Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.
As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termitesat one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).
Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)
The instrumental part of the act reads
any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act
While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.
The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).
THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the URI ATTACKS with the aim of bringing some nuance in the increasingly binary discussions of Pakistan. Looking back at it in 2020 there are a few points in the essay I mildly disagree with but on the whole, I stand by my arguments.
For anyone willing to read a shorter -TL-DR version find the link HERE:
Note: This is not a scholarly analysis of Indo-Pak question but an essay ((*mildly subjective)) on the question with references being presented for most of the essay.
Every well-read Indian who has thought enough about the India-Pakistan issue will have faced Hamlet’s dilemma — “To be or not to be”. It’s fair to assume that national patience, with everything related to Pakistan, is waning very fast nowadays aided by the explosion of social media. Simply put — most Indians have had enough of this shit for 69 + years (the Idea of Pakistan being older than Pakistan). The leftist solution to the Pakistan problem has always been the “Aman ki Asha” narrative. The reactionary position of some of the Right-wing is to totally boycott anything related to Pakistan every-time a terrorist attack takes place in India. This position though backed by popular opinion at times like this seems to be no closer to a permanent solution to the problem. To come up with potential solutions for this problem, we need to discuss both these approaches and we also need to dig deep into the Nation-state of Pakistan.
Cyril Radcliffe gets a lot of (mostly undeserved) flak from people anxious to find some scapegoat for the partition disaster. The following is an extract from Kuldip Nayar’s book “Scoop” (published originally by Scroll, India) that sheds some light on those times and Radcliffe’s role in them.
HOW A KNEE JERK DECISION LED TO MISERY FOR GENRATIONS
An excerpt from ‘Scoop’, in which the veteran journalist, who died on August 23, wrote about interviewing Cyril Radcliffe, Chairman of the Boundary Commission.
“I nearly gave you Lahore,” Lord Cyril Radcliffe, Chairman of the Boundary Commission, told me. “But then I realised that Pakistan would not have any large city. I had already earmarked Calcutta for India.”
Lahore had Hindus and Sikhs in a majority and way up in assets, he said. Yet he had no option because of paucity of big towns in Pakistan. The conversation took place at Radcliffe’s flat in London towards the later half of 1971. I had gone there to meet Lord Mountbatten, the last British Governor-General. I wanted to know how the boundary lines of India and Pakistan were drawn. Although the Boundary Commission had four more members – two from India, Mehar Chand Mahajan and Teja Singh, and two from Pakistan, Din Mohammed and Mohammed Munir – they were all serving judges.
Radcliffe was the one who made the decision because the Commission was divided, India’s members on one side and those from Pakistan on the other. What yardstick did he apply? I was keen to know. I found to my horror that Radcliffe had no fixed rules to go by when he drew the boundaries between India and Pakistan. He had gathered sufficient information by the time he came to demarcate the borders. Continue reading “Interview with Radcliffe”
In October 1958, Ayub appointed General Mohammed Musa (who rose from the ranks) as the next C-in-C with Lt-Gen Muhammed Habibullah Khan as his Chief of Staff. In doing so, Ayub overlooked Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan, an officer technically and professionally more qualified than Gen Musa. It was an appointment that clearly sent a wave of resentment throughout the senior ranks in the GHQ.”I vividly remember my father who was a Lt-Col serving in GHQ at that time being acutely distressed at Ayub’s preference of Gen Musa over Ali’s (later Lt-Gen Ali Kuli Khan) father, Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan Khattak to command the Army. Till his death my father, who had a strong belief in merit over nepotism, maintained that was the precise moment from where necessity and nepotism started to matter far more than merit in the primary selections of the Armed Forces. Not to say that from time to time people with merit would not slip through.” (Ikram ul-Majeed Sehgal Defence Journal, December 2001, p.7).
In words of late Aslam Khattak, elder brother of late Lt-Gen Habibullah and a respected name and a political heavyweight of Pakistan, Ayub rang up Lt-Gen Habibullah Khan (CoS) and said: “Biboo (General Habibullah’s nickname in the family), I am fed up with Musa (the then C-in-C) and want to get rid of the stupid chap. You please rush to Rawalpindi immediately to take over command. A formal notification will be delivered to you at the GHQ tomorrow morning.” The next day he did receive the letter but only to be told that he stood relieved with immediate effect. (Murtaza Malik The Curtain Rises: Uncovered Conspiracies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Royal Book Company, 2002, p.16).
