‘Why the Azaan Should Not be Broadcast over Loudspeakers’ by Omar Latif

: Jamia Masjid, Vancouver, the azaan was broadcast over loudspeakers for the first time in its 112-year history – photo from 30 Masjids dot ca

TO HELP PRESERVE SECULARISM
TO HELP PREVENT ISLAMOPHOBIA

It began with broadcasting one azaan call-for-prayer for one of the five daily prayers during the month of Ramzan at one mosque in Toronto. Within days, the practice spread to many cities – Mississauga, Brampton, Milton, London, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and, Surrey – at the last count. One cleric has already said that he would like the azaan to be announced over loudspeakers for all five prayers, throughout the year!

If this was to remind Muslims about the time of prayer, it must be pointed out that Muslims and, for that matter, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, have all been saying their prayers at home or in their places of worship at prescribed times for hundreds of years without the call-to-prayer being announced from loudspeakers. And how, it was asked, would Muslims know the time of the other four daily prayers if the azaan was sent out over loudspeakers only once a day?

The rationale changed: Muslims couldn’t gather in mosques during their holy month of Ramzan due to Covid-19 and would find solace when they heard the azaan over loudspeakers. But, it was pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Muslims lived too far from any mosque to hear it! And what about believers of other religions who couldn’t congregate on their holy days either, for instance, Christians weren’t able to get together on Good Friday this April 8 or Jews during Passover from April 8-16? By that logic, shouldn’t religious invocations for all believers of all faiths be relayed over loudspeakers to provide them comfort during the lock-down? Would that cacophony calm jangled nerves and create harmony among people, or create greater stress and resentment against each other?

Is the push for the broadcasting of the azaan over loudspeakers coming from Muslims as a whole? According to Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, there were a total of 1,053,945 Muslims in Canada – perhaps a total of 1,000,000 adult Muslims currently. Of these, only a small minority says any prayers, much less the daily five. Only a fraction of this small minority goes to mosques to say their prayers, and that too mainly for the Eid or for Friday noon prayers. Anybody can see for themselves how empty mosques are at other prayer times.

The push for the azaan over mosque loudspeakers is not coming from all Muslims but from a small number of Muslim clerics, mainly Sunni, mainly conservative. Some Muslims, thinking that the loud call to prayer demonstrates the power of Islam, or makes it more appealing, also support this idea. However, they are sadly mistaken.

Who has allowed these organizations to over-ride the local noise by-laws? Mainly mayors and municipal councillors from mainstream parties but, unfortunately some progressive ones too, who in return, want to use such organizations as sources for funds, volunteers and ‘vote banks’ at election time.

The broadcasting of the azaan over loudspeakers hardly serves the purpose of reminding Muslims of prayer times or for providing solace during the lockdown in Ramzan since reminders on watches, computers and cell phones would work better. In reality, it appears that this move is a flexing of muscle by conservative Muslim clerics and organizations who are on their way to play a larger political role in society; clerics and organizations who have us believe that they speak on behalf of one, monolithic, undifferentiated, Muslim ummah (nation).

What they are aiming for, a wish NOT shared by ALL Muslims, is to increase the influence of religion and religious values in public life; of views that do not support equality of women with men, views that are against secularism, choice, same-sex partnerships, evolution and other rational and scientific ideas such as, for example, the causes and cures of epidemics and other natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes.

Public pressure has done away with Catholic School Boards in all provinces, and it demanded the same in Ontario in favour of one, secular, public education system for all. Contrary to the will of the people, these clerics push for publicly funded religious schools. It was only after a long struggle that the Lord’s Prayer and other overtly Christian teachings were ended in public schools. These clerics will push for more insertion of religious teachings in public schools. Far fetched? Can happen only in countries of the global south? Just look at what has happened in the US in a few decades!

Over the past four decades, the mainstream parties, at all levels, have enabled the de-regulation of big business, the lowering of taxes on large corporations, the whittling down of social programs, the weakening of labour laws, and the increase in the huge gap between the 1% and everyone else. They have supported militarism and wars, many are being fought against Muslim countries. They have backed Israel in its harsh and unjust treatment of the Palestinian people. None of this matters to these conservative Muslim clerics who are interested only in advancing their narrow, sectarian agenda.

The parties of big business will rely the more on conservative religious forces, of all religions – because they do not acknowledge the impact of privilege, disregard class analysis, the importance of trade unions, instead teaching submission and acceptance by the have-nots of the existing unjust economic structures since privilege and poverty are ordained by God, where justice and fairness is to be found not here but in the hereafter – the more the struggle for social justice grows.

Is the denial of the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the azaan a denial of the right of freedom of belief of Muslims? No it isn’t. First of all, a small minority wants this ‘right’ and only a fraction of this minority will actually hear the azaan. But the main point is that Muslims will still have the right to say the azaan so long as its sound remains within the confines of their prayer halls, and others outside, are not compelled to listen to it. Public complaints have put a stop to the pealing of church bells in many areas. It should be stopped everywhere.

The broadcasting of the azaan over mosque loudspeakers is another intrusion of religion into public space. If it takes hold, other religions inevitably will want to broadcast their chants, bells, hymns etc. over loudspeakers too. The right to religious freedom should be supported as long as it is not socially harmful or a bother to others. Prejudices like Islamophobia and anti-Semitism must be fought but religion whether Islam, or Christianity, or Hinduism or Judaism or Sikhism, should be a personal matter. The separation between state and religion should become more, not less, sharp. Canada should become more, not less, secular.
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Omar Latif is a Toronto activist who has been a long-time member of the Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians and of the Communist Party of Canada. This article is based on his personal views, not on those of the CPPC or of the CPC.

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Uddari Weblog is published from
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the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
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Punjabi Monthly magazine PANCHAM becomes a Quarterly publication


Quarterly Pancham, Jan-Feb-March 2020
Eds. Faiza Raa’na & Maqsood Saqib

Lahore’s longstanding literary Punjabi magazine, Pancham, makes a smart move to become a quarterly after a prolonged struggle to be a self-reliant monthly publication. This may allow for a larger selection and even richer literary content.

Pancham publishes poetry, fiction, literary criticism and non fiction. Edited and published by renowned authors Faiza Raa’na and Maqsood Saqib, it has been recognized as being the best literary Punjabi magazine in both the East and the West Punjab.

