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Surely, the Basic Lesson Flows from the Basic Premise

Arun Shourie


 

 

    All sorts of lessons are being propounded from the events of fifty years ago -- from our getting Independence, from the country being partitioned. But, as usual, political correctness is keeping commentators from facing up to the fundamental lesson. The fundamental premises on which the country was partitioned were that (i) religion defines nationhood; (ii) though they do not have a common language, though they are separated by a thousand miles, the Muslims of East and West India are a nation because of their common adherence to Islam; (iii) moreover, Muslims are a separate nation from the rest who inhabit the sub-continent; (iv) they can never get justice in a united India for they will be swamped by the Hindu majority; (v) once they are given a country of their own, prosperity, justice, fraternity and all else will flow automatically; (vi) as Islam is a religion of tolerance, brotherhood and equality, as it places human dignity above all, people of all beliefs, creeds, races, languages will enjoy equal rights, and live in liberty and fraternity.

    These were the propositions which Muslim leaders -- from Sir Syed Ahmed to Jinnah -- hurled incessantly for seventy years at the country. Surely, the fundamental lesson must concern the way these premises have turned out in practice -- in the country which was set up as a consequence, that is in Pakistan.

    The first truth after fifty years of course is that today no one seriously asserts that, because Muslims believe in Islam, they constitute one nation. The massacre of Bengalis by Punjabis in 1971, the continuing killings of the Mohajirs in Karachi, the animosities between Sindhis and Punjabis, the continuing intransigence of the inhabitants of the tribal areas in the North-West -- all these give the lie to the basic premise on which the country was partitioned. The lesson is reinforced by what has been happening in the rest of the "Islamic world" : the wars between Iran and Iraq, the annexation of Kuwait, the rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the fratricidal war in Afghanistan, the bitterness between Libya and Egypt, the killings of thousands upon thousands in Algeria, terrorists trained in Sudan and flung at other Islamic countries... -- there is no end to proof to the contrary.

    The second lesson is in the logic of these things. Jinnah, as is well known, was as far from being religious as anyone could possibly be. But he embraced the religious rhetoric to acquire a following. He had the country partitioned in the name of Islam. In his very first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan he set about to dilute the "principle" on which he had wrested Pakistan. He told the Assembly,

    "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place 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 the State.... We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination 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..."

    Pointing to the way England had evolved, how there were now no Roman Catholics or Protestants in that country, only equal citizens of Great Britain, "all members of the Nation", Jinnah told the Assembly,

    "Now I think we should keep in front of us our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State..."

    Liaquat Ali, the country's first Prime Minister, was equally emphatic in repudiating the suggestion that non-Muslims would be in any way less equal than Muslims. He told the Constituent Assembly that a non-Muslim could well be the head of the administration of an Islamic State, that non-Muslims would be welcomed into the administrative services of the country. He said that the guarantees which were being provided for non-Muslims in the Pakistan Constitution were much more comprehensive than were being provided for Muslims in the Indian Constitution. Mohammed Zafrullah Khan, the country's Foreign Minister and an Ahmediya by faith, had this to say,

    "It is a matter of great sorrow that, mainly through mistaken notions of zeal, the Muslims have during the period of decline earned for themselves an unenviable reputation for intolerance. But that is not the fault of Islam. Islam has from the beginning proclaimed and inculcated the widest tolerance. For instance, so far as freedom of conscience is concerned the Quran says "There shall be no compulsion" of faith..."

    When the Assembly passed its Objectives Resolution, the General Assembly of the All Pakistan Christian League hailed it, and in April 1949 declared, "In our opinion the Objectives Resolution should set at rest the doubts which often assailed the non-Muslims of Pakistan with regard to the connotation of the term 'Islamic State', which it was feared would be a theocratic State at variance with the democratic ideas of modern times." We shall soon see what has happened to the Christians since, to the Ahmediyas of whom Sir Zafrullah was such a devoted member, to say nothing of the Hindus.

