Reclaiming “India”

“India” should be a shared nomenclature between Bharat and Pakistan

Pakistan ka matlab kya

“Pakistan ka matlab kya?” asks the bearded flag waver at the Wagah border. “La ilaha ila lah,” comes the crowd’s response. The rushed machinations of three men in 1947 should not have erased millennia of heritage. And yet, this interaction suggests that it has.

Sixty-nine years after independence, Pakistanis still grapple with what it means to be Pakistani. Often, we define ourselves by what we are not – Indian. While respecting existing state boundaries, this is exactly wrong. Pakistanis are Indian.

Millennia ago, Persians and Greeks corrupted the local Sanskrit appellation Sindhu for one of South Asia’s great rivers into ‘Indoi’ to describe residents of its valley. That river lies in present-day Pakistan. Pakistanis are the true inheritors of the term ‘Indoi’. And yet those without the Indus – citizens of the Republic of India – claim to be “Indians”.  These absurdities are underscored by the fact that citizens did not vote for these dramatic losses of heritage or geography.

The UK recently voted to leave the EU. No such referendum was put to residents of current-day Pakistan about whether they wished to secede from the amorphous concept of ‘India’, extended east into Bharat by ancient rulers and modern colonisers from the west.

Muslims voted for the Muslim League on a slogan of ‘Pakistan’ in the British Indian central legislative assembly 1945 general elections. But they did not vote for a specific agenda relating to Pakistan – because no such agenda existed. Ayesha Jalal, history professor at Tufts University, revealed that Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was actually pushing for a federation called India with a weak centre, consisting of autonomous Muslim-majority provinces collectively called Pakistan, and autonomous Hindu majority provinces. The Pakistan provinces were to be a homeland in which Indian Muslims would not be harmed for being Muslim, as minorities in a democratic state, inherently (nothing personal) vulnerable to a tyranny of majoritarian communalism. Gujarat 2002 and the election of its then Governor as Prime Minister shows how prescient the fear was. But Jawaharlal Nehru refused such a union. In the end, Viceroy Louis Mountbatten left Jinnah with a choice of partition or no Pakistan. Jinnah grudgingly accepted partition in order to get a ‘maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten’ Pakistan.

The rushed machinations of three men at a specific point in time should not erase millennia of cultural heritage. And yet, when one hears at the Wagah border the Islamic declaration of belief in response to a bearded flag waver’s question, “What is Pakistan’s meaning?”, it seems that it has.

Reclaiming India as our supranational identity – in addition to Pakistani national identity – might help matters on a number of fronts.

For a start, we might see an increase in tourism-driven revenues, as well as foreign investment. The historic brand of India holds greater value than the brand of Pakistan. Tourists who read about the loss of courage of Alexander the Great’s army in India do not automatically assume that this was in modern-day Pakistan. Pakistan’s historic sites – the ancient Indus and Buddhist civilisations of Mehergarh, Moenjodaro, Harappa and Gandhara as well as modern Sufi, Hindu, Mughal and Sikh architecture – may start receiving the volume of visitors that they merit.

And, if we’re honest about it, would they prefer to be lumped with the Middle East or with India when it comes to doing business?

More importantly, adopting the name “India” is important for our sense of self as we internalise what this means, and for peace with our neighbours.

Fashion compels many to claim Middle Eastern lineages, and conveniently forget the provenance of our darker hues of skin. Pre-Islamic sites have nothing to do with us, runs much thinking. We need to let go of prejudices associated with dark-skin and eastern ancestry and come to terms with pre-Islamic heritages.

Many of us have relatives in the Republic of India. Can cousins in neighbouring countries truly not share a supranational identity? While Pakistan is undeniably a separate nation state from the Republic of India, consider that we did not choose to cede Indian identity in 1947 in an environment of calm.

The surrender of our inheritance must end. By sharing a supranational identity with our neighbour, we will acknowledge our common heritage and benefit from its legacy. By having a supranational ‘India’ brand once again cover the River Indus, meaning will return to our neighbour’s name and a psychological, though not legal, bond will be rebuilt. There are two types of Indians: Republic of India-Indians, and Pakistani-Indians.


Pakistan, rebranded (The Boston Globe)

What is a Pakistani man? (The Friday Times)


One Response to “Reclaiming “India””
  1. Imran Ahmed says:

    Reblogged this on iagnikul and commented:
    This is going to provoke many on both sides of the border who define their patriotism by hate of the other

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