Pakistan and India: divided by a common culture

The aam aadmi on both sides of the border will mostly agree with the sentiments expressed by the author (but the elites will not). The cultural (and many other) bonds that are still intact have to be placed alongside the antipathy generated by the hot/cold war that has been going on for the last 67 years. To tell the truth, apart from the Balkans, there are probably few other examples that match the hostilities generated by the British partitions of India, Palestine, Cyprus, and Ireland. Finally, the mixed emotions about Indian movies are relevant for an Indian (middle-class) audience as well.

The only place where I disagree with the author (and this comes back from Zachary’s earlier note of a Pakistani and Indian muslim friendship) is that Pakistanis (and by extension the global media) automatically assume that Indians culture is primarily (even exclusively) Hindu, or even more alarmingly a muslim culture polluted by Hindu sentiments. In contrast I would imagine (perhaps wrongly) that  muslims in Kanpur and Karachi will be able to find a significant amount of overlap in their culture and world-views- to take one specific example, Indian muslims are jut as strongly anti-zionist as their brothers across the Ummah.

The reason I am pessimistic about even a cold peace is because the ideological differences are so hot and stark. Peace will come only when the elites will have had enough of war, that is for sure.

As India and Pakistan struggle to resolve their political differences
presently, there is an India/Pakistan-related struggle going on inside
me too.

My inner instincts tell me that a big part of my cultural heritage
relates to India. However, Pakistani ideologues and even some close
relatives tell me that it is unpatriotic to assert any cultural
attachment with India due to Pakistan’s political differences with that
country. Is it possible for a Pakistani to separate cultural and
political issues and simultaneously maintain cultural affinity but
political differences with India?

One must first analyse the
extent of similarity between Indian and Pakistani cultures. Culture
refers to societal ideas, customs and social behaviours and encapsulates
the domains of art, dress, language, food, family structures, religious
practices, festivals, traditions, values etc. There is admittedly
enormous cultural diversity within both countries and sweeping
comparisons between the two cultures are inappropriate.

it is also true that there is large similarity in the cultures of
Pakistan’s eastern regions (Sindh, Punjab and Azad Kashmir) and India’s
northern and western regions along most cultural aspects mentioned
above, eg art and dress. While Pakistanis living in the country’s
western regions obviously have more cultural linkages with Pakistan’s
western neighbours (eg Afghanistan), Pakistan’s eastern regions host the
bulk of the population. Thus, for the majority of Pakistanis, the large
cultural overlap with India is undeniable.

Religion obviously is
the main realm of exception to this cultural similarity
and since it
influences many traditions, there are differences too between Indian and
Pakistani cultures. Additionally, over the last three decades,
middle-class cultural values in the two countries have become more

Parts of the Pakistani middle class have unfortunately
become more conservative, xenophobic and intolerant. Conversely, the
Indian middle class has become more liberal and Westernised. This,
positively, has meant greater tolerance for diversity but also,
negatively, greater focus on materialism within Indian society in
contrast to the high degree of frugality that Indian middle classes
practiced traditionally.

The most visible manifestation of this
increasing difference in values is in movies and the media. Indian
movies are now increasingly exploring themes, eg in movies such as
Bombay Talkies, which can barely be mentioned even in liberal Pakistani
newspapers. On the negative side, it means that it is often difficult
now to watch Indian movies with family.

religious differences, I and a lot of other expatriate Pakistanis that I
know usually find it easier to relate with expatriate Indians due to
the strong linguistic and cultural linkages than with Muslims or
non-Muslims from Africa, the Middle East and Far East. Given these
cultural similarities, it does not make sense to disown such a large
part of one’s cultural legacy, especially one to which Muslims
contributed so much over the centuries before Partition. 

Trying to
disown such a large part of one’s cultural legacy can only have
negative repercussions for the individual and collective national
psyche. One must have the self-confidence and a sense of balance to be
able to assert cultural similarities with India without feeling ashamed,
guilty or unpatriotic.

Thus, over the last few decades, India has
arguably become the second largest exporter of culture (through the
export of its movies, music, food, etc) in the world after the US. I
must admit that whenever I see such Indian cultural artefacts being
appreciated globally, in places as diverse as Addis Ababa, Vietnam and
Israel, I cannot help feeling some sense of pride and personal
connection too.

Yet Indian movies portray Islam with respect and often on an
equal footing with Hinduism. In contrast, it is rare to see Pakistani
movies showing respect and positivity towards Hinduism. However,
when it comes to Pakistan, Indian movies are largely silent or portray
Pakistan negatively even though Pakistan is probably the biggest market
for them after India.


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10 years ago

"Thus, over the last few decades, India has arguably become the second largest exporter of culture (through the export of its movies, music, food, etc) in the world after the US"

I believe these writers are under no illusion to maintain any semblance of reality in their writings, and people are imply making up stuff as they go along! FOOD!

Brown Pundits