Quest for Seraiki Identity – by Fayyaz Baqir
Recent quest for Seraiki identity was triggered off with the separation of eastern wing of united Pakistan and dissolution of One Unit in West Pakistan. At this time a secular rationale for creation of “new” Pakistan as continuation of Indus Valley Civilization and wheeler’s five thousand year’s of Pakistan caught the attention of politicians, intellectuals and political analysts. For the first time in Pakistan’s history the tradition of forging national unity on the basis subduing various cultural, linguistic and social identities under state patronized identity was openly debated. Due to rapid urbanization during the past decades and emergence of middle class in urban centers of present Pakistan people from various regions, ethnic groups and diverse political leanings and ideologies started discussion on various components which constituted their social, cultural and political identities. They also started questioning the centralized political system which imposed serious restrictions on the expression, growth and harmonious development of these identities.
An important component of this debate on national and sub national identities was the question whether expression and growth of diversity strengthened or undermined national unity. Events that followed provided significant evidence that it is not expression of diversity but the ability to deal with diversity and draw on its strengths that determined the outcome of freedom of expression in this regard. The debate and struggle on this viewpoint still continues and people are very intelligently drawing conclusions from this debate. Defining cultural and national identities and articulating the rights of people with distinct identities is a very challenging and demanding task. However, the quest for articulating these identities and their legitimate rights has become very complex and complicated. The factors contributing to this complexity are underdevelopment of various regional language, extreme variations in the dialects of local languages, dominance of oral over written linguistic tradition, rapid movement of ethnic and linguistic groups outside their hinterland and permanent settlement in other linguistic and cultural landscapes, multi cultural and linguistic character of Pakistani cities and geographic regions, lack of serious research on cultural and regional inequalities, a strong desire in certain political tendencies to play the œnationalist card as a short cut to power and dominance of desperation and rhetoric in our political culture. Due to these factors we have emotionally charged and substantially weak and unpopular expression of nationalist politics in Pakistan.
Seraikis like other nationalist constituencies have also been approached on the basis of nationalist rhetoric to fall in line behind œnationalist parties. However, nationalist politics in Seraiki area has been moving in circle and not moved forward at all. Part of the reason for this failure is lack of a deeper understanding of Seraiki question. Describing the unique identity of Seraiki people in contemporary Pakistan is a larger than life enterprise. Despite an intense desire among Seraikis to find an expression for their unique position in contemporary Pakistan little research and discussion has taken place in this regard. The purpose of this paper is to describe some unique social, cultural and historic characteristics of Seraikis and try to assess their position in relation to a despotic or pluralistic political discourse. I am trying to raise some questions and not to answer them. The purpose is to encourage a serious debate and not to close the debate by providing a “final” answer.
Seraikis have many unique features which separate them from all other language, geography and ethnicity based “nationalities” in Pakistan. In the first place Seraikis are the only group who live inside the borders of contemporary Pakistan. All other major national groups are spread across the border between Pakistan and its neighbouring countries. Secondly, Seraikis constitute second largest linguistic group in each province of Pakistan. Unlike other nationalities they are spread all over Pakistan. Seraiki is spoken by people living along the river valleys of Indus and its tributaries and occupy centre stage in what can be called cradle of Indus Civilization. Seraiki towns and urban centres have a good mix of Seraiki and non Seraiki speaking people and non Seraikis living in Seraiki areas are accepted as Seraikis by local people. Seraiki land lords are among the biggest land holding land lords in Pakistan and have been important share holders of power under various political dispensations. Major Seraiki towns are home to Sufi shrines, universities, colleges, radio stations, seats of power, trading centres and cultural heritage. Religious Seraiki religious leaders, zakirs and khatibs are spread all over Pakistan. Seraiki poetry and music is popular among non-Seraiki speaking as well. Seraiki have found respectable representation in civil and armed services of Pakistan and small and corporate business sector.
All these characteristics set Seraikis apart from all other nationalities in Pakistan. Their interests like their national identity are not strengthened by politics of separation and creating a Seraiki province but by forging unity among its people inhabiting the entire landscape of contemporary Pakistan. Seraikis are the true descendents of Indus Valley Civilization and a connecting thread to contemporary Pakistan. Their identity is destined to be linked with rediscovery of deeper inner unity among various linguistic, ethnic and cultural groups in Pakistan. It should not be reduced to fit in with narrowly defined political interests based on ignorance of Seraiki history and culture.