Muqaddamah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

مقدمہ صوبہ سرایکستان – محمّد اکبر انصاری

Muqadammah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

(English title: A Case for the Saraikistan Province)

(First published 1989; This edition 2009; Language: Urdu)

Why it is absolutely necessary to carve out the province of Saraikistan out of preset-day Punjab? The author lays out his reasons with great gusto in this fiery polemic.

This is a case for a province for the Saraiki people who boast a unique language and distinct ethno-cultural ethos. This people inhabit the lower plains of present-day Punjab, the area which is informally known as the Saraiki Belt and includes parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh where sizable populations of Saraiki speaking people are native to those lands.

The argument kicks off with the refutation of objections found in the current political discourse on the creation of a Saraiki province. The author briefly brushes off each objection as unfounded, dishonest or sensationalist and goes on to make a case for the separate linguistic and cultural identity of the Saraiki people which necessitates a separate province.

The book rejects the claims of those who object to the name “Saraikistan” fearing it would lead to further fragmentation of the country.  The author points towards provincial nomenclature current in Pakistan, which are, as they are, already named on ethno-lingual basis, that is, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, and now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

It concludes that Saraikis do not demand something unique and new; their demand is in line with well established and existing principles of geographical organisation. Since Pakistan is divided into provinces on ethno-lingual basis, it only makes sense to give Saraiki people their due historical share and thus a province of their own.

There is a further and informative argument from history. A Multan province had long existed alongside Punjab since the times Delhi Sultanate up until when Ranjit Singh invaded Multan province and annexed it for Punjab. Then British came along but they kept the former Multan province within the boundaries of Punjab. It has remained in Punjab ever since.

The book states that provinces were created in British India on the basis of ethnical and/or linguistic identity.  Then it proceeds to give examples of multi-lingual countries like Belgium and Switzerland where every language is accorded state recognition and given equal status in the constitutions of those countries. In former Yugoslavia too, geographical entities were based on language and/or ethnicity and so was the case in former USSR.

When the rights of a people are not given, they resort to violent means. There is a grim warning of the inevitable with the aid of the examples of Hungary and Bangladesh. Hungarian people carved out their own country when Austrians refused to accord equal status to their language, and by extension, their culture. Bengalis who were patriotic Pakistanis, says the author, rebelled against the status quo when Urdu was imposed on them, causing them to separate from Pakistan in favour of preserving their separate linguistic and cultural identity.

A good chunk of the book deals with assessing the demand by some Saraiki circles of the restoration of former Bahawalpur province. It is a bad idea in the view of the author. What Saraikis need is a unified province which includes all Saraiki-majority areas. If former Bahawalpur State’s provincial status is restored, it would leave out half of the Saraiki-majority areas inside Punjab. This would be divisive and counter-productive.

Successive waves of Punjabi migration before and at the time of Partition have caused a population shift in the cities of former Bahawalpur State. A census would reveal that settler Punjabis are actually in majority in most cities which means their political control on Bahawalpur will remain even if Bahawalpur province is created. To counter this, Saraikis across the board will have to unite and demand a unified Saraiki province if they want to end their exploitation at the hands of Punjabi settler elite who now rule the roost in Saraiki-majority areas.

A good picture is sketched of the systematic plunder of agricultural farms in and around Cholistan during Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. It was a time when a potent and active movement for Bahawalpur province existed. Military and Punjabi bureaucratic elite from Upper Punjab were allotted large chunks of lands and made to settle in Bahawalpur to dilute the political influence of native Bahawalpuri families. They succeeded in gaining access to local votes through state patronage and thus weakened the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

He cites various examples of discrimination faced by Saraikis in their own lands at the hands of Punjabi elite, who prefer their own kind for civil jobs and appoint officials from Upper Punjab to exploit Saraikis whenever they have a chance. This, he says, goes back to relative underdevelopment of Saraiki areas.

This feeling of alienation and exploitation of the Saraikis at the hands of mostly Punjabi elite forms the core of the argument and the biggest reason, in author’s opinion, that why a Saraiki province is needed. Funds meant for Saraiki areas are diverted and spent on Punjabi areas of the Punjab. This is why Saraiki region, despite being the bread-basket for Pakistan, is impoverished and has high illiteracy rate relative to Upper Punjab. Every medium town in Upper Punjab boasts a state university but there are only two state universities in Saraiki Belt (a third university has been established recently in Rahim Yar Khan) even though the populations of Punjabi and Saraiki-dominated areas are relatively equal. This has led to a situation where civil service jobs mostly go to Punjabis simply because they are more educated. This is worst form of exploitation.

Having laid out the multi-layered argument in detail, let me also add that it’s a political polemic with sweeping generalisations, strong language against Punjabis, knee-jerk rejection of the objections of intelligentsia, and an unwavering faith in the efficacy of Saraiki province as the only and ultimate solution to fix all social and political ills of the Saraiki people.