After a few months, Gen Musa asked Ayub to relieve Habibullah from the army. One of the charges put up by Gen Musa against his CoS, Lt-Gen Habibullah, was that while in London on a trip, he had misbehaved with the maid of his host. Lt-Gen Altaf Qadir had the retirement order for Gen Habibullah with him. The order had to be served at the general’s home. He didn’t have the courage to deliver the letter. Gen Habibullah was capable of shooting the messenger. He asked Maj-Gen (later Lt-Gen) Abrar Hussein, the then military secretary to the GHQ to deliver the news. It would have been embarrassing for a junior officer to deliver the bad news to his senior. In spite of Maj-Gen Abrar’s protestations, he was forced to become the reluctant messenger. When Maj-Gen Abrar Hussein went to the residence of Lt-Gen Habibullah and handed the letter to him, the latter said: “So here it is.” It seemed Gen Habibullah knew what was coming. (Interview with Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein (younger brother of late Lt-Gen Abrar Hussein) on Aug5, 2002, in Rawalpindi). Gen Habibullah was then 46.
In a memo of the US State Department from the US Embassy, quotes its informant in Pakistan, saying that Musa (as C-in-C) neither controlled nor enjoyed any respect in the military (The American Papers 1965-1973 compiled by Roedad Khan OUP p. 120 Dispatch of 18 January, 1966, 12.05am). “Musa’s appointment to the top military job over the head of senior and perhaps better generals was Ayub’s idea of a strong army under a weak command ultimately responsible to him. He (Musa) was often scornfully (though uncharitably) referred to as the ‘mess waiter’.” (Brig A.R. Siddiqi The Military in Pakistan: Image and Reality, Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd, 1996, p. 55). “Musa ran the Army. The most important of Musa’s traits was one of loyalty — straight and simple. If Ayub had mentioned 10,000 yards of front, then the front had to be 10,000 yards, and so on. The framework of defence became more and more mathematical. The importance of imponderables of war was not catered for.” (M. Attiqur Rehman Back to the Pavilion, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Karachi, 1990 p. 133-134). Musa, though described as honourable and honest, “is hardly the stuff of which great generalship is made.” (Brian Cloughley A History of Pakistan Army, Wars and Insurrections, OUP, 2002, p.127).
MUSA’S VERSION: On Dec 30, 1985, when Ziaul Haq lifted martial law, General Musa was appointed Gov Balochistan. Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein (Golf buddy of Musa) visited Quetta during Musa’s governorship. Musa invited Brig Noor for a dinner. It turned out to be a dinner for two. On a full stomach, Brig Hussein asked Musa: “Sir, you were sixth in line. How did you become the C-in-C?”
Musa: “I will tell you the whole story and I have never told it to anyone before. I was a major posted at Quetta in August 1947 when I was transferred as Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General, (AA&QMG) Headquarters, 8th Division, Malir, Karachi. The train reached Rohri station at 2 O’ clock. Suddenly, I heard the Station Master shouting on the platform: ‘Maj Musa, telegram for you’. I waved at him from out of the window, and got hold of the telegram. According to the message, my previous Karachi assignment had been cancelled and I was promoted to the rank of Lt-Col and posted as General Staff Officer First Grade (G1) at Lahore 10 Division. I immediately shifted my baggage to the Lahore-bound train. I was to work under an English GOC, Gen Briggs, who said: “I know you lost your appointment at Karachi, but I am sure you will find this one as exciting.” Lo and behold, first day, the first pending file on my table, I open and the title reads: Court of enquiry in respect of temporary Brigadier, Substantive Colonel M. Ayub Khan, Punjab Regiment.
Musa chuckled: “The way I handled that file, the day I became the C-in-C.”
Brig Noor’s words were: “Ayub was accused of accepting cash and jewellery from fleeing Hindus during the days he was in the Boundary Force that lasted for five months in the later half of 1947. The charges were serious enough to warrant a court of enquiry against Ayub.” (Interview with Brig Noor Ahmed Hussein)
I wrote a piece about recent changes in Kashmir. While working on the background, I stumbled on an interesting chapter of Kashmir & Pakistan history that I have never seen in any mainstream publication. I decided to dig a more deeper to understand it better. Following is the outcome of that exercise. I thought it was important for those interested in the history of the region. Enjoy.
