerics and even lay intellectuals of the three groups (this is meant only in a loose sense, because each such group is greatly varied within) have been involved routinely in defining the distinct boundaries and identities of their communities. From the second half of the 19th century communal identities were increasingly politicised. In the 1920s rightwing Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs began to organise themselves along communal lines.
There were also efforts in the opposite direction — to forge more composite and pliable identities — but the partition of India in 1947 caused the death of around one million Hindus, Muslim and Sikhs and resulted in the forced transfer of some 14 to 17 million of them across the new borders. In the key province of Punjab, which was divided on the basis of religion, the transfer of population under duress was also accompanied by religious cleansing. It sowed deep suspicions and hatred between the successor states of India and Pakistan and unsurprisingly among their peoples, especially the refugees.
But it was not until the mid-1950s that efforts to tighten control were put into effect. And total segregation was consummated only after the 1965 and 1971 wars between the two states. Thereafter there was practically no communication or contact between the two peoples. Thus notwithstanding geographical contiguity and a thousand years of living in the same region, sharing popular culture, languages and dialects, while being aware of their distinctive group boundaries, the links between the Indian and Pakistani peoples were severed.
However, contact could not be completely severed: the radio served as the connecting medium between people sharing the same languages, music and traditions even if they never met. In Pakistan, the broadcast of Indian film songs via All India Radio continued to enjoy great popularity. In East Punjab, the Punjabi programme of Lahore Radio was regularly followed (a habit perhaps developed since many years before partition when Lahore Radio catered for the entire Punjab). With the arrival of television, this type of contact attained dramatic proportions.
I remember that in the beginning some people in Pakistan declared their deceased grandparents dead for a second time to stay away from college or office to watch Indian films. In due course, Pakistani TV plays found eager and loyal audiences in India. A limited direct contact has begun to be established once again as cricket, hockey and kabbadi matches are being played between both countries. I met some Pakistani pehlwans (wrestlers and weight-lifters) who had been to East Punjab and were completely enamoured by the enthusiastic reception they received wherever they went.
Now, it is up to Indian and Pakistani intellectuals to take forward the peace process in an enlightened manner. Ideally it would be desirable if all the communities of South Asia were to start a dialogue to build solidarity and live in peace. If Hindus could apologise for their caste prejudices against Muslims and Dalits and Muslims were to disown the marauders who came to India only to loot its temples and people the reconciliation between our peoples would be truly genuine and everlasting. As two friendly nations we can surely build lasting peace if the heart beats strongly for it.
Curtsey:Daily Times May 23, 2006


An obituary too soon: Ishfaque Bokhari Lyallpuri

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“Bokhari's family had moved from Rothak, from the eastern rim of the undivided Punjab in 1947, to Lyallpur. He never accepted the changing of the name Lyallpur to Faisalabad”

