CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam – Besky

[The CM Roundtable is a new series that presents multiple, in-depth reviews of an exciting new book. Each new roundtable will conclude with the author’s response. We thank each of our distinguished panelists and the authors for engaging in this public dialogue. We aim to have each roundtable available as a single beautifully produced e-book available at the conclusion– for classroom or referential usage.]

CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam
Author: Kamran Asdar Ali
Panelists:
July 6– Junaid Rana, Associate professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
July 13– Arvind Elangovan, Assistant Professor of History, Wright State University
July 27– Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Professor of English Literature,  Kings College
July 31– Atiya Singh, University of Chicago
Aug 14– Author’s response
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photo by Sepoy

***

Communism in Pakistan: Politics and Class Activism 1947 – 1972 by Kamran Asdar Ali. London and New York: IB Tauris. xiv + 298 pp.

Ali-Communism in Pakistan
https://amzn.com/1784532002

Sarah Besky, Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs, Brown University

 

The acknowledgements to Communism in Pakistan describe a conversation between Kamran Asdar Ali and an activist in Karachi.  As they sat and drank tea in the midst of political tumult in Pakistan in the late 1970s, Asdar Ali’s interlocutor remarked that a history of the Pakistani Left had yet to be written.  Not only was that history unwritten; in the activist’s opinion, it needed to be written.  Asdar Ali’s book sets out to fill that need.  It focuses on the years between Partition and the formation of Bangladesh and the accession of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to power.

Asdar Ali begins by invoking Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s deceptively simple question from Silencing the Past (1995): “What happened?” (p. 10).  Specifically, Asdar Ali asks what happened when the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) broke off from the Communist Party of India (CPI).  The simple answer is that Partition put these two organizations on separate paths, but Asdar Ali provides a fascinating behind the scenes look at the CPP, describing the group’s marginalization and ultimate outlawing in the early decades of Pakistan’s political life.  Following Trouillot, for Asdar Ali, to narrate the Pakistani Left is to write against silences.  There is a “national amnesia,” he writes (p. 6), that obscures certain voices in mainstream scholarship on Pakistan.  This scholarship, he notes, tends to examine themes of Muslim nationalism, gender discrimination, and militarization (p. 2).  These themes are important, but he argues that the early years of the Pakistani state, wrapped in the ideology of Muslim nationalism, put forth a deceptive “metanarrative of an undivided nation on the populace” (p. 5).

To do the work of narrating “what happened” to the Pakistani Left, Asdar Ali de-centers dominant figures in Pakistan history–namely Jinnah and the Muslim League.  “In Pakistan’s early history,” he writes, “we find contesting voices of uncertainty and confusion, against an emerging nationalist framework, debating the shape Pakistan’s social, political and cultural life would take in the ensuing years” (p. 13). Continue reading “CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam – Besky”

CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam – Kanna

[The CM Roundtable is a new series that presents multiple, in-depth reviews of an exciting new book. Each new roundtable will conclude with the author’s response. We thank each of our distinguished panelists and the authors for engaging in this public dialogue. We aim to have each roundtable available as a single beautifully produced e-book available at the conclusion– for classroom or referential usage.]

CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam
Author: Kamran Asdar Ali
Panelists:
June 28– Sarah Besky, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs, Brown University
July 6– Junaid Rana, Associate professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
July 13– Arvind Elangovan, Assistant Professor of History, Wright State University
July 27– Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Professor of English Literature,  Kings College
July 31– Atiya Singh, University of Chicago
Aug 14– Author’s response

Surkh Salam

***

Communism in Pakistan: Politics and Class Activism 1947 – 1972 by Kamran Asdar Ali. London and New York: IB Tauris. xiv + 298 pp.

Ali-Communism in Pakistan
https://amzn.com/1784532002

Ahmed Kanna, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific

Kamran Asdar Ali’s Communism in Pakistan is a meticulously researched and carefully argued work of scholarship. It is also a deeply moving reflection on Pakistani dreams for a just society unfulfilled, dreams that, though they are in retreat in present-day Pakistan, are ultimately unvanquished. An anthropologist and director of the South Asia Institute at University of Texas at Austin, Ali evokes the egalitarian and democratic hopes that animated generations of working class Pakistani fighters and their comrades – from communists in the first decades of the new country to labor militants in the early 1970s – as ultimately indomitable, if only in the traces, or as Ali calls them “ruins”, that they have left behind. Following the work of anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler, Ali suggests that these ruins can become resources for ongoing and future struggles for justice. While it will be compelling interest to South Asia specialists, non-specialists approaching Communism in Pakistan with little or no knowledge of the country’s history and that of South Asia more generally should prepare to devote intense concentration to it, as the complex skeins of narrative that Ali so skillfully weaves together produce a highly entangled and rich portrait of Pakistani history that often only yield insight upon rereading.
Continue reading “CM Roundtable I: Surkh Salam – Kanna”

Musings on Absence: Planning, Policies, and Conflict in the Indian Administered Kashmir

By Francesca Recchia

Francesca Recchia is an independent researcher and writer based in Afghanistan. She is interested in the geopolitical dimension of cultural processes and in recent years has focused her research on heritage, urban transformations and creative practices in countries in conflict. 

