Across the border

Beyond Harappa: Pakistanis struggle with the paradox of their Indian heritage

It is not just about Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. What about Allama Iqbal – or Bhagat Singh? Are they Indian or Pakistani?

In 1996, Aitzaz Ahsan, the celebrated lawyer and politician, who was also served as the interior minister of Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto from 1993 to 1996, and is currently a member of the Senate, wrote a fascinating book called Indus Saga and the making of Pakistan that provided a new framework to the Pakistani identity.

Pakistani identity has always had a complicated relationship with its past, a status that continues to endure. Premised upon its opposition to Hindu India, the Pakistani historiography has had a tough time dealing with the Indus valley civilisation, the cradle of the Indian civilisation.

The Aryan invasion theory was convenient as it implied that the present day Indian culture is a product of the invading Aryan forces, who destroyed the cities of Indus valley civilisation and gave birth to a new civilisation which came to be known as the Ganges Civilisation.

Whereas earlier only the Muslims were seen as invaders, and hence outsiders, this theory also described the Aryans as colonisers damaging their claim that they are the original inhabitants of this land. However recent studies have raised serious doubts about the Aryan Invasion theory and seem to indicate that the Ganges Civilisation was in many ways a continuation of the Indus valley civilisation.

The arbitrariness of the Radcliffe award placed major Indus valley sites such as Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in Pakistan. Paradoxically, thus, Pakistan found itself in control of archaeological ruins that many believe to be the origin of the Indian civilisation, a civilisation that the country wanted to dissociate from to carve its own separate Islamic history.

Even today if one visits these sites one would find that local guides interpret the history of these cities in an Islamic framework describing their downfall as evidence of the wrath of God, and the tyranny and cruelty of their rulers, an attribute which is associated with most of the pre-Islamic rulers.

Religious parties such as Jamaat-i-Islami have in the past claimed that these archaeological sites have nothing to do with the Pakistani civilisation, terming them as belonging to the zamana-e-jahalliya, a time period before the advent of Islam when human civilisation was lost in the ignoble state of ignorance and darkness. It has been suggested that instead of unearthing the secrets of these cities, we should rather fill them up again as humanity has nothing to learn from that ignoble time period.

It is in this context that Aitzaz Ahsan’s book provides a new modus operandi of interpreting the Indus Valley civilisation. Building upon the now untenable assumption that Indus valley civilisation and Ganges civilisation were separate, Ahsan linked back the Pakistani identity to the Indus Valley civilisation, saying that the identity of the people occupying this land was always different from those living in the plains of Ganges.

While the book might contain historical inaccuracies, it is remarkable for its attempt to inherit the Indus Valley civilisation as part of Pakistan’s legacy. Rooted in this endeavour is the perennial quest to differentiate the Pakistani identity from its Indian counterpart.

Historians and archaeologists much more knowledgeable than me will be able to demonstrate the continuation of tradition between Indus Valley civilisation and Ganges civilisation, to the contemporary Indian civilisation, a term that I use broadly to include Pakistani civilisation as well, much to chagrin of identity purists.

I have tried tracing a few of these traditions that are alive and thriving in the country in my book In Search of Shiva, pointing to the links between fertility cults developed around Sufi shrines and fertility cults back in the Indus Valley civilisation. Tree worship and offerings of mud toys to a shrine were practiced in the Indus valley and are still practiced both in India and Pakistan – in a new garb. It is however recent history of the subcontinent that becomes much more tenuous in the context of India and Pakistan.

Indian – or Pakistani? 

Courtesy: Thinkglink
Courtesy: Thinkglink

Having defined itself in opposition to India what is Pakistan supposed to do with its recent history which stands undifferentiated from its hated twin?

For example, Allama Iqbal is regarded as a national poet and every year his death anniversary is commemorated in the country as a national holiday. Iqbal’s vision is proclaimed as the destiny for Pakistan by political leaders who for the most part are illiterate of his philosophical works. However what is one to do with his poem Saare Jahan Se Achchha, Hindustan Hamaaraa? Do we as Pakistanis embrace this poem of Iqbal’s as we celebrate his other poetic master pieces? Of course, the argument is that there was no Pakistan at that time and neither was there a vision of a separate country that Iqbal is believed to have dreamed of and Jinnah achieved.

This poem was written in 1904 when Iqbal was only 27 years old. Are we today in Pakistan expected to shed away this name of Hindustan which was the country of Iqbal when he lived and died, because the hated twin continues using that nomenclature, thus appropriating all the symbolism associated with it.

Another thing that baffles me is that Iqbal died in 1938, years before Pakistan came into existence. He was an Indian when he died. But did he become Pakistani after 1947, having been one of the most prominent proponents of the movement? Or is he to be regarded as the "hated Indian", we no longer associate with?

The story of Bhagat Singh is also similar. He was born near Faisalabad and died in Lahore. How are we to recognise him now that the land of his birth has become Pakistan? Is he an Indian hero or Pakistani? Or is he a hero for both India and Pakistan?

But, then, wouldn’t sharing a common hero with India dilute the Pakistani identity nestled in its separation from the other? What then is to become of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhism who spent his entire life preaching moderation and the removal of divisions between Hindus and Muslims? He lived and died in the land that later became Pakistan. Was he then a great Pakistani or a great Indian sage?

This perhaps has been one of the most ignored aspects of creation of new states in South Asia. As India kept its name it became the natural successor to “Indian heritage”, removing from this circle other smaller countries that too drive its history from this common heritage.

Buddha is yet another example who has now been appropriated as a great Indian sage, even though he was born in a city that now falls in Nepal. Doesn’t that make him a great Nepali sage? Increasingly as national fervour takes grip over hostile countries, it has become difficult to ask such questions without the fear of being labeled as anti-national.

Even the term Indian heritage cannot be used without qualification for Pakistani heritage, given the present day animosity.

In this environment, what then are we to do about the Indian heritage of Pakistan?

Haroon Khalid is the author of the books In Search of Shiva: a study of folk religious practices in Pakistan and A White Trail: a journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:


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