Ahmadis and Kashmir
“Independence of Kashmir can only be achieved by Kashmiris. Outsiders can only help in two ways; with financial support and by advocating their cause. Kashmiris should forget that outsiders will fight their war. Such outside help will not be useful; in fact, it will have opposite effect on the struggle for independence. If control of the struggle is in the hands of outsiders, it is possible that they will sell Kashmiris for their own interests. It is in the interest of Kashmiris that they should get advice as well as financial help from outsiders but never ask them to come and fight their war in Kashmir. In this case they will lose control. Long term sacrifice and not temporary emotional outburst will serve their cause and long term sacrifice can only be done by Kashmiris”. Head of Jama’at Ahmadiyya, Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud, 27 September 1931
Jama’at Ahmadiyya is a sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). In early twentieth century, it was a small community with disciples mainly from Punjab; the birthplace of the founder. There was much hostility against the group in view of doctrinal differences especially when Mirza claimed to be Messiah and prophet. Agitation of orthodox clerics over decades finally culminated in an unprecedented act where Pakistan’s parliament declared the sect non-Muslim in 1974. This started a wave of persecution forcing many Ahmadis to leave the country and find refuge all over the world. General hostility including outright abuse against the group is at such an abnormal state that it is impossible to have any kind of meaningful discourse about the role of Ahmadis in Kashmir as well as independence movement of Pakistan. This part of the history disappeared from almost all historical works in Pakistan.
Kashmir was a Muslim majority princely state ruled by a Hindu Dogra ruler. Kashmiri Muslims were economically poor and politically powerless. Muslims of neighboring Punjab, many with Kashmiri heritage were concerned about the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. In 1911, they established All India Kashmiri Muslim Conference (AIKMC) in Lahore. This organization remained only on paper with no connection with Kashmiri Muslims and no program. In the summer of 1931, simmering discontent in Kashmir resulted in riots. On 25 July 1931, leading Muslims mainly from Punjab gathered at Simla and established All India Kashmir Committee (AIKC). The list of attendees of this meeting included literary and intellectual powerhouse Sir Muhammad Iqbal, head of Ahmadiyya community Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud Ahmad, leading Punjabi politician Sir Mian Fazal Hussain, Nawab of Maler Kotla Sir Muhammad Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Nawab of Kanj Pura Ibrahim Ali Khan, leading cleric of Delhi’s Barelvi community Khawaja Hassan Nizami and a former teacher of the leading orthodox Sunni seminary Darul-Uloom Deoband Maulvi Mirak Shah. Fazal Hussain wanted Iqbal to head the organization but on recommendation of Iqbal, Mirza Mahmud was unanimously chosen as president of AIKC. Muslims of different walks of life were members of AIKC including politicians affiliated with different parties, lawyers, educationalists, landed aristocracy, clerics from different schools of thoughts, journalists and businessmen. At no other time, such a consensus developed among diverse Muslim population of India. Continue reading “The Role of the Ahmediyya Movement in Kashmir”
The feverish pitch over the Citizenship Amendment Bill has reached a crescendo. The Indian lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly passed it with it now reaching the upper house. Most likely, it will pass with the support of “neutral” parties pushing the bill over majority.
Under the CAB – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians (basically persecuted communities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh) will receive asylum and an accelerated path to citizenship.
Critics label this bill as anti-Muslim and rhetoric from certain BJP members does not help in the defense against this accusation.
But again consistent with the common theme of international coverage of India, we are missing context (or more accurately, outlets are leaving it out purposefully).
What’s A Partition?
Not the Beyoncé song. If you have an inkling of knowledge about subcontinental history, you know about the partition and the Two Nation Theory (TNT). TNT was proposed by an Islamist ideologue named Syed Ahmed Khan of Aligarh Muslim University in the late 1800s. Muhammed Ali Jinnah ran with the idea and eventually convinced enough Muslims to vote for partition (Hindus, Sikhs, etc… were not polled for their vote). In the midst of continued violence (much of it encouraged by Jinnah’s Muslim League), the Indian National Congress would acquiesce to partition. Massive violence followed with millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs dead.
However, while Pakistan became an Islamic state, India remained secular (though its minority appeasement down the line really pushes that definition).
It is the shadow of partition that looms large over the CAB.
The Entry Rules?
Defenders of the CAB say it gives refuge to persecuted minorities in true Indian tradition (Baghdadi Jews, Syrian Christians, Persian Zoroastrians, and Tibetan Buddhists have all received refuge in India over thousands of years). However it brings to point the case of Islamic minorities (Shias, Ahmediyas, Ex-Muslims, etc…). Many of these minorities face horrid persecution in the Islamic subcontinental states. Why should India also turn them back?
Now is where the acceptance of partition arrives. CAB critics say by rejecting persecuted Muslims, India validates Jinnah and the TNT. I can honestly understand this perspective. Why should these Muslims pay for the sins and mistakes of their ancestors?
On the flip side, CAB supporters return with saying they are merely accepting realities. Threats of national security, demographic change, as well as a cold hard perspective that India owes nothing to those related to its partition (non-Indian Muslims) are valid reasoning no matter how un-PC they are. In addition, the CAB has no bearing on Indian Muslims.
Even deeper, CAB supporters see this as India fulfilling its duty as a refuge of Dharma in the case of Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. The near complete obliteration of Dharmic religion from these lands is not forgotten and won’t be any time soon.
The legalese with regards to the bill seems iffy on its constitutionality. The Indian constitution bars discrimination based on religion within India. However it doesn’t bar discrimination with regards to non-Indian citizens.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah (and probably next Prime Minister), has foreseen this. During a firebrand speech recently, Shah pointed out the litany of laws favoring minorities in India thereby showing a mirror to the Indian state’s institutional religious discrimination. This poses a major problem for the opposition. Add to the fact that the BJP has massive political capital after the Kashmir and Ram Mandir episodes, the centre possesses an insurmountable high ground over its opponents.
But what about a moral high ground?
Western media laments at how India has degenerated to fascism these days. Is this perception reality? Probably not in my opinion.
I think what irks many of these outlets is an assertive India that no longer looks for the approval of the West (or a deracinated brown sahib/a in their place).
What has caught my mind recently is how Western coverage of India is affecting perceptions of India abroad. While some saw Modi as an aberration of a “secular, democratic, and liberal” Indian ethos, now they are beginning to realize Modi and Hindutva are here to stay. Does that mean India will slide into fascism?
On the other hand, many domestic Modi supporters would say that Modi is fulfilling a “secular, democratic, and liberal” ethos that India lacked for so long under Congress rule! Of course in both of these scenarios, I am speaking of white collar middle class folks’ perspectives. Other demographics would say Modi is fulfilling his role as a Hindu leader giving refuge to the persecuted Hindus in lost lands (this may honestly be the biggest vote catcher for the CAB and primary driver of the BJP’s push).
As the world becomes more globalized, it will be interesting how influential Western media outlets will be on the increasingly connected youth of developing nations including India (the caveat is India’s youth are more pro BJP than older generations).
Yes, opinions can change as we age but it is fairly apparent that your average millennial takes the word of BBC/NYT/Wash Post as gospel. We will have to see how a Western left wing government reacts to India, especially one whose constituency is in congruence with this “India = Fascist” narrative. Throwing in the wrench of India’s rising economic clout, these parties will have a bit of a conundrum.
Though it must be said, do that many Westerners even really care about India?
Find more about Indian, American, and Geopolitics at my blog – The Emissary. Thanks again to the Brown Pundits!
From our regular contributor and well respected Military historian Dr Hamid Husain
Following was outcome of exchanges with some informed individuals from both sides of the border about Kashmir. I was educated & enlightened. It is just a glimpse on my part about possible scenarios. It is first of a two part; second part deals with the legal aspect of the issue as Constitution bench of Indian Supreme Court has taken up the case.
“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink along the map turn red”
Paradise Lost – Kashmir at Crossroads
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent; but it takes a touch of genius and lots of courage to move something in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein
On 05 August 2019, newly elected government of India announced change in Kashmir status. President issued an order under Article 370 superseding a previous Presidential Order of 1954 thus removing restrictions on application of Constitution of India in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). This also removed Article 35 A that gave special status to residents of J&K. In addition, J&K was divided into two Union territories with separation of Ladakh.
Currently, three countries control parts of the territory that was once princely state of Kashmir during the Raj. Indian Controlled Kashmir (ICK) is fifty five percent of the territory, Pakistan Controlled Kashmir (PCK) is thirty five percent and Chinese Controlled Kashmir (CCK) is fifteen percent. There is no conflict at Indian-Chinese border in Kashmir called Line of Actual Control (LAC) and there has been no border incident in the last fifty years. I recall the only incident of military history several years ago when tempers escalated at that border, the soldiers simply threw stones at each other. The story of Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan is totally different.
