Division Of Punjab: A Misleading Narrative

Seraiki Province
Source: Pakistan Tours Guide

Punjabi writers and intellectuals – many of whom, I must share are my friends and colleagues – while addressing a press conference the other day vowed to not allow ‘division of Punjab’ and dubbed the initiative of the creation of a separate province comprising south-western part of Punjab as a conspiracy hatched by “corrupt waderas, capitalist, retired bureaucrats and decadent peers.” The amusing argument presented by the Punjabi intellectuals was that “division of Punjab was against the interest of poor people.”

I am empathetic towards my friends and understand their feelings of being clueless about how to deal with historical, cultural, social, and particularly political, realities which they were destined to face one day.

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This also brings to mind the case of Mr. Fakhar Zaman, Chairman World Punjabi Congress, who recently deviated from his earlier stance of years of calling languages of the people of Pakistan, including Hindko and Seraiki languages, as national languages. He had reiterated this belief during the International Progressive Writers’ Conference held in Karachi (1986), Democratic Writers’ Conference held in Lahore (1987) and during his tenure as Chairman Pakistan Academy of Letters. It is unfortunate that a writer of international repute and a committed democrat now says, “We believe in four nationalities and four national languages with Urdu as the link language.”

The irony is that many progressive, secular and democrat writers and intellectuals deny the existence of languages other than the ‘four,’ thereby also turning a blind eye to the historical and cultural identities of the people other than the ‘four’ nationalities’ they believe in.

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Perhaps, this deviation from earlier principled positions is a result of the pressure exerted by the capitalists, rich businessmen and civil-military bureaucrats. This turn-about can also be a result of the perks and privileges that these intellectuals enjoy because of being part of a dominant ethnic group in Pakistan. Needless to say, this represents a colonial mindset inherited from the British colonial legacy.

What I said is a historical fact as Tan Tai Yong in his book, “Punjab—The Garrison State” says while focusing his study “on the historical continuities in the processes of state formation by showing how military exigency impinged upon the functioning, and ultimately shaped the character, of the colonial state and society in the Punjab, leaving a legacy which has persisted into the post-colonial states…”

Now, coming to the narrative of the ‘Division of Punjab’ which is misleading, tantamount to distortion of history and denying historical, cultural, social and linguistic realities.

The demand by the Seraiki people is not to ‘divide’ Punjab but restore the autonomy of the areas that were traditionally not part of Punjab, e.g. Multan and Bahawalpur.

It is important to point out here that Punjab has already been divided twice: first when Ranjeet Singh signed an agreement with the British rulers and River Sutlej was made the border between northern and southern Punjab, and second, at the time of partition when Punjab was divided into East (Indian) Punjab and West (Pakistani) Punjab. Interestingly, two more provinces have been carved out from Indian Punjab.

Multan was never a part of Punjab until British made it an administrative division goverened by Punjab in 1849. Even during Sikhs’ occupation, Multan was a separate province and Dewan Sawan Mal and Dewan Mool Raj served as its governors under the Sikh rule.

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Bahawalpur state was made part of the Punjab only when One-Unit was abolished in 1969.

At the same time, it is also important to understand that at the time of partition, the major part of Punjab went  to India and now the Pakistani Punjab is, more or less, a 200 km wide strip along Indian border from Kasur to Jhelum.

So, the narrative of ‘Division of Punjab’ is a foul cry just to protect the post-colonial interests of a few.

The case of Seraiki region is similar to the case of Sindh when it was handed over to the Bombay Presidency by the British in 1847. For more than half a century Sindh was governed by the Bombay Presidency until Ghulam Mohammad Bhurgri and his friends, both Muslims and Hindus, first voiced dissatisfaction with Sindh’s status within the Bombay Presidency in the 1920s. Multan and Sindh, both were punished by the British for resistance against their aggression. Multan was annexed to Punjab and Sindh annexed to the Bombay Presidency.

Decades of cultural and linguistic encroachment and land grabbing became a reason for the awakening of the Seraiki consciousness. In early 1960s, Seraiki writers were inspired by the movement launched by Sindhis, Balochs and Pushtuns against the One-Unit. Anti-One Unit Front, formed in Bahawalpur, held public meetings and rallies demanding abolition of One-Unit. A number of activists of the Front were arrested and put behind bars. When the One-Unit was abolished, the Bahawalpur Suba Mahaz launched a movement for declaring Bahawalpur as a province. The movement was suppressed by using force ruthlessly. In fact, Bahawalpur Suba Mahaz is the mother of Seraiki Suba Mahaz as, later, leaders of Bahawalpur joined the Seraiki movement. The main force of the Seraiki movement is peasantry, educated youth, lower middle class and intelligentsia. The political elite of the Seraiki region, with a few exceptions, have traditionally sided with the side that seems to be in strength at a given point in time.

It is unfortunate that the language, literature, culture and folk music of the Seraiki region has gradually but consistently lost its individuality and is today, widely seen as Punjabi language, literature and culture. The only thing which remains unique to the Seraiki people is perhaps the Seraiki dance, Jhoomir. And, dance is the first and foremost indicator of cultural identity of a group of people.

It will be more commendable if Punjabi writers and intellectuals, instead of holding onto the mistakes of the British, help in correcting the wrong-doings by discarding the colonial legacy and colonial mindset and support the creation of the Seraiki province.