Chapter 5. Islam, Urdu and Hindu as the Other: Instruments of Cultural Homogeneity in Pakistan – Composite Culture in a Multicultural Society


Islam, Urdu and Hindu as the Other: Instruments of Cultural Homogeneity in Pakistan

Tahir Kamran

Multiculturalism denotes diversity of class, gender, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious persuasions in one society. The underlying premise on which the whole discourse of multiculturalism rests refers to the recognition of diversity ‘as opposed to a monoculturalistic attitude that is based on a belief in the supremacy of one social/cultural group and demands monocentric assimilation to the dominant culture’.1 Bhikhu Pakekh’s definition of multiculturalism, has an even broader sweep: ‘a body of beliefs and practices in terms of which a group of people understand themselves and the world and organize their individual and collective lives.’ While talking about the differences that are manifest within multicultural societies, Parekh contends, ‘Unlike differences that spring from individual choices, culturally derived differences carry a measure of authority and are patterned and structured by virtue of being embedded in a shared and historically inherited system of meaning and significance’.2

Multiculturalism as a concept owes its existence to social anthropology, especially the field studies conducted by J.S. Furnivall in 1939. These pioneering works brought ‘plurality within a society’ into epistemic focus. Since then, the concept of multiculturalism seems to have acquired ubiquity in all the disciplines in humanities and social sciences: politics, sociology, education, economics, history, literature, urban planning, law and psychology.

Multiculturalism gained widespread currency in the US, when during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Afro-American, American-Indian, Chicano and Asian-American studies programmes and centres were established and minority cultures were made the focus of scholarly inquiry. But it was in 1980s, ‘the decade of immigration’3—so called because of the booming years during which the demand for labour lured large number of immigrants to the land of opportunities—that decision makers, particularly those concerned with education, recognized the phenomenon. Jenny Sharpe regards multicultural education as not ‘simply a response to the historical under-representation of racial minorities but also the presence of new immigrant groups’.4 The immigration laws introduced since the mid-1960s made ‘the sudden emergence of these new ethnicities’ possible on US soil.5

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, effective since 1 July 1968, reversed prior legislation that had limited the immigration of non-Europeans. Nathan Glazer (see this volume, Ch. 2), views the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a social redress for Catholic and Jewish immigrants from south and south-eastern Europe. These immigrants were earlier plagued by the quotas stipulated only for northern European people under the 1924 Immigration Act. However, the demographic shift resulting from the new legislation could hardly be anticipated by the policy formulators. Asians, Central Americans, Mexicans and Caribbeans started migrating into the United States in large numbers, eventually comprising 80 per cent of all immigrants in the country by the 1980s.6

Ideally speaking, in any multicultural society all the cultures/subcultures are allowed to keep their peculiarities intact within the broader spectrum of an overarching culture and a single set of individual rights in the public domain. This culture ought to exhibit the collective reflection of the core substances and values of the subcultures and also lend sustenance to the plurality as the cardinal significations in its formation. It is only when homogenization is forced from above that the identities existing on the margins of society not only find a separate space for themselves within the overarching culture, but also preclude their involuntary subsumption into larger identities. Marginal identities need mediation from the overarching culture and those adhering to it to prevent their involuntary merger into larger identities. The overarching culture is responsible for facilitating voluntary cultural exchange that would eventually culminate into a syncretic tradition subscribed to by all the identities within that society. An ideal multicultural society may seem utopian in the present world of ‘Clash of Civilizations’, where mutual exclusivity and ‘Otherness’ in terms of culture and civilization is being systematized by many in the western academia. However, multiculturalism can become a workable possibility by ensuring the participation of all the identities in the processes of governance and decision-making at the national level. The United States, from the mid-1960s to 11 September 2001, and India, despite its state’s inability to grapple with many a minority issue and the menace of Hindutva as a potential threat to its cultural plurality, can, nevertheless be presented as examples of societies where multiculturalism finds its resonance.


As mentioned earlier, multiculturalism gained prominence as a subject of study in the late 1930s, and struck deep roots in the United States. However, multiculturalism as a social phenomenon had clear historical antecedents prior to the modern period and was not a merely US- specific construction. Societies with multiple identities, such as the Indian subcontinent, can justifiably lay claim to a multicultural ethos throughout the medieval times, to say the least. The vast variety of subcultures and identities formed social conglomerates wherein each group was different yet quite the same in multiple ways. The fuzzy character of those conglomerates afforded enough social accommodation among the followers of divergent faiths and cultures despite restraints imposed by caste and kinship hierarchies. It would, therefore, be misleading to play down the social significance of caste in particular. However, Nicholas B. Dirks, while not denying the existence of caste as a social category in the pre-modern days, nevertheless lays blame on the colonial state for according undue salience to the caste system as the most tangible feature or ‘the central symbol’ of Indian society. He suggests, ‘it was under the British that “caste” became a single term capable of expressing, organizing, and above all “systematizing” India’s diverse forms of social identity, community, and organization.’ He considers caste as ‘a modern phenomenon’ and the ‘product of an historical encounter between India and Western colonial rule’.7 Despite all the aspersions cast on the colonial way of ascribing meanings to social categories like caste, as suited to the colonial interest, or the practice of mapping the colonies on the pattern that had western antecedents, one cannot deny the centrality that caste held in creating social schism in the Indian society throughout the course of its history. Ascendancy of Islam with a very strong Sufi overtone in South Asia and the conversion of substantial number of local people had been seen as a response to caste orthodoxy and the supremacy of the Brahmins. Same reason is being advanced to explicate the rise of other religions or movements like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, for example, was greatly influenced by the Bhakti movement and was against the social hierarchy inherent in the caste system. All these movements, particularly in their embryonic phase, professed equal status for the marginalized.8

The caste system did assume a new configuration under the colonial state, as Dirks contends, but the impact of caste on the Indian society as such is not the focus of this essay. Nevertheless, it is important to note that all such occupational divisions warranted by the caste system had a parallel in the form of convergence at the esoteric level. This cut across the binaries emanating from the caste/creed differences, termed as ‘spiritual’ foundations of Indian civilization by Jawaharlal Nehru in his The Discovery of India.9 These spiritual foundations have their exoteric reflection in Vedanta or pantheistic formation of Indigenized Islam mediated by Sufi thoughts, particularly of Chistya order, as against puritanical ulema, proponents of strict adherence to sharia for the Muslims. The social manifestation of that esoteric experience was the Bhakti movement whereas it was translated into political reality by Jalal-ud-Din Akbar through his policy of sulh-i-kul, which to many represents the pristine form of Indian nationalism. Ontological monism, with the Bhakti movement as the social and sulh-i-kul as the political overtone of wahdat-ul-wujud latent in Vedantic or Sufi thought warranted multiculturalism, and a possibility of composite culture to be forged voluntarily.

