The same people? Surely not

The same people? Surely not

By Vir Sanghvi

Few things annoy me as much as the claim often advanced by
well-meaning but woolly- headed (and usually Punjabi) liberals to the
effect that when it comes to India and Pakistan , “We’re all the same
people, yaar.”

This may have been true once upon a time. Before 1947, Pakistan was
part of undivided India and you could claim that Punjabis from West
Punjab (what is now Pakistan ) were as Indian as, say, Tamils from
Madras ..

But time has a way of moving on. And while the gap between our
Punjabis (from east Punjab which is now the only Punjab left in India)
and our Tamils may actually have narrowed, thanks to improved
communications, shared popular culture and greater physical mobility,
the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent
that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense.

This was brought home to me most clearly by two major events over the
last few weeks.

The first of these was the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on
the streets of Lahore . In their defence, Pakistanis said that they
were powerless to act against the terrorists because religious
fanaticism was growing. Each day more misguided youngsters joined
jihadi outfits and the law and order situation worsened.

Further, they added, things had got so bad that in the tribal areas
the government of Pakistan had agreed to suspend the rule of law under
pressure from the Taliban and had conceded that sharia law would reign
instead. Interestingly, while most civilised liberals should have been
appalled by this surrender to the forces of extremism, many Pakistanis
defended this concession.

Imran Khan (Keble College, Oxford, 1973-76) even declared that sharia
law would be better because justice would be dispensed more swiftly!
(I know this is politically incorrect but the Loin of the Punjab ’s
defence of sharia law reminded me of the famous Private Eye cover when
his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith was announced. The Eye carried a
picture of Khan speaking to Jemima’s father. “Can I have your
daughter’s hand?” Imran was supposedly asking James Goldsmith. “Why?
Has she been caught shoplifting?” Goldsmith replied. So much for
sharia law.)

The second contrasting event was one that took place in Los Angeles
but which was perhaps celebrated more in India than in any other
country in the world. Three Indians won Oscars: A.R. Rahman, Resul
Pookutty and Gulzar.

Their victory set off a frenzy of rejoicing. We were proud of our
countrymen. We were pleased that India ’s entertainment industry and
its veterans had been recognised at an international platform. And all
three men became even bigger heroes than they already were.

But here’s the thing: Not one of them is a Hindu.

Can you imagine such a thing happening in Pakistan ? Can you even
conceive of a situation where the whole country would celebrate the
victory of three members of two religious minorities? For that matter,
can you even imagine a situation where people from religious
minorities would have got to the top of their fields and were,
therefore, in the running for international awards?

On the one hand, you have Pakistan imposing sharia law, doing deals
with the Taliban, teaching hatred in madrasas, declaring jihad on the
world and trying to kill innocent Sri Lankan cricketers. On the other,
you have the triumph of Indian secularism.

The same people?

Surely not.

We are defined by our nationality. They choose to define themselves by
their religion.

But it gets even more complicated. As you probably know, Rahman was
born Dilip Kumar. He converted to Islam when he was 21. His religious
preferences made no difference to his prospects. Even now, his music
cuts across all religious boundaries. He’s as much at home with Sufi
music as he is with bhajans. Nor does he have any problem with saying
‘Vande Mataram’.

Now, think of a similar situation in Pakistan . Can you conceive of a
Pakistani composer who converted to Hinduism at the age of 21 and
still went on to become a national hero? Under sharia law, they’d
probably have to execute him.

Resul Pookutty’s is an even more interesting case. Until you realise
that Malayalis tend to put an ‘e’ where the rest of us would put an
‘a,’ ( Ravi becomes Revi and sometimes the Gulf becomes the Gelf), you
cannot work out that his name derives from Rasool, a fairly obviously
Islamic name.

But here’s the point: even when you point out to people that Pookutty
is in fact a Muslim, they don’t really care. It makes no difference to
them. He’s an authentic Indian hero, his religion is irrelevant.

Can you imagine Pakistan being indifferent to a man’s religion? Can
you believe that Pakistanis would not know that one of their Oscar
winners came from a religious minority? And would any Pakistani have
dared bridge the religious divide in the manner Resul did by referring
to the primeval power of Om in his acceptance speech?

The same people?

Surely not.

Most interesting of all is the case of Gulzar who many Indians believe
is a Muslim. He is not. He is a Sikh. And his real name is Sampooran
Singh Kalra.

So why does he have a Muslim name?

It’s a good story and he told it on my TV show some years ago. He was
born in West Pakistan and came over the border during the bloody days
of Partition. He had seen so much hatred and religious violence on
both sides, he said, that he was determined never to lose himself to
that kind of blind religious prejudice and fanaticism.

Rather than blame Muslims for the violence inflicted on his community
— after all, Hindus and Sikhs behaved with equal ferocity — he adopted
a Muslim pen name to remind himself that his identity was beyond
religion. He still writes in Urdu and considers it irrelevant whether
a person is a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu.

Let’s forget about political correctness and come clean: can you see
such a thing happening in Pakistan ? Can you actually conceive of a
famous Pakistani Muslim who adopts a Hindu or Sikh name out of choice
to demonstrate the irrelevance of religion?

My point, exactly.

What all those misguided liberals who keep blathering on about us
being the same people forget is that in the 60-odd years since
Independence, our two nations have traversed very different paths.

Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam. It still defines itself in
terms of Islam. And over the next decade as it destroys itself, it
will be because of Islamic extremism.

India was founded on the basis that religion had no role in
determining citizenship or nationhood. An Indian can belong to any
religion in the world and face no discrimination in his rights as a

It is nobody’s case that India is a perfect society or that Muslims
face no discrimination. But only a fool would deny that in the last
six decades, we have travelled a long way towards religious equality.
In the early days of independent India , a Yusuf Khan had to call
himself Dilip Kumar for fear of attracting religious prejudice.

In today’s India , a Dilip Kumar can change his name to A.R. Rahman
and nobody really gives a damn either way.

So think back to the events of the last few weeks. To the murderous
attack on innocent Sri Lankan cricketers by jihadi fanatics in a
society that is being buried by Islamic extremism. And to the triumphs
of Indian secularism.

Same people?

Don’t make me laugh.



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