November 2005 
Year 12    No.112

Neighbours


Harrassed historian

In view of continued police harassment over the past 10 months, Dr Mubarak Ali, an internationally recognised Pakistani historian, is seriously considering leaving Pakistan for good. Dr Ali was among the eminent historians who participated in the first-ever South Asia Historians Workshop organised in Mumbai in 1999 by the Khoj Ė Education for a Plural India project. CC spoke to him about his recent brush with the Pakistani authorities.

There are reports of your being harassed by the authorities in Pakistan?
Yes, itís true. Although I publish an internationally recognised journal on historical studies in Pakistan, something that no university does, though I am invited by prominent universities across the world to deliver lectures on the history of Islam and the subcontinent, in my own country my family and I are harassed and humiliated. My house was raided by a junior inspector of the investigation wing of the Lahore police. What is he investigating? False allegations against me of "theft of manuscripts"!

What is the real reason for this harassment?
The real reason behind this targeting is my views, which are not liked by certain circles. I have spoken against hyper-nationalism, ideology and the domination of ruling classes in historical interpretation. Since I write in Urdu, my books are read by common people, especially in Sindh and Balochistan. I have a widespread readership there. But I remain very unpopular in Punjab, which is a very conservative and domineering province.

In our society, the best method is not to attack directly, so a group of lawyers is active against me. As they are lawyers, they know how to misuse law. They have filed four FIRs against me so far on bogus charges of stealing manuscripts and forging documents. And each time I am slapped with an arrest warrant. In September this year, while I was away in the USA, the police raided my house, harassed my wife and daughter. Currently, I am on anticipatory bail.

This is not the first time that you have faced harassment by intolerant regimes?
But the nature of harassment was different. Earlier, government agencies would visit from time to time and interview me. Sometimes I would be given an oral warning. But this time it is a direct, intimidatory approach. Criminal cases have been filed against me. I have had to spend my time and money to defend myself.

What was your first major work as a dissenting historian?
There are a number of books, especially in Urdu, in which I have challenged the state-oriented approach to history. However, it is my book Historianís Dispute, which has also been translated into Hindi, that is the cause for the recent provocation. Another collection of essays, Pakistanís Search for Identity, is forthcoming. So far I have written 50 books on different subjects related to history and historical interpretation.

Any suggestions for a subcontinental campaign in your support?
I believe historians and writers should be united on the issue of freedom of speech and writing. A strong voice and campaign from all over the subcontinent can make all the difference. 

What has been your experience with the Indian authorities, in getting a visa for example?
So far, no problems. In the past the standard practice was to delay issuing the visa. Most of the time I was finally granted the visa with the proviso of police reporting, which I consider insulting and humiliating. I have strongly protested on this issue saying that both governments treat each otherís citizens as criminals.

Is Pakistan more or less tolerant today than it was, say, five years ago?
Among the people the climate is always friendly. It is both governments that are responsible for hostility.

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ō Please address your letter of protest to the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan, Islamabad, and copy it to sabrang@vsnl.com.

 

In Pakistan history only serves the
ideology of the state
ó Dr Mubarak Ali

Since Pakistan is an ideological state, history only serves the ideology of the stateÖ From the very beginning, the problem with Pakistan after partition was how to legitimise its creation. And thatís why it is still very difficult for Pakistani historians who want to honestly explore origins and identities because itís very difficult to decide where to start Pakistani history from.

Some people argue that because itís a new country, 1947 should be the starting point. Some people say that not 1947, but the invasion of Muhammad bin Qasim, who invaded Sindh in 1711, so the Muslim period begins from the Arab conquest. There are very few people who like to trace the history from the ancient period. Actually, we do not teach ancient history in Pakistan, neither at the university level nor at school or college levels, except the Indus Valley civilisation.

Interestingly, however, until the 1965 war with India in which Pakistan faced humiliating defeat, the textbooks and syllabi did include a study of ancient India. But after 1965, military heroes and the study of the army entered our textbooks and the classroom and ancient history was thrown out...

Now the attempt is being made to have a separate identity of Pakistan, to de-link Pakistani history from Indian history. We actually have some proposals from Ďeminentí historians arguing that the history of Pakistan should only encompass what is now Pakistan, the present-day geographical boundaries, and we should have nothing to do with India.

But at the same time it is very difficult for complete exclusion from India because then we are left with the problem of the Sultans, the Mughals...

Since the two-nation theory is the basis of Pakistani separatism, there is a constant need to prove that Hindus and Muslims have remained separate from time immemorial. So, there is a constantly constructed myth of Muslim separatism.

(Excerpted from an article published in Communalism Combat, February, 1999.)


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