It happens sometimes that one gets to know a fellow human being who one feels has been a part of one's life forever. Professor Ishfaque Bokhari Lyallpuri was definitely one such person I had the privilege of getting in touch with roughly a year ago via the ubiquitous Internet. We never could meet as the cruel hand of death struck him down in Dubai a few days ago. He used to spend some months in Dubai with his son and then return to Lyallpur (Faisalabad). The poet Masood Qamar who lives in Stockholm but hails from Lyallpur and has known Bokhari Sahib for years, had helped us get in touch. He also informed me about his demise.
After Lahore, Faisalabad is perhaps intellectually the most vibrant urban centre in the Pakistani Punjab. Qamar has, along with Hussain Abid and the late Javed Anwar, recently gained considerable attention in literary circles for pioneering a new genre in Urdu poetry, of three poets together composing poems. Their book Qahqaha Insaan Ney Ijaad Kiya (Lahore: Bookhome, 2012), became a subject of discussion between me and Professor Bokhari just before I left for Lahore in mid-August. I asked him why Lyallpur had produced so many writers, poets and leftists. His explanation was that Lyallpur was a modern town where industrial development had started before the partition, but especially afterwards. It had created an industrial proletariat and a fairly large intelligentsia. Such class composition made Lyallpur an urban centre of progressive hopes and struggles. His explanation made a lot of sense.
Bokhari was a heart patient since a long time and had undergone surgery. He would tell me he had accepted his cruel fate. Nevertheless, he could laugh heartily, spontaneously and genuinely. As retirees we both had a lot of time to spare. For hours we would talk to each other on Skype. He retired as a professor and the head of the Urdu Language and Literature department of Government College University, Faisalabad. He and I shared many values, hopes and experiences. Both of us had been in the revolutionary left movement and in the same party, the Mazdoor-Kisan Party led by Major Ishaq Muhammad, but never met. While he continued to believe in a revolution that would overthrow capitalism and feudalism and usher in the liberation of humankind through socialism, I had stepped back and begun to consider other alternatives. For me an open society with pluralism and scope for both private initiative as well as a strong state to ensure justice and a fair distribution of wealth — social democracy — made more sense. He never minded my dissent from orthodox Communism. Bokhari's family had moved from Rothak, from the eastern rim of the undivided Punjab (now part of Haryana) in 1947, to Lyallpur. He never accepted the changing of the name Lyallpur to Faisalabad. He was an extremely gifted chronicler of his city of birth. I consider his Urdu-language book Regal Chowk: Lyallpur (Lyallpur: Lyallpur Kahani Foundation, 2007), brilliant. It is a vivid portrayal of Regal Chowk (Regal Square) as the hub around which the cultural life of Lyallpur had evolved since the founding of that model city by the British when they developed the canal colonies.
Lyallpur Hindus and Sikhs were pioneers in the cultural field and built several cinemas and live theatre buildings in different part of Lyallpur, but the Regal Cinema became the most famous. It was more than just a venue for entertainment. The city's intellectuals would also congregate there and discuss art and politics. We learn that a vibrant anti-colonial revolutionary movement also existed. Originally it had been inspired by Bhagat Singh.
Famous qawwals Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan, and later Ustad Nusrat Ali Khan were based at the nearby shrine of Lasuri Shah (nobody knows his origins). So, in addition to the cinema, the shrine was another great cultural centre. Then close by was a thriving bazaar where women would come to do shopping. The author brings forth many other dimensions of the life around Regal Chowk. Landmark buildings and monuments, wrestling akharas (rings), famous pehlwans (wrestlers) and drum beaters and so many other characters and activities had continued to take place around Regal Chowk. He recalls nostalgically his friends from the past who once were always together but not anymore. The decline of the vibrant cinema culture because of the rise of fundamentalism had meant the passing away of a way of life.
A most moving story in the book is told about the visit many years later in 2004 to Lyallpur of the Indian Air Force's Retired Air Marshal Iqbal Singh Chhabra, his wife and other members of the family who once lived in Lyallpur. Bokhari accompanied them as they went about trying to locate their old home. It was found and the new occupants welcomed them with open arms. Somehow, instinctively, the Punjabis have always understood that the partition insanity was an aberration.
I wanted Bokhari to consider an English translation of Regal Chowk. I urged him to become the historian of his city of birth. Lyallpur was a gift of progressive British policy and, therefore, he would not have to dig deep into the past. He was greatly pleased and we were going to plan such a book. He had recently completed a book on Faiz Ahmed Faiz's father Chaudhry Sultan Muhammad's life in Kabul where he was close to the king. His book on the Chenab Club of Lyallpur is another work of historical importance. Alas, others will now have to continue from where he left off. His work should be an inspiration to those who love Lyallpur and want us to know more about it.
Curtsey:Daily Times September 15, 2013


Jinnah and secularism

Ishtiaq Ahmed


I am convinced that Jinnah never wanted to create an Islamic state based on dogmatic Sharia. So, what did he really want Pakistan to be?
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the most successful exponent of the Two-Nation Theory, dichotomised the population of India into two irreconcilable religion-based nations, Hindus and Muslims, and claimed a separate Pakistan for the Indian Muslims. That phase in his extraordinary political life began when he decided to abandon his earlier career as an ardent Indian nationalist seeking constitutional safeguards for the Muslim minority in a united India. What he said and did before 1940, therefore, needs to be analysed within a different political context. From a social science perspective, individuals and their actions have to be contextualised in order to make sense of them.

