Shaheryar Ali

Some Theoretical Considerations: Death of Pluralism

“The article is intended to be the theoretical first part of a series of article on the suppressed cultural identities[A Pakistan you never knew] in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, One on the fate of Pakistani Jews has already been published and can be reached here

A couple of years back I was reading a research report by a very intelligent Pakistani academic who works for the International Crisis Group, Dr Samina Ahmed on the rise of sectarianism in Pakistan. Being trained in the progressive tradition myself I was familiar with the theoretical framework in which Dr Ahmed operates, state and its origin, adaptation of an ideological character by the state, cold war and Jihad etc. What strike me and infact fascinated me was a passing remark by her on working ideology of all sectarian groups of Pakistan, she wrote they all operated on the “principle of exclusion

This was a remarkable observation if one wants to understand the ideology of sectarianism and a sectarian state. States are not just material institutions of economy and violence, state has an ideological aspect as well. Structures of the state create a significant influence on super structures of the society on which it is maintaining control. That means through different ideological institutions, states create culture and patterns of thoughts which help the state to keep control [Gramsci and Althusser]. It has been explained as a mental condition in which a slave thinks and takes his slavery to be a state of “freedom”. This intervention into ideology or the “ways of thinking” became the obsession of western Marxists who were trying to understand failure of revolutions in the Western Europe. A series of whole new disciplines emerged like critical theory and cultural studies which focused on the ideological and cultural aspects of state and/or capitalism

As postmodernism became more influential in universities of Europe and North America, the critique was extended to a similar analysis of “reality” [Baudrillard] and alterations in human perceptions by Capitalism and state/super state. The ideological foundations of Pakistan state [not to be confused with official “Pakistan ideology”] lie in the communal/nationalist strife [Saigol,Rubina] which presumed an “absolute difference” between Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah put forward an argument which utilized “cultural difference” as base of civilization, which differentiated Indian Muslim from Indian Hindus with whom he shared same ethnicity and language [Bengali speaking muslim became part of a different civilization and nation than Bengali speaking Hindu from whom he originated in the first place through conversion]. Hindu and Muslim emerged as grand identities which were rhetorical in entity as demonstrated by the work of great Indian historian Romila Thaper, that before British Colonialism term Hindu or Muslim were rather meaningless in the sense that they didn’t constructed a unified socio-political identity. With the professed anti-clericalism and modernism of founding fathers of Pakistan, ideological intervention became all the more important and a unified cultural umbrella needed to be constructed to legitimize the claim of “distinct civilization”. This logically meant to suppress the ethnic, national and indigenous identities to construct the “Muslim identity” only through which survival of Pakistan was envisioned.

JinnahA study of discourse emerging from ruling elite of Pakistan, the PML and colonial administration which they inherited from Colonial administration suggest an obsession with monism themes as opposed to pluralism. Jinnah’s slogan of “Unity, Faith and Discipline” itself speaks of need to “unify and control”. The slogan relates more to ideologies of totalitarian regimes of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany than to the Liberal tradition of Western Europe to which Jinnah is said to be trained in. Ethnic identities became the “others” of Muslim identity and as a result an existential threat the new state. The question of national rights was diverted by Jinnah’s stern warning against the “evil of provincialism”, the need to construct a “unified culture” so strong that a man as modern as Jinnah who took up the case of muslim socio-cultural rights in India, stood in Dacca and thundered “Urdu Urdu and only Urdu!” a language which was not the language of even 0.2% of Pakistanis at the time Those who demanded an equal status of Bengali along side Urdu were to called traitors and communists. After Jinnah’s death things became worse and PML which lacked any popular base in East and West Pakistan joined hands with Clerics and Islamic Fundamentalists whom Jinnah thoroughly despised. Jinnah’s handpicked Prime Minister Nawabzada Khan Liaqat Ali Khan, a member of feudal aristocracy passed the Objectives Resolution and state acquired an ideological character.

The ideological apparatuses of the state in form of media, mosques,


Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung

universities and colleges started molding the minds of people. Considering one to be a Bengali or Punjabi was something like treason, same was the case with being Muslim. In British India Muslim was a broader and loose cultural identity which related more to practice of circumcision and burial of dead as opposed to cremation. Different sects of muslims existed and considered their sect to be true version of Islam but due to neutrality of the state didn’t operated on the “principle of exclusion”. The party which took up the issues of muslim socio-political and cultural rights in British India, the All India Muslim League comprised of “muslims” which were distinguishable by their heterodoxy not their orthodoxy. Sir Aga Khan was the president of All India Muslim League who was the Imam of Ismilies which were engaged in a bloody struggle against Sunni and Twelver Shias for more than 1000 years and who were considered “apostates” by clerics of both mainstream sects. Muhammed Ali Jinnah also belong to the Ismaili faith but later converted to more mainstream Twelver Shia faith but was a non practicing muslim by all standards. Many important leaders like Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad were twelver Shias. Sir Zaferullah Khan was Ahmedi or Qadiani. Dr Allama Muhammed Iqbal was a revivalist who was opposed by Sunni orthodoxy and was rumored to be a Ahmedi as well the controversy ended when he denied these claims by writing an article in Statesmen condemning Ahmedi faith. [Controversy still exist weather he was Ahemdi for some part of his life and even after condemning Qadiani faith he considered Lahori group of this faith as part of muslim community]

