South Asia has no partition monument: Ali

Published: February 24, 2013
Acclaimed writer and historian Tariq Ali. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Acclaimed writer and historian Tariq Ali. PHOTO: PUBLICITY


Acclaimed writer and historian Tariq Ali on Saturday lamented the fact that neither Pakistan nor India had built even a single memorial for the victims of partition.

“It’s a total disgrace that close to two million people died and there is not a single memorial in either country for the victims of partition,” said Ali at the keynote address of the Lahore Literary Festival on Saturday.

“That is more important than parading stupidly at Wagah border,” he said, referring to the change of guard and flag-hoisting ceremonies at the border post.

Ali said he thought it would be hard to move on from the division of India and Pakistan until certain legacies were settled.

“We need narratives of history. Young people don’t know that Bangladesh and Pakistan were the same country. The constant absence of history can wreck a citizen’s capacity to think,” said the writer. Answering another question, he said that our sources of information must be examined. “Wikipedia is not a bible of information. It does get things wrong.” He suggested that people instead read a book once in a while to attain information.

In a session on “Politics and culture: past and present, Ali began by mourning the absence of kites in the sky in Lahore in February. He said celebrating Basant used to cut across every divide and social class and united citizens. Faisalabad, he said, had defied the ban and hundreds had been arrested. “Maybe the arrests were for a good cause.”

Globalisation and capitalism

Ali covered many topics during his session, including focusing in on the process of globalisation.  The writer said other economic alternatives had collapsed, leaving a monolithic world where capitalism dominates. Globalisation now means the rampant advance of capitalism without restriction. The state, he says, can ameliorate its citizens’ living condition.

However, he added that the impact of globalisation was uneven and it was hard to stand up against this system. “Private capital has entered domains that were earlier protected. Education, health, housing and broadcasting – nothing can be taken for granted.”

He said that because internationalism exists, we now watch movies and television shows produced in the US in Pakistan.

Using South America as an example, Ali said some countries there have broken from the neo-liberal tradition, not from capitalism and have built schools and universities that educate large sections of the population free of cost. Those politicians, he added, are vilified in the western press, yet were re-elected all the time. “It seems to be a crime to spend on the poor,” said the writer.  He went on to explain that in South America, what has been effective is a regulation on capitalism, rather than a break from it.

Literature and English

Turning to literature, Ali said the Venezulan culture ministry distributed millions of copies of the classic “Don Quixote” to households to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication. When Venezuelan President Chavez was asked if people would actually read the book, he said his hope was that someone in the household would eventually get to reading it, as the country was educating its people.

Ali said that once you are able to decontextualise a work, you get a better sense of it.  In “Don Quixote”, Spain at that time had rid itself of its Muslim and Jewish populations, explained Ali. It might have been comic to see the hero and his sidekick wandering around empty villages, but Ali stressed that a Spanish reader during the time was able to make the connection that the emptiness symbolised ethnic cleansing.

“We might not admit it but politics and culture are linked.”

Ali questioned why madrassas are needed, and told the audience it was because state education is not available for all citizens.

Ali said that English was used as a preserve of the wealthy and elite. He cited the example of Malaysia, which has made the English language compulsory for all, so that people can access books and go abroad to obtain a higher education. He stressed that English needs to be made compulsory in Pakistan too.

United state

The author also maintains that from 1967 to 1968, Pakistan was united under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto’s economic policies, however, were disastrous, according to Ali. He said Bhutto’s legacy was that, during his term, it was no longer a crime to be poor. “If people felt that they had a stake in the state, they would have come out on the streets to die for him,” he said.

He further illustrated this point by talking about the coup against Venezuela’s President Chavez in 2002. “The poor came out on the streets, and the soldiers told the officers that they would not allow this to happen.” A general told the military band to play the anthem when the new president came out.  They refused, even when he insisted.   Ali said that the general finally picked on a 16-year-old peasant boy who was the trumpet player. He started bullying the boy into playing for the new president. The boy kept on refusing to play. Eventually, the boy said to the general, “If you are so keen, you play the trumpet, general.”

This is the sort of government that gives people confidence, they feel they have a stake in the state and they vote their politicians in again and again.


Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Feb 24, 2013 - 9:56AM

    He later also said he’d be voting for the PTI!


  • holy me
    Feb 24, 2013 - 10:04AM

    I will always Love Tariq Ali. He truly is a treasure.