However, even after Jinnah became the supreme leader of the Muslim separatist movement, in his personal life, he continued to adhere to his enjoyment of the brew that refreshes and his occidental dietary preferences reportedly continued as well.

The vision of Pakistan Jinnah spelled out on August 11, 1947 is the closest any leader in the Indian subcontinent approximated to an ideal secular state: a state that treats its citizens as equals irrespective of their caste, creed or colour. However, when someone asked him if he was prescribing a secular state, Jinnah retorted dismissively that India was a secular state and he surely did not have in mind any such ideal.
Earlier, in November 1945, Jinnah wrote a letter to Pir Sahib Manki Sharif of NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), which has been quoted in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly debate on the Objectives Resolution. He gave assurances to Manki Sharif that the Sharia would apply to the Muslims of Pakistan. He wanted Pir Sahib to believe that Sharia would be the law of the land and that is exactly how Manki Sharif understood him. Erland Jansson writes in his doctoral dissertation, India, Pakistan or Pakhtunistan? (Uppsala University, 1981): "The Pir of Manki Sharif…founded an organisation of his own, the Anjuman-us-asfia. The organisation promised to support the Muslim League on condition that Shariat would be enforced in Pakistan. To this Jinnah agreed. As a result the Pir of Manki Sharif declared jehad to achieve Pakistan and ordered the members of his anjuman to support the League in the 1946 elections" (p. 166).

It is worth noting that since 1937 the Sharia was applicable to the personal matters of Muslims. Jinnah played a leading role in getting it passed by the Indian Legislative Council. The Congress had promised to respect Sharia as Muslim personal law and thus won over the support of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Hind for a united India. Creating Pakistan to protect a right that was already protected and safeguarded by the colonial state or was guaranteed in a united India was not therefore an assurance that would have impressed Manki Sharif. Moreover, soon after August 11, 1947, Jinnah reiterated that the Sharia would be a major source of law for Pakistan. There is of course the record contrary to that as well. He denied that Pakistan would be a theocracy. To western journalists and media especially, he presented Pakistan as a progressive Muslim nation, democratic and inclusive.

On the other hand, when in 1944 Gandhi was temporarily brought out from jail to talk with him, Jinnah refused his plea point blank to be allowed to address the Muslim League Council, saying that under the rules and regulations of the Muslim League only a Muslim could address the council. He opposed tooth and nail the Congress Party nominating any Muslim to the 1945 Simla Conference or in any other subsequent negotiations.

During the 1945-46 election campaign, he needed every vote from people entered in the census records as Muslims. He, therefore, gave different pledges to the various interests in that variegated population. Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadis, Communists, fundamentalists — all found an echo of their ideals in what he said. He also told Hindus and Sikhs that they would be treated fairly in Pakistan. However, when he was leaving Delhi someone asked him what message he had for those Muslims who would be left behind in India. He said they should become loyal Indian citizens and he expected India to treat them well. Earlier he had vehemently argued that it was impossible for a state ruled by Hindus to be fair to its minorities.

In my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (Oxford, Karachi, 2012), I have demonstrated that the Muslim League's election campaign of 1945-46 in Punjab was thoroughly laced with Islamic jargon and 'Islam in danger' type of demagogy. The same was true of the campaign in Sindh and British Balochistan, and — as Erland Jansson has shown — in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well.

Once Pakistan came into being, Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a modern, tolerant state. He attended Mass on Christmas Eve in 1947 in Karachi's main Catholic Church and when the Hindus of Karachi were targeted by the Mohajirs in spring 1948, he condemned such acts of lawlessness. He made the Ahmadi stalwart Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan foreign minister and gave the law ministry to Joginder Nath Mandal, a Dalit Hindu; both decisions were not necessarily pleasing to orthodox Muslims, especially the ulema. Were these acts of statesmanship enough to trump his relentless politics during 1940-47? One can wonder.

