After the emergence of Pakistan, our elite comprising civil and military bureaucracy, landlords and nascent industrialists faced a real dilemma; how to reconcile the present with the past.

The question arose from the simple fact that the state was new but the society it inherited was old having history of thousands of years. The situation was exacerbated by another peculiar factor; the foundational principle which provided raison detre for the state’s existence was rooted in a faith that had nothing to do with the distant past of the region. Another element that complicated the case further was that Pakistani society shared the past with what it separated from; India, the enemy. The ideologues of the new state bereft of a broad historical vision opted for a shortcut; denial of history. What didn’t belong to their faith didn’t simply exist, they pretended. They deliberately tended to forget both specificities of their own society and what they shared with India while being part of the subcontinent. They did not even understand properly what set their region partly apart from the rest of India.

Amaury De Riencourt has something relevant to say in his The Soul Of India: “It was a strange fact that, long before the birth of Christ, the Indus Valley, birthplace of Indian culture, had become an impure land. Along with the Punjab beyond the Sutlej, the holy land of the Vedas had been repeatedly overrun by barbarians and had become unholy, soiled ground for all orthodox Brahmins, totally unfit for their permanent residence. Subsequent invasions did not improve matters. From then on, Hindu India proper started east of the Sutlej and Sarasvati rivers leaving out of Indian perimeter Afghanistan (White India), Baluchistan, Sind, and the western Punjab (roughly the area covered by modern Pakistan)”. Even this view of history isn’t accepted by the ruling elite though some Pakistani scholars have tried to push this point. Acceptance means; 1, owning of Harappa/Indus Valley civilization which despite being free of orthodox Brahmanical stranglehold is considered non-Islamic, even anti-Islam, 2, in the post-Harappa society even if importance of caste-based social structure is brushed aside, one still has to deal with the lingering vestiges of Harappa, Jainism and Buddhism which were practiced here. In the conditioned Pakistani imagination all the diverse elements of the past society are lumped together and declared Hindu or non-Muslim, at least. When the Babri mosque was demolished by Hindutva mobs in Ayodhya in 1992, Muslim mobs in Lahore retaliated by vandalizing and destroying an ancient Jain Mandir (Jain temple)—which is being rebuilt these days--.

The charged mobs utterly failed to differentiate between a Hindu temple and Jain temple displaying outlandish ignorance of their cultural history. Harappa whose excavation pushed the history of the subcontinent thousands of years back and led to the discovery of a highly sophisticated civilization is in ruins and as yet it is not included in the list of UNO World Heritage Sites due to official indifference. It speaks of criminal neglect of our heritage prompted by ill-conceived ideological constructs. It’s not that Punjab was unaware of historical significance of Harappa prior to colonial ingress.

Poet Shah Murad (died 1702) says in one of his verses: “Wake up if you are still asleep and get your act together / Collect the seals/stamps from Harappa and get them evaluated by the evaluators (sutta ain ta jag, amal smaalh kay / Harappay muhraan pa saraaf dikhaal kay)”. We have invaluable historical assets but we can’t own them. That’s what the officially peddled distortion of history leads to.

Since Muslim separatism is considered to be the foundation on which the state has been erected, our official history starts with the seventh century Arab invasion of Sind and 11th century Turk invasion of Punjab. After the establishment of foreign Muslim rule and conversion of sizable number of lower castes, a fundamental change occurred in the Muslim outlook: their homeland (Janam bhoomi) remained the same but their centre of faith (Punniya bhoomi) shifted to the Middle East, Arabia, to be more exact. Interestingly, Islam neither prohibits tribal affiliations nor abhors the love for homeland. But in Indian context a peculiar version of faith developed and was propagated under the influence of Turks and Iranians. The civilized Arabs, a relatively peaceful and trading community in Sindh and south Punjab, “were superseded by the tough ‘Romans of Islam’ the dour, uncultured Turks of Central Asia,” writes Riencourt.

The ruling Turks generally looked down upon things Indian which kept them away from the process of indigenization despite their own cultural poverty. Exceptions were there like Emperor Akbar and Prince Dara Shikoh, and a number of enlightened mystics and saints. Consequently, alienation from the soil came to be prized as some sort of religious and cultural asset. It visibly finds expression in the increased display of Middle eastern and Central Asian nomenclatures.

Post-Partition hardline Hindus and hardline Pakistani Muslims have become more rigid in their outlook; the former reject everything that appears to be Islamic and the latter reject what appears to be Hindu. The fact of the matter is that due to long historical interaction, one can find neither a pure Hindu nor a pure Muslim. Despite this Hindus and Muslims have history of xenophobia.

Alberuni (11th century) in his marvelous Tahqiq-e-Hind mentions the xenophobia of Hindus and their contempt for alien things, and Malechhas (Foreigners/ Barbarians). The outlook not only remains unchanged but has hardened especially in recent times. Muslims have their own brand of xenophobia which may be called xenophobia in reverse; they have nothing but contempt for what is indigenous. In order to deal with things alien and Malechhas,the hardline Hindus have gone into a state of denial. Against all the historical evidence, they deny and distort their past history.

The strategy of hardline Muslims in Pakistan too revolves around denial and erasure of history; they pretend as if people here lived in dark ages before the Muslim invasions. When they are faced with the material evidence that contradicts their hollow claim, they try to destroy it. Hundreds of historical sites and monuments of pre-Muslim eras have been vandalized and destroyed. Names of scores of cities, towns, street and roads have been changed to erase our non-Muslim past. The core of the problem is diversity that keeps the entire region rattled and unsettled.

Our ideological efforts here to suppress the phenomenon of diversity created by historical conditions has led to intellectual and spiritual impoverishment, and eventually to self-loathing. We are now a deculturated tribe alienated from the past and the present in search of an imagined future which is rootless. — soofi01@hotmail.com

(Concluded)

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2022

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