    For the moment we may note only that that speech of Jinnah is often quoted -- but only in India ! Here it is recalled by our secularist commentators in their effort to prove that Jinnah never really wanted Partition -- the corollary to that being, of course, that Partition came about because of the latent communalism and folly of the (naturally, Hindu) leaders of the Congress. In their commitment to lay the blame for everything on Gandhiji, Nehru and the Sardar, our commentators do not pause to think that if one is to assume that it is this kind of a speech which reflects the true desires of Jinnah, then everything he ever spoke from 1935 to 1947 was a lie. Moreover, were it really the case that he and others of the Muslim League were "not really keen on Partition", the point would be proven to the hilt : that once a movement is launched on the basis of an exclusivist ideology, irrespective of the "real" intentions of the leaders, an irreversible logic will take over.

    In any event, neither that speech of Jinnah nor those made by other ministerial spokesmen in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly are recalled today in Pakistan. The reason lies in the subsequent events. Those speeches and pledges were made in 1947-49. In 1953, Pakistan was formally proclaimed to be an "Islamic Republic". The Constitution of 1956 was entitled The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Article 32 (2) of the Constitution provided that a person who was not a Muslim would not be qualified to stand for election of the country's President. Article 197 directed the President to set up an organization to assist in the reconstruction of Muslim society on a truly Islamic basis. Article 198 provided that no law would be enacted which was in conflict with the injunctions of Islam, and the laws then existing in Pakistan would be brought into conformity with those injunctions. These Articles were given an operational immediacy by the Constitution Ayub proclaimed in 1962 : an Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology was constituted to bring about the objectives of Articles 197 and 198 of the 1956 Constitution. The new Constitution proclaimed the sovereignty of Allah over the entire universe, and declared Pakistan to be an "Islamic Republic" based on "Islamic principles of social justice."

    Bengalis having been given a taste of the tolerance of an Islamic State and a concrete demonstration of the "Islamic principles of social justice" in 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sought to galvanize the masses with his cry of "Islamic Socialism". Articles 31, 227, 228 of the 1973 Constitution brought into being by this great secularist repeated and made more concrete the provisions of the earlier Constitutions. And as the legitimacy of the regime dwindled, the usual decrees ensued : drinking, gambling, night clubs were banned, Friday replaced Sunday as a holiday...

    But Bhutto was ousted and then hanged by his protégé, General Zia-ul-Haq. In 1979, the General proclaimed the establishment of "Nizam-i-Islam" in Pakistan. Shariat benches were set up in the High Courts and a Shariat Appellate Court in the Supreme Court. They were to assess whether any existing law ran counter to "Islamic injunctions". The moment they decided that it did, the law was to automatically become void. Lawyers practicing in these courts were to be aalims well-versed in the Shariat. Islamic punishments were introduced for specific categories of crimes -- for theft, adultery, intoxication. The detailed classifications familiar to readers of Shariat were put in place -- if the woman guilty of adultery is a virgin or is married, the punishment is death by stoning; if she is unmarried -- if she is a widow, a divorcee, a prostitute -- the punishment is one hundred lashes... For possessing an intoxicant the punishment is two years' imprisonment or thirty lashes, and fine; for importing, transporting, manufacturing, selling, allowing consumption of an intoxicant in the premises the punishment is imprisonment up to five years, thirty lashes and fine...

    The measures were hailed far and wide -- giant steps towards establishing a moral society, it was said. I remember well how visitors and commentators praised Zia for his devotion to the Quran, for his commitment to Islam, indeed for his piety. We shall see how the Pakistani press talks of Zia today. That Pakistani politics has since been taken over by the drug trade should be some approximate indication of the effect of those much-hailed laws on the incidence of crimes.

    But that was in the future. Enough having been done to establish the "Nizam-i-Islam", a referendum was decreed. The people were asked to decide whether they approved of the programme of Islamization. Of course, the referendum was not to be of the ordinary, non-Islamic variety : opposition groups were outlawed, and banned from participating in the referendum; anyone who boycotted the referendum was prohibited from participating in elections for seven years, anyone who urged anyone else to boycott it was to be imprisoned for five years. Two-thirds of the electorate were proclaimed to have voted, and 97.7 per cent of them were proclaimed to have endorsed the Islamization of Pakistan !

