Attempt to piece together an identity for Pakistan

A VISITOR FROM ACROSS THE BORDER: Author Aitzaz Ahsan, who is in New Delhi to promote his book

A VISITOR FROM ACROSS THE BORDER: Author Aitzaz Ahsan, who is in New Delhi to promote his book "The Indus Saga -- From Pataliputra to Partition", on Friday. — Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

Aitzaz Ahsan in his book "The Indus Saga'' claims that a divide between the Indus and present-day India always existed

Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI: Aitzaz Ahsan longs for the din and chaos of Indian democracy. Filling in a gap of 2,500 years of history in Pakistan from `Pataliputra to Partition' in his book "The Indus Saga" that were blanked out, he takes a journey through the past to find greys in a predominantly black and white view on Pakistan.

"Democracy is a great blessing for India. It is a gift that Indians must cherish. There is a lot of noise and din, but deprive an Indian from Srinagar to Bengal and even Tripura of democracy and India will break up in less than five years. The Indian is a privileged citizen at least in this respect. Ask us, we have been frequently denied democracy,'' says Ahsan, member of a Legislative Assembly in Pakistan, who is in Delhi now to release the book in India.

A senior lawyer and a founder vice-president of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, his liberal views have often got him into trouble. He is all too familiar with the "bar" in all its form whether on it is on the right or the wrong side.

While being detained for his outspoken views, he wrote "Indus Saga" which was published in Pakistan in 1996 and was printed in India this year by Roli Books. A sort of discovery of Pakistan, it is impossible not to draw a parallel with Nehru's voyage of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

The book claims that a divide between the Indus (Pakistan) and present-day India always existed. The region had its distinct identity, ethnicity and culture and Pakistan was not just a line drawn on a map by the British in 1947. While it is his search to look into history he had been denied in school text books, the book is an attempt to piece together an identity for his country that is based on firmer foundations than just "un-Indianness''.

"The orthodoxy that believes that only they have a right to have an opinion on Pakistan and what it was meant to be, feel disturbed by my book. They can't deny that my book is an attempt to find more stable and primordial foundation for Pakistan unlike the simple view of the two-nation theory that they are so confident of. If you ask them why East Pakistan broke away if the sole basis of India was that it was Hindu, they are at a loss for words,'' he says.

Used to being in the eye of the storm, he has recently become a globally recognisable face against fundamentalism in Pakistan for fighting for justice for Mukhtaran Mai -- a woman who was sentenced to gang-rape by a panchayat to punish her brother. The case which made headlines all over the world for its brutality and the disturbing return of a feudal way of justice in Pakistan found an alarming echo in Kukra, a village in India.

"The Supreme Court will apportion guilt on the accused if they find them guilty. This judgment will turn the tide against the panchayat decisions like this in Pakistan if we win. There was another case like Mukhtaran Mai in which the panchayat was to meet to decide, but after the Supreme Court admitted Mukhataran Mai's appeal, the `panches' refused to even sit. The courts even in India should come down heavily on such illegal decision,'' he says quite proudly.

From Bhagat Singh to Amir Khusrau and even the Vedas are all the legacy of the Indus, according to him. A theory that most Indians find hard to swallow, but the `sane' voice of opposition in a legislature in Pakistan does manage to make you see his side of the argument -- even if for a brief moment.

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