Across the border

As Pakistan cracks down on love, hate makes deeper inroads into the country

While the Islamabad High Court banned Valentine's Day celebrations, terror attacks continued in the country.

The Pakistan State has a unique ability to find itself in farcical situations.

On Monday, the Islamabad High Court banned Valentine’s Day celebrations across the country on the eve of the festival of love. The rationale was a familiar one – that the celebration is against Pakistan’s culture and religion and promotes indecency. It is also a part of Western culture, imply members of the judiciary and parliament even as they are dressed in so-called Western clothes, holding power and ruling the country through institutions setup by the Westerners.

Even as police officials spent the next couple of days snatching heart-shaped balloons and trying to wipe all traces of Valentine’s Day from the country, catastrophe struck Pakistan. On the day of the ruling, a bomb ripped through a crowd gathered outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, killing at least 13, including top police officials, and wounding several others.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, thousands of people prepared to converge at Islamabad to commemorate the first death anniversary of Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed on February 29 for the 2011 murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Millions were collected in donations from all over the country to construct a shrine here for the assassin, by devotees who believe that by killing Taseer for opposing the country’s strict blasphemy laws, Qadri had done a service to his religion. Facing this structure is a newly planned housing scheme that markets itself on its proximity to the shrine. As his death anniversary nears, banners are coming up across the country celebrating Qadri.

This week has also seen at least three more terror attacks, most recently on a Sufi shrine in Sehwan on Thursday, which killed at least 70 according to initial reports.

But while hate is seeping into the land, it is the celebration of Valentine’s Day the State has deemed a threat to its culture.

Fighting for love

More often than is required, different institutions of the State bring up the culture of the country, which perpetually seems to be under threat – sometimes from contraceptive ads or from TV discussions on child abuse and at other times from educational institutes teaching comparative religion. Quite conveniently the world “culture” seemingly captures the essence of the multi-religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the country.

A few years ago, I drove to the small city of Chistian close to the Bahawal Nagar district in the Pakistan’s Punjab. The city is named after the prominent Chisti order of Sufism, which boasts prominent saints liked Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar and Nizamuddin Auliya. It is believed to have been established in the 13th century by a grandson of Baba Farid.

The Chisti order reflects the eclectic nature of Sufism and its religious syncretism, which drew into its folds devotees from different religious backgrounds, including Hinduism and Sikhism, thereby becoming popular. Qawwali, devotional Sufi music, for example, is believed to have been introduced in undivided India by this sect.

On an empty road, enclosed by darkness on both sides, we drove towards the shrine of Tajuddin Chisti, the founder of this city. Far away in the distance was a single ray of light emanating from the shrine. The darkness around us was a graveyard, “the largest in Asia”, we were later told.

In the graveyard, which extended into the shrine, were graves of family members and rich and powerful devotees who received the honour of being buried next to the saint.

In a corner of the massive shrine complex was a small building covered with pink tiles, at the centre of which was a modest grave. This was the grave of a nephew of Tajuddin Chisti, we were told. There were a few mud graves outside this small shrine, perhaps of the devotees of the saint who were from humble backgrounds. Several burnt out lamps that once kept alive the memories of the deceased were scattered around them.

On an uncovered part of the nephew’s shrine, a small heart had been made out of pink tiles and around it, names of couples had been scribbled using oil from these lamps. Couples who are unable to marry because of social opposition come to this shrine and write their names on its wall. The saint, it is believed, then helps them iron their difficulties out.

Heer-Ranjha's tomb in Jhang, Pakistan. [Photo: Khalid Mahmood via Wikimedia Commons]
Heer-Ranjha's tomb in Jhang, Pakistan. [Photo: Khalid Mahmood via Wikimedia Commons]

There is a similar practice at the shrine of Heer and Ranjha in Jhang, Central Punjab. Standing on a small mound, this single-storey structure covered with blue and white tiles, crowned with a green dome, is said to contain the graves of Heer and Ranjha, the legendary lovers who were interred together to honour their timeless love.

If there is one thing that forms the essence of Punjabi identity irrespective of religious affiliation, it is the story of Heer-Ranjha. Every day, thousands of devotees gather at the courtyard of this shrine to pay homage to this legend of love. The wall here too is covered with names of couples whose love story faces societal hurdles.

Even as some Pakistanis were debating whether Valentine’s Day is in keeping with our culture, other citizens, far away from the urban centers, gathered at the courtyards of these shrines to pray for their relationships. Someone forgot to tell them celebrating love is not part of our culture.

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books, most recently, Walking with Nanak.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.