The perils of dictating a country’s culture - Hindustan Times
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The perils of dictating a country’s culture

Mar 11, 2023 06:44 PM IST

A recent lecture by renowned art historian, Fakir Aijazuddin, was a commentary on an official book called Pakistan Culture, and a criticism of India-Pakistan relations

In my last column, I wrote about two book launches in India, so now I am turning to Pakistani writing. I have been prompted to do so by the text of a speech by Fakir Aijazuddin, a renowned art historian, about a book entitled Pakistan Culture. Aijazuddin’s speech is a criticism of India-Pakistan relations. Over the last 70 years, the two countries have been locked in bitter hostility with a blind hatred of each other spilling into open warfare four times.

It is important to remember that it’s not just the policies of the present government that have led to the barren relations with this neighbour. (HT File Photo) PREMIUM
It is important to remember that it’s not just the policies of the present government that have led to the barren relations with this neighbour. (HT File Photo)

The hostility between India and Pakistan has led to bureaucratic activities, such as blocking communications so that the two countries are kept apart instead of discussing their differences and getting to understand each other better. I recently read that no Indian newspaper has an Indian correspondent posted in Pakistan. When I used to go to Islamabad quite regularly, there were no direct flights. I had to change in Lahore, and even on that route, the flight was quite often not daily.

It is important to remember that it’s not just the policies of the present government that have led to the barren relations with this neighbour. Nor should anyone think I am blaming India and, thereby, excusing Pakistan. I believe both countries are blind when they encounter each other. I have talked with more than enough diplomats of both countries to be sure of that.

Equally, I am not suggesting that the Indo-Pakistan hatred of each other is simply an offshoot of the policies of this government. India has been Independent for 76 years now. The Congress has ruled for far more of those years than the Bharatiya Janata Party. In fact, an official member of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s entourage when he was the Janata Party’s foreign minister told me that his prime aim was to make peace with Pakistan. He did not give up on that when he became prime minister but he didn’t get the political support he needed.

It has been argued that the impact of the bloodshed at Partition created a situation in which hostility was the best that could be expected. Here, the blame must fall on Britain too. If Partition had been carefully planned while Britain was still in power; if Clement Attlee, the British prime minister at the time, had not wanted to cut and run; if British troops posted in India had not been confined to barracks or marched out of the country while all the blood was shed, Partition could have been far more peaceful and orderly.

But how does all this relate to Fakir Aijazuddin’s speech? The answer to that is simple. It relates because his lecture highlights the folly of the version of Pakistan’s culture put out by the government, which is not dissimilar to India’s official version of its culture.

Aijazuddin’s lecture was a commentary on an official book called Pakistan Culture. The book was written by four eminent academics, all with PhDs, Aijazuddin adds, to give the book academic as well as government approval. So it can be described as being a commentary on the official version of Pakistan’s culture. The version is so absurd that Aijazuddin gave up on page 67 of the book, with 177 pages left. It describes Pakistan as “a museum of races” but then that museum is narrowed down to “a Muslim society with essentially an Islamic culture with Islamic values”. The scholars who wrote the book restricted themselves to such a narrow Indo-Pakistan framework that they were able to write “the Hindu Bhakti cults of the 12th to 15th centuries sought to wean away the Muslims from the right path (Shariah). The Ulema and the Sufis frustrated these nefarious moves.”

According to Aijazuddin, “We should not feel threatened by other cultures and beliefs. We stand enriched not diminished by them.” There must be millions of Pakistanis who agree with him just as there are millions of Indians who would support a similar view of their culture. Why are they not powerful political voices? Because they allow politicians and officials to dictate their country’s culture.

The views expressed are personal

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