Kashmir is more of an ideological element between two countries. Both sides have a psychological entanglement where the raison d’etre of both countries is linked with it. India views continued control of Kashmir as vindication of its stand that Hindus and Muslims are not two separate nations and that is why a Muslim majority state is part of Indian union. Pakistan contests this narrative and see India’s control of Kashmir as challenging the very idea of Pakistan based on ‘two nation theory’. Both sides are intelligent enough to recognize the old dictum that ‘possession is the nine-tenth of the law’. Rhetoric aside, in real politic, both countries are fully aware that LOC is now a de facto border, and no one can force a military solution of the problem. When there is an interlude of peace between two countries, public opinion is in favor of compromise. However, with every crisis, jingoism runs supreme on both sides of the border.
‘Nationhood is rooted in rites of violence we all prefer to forget’. Quoted in Karl Meyer & Shareen B. Brysac’s King Makers
India’s recent efforts to remove special status of Kashmir is to fully integrate the state in Indian union with the hope that this will end separatism in ICK. Unique circumstances of Kashmir at the time of partition in 1947 necessitated a compromise. Article 270 of Indian constitution gave Kashmir a special status where Indian constitution was exempted from the state in governance of the state. In the last seventy years, 94 of the 97 entries of the Union List and 260 of the 395 articles of the constitution were extended to Kashmir. Ironically, it was all done through Article 370 as this was the only ‘tunnel’ through which center could act in Kashmir. The result is that in practical terms Article 370 had ceased to provide any special concessions to Kashmiris. More important is Article 35 A that was inserted by a Presidential Order in 1954 as a compromise between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Kashmiri leader Shaikh Abdullah. This clause gave the authority to state government to define ‘permanent resident of the state’. A Dogra rule era law of 1927 that prohibited acquisition of land in Kashmir by an outsider was incorporated in Constitution of J& K in 1956 that closed the door for acquisition of land by outsiders. Now only a permanent resident of the state was eligible for land acquisition, government jobs and scholarship in state educational institutions. Article 370 was a psychological and 35 A practical anchor of special status of Kashmir. Continue reading “Kashmir, Analysis by Dr Hamid Husain”
I was watching the film ‘What will people say’ (courtesy, Kanopy), an official selection at the Toronto film festival in 2018. It is a story familiar to anyone who grew up in Pakistan or in a desi family abroad. A young, second-generation Pakistani teenage girl (Nisha) in Norway wants to live her life like any other teenager in her peer group but is restricted by her parents. Like most rebellious teenagers anywhere in the world, she finds ways to do what she wants to do (go out partying with a friend in the middle of the night) but stops just shy of having physical relations with one of her guy friends. One such day, she gets caught by her father who finds one of her male Norwegian friends in her room and starts beating him and then turns his fury on her. A neighbor calls the police and Nisha is escorted to a safe place by Norway’s version of the CPS.
After spending a night at CPS, Nisha’s mother calls her to tell her that everything will be okay and that her father will pick her up from CPS in a few minutes. Nisha, being a teenager, falls for this trap. She ends up on a flight to Pakistan with her father. Her father leaves her at his sister’s house and returns to Norway the next day. Nisha tries to contact someone in Norway but she has no access to international calling or internet. Her first night, she tries to run away in the streets but comes back to find her aunt at the door telling her that the nearest airports in 350 Kilometers away. At another instance, she tries to send a message to one of her Norwegian friends via facebook through a net cafe but is caught and her Norwegian passport is burned. She spends eight months at that place. While she is there, she falls for one of her male cousins living in the same house.
One night, they are caught kissing at night by local police who beat him mercilessly and ask her to strip at gunpoint. The police then ask the guy to fondle her in front of them, all while taking photos of them. The couple is then dragged to their house and police demand money in exchange for deleting those photos. Nisha’s father is summoned from Norway by the Pakistani relatives and she is sent back. While Nisha’s father is in Pakistan, he spits at her face and then takes her in a taxi to the top of a mountain and orders her to jump from there. She tries to plead with him while he throttles her and tries to push her. He is unable to, and they end up back in Norway.
There is a family meal and her mother tells her that they are giving her a final chance. The prospect of her becoming a doctor is brought up and that it would be one way in which the honor of family can be redeemed. Some of the dialogues used by her mother upon her return are,
“People don’t even invite is to weddings anymore.” “I wish you were stillborn”.
Within a few days of her return, she comes back from school to find that there is a ‘match’ ready to happen. The boy (Adnan) is a doctor in Canada and from a Pakistani family. Adnan’s aunt is visiting Nisha’s house and he is present via Skype.
Her father muses out loud that she can study and later work once she is in Canada. The boy’s aunt says ‘No, there is no need for studies or work. Adnan earns plenty of money. She’ll later be busy enough with children and the house”.
Nisha’s mother agrees with this statement.