Since the focus of this essay is Pakistan and the way cultural divergence is being dealt with in Pakistan, here the two parallel yet antithetical strands represented by orthodox ulema and the Sufis will be looked at. The main argument is that the emergence of a nation-state in 1947 was essentially a negation of syncreticism implicit in the Sufi discourse of wahdat-ul-wujud that facilitated diversity as against monolithic exegesis of Islam professed and exhorted by the ulema. That exegesis was echoed in the paradigmatic formulation of the ideology of Pakistan, which worked as the principal theoretical underpinning for the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, one of the two states (the other being Israel) which were arguably conceived as ideological states.

Ascribed as an ideological state, religion is tipped as the raison d’etre for Pakistan’s coming into existence, although Islam’s relationship with modernity is quite problematic. Islam is projected as a sole determinant of Pakistani cultural identity. This is manifested through curricula and the print media (Urdu print media in particular), and Islam is, therefore, deployed as a homogenizing instrument. Urdu is another such symbol through which the cultural sameness is promoted and cemented.10 Ian Talbot quite succinctly sums up the dilemma that Pakistan faces even after more than five decades of its existence. To him ‘the question remains whether Pakistan is a land for Muslims or a nation of Muslims moving towards its destiny as an Islamic state? Language and religion, rather than providing a panacea for unity in a plural society, have opened a Pandora’s box of conflicting identities.’11 The other most important factor in Pakistani identity and polity is the repetitive expression of the Hindu as the other. These three factors, Islam, Urdu, and the Hindu other form the whole epistemic discourse in the state-controlled Pakistani educational institutions, constituting a master narrative. The Pakistani identity embedded in exclusionist interpretation of Islam as professed in Pakistan, particularly since 1965 Indo-Pak war, is inextricably entwined with the construction of the Hindu as the other. Both these factors complement each other, making it virtually impossible to mention Islam or the Muslims without referring to the otherness of the ‘Hindu’ as a monolithic entity. With this stereotypical image of the Hindus as an important constituent of the rubric of Pakistani identity, dispelling the deeply entrenched suspicions cultivated for the last forty years or so would require some effort on the part of Pakistani academia. With this forewarning, let’s examine all of them one by one. Right from the beginning, one of the major challenges that Pakistani state found staring in its eyes was multiculturalism and its varied articulation. So, the three variables that were deployed with all doggedness namely Islam, Urdu, and the Hindu as the other.


The state-centric reading of history exhorts with varied effect on the Pakistani youth that the Muslims of the subcontinent were a separate nation from their Hindu neighbours. Viewing the past from the prism of the two-nation theory permits hardly any space for the regional or non-Muslim identities to survive and sustain. Such identities are deemed as ‘a barrier to nation building and as traitorous to the state’s foundational unity of purpose.’12 Here the inherent contradiction between qaum and nation as a construction embedded in western rationality that hardly corresponds with the traditional categories of umma or millat whereby Muslims as a distinct social and political entity become explicable. Syed Ahmed Khan, in fact deployed the concept of nation as a mark of distinction for the Indian Muslims in the contemporary Muslim political discourse. A nation, as defined by Joseph Stalin, is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture. Although that definition is not the only one yet is the best known according to Eric Hobsbawm.13 Indian Muslims were conceived as a different ‘nation’ or quam primarily with regard to the Hindus on the basis of Islam. The notion of quam was embedded in the cultural antecedents of pre-modern Arabia, a construction that came about through the influences of western modernity. So, to engage with western scientific thought and to reconcile the Islamic concept of sovereignty of God with the idea of the nation-state was the result of the modernist reformism propounded by the Aligarh movement led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. That’s how the Indian Muslim identity was reworked in the light of modernist Muslim-hood as against traditionalism of the Deoband movement, which professed puritanical Islamic tradition as the sole basis of Muslim identity. Therefore, the concept of umma or millat, according to Deobandi traditionalism, encompassing Muslims of every hue, irrespective of their country, culture or class, was the only tenable political formation warranted by Islam. Hence Deobandis opposed the notion of nation-state and Hussain Ahmed Madni, a well-known religious scholar of Deobandi persuasion, got into an inconclusive debate with Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1937), a renowned Urdu-Persian poet trying to prove the validity of umma as against nation or qaum.14

Both the traditionalists and modernists had tangible ambivalence towards the relationship between Indian culture and their identity embedded in Islam. That ambivalence resonates rather vividly in the educational discourse of Pakistan in which both of these trends are inextricably enmeshed. Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi (1562–1624), a scholar and Sufi of the Naqshbandi order, is mentioned in the books of history and Pakistan studies as the one who laid the foundation of social exclusivism on the basis of religion in the sixteenth century. This was the period when Akbar was striving to stitch together multiple social/cultural identities through the policy of sulh-i-kul.15 That social exclusivism, it is argued, provided the connectional basis for the ideology of Pakistan. According to this exclusivist view, Hindu tradition holds ‘absolutely no religious value’ and ‘is the embodiment of infidelity’16 Being two irreconcilable opposites, Islam and infidelity can thrive only at each other’s expense. Therefore, it concludes, Hindus must be treated mercilessly and subjected to the jizyah. Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi’s son Muhammad Masum inspired by the thoughts of his father treaded along the similar lines and vehemently renounced Akbar’s policy of sulh-i-kul as against the sunnah. Indiscriminate tolerance, according to him, was in utter contravention to the injunctions of Quran and all religions except Islam were nothing but falsehood.17 Declaring both sinners and infidels as the inveterate enemies of Allah, both father and son exhorted Muslims to dissociate themselves from the Hindus and fight them. Ahmed Sirhindi not only denounced Hindus as kafirs (infidels) but in his pamphlet Rad-i-Rawafiz the Shia were also condemned as heretics, and therefore, liable to be put to sword.18 It seems quite pertinent to mention here that Ahmed Sirhindi represented the Turani faction that seemed to have been marginalized in Akbar’s reign vis-à-vis the Iranis, who had a fundamental role to play in the policy of sulh-i-kul. Turanis on the other hand espoused and obviously adhered to more orthodox religious views and as a consequence ran counter to Akbar’s policy towards the people following other religions. Thus, multicultural ethos was translucently reflected in the Indo-Persian brand of Islamic culture. However, it was because of the orthodox views that Ahmed Sirhindi is eulogized in the Pakistani textbooks as a great savior of Islam as well as the Muslims in South Asia. He is the one who is projected as the conceptual progenitor of the two-nation theory although many trace the origin of Muslim separatism from the settlement of the very first Muslim in the subcontinent.