I am convinced, however, that Jinnah never wanted to create an Islamic state based on dogmatic Sharia. So, what did he really want Pakistan to be? The most sympathetic guess is that he took his cue from the Aligarh school of Muslim modernism, which emphasised Islam as a civilisation and culture instead of a rigid system of law that the fundamentalists idealised. However, it does not follow from this that he wanted to establish a secular-democratic state. Historically there is no evidence that a Muslim state ever treated non-Muslims as equal citizens. This controversy about Jinnah and secularism is likely to persist ad infinitum.

Curtsey:Daily Times: December 02, 2012


Waiting for Imam Mahdi

Ishtiaq Ahmed


Considering that South Asia has perhaps the greatest concentration of people claiming descent from the Prophet, I began to speculate who that chosen person could be. It could not be Abdus Sattar Edhi although I believe he is the best Muslim around today because of his indefatigable struggle for distressed humanity. The reason is that he is not a sayyid The Daily Times of September 3, 2004, reports that Iraqi Shias are expecting Imam Mahdi to reveal himself anytime. According to the Ithna Ashari belief the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, a young lad, entered a cave at Samarra, a town close to Baghdad, in 878 AD and never came out. He is believed to be alive but invisible until a time when his community would need him most to fight back oppression. In the 15th century Ibn Khuldun and in the 16th and 17th centuries several European travellers reported seeing many pious Shias stand daily outside the cave waiting for him to return.
Many religions await saviours who will appear towards the end of time to lead the true believers to victory over the forces of evil. The Jews are waiting for the Messiah, and orthodox Jews leave a chair vacant at dinner in the expectation that he might walk in any time. The Christians believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth before the world goes under. This belief is also shared by Muslims. A group called 'Christian Zionists', found mostly in the USA, believe that all Jews must assemble in Israel before Jesus returns; hence their support for the expulsion of Palestinians from that area. It is forgotten that according to the belief when Jesus appears those Jews who do not recognise him will be killed. According to Hindus God assumes the human form from time to time and descends on earth. Sunni Islam has had an ambivalent relationship with the Mahdi eschatology since its main institution, the Khilafat, has been concerned with preserving Islamic power on earth rather than deal with questions about the end of time. There is however hadith literature even in the Sunni sources which mentions the signs and times of the coming of Mahdi. The general belief is that he will be a sayyid (spelt also as syed), a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The veracity of the hadith literature on this subject, however, has been in dispute all along. Thus not all schools of Sunni Islam believe in a saviour called Imam Mahdi.
Yet, claims to being the Mahdi have been staked over and over again all over the Muslim world. For example Sayyid Muhammad Jaunpuri who originally belonged to the Chistia order of Sufis declared himself the Mahdi during the reign of Emperor Akbar. His supporters were mainly poor Muslim artisans. He was able to win recruits as far away as Balochistan. The Mahdavis were considered a dangerous lot by the Mughals who ordered punitive action against them. This broke their back but they survived in small pockets. The Zikri sect in Balochistan is believed to be an offshoot of the movement. In Hyderabad Deccan there are some Mahdavi Sufis and I actually met a Mahdavi family in Delhi recently. In the early 19th century Sayyid Ahmed Brelavi who fought against the Sikhs was believed by his followers to be the awaited Mahdi.