She tweets at @kiccovich

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Srinagar

At the time of Partition between India and Pakistan, in 1947, the whole of Kashmir was divided between the two countries – a decision that has been disputed ever since. Kashmir is the only state in India with a majority Muslim population and its annexation to the country has been an object of contention since the inception. As early as 1947, the Indian Government promised Kashmir a plebiscite that would allow its people to determine their fate. To this day, the plebiscite has not taken place and India has enforced a tight military control over the region in order to preserve the integrity of its national territory – or, allegedly, to protect its people from Islamist insurgents and separatists alike. The infamous Line of Control (LoC) – the 2897-kilometer-long border between India and Pakistan – is tightly monitored to prevent civilian movements and militant infiltrations. Despite the fact that Kashmir is not “technically” a country at war, it is one of the most militarized areas of the world with a ratio of one armed forces personnel to every seventeen civilians – a ratio that is higher than that in both Afghanistan and Iraq at the peak of the US-led invasions. The repercussions of such figures on the ground are admittedly tremendous.

An analysis of the landscape and the built environment can provide important insights into the understanding of such repercussions.

The design of space is neither neutral nor innocent. The State or the military often utilize such an instrument to implement broader political plans. Beyond aesthetics and functionalism, urban planning and space design can be understood as devices for social engineering: they are often adopted as subtle tools to implement the larger scheme of shaping society. In contexts of open conflict, the control over landscape and natural resources, as well as the management of infrastructures, play a fundamental strategic role. The segregation of urban functions and the definition of movement patterns determine access and exclusion, shaping people’s decision-making and patterns of behavior. Continue reading “Musings on Absence: Planning, Policies, and Conflict in the Indian Administered Kashmir”

Rivers of Blood: A Meditation on Borders

by Taimoor Shahid

 

This is a meditation on borders, international borders, the ways in which they structure our lives—our pasts, presents, and futures, and the ways in which we navigate them. It is a dialogue between what was and what is. It is a reverie, a plea, against the imagined lines that cut across our bodies, that separate us from our pasts, that divide our homes into halves, and that are always too real to pass.

It is based on selections from Padma Surkh Hai or The Bloodied Padmathe war diary of Shaakh, a student from Lahore studying at Dhaka University in 1971. War struck. And he moved with a Bengali friend’s family. Then they had to flee for life. First they fled from Dhaka to a small town, then to Rajshahi. Then to the Indian refugee camp across the river Padma. And then back from the refugee camp itself. All this while, Shaakh maintained a diary, in Urdu, his mother tongue, but also the tongue of the aggressors. He recorded killing, looting, arson, but also bare life during war, and the ways in which borders were created, navigated, and transcended.

Shaakh is my father. Here I read a few episodes from his diary and meditate on them through my own experiences: of borders, separations, migrations, and an inheritance of his past. I present this piece then as a tentative reflection on Borders of all kinds, seen through this episode of human history, an episode unfortunately not unique. Here the partition of 1947, of 1971, and the continuing partitions of the present come together. Here Dhaka and Lahore, and Calcutta and Chicago exist on the same plane in a complicated relationship built through text and sound: through disembodied connections that borders cannot sever.

It is to one of these connections that I owe this piece. It emerged from my collaboration with The Travelling Archive, a field recordings and field notes project based in Calcutta and run by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik and sound recordist and designer Sukanta Majumdar since 2003. I became friends with Moushumi di when I found myself across the India-Pakistan border that carves us into different flesh. Moushumi di had heard about my father’s diary, and she and Sukanta da had already been working on Borders for some time. We talked, and she came up with this idea: that we must do something. We must archive these voices for us to remember, and perhaps to transcend the Borders, through a collapsing of geographies, of time, of sounds. I thus recorded this piece for them in Chicago, which was then woven with Jarigan recordings—songs of lament sung for the martyrs of Karbala—from Faridpur, Bangladesh archived by The Travelling Archive in 2008. It was presented as an art installation at the annual I.G. Khan Memorial lecture event in Aligarh in Feb 2016. I am publishing here, however, only my contribution, in which I interact and interpret Borders as seen through my father’s eyes of 1971. It is not a finished project, and I invite you to comment, respond, and take this forward in whatever way you think necessary and useful to dismantle Borders of any kind.

