Whenever any reference is made to India, my inbox sees a barrage of criticism by Indian readers. Thus, I find one question should be answered once and for all: is it legitimate to compare one society with another and what would be common denominators that make the comparison really genuine?
I think most scientists would agree that comparative studies are useful to derive universal laws to describe human and non-human behavior. However, uninitiated to the basis of social sciences start with an unsustainable assumption that human societies have no common denominator. In reality, all the ‘isms’—Capitalism, Marxism, Pragmatism—believed or practiced are based on the assumption that there are common denominators. For example, common history and socio-political evolution can be used as a denominator for description or prescription.
Most Pakistanis and Indians equate Pakistan with the Muslim world and start idealizing or criticizing it, as if religion is the single most important denominator. Pakistanis project themselves to be part of so-called Ummah in self-denial of their own real history to idealize their past, and Indians find it convenient to put Pakistan in religious category and demonize it. Pakistanis believe they are heirs of Muslim rule and their opponents believe in the same notion as well. In short, Pakistani and Indian nationalists agree on this point.
The fact of the matter is that most of the Muslims living in Pakistan are converts of lower layers of different castes. Till the time of the partition their status as lowly mass of peasants, artisans and laborers continued. Land was mostly owned by Muslim feudal lords and urban centers were completely run by Hindu elite. Muslims of present Pakistan had hardly any representation in the business community, bureaucracy, or education. During the entire Muslim rule, their status remained similar to untouchables who converted to Christianity during the British rule. Therefore, other than a small percentage of Urdu speakers who may have come from the old ruling Muslim elite, it is misleading for the Pakistanis to idealize themselves as heir to Muslim ruling elites who had descended from central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East.
Looking at the national assembly members, representatives of people of Pakistan, there will be hardly anyone from traditional rulers of Muslim India like Mughals, Ghauris, Ghaznvis or Lodhis. Most of the national assembly member have been and are Jats, Rajputs, Gujjar, Arian and Syed. The caste make-up of the ruling classes in Pakistan, the majority of which come from Punjab and Sindh, is similar to contemporary North Indian states if one equates the status of Syeds with Brahmans.
Conversions of Jat, Rajput or Gujjar families have made no difference to their day-to-day behavior and caste system is well and alive in both India and Pakistan. If one looks at the last names in Punjab one can find their exact counterparts in India, specifically among dominating Jats. If Alberuni would come to his India today—it was only Punjab because that he accompanied Mahmood Ghaznvi who had conquered only this region–his differentiation of Indians from northern invaders would not be different. In short, despite the misleading idealization by Pakistanis and demonization by Indians, the majority of Pakistanis have their roots in the Sindh valley civilization. Their eating drinking habits, marriage and death ceremonies are comparable to the people of the North India. Therefore, large part of Pakistan and North India can be rightfully compared even if the Indian counterparts fair better than Pakistan.
On the empirical level, there are intriguing parallels. For example, an extremist religious uprising first emerged in Indian Punjab in the form of Khalistan movement. To start with, the ruling party in Indian Punjab, Akali Dal, has been much more religious than its counterpart in Pakistan. One can blame Indra Gandhi or Ziaul Haq for creating and abetting the Khalistan movement but the fact remains that outsiders can only exploit the potential and cannot create a large scale conflict from nowhere. Therefore, Khalistan movement was a precursor of religious extremism in North India.
The rise of various extremist religious and sectarian outfits in Pakistan during the 1980s coincides with the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, an offshoot of the extremist Hindu ideological formation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). BJP’s predecessor, Bharatiya Jana Sangh was formed in 1951 by RSS but it did not take off. It was during the 80s—BJP was formed in 1980—that a political party with political Hinduism gained significance. The BJP gained momentum in 1984 for protesting the massacre of 10,000 to 17,000 Sikhs in Delhi. This was the time when the US and Pakistan army were crating and grooming private jihadi militias to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
However, the fundamental reason for the simultaneous emergence of extremist religious grouping in Pakistan, Khalistan movement and the Saffron revolution can be traced to rapid change of the political economy of entire North India (including Pakistan).
Fundamental change of ancient agrarian system through mechanization and commercialism had created an ideological vacuum which was filled by the religious parties. A new ideology of political Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism was born. It is naïve to base analysis on the basic notion of Islam and Hinduism: the political version of both is similar if not identical.
However, if one starts with an extremist individualist approach, no state or province within India and Pakistan can be compared to each other. How can we compare Pakistan Punjab with Baluchistan or East Punjab with Orissa or Kerala? But if historical commonality is taken to be common denominator then north of the subcontinent can be analyzed as a single phenomenon. Most of the north Indian states were center of or off shoots of Indus civilization. The languages spoken in this area has more than 70 percent common vocabulary. Sixty years of post partition history cannot overturn the common history of thousands of years
If today factors like corruption, nepotism, general lawlessness in society, unplanned growth, suicides and sectarian bickering are used as common denominators, Pakistani Punjab, Sindh and North Indian state will appear to be a one contiguous area. Travel from Multan to Delhi by road shows that other than the difference of Sikh turban and beards everything else is identical. There are sufficient common factors of history and centuries old life style that link these areas. Therefore, comparative study of North India and large part of Pakistan is genuine scholarly pursuit.