The Dawn: Dec 5, 2014

Punjab Notes: Contradictory popular narratives

Mushtaq Soofi 

Genius of ancient people of the subcontinent found its best expression in the fields of mystic philosophy, mathematics, medicine, political economy and linguistics. Their pronounced lack of interest in history has appalled historians to a degree that some of them felt compelled to assert that people here had no sense of history at all, an outcome of a particular concept of time that characterised their civilisation.

Time is usually conceived in terms of two concepts; cyclic and linear. Cyclic time is described as cosmological while linear time is considered to be historical. In the former concept time is series of cycles and endless repetition of events and happenings. In the latter time is thought to have a beginning and a process of changes and transformations. The claim made by Orientalists that subcontinent had the concept of cyclic time and as a result no sense of history, has been challenged. Eminent Indian historian Romila Thapar has argued that India had both the concepts; cyclic and linear. This may be true as the Orientalists had their biases which sprang from their ill-perceived sense of superiority and lack of deep understanding of ancient Indian literature; religious and secular. But it can safely be asserted that the linear time concept had never been predominant in the subcontinent if we look at the literature it produced which is huge.

History writing in the modern sense shot into prominence with the advent of Muslim rule in India and developed as an academic discipline during the British colonialism. This is not to say that history writing was very objective or free of biases reflective of the rulers’ attitude towards the ruled. Secondly, due to myriad factors the developed sense of history did not produce the kind of objectivity one might have expected. History, we witness, has been held hostage by ideology for last one hundred years or so.

Indian and Pakistani historians have followed divergent paths creating contradictory view of the same history. The mainstream narratives in India and Pakistan have negatively impacted the peoples’ view of their origins and identity to an extent that historical facts are being sacrificed at the altar of ideology.

Fancies are offered as facts and facts denied as fancies in the name of nation-building ideological imperatives at the huge cost of our shared past. The past is being manipulated to manufacture a future that would ultimately rest on the denial of the very past. If the process goes unchallenged and unchecked we will be left with nothing but distorted past and phony future making the shared non-shareable and non-shareable shared.

In India and Pakistan these days history is turned upside down to create two contradictory narratives relating to origins and identities of Indians and Pakistanis. Hindutva inspired so-called intellectuals propagate that Hindu Indians are of Aryan descent despite the fact that a sizeable segment of Hindu population though sharing a common faith, are from Harappa people with distinct Dravidian ethnic origin. Perhaps South does not exist on the map cow-belt saffron brigade has. To prove their indigenousness they go a step further and claim that Aryans were the original inhabitants of India and the historical fact that they descended on the Punjab from a foreign land is a falsehood spread by the enemies. They like all religious fascists deny history. They even deny what they venerate most, the Rig-Veda, composed or revealed in the Punjab, which tells an altogether different story of the arrival of nomadic Aryans and their encounter with what Professor Malti calls ‘civilized demons’, the urban people of Harappa. If truth is the first causality of war, the history suffers the same fate in the religiously motivated nation building project. This Indian hocus pocus is based on an implicit premise that all the Muslims in subcontinent are descendents of Muslim invaders and thus are foreigners which is obnoxiously misleading to say the least.

In Pakistan we see the opposite of what is happening in India. Here the bigoted intellectuals in their religiously inspired patriotic zeal also murder undeniable facts when they start their historical narrative with the Arab invasion of Sindh and conquest of Punjab by Mahmud of Ghazni deliberately forgetting the Indus valley which is the glorious heritage of the entire subscontinent. The extremists in Pakistan try to do the opposite of what Saffron brigade does in India; they deny their indigenous roots. It has become a common practice for many Pakistani local tribes/castes to trace their origins in foreign lands such as Arabia, Iran and Central Asia. It is ideology again which misleads. Since Hindus are our enemies, we believe, we share nothing with them. Hindus believe they have nothing to share with Muslims as they are the lingering vestiges of foreign invaders. Both forget that intermingling of locals and migrants created subcontinental civilization which can rightly be proud of its diversity and plurality.

Indian and Pakistani narratives are historically false and politically dangerous. Such a process of ‘othering’ will not cease unless Indians and Pakistanis halt their search for exclusive identities and stop murdering history at the expense of shared historical experience which if understood in human context can be an inexhaustible source of joyful vigour for all. —

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