Published in the Shahmukhi script since 1998, Pancham is a continuation of Maan Boli, a magazine that was brought out from Lahore by some of the same team leaders and members that had continued publishing from 1986 to 1997. For more, connect with the Pancham community on Facebook:
Pancham Sulaikh SaNg (Punjabi Literary Group)

Yearly Subscriptions
Pakistan RS1000
India RS1000
International US$20

To subscribe, contact Maqsood Saqib at
+92 306 1679936
suchet2001@yahoo.com
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Uddari Weblog is published from
the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Shah Hussain: Kāfi No. 1 and 2

 

shah hussain 4

Kāfi No. 1

Rabbā merā hāl dā mahram tūñ
Andar tūñ haiñ bāhar tūñ haiñ rom rom vich tūñ
Tu hī tānā tūñ hī bānā sabh kuch merā tūñ
Kahe Hussain faqīr nimānā maiñ nāhīñ sabh tūñ

O God, you are the confidant of my days
You are inside, outside, you are in every pore
You are the warp and weft, my each and everything you are
Says Hussein, the worthless fakir, I am nothing, you are all

Kāfi No. 2

Charkha merā rangā rang lāl
je va
charkha te va mune
hun kaha gayā bārāñ punne
sāīñ kāran lo’in runne
roe vanjāyā hāl
je va
charkha te va ghumā’an
sabhe āīāñ sīs gundā’an
kāI na āyā hāl van
ā’an
hun kāī na chaldī nāl
vacche khāhad g
ūhaā vāā
sabho la
da veā pār
maiñ kīa phe
yā veā dā nī
sabh paīāñ mere khayal
je va
charkha te va pachī
mā peāñ mere sar te rakhī
kahe hussein faqīr sāīñ dā
har dam nāl sañbhāl

My colourful spinning wheel I painted red
the bigger grew the wheel
the greater the weave
twelve years passed
for the sake of my Sain
these eyes weep
and weeping worsens my state
the bigger the wheel
the wider the spins
they all came to get their hair done
no one came to share my sorrows
no one willing to go along
a calf ate up the cotton ball
all my neighbours raised a ruckus
what did I do wrong? They all went after me
the bigger the wheel
the heavier the basket my parents placed on my head
say Hussein, the Sain’s fakir
take good care of what you carry

 

Read the original Punjabi in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi

Translated by Naveed Alam (from Verses of a Lowly Fakir).

Transliterated and edited by Randeep Purewall

The History of Indo-Persian Literature (Legacy)


The legacy of Persian can be seen in the new literary genres it introduced to South Asia. In the writing of history, Persian introduced the biography, memoirs, chronicles and letters. Thanks to this literature, we have a remarkably detailed picture of Indian society from the descriptions of Mughal court life, to the biographies of religious thinkers to descriptions of the musicians, artists and commoners of Delhi.

delhiparade

The legacy of Persian is felt in the many loan words that have entered modern Indian vernacular languages. The influence of Persian on Urdu is especially noteworthy. While the legacy of Urdu is talked about in India and Pakistan today in poetry, film and ghazals, this is no less the legacy of Persian from which Urdu inherited much of its poetic tradition.

Qawalli

The romance tradition in Punjabi and Bengali was inspired by the tradition of Persian language and culture. Persian is still sung in the qawallis of Amir Khusrau and it left its mark on Sikh religious thought and modern Islamic philosophy. Lastly, through the writings of Sufis like ‘Ali Hujwiri (Data Ganj Baksh) and Nizam ud-Din Auliya, Persian has enriched the religious and cultural life of Indians and Pakistanis in terms of love, compassion and human feeling.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part IV)

THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD

Jama_Masjid,_Delhi,_watercolour,_1852

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Mughal empire declined and India fragmented into various competing kingdoms, confederacies and principalities. It was also during the eighteenth century that the British began to emerge as the dominant European colonial power.[1]

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Urdu grew in popularity and ultimately displaced Persian as the preferred language of poetry across much of North India. Nevertheless, Persian retained its prestige as the language of culture and refinement during this period especially in prose.

Prose

Georgian London

One of the most fascinating historical accounts of this period is Abu Mirza Abu Talib Khan’s (1752-1806) The Tales of Mirza Abu Talib Khan in Asia, Africa and Europe (Masir Talib fi Bilad Afranji). Born and raised in a wealthy family from Lucknow, Abu Talib travels to London, Paris, Constantinople, Cape Town and Baghdad and writes about the people he meets there and their social customs:

I was also much pleased to observe, that in European society, when a person is speaking, the others never interrupt him, and the conversation is carried on in a gentle tone of voice. One evening, while I was engaged in conversation with the lady of the house, the servant entered with a largely tray of costly china; and his foot catching the edge of the carpet, he fell, and broke the whole to pieces: the lady, however, never noticed the circumstance, but continued her conversation with me in the most disturbed manner.[2]

On London, he writes:

The greatest ornament London can boast, is its numerous squares; many of which are very extensive, and only inhabited by people of large fortune. Each square contains a kind of garden in its center, surrounded with iron rails, to which every proprietor of a house in the square has a key, and where the women and children can walk, at all hours without being liable to molestation or insult.[3]

In his Diary of the Revolt of 1857 (Dastanbu), Ghalib (1797-1869) writes about the siege of Delhi:

 “The city has become a desert … By God, Delhi is no more a city, but a camp, a cantonement. No fort, no city, no bazaars, no watercourses … Four things kept Delhi alive – the Fort, the daily crowds at the Jama Masjid, the weekly walk to the Yamuna Bridge, and the yearly fair of the flower-men. None of these survives, so how could Delhi survive? Yes [it is said that] there was once a city of that name in the realm of India.”[4]

 

THE COLONIAL PERIOD

The British abolished Persian as the official language of government in 1837. With the official institution of English and vernacular Indian languages such as Urdu and Bengali as languages of education, the status of Persian in India declined.

The growth of nationalism in India under the British and the idea of “one country, one language” meant that Persian was increasingly sidelined as a “foreign” language and one that belonged to India’s past.

Muhammad Iqbal

Iqbal

Born in Sialkot in 1877, Muhammad Iqbal is one of the greatest poets in the Urdu tradition of the twentieth century and the National Poet of Pakistan. He wrote most of his poetry, however, in Persian and he remains one of the few Persian poets from India who is known in modern Iran.

Iqbal’s mostly long philosophical poems show the influence of Rumi and Bedil as well as Goethe and Nietzche. He interprets Sufi concepts such as ‘ishq (love) in light of the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, namely as a force of will that animates and motivates the self (khudi) to create, imagine and conquer the world:

The luminous point whose name is the Self
Is the life-spark beneath our dust.
By Love it is made more lasting
More living, more burning, more glowing.

Iqbal’s epic poem, The Book of Eternity (Javednama), was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. In it, Iqbal journeys through the celestial spheres with the poet Rumi as his guide encountering the spirits of the Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, Hallaj, Ghalib and Nietzche along the way.

 


NOTES

[1] The word “modern” is not without its problems, but it refers here to a period where, even before the advent of European colonialism, India was opening up to the world. The Mughal Empire was part of a cosmopolitan Persianate world and India at the height of Mughal rule was well-integrated into a larger world economy.

[2] https://archive.org/details/travelsmizraabu01khgoog/page/n201/mode/2up

[3] https://archive.org/details/travelsmizraabu01khgoog/page/n295/mode/2up

[4] Ralph Russell and Khurshid Islam, Ghalib: Life and Letters (Delhi, 1994), 296.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part III)

mughal court

THE MUGHAL PERIOD (1526-1858)

For over two centuries, the Mughal Empire united and ruled over much of India. It created a classical culture which combined the finest aspects of Persianate and Indic traditions. It united peoples from various cultures and religions across the subcontinent while the Mughal courts in Delhi, Agra and Lahore welcomed artists and traders from across Europe and Asia and Iran in particular.