The Mahdi of Sudan was another claimant to that station. He and his followers gave tough fight to the British forces which pursued him into the desolate Sudanese desert. Then we have Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian claiming to be, among other things, Imam Mahdi. He could not claim descent from the Prophet from his father's side but was able to do so from his mother's side. The Sunni ulema and the Shias of Punjab rejected his claim and that resulted in a long lasting animosity between the followers of Mirza Sahib and their opponents. Not very long ago The Friday Times carried an article by one of its columnist, Ayeda Husain Naqvi, about a prediction made by someone she had interviewed that all the signs were in place for the coming of Imam Mahdi. The interviewee had asserted that Imam Mahdi will indeed be a descendant of the Prophet but not necessarily an Arab.
Considering that South Asia contains perhaps the greatest concentration of people claming descent from the Prophet my curiosity was aroused immediately by this article. I began to speculate who that chosen person could be. It could not be Abdus Sattar Edhi although I believe he is the best Muslim around today because of his indefatigable struggle for distressed humanity. The reason is that he is not a sayyid.
There is, of course, the problem of distinguishing the true descendants from the scores of pretenders. There is a saying in Punjabi from the 16th century that last year I was a julaha (weaver) but I did well in business and therefore I have become a shaikh (an honorific title used by several 'nobler' castes) and if I do well this year I will become a sayyid next year. The British census reports from the 19th century also record that many of the claims to descent from the Prophet were spurious. So, I am not sure that it would be easier to agree on the claims to being Mahdi in 2004 than it was in the 16th century.
The famous Islamist feminist, Prof Riffat Hassan, dutifully announces at the beginning of all her lectures on feminist Islamic theology that she is a sayyid. The problem is that she is a woman. Unfortunately if we rely on the hadith literature on this subject there is no scope for a female Mahdi to lead us out of the age of ignorance and despair. My friend Ali Haroon Shah of Moinuddinpur, Gujarat, is of impeccable sayyid lineage. He is a thorough gentleman, but too much involved in worldly matters including playing golf and therefore would not do.
Moreover, the Iraqis and other Arabs are not likely to accept the claims of a Pakistani to being the awaited Imam. They would insist not only on foolproof sayyid descent but also unquestionable Arab ethnicity. They usually treat with suspicion and derision the claims of Pakistanis, Indians and other non-Arabs to pious lineages going back to the Prophet and his exalted companions. One of the Iranian clerics with a black turban may stand a better chance of being accepted because such clerics are not only sayyids (non-sayyids wear white turbans) but also constitute the most powerful ethnic group among Shias and ultimately power matters most in such disputes. Imam Khomeini had the power but did not claim that title and so the waiting goes on.
Curtsey:Daily Times: September 14, 2004