Nawab Bahaduryar Jang another prominent leader of All India Muslim League belonged to “Mehdivia” sect. a sect similar to Ahmedies which considered pious saint Syed Muhammed Jonpuri as the Mehdi. Due to this heterodoxy and professed modernism of All India Muslim League the muslim clerics were bitterly against it. But this was to be changed when this movement was to end in formation of the “Muslim Homeland” [Not an intention of Jinnah according to some historians, most notably Dr Ayesha Jalal]. With the formation of Muslim homeland the question “Who is Muslim?” acquired a phenomenal character. Before partition as we have said earlier this question was not very relevant because of its oppositional character to the rival identity “The Hindu”. After partition of India on 15th August 1947 all this changed. Muslim identity lost its contrasting “other”, a “moth eaten Pakistan” meant that its founding fathers were already paranoid about its chances of survival; the land which they got was hub of forces which opposed partition of India. Punjab was firmly in grip of feudal, with which Jinnah forged an alliance to make Pakistan, the Unionist Party held power in Punjab. All India Muslim League lacked support and organization in Punjab, the “salariat” class which was motivating the struggle for Pakistan was weakest in Punjab [Alavi,Hamza]. NWFP the province of overwhelming muslim majority despite best efforts of Jinnah stood with Bacha Khan and Indian National Congress. The 1946 elections which were held to decide the issue of muslim representation saw defeat of Muslim League despite support from the British in the NWFP. In Bengal muslim league held popular base but it was due to independent minded progressive leaders whom the central leadership didn’t trusted, Hussein Shaheed Soherwardi, AK Fazel-e-Haq, Molana Bhashani all were to be purged along with all mass base! Jinnah had to lean heavily on “socialism”[He went as far as declaring Islamic Socialism to be guiding ideology of Pakistan in Chittagong] to gain currency in Benagal but his negotiations with the Americans in 1946 had already decided Pakistan’s future alignment with “Anti-socialist block”. Bengali was suppressed, NWFP government dismissed, the party banned and its news paper “Pakhtoon” suppressed [start of press censorship in Pakistan, all this happened in first year of Pakistan]. The party headquarter was bulldozed and police opened fired on unarmed party workers at Barbra killing hundreds of Pushtoons, this despite Bacha Khan’s oath of loyalty to Pakistan. In Sindh , GM Syed had already left Muslim League depriving it of much popularity, the loyal faction of  Sindh League was  also disenfranchised when Jinnah dismissed Sindh government as well when CM opposed  partition of Sindh [separating Karachi from Sindh] This would be the start of never ending Sindhi-Mohajir conflict. Balochistan had to be annexed by force when upper and lower houses of Parliament of State of Qalat explicitly rejected proposals to join Pakistan. Khan of Qalat signed the document of accession but wrote himself that he didn’t have the authority to do so.

All these events which took place in first years or couple of years after birth of Pakistan unfortunately counterpoised “Muslim identity” against the local identities which also represented political opposition to Pakistan’s ruling elite. It became a rule to suppress any expression of cultural identity other than the official “Muslim” one. This was to be what I call “death of Pluralism” in Pakistan. After deciding the fate of national identities, the project of defining “muslim” came on agenda. Death of Jinnah accelerated the process and state’s alliance with fascist theorist Abul ala Maudaudi emerged. He gave a series of lectures on Radio Pakistan on Muslim Nationalism. Objectives resolution was passed, later Anti Ahmedi agitation started, the anti clerical vanguard in state tried to give a final resistance to the clerics. Justice Munir’s report tried to put clerics at their place but it was too late. A unified and oppressive muslim identity emerged which put all heretical muslim sects in a continuous state of fear of being declared “apostates”. The irony of history is that with this most of the founding fathers of this country also joined the ranks of “apostates” All alternative cultural expression vanished from the country, the Hindus, the Jews, Homosexuals, Heretics, Nationalists all had to face “cultural Holocaust” After Ahmedies Shias were targeted and now Bravelies are trying to protect their “islam” from muslims


Sir Zafrullah Khan

Balochistan remains in the grip of a violent agitation even on the fourth day of the tragic incident which involved murder of 3 Baloch nationalist leaders and the mutilation of their bodies allegedly by Pakistani secret agencies.090412101204_quetta_protest283

The agitation which started spontaneously after the news spread of these murders is now looking very robust and organized. Political commentators have noted that the agitation which occured on the death of Mir Akbar Bugti and Mir Ballaj Marri was more spontaneous and less organized. On the other hand, the agitation going on now appears to be very organized , the full political support is being given by the Nationalist parties which are  some of the most secular, organized and grass root political organizations of Pakistan.

The result of this kind of political organization was that a complete general strike was observed in Balochistan even on the 4rth day. [It is contrasted  by the fact lawyers movement and PML-N failed to get a single general strike even in Punjab on a political agitation which was backed by the “whole” nation as it was claimed]

What is more astonishing and encouraging that “wheel” was jammed in Balochistan as planned. A call for wheel Jam strike has become a cliche in Pakistan. Since 1968 revolution , actual wheel jam has not been achieved especially the one obtained through the conscious and organized political effort. I am not including in this the spontaneous “wheel Jam” which took place after murder of Benazir Bhutto. It was an expression of spontaneous might of Pakistani class which bowed the Pakistani state on its knees. Peoples Party’s refusal to give direction or to own the agitation resulted in failure of the movement which had the revolutionary potential.

090412101206_balochistan_protest226A call for Wheel Jam strike was given by Balochistan National Party [M] and Baloch National Front. According to BBC the wheel jam strike was a success.  Surprising development which took place that Pashtun base Islamic fundamentalist Party  of Molana Fazul-ur-Rehman supported the call of wheel jam strike. This party is considered traditional ally of establishment in Balochistan. What was disturbing that Pashtun Nationalist Party PKMAP of Mehmood Khan Achackzai which were part of NAP and traditional allies of Baloch nationalists were no where to be seen.

Pakistani establishment has classically played Pashtuns of Balochistan against the Baloch in the classical tactic of “divide and rule”. With Mr Achackzai’s closer relationship being developing with establishment due to his affiliation with Right Wing in APDM has resulted in his greater distances from Baloch resistance.

According to Dawn more than 16 people have died so far in violent riots , BBC is confirming 12 deaths so far.

