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
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
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
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
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.