India, Pakistan: Same Culture, Same Traditions But Still Fighting
By Promod Puri
( In view of the recent border fighting empathy toward the peoples of India and Pakistan has been the main reason in writing this article. The objective is not only to underscore the commonalities among them but to make these known both within the two nations and the rest of the world as well ).
Flip the coin and on one side India and Pakistan seem to be combating with each other for ever. On the other side they are sharing the same bread of common roots, common cultures, languages and traditions.
This love and hate relationship between the two neighbors is both as a result of natural and historic bonding between the peoples of the two countries. At the same time there is the hostility generated by militancy from Pakistan and India's dithering stand in resolving the Kashmir problem.
In 1947 when the British colonial rulers left the Indian subcontinent Pakistan was established. It was on the basis that the Muslims population would have their own country. This was done by simply drawing a distorted boundary line along the north-western part of the united India. A similar line was drawn in the northeastern part. Thus a geographically unique nation of Pakistan, with miles apart east and west regions, was constituted.
The partition of the united India in practically three regions saw one of the worst communal riots. In this abrupt war of hatred hundreds of thousands of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed. Millions faced unprecedented miseries as a result of sudden uprooting of people from their ancestral homes and lands.
In that bloody anarchy, however, Pakistan got its Muslim majority.
But the genesis of Pakistan based on one religion could not represent the diversity within its Muslim population. Different languages, different cultures, along with different sects within Islam were part of the reality of Pakistan as well. The result East Pakistan was completely scratched out from the map. And a new nation of Bangladesh was born. This was a negation to the perception that a common religion would hold the nation together irrespective of its cultural, linguistic and ethnic pluralities.
In this context one wonders why the subcontinent was divided in the first place. If carving a Muslim state was the main reason to establish Pakistan then it did not take in its fold all the Muslims in the united India. Nor it could address the regional and diverse cultural and linguistic aspirations of its people. Urdu or Hindusthani speaking migrants settled in the Sind and Punjab provinces of Pakistan felt alienated.
Moreover, the division of the sub-continent generated a never ending hostility between India and Pakistan which is dominated by the Kashmir problem.
Pakistan bases its argument that the state of Jammu & Kashmir has majority Muslim population. And that it should be part of the country. Whereas India's position is that Kashmir belongs to India because the autocrat ruler of the state did sign the accession treaty with India.
Also is the fact that India itself took the Kashmir issue before the United Nations. The latter passed a majority resolution that a plebiscite must be conducted in the state so the people can decide their future to belong to Pakistan, remain with India or stay independent.
However, the problem is not that simple. Being just a Muslim majority state is not the only determining factor to decide its fate. The state is extremely heterogeneous.
People in the Valley of Kashmir speak Kashmiri language. And being most outspoken Kashmiris control the politics of the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir. That leaves the regions of Jammu and Ladakh totally out of the picture in the ongoing issue of the un-representative Kashmir Problem.
Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are culturally, linguistically, religiously and even geographically three distinct regions of the disputed state.
Equally important is the non-Kashmiri speaking region of Azad Kashmir now under Pakistan control. And which was once part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir under the Maharaja rule before 1947. People here speak Pahari dialects, including Mirpuri, which are akin to the Punjabi dialects, but altogether different than the Kashmiri language. And that is the reason people in the Azad Kashmir region of the state are fundamentally different both linguistically and culturally than the those in the Kashmir valley. Their affinities are more toward the people of the Jammu region.
It is the Jammu and Azad Kashmir regions of the state which suffered the most during the partition period. And whenever India and Pakistan border flares up, as has happened recently, this is the area of hostility between the combating forces resulting in immense suffering for the people living on both sides of the border.
Pakistan views the Kashmir problem from only one aspect that it is Muslim in majority. That is true. But that is not the reason, and should not be the reason for its being part of Pakistan. And as far as India is concerned both its leadership and the deliberating bureaucrats always try to put the Kashmir problem on a back burner as it is a non-issue.
Referendum can be a part of the solution toward Kashmir tangle. But in the changed political and economic situations it will not end the problem for good. Still, India now with its strong governing leadership and offering better economic alternative for the state than Pakistan, need not shy away from this democratic exercise of plebiscite. It could be very bold step toward an effort to resolve the Kashmir tangle.
However, beside seriously handling the Kashmir problem there is much more as far as the relations between the two nations are concerned. India and Pakistan are two different ruling entities. But historically, culturally and even emotionally they are together as one people. Their heritage is the same and will remain the same for ever.
And the side of the coin which displays the ugly site of hostality between the two countries could be replaced by two friendly neighbors sharing their traditional bread.
( Promod Puri is a former editor and publisher of South Asian Canadian weekly newspaper, The Link, retired and resides in Vancouver, Canada).