We want to assert that ethnic violence will be counter productive for Baloch cause. What needs to be done is to immediately form a political alliance with Pashutns of Balochistan and spread the political agitation through out the province

It must be understood that Bloch’s rights could only be won if agitation spreads to Sindh and Balochistan. This will not occur on ethnic or nationalist bases. “class” solidarity is needed. Baloch organizations should try to unite with working classes of Punjab and Sindh, only than state will come under threat. with Peoples Party in government , its difficult but not impossible but Baloch leadership needs to spread this agitation or it will die out. State will give it an ethnic touch and than kill it. What will follow? A bloody reaction

Whats missing? a figure like “Molana Bhashani or Zulfikar Ali Bhutto”. Bhasani was able to link Bengali nationalist question with class consciousness of West Pakistan. His slogan “Jalo Jalo Aagan Jalo”. “Burn Fire” brought the state to its knees in 68.  The fire must be spread only than Light will prevail over darkness——-

Shaheryar Ali

After abduction, murder and mutilation of the bodies of 3 Baloch leaders, who were part of “friends of Baloch nation” committee working with United Nations for release of thousands of “disappeared Baloch men and women, the violent clashes still continue in Balochistan.

baloch-1 A complete general strike was observed for 3rd day in Balochistan. 9 people have been killed so far. 6 bodies were recovered from suberbs of Quetta who were killed during torture. According to the BBC situation remains very tense in Quetta where one police man was killed last night. There were also reports of 7 rockets being fired in Qalat which targeted FC camp and houses of certain people suspected of being informers of Pakistani agencies. One man was reportedly injured. It must be kept in mind that Frontier Constabulary or the FC has long been implicated by the Baloch leaders for wide spread human rights violations, extra-judicial murders , torture and disappearances. FC has also been accused of committing heinous crimes against Baloch women. In Quetta FC was responsible for a particularly brutal baton charge and tear gassing of the women protestors who were protesting against the murder of 3 Baloch leaders.baloch_7

One woman commented to the BBC that “look at Pakistanis double standards, whole country was protesting on flogging of an anonymous girl from Swat but here we have been beaten half to death by the FC but no one takes notice. Even United Nations and International community remain silent on the atrocities being committed against the Baloch nation by Pakistani state”.

According to the BBC urdu service the spokesperson of Pro-liberation Baloch Republican Party today accepted responsibility for attacking FC and for killing two Pro-Pakistan individuals. [We condemn acts of violence by Baloch resistance but we have been writing on the post-nationalist and racist turn of the Baloch movement due to policy of discrediting Baloch nationalists by Pakistani establishment]

The Reign of Terror

What is happening in Balochistan is unbelievable. People have been “burned alive” in molten coal tar by Pakistan army. Thousands of Baloch students, intellectuals and political activists have been “disappeared”. Pakistani secret agencies are largely considered responsible for these disappearances. Term of “sexual slavery” was heard after a long time in case of abduction of Zarrina Marri and other women in custody of Pakistani state according to independent and well reputed human rights organizations like Asian Human Rights Commission etc. We have writing on Baloch issue for a long time our writing on these events can be seen here, here, here and here

What Happened?

Wu ayeto ki goad mein bikhri hue Akbar ki laash [Zaidi, Mustafa Mersia e imam]

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistanthe Baloch leaders were forcibly picked up, blindfolded and taken in cars, closely followed by vehicles belonging to the Frontier Corps.” The medical investigations by the doctors at civil hospital Turbat, Balochistan, suggests that all the three were shot dead at close range with Kalashnikov AK47s and their bodies were badly mutilated. The medical report suggests that they were killed one week before the bodies were recoveredbaloch_8

“Witness Killing” Asian Human Rights Commission’s Version:

Three Baloch nationalist leaders were killed after their abduction by plain clothes persons in mysterious vehicles that bore no registration plates. They were taken from the chambers of a prominent lawyer and their deaths have raised several questions on the role of state spy agencies, particularly about military intelligence (MI). All three murdered persons, Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Sher Mohammad Baloch and Lala Muneer Jan Baloch, were earlier kidnapped by the military intelligence agencies during 2006 and 2007 and each of them were disappeared for several months. After their release it was found that they were kept in the different military torture cells and severely tortured. They all were interrogated by the military officers about the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and funding for nationalist movements in the province against military operations.

The killings are tantamount as ‘witness killings’ as they all were previously disappeared by the army and kept in different military torture cells before being released. Therefore they might have proved dangerous in the probe about disappearances after arrests of political and nationalist activists.

The Leaders were abducted by Agencies in past as well: AHRC statement continues

The Asian Human Rights Commission issued an urgent appeal on the abduction and disappearance of two of the leaders, Mr. Ghulam Mohammad Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch. They were abducted when they were holding a meeting for the preparations for a protest demonstration against the murder of Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, the former chief minister of Balochistan by army personnel at his hide out. The details of their abduction in 2006 can be found on this link

The third one, Mr. Lala Muneer Jan Baloch, was also abducted in the month of February 2007 from Balochistan province by plain clothed persons and was kept in different military torture cells for almost eight months. These men were all released after the restoration of Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan by the Supreme Court on July 20, 2007, as their cases of disappearance were before the High Court of Sindh.

The military authorities could not find any evidence of their involvement in the so called secessionist movement in Balochistan province. They all were dumped at different places along the road sides bearing severe torture marks on their bodies. They were told before their release by their military captors that if they revealed anything about their captivity in the military torture cells then they will be killed or persons from their families will face the same fate.