Most of the orthodox sections of clerics draw inspiration from Sheikh Ahmed’s theory of ‘Unity of Experience’, wahdat-al-shahud19 as an antipode to ‘Unity of Being’, wahdat-ul-wujud.20 Though Sirhindi’s views could not find practical manifestation before Khusrao, whom Akbar wanted as his successor instead of his father Jahangir, was denied the throne because of his unorthodox religious views. He was subsequently executed for the rebellion that he conjured up in cahoots with Sikh Guru Arjun Dev. Khusrao’s defeat was a big blow to multicultural ethos based on the policy of sulh-i-kul. During the last years of Shah Jahan’s reign, Prince Dara Shikoh’s (1615–59) inability to secure victory in the war of succession against his youngest brother Aurangzeb Alamgir proved another important variable, resulting in the eventual defeat of heterodoxy based on monism, as advocated by Wujudis.21 Dara Shikoh while embarking on the exegesis of Quran ‘creates intimate connection between the Quran and the Upanishads hence affording Islam malleability to suit the Indian culture’.22 His interpretation of kalima ‘there exists nothing but God’ instead of ‘there is no god but God’23 provided a corroborating ground to Vedanta and Sufism which could possibly lead to cultural/religious pluralism, preconditioned for multicultural social formation. Thus, by tawhid (belief in the oneness of God, a fundamental tenet of Islam) he meant monism instead of monotheism, an essential ingredient to nurture multiculturalism. Hence the defeat of Dara Shikoh meant a great loss to multiculturalism inherent in the cultural fabric of India. Dara Shikoh, however, gets a mere passing reference in the educational discourse in Pakistan.

Monolithic Muslim identity is fostered by adulating another personality, Aurangzeb who wanted to ensure supremacy of orthodox Islam in the Indian subcontinent. His policies, like the re-imposition of jizyah (the protection tax on the non-Muslims in an Islamic state) on Hindus, demolition of some of the temples, war against the Deccan states ruled by Shia rulers, show his stand. His advocacy of religious orthodoxy in state policies, for example, the compilation of Fatawa-i-Alamgiri, a book of Islamic jurisprudence with the help of traditionalist ulema can be read as an attempt to construct a monolithic Muslim identity. That was the ambience that threw up another personality, Shah Walliullah Dehlvi (1703–1762). He was a man of immense learning but we are concerned here with his political views and vision. The essential difference between Shah Walliullah and the two personalities mentioned earlier is relatively nuanced. By the time he came of age, the centralized Mughal imperial structure had already started cracking up. New forces had emerged on the scene like the Marathas and the Sikhs, proving quite a threat to the Mughal rule. In that crisis-ridden situation Shah Walliullah embarked on a mission, striking unity among the different sects among the Muslims. In a book Azala tul Khafa he strived to bring together the two leading sects of the Muslims, the Shia and Sunni.24 Similarly, he also tried to forge unity among the Wujudis and Shahudis. That venture of Walliullah to strike oneness among the Muslims aimed at creating the sense of ‘self’ among the Muslims against the ‘other’—obviously the Hindus. The fact quoted quite frequently in the Pakistani textbooks is the invitation that Shah Walliullah extended to Ahmed Shah Abdali to come to India and crush rising power of the Marathas, perceived by him as a monolithic group of the Hindus posing threat to the Muslim power. Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan (d. 1781), an eighteenth-century Sufi from the Naqshbandi order whose contention is in total discord to what Shah Walliullah postulates has thereby been removed from History and Pakistan Studies textbooks.

Although not as conciliatory towards the Hindus as Dara Shikoh is known to be, yet Mirza Jan-i-Janan recognized Hinduism as an ancient religion, and Vedas of divine origin. He also ascribed oneness of God as the essential trait of the Hindu faith, whatever sect it may be. Krishna and Rama, he contended, with the title of avatar could be understood ‘as comparable in Islamic terms with messenger (rasul), prophet (nabi), or saint (wali)’.25 He also draws a clear line of distinction between the Arab idolatry as association of partners with God and its Indian version that serves only as a means enabling the worshippers to forge a spiritual nexus with the ‘Ultimate’. Therefore, the idols made in India have never been taken as deities unto themselves. Interestingly, though Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, Shah Walliullah and Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan hailed from the Sufi background in the Naqshbandi order, their response to the ‘social’ was starkly divergent. The former two had little or no patience for religious differences whereas the latter betrayed greater accommodation towards the divergences of faith and belief. Thus, the two broad categories are hereby delineated in this historical appraisal of Muslim ethos in the subcontinent with the aim to put in perspective the statist policy of identity formation in Pakistan.

Islam was punctuated with indigenous cultural moorings (Wujudi Sufism epitomized in Chistya order) and impacted the social sphere, the Bhakti movement being the epiphenomenon. Akbar’s policy of sulh-i-kul, orchestrated mainly by Sheikh Mubarak and Abul Fazl, was in some ways the political manifestation of the same. Islam influenced the society and also got influenced in return. It was so because Muslims had political power and the political exigency demanded them to appease the non-Muslim majority. Therefore, Wujudi Islam with Indo-Persian influence suited their political interests. As political decay set in, religious orthodoxy started looming large eventually impelling them to recede into the puritanical/fundamentalist groove. The multicultural spirit of such a version of Islam did not allow much space to the exclusivism deemed quintessentially important by the Pakistani state institutions to keep Pakistan’s territorial and ideological sovereignty intact, and therefore, this version of Islam did not gain any notable currency in Pakistan.

Islam with puritanical content has deep rooted antecedents in the subcontinent. People like Zia-ud-Din Barani, Fakhar-i-Mudabir and Mullah Abdul Qadir Badauni, to name a few, were the chief exponents of a typical stream of thought espousing the policy of religious difference. They made all possible efforts in persuading the Muslim rulers to deny Hindus the status of zimmis. Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, his son Muhammad Masum, his disciple Aurangzeb and Shah Walliullah fall in the same category. That tradition from eighteenth century onwards was taken over by the ulema (religious scholars in Islam). Tehreek-i-Jihad launched by Syed Ahmed Barailvi and Shah Ismael in the 1830s at the behest of Shah Abdul Aziz (son of Shah Walliullah) coupled with the impact of the Wahabi movement, spearheaded by Muhammad bin Wahab exhorting Muslims to guard against bidah, contributed enormously in cultivating religious puritanism at the expense of Indo-Persian cultural tradition that had virtually become the essence of Muslim social ethos in South Asia.26 Therefore, they became a profusely quoted and exemplified prototype in the Pakistani media, school curricula, and in general writing thereby contributing to the process of Pakistani identity formation with the Islamic monolithic and monotheistic tradition rooted in semitic Arabia as its cherished trait.

