Ishtiaq sahab wrote a very interesting piece in the Daily Times yesterday. The article briefly researches the evolution of Punjabi identities through the times. The nature of pre-colonial Punjab has been described as plural, with most of the leaders according patronage to all religious sections of society. It was interesting to note though that inter-religion and inter-caste boundaries were still strictly defined:
As was common elsewhere in India, Punjabi Muslims and non-Muslims did not eat together and marriage between them was taboo. Hindu eating habits were governed by rules of pollution and were also applied by the superior castes against lower ones.
Some villages and areas were entirely Muslim or Hindu-Sikh but there were mixed villages and urban localities too.
There were some villages in which both Muslim and Hindu landowning and cultivating castes lived together.
Another thing that strikes me: while the religious groups lived within their specific boundaries and ‘limits’ there seems to be a lack of open hostility and animosity. Unfortunately, all of this changes with the advent of the British in Punjab:
…changes in social structure and communal organisation began to take place after the British established modern education institutions and a capitalist economy. Muslim aversion to British rule prevailed even in the Punjab. In fact during the 19th century Wahhabis had gained influence in the Punjab as a result of the jihad movement launched by Syed Ahmed Shahid Brelvi.
Due to such factors Hindus and Sikhs left Muslims behind in educational and economic terms.
Hindus and Sikhs were the first to take to modern education and establish modern businesses and enterprises.
These developments helped promote a more exclusive and puritanical religious identity. Moreover, while all three communities spoke Punjabi at home, Muslims began to declare Urdu their mother tongue in the census records, Hindus identified themselves with Hindi, and Sikhs with Punjabi.
This turn in events is interesting. It does explain why the mutual coexistence of 700 years collapsed so suddenly and violently and I can only imagine these events being repeated all over India. The ultimate result was the emergence of the two nation theory and then partition.
It’s mind-boggling how the arrival of one foreign race destroys the identities constructed so painstakingly over centuries.
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