Wednesday June 12, 2024

‘Partition was product of crystallisation of religious identities’

By Zoya Anwer
March 12, 2016


Just when many might have thought that the aftermath of the Partition and the identity conundrum were a subject done and dusted with, Haroon Khalid and Anam Zakaria, a husband-and-wife duo of writers, published their works, “In Search of Shiva” and “The Footprints of Partition” to approach it in a novel manner.

Containing narratives, the two books, which were launched on Friday evening at The Second Floor at an event hosted by the Desi Writers Lounge, explore the changing dynamics of Pakistani history in relation to the divide of 1947 and the transformation of identities.

“Regions which were not colonised by the British like Nepal and China still have fluid religious identities,” noted Khalid.

“The British had clear notions about religious identities so if someone who was Christian couldn’t be a Muslim, and a Muslim couldn’t be a Sikh or a Hindu which was how we saw ourselves. With the British, the identities became crystallised and later partition became a product of that.”

Speaking about his research which is about various shrines across Pakistan and their evolution over time, Khalid said there was still a Hindu shrine in Kasur where a Besaki festival was held every April - an event still attended by a large number of Muslim devotees.

 “There is no contradiction between being a Muslim and still being a devotee of a Hindu shrine. Same goes for the Data Darbaar or the shrine of Ghulam Farid for Hindus,” he added.

Khalid also traced the various practices in villages alluding to the cult of Hindu deity Lord Shiva and gave an example of how dogs were held in reverence in an area because of a reincarnation of the Hindu god where he had a pack of dogs. He that shrines faced a blowback post 9/11.

Zakaria, who has penned accounts of four generations of Pakistanis and Indians, spoke about how only one-sided stories of the Partition and gory details of the divide were often told to the people of both countries.

She narrated how she was surprised to find out about a festival in Kasur which was attended by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus and Pakistanis and Indians attended the mela together.

Although it was not hunky-dory before the Partition and communities did fight, the identities were nevertheless “effortlessly fluid”.  

Zakaria honestly conceded that during her research, she did question her own conditioning when she came across an anomaly like a Muslim man having a Sikh father, and was amused when she was told that her work lacked gory details and the stories were too “rosy”.

“The Partition needs to be looked at through a spectrum where people will talk about tragedies as well as good memories and we need to dig to get all the stories out,” she noted.

“Everyone has to a certain degree, but I won’t give a simplistic argument that the rich and poor suffered differently because the elite perspective is filtered as well. You actually notice that a lot of oral histories come from the elite families sitting in Punjab, and being part of the elite, you endorse that Pakistaniat, the Punjabi project and the Two Nation Theory project. You subconsciously filter those memories and children growing up in those families grow up with a lot of biases too “

Khalid too spoke about the national identity becoming a religious one and clarified that movements like Al-Huda were not revivalist movements; rather they were new and endorsed a puritanical view of Islam. Both writers observed that it was a lazy, elitist assumption that the poor were the only ones radicalised.

Khalid said religion was strongly linked to materialism because the more ingrained one was; the more engaged they were with the capitalist system leading to a moral vacuum.  The session was moderated by Afia Aslam, co-founder of the Desi Writers Lounge.