Muslim religious exclusivism was symptomatic of a sense of insecurity among the Muslim ruling classes germinating out of their shaky political status and eroding supremacy in India. With Maratha, Sikh and Jat revolt, invasions by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Durrani, the tendency of exclusivism got solidified even further. It was then that the ulema became important because they could reconfigure the contours of the Muslim community by deploying sharia as the defining feature and the instrument of revival and revitalization of the debilitating Muslim community.

Islam witnessed a paradigm shift as a consequence, transforming into exclusionary religion as against its prior formulation that afforded enough space for multicultural denominations holding out a promise of offering a perfect recipe for the composite culture. From Mehmud of Ghazni and Firuz Shah Tughluq to Aurangzeb, exclusionary behavior was demonstrated towards non-Muslims. But those were merely ephemeral interludes. The exclusivist tendency struck permanent roots with the arrival of the British in the subcontinent. As Muzaffar Alam contends, ‘much rigidity in the sharia in South Asia begins with the colonial period, following the codifications effected under the aegis of early British rulers’.27 Their policy of cultural engineering not only displaced the centuries old plural ethos but also drove a wedge of communal antipathy among myriad communities living in India.

British colonialism and its impact on India has been studied by many eminent scholars from R. Palme Dutt and A.R. Desai to Bipan Chandra, Hamza Alavi and A.K. Bagchi. However, they have mostly been engaged with the economic/political dimension of colonialism in India. The religico-cultural bearing that colonial policy had on Indian belief systems, particularly Islam, was for quite long left for the Orientalists to deal with. Bipan Chandra describes the colonial state as ‘an instrument for the alien domination of the entire colonial society’,28 thereby underscoring the cultural dimension of the colonial rule that deserves as much attention as the political and economic dimensions.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the Utilitarians and Evangelicans both were vying for supremacy with the similar goal to reform the Indian society through fulfilling the material needs of the ‘natives’, and converting them to Christianity, so that they could be redeemed from the falsehood of ‘pagan’ faith. Kenneth W. Jones’s opening statement in his Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India, succinctly throws light on the importance that religion had acquired as an identity marker in nineteenth-century India:

Professional missionaries, polemical tracts, and new rituals of conversion, were only three of the components of religious innovation in south Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Aggressive proselytism became the norm among sects and religions with new and refurbished forms of action, ranging from public debates on the meaning of scriptural sources to the use of printing to produce books, journals, and a multitude of pamphlets. Religious conflict was implicit in the competition for converts, and explicit in assassinations and riots.29

The passage quoted here, besides mentioning three components of religious innovation, refers to the modern methods employed, i.e., ‘use of printing to produce books, journals and a multitude of pamphlets’ to establish the truthfulness of respective faiths. Hence modernity or in the words of Jones ‘refurbished forms of action’30 was put into use for professing religious faith. Hence, modernist discourse was first deployed to foster tradition. Reform movements of all hues like the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Sangh Sabha, Tehrik-i-Ahmediyya and the Aligarh movement in particular partook of the modernist weltanschauung to a substantial extent. Even traditionalist Islam was considerably influenced by modernist dispensation resulting in ‘a revalution of their heritage as Muslims and also the creation of new institutions’.31 Older schools, such as the Farangi Mahall in Lucknow, which had been run by families in their homes, with no library facility and no standard curriculum came up. Here examinations were substituted with the newer version of traditional Islam represented by Dar-ul Ulum of Deoband (established in 1867) during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The founders emulated the British bureaucratic style for educational institutions instead of the informal familial pattern of schools prevailing in the ‘pre-modern period’. Thus, traditionalist Islam resisted and accepted the influence of modernity at the same time. Its influence on the form was more pronounced than on the content of Islamic religious tradition.

It was, however, the modernist Islam that took Muslims on to the path of separatism that started taking shape during the closing years of the nineteenth century. The Muslim Ashraf (elite) from the minority provinces of North India, equipped with modern education, acted as the vanguard in fostering the idea of Muslims as a separate nation. They tried to bring Muslims from varying backgrounds together around Islam and Urdu, deployed according to Paul Brass as ‘divisive symbols’. The point that holds tremendous significance is ‘that Muslim elites had been themselves in danger of losing power in northern India and, as modern politics developed under the colonial state, chose divisive rather than composite symbols as the focuses of political action.’32 One however tends to partially agree with Francis Robinson that Brass did not take into account the powerful agency of the colonial state. Still, Robinson’s statement: ‘in choosing their political symbols, many Muslim leaders were constrained by political ideas derived from their Islamic culture; indeed, on occasion some might be constrained by religious belief itself’33 seems a bit too primordialist and sweeping an inference.

All the centuries that Muslims ruled, Islam at the popular level had re-inscribed itself, branching off from its pristine Arabian form and incorporating local cultural influences. It therefore signified a composite tradition like hama ost. Although an exclusivist, separatist streak existed from the very outset on the margins of the Muslim society, influenced by leaders such as Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, Muhammad Masum and Shah Walliullah, it got accentuated under the Wahabi movement and gained wider currency among the Muslims of North India under the British colonial state. Modernity with western rationality as its essence seemed to have necessitated the usage of exclusivist symbols. Islam with its puritan version had sprung up under the British rule and Urdu, nurtured as a form of a vernacular, experienced exhilarated growth in institutions like the Fort William College. This separatist streak in modernist Islam, with Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah as its champions, reached its successful culmination under these leaders. Among these three leaders, Jinnah stressed mostly on Muslim rights, and Syed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Iqbal brought up Islam as a social and cultural discourse and examined it with modernist/rationalist tools of analysis, giving its paradigmatic structure an entirely new configuration. Iqbal’s reinterpretation of Islam in his renowned collection of lectures The Reconstruction of the Religious Thought in Islam is very important because he questions some of the basic notions of Islam. So, Islam with its modernist reconstruction set the tone for the Muslim League leadership to launch a struggle for a separate nation-state, to be fructified with partition of British India on 14 August 1947.

The liberal scholars from Pakistan frequently refer to Jinnah’s speech delivered from the floor of the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, epitomizing his vision for future Pakistan:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.

Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.34

Shahid Javed Burki lambastes Jinnah on the position he took on the floor of the Constituent Assembly. He says that after all the human displacement and massacre, unparalleled in human history, had taken place, ‘how could Muslims cease to be Muslims and Hindus cease to be Hindus in the political sense when the religions to which they belonged were, in Jinnah’s passionately held belief, so utterly different from one another?’35 Burki seems quite amazed and asks, ‘Was Jinnah giving up the two-nation theory, the ideological foundation of the state of Pakistan, once the new state had come into existence?’36 Burki’s amazement certainly has a point because seven years ago from that day Jinnah said something quite different in his Presidential Address on 23 March 1940 at the All India Muslim League’s annual meeting held at Lahore:

The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literatures. They neither intermarry nor interdine, and, indeed they belong to two different civilizations, which are based on conflicting ideas and conceptions… To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.37

Aforementioned statement of Jinnah was held to be a true reflection of his future vision for Pakistan, and not what he said on 11 August 1947. In fact, Chaudhry Khaleeq uz Zaman alludes in ‘Pathway to Pakistan’ that the statement was issued to appease the Indian rulers so that the safety and well being of those Muslims could be ensured who, due to various reasons, preferred to stay back in India. So a disinterested glance at the other speeches and statements of Jinnah confirms that the speech under review was an aberration rather than a true reflection of his ideas, as it has been projected by scholars like Hamza Alvi and Ardshir Cowasjee etc. Therefore, one does not feel any hesitation in concurring with Tahir Amin’s assertion that the founding father of Pakistan wanted to build a strong nation based on the principle of ‘one nation, one culture, one language’.38 Same postulate figured centrally when the Objective Resolution was adopted on 12 March 1949, in which Islam figures as the most pronounced referent for Pakistan. God Almighty’s sovereignty over the entire universe and the authority delegated by Him to the state of Pakistan was a ‘sacred trust’ to be exercised through its people ‘within the limits prescribed by Him’.39 Then it is also enshrined in the Objective Resolution that ‘the state was to enable Muslims to lead, individually and collectively, an Islamic way of life, as set out in the Quran and Sunnah’.40 Similarly in the first constitution of Pakistan promulgated on 23 March 1956, it was called upon the state to take ‘steps to enable Muslims individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah; make the teachings of the Quran compulsory for the Muslims; ensure the observance of Islamic moral standard; and secure the proper organization of zakat, waqf and mosques’.41

The second constitution of Pakistan (promulgated in 1962 by Ayub Khan), of the three constitutions that Pakistan had in its chequered history, was the most secular in its appearance. Pakistan was named the ‘Republic of Pakistan’ dropping the usual part of prefix ‘Islamic’. No provision to make laws in consonance with the edicts of Islam could secure a niche in the constitution although, in the ‘Principles of Law making’ a clause stating that ‘no law should be repugnant to Islam’42 made its way into the constitution. Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology also was constituted to enable Muslims to lead their lives according to the injunctions of Islam but the recommendations of that council were not binding. Relatively minimal emphasis on Islam partly reflected Ayub Khan’s own persona that was areligious to say the least.

Ironically, another areligious person, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the ‘chairman’ in Shame,43 Salman Rushdie’s fictional history of Pakistan, laid the genuine foundations of Islamization in the 1973 Constitution, stating that Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan, a phrase conspicuously absent in the previous two constitutions. Furthermore, only Muslims could hold the offices of president and prime minister. The constitution for the first time provided the definition of a Muslim.44 The constitution of the Ministry for Religious Affairs, and the Islamic Ideology Council, declaring the Ahmedias a religious minority, and Friday as a weekly holiday, prohibiting alcohol, etc., were acts that provided a firm ground to Bhutto’s successor Zia ul Haq to lay down firm foundations for traditionalist Islam. It was now a homogenizing agency that had hitherto been languishing on the margins of the Pakistani society despite constitutional assurances for Islam to be upheld as the code of life for Pakistani people. The modernist leaders from Jinnah to Bhutto talked incessantly about Islam as the code of life for the Pakistani people but it was used as a gimmick for securing political legitimacy. Furthermore, they had no clue whatsoever as to how Islam could be realized as a system in a country that passes for a modern nationstate by all definitions. However, the projection that Islam had been getting from the state in the form of its recurrent mention in school textbooks kept traditionalist Islamic parties within the political contention although they could never make any substantial impact in terms of electoral success in any of the elections. However, Zia’s regime provided them with the opportunity to voice their ideas and intentions loud and clear. Zia, himself perplexed with a legitimacy crisis, saw it quite viable to advance the cause of Islam (Deobandi persuasion) as a practicable option. In a country where Muslims belonging to more than one sect live, following one particular version of Islam can wreak disaster, and that is exactly what happened as a result of the Islamization policy promulgated by Zia. Religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami were the greatest beneficiary of the situation, especially its student’s wing the Jamiat-e-Tulaba-e-Islam, which permeated all the premier educational institutions including the University of Punjab, FC College and Islamia College, Lahore, to name a few. Afghan jihad waged at the behest of the United States of America in the 1980s brought in its wake religious extremism articulated by the Deobandi ideologues, leaving consequently no scope at all for accommodation of religious differences. Religious seminaries started cropping up as the hatcheries for the jihadis. The enforcement of Islamic penal code with a peculiar prescription was attempted by the Zia regime resulting in social fissure and sectarianism that buried all hopes for multiculturalism in Pakistan. Although things are not the same since 9/11, yet Zia’s legacy exists as a force to be reckoned with.


Other variable that helped centralization and transcendence of regional fault lines in Pakistan was the Urdu language. Along with other symbols like the national flag, the museum, the census etc, the print language has been a major contributory factor in creating ‘imagined communities’.45 Since the Muslim League leadership, traditionally known as the Ashrafs, mostly came from minority provinces with their base in either U.P. or Bihar, which had been the breeding ground for Muslim separatism in British India, Urdu, with particular emphasis on its Persian script was deemed to be the most important symbol of Muslim and Pakistani identity, second only to Islam, as well as a symbol of unity for the Ashraf. Since the days when the Urdu-Hindi controversy was raging in U.P. during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Ashrafs deployed Urdu to gel Muslims of diversified social and cultural backgrounds into a monolithic community in opposition to the Hindu majority. Pakistan came into being in 1947 as a multicultural and multiethnic state, with Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, Mohajirs, Balochis and above all Bengalis constituting around 55.6 per cent of its population, rendering cultural plurality to the Pakistani society.46 The mere fact of Bengali majority within the Pakistani state sent tremors among the ranks of West Pakistani ruling elite comprising Muslim League leaders, bureaucrats and the military dominated by Punjabi-Muhajir coalition. Therefore, Urdu was used ‘as a unifying symbol of the state’ at the expense of other languages including Bengali.

In the first educational conference held from 27 November to 1 December 1947, the cardinal points of the language teaching policy included making Urdu ‘the lingua franca of Pakistan’ and to instruct it ‘as a compulsory language’.47 That policy of deploying Urdu as an instrument for integration, however, boomeranged and evoked violent responses particularly in East Bengal (1948–52) and in Karachi (1972), in which scores of people lost their lives.

