Gradually, over the past 70 years, a country was meant to safeguard the interests of the minority community went on to constitutes a country made only for Muslims. Any evidence making difference from this has been strategically eliminated.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s on August 11, 1947, put his vision for Pakistan. A country where Muslims would be free to go to their mosques and Hindus to their temples. Over time Hindus and their places of worship have also been purged from mainstream society and from the collective imagination of Pakistanis. This happened particularly after the 1971 war in which Hindus and those deemed as having “pro-Hindu” or “pro-India” sentiments, were specifically targeted.
Textbooks in Pakistan
The 1970s was an important decade for Pakistan. Nation building became their existential need as the country reeled in the loss of East Pakistan. Pakistan attempted to transition into a fragile democracy. The seventies saw the rewriting of history including the 1971 war and also Pakistan as a nation. Textbooks were revised, Pakistan studies an ideological course which was made compulsory. The ideology of Pakistan became cemented as the ideology of Islam. The new generation of Pakistanis came to learn that Pakistan which was not created in 1947 but rather in 712 when the Arab commander Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh.
In the 1970s, the Jamaat-i-Islami, a religio-political party, organized the Yaum Babul Islam day. This was to celebrate Qasim’s conquest. Eminent Pakistani writer Nadeem F Paracha points out that the seeds of these changes can be found in the early years of Pakistan itself. In 1953, the government published a book titled Five Years of Pakistan. It established that Sindh was, in fact, the first Islamic province of South Asia after Qasim’s invasion. Later, Qasim would come to be acknowledged as the first citizen of Pakistan.
India dangerous path
India chose to embark on the same path. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government appointed a committee of scholars to use archeological survey and DNA. This was to establish that Hindus are direct descendants from the land’s first inhabitants bearing resemblance to Pakistan’s efforts to Islamic the country. The goal of Modi’s committee is apparently to rewrite history. It is to establish that India is a country of and for Hindus. Pakistan is for Muslims only and India for Hindus. Pakistani Hindus belong across the border and Indian Muslims must do “Ghar wapsi”.
Pakistan has, over the years, tried to wipe out its multicultural past, Islamising history, geography, and archeology. India too wishes to Hinduism its past and present. It ignores the religious diversity in the country not only in terms of religious communities of varying faiths but also the diversity within Hinduism. By defining the nation as Hindu first, India will have to establish what it means to be Hindu. Applying rigid modern categories to a fluid religious identity is only one of the grave injustices meted out in the process. Simultaneously, other religious communities are also likely to be pushed further to the margins of society. The committee’s findings are meant to be introduced in history textbooks. India’s culture minister has already promised to ensure that textbooks are aligned with the “Hindu first” ideology.
India and Pakistan’s trajectory should push us to question why it is necessary to rewrite history in the first place. What are the existential threats that both nations perceive? This grave the necessitates for reconstruction of national history and national identity. While Pakistan has always struggled to define itself. The need intensified after the creation of Bangladesh. It is explained as a “Hindu conspiracy” to break up Pakistan. India too has been trying to renegotiate its history which is popularly perceived as the illegitimate breakup of the motherland by “Muslim traitors” in 1947.
The desire to rewrite history seems to be an attempt to resolve the insecurities and complexities of both nations since 1947. The idea seems to be that the older one can establish itself. The greater legitimacy has to govern which becomes easier to sideline any community or history that may challenge that authority. This is not only true for India and Pakistan but Bangladesh too.
History in Bangladesh
They never had the history. Each time the Awami League comes to power, they revise textbooks. BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] forms the government to revise them again. History has been sort of a joke.”
One of the major points of contention in Bangladesh is regarding the announcement of independence. Awami League hails Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman as the founding father of the country. Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party states that her husband Ziaur Rahman announced independence and is hence a true war hero. This claim over history is important for both parties as it gives them legitimacy to rule. It solidifies their power as the true guardians of Bangladesh.
Threat to identity
The true guardians have been established, in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. It is in power to oppress both the political opposition and marginal groups, particularly religious minorities. Minority communities become second-class citizens for they are not seen as true inhabitants or original enough.
In Pakistan, non-Muslims bare the brunt of this, in India Muslims are targeted. Bangladesh clear lines are drawn between those who are aligned with the Awami League. It is considered secular, progressive and pro-liberation. Supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party are perceived as anti-liberation and hence, pro-Pakistan. Depending on who is in power, history is crafted and re-crafted to fuel nationalistic agendas. Each time power changes hands in Bangladesh, the Opposition party and their supporters are targeted, with violence against the Opposition becoming increasingly common.
In their attempt to reconstruct national identity in the collective imagination of their people, the three nations do not realize that they threaten the very identity of their people and the richness of their diverse pasts. By isolating religious communities, historical figures and political movements, a narrow and jingoistic national identity emerges, threatening the very tolerance and inclusivity that Pakistan and Bangladesh had fought for, and that India has always stood proud of.
Anam Zakaria is the author of The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians.