Category Archives: The New York Times

One Myth, Many Pakistans

Cross Post from The New York Times


Published: June 11, 2010


FOR many Pakistanis, the deaths of more than 80 members of the Ahmadi religious sect in mosque attacks two weeks ago raised questions of the nation’s future. For me, it recalled a command from my schoolboy past: “Write a Note on the Two-Nation Theory.”

It was a way of scoring easy points on the history exam, and of using new emotions and impressive-sounding words. I began my answer like this:

The Two-Nation Theory is the Theory that holds that the Hindus and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent are Two Distinct and Separate Nations. It is a Theory that is supported by Numerous Facts and Figures. During the War of Independence of 1857 the Muslim rulers of India were defeated by the British. Suddenly the Hindus, who had always held a grudge against the Muslims for conquering them, began to collaborate with the new British rulers. They joined British schools, worked in British offices and began to make large amounts of money, while the Muslims, who were Discriminated Against, became poorer and poorer. It was now Undisputable that the Hindus and the Muslims were Two Distinct and Separate Nations, and it was becoming necessary for the Muslims to demand a Distinct and Separate Homeland for themselves in the Indian Subcontinent.

To that point, my “note” had only built up the atmosphere of mistrust and hostility between Hindus and Muslims. It had yet to give examples of the Distinctness and Separateness of the two communities (such as that Hindus worshipped the cow but Muslims ate it), of Hindu betrayals and conspiracies (they wanted Hindi, not Urdu, to be the national language). And it had still to name and praise the saddened Muslim clerics, reformers and poets who had first noted these “undisputable” differences.

I got points for every mini-note that I stretched into a full page, which was valid if it gave one important date and one important name, each highlighted for the benefit of the teacher. This was because the teacher couldn’t really read English, and could award points only to answers that carefully showcased their Facts and Figures.

After the exam I would go home. Here the Two-Nation Theory fell apart. I was part-Shiite (my mother’s family), part-Sunni (my father’s family) and part-nothing (neither of my parents was sectarian). There were other things: the dark-skinned man who swabbed the floors of the house was a Christian; the jovial, foul-mouthed, red-haired old woman who visited my grandmother every few months was rumored to be an Ahmadi. (It was a small group, I had been told, that considered itself Muslim but had been outlawed by the government.)

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