Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Taj is Indian..or is it?

Symbols are very important, often they help define a nation. The students make a convincing case that the Taj is "Pakistani," they make an even more convincing case that studying history is important.

Yet, in a class of undergraduate students at one of Pakistan’s best universities, precisely this question was animatedly debated during a session on Pakistan’s history, with some students stating that the Taj was part of Pakistan’s history, and others implying that it was ‘Pakistani’. These students had all taken a course in Pakistan Studies prior to starting their undergraduate degree...

Pakistani history has been a contentious topic where different sets of narratives give differing accounts of what Pakistani history is and, hence, how one imagines Pakistan. Given the eventual partition of British India and the creation of Pakistan, some historians have claimed that Pakistan was ‘created’ in 712 AD when an Arab invader came to what is now part of Pakistan.

Hence, if the history of Pakistan is the history of Muslims in India, and just as Mohammad bin Qasim can become part of a certain legacy and heritage and can be caricatured as the ‘first Pakistani’, so too can the Taj as ‘being’ Pakistani. Pakistani history and a history of Pakistan’s people and their land, become two conflicting narratives.

As a consequence, ‘Pakistani’ history, ignores the history of the people who live in what was Pakistan (West and East) and what is left of it. Mohenjodaro, Harappa, and the history of the people of Pakistan is dominated by a north Indian (largely Hindustani) Muslim history, and that too only of kings and their courts.

In the most ingenious and creative recent book to be published on Pakistan’s emergence as a political idea, historian Faisal Devji in his Muslim Zion raises some fascinating and sophisticated arguments which complicate any simplistic notion of what passes as Pakistani history.

His book is a highly nuanced and multilayered understanding of the ideas which led to the justification and creation of Pakistan, and while many of Devji’s conceptualisations need to be contested, for our purposes his statement that Pakistan’s history lies outside its borders, gives rise to some of the problems of imagining a history of Pakistan described here, and allows some to claim the Taj Mahal as ‘Pakistani’.

Moreover, if this claim that Pakistan’s history lies ‘outside its borders’ is valid, and indeed in many critical ways this is certainly the case, it also implies, that the country which came into being called Pakistan, in this hegemonic notion of history, really has no history of its own. The so-called ‘freedom movement’ was fought in a foreign land, the land of the Taj Mahal, not the land of the people who inherited a country called Pakistan where their ancestors had lived for millennia.