Religion column and enlightened moderation

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“April 05, 2005 When and how the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular will free itself from the medieval mindset that interprets Islam only as a discriminatory and repressive political ideology is difficult to guess. It will undoubtedly necessitate a confrontation between the forces of reaction and the forces of progress”.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's decision to restore the religion column in the Pakistani passport comes as a great disappointment to many liberal people who believed that while the conventional political parties had failed to present a democratic alternative he, as General Pervez Musharraf's hand-picked prime minister who had been conferred 'democratic legitimacy' through the ritual of an election, would play a positive role in enhancing 'enlightened moderation'. When governments at the beginning of the 21st century include a religion column in their passports and claim that they stand for enlightened moderation they are obviously being highly facetious. Still, they expect to be taken seriously!
It is now clear that Pakistan will have to wait for a long time before historical necessity forces it to change course. After all, nationalism and totalitarianism afflicted European societies for the first half of the 20th century and drove them into two world wars. The works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant and other great writers in favour of peace did not suffice. Only through war and mass slaughter did the Europeans realise the wisdom of open and tolerant democracies. It seems that certain pathological trends are contagion that infect the attitude and behaviour of societies so that no remedial input can help. Only a terrible surgical intervention can provide succour. That is how Europe rid itself of the twin diseases of nationalism and totalitarianism.
Muslim countries, with the exception of Turkey and Malaysia, are not stable democracies though they are not anti-modern polities either. Most of them are ruled by authoritarian regimes which often times are corrupt. Their virtue is that they keep fundamentalist Muslims at bay, preventing them from coming into power and imposing their obscurantist agendas on the rest of society.
In Pakistan, we might not be able to play even that role because we have a long history, predating the country's emergence, of exploiting religion to achieve quick political results — when we outmanoeuvred the 50-year long freedom struggle of the Indian National Congress by dubbing it as Hindu nationalist and a cover for Hindu Raj. The Muslim League deployed the most reactionary ulema, the Barelvis, to address public meetings. These ulema let loose a battery of religious slogans, even captivating the imagination of Muslim intelligentsia which joined the fray enthusiastically. Brilliant strategy. We attained Pakistan without any of our leaders ever having to spend a single day in a prison for opposing British colonial rule.
From the wisdom of hindsight, one can say that whereas for Pakistan it was bad luck that the Quaid died so soon after independence, it was good for him personally to have left without being reminded that he was an Ismaili Shia — a sect we now want to declare non-Muslim. A mythology has indeed been woven around the personality of Jinnah. Some say he quietly dissociated himself from Ismailism and became a nominal Ithna Ashari (Twelver) Shia. I was told by a very learned Shia gentleman that when Jinnah died two funerals were held: a private family funeral according to Ithna Ashari Shia rites led by Mufti Jaffar Hussain and a public funeral according to Sunni rites led by Shaikh ul Islam Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani. Other stories, most certainly wholly apocryphal, suggest that Jinnah converted to Sunni Islam and was initiated into the Qadriyya Sufi order and was often seen offering Tahajud prayers late at night. Among all these stories the only unquestionable fact is that he was born a follower of the Aga Khan.
However, what Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah demonstrated as the most effective specific strategy to outmanoeuvre the Congress became a general tool that his successors began to apply without let or hindrance to outwit one another. Thus the anti-Ahmadiyya disturbances in the Punjab were exploited by a former Communist-sympathiser, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, to bring down the government of Khwaja Nazimuddin and become prime minister. The bureaucrats that ruled Pakistan after the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan in 1951 raised the bogey of 'Islam in danger' and 'Pakistan in danger' each time the people demanded provincial autonomy and an end to feudalism and un-elected government. In the process we lost East Pakistan.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not hesitate to play the populist Islamist card in the hope of outwitting the ulema in Punjab when he had the Ahmadiyya declared non-Muslims in 1974. Rather than being crowned the great defender of the faith, the ulema launched a movement to oust Bhutto in the name of true Islam.
That brought General Muhammad Ziaul Haq into power. He realised he lacked political legitimacy but that the wide gap could be filled with a heavy load of reactionary Islamic laws because no one would have the courage to question whether he had the right to make such laws or not or whether such laws were fit for a civilised society or not. His obscurantist laws remained unquestioned and unchallenged under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
General Pervez Musharraf captured power on October 12, 1999 and initially praised the great Turkish reformer Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. For a moment I believed that Pakistan had a chance finally to change course. That illusion must now be discarded. General Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz have done what is in their best interest, but they need to ponder if their compromises are in the best interest of Pakistan.
When and how the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular will free itself from the medieval mindset that interprets Islam only as a discriminatory and repressive political ideology is difficult to guess. It will undoubtedly necessitate a confrontation between the forces of reaction and the forces of progress; the latter probably exist at present only in the minds of frustrated intellectuals but at some point society must react against populism and obscurantism or accept the consequences of religious fascism. We can only pray that when it happens, the price would not be paid in blood as the Europeans had to pay when they let nationalism and totalitarianism cloud their better judgment for almost half a century.
Curtsey:Daily Times June 27, 2006


Religion column and enlightened moderation

Ishtiaq Ahmed


“If women can be helped out of poverty and to earn a decent income by working alongside men and have an independent source of income to assert their freedom and equality, the vast majority will not sell themselves into prostitution. Neither ruthless capitalism nor medieval moralism is any help for the true emancipation of women from the fetters of exploitation”.

