Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blog the Nation, Blog the State

I want to discuss the narrative structure of the Blog and its objectives before I venture on how the Blog format supports unpacking the diverse, visceral meanings of PARTITION.

Unlike the pages of a book, articles in a newspaper, or the visualized narrative of a documentary, a Blog, despite its inelegant name, is a valuable, quietly discursive, you-can't-pay-me-for-it, community-building process that may be vitally necessary for our private-is-public, personal-is-political clamorous discontent. The medium is the message. So is the extended, endlessly editable, narrative moment of the Blog. The narrative moment here is 1947.

The Blog's fluid architecture permits self-discovery and exploration, no less than mindless stupidity, a private voice actively engaged with an imagined public in a public space. One may think aloud and be heard. One may think aloud and never be heard. That is no loss either to the speaker or the imagined gathering. Indeed much may be gained from speaking words that don't yet have resonance. On a blog, unheard words take a definite shape only to give way to other words in a journey of error and erasure but always in the direction of possibility.

The Blog encourages inquiring uncertainty on its way to possibility.

I have much more left to muse about the daily, nightly piecework of blogging but I don't have the words yet, even these few are written in time snatched away from students, sons, friends, kitchen, crochet, computer.

In this era of digital social networking YouTube is my virtual grandmother from whom I can learn some lost art.
In contrast, this personal-is-political Blog is my page my muse my companion, a space for fragments of truth that have yet to cohere but yet must not adhere. For truth is inconvenient, perilous, tenuous, lacking in conviction, anchored in skepticism, at the very moment that it catches a softly luminous ray of enduring light. Such a one is worth cultivating as a mentor.

In this reflective frame of heart, I thought I might embark, in my private-is-public, personal-is-political, virtual-is-real space, on the diverse meanings of Partition.

A people in a vast peninsular, dramatic, land, forever fabled, known to the rest of the world by the river where they were first (in recorded history) met by travelers from Greece. Or on a sea coast dotted by dhows, catamarans and later the vessels of Empire. Ancient, multiple, world- embracing, composite, inclusive beliefs with no name. Peoples of expansive beliefs and incessant feudal fighting, of a world danced into being. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The world is a family.>Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam An ancient warmly embracing idea with an acrid contemporary ring called globalization.

Would that were still so -- A people known mainly by their river. Indus. (H)Indus. But no. A BORDER runs though it.

Then the world danced into Being became less energetic in the face of zeal and acquisition.

Other words took precedence.

Among them, the word forever spelled by certain subcontinentals like myself with a capital P.

Curzon and 1905. Bengal. The Partition of Bengal. Did Jinnah learn nothing whatsoever from that first wound dealt by Empire? Did he not fatally accomplish what Curzon began? Was he not the pawn, the peon of Empire?

Did Jinnah hate history? He was educated therefore he could not possibly claim ignorance of the study of history. Therefore it must logically follow that he rejected the lessons of history. Was he therefore condemned to repeat it? Was he ripe for exploitation by the divide-and-rule strategy of Empire?

Did Jinnah turn his back on ethical possibility and cause irreparable harm to the common weal?

Mountbatten and 1947. First Partition then LoC.

P for Pakistan, P for Partition, P for Pure. The land of the Pure. Oh really? As my most beloved, revered freedom fighter of that tumultuous period, Maulana Azad, born in Mecca, dying in Delhi wondered, and of course I am paraphrasing, what does that make everybody else -- impure?

Everyone else forever the impure, hated Other?

Gandhi pleaded: "You can cut my body into two but please don't cut India into two."

That is a vastly different sentiment than the cruel sentiment of Partition, of severed wounding, liberatory but tragic statehood(s), harshly imagined borders congealed with the blood of innocents of every faith, occupation, aspiration who had shared the same well and had had their family differences as well as shaped each others' minds and hearts over centuries of living together.

A Cut-and-Paste Nation Becomes a Failed State 1947-2008

Was Jinnah's 'vision' murderously flawed? Who is a "Mussalman"? (see below, Cowasjee 2001). What happened to the Others, who were not? Jinnah in fact paved the way for Liaquat. Jinnah's wretched non-vision was logically elaborated in 1949. And ever logically onwards -- to Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Was his argument for divisive statehood a logical fallacy? Can division become the basis for tolerance?

How could Partition and fraternity possibly be reconciled in one breath? Isn't one relentlessly opposed to the other?

Is it any wonder that Jinnah's logical fallacy prevailed and became a living nightmare for sisters and brothers sharing blood, separated by a line spilling blood?

Did Jinnah's political ambition override humane concern he should have expressed, for the Greater Collective Good of ALL the people?

How cruelly different Jinnah was from my beloved Maulana Azad who was a critical lover of ALL the people. No wonder Gandhi called the Maulana "my conscience keeper." In fact Gandhi would have done well to have paid greater attention to the ideals of the Maulana.

Can Religion or even ethnic identity ever become the basis of a modern state where 'others' also live? Where are the Others in a so-called Islamic republic? What about their othered desires? Can Religion ignore Culture? Isn't Bangladesh the lesson that Pakistan bitterly learned, that Religion cannot trump Culture, that divided geographies cannot sustain the modern state?

Can Secularism flower when everyone else by definition, is The Other? When linguistic, ethnic, religious, sexual minorities are made faceless, voiceless, dreamless, altogether LESS?

When faith is deployed rather than devout?

My musings on Partition and the LoC are a continuing, flawed journey that began in collective memory in the last millennium. The Children of Midnight still alive are often resigned but always yearning, never daring to voice a dream of family picnics on the LoC. Perhaps their children may be the ones to dream again, spread the cloths and lay out the delicacies precisely on that selfishly imagined, yet made terrifying real, Line of Horror, Line of Tears. LoH. LoT.

