One Step Towards A People's History Of Pakistan

One Step Towards A People's History Of Pakistan
Broadly speaking, Pakistani historiography has tended to focus mainly on the country’s high politics, but a few have penned the history of common people. In the absence of new trends in historiography, people’s history has been badly overlooked by trained historians. Dr. Naumana Kiran has now attempted to break these self-imposed shackles and brought forth a book dealing with people’s history. She has highlighted the role of the commoners in the struggle for Pakistan. Her main argument is that while the top leadership of the All-India Muslim League – including the Quaid Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan – were at the forefront of the struggle for Pakistan, it was the other interest groups and forces, numerically constituting the largest number who effectively actualized their leaders’ call for a separate Muslim homeland. However, it is precisely this largest group of those who struggled for Pakistan that has been overlooked in the country’s historiography. Therefore, she undertook the project to explore, highlight and analyse the role of lawyers, labourers, peasants, workers, women, etc. in the struggle for Pakistan.

Dr. Naumana Kiran is a shining star among the list of newly emerging but accomplished Pakistani historiographers. She has been researching and writing about the colonial and post-colonial periods for the last a decade and so. Her first book Federal Cabinet of Pakistan: Formation and Working, 1947-1977 was published by Oxford University Press, in 2016 which coined her name as a mature historian. This is her second book from another renowned publisher. In this study, Naumana employs the approach common to scholars of a radical history. Howard Zinn, the doyen among them, has stated that the ultimate purpose of social change is to increase human happiness.

Title: People's Role in Struggle for Pakistan, 1940-1947
Author: Dr. Naumana Kiran
Publishers: Vanguard, Lahore
Year: 2021
Pages: 327

Dr. Naumana has divided her book into five chapters in a thematic order, along with an Introduction and a Conclusion. The first chapter highlights the formation of provincial and district branches of the Muslim Students Federation in those four provinces which would later comprise the post-1971 four provinces of Pakistan. It also examines methods of propaganda adopted by the students to popularise the idea of Pakistan in urban and rural areas. The second chapter highlights the views and policies of the students on different political issues and their role in provincial and national politics. The theme of the third chapter is women: the way consciousness spread among common women, the role they played in general awakening and their participation in politics for their community’s collective cause. The fourth chapter highlights the way mystics or broadly speaking “various kinds of religious groups such as pirs, etc.” They were attracted to the idea of Pakistan and spread the same idea among their followers, especially in the rural masses. The fifth chapter focuses on the role of marginalised sections of society in the great movement. It brings to light that this mostly uneducated and resourceless class was highly conscious of their national responsibilities and played a very active role in the Pakistan Movement during its last stage.
Up to the mid-1930s, the Muslim women of South Asia could not enter freely into the political domain until Bi Amman (Amani Begum) and Mrs. Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar (Amjadi Bano) stepped in and participated in the Khilafat Movement

The youth, comprising mostly of students, played a key role in the Pakistan Movement. In this regard, several student organisations were set up at the national, regional and local levels to propagate and spread the aim and objectives of ML’s goal of a separate Muslim state known as Pakistan. These student organisations employed various innovative methods and tools for effectively spreading their message far and wide and among different kinds of groups. They used study circles, celebrations of special days of Iqbal Day, Pakistan Day, Jinnah’s Birthday to spread the message of Quaid-i-Azam and meetings labeled as ‘Pakistan Conferences’ were arranged by the different Provincial Muslim Student Organizations. These helped immensely in clarifying the idea of Pakistan among the Muslim masses. Top-level Muslim leaders were called to preside over the Conferences, thus making them more effective and result-oriented, as people not only heard their leaders but also came to know the real meaning of Pakistan. In this manner, these student groups highlighted the work of those notable Muslims who had contributed immensely to alleviating the condition of Muslims. Thus, the students’ efforts spread the idea and the demand for Pakistan far and wide in the final phase of the Pakistan movement. Impressive as it was, however, focusing only on the student movements’ efforts limits the wide scope of the Pakistan Movement in its final phase thus leaving the reader ignorant about the rest.

In this book, one finds the reflection of ideas from gender studies when she elaborates role of ladies in the Pakistan movement. In modern times, women play a significant role in every sphere of life, but the Muslim women of India had socio-cultural and religious restrictions. But up to the mid-1930s, the Muslim women of South Asia could not enter freely into the political domain until Bi Amman (Amani Begum) and Mrs. Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar (Amjadi Bano) stepped in and participated in the Khilafat Movement. Dr Naumana has mentioned names and works of key ladies such as Fatima Begum, Ms. Begum Salma Tassaduq Husain et al. These ladies set up Provincial Muslim Women Leagues, Provincial Muslim Girl Students Federations and Muslim Girls National Guards. Dr Naumana also highlights the class differences among the women active in the Pakistan movement but made clear that class consciousness was not an important point of focus in the final phase of the Pakistan movement.

