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A Redefined Perspective

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Casting aside the pernicious logic of hardcore Islamists and Hindu fascist forces that "two antagonistic nations" can never be at peace with each other, Yoginder Sikand's Beyond The Border revisits the shared history, culture, heritage and wounds of India and Pakistan to encourage a collective crusade against the bogey of social inequity and communal hatred emanating from a complex matrix of casteism and religio-centric politics.

A provoking, unconventional account of Sikand's first-hand experience of life of the ordinary people in Pakistan during his month-long stay in the country in 2006, the book traverses through a sublime course that is increasingly congenial, at times threatening, inhospitable, alien and yet revealing. With due diligence, the author makes a heartening deviation from the oft-heard harangue about Pakistan being a completely failed state, a hotbed of terrorism and a laboratory of Islamic radicals to the current mindset and behaviour of the people who are forced to live under a perpetual cloud of uncertainty, fear and violence. The book offers a valuable insight into the misery, plight and dilemma of millions of Dalits in the country. To make a fine assessment of the reasons behind their social and political marginalisation, he author paid a visit to the slums of some of the Dalits and spoke to members of various castes and sub-castes regarding their livelihood, the hard-to-come welfare initiatives of the government and the effect of casteism and religious fanaticism on them. When most of them told him that they were being ostracised and that they yearned to return to India, the author informed them that their counterparts in India too fared no better. If some Dalits were reduced to begging, others were being exploited by the powerful landlords such as the Waderas of the Sindh. Officially, Pakistan denies that there are any Dalits on its soil.

The Personal And The Political
The book contains sight-seeing accounts of the author as well. During a tour of Lahore, the author visited Minar-e-Pakistan, saw some historic plaques there and learnt, for the first time, about the contents of the Lahore Resolution of 1940. "Curiously, the Resolution did not specifically mention the word 'Pakistan', although it called for the creation of independent, sovereign Muslim 'states' in Muslim majority regions of the subcontinent… This represented a major break from what Muslim League leaders had till then been demanding — provincial autonomy and guarantees for Muslim rights within a loosely federal united India. Had the League's earlier proposals, some of which made eminent sense, been accepted by the 'upper' caste Hindu-dominated Congress and the virulently anti-Muslim Hindu Mahasabha, it could possibly have saved India the blood-soaked Partition…" During his stay, Sikand spoke to Pakistanis from all walks of life. He met Islamists trying to bring about reforms in the madrasa education system, liberalists looking for suitable idioms to present Quran to the modern mind, Leftists working towards amelioration of the classless, atheists keeping a safe distance from Islamists and those who were born as Hindu in India but converted to Islam upon migration to the other side after the Partition. Many of the converts follow their pre-Islamic traditions even today. But the fear of committing apostasy makes them secretive. The author also visited several shrines of Sufi saints, particularly that of the 17th century poet and saint Bulleh Shah, which are being appropriated by Hindus as well as Islamists with an eye on the generous donations made by people from foreign countries. The author says that today, there is a great need for influential Sufis who can bring about inter-community dialogue and harmony through their soul-stirring music. In one chapter, the author directs the reader's attention to the pathetic condition of the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, from where artefacts are being stolen and sold in the international market.

Another story that amazed the author was that of Umar, a Kashmiri who had crossed over to Pakistan in 1989 to receive arms training and join the armed struggle against Indian rule. When his enthusiasm wavered, Umar escaped from the training camp. Over the years, he had to take up many odd jobs. Today, he is selling hosiery products in Gujranwala. He wants to return to his parents, but then, he never had a passport when he crossed over. The author's depiction of a socially and politically scarred Pakistan in some articles in the Indian newspapers raised the eyebrows of a senior Pakistan High Commission official. The official met the author and protested against the "wrongful writings". Sikand was invited thrice to Pakistan since the 2006 visit, but then the High Commission rejected his application for visa. It was only on the fourth such invitation that his visa was granted, that too, when one of the event organisers pulled strings in the high places.