After a brief chat, the ‘match’ is finalized and they are officially “engaged”. Sweets are consumed by everybody present (they are Pakistani, after all). The boy’s aunt then says, “Nisha, we are doing it only for your wellbeing”. The following night, Nisha, who had been rooming with her younger sister, decides to run away from the house again. It is snowing outside and before she leaves, her younger sister (who is about 6-9 years old) wakes up and sees her leave but doesn’t say a word. Once she has climbed down from her third story apartment, she walks towards the street outside their apartment complex and looks back. Her father is standing in the window, looking at her. Their eyes meet for a few moments and then Nisha takes off in the snow, running far away from the house. The End.
I thought the movie was generally well-made. There is some exoticization of Pakistan, as one expects in most films for a primarily western audience. The narrow streets, old houses, mountains in the background and a dilapidated bus, with Khawaja-siras (transgender people) selling boiled eggs to passengers, the old school vegetable and fruit market, classrooms without whiteboards and households without domestic servants. I read later that the story is loosely based on the life of its director, Iram Haq.
The premise, as I said earlier, is familiar to a Pakistani or a Pakistani-origin person. The rank hypocrisy of Pakistani society, the guilt-trapping (Pakistani parents’ favorite sport), violence in the name of honor and efforts to ‘save face’ in the community are daily realities of a desi household. While honor killings get splashed as headlines (deservedly), there is a lot of ‘micro-violence’ that happens every day in a middle-class Pakistani household with young girls (I’m talking about a representative sample). Some of the statements that I have bolded and put in quotation marks in the synopsis are familiar tropes of Pakistani parents, once they find out that the human being they created is not a robot that they can program. The situation, however, is much more dire for girls than it is for boys. Particularly when it happens abroad. One of my mentors used to say that Pakistanis in the diaspora tend to be normal people until their daughters start growing up. If it were up to Pakistani parents, they would bottle up puberty of their children and throw it away in the trash, instead of dealing with it like people everywhere else.
I write this not just as a commentator but as a witness. Both of my sisters, at different times in their lives, were ‘disciplined’ when they developed an interest in men that my parents had not chosen for them to marry. Sister number one was a teenager and had a crush on one of her teachers (which is the most teenager thing that I can think of). The guy in question used to visit our house for coaching (a normal occurrence for our household, to be clear) and he belonged to a lower-middle-class background. Once the ‘crush’ was discovered, he was banished from our house and my sister was warned never to mention his name again, or there would be dire consequences. She was 16 at the time. Around the time that she turned 17, she was engaged to a cousin who was studying abroad at the time. She got married at 18 and has lived abroad ever since. She has always been an obedient and slightly-passive child and has done okay in life, despite the obvious disadvantage.
Sister number 2 has always been a more outwardly emotional and strong character. Her first ‘issue’ arose during teenage years when she was found talking too many times with one of the male cousins. She would also ‘dress up’ (as much as one could in a provincial Punjabi town) when she went to coaching centers in the city during her high school years. Later, when she was in college, she needed some help with coursework and an acquaintance who worked in that profession was asked to help. The acquaintance deputed one of his juniors to help my sister. Fast forwards a few years and they were romantically involved. My parents were having none of that. They tried to ‘arrange’ her marriage at different places but she would stage some sort of stunt (act cold/be sarcastic/or just being rude) to get out of it. She tried to kill herself at least twice during this period. She was probably physically beaten more than once as well (I was at boarding school between 2000-2006 and in med school for 5 years after that so I only heard these things second-hand). I had met the dude in question and found him to be okay, nothing too spectacular or bad. As the firstborn male, I held a certain role in the family so I first cajoled my mother (who hated the guy partially because he was 10-12 years older than my sister and partially because he came from a lower-middle-class family and my sister has always had ‘high’ ambitions) and later my father (who felt guilty for having introduced the couple in the first place) and sister number 2 finally got married to him.
Were my parents monsters or merely representing the middle class, small-town, religious morality that they themselves grew up in? I don’t know the answer to that question. They are otherwise very decent, educated, ‘honorable’, pious people and a neutral observer meeting them for the first time won’t be able to see anything wrong outwardly. The pathos inflicting my parents is not restricted to them, it is shared by everyone around them, most of the society is rotten. And it’s not getting any better with time.
P.S A book that deals with issues of ‘honor’ in the Pakistani diaspora, particularly in Britain, is ‘Maps for lost lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam. One can also glean some knowledge about this from certain portions of the movie ‘Blinded by the Light’.
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