Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza Mirza

Misrepresentation of Culture in Pakistani Cinema III

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The Construction of ‘Islamic’ Culture in Pakistan

“Born from the division of the old civilisation of India, Pakistan struggled for constructing its own culture, a culture which would not only be different from the Indian culture but that the whole world would acknowledge.”[1]

Pakistan came into being on the 14th of August 1947. The constituent assembly that took over the control of the four provinces and  ‘Azad’ Kashmir, struggled to come up with a national cultural policy that would satisfy all. The difficulty that the new constituent assembly faced while carving out a national identity for the new ‘Pakistani nation’ stemmed from its insistence on forcing an alien Islamic (religious) culture to replace the regional culture that “is 400,000 years old and had witnessed stone, bronze and iron ages and has been enriched by Darawar, Aryan, Saka, Iranian, Greek, Kussion, Hun, Arab, Turk, Afghan and Moguls communities.[2] Local languages were ignored in favour of Urdu, an “Indic language, allied to Hindi but with large admixture of Persian and usually written in Persian script.”[3] Urdu did not belong to any of the nationalities that originated in the provinces of Pakistan. The migrant (Muhajir) Muslims of United Provinces struggled to define a new ‘Islamic culture’ that could guarantee their status as the ruling ethnic group in Pakistan.

The late Pakistani historian, Sibte Hassan gives a detailed picture in his book ‘The Evolution of Culture in Pakistan’ on how an alien culture was imposed on the people of the newly born country. “Qawali, religious hymns, (originating from Indian Muslim religious tradition) was promoted as a form of legitimate music while regional songs based on folk tales were shelved. Chughtai painting was promoted as Islamic Art. In poetry, conservative religious poet Hafiz Jalandhari was presented as an example for others to follow. Islamic historical novels such as Khaak aur Khoon (Blood and Soil) authored by the right wing intellectual Naseem Hijjazi were promoted as representatives of Islamic literature. Domes and arches of Mughal architecture became the symbols of Islamic architecture and ‘Jinnah’ cap and the dresses that were part of the Muslims of the United Provinces were heralded as the Islamic code of dress”[4] In films the Urdu dialect of the United Provinces (UP) was adopted and UP customs were presented as standard cultural practices. The cinema in the new country was to be guided by these cultural standards set by the new rulers commonly referred to as ‘Kalay Angraze’ (Black English) by the common man.

Around 1 million largely Urdu speaking Muslims from the United Provinces, Bombay Presidency, Hyderabad, etc., migrated to West Pakistan, and gradually formed a single social/cultural/economic group and came to be known as the Muhajirs,[5] which literally means refugees.  Jaffrelot, Chritophe explains:

“They formed the intellectual and commercial elite. Moreover,

 they settled down in towns and cities where they often replaced

 Hindus, mainly professionals, traders and civil servants

who had fled to India…In 1951…the Muhajir represented

57 per cent of the city’s population…Out of the 101 Muslims

in the Indian Civil Service, 95 had migrated to Pakistan in 1947.

Urdu was given the status of an official language in 1952…

according to the 1951 Census (the Punjabis) occupied 80 per

 cent of the posts in the army…therefore in its early years of

Pakistan, the country was dominated by the Punjabis and

 the Muhajirs.”[6]

Although Kartar Singh (see part one) is set in Punjab and made in Punjabi language but it promotes the philosophy of partition that is more analogous to the UP version of history of Pakistan.

Pakistani cinema was to be dominated by a cultural philosophy marinated in a particular Sunni brand of Islamic ideology, which was constructed by the Muhajirs during their struggle for a separate homeland. It was evident through the cinema of the 1950s and 60s, which contained UP dialect of Urdu as standard format of spoken language, and the mise n scene which contained articles which signified the UP tradition that indigenous cultures will have no place in the cultural narrative of the theological state of Pakistan.  The costumes such as the gharara (a pair of ladies baggy trousers), churidaar pyjama (men’s tight cotton trouser), Jinnah’s cap, and UP style of jewellery were worn in the films.

The first blow to the Muhajir power base came during the 60s when the capital of Pakistan was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad. But in a couple of decades all of this was to change fundamentally, as the Punjabis with 80 per cent of officers in the army were to collaborate with the Pathan from the neighbouring N.W.F.P. (now Pakhtunkhwa province).

On the international political scene the Chinese peasant revolution lead by Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Red Army and the out break of the Korean War in the 1950s, plus unfavourable developments for Americans in the Asia-minor, turned  Pakistan into an important strategic state. The first Prime Minster of Pakistan, Mr Liaqut Ali Khan visited USA. This was the beginning of an alliance between the USA and Pakistani state against the upsurge of communist movement in Asia.

The failure of the parliament to come up with a coherent national policy on economic and political issues including questions of provincial autonomy and the relationship between the provinces and the central government slowly but surely paved the way for the first military dictatorship in the country. In 1958 Commander-in-chief of Pakistan armed forces General Ayub Khan staged a coup against the government of Mr Iskander Mirza.

The effects were electrifying. Intellectuals and left leaning political activists launched an anti-marshal law movement. This claimed the life of Hassan Nasir, the communist leader of the National Awami (People’s) Party. The communist party was banned and hundreds rounded up and put in prison on charges of treason. Among them was the left leaning scholar and poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who wrote defiant poetry. The following verses became very popular and were recited in clandestine anti-government political meetings:

I vow to thee, my country

my loyalties and devotion.

But a custom is on the start,

You must not raise your head,

if and when you want to walk.[7]

In order to suppress the local cultures and to create a ‘Pakistani’ cultural and national identity, the establishment dissolved the provincial governments and announced the establishment of ‘one unit’. Riots broke out in the Eastern wing. Bengalis, the largest single ethnic group in Pakistan, demanded that Bengali be declared as the official language of the people of Bengal. (To be concluded)

The writer is from Mirpur. He is the Chairman of Tehreek e Itefaq e Rai (Movement for Consensus) and can be reached at [email protected]

[1] Ali, Mohammed. “In Search of Identity”. Dawn, Karachi. 7 May 2000.

2Hassan, Sibte. Characteristics of Pakistani Culture. Evolution of Culture in Pakistan (Urdu). Danyal.10th Edition 1998 Karachi. Pakistan.pp400

3 Urdu. The Concise Oxford Dictionary.Seventh Edition. Oxford.1982pp1182

4Hassan, Sibte. Characteristics of Pakistani Culture. Evolution of Culture in Pakistan (Urdu). Danyal.10th Edition 1998 Karachi. Pakistan.pp402

5 Jaffrelot, Chritophe. Nationalism without a Nation: Pakistan Searching for its Identity. Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation? Edited by Jafffrelot, Christophe.Zed books ltd.2002.pp 15

6 Ibid.pp 16

 [7] Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. I vow to my country. Yaqub’s Selection & Translations of Poems By Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Jacobs New Agents. Nottingham. UK. 1987.pp48

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