Inhibitions of the downtrodden
THE month of March is important for us. First, the Lahore Resolution was passed in March 1940 and was realised seven years later with the birth of Pakistan. Second, the army operation began in East Pakistan in March 1971, which ended in the dismemberment of the country in December of the same year after Indian intervention.
When my seasoned journalist friend and a leading columnist of the Urdu language, Wusatullah Khan, started translating Gen Ayub Khan’s diaries, I again got interested in what happened in the last years of united Pakistan. That led me to read some new accounts and re-read some old ones. There is a famous description of Bengalis that Ayub Khan gives in his book, ‘Friends Not Masters’, which I quote for you here.
“The people of Pakistan consist of a variety of races each with its own historical background and culture. East Bengalis, who constitute the bulk of the population, probably belong to the very original Indian races. It would be no exaggeration to say that up to the creation of Pakistan, they had not known any real freedom or sovereignty. They have been in turn ruled either by the caste Hindus, Moghuls, Pathans, or the British.
“In addition, they have been and still are under Hindu cultural and linguistic influence. As such they have all the inhibitions of downtrodden races and have not yet found it possible to adjust psychologically to the requirements of a newborn freedom. Their popular complexes, exclusiveness, suspicion and a sort of defensive aggressiveness probably emerge from this historical background.” This is what the self-proclaimed five-star general, the field marshal, the first martial law administrator and president of Pakistan, Mohammad Ayub Khan, said in his political autobiography about the majority of his own countrymen and – women – back in the 1960s. What else do you call racism? What else do you call chauvinism? What else do you call ignorance? What else do you call prejudice?
What did Ayub mean by real freedom or sovereignty and East Pakistanis being ruled forever by high caste Hindus, Moghuls, Pathans and the British? Where else in the Subcontinent were peasants and workers ruling their states or regions? Was there democracy in Ayub’s native Haripur when he was born in a village in 1907 and rode on a mule’s back to go to school? What does he mean by Hindu cultural and linguistic influence? Goodness!
Nincompoops with no knowledge and no sense of history have ruled this godforsaken country of ours for decades and with impunity. As far as culture is concerned, we are South Asians first with influences from west and Central Asia. Whatever faith we practise and rituals we observe add further distinctness within the regional and local cultural traditions. All our North Indian languages including Ayub’s mother tongue Hindko, except Brahvi and Brushiski perhaps, are derived from Sanskrit and Prakrits, Ironic! Hindko is the only language spoken in today’s Pakistan which has the word ‘Hind’ in it.
Ayub had no idea at all of what Bengalis have contributed to knowledge and civilisation in the Indian Subcontinent including the Muslim culture of this region. He was saying all that about East Bengalis at a time when the great Bangla poet Kazi Nazrul Islam was alive and revered across East Pakistan. How many Tagores and Nazruls did Ayub’s part of South Asia produce? He mentioned the inhibitions of the downtrodden Bengalis which made it hard for them to understand the requirements of being liberated. He listed those inhibitions as popular complexes, exclusiveness, suspicion and a sort of defensive aggressiveness. He was speaking about East Pakistanis but they still continue to prove him wrong and, unfortunately, Ayub’s own and superior “West Pakistanis” seem to espouse these inhibitions. He sounds so right in defining a people. But these people are his own – those who live in Pakistan today.
Today, besides dust on the National Highway, what holds us together as a nation is cherishing our exclusiveness, suspicion of all other countries and, of course, a defensive aggressiveness. We have cultivated an illusion of superiority over other nations and peoples by emphasising our specific moral values found nowhere else, a belief system which makes us a part of the greatest faith, and the past glory of Arabs and West Asians in which we have otherwise little share to claim.
We suspect everyone of conspiring against our distinguished nation and country to bring us down. We jump on a critic’s throat if he tells us that we miserably lag behind in all facets of human development.
I find it interesting that a large part of the Pakistani diaspora, even after living in advanced countries for ages, think the same about the uniqueness and exclusivity of Pakistan as their native cousins back home. What is so special about us Pakistanis? Why are we superior to others? Except for a few individuals born in this sixth largest country of the world, what – as a nation and society – have we contributed to the realms of art, science, industry and technology over the past 65 years that would make the rest of the people living in this world feel envious? Which new theories have we propounded in biology, chemistry and physics and which new inventions have we made to make human life easy? We can’t run a railway inherited from the colonial days and think that those flying space shuttles want to pull us down! Why is everybody trying to harm us? Why are conspiracies being hatched to demean us? What makes us so important that everyone is out there to bring us down to our knees? Why do we get defensively aggressive or, in many cases, plainly aggressive when someone from within or outside criticises our conduct? Which pinnacle of human civilisation have we reached from where the nations of the world are trying hard to bring us down?