 

Zindagi Gulzar Hai and The Production of a New Traditional Woman

Rich boy meets poor girl, they clash at first only to fall in love later and to live happily ever after. This basic plotline of the popular TV drama serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-13) is one very familiar to South Asian viewership. But, there is more to the show than masala entertainment. At its best, the serial provides keen commentary on the class structure of Pakistan and, in some ways, even contests social norms. At worst, the show is simply a repackaging of pedagogical manual of yesteryears that taught women morality and respectable behavior. In any case, Zindagi grapples with the anxieties of living authentically in a rapidly changing world. In recent years, Pakistan has seen rapid growth of its large cities and a burgeoning urban middle class. Concurrent with this capitalist urbanization has been the decades long process of the Islamization of the Pakistani state and society. These processes converge in a discourse of morality that takes as its disciplinary object the bodies of women, and this, I argue, is what we see in Zindagi Gulzar Hai, specifically, in the show’s positing of models of good and bad women as a way of addressing the anxieties about the mixed up contemporary world of the urban viewer.

But, why pick on, and apart, a TV serial? Isn’t it just entertainment? I think not. Following scholar Humeira Iqtidar’s distinction between secularism as a project and secularization as a process (2011), I conceptualize Islamization as a political project, connected but distinct from Islamization as a social process. While these two formulations can be mapped onto a divide between the state and society, they are not mutually exclusive. Grasping the feedback loop between the two is crucial. A more thorough work would place an interpretative analysis of this show in the multiple and interconnected contexts of the privatization of Pakistan Television and economic liberalization, and a political economic history of Islamization— a project built on and through misogynist regulation of Pakistani women. Such a reading of popular cultural forms like the TV serial, I hope to show as best as I can in the space I am allowed here, helps understand these processes and the emergent social formations, in the case of Pakistan, of Islamized capitalist patriarchy under the hegemony of neoliberal and war-on-terror discourses.

ZGH

Continue reading “Zindagi Gulzar Hai and The Production of a New Traditional Woman”

Rickshaw Diary

by Annie Ali Khan

Karachiscapes by Zehra Nawab
Karachiscapes by Zehra Nawab

While returning home one night from a reporting trip, I found myself in a rickshaw that was going so fast that I had to hold on to the tinsel wrapped poles for dear life. M.A. Jinnah Road, the road that forms the main artery of the city, was a blur of headlights and honking cars as the rickshaws weaved in between trucks and motorbikes. Seeing my face in the mirror, a young woman, her face and head uncovered, clearly a new customer, the old man with the grizzled beard laughed. “Here you have to learn to walk while holding the finger of death.” This was my first lesson navigating in the city.

His name was Lauri Baba, a word that means someone who is loved by his people. Lauri Baba, was an old resident of Lyari, the heart of the city of Karachi. But what is your real name, I asked him. “Even my own parents do not remember my real name,” he said. But he knew the city like the back of his hand.

A fellow reporter, also a young woman, told me she had taken a rickshaw home well past midnight one night. The rickshaw wallah veered off the main road. She began to scream. “If you did not want to have sex, then why are you out so late?” he said. He dropped her home. But he looked angry. Once I wanted to get home well past midnight. After standing by the roadside on Shahrah-e-Faisal, across from the Naval museum, for half an hour all I saw were strange cars slowly driving past, full of men. A flower seller sitting, who had long closed shop and was chatting with a friend on the pavement asked me where I wanted to go then called his rickshaw driver friend, who dropped me home. A friend visiting Karachi asked me what I did when I was out late. I take a rickshaw, I told her. It is the safest ride. I can always jump out. Rickshaws are pronounced “ruck-shah” and it is the Hindi word for protection. I always repeat that to myself. If you grew up on Bollywood films of the 90s there was a lot of reference to that sort of thing in those movies featuring macho men.

In an empty lot in the neighborhood of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, in one of the biggest migrant settlement, an inner-city neighborhood, beside the apartment building where my grandmother lives, there are always five or six rickshaw wallahs waiting in a row for passengers. They wait there amidst garbage heaps, where a man in tattered shalwar and no kamiz leads a herd of bony cows to graze every morning on the weeds. The paan wallah leans out of the window of his stall and cracks a betel-stained smile.

The rickshaw wallahs pass the hours playing a game using pebbles set in concentric chalk squares drawn on the roadside. They always look up and stop playing when I come by and then nods will be exchanged as to who will give me a ride. A kick to the rickshaw motor and we are on our way.

The rickshaw wallah has a hole in his ear. It is a hole the size of a small pea in the center of the cartilage. In the early morning when the sunlight is dim I believe I can see a bit of the road through his ear. Most times, there is a bright spot of light shining through. His mother pierced it with a fat needle when he was a little boy. It was back when he lived in the mountains in the north and apparently it was the only known cure for chicken pox.