Going into the genealogy of the problem centering on the language controversy with enduring implications for the future politics of Pakistan, one cannot absolve Muhammad Ali Jinnah of his share of blame. He was inexpediently categorical in proclaiming that ‘the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language’, a statement which evoked quite a trenchant response from the Bengali educated classes. Nevertheless, Jinnah was very clear about the language issue, and had explicitly stated that ‘without one State language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function’.48 When the Bengali bourgeoisie refused to countenance Jinnah’s unequivocal espousal for Urdu as the national language and criticized his ‘invalidation of a Resolution of the East Bengal Assembly demanding a national status for Bengali’,49 Jinnah shrugged off the Bengali reaction calling it a manifestation of provincialism, one of the ‘curses’ that Pakistanis must guard against. Similarly, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan shot down a motion in the Constituent Assembly in February 1948 pleading equal status for Bengali and Urdu.50 ‘Pakistan’ to him ‘has been created because of the demand of a hundred million Muslims in this subcontinent and the language of a hundred million Muslims is Urdu. […] It is necessary for a nation to have one language and that language can only be Urdu and no other language.’51 However, these statements hardly correspond with the prevailing reality, which was that only 7 per cent of Pakistani population spoke Urdu as their mother tongue. Therefore, according Urdu the status of an instrument for nation-building proved counterproductive not only in Bengal but also in Sindh.

When Urdu was elevated to the status of a national language, the Bengalis who were deeply attached to their own language and continued to venerate Bengali literature organized protest movements culminating into riots. The movement in support of the Bengali language was suppressed by the state machinery on 21 February 1952.52 In the course of that violence many people lost their lives. Not only the event is commemorated each year by a Remembrance Day but it also proved to be a beginning of the end. The Muslim League lost the support of Bengali public opinion, something that was clearly reflected in its defeat in the elections for the Bengal Assembly held in March 1954. Although Pakistani government made some concessions and through a constitutional amendment conferred upon Bengali an equal status vis-à-vis Urdu in May 1954,53 by then the damage had already been done, and the suspicions of Bengalis could not be mitigated.

An important point that Tariq Rahman brings to our focus pertains to the proposed change in the Bengali script. A language committee set up by the East Bengal government on 7 December 1950 recommended the use of non-Sanskritized Bengali. Uproar ensued in the legislative assembly, in the press, and particularly in the Dhaka University, where the students were vociferous in condemning any attempts to change the Bengali script into the Nastaliq Perso-Arabic script of Urdu. These developments precluded any such action by the government but the apprehensions were not ill-founded altogether. Despite anger and indignation galore among the Bengalis, the fourth meeting of the Urdu Committee held on 21 January 1952 called for ‘a uniform script’ to be adopted for the national as well as regional languages. Bengali, a language of 55 per cent of the Pakistani population was classified as a ‘regional’ language and the proposal to change its script was voiced at various levels.54

Another experiment needs elucidation here. The central government set up 20 adult education centres in different parts of East Pakistan to teach primary Bengali through Arabic script. However, that initiative ran into trouble because Bengali in the Devanagari script had been in use as a medium of instruction since the 1940s and the change in the subject at that stage did not seem feasible. However, tinkering with Bengali and promotion of Urdu in East Pakistan continued unchecked despite some hazards. During 1950–51, Urdu was ‘introduced as an additional compulsory subject from class V’.55 Thus Bengali students, despite the fact that their own language had got the status of a national language, had to learn Urdu, which, because of the official support, had become ‘much more ubiquitous’ in urban areas, especially in the official domains at the expense of other Pakistani languages.

Protests of the Bengalis went unheeded and the centrist policies of the ruling elite obdurately persisted. Change came later, but for worse. To counter Bengali majority all the three provinces, Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and the princely states were lumped together into one unit called West Pakistan, which became a single province in 1955. Policy such as these, ostensibly put forward to curb multicultural identities, provided a valid pretext to the ‘smaller’ provinces to challenge Punjabi-Muhajir supremacy at the centre.56

Ayub Khan after assuming power in 1958 went many notches further and declared that ‘a strong central government’ was ‘an absolute must’. The intent implicit in that statement had a succinct reflection on the report submitted by the Commission on National Education on 26 August 1959, which emphasized a centrist language policy in no uncertain terms. The report stated: ‘We are firmly convinced that for the sake of our national unity we must do everything to promote the linguistic cohesion of West Pakistan by developing the national language, Urdu, to the fullest extent.’57

Therefore, in Sindh, Sindhi was replaced with Urdu as the medium of instruction from class sixth onwards in 1963. The areas constituting Pakistan after 1947; Sindh and East Bengal were the two exceptions with their own respective vernacular languages. That might be the reason why in Sindh, unlike Punjab, where Urdu instead of Punjabi was introduced as a vernacular right after its annexation in 1849 by the British, the Sindhis put up a fight against proposed changes and successfully blocked a few of them. Despite the opposition of the Sindhis, the strong presence of the Muhajir in urban Sindh, including Karachi, created a very conducive environment for Urdu to flourish. Karachi University took lead by announcing in early 1963 that Urdu would substitute English as the medium of instruction by 1967–68. In a sheer contrast to the situation obtaining in Karachi and other cities, in rural Sindh, centuries old Sindhi language formed the most significant symbol of identity along with territory and cultural traditions relating to dress—especially the wearing of the ajrak (shawl of Sindhi design), poetry and Sufism. Sindhi language was standardized in the Arabic script during the British Raj. Previously, it also used Devanagari and Gurumukhi scripts.58

During the British period, the Bombay government appointed a committee in June 1913 to suggest measures for the social upliftment of the Sindhi populace, particularly the children of the zamindars. The committee saw the teaching of Urdu as the most viable panacea. Promotion of Urdu by printing large number of textbooks, providing grants for the production of literature in Urdu and other such measures, were given serious consideration. But all those measures elicited strong reactions and the recommendation of the committee to promote Urdu were eventually shelved. However, the challenge to Sindhi came after the independence of Pakistan when large number of Muhajirs migrated to the urban centres of Sindh. As per the census of 1951, Muhajirs constituted 57 per cent of Karachi’s population, Hyderabad had 66.08 per cent of Muhajirs and Sukkur had 54.26 per cent. Such a formidable presence of Urdu-speaking population in urban Sindh ‘implied that the Sindhis would be in a disadvantaged position culturally and socially but also educationally and economically because they would have to compete with mother-tongue speakers of Urdu for jobs in the cities which would now be available at the lower level in Urdu and at the higher level in English’.59

