Posts Tagged ‘Punjab’

The Remove

July 4, 2015

By Zulfikar Ghose

The Sikh from Ambala in East Punjab,
India, formerly in the British Empire,
the Muslim from Sialkot in West Punjab,
Pakistan, formerly British India,
the Sikh boy and the Muslim boy are two
of twenty such Sikhs and Muslims
from East Punjab and West Punjab, which
formerly were the Punjab,
standing together in assembly, fearfully
miming the words of a Christian hymn.

Later, their firework voices explode
in Punjabi until Mr Iqbal –
which can be a Sikh name or a Muslim name,
Mohammed Iqbal or Iqbal Singh
who comes from Jullundur in East Punjab
but near enough to the border to be almost
West Punjab, who is an expert in
the archaic intonations of the Raj,
until the three-piece suited Mr Iqbal
gives a stiff-collared voice to his
Punjabi command to shut their thick wet
lips on the scattering sparks of their
white Secondary Modern teeth.

Mr Iqbal has come to London to teach
English to Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims
and has pinned up in his class pictures
of Gandhi and Jinnah, Nehru and Ayub
in case the parents come to ask in Punjabi
how the kids are doing in English.

And so: twenty years after
the Union Jack came down on Delhi
and the Punjab became East Punjab and
West Punjab and the Sikhs did not like it
and the Muslims did not like the Sikhs
not liking it and they killed each other
not by the hundred nor by the thousand
but by the hundred thousand, here then
is Mr Iqbal with his remove class of
twenty Punjabis, some Sikh and some Muslim,
in a Secondary Modern School in London,
all of them trying to learn English.

Back home the fastidious guardians of freedom,
the Sikh army and the Muslim army, convinced
that East is East and West is West etcetera,
periodically accuse each other of aggression.

First published in The Violent West (Macmillan, London, 1972) and reproduced here with the generous permission of the author.

I find this among the most poignant commentaries on the partition of India after reading which nothing is left to be said.

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On Cooperation and Competition – 1

June 7, 2009

Question: Why are some people more inclined to cooperate while others are more inclined to compete?

Answer: It’s all in the socialization.

Let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion.

I went to Malaysia for the first time about fifteen years ago. I saw in every government office I entered placards on the walls with guidance from the Prime Minister – Be Nice or Be Honest or Make Malaysia Great, etc. What surprised me was the seriousness that public servants accorded such messages. (more…)

Similar and Different: Bengal Revisited

April 17, 2009

What have we learnt from this extended discourse on similarities and differences? It is time for a recap and a summary.

We started with Vir Sanghvi’s angry pronouncement that Pakistanis and Indians were no longer similar; they may have been 60 years ago but by now ‘they’ were fundamentalist and ‘we’ were secular.

There were immediate rejoinders to this burst of annoyance with hurt pronouncements of sharing the same music and the same sports.

It became immediately obvious that there were two flaws with the framing of this discussion. First, human beings were not one thing or another; rather, they were better characterized as bundles of attributes. (more…)

Hinduism – 2: Getting to Terms with Religion

October 16, 2008

Continued from Hinduism – 1: What is ‘Hinduism’?

It’s time to remove the quotation marks around ‘Hinduism’.

It just adds to the confusion when one argues in this day that Hinduism is not a religion in the sense religion is understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is better to explain that ‘religion’ has a wider scope.

See how religion is defined in the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language:

Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties.

If one starts with that definition it would be very hard to fit Hinduism into the mould.

However, one can take a modern perspective and understand religion as a “system of symbols (creed, code, cultus) by means of which people (a community) orient themselves in the world with reference to both ordinary and extraordinary powers, meanings, and values.” In this perspective, Hinduism is a religion but with characteristics very different from those of a Judeo-Christian religion.

One can immediately see the big difference between Islam and Hinduism in this context. The former placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘true’ word of God, quarreling even amongst fellow Muslims on correct interpretations of the true word. The latter placed much more emphasis on the practices of everyday life with a lot more room for variations from any externally prescribed way.

One can also now understand the puzzlement of the British when they got ready to conduct the first major census in the Punjab in 1868. The presence of Muslims and Sikhs convinced them that Punjab society could only be understood through the lens of religion.  But when they attempted to define Hinduism they were stumped: “Primarily and historically, it is the antithesis of Islam. Religion, in the etymological sense of the word, it is not, and never was.”

Denzil Ibbetson in the Punjab Census Report of 1881 wrote that “the books on Hinduism describe Hinduism as it ought to be, Hinduism as it once was, perhaps Hinduism as it now is among the pandits and educated Brahmans of the holy cities; but they do not describe Hinduism as it is in the daily life of the great mass of the population.”

And thus the rule that was adopted for the census definition of Hindus was “that the Native of India must be presumed to be Hindu unless he belongs to some other recognized faiths.”

This different nature of Hinduism as a religion was not trivial and one would need to keep it in mind as we proceed to explore its interaction with Muslims and the British in the posts to follow.

To be continued…

The definitions of religion are to be found in a thoughtful post in Religion Dispatches. The material on the Punjab Census is from In the Making: Identity Formation in South Asia by Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik, Three Essays Collective, New Delhi, 2007.

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