Mr. Salim Baloch, vice president of Jamhoori Watan Party of Balochistan, was abducted by plain clothed persons on March 10, 2006, from Karachi, Sindh province, and was kept in military torture cells in the different cities of Pakistan particularly, in the Punjab province, and severely tortured. He was released in the month of December 2006 with the warning that he should not tell about his detention in the military cells. But he was again abducted within 36 hours after he gave his statement about his ordeal of 9 months of torture and illegal detention. In his statement made before the Sindh High Court, Mr. Salim Baloch believed that he would be rearrested by the secret military agencies as he was threatened by the military officers that it would happen if he told about his arrest and torture. Mr. Baloch requested the High Court to provide protection but it paid no attention to his plea. Please see link for the urgent appeal which documents his ordeals,

An other case is that of Syed Abid Raza Zaidi, who was abducted by plain clothed persons from Karachi on April 26 and kept in military torture cells to get information on the Nishter Park incident of April 11. He was released in September but again abducted by plain clothed persons for not following the warning of the military authorities. After giving his statement before a panel discussion of Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at Islamabad he was again abducted from another city of Lahore, Punjab province. Please see the details of the case through this link,

Eliminating Witnesses? The brutal murder of the Baloch leaders is ample proof of the involvement of state agencies in their abduction from the office of the lawyer. In that they all were abducted in the same fashion as others abducted by plain clothed persons in broad daylight in vehicles without registration numbers. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “the Baloch leaders were forcibly picked up, blindfolded and taken in cars, closely followed by vehicles belonging to the Frontier Corps.” The medical investigations by the doctors at Civil hospital Turbat, Balochistan, suggests that all the three were shot dead at close range with Kalashnikov AK47s and their bodies were badly mutilated. The medical report suggests that they were killed one week before the bodies were recovered.

The three murdered people were members of the government’s committee which was looking into the cases of disappeared persons since 2001 in the province. Mr. Ghulam Mohammad had already given a statement that he saw some persons in the Rawalpindi, Punjab, military centre who had been missing for several years. Their own experiences of disappearances and detention at military torture cells was a problem for the state intelligence agencies. Mr. Ghulam Mohammad was also involved in a dialogue with the persons who abducted Mr. John Solecki, the head of UNHCR mission at Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. He was one of the Baloch nationalist by whose efforts Mr. Solecki was released.

baloch_9Killing of witnesses threatens the possibility of any justice regarding the large numbers of persons who have disappeared in Pakistan. These recent killings seem to indicate the mobilisation of secret units in order to eliminate those who have knowledge about the maintenance of secret prisons and torture chambers in the country. Particularly those who have taken a keen interest in pursuing justice relating to these matters have been made targets of these killings. It is likely that these killings will be followed by similar actions to others. The knowledge about these murders will also discourage victims and witnesses who want to narrate the human rights abuses they have suffered and to seek justice. The deadening silence imposed in such circumstances will obstruct all attempts to return to a normal situation of rule of law. Now with the intervention of the Supreme Court under the Chief Justice, Iftekhar Choudhry who has been reinstated by popular intervention. On the other hand the terror tactics adopted in this way will act to the advantage of the extremist elements who resort to terrorism

Source: A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Fingers point at state intelligence agencies in the killings of three Baloch nationalist leaders

Serious Questions:

These are unbelievable things reminiscent of the dark ages of times of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. Overtly fascist posture has been adopted by Pakistani state. Serious questions arise both for Pakistani people and the International community. Pakistani people must realize that they live in a country whose state is anti-people, they have to seriously re-think their “patriotism”. International community must act to stop this. The people of western democracies must take their governments to courts and stop them from giving a single penny in hands of Pakistani oligarchy. By law states which use “torture” as a policy cannot get public funds. By doing so they will be helping people of Pakistan who are victims of a neo-fascist state apparatus.

People of Pakistan must act on their own to attain democracy and defeat this oligarchy which is committing such heinous crimes.

Credit : Latest Pictures from BBC URDU.Com with thanks

osted by Shaheryar Ali

History and interpretation – Communalism and problems of historiography in India

by Irfan Habib*

IF one looks back at 1947 to find out in what ways it brought about changes in the approach to the medieval (that is, the post-ancient, pre-British, and, in much of earlier discourse, the ‘Muslim’) period of India’s history, a few major shifts of emphasis could, perhaps, be immediately identified.

First of all, Partition meant that the two communalist camps, Hindu and Muslim, found two different ‘national’ homes. Until 1947 there had been a running debate between the advocates of the two communities. But with 1947, the Muslim side in the communal historical debate shifted entirely to Pakistan, where in its seemingly final version, the history of ‘Muslims in India’ was now projected as a struggle for a separate nation right from A.D. 712, when Muhammad ibn Qasim entered Sind at the head of an Arab army. This was the reading of history pursued with much energy by the late Ishtiaq Husain Quraishi, and as recently as January this year the publication has been announced of a two-volume Road to Pakistan, its Vol.I comprising a 653-page account of “the period from A.D. 712 to 1858″, written by “eminent historians and scholars of Pakistan” and edited by Hakim Mohammad Said of Hamdard (Karachi).

In India, the contrary interpretation found its high priest in the well-known historian R. C. Majumdar. To him the entire period from c. 1200 onwards was one of foreign rule; Muslims were alien to Indian (Hindu) culture; the Hindus, oppressed and humiliated, wished nothing better than to slaughter “the Mlechhas” (Muslims); the British regime was a successor more civilised than “Muslim rule”; yet real opposition to the British came from Hindus, not Muslims, even in 1857; and, finally, the national movement’s course was throughout distorted by concessions made to Muslims by Gandhiji, who was so much personally to blame for Partition. This view runs like a red thread in the volumes of History and Culture of the Indian People (first volume issued 1951), published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with financial assistance from the Government of India, and edited by R. C. Majumdar, whose great industry must extract admiration from his worst critics. (An early critic was D. D. Kosambi, who wrote that if Islam was so alien to India as the original patron of the series, K. M. Munshi, and its editor R. C. Majumdar thought, then they should have worried about their own “good Muslim professional names”!). Majumdar went on to author texts on the Rebellion of 1857 and the freedom movement in which the same stance was firmly maintained. Though after Majumdar’s death (1980), there has not appeared on the scene a historian of similar calibre in the Hindutva (or even the ’soft Hindutva’) camp, the often unproven hypotheses and inferences that he bequeathed have all become firm truths for a very large number of educated people in India.