Urdu became a symbol of elitist educated Muslim Identity in North India after Persian was displaced in 1836. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Hindi-Urdu controversy drove Muslims and Hindus apart; hardening their respective attitudes so that Urdu came to be associated only with Muslim identity and Hindi with the Hindus. It was in this backdrop that the Muhajirs assumed that Pakistan would provide perfect ambiance for the promotion of Urdu because to them Urdu was the language of all Indian Muslims. The tension emanating from language controversy in Sindh reached crescendo proportions when the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Hyderabad showed its intent on 21 December 1970 to examine Muhajir students ‘in Sindhi in the Secondary School Certificate examination of the year 1972’.60 That development embittered the relationship between Muhajirs and Sindhis leading to violence in January–February 1971. The situation was brought back to normalcy with the help of the army. Another incident took place in July 1972 when the ‘Sindh (Teaching, Promotion and use of Sindhi Language) Bill of 1972’ was passed on 7 July 1972 by the Sindh Legislative Assembly. Clause 6 of that bill was the real cause of concern for the Muhajirs because it could bring and establish Sindhi in the domains of power (offices, courts, legislatures, etc.).61 The situation came to a head, culminating in the bloodiest language riots in Pakistan’s history. Although further loss of life and ethnic tension was warded off through a compromise solution yet the situation remained a powder keg that could be conflagrated any time.

As mentioned earlier, the two languages, namely Bengali and Sindhi, which had preserved their identity as vernaculars even during the British period, were not given their due status during the post-independence period. Though Urdu is well entrenched as the most powerful language in Pakistan, Sindhi has still not given way as a cultural symbol. However, other languages, especially Punjabi, proved absolutely vulnerable before Urdu as a symbol of cultural homogeneity.


The rationale that conferred legitimacy and also accorded ideological underpinning to the Pakistan movement was the two-nation theory. As it is evident from the formation of the phrase, Muslims were conceived as one nation and the focus was narrowed down on the Hindus as the other.62 That concept was trumpeted out with profusion, the consequence of which began to be felt at every level, i.e., cognitive, discursive and the process of identity formation. Gradually it started trickling down and eventually became the part of everybody’s perception; here ‘everybody’ denotes the urban and literate Muslims, who could read the Nawa-i-Waqt, an Urdu daily, and were ardent supporters of Hindu-Muslim binary division. They use Hindu and India interchangeably and are not ready to accept the cultural plurality that Indian government and media so proudly claim as India’s forte. In such a circumstance, the history writing can hardly help reflecting such perception. In such a context, history writing too cannot remain immune to similar perceptions.

This intellectual misgiving about India and Hindus has been constructed over the decades through a peculiar historiographical pattern, which had its antecedents in the Orientalist historiographical tradition. History writing, therefore, conjured up a particular discourse of history whereby historical facts had to be put in a new sequential order, suiting the newly emerging historiographical trend. The point that also needs to be emphasized here is the role of colonial historiography, which appropriated the knowledge of the Indian past and ascribed new meaning to it. James Mill, for example, not only introduced a new pattern of periodization in Indian history as Hindu, Muslim and British in his voluminous History of India (1817) but also highlighted the highhandedness that according to him was demonstrated by the Muslim rulers against their Hindu subjects beyond proportion.63 Subsequently, all the Persian sources of medieval history were translated and published in several volumes, Elliot and Dawson being the editors of that huge project History of India as told by its own Historians (1867). Elliot and Dawson wrote in the Introduction to their edited volumes, ‘We have to show to the Hindus that the Muslims were oppressor and tyrannical rulers. So that they, the Hindus, appreciate us more than their memories of the Muslim rule’.64 Mubarak Ali having drawn on a report published in Impact International, London, July 1998, on the historiography in India, points to the utter surprise striking Sir Henry Elliot, since he could not find anything in terms of written material by the Hindus referring to the servitude, oppression and tyranny that they had to endure for centuries under the Muslim rule. Consequently, he decided to highlight such dormant aspects of Indian history whereby excesses of Muslim rulers towards their Hindu subjects are emphatically underlined. Therefore, those sayings and excerpts from different historians were carefully selected and the whole narrative was woven around them. Massacring Hindus, ravaging temples, desecrating the idols and forced conversions constitute the main theme of History of India as told by its own Historians. Hence, Mubarak Ali contends that the Orientalists skewed historical facts and made them an integral part of Indian history. Apart from these works, countless history books were produced and through subtle manipulations, religious sentiments were played up as the major determinant of identity.65

The paradigm shaping the peculiarities of Pakistani historiography is very decisively punctuated by a few grand narratives and set patterns having vivid traces of colonial historiography. So far, not many historians have found courage to deviate from that prescribed cardinal theme of Hindu-Muslim binary. It is important to underscore here the importance of Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi’s work, who provided the future historians with a prototype that was obsequiously followed by them generation after generation. Therefore, Qureshi can justifiably be called the father of Pakistani historiography. However, Qureshi’s influence did not percolate in to the textbooks right away.66 As animosity against India gained intensity after the September 1965 Indo-Pak war and after the Dacca debacle in 1971, hate speech for the Hindus started reflecting in the textbooks.

The marked features of the Qureshi brand of historiography that acquired a wide currency in Pakistan, is a complete reticence about colonial rule and political, social and cultural repercussions resulting from it. Hence, the process of identity formation in Pakistan was radically different vis-à-vis other postcolonial states/societies. Almost all the states securing independence after the World War II, projected the colonial rule as the binary opposite to the native population. Colonial rulers came to be perceived by the nationalist intelligentsia and the leadership as usurpers deserving eviction from the colonized country. That was exactly the reason anti-colonial/imperial intellectuals like Franz Fanon, Jean Paul Sartre and Paulo Freire earned great popularity and acclaim among the intelligentsia of the postcolonial world. However, the case of identity formation in Pakistan has been the polar opposite to that of other postcolonial societies and states. The Hindu and not the British colonial masters became the key factor in Pakistan’s identity formation post independence. In the very first ‘All Pakistan Educational Conference’, held in 1947, a resolution emphasizing the religious content in the education policy was mooted. The profounder learning of Muslim history rather than the common history and heritage of South Asia was exhorted to be the criterion for the best citizen of Pakistan during the initial years of Pakistan. Najam Mushtaq finds anti-Indianism at the very centre of Pakistani nationalism:

If it is not anti-Indianism, then in what other terms could we possibly render Pakistani-Muslim nationalism? … The ‘ideology of Pakistan’ as defined to students at every school and college in the country is nothing except anti-Indianism. In every walk of life in Pakistan—from academia to journalism, from sports to bureaucracy—a vast majority of people has been inculcated with fantastic anti-India notions…. Phrases like the ‘Hindu mentality’ and ‘devious Indian psyche’ are part of the daily military talk…. Anti-Indianism, in short, runs deep in Pakistani state and society. It is a state of mind that cannot be switched off…. People have no other alternative frame of reference in which to define Pakistani nationalism.67

Najam Mushtaq has stated the obvious in this statement. One cannot agree more on the point that he has made. However, this argument needs to be problematized in its historical context. The two-nation theory was trumpeted out with profusion, which subsequently gave birth to the ideology of Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan is considered the practical manifestation of the two-nation theory, which in turn, was considered the raison d’etre for the creation of Pakistan. Both of these notions provide thematic essence to history writing in Pakistan, thereby legitimizing the discourse of otherness ascribed to the Hindus. Ideology as a separatist tool was projected as the primordial fact of history and not a construct emanating from temporal exigency.

