Posted by: Vikram | May 9, 2012

Reflections on ‘I am a Pakistani Indian’

(In context of the blog post ‘I am a Pakistani Indian‘ by Raza Habib Raja at the Pak Tea House)

One summer, while visiting some family in Chicago, we all went to the famous Devon street for some food and shopping. We passed by a few Pakistani shops and the constant chatter in Urdu confused my young nephew. And like only a nine year old kid could, he asked, “Yeh log Indian hain kya ?”

I know that if nothing else, a lot of India and Pakistan share linguistic bonds. Two recent political formations in South Asia, the Mughal Empire and British rule, included today’s Pakistan and much of today’s northern India. And many, many things that Indians and Pakistanis do, eat and say today, derive from those political formations. So I agree when Raja says,

There is something about India as an idea which transcends the modern day political configurations. It is the idea of India as a huge mass of land which stretches from Baluchistan to present day Bangladesh. This idea of India is independent of any political configuration.

I applaud him when he calls himself a ‘Pakistani Indian’. Indeed, a little reflection will make one realize that Raja calling himself a ‘Pakistani Indian’, is not very different from an American of Indian descent calling him/herself an ‘Indian American’.

In the long term evolution of a civilization, political configurations do impact culture and identity very strongly. It is always a challenge for different ideas of nationalism to co-exist. Therefore, it is not surprising that our relations with our neighbors, Pakistan, Bangladesh and to some extent Nepal, have been rather turbulent. Many of these differences are natural because our political ideals are quite different from theirs. But, as Raja’s post indicates, we do share the Indian civilization with them. If we all remind ourselves of this simple fact, our collective futures will see much smoother sailing.

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Responses

  1. Interesting comments below the original article. I feel like Pakistanis in America usually try to identify to a larger culture of which they then become a subculture. Of course, the person writing the article much rather identify with his Indian ‘roots’ as that is where he is from (him being Punjabi can also be a whole other article). However, a Pakistani American born and raised amongst Arabs or any Pakistani from the arab peninsula may not reject Wahabism as strongly as the author does. Interesting that he rejects wahabism in a mere sentence without explanation, indicative of where his cultural preferences/biases lie! It is obvious that the author is informed enough to recognize which culture is imposed on Pakistanis as a people, wahabism being the main imposer in recent years. Altogether we could just call ourselves humans and call it a day, I think ! 😉 However, I def. agree: recognizing that we’re all ‘Indian’ will lead to more harmony within the region and bring about tolerance. Perhaps maybe if WHO also includes Pakistan not as eastern mediterranean region but a part of south east asia region, policy making might also improve. lol! http://www.whopak.org/

    • Welcome Mashal 🙂 . The original article generated about 700 comments ! It did indeed generate lots of discussion. On the Indian side, most commenters were supportive of Raja’s post, but a few differed from him. The main bone of contention for them was whether Islam in India can be considered a part of Indian civilization. Another question raised was, assuming that Pakistan was constructed as the negation of this cultural definition of India, can it ever accept its Indianness ?

      I do agree with you on the Punjabi bias issue. As a geographical entity, Pakistan contains peoples from atleast two different civilizations. The Punjabi and Sindhi peoples from the Indic, and the Pashtun and Baloch from the Iranian. This makes the politics extremely challenging. I do hope that now that democracy is taking root there, the politics becomes more relevant and less violent.

      About Wahabism. In general, I have a very negative impression of Wahabism. Even in Saudi Arabia, where it predominates (and originates ?) its acceptance seems derived more from authoritarian politics, than social consensus.

      • Hey Vikram! Thanks for your comments and thoughts! Just to clarify: I only commented on him contrasting being Indian with wahabism, as if the cultural/religious influences of wahabism are restricted to Pakistanis or South Asians alone. I agree, it is more of a power struggle to keep the reigns of Islam in the hands of the Saudi govt, infiltrating the idea that religion should be heavily inundated in constitution, and that too the more intolerable version of it, or rather ‘their’ version. I just find it hilarious that he didn’t even feel the need to comment on why he doesn’t agree with wahabisms influencing his Indian roots; such criticism is very common amongst folks who witness it firsthand, predominantly in urban circles of Pakistan (those that I’ve witnessed). In similar conversations, you can then go on to bash Zia, the military dictatorships, talibanization, etc. 😉

        I’m excited to see how our generations will change the definitions of the previous generations 🙂 I’m optimistic about this!


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