It is not often perceived that both the Hindu and Muslim communal schools share a very large area of common ground. Both see the two religious communities as constant political entities, and, therefore, in effect, separate nations. The slogan “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan”, raised by the pre-1947 forebears of the present Sangh parivar, was the exact counterpart of the “Pakistan” slogan of the Muslim League and both equally implied adherence to the Two-Nation theory. Often, therefore, in the historical writings of the two schools, the heroes and villains are simply interchanged, while large areas of history have been ignored by both.

THE mainstream nationalist tradition of historiography presented, in contrast, a much broader and critical view of history. This could be seen in two early works on medieval Indian history, namely, Tara Chand’s Influence of Islam on Indian Culture, and Mohammad Habib’s monograph on Mahmud of Ghaznin, both published in the 1920s. Nationalist historiography presented a consistent affirmation of the compositeness of India’s heritage. It also felt called upon to controvert the official British claim of improvement in Indian economic life that the colonial regime had brought about, in contrast to its ‘native’ predecessors. W.H. Moreland’s rather cautious statement of this case brought forth challenges from Brij Narain (1929) and Radhakamal Mukerji (1934), who presented favourable views of the economic performance of the Mughal Empire.

WITH Independence, new questions within this stream of historiography were generated. As the direct compulsions of debate with British imperialism receded, there developed a greater readiness to study the factors of change and stagnation in our past and to identify various internal economic, social and ideological contradictions. Inevitably, Marxist influences began to be felt, especially under the impact of the Soviet Union’s role in the Second World War and the lifting of the colonial ban on Marxist classics. In his Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1956), Kosambi fitted the medieval polities headed by Muslim rulers in his interpretation of “Indian feudalism”, by special reference to the process that he designated “feudalism from above”. To the cultural consequences of the Islamic intrusion he added the technological one, crediting “Islamic raiders” with “breaking hide-bound custom in the adoption and transmission of new techniques”. Almost simultaneously, in a notable 102-page text (1952), Mohammad Habib offered an interpretation of the Ghorian-Turkish conquests of the 13th century and the early Delhi Sultanate in economic terms, with much use of Marxian concepts. Although the numerous insights of both these historians remain of lasting value, their major achievement was really to pioneer the exploration of a practically virgin domain.

In the subsequent period, possibly owing to the difference in the main source-languages, there were two points to which Marxist-influenced research came separately to be directed. In his Indian Feudalism (1965), R. S. Sharma studied in detail the basic relationships in early medieval society down to the eve of the Ghorian conquests. He argued in favour of a “feudalism largely realising the surplus from peasants mainly in kind through superior rights in their land and through forced labour, which is not found on any considerable scale… after the Turkish conquest of India.” These conclusions were largely underlined for the period immediately preceding c. 1200 by B.N.S. Yadava (1973).

The other effort was directed to establishing what the later medieval class structures were like, whether different from those of the earlier period or not. Satish Chandra made an initial attempt to delineate the main features of the Mughal Indian political and social order (1959). I presented (1963) a detailed study of the agrarian system of Mughal India, in which I argued that there were two ruling classes, the centralised nobility and the dispersed landed gentry (zamindars); and that the Mughal Empire collapsed because of agrarian uprisings in which the zamindars utilised the desperation of the oppressed peasantry. In later writing (1969), I denied that the Mughal Empire had any potentialities for capitalistic development, despite a considerable presence of commodity production. The last thesis has been contested by Iqtidar A. Khan (1975), while S. Moosvi (1987) has patiently reworked the basic statistics in the Ain-i-Akbari on which all work on Mughal economic history must necessarily rely. M. Athar Ali (1966), emphasising the centralised nature of Mughal polity, and the ethnic and religious compositeness of the nobility, has argued against my thesis of an agrarian crisis in that Empire.

FROM the 1970s, historical research in Medieval India began to be influenced by two distinct but converging currents. Burton Stein (1980) applied the theory of “segmentary state”, evolved in African anthropology, to medieval South India, and this became a signal for its application, notably by A. Wink (1986), to both Mughal and Maratha sovereignty. The tendency here is to deny the historicity of the process of centralisation as well as systematisation in pre-colonial governments. The other current originated from Cambridge, with C.A. Bayly (1983), who, arguing for a continuity between the previous indigenous polities and the colonial regime, saw the operation of innovative “corporate groups” behind the Mughal imperial decline, groups that later shifted their loyalties to the East India Company. The Indian supporters of the Bayly thesis include Muzaffar Alam (1986) and S. Subrahmanyan. Neither thesis has been accepted by most Indian historians, and there has been a notable disavowal of both in the West itself, in J. F. Richards’s volume on the Mughal Empire in the New Cambridge History of India (1993).

The Indian (in part NRI) counterpart of the two western theories has been the “Subaltern” school, whose members have worked as a “collective” since 1982. Sharing the Cambridge School’s scepticism of Indian nationalism, these historians have emphasised “the cultural autonomy” of tribal and local communities, and protested against those (including such as are conveniently termed “Nehruvian Marxists”) who have assumed cultural syntheses and unifying factors to be an important element in Indian history. While the Subalterns’ work has been mainly concerned with the period of the national movement, their beliefs enmesh fairly well with the criticism of nationalist and Marxist historiography of pre-colonial India that historians like Stein and Bayly have initiated.

THAT different views on medieval India should be influenced by the individual historian’s subjective views of the contemporary world is only to be expected; these must, however, first meet the criterion of support from historical evidence. In fact, so long as new views appear and provoke a fresh or extended exploration of the historical documentation, one can only welcome the tendency not to take the given history on trust. But historical evidence must always remain the touchstone. A major problem today is that only a small and declining number of people in India have access to Persian, in which language so much of the source material of medieval India is to be found. Not only does this large body of material need to be studied, but the collection of documents in all languages has also to be encouraged, as well as local antiquarian and archaeological work. With every passing day the evidence on paper, metal or brick or stone is being destroyed. If the hand of destruction is to be stayed, the people’s interest in the country’s past needs to be aroused. In this effort all those who, without necessarily being professional historians themselves, have yet a care for all aspects and phases of our heritage, can play a most crucial part.

