Weavng back through Culture
by Ravi Nitesh
Published in Daily Times
When we talk about the cultures of India and Pakistan, we always talk about the similarities that we both have. It is a fact and it is the bond that connects us. We know about Indo-Pak bonding among the Indian and Pakistani diaspora in western countries. Culture is a strong bond and this can be explained by the fact that even with fluctuating relations, fortunately any attempt to stop Indo-Pak cultural ventures has been unsuccessful. Saying so, we can see a hope for peace in this cultural bond.
During a recent South Asian conference, I received the opportunity to hear Professor Chaman Lal, who has conducted cross-border research on Bhagat Singh and has written several books on him. Professor Lal talked about the importance of culture and the dismal reality of how partition politics also brought about a cultural divide. He talked about how political division had also affected the culture of the region, a region known as Punjab. For a Punjabi, his/her cultural identity of being a Punjabi is far more important than his/her caste and religious identity. However, the political decision of partition wounded this bonding. They became Indian and Pakistani. Even after that, the culture remained the same and, therefore, it developed at almost the same pace on both sides but due to these two forced identities, both sides adopted two different scripts.
On the Indian side, Punjabis started writing their script in Gurumukhi while on the Pakistani side, Punjabis started using a different script named Shahmukhi. These scripts became official after partition. The school level education on both sides also formalised this division. They do not teach the ‘other’ script. It may not appear to be a big issue but when we look at it from the perspective of ‘what they are losing out on’, we will see its importance.
Having two different scripts does not just mean restricting communication between two people, two communities, but also puts restrictions on shared culture, the past and, most importantly, knowledge. Literature is a repertoire of knowledge. Having two different scripts means that the text that may have been written in either of the two scripts becomes accessible only for people who can read that script. There is a lot of literature that is not available for reading for the current generations, as they only know one of the two scripts. Before partition, people knew both scripts and quality literature was available in both scripts but, after partition, the language got divided and so did knowledge and culture.
Even today, the elderly generation can read both types of scripts but their younger ones cannot. We must know that it will be an injustice if we leave them in the situation wherein they both will not be able to communicate with each other perfectly and will not be able to understand each other’s script and the knowledge that is dependent on them. We must recognise the importance of this. We must make the effort to end this injustice that restricts knowledge and the opportunity to undo the evil of the past and create new bonds for people.
Culture can play a strong role in harnessing good relations between the two countries. Social theorist Emile Durkheim once talked about the importance of culture for social solidarity and harmony. Culture binds people together, it creates a ‘we’ feeling. The similar culture of the people of India and Pakistan can do wonders. This bond of similarity can make them realise that they were and are the same in their values, thoughts and vision. It can work as a platform to lessen the miscommunication, mutual hatred and suspicion. It can work to break the myth that Indians and Pakistanis are different and opposed to each other — the reason for hatred. We need to realise the importance of and make efforts to emphasise cultural similarities. “Can we think of teaching both scripts on both sides?” Professor Chaman Lal asked. I think we can and we should.
Ravi Nitesh is the founder of Mission Bhartiyam (India) and a core member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti