The Dawn: Jan 03, 2014

Spectre of history haunts Punjabis

Mushtaq Soofi 

Punjabis are in fear of themselves. The fear finds its egregious display in the indifferent attitude they have towards their history which tells the tale of sub-continental civilisation. The ancient ruins of Harappa on the banks of now almost dried River Ravi left to the mercy of nature on the one hand unmistakably tell us the contribution our forebears made to the growth of human civilisation and on the other than our utter disdain of what we have been product of. Myriad reasons particularly the ideological ones have made our past such a forbidden territory that we do not accept anything other our uncertain contemporary identity that we wear on our sleeves forgetting that we would have been nothingness in the void without our past however different it may appear from our present. And our present is predominantly defined by the semblance of our faith. Faith is no problem, its diversity certainly may be. But diverse faiths are what the historical process has condemned Punjabis to live with. Living with diverse faiths is not easy, has never been. That is why Punjabis driven by different religious dispositions have been led or misled to adopt conflicting views of their history which remains what it actually is: the common heritage.

You being an orthodox Punjabi Hindu deny what you took from Dravidians of Harappa. You can go to the extent of denying the very existence of Dravidians. You refuse to accept the glorious Buddhist Ghandhara culture. You take all Muslims as foreign invaders and plunderers. You treat Sikhs as Hindus gone astray and Christians as nothing less than the low caste quislings who aided the European colonialists. If you happen to be an orthodox Muslim you reject everything that preceded the Mohammad Bin Qasim’s invasion of India as unholy paganism. You glorify Mahmud Ghaznavi and Babur deliberately ignoring the fact that the former destroyed the Muslim Ismaili rule in Multan and the later dismantled the Muslim Lodhi Kingdom. If an orthodox Sikh you associate all Muslims with oppressive Mughal kings who executed some of their Gurus and Hindus with the cunning ‘Mahants’ who illegitimately administered their temples for long. So among Punjabis it is all against all situation where the holistic image of the past is first broken into fragments by each faith-based community and then the fragment that represents its exclusivity is held up and flaunted as a reflection of general historical process shaping up Punjab. Consequently other vital but at times conflicting elements that made Punjab what it is, diverse and plural, are pushed to the peripheral existence to manufacture a view of Punjabi society sanitised and quarantined to be appropriated as an exclusive preserve of a particular community.

Such a process has deep roots first appearing in the Dravidians versus Aryans struggle 5,000 years back as is testified by Rig-Veda and subsequent religious writings. The intermingling of Dravidians and Aryans along class lines created a new composition of society but Dravidians, when vanquished, became the other due to the different colour of their skin and faith. In the post-Harappa religious literature we see Dravidian historical characters demonised and the Aryan ones deified. The racial differences somehow came to be tolerated due to biological compulsion but religious differences thought to be changeable have not stopped dividing the society. The conflict between post-Vedic Brahmanism and Buddhism with its huge historical consequences is well-known. In modern times the hostility between Hinduism and Islam, a product of Muslim minority rule, ultimately resulted in the partition of the subcontinent which entailed the division of Punjab. The mindset that produced conditions conducive to clash between different religions has logically gone a step ahead and fanned the sectarian tensions within the followers of same religion. Religio-nationalist extremists have kept the bogey of ‘Hindu/Sikh Punjab’ and ‘Muslim Punjab’ alive irrespective of the fact that Indian Punjab is neither exclusively Hindu/Sikh nor Pakistani Punjab purely Islamic. We see no hiatus in this divisive cycle. In the Indian Punjab the issue of religion-based identity triggered the fiery Khalistan movement pitting Punjabi Sikhs against Punjabi Hindus resulting in large-scale carnage. On this side of Punjab ideologically motivated religious politics did what it was inexorably destined to do; it fomented sectarian strife.

The religion-driven politics has had two-fold effect; it roused one religious community against the other and created sectarian strife within each community ripping apart the social fabric delicately stitched by diversity and plurality. Religion is an effective force but it alone cannot hold the society glued which has historically been diverse. Political use of religion and religious use of politics will ultimately leave us with no one to take count of the dead. The choice is for us to make; whether to be extinct as purists or survive as hybrids. “Every man loves the world when two clods of earth are hurled over him,” says a German bard who suffered the Hitler’s deadly regime underpinned by a notion of purity.

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