    Naturally the Government was now in duty bound to press further with Islamization. "Non-Islamic banking" became the target : interest was to be outlawed, and the whole economy was to be brought in line with Islamic injunctions within six months. Treatises began appearing on "Islamic taxation", on "Islamic economic management", of course on "Islamic banking". It was all quite ludicrous. Interest is abolished, it was proclaimed. And in practice? When you took your amount to be deposited in the bank, the bank "sold" you some goods, and then immediately repurchased them from you at a higher price : it turned out that the difference in the "price" at which it had "sold" the goods and the "price" at which it had "purchased" them back totalled exactly to what the "interest" would have been ! Correspondingly, when you went to borrow money from the bank, the bank "purchased" some goods from you and then "sold" them back to you at a higher price : and lo and behold, another miracle -- the difference in the two "prices" again totalled exactly to what the interest would have been !

    Piety precluded everyone from pointing out the obvious. But it was not in these specific measures towards Islamization that the fulfilment of the premises of the 1940s was most visible. The real effect was in making Islam, and talk of Islam pervade everything : it became the touchstone for every measure, exhibitionist commitment to it became the measure of everyone. Dress and appearance were transformed. The President made it a point to be seen consulting ulema at every turn. Mosques, madrasahs began to receive a share of the Islamic taxes, such as zakat.

    I remember well a friend describing to me how astute all this was. He had become very important in Zia's Government. By giving State funds to the madrasahs, he said, Government had acquired a say in their running : now it would be able to get them to modernize their syllabus. He was particularly proud of one device : Government had linked the amount that a madrasah was to receive with the percentage of girls among its students -- this had led to an immediate leap in female-enrolments, he told me.

    Actually it is religion which got secularized! Here is a representative account from the cover story in the September 1994 issue of Karachi's well known magazine, Newsline :

    "General Zia found a ready constituency among the mullahs who had comprised the bulk of the PNA movement against Bhutto. Steps like setting up zakat and salat Committees and State-sponsored conventions for ulema and mashaikh conferences suddenly brought the clergy close to the corridors of power. The same mullahs who once had to wait for weeks before they could get an audience with their local DC were being dined by the pious President and accompanying him on Haj and Umra. The traders and the business community which had mainly financed the PNA movement against Bhutto, also found powerful political allies in the clergy who had a ready-made, ideologically trained street force coming out of the madrasahs, which had started mushrooming all over the country to claim their share from the Government largesse that was available in the form of zakat fund. At the same time, the madrasahs, putting aside their sectarian differences, persuaded General Zia-ul-Haq to grant madrasah degrees a status equivalent to those issued by universities. A logical outcome was that many of the madrasah graduates were later appointed in colleges and even in the Ministry of Education. In some cases, those with a degree in Dars-i-Nizami even managed to get themselves appointed as English and science teachers.

    "These 175,000 deeni madrasahs also produce maulvis who have to find employment for themselves. For them one of the few sure-shot ways of earning a livelihood is a mosque. Many mosques have now become little enterprises, in some cases complete with adjoining shops which can be rented out. There are mosques where rich patrons and VIPs are provided separate air-conditioned rooms where they can pray in surroundings befitting their status. And there are other kinds of hierarchies operating in mosques as well...

    "....a phenomenal proliferation of mosques. Okra city had one Sunni mosque in the early 50's. According to a survey carried out last month, there are now over 160 Sunni Barelvi mosques in the city, and that does not include the dozens of Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith mosques and imambargahs there. Most of these mosques have shops which have been rented out, turning the House of God into a lucrative economic unit. Over 60 per cent of the mosques are either outright encroachments on public property or built on disputed land. 'This is perhaps the most fool-proof method that the qabza groups have come up with,' says a Lahore resident. 'After a mosque's foundation has been laid, no matter what the legal status of the land, nobody can dare challenge it.'..."

    Organizing professional qabza gangs -- gangs to capture land -- has been just one avenue. "Every private madrasah," reports the February 1995 issue of The Herald, "is a surprisingly large publishing house -- the Ziaul Quran chain has over 500 publications, the sale of which on paper accounts for most of its income.... The donations from their patrons are also, in most cases, exaggerated. The arithmetic is simple. An institution with 1,000 regular members ( who need not be fictitious ) can easily show each of its members as donating 500 Rupees per month. This accounts for an annual income of about six million Rupees... Similarly, a single 32 page publication is enough to account for an income of a million Rupees or more, since it is perfectly plausible that a well established madrasah should be able to sell one lakh copies at a profit of 10 Rupees per copy..."

    The effect on religion can be easily imagined. The effect on society, as we shall see, has been twenty times worse.


    India Connect
    July 21, 1997



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