Imagining lahore, p.10

Imagining Lahore, page 10


Imagining Lahore

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  Whereas Faiz represented the literary establishment, rooted as he was in the classical Urdu and Persian poetic traditions, another writer from the movement became a literary pariah. While Faiz was celebrated by everyone, Manto, at least during his lifetime, was rejected by all. The progressives called him regressive, the traditionalists called him progressive.45 Rejected by both, Manto, who had moved to Lahore from Bombay in 1948, found himself in a literary wilderness, which eventually took a toll on him and resulted in his untimely death in 1955. Shunned and banned during his lifetime, his writings today are widely acknowledged for their literary merit. In 2012, the Pakistani state awarded him the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, the highest honour given to a civilian. It was the same state that had haunted him during his lifetime, accusing him of promoting vulgarity by writing about the sexual violence committed during Partition.

  Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, another member of the organization, disagreed quite publicly with Zaheer on the role of religion in the state of Pakistan. Unlike Zaheer, Qasmi argued for a reconciliation of Islamic history with the egalitarian principles of the CPP.46 Perhaps he was attuned to the cultural sensibilities of the people of the land much more than Zaheer.

  While the Pakistan Progressive Writers’ Association remained the foremost literary organization in the country, there were many writers and intellectuals who either refused to associate themselves with it or were turned down for their political opinions. Another literary organization that became a rallying point for writers who did not necessarily agree with the constraints of the Pakistan Progressive Writers’ Association was the Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq, established in 1936 in Lahore. With these two organizations, which were often at odds with each other, Lahore emerged as a literary and cultural capital of the newly formed Pakistan, a title that it still, jealously though arguably unfairly, holds on to.

  Perhaps one reason why the CPP was able to leave a greater literary imprint on the country was because most of its leaders were better writers and intellectuals than political organizers.47 People like Sajjad Zaheer and Sibte Hassan were more at home when theorizing about Marxism than implementing those principles.

  Due to its lack of political impact, the leaders of the party were perhaps in a hurry to bring about a revolution.48 A top-down approach, supported by sections of the army, seemed like a quicker way to social justice. A meeting did take place, in which some leaders of the army were quite keen to overthrow the government and allow the CPP to seize power, but, it is believed, members of the party, including Zaheer and Faiz, turned down the offer.49 The government found out about the meeting and used it as a pretext to arrest the leading proponents of the ‘conspiracy’.

  A media trial followed which asked for the summary executions of all those involved. The communists were called anti-state and anti-religion, with their initial rejection of Partition used as evidence of their treachery. Along with Chaudhary Zafarullah Khan, General Akbar Khan too became a symbol of the ‘treachery’ of the Ahmadiyya community during the riots that followed a couple of years later. The CPP was banned. Upon the intervention of Nehru, with whom Zaheer had ties, the latter was allowed to leave for India. The nascent movement was clipped in the bud. It was a turning point in the history of the left in Pakistan.

  With prominent leaders either arrested or underground, workers of the party were rudderless. They were eventually brought together in 1957 with the formation of the NAP.50 However, one year after its creation, the party was banned under the martial law of Ayub Khan, along with all other political parties in the country. A severe crackdown followed, resulting in the arrest of several workers of the party, including Hasan Nasir.

  In November 1960, an army veteran and a prominent Marxist, Major Ishaq Mohammad, and Mahmud Ali Kasuri, a lawyer and one of the founders of the NAP, filed a habeas corpus appeal in Lahore High Court51 to locate Hasan Nasir. Maj. Ishaq Mohammad, who was also imprisoned and tortured at Lahore Fort, had reason to believe that Nasir too was being kept there.

  A court inquiry disclosed that Nasir had indeed been kept and ‘interrogated’ at Lahore Fort, but as of 29 October 1960, the inquiry had ended and he was to be sent to Karachi. However, on 13 November, according to police officials, Nasir was found hanging in his cell at Lahore Fort.52 They claimed that he hanged himself after finding out he was to be transferred to Karachi because he had become anxious after disclosing the names of his comrades during his ‘interrogation’.53 Another reason stated was that he had become depressed after receiving a letter from his mother and hearing about the declining health of his father. He had hanged himself using his pyjama cord. Government officials buried the deceased at Miani Sahib in Lahore.