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Chero Hath Na Murli by Ashoo Lal Faqir

چھیڑو ہتھ نہ مرلی – اشو لال فقیر

(First published 1989; Language: Saraiki)

A fascinating collection of poems in Saraiki, the language spoken in central Pakistan*. I was unprepared for the immense referential scope of the poems which, despite their modern dress-up, are steeped in the classical metaphor of Saraiki poetry. Many poems are peppered with folkloric and mythological references, which demands a good knowledge of the Indic classical world to fully comprehend them.

Most strikingly, there are many poems referencing and modeled on characters and stories from the Hindu mythology, linking the troubles of the present to that of the past, tied to the terrestrial scope of the land where today the language is spoken, the land which once was a very important part of the ancient Hindu civilisation. Multan, the old cosmopolitan Mulsthana , was the city where the famousSun Temple had stood in ancient times, on whose imaginary ruins still lie the ruins of another, latter-day, temple. Although it is no more than a mound today and archaeologists have failed to unearth any historical evidence of the lost temple, it is alive in the collective lore of the city, through the legends that have come down to us.

I digress, but Ashoo Lal Faqir, our poet, by bringing the past into the present socio-political milieu, seems to position himself as a keeper and reminder of the tradition which has all but forgotten under Muslim influence, and particularly after the Partition of British India. In that respect these poems represent a unique and lone voice in modern Saraiki poetry and one that I cherished as I read these poems with great relish, understanding some metaphors and missing others, under the grip of a newborn nostalgia for the past long lost.

*Indo-European language, today written in Persian-derived script, although a small number of speakers in India also use Devanagri. I’m a native speaker of the language.

Re-read and rewritten the review July 2016

Tazkira Shaykh Bahauddin Zakariya Multani by Faqir Muhammad Javed Qadri

تذکرہ شیخ بہاؤ الدین زکریا ملتانی -از فقیر محمّد جاوید قادری

(First published 2009; Language: Urdu)

This is a hagiography, written in the old tradition of tazkira literature, of Shaykh Bahaud-dn Zakariya Multani (c. 1170 – 1267), who was the most prominent Sufi of the newly established Suhrawardi order in the regions of the then Northwestern India.

Given the nature of the book, I did not expect a comprehensive analysis of the belief system of this sufi, but, in addition to excessive praise, I at least expected to get a general view of his thought. In this respect this book has been an utter disappointment. So much so that I embarrassed myself by reading it from cover to cover.

The author sets out with the greatness and piety of the Shaykh, his steadfastness in faith, tireless quest for knowledge, travels to far off lands in search of the Truth (whatever it means), his numerous miracles and wonders which are identical to the miracles ascribed to the prophets, his clairvoyance, knowledge of the unseen and much more.

This book, however, contains some factual information about the life of Shaykh Zakariya and recounts a few prominent achievements for which he is known.

He left Multan (his birthplace, now in Pakistan) in early youth and set out on a long and perilous journey of Muslim mainlands for higher education in Islamic disciplines. He is reported to have travelled from city to city for almost three decades: Tus, Neshapur, Bukhara, Samarqand, Damascus, Aleppo, Mecca, Madina and finally Baghdad, spending time with the prominent teachers, before he returned to Multan in the latter part of his life.

He was primarily a jurist who, during his stay in Baghdad, got attracted to the teachings of Abu Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardi (who was the nephew of the eponym of the order Abu al-Najib al-Suhrawardi). who then initiated him into the Suhrawardi tariqah and ordered Zakariya to return to his homeland to spread the message of Suhrawardiyah.

Shaykh Zakariya’s life and activities back in his native city gets some detailed attention in the book. He belonged to a family of religious judges (qadis), a very wealthy family which enjoyed influence with Muslim overlords. In time he became heir to the family fortune which, according to the book, he spent in the cause of religion. He constructed a huge madrassa in Multan which housed students, travellers, shelterless and teachers imported from Muslim mainlands. His fame and piety won a lot of converts to Islam, which, in turn, he sent over to far off lands for tabligh. Shaykh Zakariya is reported to have sent teams of students to Far East countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and other areas to spread Islam. His disciple-preachers reported to have won multitudes of converts.

The book also tells about the schism between him and the governor of Multan Nasir al-Din Qabacha. The latter ruled the province under the authority of the Sultan of Mamluk Dynasty (Slave Dynasty of Delhi), Sultan Shams al-Din Iltutmish. The governor of Multan is reported to have been jealous of the Shaykh and tried to sully his name in the eyes of the people. He used many means to achieve this end but, according to the book, failed. But we don’t know the nature of the dispute between the Shaykh and the governor, whether it was theological or just political or a mix of both, because the author tends to ascribe all opposition to the Shaykh a result of jealousy and ill-will; a likely explanation a hagiography can offer.

My book rating: 1/5