*Irfan Habib is leading, well-respected Indian historian. He was awarded Padma Bhushan for his great contributions to Indian history. He stood up to the BJP led project to communalize Indian History.

by Shaheryar Ali

We have analyzed, the origins of “communal historiography”, the “socio-political construction” of communal-identities, the conversion of “communal politics into Religious Nationalism.

Here we have given a critique of Colonial Historiography, by the secular-nationalist historians of India. What becomes clear is that colonialism in  India  resulted in formation of 3 types of Nationalism, which Romila Thapar characterizes as Anti-colonial Indian Nationalism, Hindu and Muslim Nationalism, both of whom were not anti-colonial but relied on colonialism for their historical legitimacy, we have demonstrated that looking into history and culture of India in terms of “Muslim” and “Hindu” was essentially British.

We have demonstrated, how Muslim and Hindu identities, are not monolithic and how they dissolve in class conflict. Accepting religious identities as monolithic and ahistorical is deeply disturbing and result in mass confusions and also errors in understanding historical events, It for example will result in failure of understanding Nationalism in Muslim nations, an example is Turkish nationalism, If Turkish nationalism is considered a “Muslim nationalism” because majority of Turks were Muslim, it fails to explain the formation of “Modern Turkish National identity”. What separated Turks from Arabs , both of whom, were part of Ottoman empire as Muslim subjects in Ottoman caliphate, The “Turkishness” debate, in early Turkey, the “de-islamization”, the “De-arabization” of Turkish language, the oppression of Turkish state of non-Turk population, the “Turkization of Kurds”, the suppression of Arts and intellectuals because of “Turkish honour” and “nationalism”. The Turks were building “Turkey” away from Muslim identity. It was the Muslim identity they were fighting, they were looking to Europe . The banning of head dress, the ban on Arabic language, the orders of saying Azan in Turkish as well. The adoption of Latin alphabets could these reforms be some how building “Muslim Nationalism?” Was Kemal Ata Turk  building a laboratory of Islam, was he giving pledges of following Koran and Sunnah? . The fact is Turkish state was so keen in building a Turkish national identity that by adopting Latin alphabets, they virtually made most literate people , illiterate. Arabic could confuse the people, linking them with Muslim Arabs who were once their subjects.  The fact that Ottoman Empire gave birth to nations which were Muslims yet they decided to form separate Nation States, based on Modern National identities, Arab Nationalism and Turkish Nationalism.  This quest for a European identity, also explains the repressive nature of Turkish state. This was a case of reforms from above , which had no material base and hence have to be protected by repression. The constant friction between both explain a lot of things, as Eqbal Ahmad, the foremost Marxist anti-colonial theorist suggest

“It has been nearly eighty years now since Turkey declared itself to be European. Turkey’s identity has developed for the last eighty years away from the Middle East. Its ruling class doesn’t want to be part of the Middle East. Turkey therefore has found itself making an alliance with Israel”

Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting the empire . Here Eqbal Ahmad explain quite brilliantly, the nature of Turkish Nationalism, The case of Armenian Genocide:

“The Turkish genocide of Armenians was the first expression of Turkish nationalism. The caliphate was still there, the Ottomans were still ruling, but they were already ceasing to be Ottoman rulers and becoming Turkish nationalists, which is why they lost the Middle East. They lost the loyalties of the Arabs because they turned to nationalism. Armenians had lived with the caliphate in relative safety until this particular ideology of difference, that is, nationalism, took hold. The ideology was that anyone who was not a Turk by blood was the Other. The Armenians were not killed for being Christian. They were killed for being Armenian”

Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting the Empire.

Ahmad explains, separation of Arabs and killing of Armenians, If one understands Turkish as a “Muslim identity” it creates a lot of problems in explaining history.

Here again one come across , the debate of “Marxist Historians”, “Biased Left wing histories”, “Commies” etc. This is a particular problem. It demonstrates, the lack of understanding of History, esp the movement of modern history, the modernism, academic Marxism, political communism.

In context of India and Pakistan, the explanation is quite simple, there is not much academic substance to such type of behavior. Any one who doesn’t subscribe to the Religious Nationalism, and try to do a critique of colonialism becomes a “commie”. As once again , i quote Romila Thapar:

“Historians who contest this formulation are described as anti-Indian, anti-national, and of course, “Commies”. Yet historians have argued that such a chronology is difficult to reconcile with the archaeological and linguistic evidence.”

Romila Thapar, the Future of Indian Past.

At another place, She again explains, this view point

“The Hindutva approach to history ignores all other histories and schools of interpretation. They are all dismissed as Marxist or equivalent. They are then replaced with a reconstruction of the past, based on dubious evidence and arguments, and which differs from the accepted mainstream history”

In defence of History, Romila Thapar.

The problem as such is simple prejudice, for example, any one who has made a systemic study of Modernism as a philosophy knows that Marxism is a very influential part of it. In academy, it has contributed a lot. In history especially, historical materialism, is unavoidable, All modern historians in one way or other have utilized it. Those who call themselves “Marxists” in academic field are not usually political communists. Marxism is not a monolithic entity, considering it one is yet another  a sign of lack of familiarity with Marxist thought and leftist progressive tradition.