  Nasir’s comrades suspected foul play. They wanted his body to be exhumed and a postmortem conducted to determine the reason for his death. On 12 December 1960, following court orders, in the presence of Nasir’s mother, his body was exhumed. However, due to the advanced stage of decomposition, the body was unrecognizable.54 Zohra Alambardar Hussain refused to accept that the body belonged to her son and did not take its possession. The body was reburied, while Nasir’s mother returned to India.



  A small stream flows meekly through a parched riverbed. Nomads who have camped on the dry bed, with the arrival of summer and the subsequent monsoon, will evacuate it and move to a higher area, as the Ravi will pretend to be a river for a couple of months. The silhouette of the city of Lahore is before us—the Minar-e-Pakistan is trying to catch up with the towering minarets of Badshahi Masjid. The rest of the city is lost in a haze.

  This is the busiest part of the city, one of the main entries into Lahore. It was once the gateway of the kings—Shahdara—now a small town on the western bank of the river, an industrial hub, emptying its waste into the river. On a clear morning, when the particles in the polluted air have settled, one can still see the minarets of the mosque at Data Darbar, the white dome of the smadh of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the tall buildings of the walled city behind Badshahi Masjid.

  The river was once whimsical, wild, impervious to the sufferings of those living close to it. In its generosity, it would sometimes assume the incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver of life. Lahore would not exist without the blessings of the Ravi. But sometimes, it would become Shiva, the deity of destruction. In an ecstatic dance of death, it would break out of its banks, destroying everything that stood in its way. No force could tame its violent energy. Life would eventually sprout from the seeds of destruction the river would leave in its wake, and hence the cycle of life—of death and birth, hand in hand—would move forward.

  Aware of the untapped energy of the river, many rishis, yogis, dervishes and tantrics have sat on its banks, praying to the mighty goddess to share with them its unlimited boon. For seventeen years, every day, Guru Nanak would take a dip in the river as he worked in his fields north of Lahore. Asked for his last wish before his impending capital punishment, Guru Arjan wished for one last bath in the waters of the river that flowed next to Lahore Fort at the time. He never emerged from it, choosing to pass on to the next world on his own terms. According to folk tradition, Valmiki composed the Ramayana on the banks of the Ravi.1 It also talks of the riverbank as the site of the Battle of Ten Kings—an epic confrontation mentioned in the Rig Veda in which the tribal kingdom of Bharata emerged victorious, eventually lending its name to India.2

  Standing on the edge of the river, it is hard to imagine the mighty Ravi of the past, one of the six sacred rivers to flow through Punjab. This river system is the cradle of the Indian civilization, giving birth to the Indus Valley Civilization, before the Gangetic river valley civilization emerged in northern India following the demise of cities like Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. The little stream flowing at the edge of Lahore today is a sad reminder of the changing political landscape as well. In 1960, Prime Minister Nehru and President Ayub Khan met in Karachi to determine the control of rivers flowing in Punjab emerging from Indian territory. Control of the eastern
rivers, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej, was handed to India, while that of the western rivers, Chenab, Jhelum and Indus, was given to Pakistan. Over the years, as India built dams and barrages on ‘its’ rivers, these once mighty ancient rivers began to dry up. Where the Sutlej has almost disappeared, the Ravi too seems headed towards imminent extinction in Pakistani territory. Once the source of life for Lahore and its surroundings, the river today begs for survival.

  On 31 December 1929, as a cloud of mist hung over the river, one by one, the leaders of the Indian National Congress, the largest political organization in pre-Partition India, stepped into the cold waters of the Ravi to take a pledge of complete freedom, Purna Swaraj.3 The cold water in the midst of a bitter Lahori winter symbolized the ultimate sacrifice the pledge would demand—self-control. The Gandhian doctrine of turning the other cheek was to be the road to freedom. Freedom in this context did not just mean political autonomy, a government of Indians, but also spiritual autonomy, which could only be achieved through self-mastery, the ultimate expression of Swaraj. Internal Swaraj was to be a prerequisite for political Swaraj.

  Mahatma Gandhi’s entire life was an exemplification of this kind of self-control expected of his followers. This self-control was not just a process but an ultimate goal—moksha, salvation. Political Swaraj, for Gandhi, was to be the sum total of Swaraj for individuals, every individual in control over his or her impulses.4 This would lead to the ultimate social order, with complete harmony, no exploitation—Ram rajya. Nationalism, for Gandhi, was not an expression of citizens being assured their civic rights but rather it was them fulfilling their duties towards society, which they could only accomplish after achieving complete self-mastery.5 Political autonomy would have no significance if self-control was not achieved.

  It is this internal Swaraj that provided members of the Congress the strength to face the brutal persecution of the colonial state without violent retaliation. During a severe lathi charge in Lucknow, just a little before the event in Lahore, members of the party held their ground and only raised their hands to protect their faces, when with their numerical strength they could have fought back, dismounting the police officers from their horses.6 The vicious, violent state was helpless in front of unarmed protesters exhibiting the pinnacle of self-control. Similar self-mastery was exhibited by members of the Khudai Khidmatgar, led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, an ally and close friend of Gandhi, on 23 April 1930, at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, when the colonial police fired at peaceful protesters, resulting in the death of over 200 people.7

  Gandhi and Congress supporters at the end of 1929 were a step closer to this internal Swaraj after the debacle at Chauri Chaura. In 1922, in a small town called Chauri Chaura in the United Provinces, a mob burnt down a police station after being fired at, at the height of Gandhi’s satyagraha during the nationwide Non-Cooperation Movement, resulting in the death of about twenty-two policemen.8 So disappointed was Gandhi at the lack of discipline shown by protesters, who had taken to the streets following his call of strike against the colonial state, that he halted the movement. Political autonomy for Gandhi, and the Congress under his shadow, was not acceptable without the prior disciplining of the self through non-violence. Freedom meant nothing without this internal freedom.

  While on the one hand stepping into the cold waters of the Ravi on New Year’s Eve symbolized self-control amidst adversity, on the other, it illustrated another concept of nationalism, deeply intertwined with religious expression. Taking a dip in a holy river signified spiritual purification through snan. Religious rituals and symbols were a regular feature of Gandhi’s political gatherings. Often, he would organize public readings of the Gita and the Quran. Self-autonomy leading to political autonomy, for Gandhi, would be a product of earnestly following one’s religion, dharma.

  For several other nationalists too, the downfall of Indian civilization, culminating in its colonization by the British, was a result of people moving away from the true teachings of their religion.9 Several Muslim allies of the Congress party were a product of such Islamic revivalist movements. Representatives of the urban educated classes, many of them felt that a staunch adherence to Islamic doctrine would result in a political revival of Islam in South Asia. It, therefore, was hardly a surprise that the Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Gandhi, threw its weight behind the Khilafat Movement of 1919, which was a politico-religious movement to preserve the Caliphate under threat after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Allied Powers, which included Britain.

  It is interesting to note here that Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, did not support the Khilafat Movement. An Anglicized Indian, Jinnah’s concept of nationalism, inspired from the British, was premised upon a secular state that had particular responsibilities towards its citizens. For him, it was adherence to constitutional law that ensured the well-being of citizens, rather than religious revivalism. He remained sceptical of religious revivalist movements and they, in turn, had their reservations about him and his call for Pakistan. Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947 sums up his notion of nationalism, in which religion was to have no role in the functioning of the state. It was this ideological difference that had earlier led to Jinnah’s exit from the Congress in 1920.10 While the Congress under its old guard shared Jinnah’s vision of nationalism, it took on a more religious outlook after the arrival of Gandhi, affiliating with other religious revivalist movements.