Although men formed an overwhelming majority of the participants in the Pakistan Movement, women, keeping in view the societal limitations of those times, did their utmost to support them and carve out their own niche in the struggle for Pakistan. They worked ceaselessly to ensure ML’s victory in the 1945-46 elections, to rehabilitate the Bihar victims in 1946 and the Civil Disobedience Movements in NWFP and Punjab in 1947. Females from even restrictive backgrounds such as those from middle and lower classes were not afraid of going to jail for the achievement of their separate homeland. Even after the creation of Pakistan, they did not rest because they worked hard to rehabilitate the Muslim refugees.

In general, Muslims of British India were economically and educationally backward as compared to caste-Hindus, and a majority of them belonged to the lower strata of the population. Four main economic groups comprising peasants, low-income government employees, small-scale businessmen and labourers in the industrial and mining sector predominated. All these Muslims were fed up with the exploitation of their rights, and hindrances in the way of their progress and were not hopeful of progress under British rule. They had, in any case, wanted to come out of the vicious circle which had existed for a long time, and did not want the replacement of the British rule by that of caste-Hindus. The way out was shown to them by the Muslim League’s idea of Pakistan. All these social groups wanted to come under a future independent Muslim state run by a government consisting of Muslims, where they felt they would be able to exercise their right to select their own kind of government.

The author also evaluates the role of various interest groups and stakeholders. She argues that Muslims from all economic and social classes were united and made all-out efforts in the Pakistan movement. She mentions the role of small-level Muslim businessmen organisations, trade unions, salaried classes, peasants and labourers.

The Lahore Resolution had awakened among the Muslims sentiments of a nation of their own and the Muslims started organising themselves in various organizations such as North West Railway Muslim Employees Association, Muslim Mines Labour Union, Local Labour Unions of Industrial laborers, Anjuman-i-Khushnawees, Muslim Hotel Tanur Union, Muslim Tongawala Union, Frontier Muslim Chamber of Commerce, Mansehra District Kisan Committee and many others.

All systems work only when millions of people work in some organised manner. The system of the British government fell because of the rebellion of these millions of people. Students, women, industrial or peasant labour, low-salaried government employees, small businessmen and all others rebelled against the British system and only then independence was brought forward. If there were no rebellions – no matter small- or large-scale – in different parts of the country against the British government, how could only the leaders achieve independence? The reality is that there were a lot of disputes and tussles among the leadership on a provincial level. The political leaders of Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan had their own interests, but it was only the joint force of the masses, which overcame their interests and jealousies and got independence.

Dr. Naumana has chosen to explore and analyse the unsung heroes of the Pakistan movement. She has highlighted the contributions of those commoners which have not been sufficiently discussed by previous historians. Dr Sarfaraz Mirza, Mukhtar Zaman et al have already written on the role of youth, businessmen, lawyers, women, students, etc, but they developed their theses based on the material available in the archives during the 1980s. Though initially, it was her M. Phil thesis submitted in 2005, Dr. Naumana has gone far beyond that by making extremely fruitful use of several new sources brought into the public realm since those times to reconstruct the story of the Pakistan movement in a much wider scope. She has also used the latest research techniques to develop her hypothesis and defend it on a scientific basis. As a trained historian, not only has she relied on the archival material but also conducted various interviews of the participants or the first generation of the makers of the Pakistan movement.

In short, while explaining the role of these stakeholders and interest groups of a historic period, Dr. Naumana’s main argument is that these commoners wished to have equality, fairness and a system of justice in the newly-envisaged Pakistani society. After nearly 75 years, many in the young generation in Pakistan seem to be losing hope in the society’s overall progress. At the same time, many in the new believe they can have a respectable status in the country. Thus, this book can be useful for those who are interested to know the origin and growth of the idea of Pakistan in the public sphere and can relate the struggle of their ancestors for the creation of Pakistan. The methodology employed is simple and the language in the book is readable. I strongly recommend this book to students, scholars, and professors to enhance our understanding of the commoners and potential workers of the Pakistan movement. By studying it one can learn lessons about how our ancestors laid their sacrifices of men and money to achieve Pakistan which was to b a dreamland for them. One sizeable section of the youth seems demoralsed because of the uncertainty and economic challenges Pakistan is facing today. This book can inspire them, and they can learn how by utilising their untapped potential, still they can achieve their goals and this way they can pay back to their beloved country.

This book is a welcome addition to the historiography of Pakistan and its pages reveal the omissions of the mainstream towards people-centric works of history-writing. I congratulate both the author and publisher for bringing this study to the platinum jubilee celebrations of Pakistan. The book is useful for students and scholars alike – especially for those who are involved in the fields of history, political science and various social sciences.

The author is the former Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of the Punjab in Lahore