My final post is about my final chapter. I deal with textbooks and novels before and after Partition. It is not easy for a historian to deal with novels, especially one trying to figure out “social memory”. Do the novels represent anything more than the solo novelist or market forces? I only hedge my bets here. I have some theory but who wants theory on a blog, eh? Don’t answer that, really.
From the mid 1970s, a dominant theme of unification and Islam arose in all the discourse of the state. Even the secularist Bhutto, sought to rally the people around the twin green flags (Pakistan and Islam). Two events shaped this: The dissolution of One Unit, in 1970 by General Yahya Khan and the bitter secession of Bangladesh, in 1971. A nation tied together by strings of faith – Islam – and language √± Urdu √± was challenged on all accounts by regional calls to sovereignty and national calls to own up to its Islamic raison d’etr√à. Not to mention the horrific reality of being the aggressors where they once claimed victimhood. The idea of Pakistan, nebulous to begin with, started to disintegrate: Sindhu Desh, Wazirstan, Baltistan, Siraikistan.
It was against this back-drop that the state of Pakistan embarked on a comprehensive project to produce a streamlined history of the nation and to have that history taught at all levels and in every province. In a collective such as Pakistan, which seeks its legitimacy in a universal ideal of Muslim identity and politics, the state had to provide an unsullied history of the nation that performed both a spatial and a temporal jump to reach its goal: to consistently and constantly negotiate a shared past amongst the Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Muhajir and other ethnicities. It appeared to the State that only history could provide the rationale for nationalism.
A particular history of the nation was disseminated in official discourse, school textbooks, nationalist novels, and public commemorations to explain the ancestral and ideological formation of the citizenry. I stress again that it was a conscious policy of both the state and Islamicist organizations, primarily the Jama’at-i Islami, to dove-tail the history of the nation-state of Pakistan with the history of Islam – divorcing it from the history of the sub-continent among others.
That this was a practice started after 1971 is clear when one examines school textbooks from the 50s and 60s. In the higher grades, those textbooks mention Hindus in a neutral tone. In fact, they were critical of Muhammad b. Qasim. Under Zia, the process of “Islamization” eliminated all doubts from the curriculum. As a result, MbQ became the first model citizen of the state of Pakistan. The compulsory textbook for 9th & 10th grade proclaimed:
For the first time the people of Sindh were introduced to Islam, its political system and way of government. The people here had seen only the atrocities of the Hindu rajas… the people of Sindh were so much impressed by the benevolence of Muslims that they regarded Muhammad bin Qasim as their savior
In contradiction stood other regional accounts which cast doubts on MbQ and his contribution to Sindh. J. M. Saeed’s mid-70s pamphlet Sindh Jo Soomro [Heroes of Sindh] had as the first hero, Raja Dahar:
It did not escape the attention of the state and Jama√≠at that Sindhi nationalists had targeted MbQ as a villain. Their response was to hatchet up the indoctrination. A national day celebrating MbQ’s victory over Raja Dahir was initiated. Novels were commissioned that centered on the heroic and brave struggles. Naseem Hijazi’s 1948 Muhammad bin Qasim was reprinted into constant circulation. It was translated into Sindhi as well. Novelists attached to the Jama’at incorporated both a strong Sindhi pride AND admiration of MbQ into their work. Editorials, series about “Heroes of Islam”, used bits of MbQ history and large doses of national jingoism to brand MbQ the true warrior of Islam and “solely” responsible for the spread of Islam.
Last thing I want to point out is that I do not want to give you the impression that the memory of MbQ is contested only between two groups, the Sindhi nationalists and the State. There are other parties involved who have no horse in that race. Literature. MbQ does offer a uniquely tragic hero against whom all manners of romantic stories can be played out. My favorite is a re-working of the Sikh legend of Sundri who defied the Mughal king within a Sindhi context – in a novel by Khaleeq Murai, Sundree. Maybe sometime I can go more into that.
But really, this is it. Dissertation Week is OVER. My four readers of the blog are down to two. It happens at parties all the time, too. No sweat. CM will now resume the scheduled broadcast.
Note: Please do check Caleb’s excellent posts on his dissertation here and here. Thanks to all who read / participated.