Amjad Nawaz Warraich’s new book shatters many a myth around the role of the Punjab throughout its history
he Punjab is a grossly misunderstood region. The name Punjab – signifying the land drained by the five tributaries of the Indus River: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej – first got a mention in books only in the Sixteenth Century. However, the area that has boasted one of the earliest human civilisations has seen several invasions. Its boundaries have contracted and expanded from time to time.
A fallacy that the region has never resisted invaders during the thousands of years of its life has more often been peddled than contested. Journalist and academician Amjad Nawaz Warraich’s book Punjab Katahray Main [Punjab in the Dock] is a new entrant to the rarity club. Warraich delves into authentic history books and comes out with a counter-argument. He fiercely challenges the notion that, to him, is politically loaded or misplaced; perhaps, even incorrect.
Through the book, we learn that the Punjab, a landlocked but prosperous region, has historically faced forays from the north south, and east. Most of its invaders, from Iranians, Greeks, Scythians, Huns and Kushans to Turks and Mongols, came from the north. None resisted them in the mountains. Their numbers grew as some people there joined them as mercenaries out of greed. Instead of fleeing like Darius – who had presided over a vast empire – King Porus (who reigned before 326 – c. 317 BC) and after him, Chandragupta Maurya resisted the Greeks, earning a name synonymous with bravery and honour. Maurya (who reigned c. 321–c. 297 BCE) founded the Mauryan dynasty in the Punjab and was the first emperor to unify most of India under one administration. Credited with saving the country from maladministration and freeing it from foreign domination, he later fasted to death in sorrow for his famine-stricken people.
From Punjab’s south came Muhammad Bin Qasim, a young Arab general, in the early eighth century. His armies took hold of a part of the Punjab after firming up their grip over Sindh. However, raids from the north continued until, in the Nineteenth Century, Ranjit Singh became the first Punjabi ruler in a millennium to turn the tide of invasion back into the homelands of the traditional conquerors of India, the Pashtuns (Afghans). Singh (1780–1839) built up the Punjab into a powerful kingdom and attached to it the adjacent provinces of Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar (all of which are now fully or partially administered by Pakistan). Singh’s death made it possible for the latest invaders – the British and their local army – to descend from the east, where they had firmly established their rule, and annex the Punjab. No invaders could have reached the Punjab if its neighbours in the north, south and east had offered meaningful resistance.
By the time we finish reading the book, the Punjab emerges as a wronged region, absolved of the charges of bowing to its raiders.
In the absence of a collective force, we do see resistance coming from people like Ahmad Khan Kharal of Jhamra. Besides Kharal, Warraich’s book mentions several characters who gave the British and other occupying forces a tough time. He doesn’t forget to tell us how shamelessly certain chiefs here collaborated with the invaders for their selfish benefit.
A few years ago, Dr Fatima Husain of Delhi University, India, in a lecture, New Trends in the History of Punjab, at the Punjab Institute of Language Art and Culture in Lahore, discussed invasions from another angle. Talking of invaders who targeted the Punjab during various phases of its history, Dr Husain said they were not just ‘invaders’ as they later settled here as the “Punjab had been the home for homeless.” She said that the land was so attractive to them that they did not want to leave it.
We see an example here. Going back in time, the Dravidians who built the Harappa civilisation had themselves migrated here. So did the Aryans, but, as Malti J Shendgi says in his book, The Civilized Demons, “in waves in search of shelter, not as invaders or marauders.” The Rig-Veda shows that Aryans were initially given certain designated areas, but after having achieved a sizable number, they started a long-drawn fight in which they faced stiff resistance from the locals, as testified by Vedic and post-Vedic literature. Nevertheless, the migrants eventually overpowered the locals.
If we overlook typos, the book, published by Sagar Publications, Lahore, offers a well-researched argument. The language is simple and easy to understand. Its force of contention shatters many a myth, many an ill-conceived belief that muddy the debate around the role of the Punjab through history. By the time one finishes reading the book, the Punjab emerges as a wronged region, absolved of the charges of bowing to its raiders. Pushing things forward, the publication of this book should contribute to raising awareness about the truth that has been distorted to sully the image of a martial people and their homeland.
Punjab Katahray Main
Author: Amjad Nawaz Warraich
Publisher: Sagar Publications, Lahore
The reviewer is a print, broadcast and online journalist associated with Jang Group of Newspapers as Editor, Special Assignments