Dr Saleem Ali's essay 'Sex and sensibility' (Daily Times, June 17, 2006) is a rejoinder to my 'Convoluted hypocrisy and extremism' (Daily Times, May 30, 2006) although he does not mention me by name, preferring to talk about 'liberal authors' as if the plural form obviates a direct clash. I think this was unnecessary and might just confuse others who may start looking in vain for related articles. I always welcome debate and therefore this opportunity.
Let me state at the onset that he rightly points out that the $57 billion pornography industry is rooted in the West. But that is no news. Just as the Internet, telephone, video cameras, almost all new medicines to fight cancer, diabetes, strokes, most modern weapon systems and aircraft and so on are products of Western science and technology so is pornography.
However, my article was not about the supply side; it was about the demand side. I think the main point in Dr Ali's article is that consumption of pornography is huge in the liberal West so how do I explain the connection between sexual segregation and browsing of sex-related websites?
There is a major fallacy in the argument that rather than thorough research I had based my article on an 'obscure study' by Google and relied on anecdotal evidence. Since pornographic films are not sold in the open anywhere in the Muslim world we are in no position to know how the market would behave if such material were sold freely. But we do know that out of 10 top scorers of nations whose citizens browse sex-related websites six happen to be Muslim countries. Since Google is one of the major search engines I have no reason to doubt the findings.
The more relevant question to pose is the following: given the huge demand for pornographic films and other material are sales of such products likely to be greater in sexually segregated societies or those in which men and women can meet freely? Dr Ali needs to develop his research strategy intelligently. It may lead him to some very interesting answers.
Fatima Mernissi has demonstrated in her studies of Arab societies in general and Morocco in particular that sodomy and bestiality are widespread, especially in the rural communities because of the segregation of men and women. My younger brother, who worked for years in the Pakistan Agricultural Supplies and Services Corporation (PASSCO), told me that in southern Punjab, much of NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan sodomy and bestiality are common among rural youths. In fact, he caught two boys trying to rape a goat in the vicinity of the mazar of Hazrat Sultan Bahu. The punishment meted out to them was 10 blows with a chhittar (shoe) each on their butts. They protested however that in many rural areas having sex with an animal was considered a rite of passage on the way to becoming full members of the male society!
Thus if pornographic films and websites are not accessible and men and women are socially segregated it does not mean that the sexual urge does not exist. It does and takes cruel and unnatural forms. Before the international gay community fire a broadside at me for being homophobic let me say that I am not talking about homosexuality as the choice of some individuals but sodomy as perverted sexual behaviour men resort to in sexually segregated situations.
I wrote the article not with a view to preach sexual promiscuity but to advocate a relaxed and humane relationship between boys and girls in a desegregated society. It is by meeting each other and learning to know each other as human beings that they are more likely to behave responsibly than if they are kept away from each other as if in separate prisons.
It is most unfortunate that an educated person such as Dr Ali believes that if one speaks out against sexual segregation one is justifying sexual promiscuity. But I do understand where such thinking comes from. I believe there are some books of fiqh in which it is written that a brother and sister should not be left alone in a room. I wish Dr Ali had educated himself out of such a mentality. The second point he has taken up is that of sex tourism and sexpatriates that infest Thailand and other poor Third World countries. Here Dr Ali has focused on the symptom and not the disease. There is a huge market for prostitution in Europe now because of hundreds of thousands of poor women from Eastern Europe being brought to the affluent West. The same is true of Thailand and other such countries.
Muslim conquerors routinely distributed among themselves the women captured in battle. Maulana Maududi has fixed the right to one woman per soldier (Al-Jihad Fi Al Islam, 1981, p. 254). The question to pose therefore is: what do men do when they have the power to sexually exploit women? Dr Ali makes a strong plea for monogamy, but there is no basis for it in dogmatic Islamic law. All the four Sunni madhabs as well as the Shia fiqh allow four wives plus concubines acquired in battle. Dr Ali needs to read his own father, Professor Shaukat Ali's book, Islam and the Challenge of Modernity, to know how fiercely the ulema opposed any restrictions on the right to four wives that all Muslim men are entitled to under dogmatic Sharia.
The Shia fiqh even allows mut'a or temporary marriage. Moreover, all the fiqhs allow minor girls to be married. Therefore Dr Ali's plea about Eastern values as source of his ideal of a monogamous marriage is a misleading though pious-sounding cliché; it has no support in classical Islamic law.
If women can be helped out of poverty and to earn a decent income by working alongside men and have an independent source of income to assert their freedom and equality the vast majority will not sell themselves into prostitution. Neither ruthless capitalism nor medieval moralism is any help for the true emancipation of women from the fetters of exploitation. The solution therefore is a society of free and equal men and women.

Curtsey:Daily Times June 27, 2006




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