Past present: The politics of identity
The history of Pakistan focuses mainly on the Pakistan movement. It gives credit to the All-India Muslim League and its leaders for creating a new country while other groups and communities who contributed to the struggle for freedom remain unobserved.
Does this interpretation suggest that the Muslim League has a right to rule the country while other political parties and their leaders can be excluded from mainstream politics?
In reaction, the excluded groups and communities have developed their own interpretation of history glorifying their contribution to the freedom movement and the creation of Pakistan.
Many books and documents of historical literature discuss the contribution of students, women, religious minorities, journalists and the literati to the freedom movement. Some narratives also highlight provinces and cities which played an active role in partition of the subcontinent.
These narratives are not only significant in history but may influence current politics. However, political changes and crises prevent these efforts from being amalgamated as a single, national front.
After being negated from history and politics, small provinces began to focus on writing their own history. For instance the Sindhi Adabi Board planned the development of comprehensive history of Sindh. Other provinces could not materialise similar projects because of a dearth of historians. In some cases old literature and gazetteers were reprinted to fill the gap.
Some well-organised communities have documented their history, asserting their identity in a society which failed to unite and integrate them in the mainstream, as national identity remained weak.
The idea behind these narratives is to project a positive image of the community including its distinguishing characteristics, social institutions, rituals, cultural practices and its achievements through ages. In some cases the panchayat or jirga system were commended as just institutions.
For writing the history of these communities, there is no written material or source of information available other than traditional history.
In the absence of source material, historians rely on verbal accounts, traditions, and myths which are often accepted as truth.
Another issue here is that the history of a community is not written by professionals but amateur historians who belong to the community.
As part of their loyalty, they praise their community and assert its superiority over other communities.
This type of history provides a sense of identity to members of the community, giving them the confidence to play a constructive role for the advancement of their community.
An example that can be cited here is of the turbulent people of Mewat, a community which was divided as a result of Partition. After leaving their homeland, a large number of them settled in Pakistan.
The image of the community in conventional history is rather negative. In Ziauddin Barani’s Tarikh-i-Firuzshahi, they are portrayed as robbers and bandits who looted, plundered and created disorder in the capital of Delhi. Their anti-state activities were brutally crushed by Balban and peace was restored.
First, the people of Mewat integrated the divided community on the basis of their cultural traditions and secondly they worked towards improving their negative image dominant in traditional history.
In her book, Against History Against State, Shail Mayaram dispels the traditional views about the people of Mewat, lending them a dignified position in history.
Historians from Mewat are also rewriting history to restore their historical image. However, the recent research is still excluded from historical narratives while the old conventional accounts can be found in textbooks and general history books. The old interpretation must be changed to include the new research in national historiography.
Another approach would be to rewrite history on the basis of modern research methodology by separating it from myths and fiction. History should be written on the basis of evidence sans exaggeration. Moreover, it should not remain isolated but should be cohesive with national history.