However, authors like Justice Munir have argued with the help of historical facts that the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ never existed on the eve of Pakistan’s creation. He states:

The Quaid-I-Azam never used the words ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ … For fifteen years after the establishment of Pakistan, the ideology of Pakistan was not known to anybody until in 1962 a solitary member of the Jamaat-e-Islami used the words for the first time when the Political Parties Bill was being discussed.68

All these facts notwithstanding, the question of ideology assumed great importance particularly after the 1965 war. So, in the modern political reality that Pakistan was, its basis was laid anew in the light of the ideology of Pakistan, which in turn sprouted from the notion of two-nation theory. The main theme underlying ideology was Muslim separatism vis-à-vis Hindus. In the light of whatever has been said and whatever is to follow the whole process of imagining as well as constructing the Muslim identity in contrast to the Hindus needs to be revisited particularly when the relations of the two neighboring countries seem to be on the mend.

Despite Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s gimmickry against India threatening to wage a thousand years war, it was during the reign of Zia ul Haq that the hatred for the Hindus was systematized by introducing a compulsory subject of Pakistan studies from secondary school level onwards, including professional education. That subject carried the main theme whereby Hindu was depicted as the inveterate enemy of Pakistani Muslims. Zia ul Haq set up a National Textbook Review Committee in September 1978 to bring textbooks in conformity with the national ideology and Islamic tenets, eliminating anti-Islamic material from the existing 550 textbooks. A systematic editing of the textbooks began with the express purpose to employ religious praxis as a tool to read Pakistani history. Such reading of history has been ‘used as locations to articulate the hatred that Pakistani policy makers have attempted to inculcate towards their Hindu neighbours. Vituperative animosities legitimize military and autocratic rule, nurturing a siege mentality’.69 In 1983, a directive was issued to the textbook writers to write books ‘to demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be found in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion’.70 Such ritualization of religion by discarding the syncretic tradition has empathetically signified the construction of Hindu as the other. Hence the class eighth social studies textbook, with reference to the partition of the Indian subcontinent, says, ‘the Hindus and Sikhs killed Muslims whenever they were in a minority. They burnt their houses and forced them to migrate to Pakistan’. Similarly in one of the most widely read books of Pakistan studies betrays the general trend of hate speech, which has been promoted without considering its adverse impacts. The textbook states,

The Hindus always desired to crush the Muslims as a nation. Several attempts were made by the Hindus to erase the Muslim culture and civilization. Hindi-Urdu controversy, shudhi and sanghathan movements are the most glaring examples of the ignoble Hindu mentality.71

Similarly, such statements like ‘Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam’ or ‘the religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things—Hindus did not respect women.’72 recur in the textbooks of secondary school level. This point is substantiated by a quote from Tariq Rahman’s book: ‘Urdu textbooks portray the Hindu, and to a lesser degree the colonial British, very negatively. Hindus are accused of beating the Muslim. Both the British and the Hindu are supposed to have conspired to deprive the Muslims of their rights [The other is always non-Muslim].’73

The sentiment of extreme hatred towards the Hindus is tangible in a pronounced way in what can be designated as the core of Pakistani state, the Central Punjab. It is home to the three most powerful components of the state apparatus namely the army, the civil bureaucracy and the landlords forming the ruling troika. The vested interests of this troika are better served if Hindu/India is demonized in a grotesque image of an enemy of the Muslims/Pakistan. People are kept deprived and devoid of any share in power in the name of ideology and the fear of the cunning and wile Hindu bania cultivated in the minds of the people. Thus the presence of a religious ideology, strong army and centralized state structure is ensured as a sine quo non for the existence of the sovereign state of Pakistan. Such state of affair in any country hardly allows any space for multiculturalism to strike roots. Muhammad Waseem’s comment about Pakistani state’s hatred for India seems relevant here:

At the national level, their hatred for India provided a support base for the anti-Indian stance for the government’s foreign and defense policies. As they were already in majority in many important cities, they wielded extraweight in public opinion. Their sense of rootlessness made them ever more dependent on the ideological resources of the new nation.74

The ‘rootlessness’ among the Central Punjabis was caused partially by their traumatic experience of the migration of 1947 that many of them had to go through. The event had a tremendous impact on their overall mindset typified with religious and cultural puritanism. The Central Punjabis do have a considerable representation among the upper rung of the state machinery and also command tangible influence in the formation of public opinion, which went a long way in excluding anybody other than the Muslims, especially the Hindus.

To conclude the discourse of multiculturalism and the problematic of identity as the counter-point orchestrated by the Pakistani state, it can safely be argued that given the three aforementioned underpinnings of identity in place, cultural plurality in Pakistan can hardly flourish. These three defining feature of Pakistani nationhood, Islam, Urdu and the Hindu other, are deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of Pakistani middle class. Nothing less than a revolutionary rinsing of the education system, the attitudes of the Urdu media and the overall mindset of the Pakistani establishment, who are relentlessly persisting in their centrist policies by lending unflinching support and sustenance to these cornerstones of the monolithic concept of Pakistani nationhood, is the need of the hour.

The shared ethos among the culturally and ethnically divergent communities inhabiting Pakistan can be detected without much effort in the Sufi tradition. As Late Ashfaque Ahmed, a renowned Urdu writer from Pakistan used to repeatedly say, ‘The South Asian Culture has been inextricably worked into mystic tradition.’75

The present regime needs to be cognizant of the myriad subcultures, ethnicities and the adherents of other religions living in Pakistan, and their right to exist and grow culturally in unison with the Muslim majority. It is, of course, extremely difficult, yet imperative to cultivate and promote the soft image of a multicultural Pakistan, instead of a centralized, monolithic Pakistan.