Not a moment for LoL.

So it is for now, for me.
My aim in my blog is that my heart may grow in ethical possibility shaped by diverse, interdependent, ethical community.

Chithra Karunakaran
Ethical Democracy as Lived Practice
Dawn newspaper copyright

The way of Jinnah

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, at Lahore, October 24, 1947: "I would like to impress upon every Mussalman who has at heart the welfare and the prosperity of Pakistan, to avoid retaliation and to exercise restraint, because retaliation and violation of law and order will ultimately result in weakening the very foundations of the edifice you have cherished all these years to erect. Do your duty and have faith in God. There is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan."

Wise words of warning, that went unheeded or unheard. Jinnah's Pakistan died with him, with the death knell of September 11, 1948, and it took his talented countrymen a mere 23 years to undo what remained. By December 1971 the nation lay sundered in half.

Now, after the passage of over half a century, we have a leadership that is attempting to rebuild the country and the nation in the mould as visualized by its maker, Jinnah. Speaking to the people from Jinnah's Mazar on December 25, commemorating the 125th anniversary of his birth, President General Pervez Musharraf told them that the way forward, the way he was attempting to take them, was Jinnah's way, as defined by him. But to move forward "we will have to step very cautiously." Whatever decisions he takes, said Musharraf, are taken with Jinnah's vision of Pakistan in mind. Jinnah's vision encompassed a welfare state drawing inspiration from the tenets of true Islam, built on the foundations of democracy, with respect and protection for the individual, with equal rights for men, women and children irrespective of their religious faith or political views.

He quoted from the speech made long ago, in 1941 by the country's maker to the Punjab Muslim Students Federation :

"There are at least three main pillars which go to make a nation worthy of possessing a territory and running a government. One is education. Next, no nation and no people can ever do anything very much without making themselves economically powerful in commerce, trade and industry. And lastly, you must prepare yourselves for your defence, defence against external aggression and to maintain internal security."

In tune with Jinnah's enunciation of his creed in his never to be forgotten and always to be repeated time and time again speech of August 11 1947, Musharraf asked his countrymen to "sink all religious and sectarian differences and show tolerance of each other's beliefs, views and thoughts, to shun religious differences," as had the nation's father when addressing the members of the Constituent Assembly. Religious intolerance, said Musharraf, has utterly blurred Jinnah's vision. The nation has deviated from that vision to the extent that aside from being unable to tolerate other religions, "we refuse to accommodate the views of the various sects of our own religion. We are killing each other for differences in fiqhs and maslaks. We have undermined Islam to a level that people of the world associate it with illiteracy, backwardness, intolerance, obscurantism and militancy."

And what was it that Jinnah told his assembly members ? "You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of state. As you know, history shows that in England conditions some time ago were much worse than those prevailing in India today.

"The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.

The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist, what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal ".

Now, from the very beginning, from the outset, the leaders of Pakistan who have followed Jinnah have distorted his words to suit their immediate expedient self-serving purposes. This particular passage from his most important address has been subject to deliberate distortion and misinterpretation, having inspired the dishonest dogmatists who misappropriated the country after his death. In the official biography of Jinnah commissioned by the Government of Pakistan, written by Hector Bolitho and published in 1954, it was brutally bowdlerized to falsely read: " You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal ...".

We had to wait for an American, Professor Stanley Wolpert, to write what is the definitive biography of the man Jinnah as he really was - and he was commissioned by no one but himself. Yet, when the book was published in 1984 its distribution in Pakistan was proscribed because of one passage he had quoted from M C Chagla's book, 'Roses in December' which referred to Jinnah's eating and drinking preferences.

Wolpert was put under much pressure (as he reminded us when he spoke at the Aga Khan University auditorium this December 26) when the government of General Zia-ul-Haq offered to buy thousands of copies of his book were he to excise that particular passage. Of course, he refused. The amount of research Wolpert has put into his book can be gauged from the 40-odd pages of Notes and Bibliography.

Back to MAJ and February 19, 1948, when he again stressed : "But make no mistake, Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it. Islam demands from us the tolerance of other creeds and we welcome in closest association with us all those who of whatever creed are themselves willing and ready to play their part as true and loyal citizens of Pakistan."

As he was to say a few days later: "In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims - Hindus, Christians and Parsis. They are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.

What he tried to make clear on August 11, 1947 to the future legislators and administrators of his country is that "the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state." He told them he would not tolerate the evils of bribery, corruption, blackmarketeering and "this great evil, the evil of nepotism and jobbery," the daily bread of powermongers. Little did he know that day that these prime evils were to become prerequisites for the survival of the politicians in and out of uniform and of the administrators of all ranks and grades for the maintenance of their power.

Musharraf admitted this on December 25 that "corruption and nepotism have eaten the nation like termites from within". He made an appeal to the so-called 'elite', the rich elite (most of them undeserving of the appellation) : "Let society treat the corrupt with contempt so that the fear of God is put into them and they at least hide and feel ashamed instead of showing off their ill-gotten riches." Yes, general, you are right. But then would Mohammad Ali Jinnah approve of your National Accountability Bureau when it makes 'deals' with the corrupt, with the robbers, and rather than extracting what it can from their ill-gotten gains, and then letting them stand trial and be sentenced and hopefully be sent to jail, it frees them, as reportedly is happening with the former chief of our Navy?

However, and whatever may happen, Jinnah's enunciated vision for his country cannot be changed, no matter how invasive the censorship and bowdlerizing of his words. If we do now have a man intent upon focusing upon that vision, and with the strength and support to see that the vision becomes reality, we should be a grateful nation.