A woman in a purple burqa sits by the roadside in front of the mausoleum of the Quaid, where the founder of the country is buried. The mausoleum is halfway between the area of Gulshan where my naani lives and Empress Market. A white domed structure in the center of a park. I have never been. There have been reports in the news of girls getting nabbed there so my parents never took us there. I remember reading the report of a girl who went missing while visiting the mausoleum with her family on a holiday. She was abducted by unknown men and was later raped in the basement of the mazaar. A Baloch man told me his cousin visiting from interior Sindh stopped to pray while passing by the white stone structure. “But he is no pir,” the Baloch berated his cousin who replied. “He must be have mystical powers, he gave us Pakistan.” The woman in the deep purple shuttlecock burqa is completely concealed. Nothing shows, except for her hands reaching out from the heavy folds of the burqa, moving over something on the road. It is unsettling and I see the rickshaw wallah veers a bit away from her whenever we pass by. She is there every morning, the purple of her burqa vivid and yet silent in the early morning gray.

There is another older rickshaw wallah who constantly scratches his bald head and always rushes out from the line of parked rickshaws when I come outside. He is safe I think. But sometimes I notice him adjusting the mirror and I see my face in it, and I see his eyes locking with mine. I’d much rather he kept his stare fixed on the road.
Continue reading “Rickshaw Diary”

Lahore: Marks It Bears II

Yesterday’s suicide attack on lower-and middle class citizens of Lahore, celebrating Easter or enjoying Sunday festivities in a park, is devastating to behold. The victims, now numbered in 100s, were enjoying the few, free pleasures of Lahore’s public spaces at the Gulshan Iqbal Park. In targeting a public park, knowing full well that it is where families would be, the Ahrar are hitting spaces which are not secured and which provide religious cover for them– they have claimed this, and last year’s bombings at Youhanabad in Lahore. In both cases, the claimed targets are Christians.

In the aftermath of the horrific Peshawar school assault in December 2014 a new narrative emerged in Pakistan. One in which the military, with the face of General Raheel Sharif, was provided all public support for military operations in N. Waziristan– including “indigenous drones“. That war has continued un-abated while Raheel Sharif’s personhood has become the face of a “resilient” Pakistan.

Lahore. Lahore in 2016 is a new city of enclaves, suburbs, brand new cars, boutiques, parked money from Dubai and Karachi. Its moneyed homes are well-protected. Its elite do not congregate; and when they gather in movie halls or public spaces, they do so behind security columns and checkpoints. Lahore in 2016 is also a key migratory point for young men from southern Punjab and northern territories who are enrolled in schools, madrasas or employed in the many factories dotting its circumference. The state has poured millions of tons of concrete over Lahore to build new highways and train-lines. The cement houses of “old” Lahore are now crumbling. This “old” Lahore is the Lahore of Allama Iqbal Town, Model Town, Sadr, Walton, Gulshan-e Ravi. This is the Lahore whose denizens would head to the public park to celebrate Eid or Easter. These are the Lahoris who make for easy targets– the loss of whose lives is not going to prompt the State to re-think its relationship to terrorists.

A few days ago, the attack in Brussels hit close to home for me. I have been pre-occupied by safety of loved ones. Lahore remains the only city I can ever call home. I worry about my family, friends, colleagues who are scattered across Lahore’s surface. The vast majority of them outside of securitized compounds. Raheel Sharif is promising that the aggressors behind this attack, who are from Southern Punjab, will be militarily handled. I have done my research in southern Punjab and I know well what the State sees there. There is no security that I can imagine coming to Lahore from further militarization. Nor do I imagine lack of action to be fruitful. The fact is that we have vast swathes of everyday citizenry trapped in a singular militarized discourse for nearly thirty years now. The leaders of political or religious parties, the apparatchiks, the followers, the crowds, the missing majorities, all. The textbooks remain full of incitement to violence. The media gleefully cheers shredding the few who speak against. Those who survive the media are silenced by bullets.

The Pakistani civilian state has clearly articulated its preference for a technocratic solution to Pakistan. The military state remains agnostic– supporting Nawaz Sharif when it feels like, while building its new idol, Raheel Sharif. The recent execution of the murderer of Salman Taseer, and the subsequent ‘release‘ of his son are evidences of the first state. The capture of the RAW agent and the current “dharna” in Islamabad cases in point for the latter. This is not a dialectical struggle for the soul of Pakistan, however. This is not the classic “an army for the country vs a country for the army”, either. It is the contest of who will control the flow of Capital into Pakistan and who gets to park it in which parts. This young country with an near-infinite pool of cheap labor is the final prize in a contest between the many reigning idols of chaos and commerce.