Pakistan: Need for a New Historiogrpahy and National Narratives

Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Image via Wikipedia

This will probably be one of the many articles that I plan to write about the construction of contemporary Pakistani national identity. While I have many versions of theories of nation available to undertake this project, I have decided to focus primarily on the mainstream statist narrative that Pakistani media, the school system, and the foundational intellectuals rely on to  construct the narrative of Pakistan.

In this highly idealized and ideological narrative, Pakistan is posited as the terminal outcome of an elitist dream of separatism defined in difference and in conflict with the larger “Hindu” nationalism of India before partition. We have been telling this story to our children, showing its unfolding in well crafted historical TV shows and movies. As a result, the Pakistani national narrative has now streamlined itself as more or less a religious narrative of nationhood. In my humble opinion, unless Pakistan dismantles and restructures this psuedo-religious national narrative, it will continue to struggle as a nation perpetually in crisis.

There is a dire need for a new kind of historiography: a historiography that does not rely on usual clichés of a great leader fighting against the machinations of Hindus and the British to wrest a country for Indian Muslims. Those of us who have read the events and politics of the creation of Pakistan know, through textual analysis, that mr. Jinnah, until the very end, would have been happy if the British and Indian National Congress had agreed to a sort of federation in which the Muslims of India could have had parity at the federal level. It was the failure of this particular thrust of Jinnah’s struggle that ultimately resulted in the failure of his larger dream and creation of Pakistan as a less-than-perfect alternative. We need to seriously read and discuss this hidden aspect of the creation of Pakistan.

We also need to seriously question all those who assert that Pakistan was to be exclusively a Muslim nation: that was never what Jinnah had intended. In fact, the religious leaders–most of them–were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and did not lend their full support to Mr. Jinnah until the very end.

A critical historiography will highlight these aspects of the struggle for Pakistan and will also open space for imagining a more diverse, equal, and egalitarian Pakistan. A kind of Pakistan in which histories of minorities, women, and peasants are not whitewashed but foregrounded.

Our national narrative should also focus on the rapacious role of the zamindari system, the sardari system, and the destruction of our public sphere by the mullahs and their followers. We should have the courage to challenge all these sectors of political power that seek to present Pakistan in their own contorted and outdated vision of  national life. Unless Pakistan tells a story in which the people have the ultimate power and, Pakistan will remain the crisis state that it is so aptly dubbed by its friends and foes alike.

Most importantly our historians and writers need to stop valorizing the military and need to highlight the destructive role that the armed forces have played in keeping democracy in check and in maintaining the socio-economic status quo.

The stories that we tell our children should be about a more diverse and democratic Pakistan and not of a religiously defined nation perpetually in embrace with all the outdated and repressive forces in of our public sphere. All assertions of exclusive ideas of identity–may it be regional, political, or religious–must be challenged and questioned perpetually by the public intellectuals and the media.

A critical historiography, a democratic didactics, and a re-imagining of our past to create a vision of a better future would be a good start!

Enhanced by Zemanta
Commentaries Editorials

The 71st Pakistan Resolution Day and the Veiled Woman in the Picture

In my search for visual sources on the events of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, I accidentally found this picture, of all places, on Wikipedia.



Obviously, this is the official picture of the delegates taken after the Lahore resolution had been passed. We can recognize and name almost all the prominent male figures in the picture as they are amply recorded in our history. But the woman in her head-to-toe black burka is a mystery both literally, for we cannot see her face, and metaphorically because she is elided from our history.

Who was this woman? Did she participate in the discussions about the future of a Muslim state? And if so, did she represent the women of this future Muslim state?

I can only place her through association as if she, a woman, has no individual subjectivity free of reference. As if she can only be a dark contrasting shadow, a specter, in an otherwise bright frame. She obviously is not related to the man on her left, as there is a wider space between them. She was probably related to the man to her right, as the distance between them is negligible, their hands almost touching. It is hard to see her as a presence in her own right. But she is there in this most historical picture of Pakistani history recorded as a “dark” presence on the most auspicious day of Pakistan’s fight for independence.

Should I read her symbolically: as an emblem of women’s future in Pakistan, as the unresolved question that haunts Pakistan today, as an assertion for inclusion in history. What does her presence teach us? Is it a reminder? Is her presence a splinter in the flank of this group, for she is literally on the right flank, not too deeply lodged in the heart of the group but still struck in the collective corporate body of the “group” (for this is a group photo) as a constant reminder: “I was there” she seems to be saying “when you men were deciding our destiny.” A fact that we should remember so that we can acknowledge the existence of women—a majority—in our national space, not as an unresolved problem, or as secondary passive citizens but as equal inheritors of a nation imagined and demanded on march 23, 1940.

In our historical education about the creation of Pakistan, we learned about the exploits of pretty much all the male leaders present in this picture; we have seen their larger-than-life-posters plastered on city walls. But we have never heard or read a single word about this woman, who, let us not forget, was present that day when history was being made. What do her erasure and her silencing teach us?

So, on this day let us resolve to retrieve her story; let us stand against all those with a patriarchal and chauvinistic view of history. Let us move this spectral figure to the very heart of the group. Yes to the center, right next to Mr. Jinnah.


[As Muhammad Ahmed, one of our readers in commens below,  informed us, her name is  Begum Amjadi Bano, wife of Maulana Maulana Muhammad Ali:]


Enhanced by Zemanta