  Particularly in Punjab, Hindu nationalism played a pivotal role in promoting the cause of Indian nationalism, where cadres of the Arya Samaj joined the Indian National Congress.11 Founded in Lahore in 1877 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the Arya Samaj was a Hindu revivalist movement that looked to ‘modernize’ Hinduism by removing some of its ‘corrupted’ influences to seek the essence of a pure Vedic culture, which for them represented the true form of religion.

  While several of its members actively engaged in political activities, the organization itself never expressed political aspirations. Some of its doctrines did invoke a Hinduized version of patriotism. The Arya Samaj believed in the greatness of India’s past, a past that was solely associated with Hinduism, and wanted to revive its lost glory. In its ideological framework, the downfall of the ‘Indian’ civilization began with the arrival of Islam in the subcontinent. The Muslims, similar to the British, were seen as a foreign colonizing force. The organization set up several educational centres with the sole focus of nationalizing education in India.

  The ‘Hinduization’ of Indian nationalism also led to communal polarization in Punjab. Some members of the organization were responsible for the publication of inflammatory material, offensive to Muslims, sometimes leading to communal violence.12

  This rather motley collection of diverse ideologies and at times antagonistic political opinions within the Congress shows the organization’s unique position in Punjab. Unlike the United Provinces or Gujarat, it never found a stable footing in Punjab.13 Several members of the party from Punjab were not necessarily those who believed in its anti-imperialist stance, but became affiliated with it, as they did with other political organizations, to address more local concerns. For example, particularly for the urban Hindus and Muslims, separate electorates and extra weightage given to minorities in assemblies were a bone of contention, which they wanted to take up through the platform of the Congress.14

  There are several reasons why the Congress was not able to find the same kind of stronghold in Punjab as it did in other parts of the country. First, Punjab was firmly entrenched within the colonial apparatus. It was the bread basket of British India, with most of its agriculture converted into cash crops and exported to Britain. The rural economy was the backbone of the province. Local zamindars, who had benefited from the colonial state, were staunch supporters of the British. The rising nationalism in Punjab, therefore, remained limited to urban centres like Lahore and Rawalpindi. The most prominent political party in pre-Partition Punjab, the Unioni
st Party, was a staunchly pro-Empire organization.15

  Punjab was also the main recruiting ground for the British imperial army. Soldiers from Punjab had played a crucial role in not only the First World War but also in 1857 when, through Punjab’s loyalty, the British were able to quell the ‘Mutiny’ in other parts of north India. It was therefore essential for the British to maintain control over Punjab to ensure the perpetuity of the Empire.

  Under its broader programme of anti-imperialism, the Congress had managed to find several local partners all over India to spread its agenda. For example, in Gujarat it was Vallabhbhai Patel, and in the NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) it was Abdul Ghaffar Khan. In Punjab, it lacked a political ally who could further the cause. For a little while though, towards the end of the 1920s, it seemed as if the Congress had found the perfect ally.

  Located within a congested residential community of small houses in Lahore is the spacious Bradlaugh Hall. With its windows and doors shut, the building is now abandoned. While the ‘indigenous’ population remained confined within the boundary of the walled city, this area, off Mall Road, was reserved for the British elite. Spacious bungalows with sprawling gardens used to dominate the landscape of this area that is now largely taken up by small houses.

  Before it became a congested locality, the tall bell tower of the Government College, a gorgeous specimen of Gothic architecture with its tall pointed buildings piercing the sky, must have been visible from here. At walking distance from the Hall is the office of the superintendent of police. Behind the recently renovated facade of the building, one can still see remnants of colonial architecture, which amalgamated Victorian design with existing Indian traditions. Facing the office is the Government Islamia College, founded by another politico-religious organization called the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, formed in Lahore in 1884, which, like the Arya Samaj, conjoined nationalism with religious revivalism.16 Interestingly, the building of the college originally belonged to the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) College, set up by members of the Arya Samaj as part of their ‘nationalization’ of education.

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