Marxism owns its name to Karl Marx, yet, we see that Marxist historians have been in continuous debate over Marx’s understanding of India. It has been severely criticized by many “Marxist” historians. Any one familiar with historical materialism knows how important is “understanding of mode of production’ in such debate. Yet, Marx own model of “Asiatic Mode of Production” has come under attack from Marxists and is now considered discarded. As Romila Thapar asserts:

“These included Marxism of various kinds, schools of interdisciplinary research such as the French Annales School, varieties of structuralism and others. Lively debates on the Marxist interpretation of history, for example, led to the rejection of the Asiatic Mode of Production as proposed by Marx, and instead focused on other aspects of Marxist history. There was no uniform reading among Marxists, leading to many stimulating discussions on social and economic history. The ideas of historians other than Marxists, such as Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel and Henri Pirenne, were included in these discussions. The intention was not to apply theories without questioning them, but to use comparative history to ask searching questions”

In Defence of History, Romila Thapar

Here we comes to more contemporary versions of Historiographies, we have seen the critique of Communal/Religious Nationalism by the Secular-Leftist Historians.   3rd Nationalism,  Anti-colonial secular Nationalism, has itself come under a rigorous critique by none other than various Marxist and Leftist Historians. This is the critique of Nationalism itself. The anti-colonial, anti imperial theorists like Eqbal Ahmad, Edward Said  and Hamza Alvi etc are on the forefront of this critique. Ahmad, a Marxist academic have criticized Nationalism as “Ideology of the difference”.  All this falls in the over all critique of “Modernism” itself. “The civilizing mission”. Post-colonial and Post-modernist theorists have made a rigorous critique of modernity, this critique applies on the Modernist Marxist model as well, which considered it self as “Anti-colonial” for accepting, the ideologies of modernism without critique, esp the ideology of Nationalism.

Under the influence of such philosophies, the process of “de-colonization” have been taking place in Historical texts. The fact , that lot of oppression and tyranny has been accepted on the premise that “colonial powers” were “modernizers”. This is dabate of  “Orientalism”. The debate of Knowledge and Power. The critique of Science [A great critique has emerged on the socio-political character of science, which is criticized for bring power tool of White Male ] Edawad Said has made an effective critique of Karl Marx himself in his phenomenal text “Orientalism”.

Knowledge has been used as a pre-text of colonialism. Modernization as a legitimization of oppression. As Eqbal Ahmad points out.

“Great imperial powers, especially democratic ones, cannot justify themselves on the basis of power or greed alone. No one will buy it…. Modern imperialism needed a legitimizing instrument to socialize people into its ethos. To do that it needed two things: a ghost and a mission. The British carried the white man’s burden. That was the mission. The French carried la mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission. The Americans had manifest destiny and then the mission of standing watch on the walls of world freedom, in John F. Kennedy’s ringing phrase”

Eqbal Ahmad, confronting the Empire.

To be continued—-

Shaheryar Ali

There has been an interesting debate going on in the pages of PakTea House e-zine regarding Indian history. This debate is also at the heart of the “history wars” which are  going on in India and Pakistan. In Pakistan it has acquired a specific character because , a version of  communal historiography had to be adopted to built “Pakistani Nationalism”.

When a nation state was to be built on Muslim identity and Muslim separatism, it had to rely on a version of history which starts with Muslim invaders, all the debates in such form of history revolve around a particular community, in this case “Muslims”. It is supposed that somehow that community was always “separate”, “distinct” and somewhat independent of other people this community was living with. This type of history is just self-serving; it lives and thrives on a particular kind of politics. This communal or as thesedays its fashionable to call it “nationalist” politics, Hindu nationalist and Muslim nationalist politics. For this type of politics, history is just a tool to justify the contemporary politics with ancient events.

It therefore becomes important to demolish a historical structure, like Babri Mosque, as a symbol of “national revival”, correcting the “historical wrongs”, avenging the so called  Muslim colonialism. No one bothers , how many temples in India were demolished by Hindu rulers and how many mosques were demolished by Mujahid rulers. [Aurangzeb for example closed down the Shia Mosques in Hyderabad, and converted the main Imam bargahinto a horse stable, or Mahmood of Ghazni’s loot of mosques in Multan, which belonged to different sects]. Here Turkish invasion and Arab invasion of India becomes “Muslim Invasion”. The fact again finds no audience that Arabs fought along with locals against Turks in many towns.

This kind of history and politics is always monolithic, mythological, passionate, a-historical and in extreme cases anti-historical and absolutist. It sees every thing in black and white, all history in India as a perpetual struggle between Hindus and Muslims.  A case of mythological flight of Ideas, can be seen in Pakistan, where date of creation of Pakistan was debated amongst so-called historians, “Pakistan came into being , the day first Muslim landed in India [or converted]. This is the extreme mythological thinking, which defies knowledge, logic, rationalism, common sense. It’s this mentality by which every Muslim household in Dehli, Gujrat, Mysore becomes Pakistan, thus a target of violence for Hindu nationalists. The Indian Muslim who is killed , is a Pakistani. Than we listen to shouts of “Musalmano ke du isthan, Pakistan ya Qabristan.”

Extensions of this thought are visible in Pakistani Patriotism as well, As Jamil Alli says:

Pakistan ka sehri tha mein Pakistan se Pehle bhi—

This is the extreme a-historic and segregationist view of Pakistan. Sindh becomes “bab-ul-Islam”, owing to Arab imperialist invader Muhammed bin Qasim, equating Islam essentially with violence and conquest. The same mindset , ironically engages in passionate debate when Hindu right raises the question of invasions and forced conversions. Their mythological mindset doesn’t see the logical contradiction in their view of making Sindh “bab-ul-Islam” and than denying invasion related spread of Islam.

As this view is “segregationist” it doesn’t accept the Sufi thought, which is humanist and anti-communalist. In Pakistani text books, Wahdat-ul-wajood becomes heresy. Mysticism becomes “bidat”.

Depending on the modern sensibility of such communal mind set Pakistan becomes either a “Laboratory of Islam” or “Mumlikat e Khudadad”, “the divine state” or “Islam ka Qila”, “Fort of Islam”.

