Sunday, January 7, 2007

Pakistan: Dissent is Alive

Dissent Is AlivePakistan Diary: In Lahore Day 4 By Yoginder Sikand

It's a cold winter morning and a thick blanket of fog drapes the streets outside. Diep has invited a maulvi from a neighbourhood mosque to her home. She tells me that he claims he can predict the future by examining one's nails. I'm tempted to ask him to read my fortune but I restrain myself. It strikes me how folk religion right across the subcontinent shares much in common. The maulvi is a cheerful man, rotund and dark. He tells me how similar Indians and Pakistanis are, and rues the machinations of politicians that keep the two countries at loggerheads. This, in short, is also the crux of the conversations I have with many other Pakistanis I meet throughout my one-month stay in the country.

The sun is now out and I head for the sprawling campus of the Punjab University, considered to be one of the leading universities in Pakistan. I chat with some students at the cafeteria, who take me around. I see posters put up by the Jamiat-i Tulaba, the students' wing of the Islamist Jamaat-i Islami, announcing a seminar to observe the fall of Dhaka to Indian forces in 1971. The Jamaat is known for its staunch anti-India stance and I wonder what the seminar, held a day before, was all about. Husain, a student who accompanies me, says that the only student organization that is allowed to officially function on the campus is the Jamiat-i Tulaba, which he describes as 'semi-fascist'. He compares the Jamaat-i Islami to the RSS in India and says, 'They both speak the same language, actually'. I suppose he is right.

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