 

Indo-Persian Literature

badshahi

Under the Mughals, Persian became the official language of education and its use expanded among the various religions, classes and castes of North India. It became the language of court literature not only in Delhi, Agra and Lahore but also among regional sultanates such as the Golconda Sultanate (1519-1687). Its use as a literary language also grew through poetic assemblies (mushaira), storytelling traditions (dastangoi) and Sufi monasteries (khanqahs) as well as the language of culture.

Iranian poets increasingly flocked to the Mughal courts so much so that India had become the leading centre of Persian poetry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By this time, a classical Persian canon (Sa’di, Nizami and Hafiz) was in the making and the Mughals patronized not only new poets but also oversaw the translation of works in Sanskrit, Greek and Arabic into Persian.

 

Prose

The Indo-Persian tradition of romance (qissa or dastan) was already known during the Delhi Sultanate. Amir Khusrau’s The Tale of the Four Dervishes (Qissa-ye Chahar Dervesh) was a collection of tales and stories told by four dervishes as wise counsel to a king seeking immortality.

Hamzanama2

The Epic of Hamza (Hamzanama), composed under the reign of Akbar, was based originally on an oral tradition of storytelling. It tells of the adventures and exploits of Amir Hamza (an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) in a world of battles, courtly politics, magic, fairies and trickery.

The writing of history flourished under the Mughals. Abu’l Fazl’s Akbarnama combined biography and chronicle in its portrayal of Akbar as the ideal monarch.[1] The memoirs of the Emperor Jahangir (Jahangirnama) tell us about the rivers and lakes of Kashmir while Dargah Quli Khan (b. 1710) provides a glimpse into the lives of the commoners, musicians, dancers, poets and artists of Mughal Delhi.

 

Poetry

old agra painting

Poets like Faizi (1547-1595), ‘Urfi (1556-1590), Talib (d. 1626), Qudsi (d. 1656), Kalim (d. 1650) and Sa’ib (d. 1677) continued writing in the classical Persian style while also expanded Persian’s poetic vocabulary through exchanges with languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Turkish and Arabic.

In his masnavi (long narrative poem), Nal Daman, Faizi adapted a story from the Mahabharata with its themes of love, exile into a Persian saga on the lover and the beloved:[2]

The burning of desire and heartache
Like wine poured at once in two glasses
Like the same note sounded from two different keys
The same intoxication in two different spots.
The suffering that love induced in the Lover,
the Beloved welcomed as her guest.
The bell the Lover told in grief,
echoed in the Beloved’s heart.[3]

The poet Kalim wrote about a famine in the Deccan:

Not only the laughing buds
Are always fleeing from me …
Their relationship to me
Is like that of the shore to the sea:
Always coming towards me,
Then ever fleeing from me.
Life’s tragedy lasts but two days
I’ll tell you what these two are for:
One day to attach the heart to this and that;
One day to detach it again.[4]

‘Urfi crafted a more personal and emotional style:

From my friend’s gate – how can I describe
The manner in which I went,
How full of longing I came,
Yet how embittered I went!
How I beat my head on the wall
In that narrow alleyway …
In ecstatic intoxication I came
In troubled silence I went.[5]

Mughal poets praised the Sufi path of love and union with the divine over the formalism and hypocrisy of organized religion:

Give up the path of the Muslims
Come to the temple
To the master of the wine house
So that you may see the divine secrets.[6]

This was carried to the point of blasphemy by Sarmad (c. 1590-1661):

He who understood the secrets of the Truth
Became vaster than the vast heaven;
The Mullah says “Ahmed [the Prophet Muhammad] went to heaven”;
Sarmad says “Nay! Heaven came down to Ahmed!”[7]

By the eighteenth century, all classes in Mughal society who were educated in Persian began using it as a literary language.

Bedil

Bedil2

Born in 1644 in Patna, ‘Abdul Qadir Bedil was of Turkish descent. He was raised by his uncle after the death of his parents and was educated in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He studied Sufism and was also known to the Mughal court (most notably Aurangzeb’s son, Muhammad ‘Azam).

Bedil is considered one of the leading poets of the “Indian style” of Persian poetry (sabk-i-Hindi). His philosophical and mystical verses are complex, challenging and captivating:

I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint.[8]

A delicate act is learning the secrets of love
The pen slips in scribing the word of error[9]

 

The trappings of desire adorn every heart’s shop
There’s no mirror but its house of clarity reflects a bazaar[10]

 

 

Regard the spring painted with hues of new secrets
What your imagination never held the spring carries[11]

 

Only wonder I seek from the world’s estate
Like the wall’s mirrored image is my house and what it holds[12]

Bedil was cited as an influence on both Ghalib and Iqbal in their Urdu and Persian verse. His verse remains popular in Afghanistan and Tajikistan where they are studied extensively.

 


NOTES

[1] Sunil Sharma, The History of Akbar.

[2] Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012), 204

[3] Masnawi Nal-Daman Faizi, ed. Muhammad Taiyab Siddiqui (Patna: 1987), 191 (12-15) cited in cited in Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012) 216.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (Reaktion Books Ltd., London: 2004), 247.

[5] Schimmel, 248.

[6] Muzaffar Alam, “The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics,” Modern Asian Studies 32, 2 (1998), 333.

[7] Fazl Mahmud Asiri, Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (Shantiniketan, 1950) cited in Natalia Prigarina, Sarmad: Life and Death of a Sufi (https://iphras.ru/uplfile/smirnov/ishraq/3/24_prig.pdf).  

[8] Annual of Urdu Studies (Vol. 27), 2012, Translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi: https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/66726/20BedilPoems.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Ibid.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part II)

Sufis performing Sama before Shaikh Nizam al-Din Auliya (2)

The Delhi Sultanate united North India for the first time since the reign of Emperor Harsha (r. 606-647). It integrated India into the international trading networks and cosmopolitan civilization of the Islamic world. It also introduced new ideas in art, architecture, religion and technology, including paper-making which revolutionized literature, scholarship and the graphic arts.[1]

 

INDO-PERSIAN LITERATURE

The Mongol invasions of Central Asia and Khorasan during the thirteenth century caused Persian speaking poets, artists and Sufis to flee cities like Balkh, Bukhara and Samarqand and settle in and around Delhi.[2] For a while, in fact, Delhi was seen as a haven for Persian scholars and artists in Asia.


Indo-Persian literature developed during the Delhi Sultanate through both court patronage and through an expansion of ever-widening networks of Persian-speaking literati, merchants, artists and Sufi monasteries (khanqah) across North India. Sufi centres like Nizam ud-Din Auliya’s (1238-1325) in Delhi also attracted men of learning like Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and the historian, Zia ud-din Barani (1285-1358) who wrote in Persian.[3]

Prose

Indo-Persian Literature


One branch of literature that Persian introduced to India was the writing of history. In fact, Persian literature introduced new genres such as biography, memoirs, chronicles, travel writing and letter writing to Indian literature.

The two best-known works of history written during the Delhi Sultanate were Barani’s, The History of Firoz Shah (Tarikh-e- Firozshahi) and The Rules of Government (Fatwa-i-jahandari). The former chronicled the history of the Sultanate from Balban (1266-87) to Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388) while the latter emphasized the importance of the study of history.

The compilation of conversations between Sufis and their disciples (malfuzat) was another branch of Indo-Persian prose literature that figured prominently during the Sultanate. The malfuzat also included hagiographies on the Sufi masters and their teachings. The Morals of the Heart (Fawa’id al-Fawad) by Amir Hasan Sijzi (1254-1337) was one such malfuzat on Nizam ud-Din.

The Delhi Sultanate also saw the appearance of Indo-Persian fiction which combined Persian, Arabic and Indic styles of storytelling. The Tutinama of Zia al-Din Nakshabi Badayuni (d. 1350), based on the Sanskrit Sukasapatati (‘Seventy Tales of the Parrot’), was one such collection of fifty-two tales told by a parrot to its mistress to prevent her from committing adultery.[4]

 

Poetry

While Sufi poets like Shah Bu ‘Ali Qalandar (d. 1323) and Fahkr-al Din Iraqi (1213-1289) wrote during this period, few poets could match the renown and influence of Amir Khusrao.

Amir Khusrao

Amir Khusrao remains one of the greatest Indo-Persian poets. A court poet for five of the Delhi sultans and a disciple of Nizam ud-Din, Khusrao composed five dīwān (collections) of poetry that included qasida (panegyric), masnavi (narrative) and over four thousand ghazal (love poems).[5]

Born Abu’l Hasan Yamin ud-Din Khusrao in Delhi in 1253, Khusrao was raised by his maternal grandfather, Imad al-Mulk, a powerful nobleman in the service of the Sultan Iltutmish (r. 1211-1236).

Khusrau began his career as a poet at the age of 20 as the protégé of senior poets at the courts of Delhi. He also served patrons in Bengal and Multan and was on one occasion, captured by the Mongols who raided Multan in 1285. He later wrote an elegy on his experience:

People shed so many tears in all directions
That five other rivers have appeared in Multan
I wanted to speak of the fire in my heart
But a hundred fiery tongues flared up in my mouth[6]

In 1289, Khusrau returned to Delhi where he became the chief court poet of Jalaluddin Khalji (r. 1290-96) and Ala’ ud-Din Khalji (r. 1296-1316). It was during this period that he wrote much of his finest work including his ghazals on love and longing:

I am about to breathe my last.
Come, so I may live.
What good will it do for you
to come once I am no more?

My heart left me but longing
for you won’t leave my heart.
My heart broke apart, but pain
For you won’t diminish.

Khusrao wrote in a style at once mystical and secular:

Bring bright wine,
for dawn has shown its face
At a moment like this
there’s no being without wine.[7]

There is a prosperous and populous city
where fragments of moon gleam at every turn.
Each fragment holds a shard of my shattered heart.[8]

His poetry also captured the Indian landscape of monsoon clouds and rainy seasons:

The clouds and the rain and
I and my love waiting to say farewell:
For my part, weeping,
and for the cloud’s part,
and for my love’s.[9]

He also wrote of his love for Nizamuddin:

I have become you, you have become me
I have become life, you have become body
From now one, let no one say that
I am other and you are another.[10]

Amir Khusrau is one of the few Indo-Persian poets who became well known outside of India. His verse is said to have even inspired the great Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz (1315-1390).[11] His works are still read in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan while in India and Pakistan, his poetry has been popularized through musical traditions like qawalli.

 


 

NOTES

[1] Richard M. Eaton, India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 (University of California Press, Oakland, CA), 136. See also Keay, India: A History (Harper Collins, London: 2001), 247.

[2] Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 60.

[3] Ibid., 98.

[4] Nabi Hadi, History of Indo-Persian Literature (Iran Culture House: New Delhi, 2001), 178-179. See also Perso-Indica online (http://www.perso-indica.net/work/fables_and_tales/tuti-nama-1).

[5] Amīr Ḫusraw Dihlawī, Duwal Rānī wa Ḫiżr Ḫān in Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions (online at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/fables_and_tales/duwal_rani_wa_h%CC%AEidr_h%CC%AEan)

[6] Paul E. Losensky and Sunil Sharma (trans.), In the Bazaar of Love: The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau (Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2011), xix.

[7] Paul E. Losensky, In the Bazaar of Love (Ghazal 26), 47.

[8] Ibid, (Ghazal 1772), 75.

[9] Ibid., (Ghazal 1), 3.

[10] Ibid., xxx.

Gurmukhi edition of Fauzia Rafique’s new novel ‘KEERRU’ now available

B&W photo by Danyal Rasheed, inset painting by Shahid Mirza
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‘The story of broken families, lovers, immigrants.
Five people come together in Surrey BC to
form powerful connections with each other, and
to tell a story that has rarely been told.’

Purple Poppy Press 2020, Vancouver, Canada

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Shahmukhi edition
Paperback
ISBN 978-969-593-315-2
PKR300.00
Sanjh Publications 2019, Lahore Pakistan
sanjhpk@yahoo.com
..

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part I)

 

Turkish Conquest

Histories of Indian literature often neglect, if not completely overlook, the contribution of Persian to Indian literature. Given that Persian was the language of literature for over eight centuries in India and, given the ongoing Hindu Nationalizing of India’s history, an understanding of the history of Indo-Persian literature is more necessary than ever.

 

THE TURKISH CONQUEST

The north-west of India has been subject to invasions since ancient times. Beginning in the second millennium BCE until the 10th century, north-west India experienced invasions at the hands of Aryans, Iranians, Greeks, Parthians, Scythians, Kushans and Huns.

In 962, Alptigin (901-963), a Turkic general in the Samanid Empire (819-999) abandoned the court at Bukhara and established a semi-independent state with its capital in Ghazni (present-day Afghanistan).[1] He was succeeded by his son, Abu Mansur Sabuktigin (942-997), who in 986 launched an attack on Kabul and Punjab. Sabuktigin died in Balkh in 997 and was succeeded by his son Mahmud (971-1030).[2]

Ghaznavid Empire

Between 1001 and 1017, Mahmud launched a series of raids into northern India from Ghazni. In 1008, he conquered and annexed Punjab. By the time of his death in 1030, his empire spanned Khorasan, Samarkand, Afghanistan and Punjab.

 

EARLY INDO-PERSIAN LITERATURE

The Turkish conquest of north-western coincided with what the British historian E.G. Browne has called the “Persian Renaissance.”[1] Beginning under the Samanid Empire in Bukhara, which saw the completion of the Shahnama (‘Book of Kings’), Persian literature flourished in courts across Central Asia and Iran.

Mahmud’s court at Ghazni became a centre of Persian literature. Mahmud brought scholars, merchants, artists and Sufis with new ideas in art, architecture, literature and religion to India. Mahmud’s court attracted the scholar Al-Biruni (whose work on the history of India included an assessment of scientific works in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophies and religion) and Firdowsi, author of the Persian epic, Shahnama.

The Ghaznavid Empire in Khorasan was repeatedly invaded by the Seljuq Turks until it was lost in 1040. In 1163, the Ghaznavid Sultans moved their capital from Ghazni to Lahore where they would rule from until 1186.

It was in Lahore where the first Indo-Persian literature appeared. ‘Ali Hujviri’s (d. 1071) Kashf-ul Mahjub (‘Veiling the Unveiled’) was the first Persian treatise on Sufism. It set out such themes as the love of God, the importance of contemplation and the stages of the mystical path:  

Man’s love toward God is a quality which manifests itself in the heart of the pious believer, in the form of veneration and magnification, so that he seeks to satisfy his Beloved and becomes impatient and restless in his for vision of Him, and cannot rest with anyone except Him, and grows familiar with the remembrance of Him, and abjures the remembrance of everything besides.[2]

Early Indo-Persian poets like Abu al-Faraj (d. c. 1102) continued the Persian tradition of panegyric poetry (qasida) at court as well as the Persian poetic tradition of contrasting metaphors such as moth and flame, rose and nightingale and lover and beloved.

 

MAS’UD SA’D SALMAN (1046-1121)

Mas’ud Sa’d Salman’s poetry was especially important to the development of early Indo-Persian poetry. While Mas’ud continued to write in the tradition of Persian court poetry, his verse also showed openness and sensitivity to the new Indian poetic landscape.

Born in Lahore, Mas’ud was of Iranian ancestry. His father, Sa’di Salman, had come to Lahore as an accountant in the entourage of Prince Majdud who had been sent by Sultan Mahmud to garrison Lahore in 1035-36.[3]

Mas’ud spent much of his professional life as a poet between the courts of his patrons and in prison for reasons which are not clear. It was in prison, however, that he pioneered the habsiyat (prison) genre of poetry, a genre that would appear in the later Urdu poetry of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz.[4]

Mas’ud often wrote on the pain of his separation from his beloved city of Lahore:

O Ravi, if paradise is to be found, it is you,
If there is a kingdom fully equipped, it is you
Water in which is the lofty heaven is you
A Spring in which there are a thousand rivers is you.[5]

He also introduced the Indian genre of the baramasa to Indo-Persian poetry:

O beauty whose arrows are aloft on the day of Tir
Rise and give me wine with a high melody
Sing of love in the mode of love
Call forth the delightful melodies of nature[6]

 

THE GHURID INVASION

In 1186, Lahore was conquered by Muhammad of Ghur, one of vassals of the Ghaznavid Empire. Like the Ghaznavid Empire, the Ghurid Sultanate encompassed much of Central Asia, Iran and northern India. In 1192, Muhammad defeated Prithviraj Chauhan at Tarain (present-day Haryana) from where he conquered the political centres of north India.

 

THE FOUNDING OF THE DELHI SULTANATE

 

 

In 1192, Muhammad of Ghur ordered his Turkic slave, Qutb al-Din Aibek (1150-1210), to push further east.[7] This resulted in the conquest of Delhi which, along with Lahore, Muhammad placed under Aibek’s governorship.

In 1206, Muhammad was assassinated. A civil war broke out between his slave commanders with Aibek emerging the victor.[8] Aibek established his own empire with Delhi as his capital, thus founding the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526).

… to be continued.

 

NOTES

[1] Richard Eaton, India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 (University of California Press: Oakland, CA: 2019, 13), 30.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier (Permanent Black: New Delhi, 2010), 19.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, Islamic Literatures of India (Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1973), 11: https://archive.org/details/IslamicLiteraturesOfIndia-AnnemarieSchimmel/page/n3/mode/2up

[5] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier, citing Diwan, 391.

[6] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier, citing Diwan, 947-8.

[7] Richard Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 42.

[8] Ibid., 44.

17th Annual International Mother Language Day – Surrey BC – February 23

PLEA cordially invites everyone
to come and be part of the annual celebration of
our mother tongue Punjabi.

17th Annual International Mother Language Day

Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020
Time: 1:30 to 4:00 pm

Spruce Building Atrium
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU)
(12666 72 Avenue, Surrey)

Discussions on Ongoing efforts to promote Punjabi Language education in BC
Young Punjabi learners will share poetry, songs and stories
PLEA will honour individuals for their role in promoting Punjabi language education.

Free Event. Refreshments.

PUNJABI LANGUAGE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (PLEA)
In partnership with
DEEPAK BINNING FOUNDATION
and
KWANTLEN POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY (KPU)

For more information Please contact
Balwant Sanghera – 604-836-8976
Sadhu Binning – 778 – 773 – 1886
Paul Binning – 778-889-8255
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਲੈਂਗੂਏਜ ਐਜੂਕੇਸ਼ਨ ਅਸੋਸੀਏਸ਼ਨ (ਪਲੀ)
..

China and the Uighurs

Chinese Uighur

The situation about the Uighur Muslims has attracted widespread media coverage in the past year.  In light of the West after 9-11 and India under Modi, it may be easy for observers to assume that this is a case of Islamophobia in China.

China’s human rights abuses, while they should be condemned unequivocally, do not constitute a case of Islamophobia as they do in the case of India and China.

First of all, Islam in China has a very different history compared to its history in the West and in India.

In China, Islam came through trade. During the cosmopolitan empire of the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE). Arab and Central Asian merchants brought Islam to Turkestan (now north-western China) and to Chinese cities like Chang’an, Kaifeng and Luoyan.[1] Islam has long been associated with trade in China’s history and the most famous Muslim in China’s history, Zheng He (1371-1433), was a mariner and explorer.

Turkic migrations

China’s Han majority population also accepted Islam through conversion. Although a minority within the larger Han population, Han Chinese Muslims (known as the ‘Hui’) are virtually indistinguishable from their Han brethren except in their avoidance of pork.

Islam thus has a comparatively peaceful history in China. Compare this to the West where Islam was branded a Christian heresy from its inception and associated with the Crusades or in India where Islam has been associated (especially by Hindu Nationalists) with the looting of Hindu temples by Turkish mercenaries like Mahmud of Ghazni.

Secondly, the human rights abuses suffered by China’s Muslims have been confined to Xinjiang. They do not envelop the entire Chinese Muslim population the way they have Muslims in the West after 9-11 or in India under Modi.

China is home to over 20 million Muslims.[2] Of these, 41% are Uighur while 48% are Han Chinese (Hui) and the remaining 11% belonging to Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik, Tatar and other ethnic groups.[3]

If Islamophobia were rampant in China, it would’ve been all over the Western media by now.  Instead, what has been making cover stories in the West (besides the Corona Virus scare and the crackdown on the Uighurs) is China’s ability to digitally monitor the activities of its citizens, Uighur, Han or otherwise.

Third, and most crucially, the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang should be understood in light of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) obsession with maintaining state power and control. This obsession extends to suppressing any religious fervour which threatens or is suspected of threatening the CCP’s grip on power.[4]

The CCP has a long history of penetrating and monitoring religious establishments, ensuring they are subordinate to the party-state.[5]  This is due in part to the official atheism of the CCP, but it owes far more to a long history in China of regulating religion and suppressing religious fervour as a political threat.

There’s plenty of historical precedents to make the CCP nervous. A Daoist sect called the Yellow Turbans undermined the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).[6] The Red Turbans, a Buddhist sect, led to the fall of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) had to contend with the White Lotus Rebellion (1794-1804), another Buddhist sect. The Taiping rebellion (1850-1864), a Christian millenarian movement, fatally wounded the Qing and killed upwards of twenty million people.[7]

The CCP most notoriously suppressed the Falun Gong sect in the late 1990s and into the new millennium. Besides branding it an “evil cult,” the National People’s Congress amended article 300 of the Criminal Code on October 30, 1999, enabling the CCP to suppress spiritual groups deemed “dangerous to the state” (the Falun Gong claimed millions of members across China).

The oppression of China’s Uighurs is about the Chinese state maintaining its state power and control over the country and its citizens. It should be understood in light of China’s long history of regulating and suppressing any religious fervour (real or imagined) and not as a projection of the West’s own Islamophobia on to other societies.

Sources:

Darren Byler, “China’s hi-tech war on its Muslim minority,” The Guardian, April 11, 2019 (online): https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/apr/11/china-hi-tech-war-on-muslim-minority-xinjiang-uighurs-surveillance-face-recognition.

André Laliberté, The Legal-Formal Status of Religions in China in In  Dirk Ehlers and Henning Glaser, ed.,  Political and Religious Communities: Partners, Competitors, or  Aliens? Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2019 (forthcoming).

Lipman, Jonathan Newman (1997), Familiar Strangers, a history of Muslims in Northwest China, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

 

NOTES

[1] Lipman, Jonathan Newman (1997), Familiar Strangers, a history of Muslims in Northwest China, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 25.

[2] https://www.pewforum.org/2009/10/07/mapping-the-global-muslim-population/

[3] Armijo, Jackie (2006), “Islamic Education in China”, Harvard Asia Quarterly, 10 (1), archived from the original on 2007-09-28

[4] Darren Byler, “China’s hi-tech war on its Muslim minority,” The Guardian, April 11, 2019 (online): https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/apr/11/china-hi-tech-war-on-muslim-minority-xinjiang-uighurs-surveillance-face-recognition. Byler reports how the Chinese state has grown anxious over the growing sense of Uighur religious and cultural identity (fostered and disseminated through social media including Uighur Muslims praying five times a day, Muslim women veiling themselves and the import of food, movies, music and clothing from Turkey and Dubai) and in growing Uighur social and political activism.

[5] André Laliberté, The Legal-Formal Status of Religions in China in In  Dirk Ehlers and Henning Glaser, ed.,  Political and Religious Communities: Partners, Competitors, or  Aliens? Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2019 (forthcoming).

[6] The following historical examples are cited by Laliberté in The Legal-Formal Status of Religions in China.

[7] The Qing Dynasty also suppressed Muslim rebellions in the north-west during its expansion into Turkestan in the 18th century.

 

 

Kaun ( Who) -Mudassar Bashir: Synopsis and Analysis of award winning Punjabi Novella

During the last five decades, for a plethora of reasons, Punjabi Literature has been in the doldrums. The primary cause is the almost unique embarrassment of the middle classes who in any society traditionally support their language, to reject it in favour of English. Thus each decade there are less and less Punjabis who can read and write it or want to read and write in it. This situation has been exacerbated by Partition splitting Punjab down the middle and making it two countries with religious bigotry and two separate scripts. If this was not bad enough, there has been the pushing of three alien languages on the population. The three languages I refer to being English, Hindi and Urdu. The latter two are in reality different words for Hindustani, the one and same language. English is of course an economic powerhouse. All of this has reduced the appeal of the Punjabi language, which has successfully been sold to the Punjabis themselves as the language of the yokel.

Whilst currently there is boom in the production of regional language books, from which Punjabi has benefited, the majority of these books are truly under par in regard to the standard of writing, especially when measured by international norms. Most remain parochial, with themes limited to village life , feudal disputed and other such matters. The writers themselves have only been exposed to their village environment or may have experienced immigration, in which case the books remain forever lamenting a loss of an imagined Punjab, and historically are despondent to their children integrating in their chosen society. There is no appeal to the intellectual or urban class . There has to my understanding been no local movement in punjabi literature for decades. The cycle just churns out these same books or books paid for by ( against their will) by rich people who are then deemed “published”.

Five years ago a University in Canada and a business man , Barj Dhahan, decided to improve matters by setting a challenge in the form of a prize for fiction only. This is the Dhahan Prize. It has at least shifted up quality work to our attention. The last three books to win the prize ( For there is a main prize and two runners up) includes Kaun, a novella , presented as a novelette as it has yet to be published in book form, a story written in the Shahmukhi script of West Punjab. This is a significant book. Why?

Well, in Britain there has been the birth of a type of Punjabi Literary movement, dubbed Vachitarvaad, which I have participated in developing by doing my utmost to push boundaries and experiment with language, syntax and subject matter. The latter includes Science Fiction, Phantasy and magical realism. Very few others have tried this, until recently; interestingly both winners of Dhahan Prize, one from India and one Pakistan. The former Pargat Satauj wrote Ik Pind Dee Khabar, using a ghost as a narrator. The second, Mudassar has taken this further in Kaun. All three books can be classified as Vachitarvaad or Transrealist.

Kaun is full of magical realism and cinematic imagery which modern CGI can confer to the Silver screen. The book is primarily about Sarmad, who wants to be an actor. Whilst working in a studio, Sarmad asks a Film Director, Joseph, to give him an opportunity to act. The latter does so by asking him to work in a rehearsal room dominated by three mirrors on three of the walls, and a particularly large one on the end wall. There is a wardrobe in the room he can use to dress up as any one of many characters from the bundles of available film scripts. I counted eight characters in total he dressed up as. But it is not just the dressing up. He reads the scripts related to them, absorbs them, and then we get to know those stories when he transforms literally into them in front of the mirror, which not only shows him his reflection, dressed as the character but confers the life of that character and like a cinema screen shows the scene in which the character lives, sarcastically taunting Samad about being up to playing the part. The use of the mirror as a speaking character by means of a surrealist world in which he enters reminds me of the portals from C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books, except the portal talks back. Also it is very much like the British television show, Mr Benn. So through this approach we visit characters from various stages of Punjab’s history and social backgrounds. Significantly this ignores the modern states of Pakistan and India to an extent to remind us of a history much deeper, before religion divided people. Specifically this is dealt with in Channi Palivaan’s story, an old wrestler content not to participate in the rat race and very aware of the Punjab where Muslim, Hindu and Sikh lived together as Punjabis.

Other poignant characters include Shaboo the dancer, dressed as an ape, mixing with a transgender dance troupe. Ditta Saini the labourer representing his trade throughout the ages. There is also Sham Gopal Verma, Mauji Khan the musician who gets to walk with a Fakir whose philosophy inspires a modern Punjabi religion now made world famous with the men supporting flowing beards and wearing turbans. To make it more blunt will ruin the plot. We then see the horrific experience of Bhashkoo, the Ghummar, vividly showing the Indian Subcontinent’s backward attitude since feudal times towards the many lower castes of India. A backward culture which has become the modern Hindu religion. Yet its practices are from a world where the Gods of Olympus, Asgard and the like would be comfortable. The key act of horror something akin to what drove Mel Gibson’s interpretation of William Wallace to take up arms. A courage that the Indian population talks of but in practise is too disintegrated, uneducated or cowardly to do. If they did, then all the upper classes of both India and Pakistan in today’s climate may face the modern equivalent of the guillotine. This won’t happen because the culture and religious belief system has become more than an opiate, suppressing the masses. Then there is the Actor himself, or rather the Romeo. Finally Samad try’s dressing up and living in the skin of a woman that has to live in India / Pakistan. He soon learns how terrifying and distressful that actually is, even in this day and age. The true misogynistic nature of Punjabi, and in general South Asian society is laid bare. Sarmad has to deal with understanding what it means to be a woman in a country where raping women is not a real crime, unless the western media choose to tell the world about it. I can not say too much else without giving away the plot, other than that this alludes to the dark story of Somi, a woman in a man’s world.

So through all of these experiences the plot is simply about Sarmad deciding which part he is capable of playing. However the real story can be divided into two things. Firstly the true social history of the Punjab, most of which is unknown to the Punjabi population of modern Pakistan. That is why Bashir has chosen, I think to write this novella. Secondly this is really about the beauty of the Punjabi language. And does he use beautiful sentences and imagery? Yes. Only the other day I spoke to a young British Pakistani girl, who though proud of her Punjabi roots made it clear that in her mind Urdu was the high language. This falsehood has brainwashed too many Punjabis on both sides of the border, and I feel in the end Bashir’s book is all about addressing these very issues.

If there are any weaknesses in Bashir’s book, it is that he, like Mr Benn, all too briefly steps into their lives. All of them could have been explored in greater depth, which could have made it into a longer novel. That said, this makes it a perfect book for tenth graders to study at school , as it briefly explores all these lives and could bring the discussion into a classroom.

I think anyone who can read Punjabi should go out and get hold of this story and read it. It will open your eyes to these issues and also for those Punjabi readers who are used to the usual fare of village life, property stealing, feuds, immigration woes and remembering 1947, as if 1984 and Zia Ul Haq never happened, it will be new and refreshing. To those who are familiar with the Neil Gaimans, David Mitchells and Haruki Murakami, this will show even Punjabis can on occasion reach world standards.

Indeed this is why the book has won second prize from Dhahan in 2019. There is an English translation being worked on and a Gurmukhi transliteration for the Indian market is already out in Shabad magazine, soon to be followed up by a book version.

There will be a limited edition Gurmukhi version published through a Print On Demand provider, published by Khushjeevan Books London, in the near future for the western market. Of course there is the original version already available in Punjabi in Shahmukhi. Which ever version you read , this is truly aesthetically pleasing writing you will want to experience.

The East India Company

shah alam

…”Corporations have neither bodies to be punished nor souls to be condemned. They, therefore, can do as they like (Lord Chancellor Thurlow).”[1]

How did a subcontinent come to be ruled from a boardroom in London?[2]

On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to over 200 English merchants who wanted to get into the East Indies spice trade.[3] England wasn’t a major European power yet and the Spanish and Portuguese empires ruled the trade.

When England defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, however, it had blown open the shipping routes used by Spanish and Portuguese traders. So the East India Company was ready to sail eastwards … but was unfortunately outdone by the burgeoning Dutch East India Company.

The Dutch went on to capture the spice trade in Indonesia. The East India Company had to settle with India.

mughal court

In the early seventeenth century, India was the world’s largest economy.[4] It was known for its cotton, silk and textile industries. Tales of the wealth and splendour of the Great Mughal had begun doing their rounds in England.[5]

When trying to enter India, however, the East India Company clashed with the Portuguese who had been there since 1510. The English defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Suvali in 1612, ending Portugal’s monopoly of Indian trade.

That same year, James I dispatched an embassy to India led by Sir Thomas Roe. Roe signed a treaty with the Mughal Emperor Jahangir which let the Company set up factories in Surat in 1612.

The Company went on to set up trading posts in Madras (1639), Bombay (1664) and Calcutta (1696). It faced competition from yet another European power: the French had established trading posts and factories in the south of India.[6]

The Company’s fortunes, however, were about to change. The Mughal Empire, having expanded into the Deccan, had now grown too large to be governed effectively. The Emperor Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance had also sparked resentment and rebellion across India including among the Marathas and the Rajputs who formed the backbone of the Mughal army.

When Aurangzeb died in 1707, the once-mighty Mughal Empire, strained and divided, began to disintegrate. New regional powers like the Marathas in western India began forming their own kingdoms while others, like the Nizam of Hyderabad, declared their independence from the Mughals.

By this time, the British and French East India Companies had built their own forts and settlements in southern India and in Bengal. As Mughal India fragmented into regional kingdoms, the British and French took advantage of the political situation by playing off one Indian ruler against another.

The Indian kings were also keen to wipe one another out by accepting British and French military assistance. The Maratha prince, Balaji Baji Rao, for one, offered the Company land for batteries of artillery and trained gunners.[7] The princes of Karnataka enlisted the Company’s help which they paid for by assigning it lands and the right to collect taxes.[8]

From Company to Conquest

In Bengal, however, the British met with resistance.

Bengal was the richest, most fertile and densely populated region of India.[9] The Company had established a trading post there in Calcutta in 1696, known later as Fort William.

With the break-up of the Mughal Empire, Bengal came to be ruled by local princes (nawab in Urdu). In 1756, Siraj-ud Daula became Nawab of Bengal. Wary of the growing British presence there, he ordered his troops to seize and occupy the Company’s bases at Kasimbazar and Calcutta in 1756.[10]

plassey 3

The Company reacted with vengeance.

Under the leadership of Robert Clive, it quickly recaptured Calcutta on January 1, 1757, and, on June 23, 1757, it defeated Siraj’s forces at the Battle of Plassey (above). The Company’s conquest of India had begun.

The Plunder of Bengal

Between 1757 and 1763, the East India Company drained Bengal’s wealth. It forcefully taxed peasants, punished unwilling suppliers who objected to its prices and vanquished local competitors.[11] Tragically, its ruthless extraction of Bengal’s resources aggravated the Great Bengal Famine of 1770 which killed over 10 million people (roughly one-fifth of Bengal’s population).[12]

The Company meanwhile shipped bales of cotton, calico, muslin and chintz from Bengal back to Britain.[13] Its huge wealth and vast resources had made it, in the words of one of its directors, “an empire within an empire,” answerable to no one except its shareholders.[14]

Men like Clive (above) made huge fortunes in Bengal and returned to England as “nabobs” (a corruption of nawab).[15] Once back home, the nabobs bought seats in Parliament and bribed senior politicians for favours toward the Company. Parliament responded by investigating the nabobs and the Company for corruption and extortion in their dealings in Bengal. One parliamentary pamphlet decried the looting of:

“Lacks and crowes (lakhs and crores) of rupees, sacks of diamonds, Indians tortured to disclose their treasure; cities, towns and villages ransacked and destroyed, jaghires (jagirs) and province purloined. Nabobs dethroned, and murdered, have found the delights and constituted the religions of the Directors and their servants.”[16]

The Conquest of Hindustan

From Bengal, the Company marched up the Ganges into the heart of India.

