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Friday May 24, 2024

The written word that inspired a nation

By Dr Yasmeen Sultana Farooqui
March 23, 2023

For the Muslim population in India, the creation of Pakistan as an independent nation in 1947 was a momentous occasion. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who relentlessly campaigned towards the political and social liberation of Muslims in the subcontinent, led the movement that resulted in the establishment of Pakistan. However, the contribution of literature to the ideological foundation of the Pakistan Movement is frequently ignored, so this March 23rd let’s look at how literature aided Muslims in their struggle for a separate homeland.

The birth of Urdu literature coincides with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century. Urdu poetry blossomed and developed into a potent form of expression throughout this time. The Indian independence movement and the fight against British imperialism were two of the socio-political concerns that Urdu poets like Allama Iqbal wrote about at the time. Poets such as Akbar Allahabadi, Nazir Akbarabadi and Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali also emphasised the value of self-determination and the necessity of Muslims banding together in their fight for independence.

Allama Iqbal specifically played an instrumental role in motivating Muslims across the subcontinent to pursue their own goals. In poems such as Masjid-e-Qurtaba, Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa, Iqbal grieved and criticised the condition of Muslims in the subcontinent, exhorting them to control their destiny and express their aspirations. He also underlined the importance of Muslim unity by denouncing the religious divisions within Islamic sects.

In addition to these poets, the eloquent orators of the time played a pivotal role in disseminating the message of Muslim unity and a separate nation-state to the masses across India. This article would be incomplete without mention of Bahadur Yar Jung, a speaker par excellence in all of India during that time. On several occasions, he delivered impromptu translations of Quaid-i-Azam’s English speeches into Urdu.

Urdu books, in addition to poetry, were also instrumental in shaping the Pakistan Movement’s course. Early 20th-century Urdu literature provided a social and economic portrait of Muslims in the subcontinent. Deputy Nazir Ahmad’s novel Alamgir Aur Angrez and Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada both underlined the cultural and social distinctions between Muslims and Hindus. The desire of Muslims to have a nation where they could live according to their own cultural and religious beliefs was also emphasised in these novels.

Besides prose and poetry, Urdu newspapers, such as Zamindar and Manshoor also played a key role in influencing public opinion and emphasising the need for a separate Muslim state. Muslim League leaders spread their ideas and interacted with the public through these newspapers.

The Pakistan Movement benefited greatly from the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA). Established in 1936, the PWA, a left-leaning, progressive group, united a group of authors and thinkers who were dedicated to utilising their work to further political change.

Angarey (Embers), a collection of short stories, was one of the most significant works to emerge from the PWA and was released in 1932. The tales addressed issues of social injustice, inequality, and exploitation of masses while also criticising the patriarchal and traditional ideals that predominated Indian society. The British colonial administration outlawed Angarey terming it a divisive work with radical and subversive themes. But the work had a significant impact on India’s literary and political environment. It influenced other authors and thinkers to utilise their writing as a vehicle for social and political change in India.

Literature and India’s partition

The partition was a tragic event in the history of India and Pakistan, causing the death of untold numbers of people and the displacement of millions.

The reflection and documentation of people who experienced the split via literature were crucial. The 1955 publication of Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hasan Manto is among the most well-known works to come from this era. The tale, which has become a classic of Urdu literature, is a moving and profound reflection on the sorrow and absurdity of the partition.

Other works that address the partition include Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (1956), Ice-Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa (1988) and The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia (1998). These writings present a variety of viewpoints on the division and how it affected common people’s lives.

The works of Allama Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and the Progressive Writers’ Association were instrumental in shaping the intellectual and cultural landscape of the movement. These writers used their writing to express their support for a separate Muslim state, to promote social justice and equality, and to reflect on the experiences of those who lived through the partition.

Pakistan and India are still affected by the legacy of the Pakistan Movement. The struggle for justice and equality in the region continues to inspire writers, artists, and activists since the movement was a potent expression of the desire for independence and self-determination. We are reminded of the ability of art and ideas to influence history as we consider the part literature had in the Pakistan Movement.

-Dr Yasmeen Sultana Farooqui is the Chairperson of

Ilma University, Karachi’s

Department of Media Science