The communal historical tradition is extremely selective in its reading, it doesn’t adopts a critical view of the primary sources. As Romila Thapar , one of the most respected historian of India notes, that the “communal historiography” is essentially a “colonial historiography”.

“The colonial interpretation was carefully developed through the nineteenth century. By 1823, the History of British India written by James Mill was available and widely read. This was the hegemonic text in which Mill periodised Indian history into three periods – Hindu civilization, Muslim civilization and the British period. These were accepted largely without question and we have lived with this periodisation for almost two hundred years. Although it was challenged in the last fifty years by various historians writing on India, it is now being reinforced again”

Roma Thapar: History as Politics.

Dr Thaparcontinues, her analysis of communal historiography and later its utilization by Hindu and Moslem nationalists, or communalists. She asserts:

“These were religion-based national groups for whom the identity of an independent nation-state was to derive from the religion of the majority community in the proposed state. Religion-based nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim, drew directly from the colonial interpretation of Indian history and catered to the ambitions of a section of the Indian middle-class.It projected imagined uniform, monolithic religious communities and gave them a political reality. There was an entwining of communal historiography and religious nationalism. Muslim nationalism aspired to and eventually succeeded in establishing Pakistan. Hindu nationalism is aspiring to make India into a Hindu Rashtra. The two-nation theory was essential to both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha in the early twentieth century. It continues to be essential to the communal movements of today. These nationalisms were not primarily anti-colonial. They accepted the colonial views of the past and what they were opposed to was the other religious community”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

Liberal versions, of this communal mindset exist in both India and Pakistan, the disagreement with fanatics is merely aesthetic, and is representative of the “internal conflict” of the “middle class” base of this type of Nationalism. The liberal card is basically used in terms of “democracy”, “nationalism”, “cultural nationalism” and even “secularism”. Thus we see Hindutava becoming “secular” in name of “Indian nationalism or Hindu nationalism”. We see LK Advani’spassionate defence of Jinnah’s secularism. A farce in history is abuse of democracy in such debates where in discussions of pre-partition India , terms like Hindu majority and Moslem minority were created. The same issue of “religion based” majority are used in India and Pakistan, in issues eg repealing Hadood laws etc. All this is done in name of “Majority is democracy”. Thapar notes:

“The undermining of democracy today lies in insisting that Indian society is constituted of communities identified only by religion.Since in a democracy the wishes of the majority prevail, it is said that the Hindus being the majority community in terms of numbers, should determine public decisions. This of course makes a mockery of democracy, since a democratic majority is not a pre-determined majority and decisions can and do cut across identities of religion and other identities. It is also a refusal to concede that actually Indian society in the past had multiple identities – of caste and social hierarchy, of occupation, of language, of religious sect and of region. Religion was only one amongst these. The focus of each identity was dependent on the issue in question”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

So as we see that once again all of it can be narrowed down to “identity”. Using religion as “identity”, we have seen this basically was a British construction, and through the modernist it seeped into Indian middle class. No one tries to be critical and trace the history of social construction of “Hindu” and “Muslim” identities. Hindu and Muslim are considered “monolithic” groups, homogeneous and in perpetual conflict. A detailed historical analysis will reveal that both theseterms have no meaning at all, Hinduit self has been understood as different things, there was no “monolithic Hindu religion” or Hindu culture” in India. As Romila Thapar notes:

“Despite its initial geographic and ethnic meanings, the term Hindu finally settled as the name of a religion. It has been argued that the early religions of India were essentially religions of orthopraxy of conservative ritual practice, rather than orthodoxy, of conservative belief. Religion in India was a mosaic of juxtaposed cults and sects”


“There was no single label by which they described themselves and they were identified as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Lingayat and so on. Belief ranged from animism to the most sophisticated philosophy”

Same thing is true for Muslims, who in India were a very pluralistic thing. The Arabs, Turks, Afghan, etc, often with conflicting interest. Despite the colonial and communal interpretation of history, Majority of Indian Muslims were never outsiders, only elite section of Muslims could be traced to Afghan or Persian, or Arabic roots, majority of Muslims were converts whose interests remained same as their brothers in class. untilthe colonial times when Hindu and Muslim middle class were pushed into a struggle of survival in case of “colonial employments”.

Romila Thapar notes:

This view was further reinforced in the colonial theory that the Muslims of India were foreign and alien. The subject was treated as if Muslims were – one and all – migrants, all claiming descent from the Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Mongols and what have you, who settled in India. This may have held true for a fraction of the elite, but as we know the vast majority of Muslims was Hindus converted to Islam.The few claims to an origin beyond the frontiers of the sub-continent were more often claims to status rather than a statement of ethnic origins. The regional and linguistic variations among Muslims in India gave riseto many cultural and sectarian differences that militated against a uniform, monolithic religious community. Groups labelled as Hindu were also treated as if they were identical and conformed to a single, homogeneous culture”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

The religious identity, faded away in non elitist sections of society as Thapar notes:

“The conquest and the resistance were more frequently over territory, political power and status. Religion was not the dominating factor as is clear from studies of these epics. The fading away of formal religious boundaries was particularly evident in the non-elite sections of society – in effect, the majority of the people. But their religion was regarded as inferior and set aside, even by historians. What earlier historians failed to emphasize was that conversion is seldom a break with the previous way of life. It invariably carries many of the culture ways of the earlier identities”

How other identities are more important than the religious identity is once again described by Romila Thapar, explaining the phenomenon of conversions and refuting the Hidutuva’s myth of forcefulconversion, she explains how “class character” was base of such conversions and , this character never changed despite changing of religion:

But what is of interest is that where a caste converted, it generally retained its rules of marriage, custom and some rituals and continued to have professional relationships with Hindu castes. When weavers in some North Indian towns converted to Islam, they continued their earlier relationship with Hindu textile merchants. Prior to their conversion they were anyway regarded as low caste and the traders maintained a social distance, and this distance remained.

In defence of History, Romila Thapar

To be continued—