In 1764, the Company defeated the Mughal army of Shah Alam II at the Battle of Buxar. The Treaty of Allahabad of 1765 (pictured at the top of the page) brought Awadh under Company control and won it the diwani or right to collect taxes on behalf of the Mughal emperor.

In less than a century, the Company swooped across the south through conquest and by granting suzerainty to local rulers such as the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1747. Having annexed the Punjab in 1849 (after defeating the Sikhs in the Second Anglo-Sikh War), the Company had brought Hindustan to heel.

EIC Map

By 1857, India was ruled from a boardroom in the City of London.

The Company laid the foundation for British rule of the subcontinent. The historians of the British Raj, however, would see the Company as a national embarrassment. By the 19th century, Victorian Britain had begun to see the British nation (and not a predatory corporation) as the builder of destiny and the shaper of progress. The Company became in the eyes of many a “tyranny which [had] encouraged and exploited human suffering.”

The East India Company was the world’s first truly multinational corporation. Its plunder of India should serve as a warning to a world ruled by Walmart, Apple, BP and Wells Fargo.

Sources

The Anarchy: A New Book by William Dalrymple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUeyOEY9oWg

BBC Start the Week (Dec. 2, 2019): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000bvw5

British Library (East India Company): https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item102770.html

William Dalrymple, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2019 [Audiobook]).

William Dalrymple, “The East India Company: The original corporate raiders,” The Guardian, March 4, 2015: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/04/east-india-company-original-corporate-raiders

Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (St. Martin’s, New York: 1997).

Ben Johnson, “The East India Company and its role in ruling India,” Historic UK: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/The-East-India-Company/

Andrea Major, “The East India Company: How a trading corporation became an imperial ruler,” HistoryExtra: https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/the-east-india-company-how-a-trading-corporation-became-an-imperial-ruler/

Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. (Oxford University Press: 1982). Available online: https://www.prismaweb.org/nl/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Poverty-and-famines%E2%94%82Amartya-Sen%E2%94%821981.pdf

Notes

[1] William Dalrymple: The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUeyOEY9oWg). This was Lord Chancellor Thurlow speaking at the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings.

[2] I was inspired to write this blog after listening to a BBC Podcast on William Dalrymple’s latest book on Indian history, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company.

[3] William Dalrymple, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2019), Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (audiobook). The royal charter was granted after a Dutch delegation arrived in England offering to buy out all English ships which were intended to voyage to the East. This infuriated the English merchants who petitioned the Privy Council to reject the proposal for the “honour of [their] native country.” The charter also authorized the East India Company to wage war, raise forts and make settlements in any new territory to which they voyaged.

https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item102770.html. The “East Indies” here refers to Asia.

[4] BBC Start the Week (Dec. 2, 2019): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000bvw5. Dalrymple estimates that India generated roughly 30% of the world’s GDP at the time.

[5] A Handbook for India: Being an account of the Three Presidencies and of the Overland Route (London: John Murray), 1859, lxxx. In 1603, the English Jesuit priest and missionary, Thomas Stephens, visited the Mughal capital of Agra, returning to England with stories of the wealth of the Great Mughal.

[6] The French established a factory at Masulipatam (Andhra Pradesh) in 1669, acquired the area of Pondicherry in 1673.

[7] Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (St. Martin’s, New York: 1997), 10.

[8] James, 9.

[9] James, 30.

[10] On the night of June 20, 1756 (in what came to be known as the “Black Hole of Calcutta”) Siraj’s forces herded an unknown number of British prisoners into a small cell in the dungeon of Fort William where over half of the prisoners suffocated to death.

[11] James, 38-39.

[12] Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. (Oxford University Press: 1982), 39.

[13] James, 10.

[14] James, 49.

[15] Dalrymple estimates that Clive returned to Britain with a personal fortune valued then at £234,000 (around £23 million in today’s currency) making him the richest self-made man in Europe.

[16] James, 49. The pamphlet dates to 1773. Parliament’s investigations reached their climax between 1788 and 1795 with the trial to impeach the Governor of Bengal (Warren Hastings) for looting and corruption. Hastings was acquitted.

Call for Papers: Baisakhi 2020 & International Conference – The Future of Punjab Culture: Awaken or Perish!


Call for Papers
Institute for Art & Culture
Baisakhi 2020: International Conference
The Future of Punjab Culture: Awaken or Perish!

The Institute for Art and Culture (IAC) will be holding a conference on Punjab culture on April 10-11, 2020 and Baisakhi Mela on April 12, 2020. Please review the attached conference brochure in order to acquaint yourself with the motive, philosophy, and goals of the conference. The conference seeks high quality papers on Punjab’s history, culture, arts, politics, and heritage which could be part of the following sessions of our conference program:

Contemporary Topics in Punjab’s Art & Culture
Punjab’s Cultural Heritage: Politics & Politicians
Punjab: Historical Perspectives/Narratives 2500 B.C.E—Present
Punjab Culture & Art: Future Prospects & Strategies
Keynote Speaker: Mushtaq Soofi

The conference is open to academics, artists, writers, activists, intellectuals, politicians, students and media and legal professionals—anyone interested in contributing towards the dialogue on Punjab’s culture and art. Please note that no paper will be considered without the submission of a paper abstract (300-350 words).

Important Dates
Abstract Submission Deadline: February 15, 2020
Full Paper Submission Deadline: March 15, 2020

Please email the abstract to naveed.alam@iac.edu.pk We shall inform you about the selection of your abstract by March 1, 2020. The paper can be read in English or Punjabi.

Conference Patron
Prof. Sajida Haider Vandal
Vice Chancellor, Institute for Art & Culture
Conference Convener
Prof. Pervaiz Vandal
Pro Vice Chancellor, Institute for Art & Culture
Conference Secretary
Prof. Naveed Alam
School of Culture & Languages (SCL), Institute for Art & Culture

Contact Us
Naveed Alam
naveed.alam@iac.edu.pk
Bilal Mushtaq
bilal.mushtaq@iac.edu.pk
0323-417-3363
Noor-ul-Huda
noori_huda@hotmail.com

Download PDF Files
Baisakhi 2020 call for papers
flyer english and punjabi
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Buddhist Political Philosophy

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I first began studying Buddhism in 1999 while living in Canada. Having lived and grown up in the West, I saw how Buddhism was adopted and adapted by the West in terms of science, psychology and the art of living.

I have always been interested, however, in Buddhism as a philosophy and, in particular, as a  political philosophy. For me, this involved thinking about the world and political phenomena from a Buddhist philosophical and ethical perspective.

I will be speaking more about Buddhist political philosophy here in Uddari. For me, it is something that means a lot to me as a South Asian living in the diaspora. Buddhism not only originated and developed in South Asia but it has also become an increasingly influential philosophy in the Western culture in which I have grown up.