  • Jehangir Mari
    Feb 24, 2013 - 10:08AM

    For the partition monument we need intellectual leadership. The only quarter where some intellect has remained in Pakistan is Khaki. In present times, can we afford to leave the overall governance to the inept politicos? Are the senior military officers, below General Kiyani, as indecisive as their chief is? General Kiyani had to move in much earlier. After all, and as everybody knows, he is the real ruler of Pakistan. Securing foreign ministry & finance ministry under army’s supervision was a wise step. But, in the present scenario, that is not adequate. Army, with the help of able civilian technocrats, needs to assume overall responsibility with their already secured power. Pakistan is on precipice. With this, its army, economically & psychologically, is also being devastated.


  • Virkaul
    Feb 24, 2013 - 10:43AM

    There is definitely lots of weight in what Tariq Ali says about building a memorial for the victims of partition. Why not start from India, it will be easier here.


  • Chicago uni
    Feb 24, 2013 - 11:01AM

    Mr Tariq is greatest living Pakistani British in world.
    I am totally agree we should make English the compulsory for all pakistani as most of the world knowledge are producing only in ENglish. It take at least 15 years to get translated copy in chines language. Although China has big translation industry. So imagine if we dont know english, than how long it will take to get world latest knowledge at our study desks. May be 50 years. One must keep in mind there is million of millions books in world and translation is complete science.Not every body can translate if he/she know English and Pakistani language unless he/she is that subject specialist.
    I am always listen this video of Mr Tariq ali ,


  • Hassaan
    Feb 24, 2013 - 11:03AM

    Tariq Ali also vehemently stated that He’ll going to vote for PTI. Tribune didn’t publish. Tsk tsk.


  • tahmina
    Feb 24, 2013 - 12:29PM

    @Chicago uni:
    In China actually books get translated and printed overnight, it does not take 15 years, with modern software it is now just a click on the computer.


  • Wali Khan
    Feb 24, 2013 - 12:32PM

    @Amin Hussain:
    Although He is supporting PTI. But PTI in its education policy declare that they will make urdu as language of instructions for school children.And will give english as optional status. However Tariq categorically declare make english the compulsory language. PTI is against to Mr Tariq ali indeed.


  • BlackJack
    Feb 24, 2013 - 12:36PM

    Partition was a Punjab specific traumatic event, and India is a huge country, where for many, the knowledge of tragedy and loss during this period is purely academic, with hardly any emotions involved (except gratitude to Jinnah et al). Further, in India, we are taught that hundred of thousands on both sides died, so we have made our peace with it; in Pakistan, people are taught that the Hindus and Sikhs were honourably escorted to the border while the muslims were sent across in blood filled train bogies; rather than a monument to partition, maybe a monument to truth may work better for all.


  • ALpha
    Feb 24, 2013 - 12:39PM

    Mr Tariq ali is Noam Chomsky of Europe. We should pay head to his appeal to make english as compulsory language like Malaysia. Even the French govt starts english form gade one in school as compulsory language. Despite the enmity of Franco-Anglo (France- England) which spans over 1000 years..


  • Falcon
    Feb 24, 2013 - 12:41PM

    Tariq Ali is one of the best minds Pakistan has been blessed with. His commentary on Pakistan is usually very insightful as well.


  • Ahmed
    Feb 24, 2013 - 1:16PM

    Tariq, there is no monument on either side because we have given all our money to the armies to buy weapon. They taste real good after you deep fry them!


  • goggi
    Feb 24, 2013 - 1:24PM

    In the extremely sad memory of millions of our people (Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Muslims etc.), either murdered, raped or displaced, a day in August should be officially declared as a “Black Day”! Our present and coming generations should never forget these heinous atrocities and genocide, incited from a handful of short-sighted politicians.


  • Feb 24, 2013 - 1:27PM

    “Ali said that once you are able to decontextualise a work, you get a better sense of it”… I think he said the opposite… meaning you need to understand the setting for Don Quixote to understand it!


  • Pea Brain
    Feb 24, 2013 - 4:54PM

    @ PTI Supporters – I duly respect your right to expression but can a day pass without you folk reducing every conversation to polemics. It is very positive to see you all campaign for your political beliefs but this can not be at the cost of other people’s beliefs. You have hijacked all social media and push for mileage at every opportunity. These propaganda designs are becoming increasingly totalitarian in nature.
    I kindly request that innuendos be please avoided. Let people vote for whoever they find better. Let democracy flourish as a culture. Can we respect everyone irrespective of their political inclination, please?


  • Arshad Kamal Khan
    Feb 24, 2013 - 5:40PM

    My question is, why were the people who perpetrated the most heinous crimes against humanity never brought before a court of justice? That would have been the monument as well as a lesson to all bigoted criminals who still live among us and still commit crimes against humanity on both sides of the border. A nation that does not clean its backyard has to live with garbage.


  • Chicago uni
    Feb 24, 2013 - 6:26PM

    @tahmina: There is mistake at your part there is no such software which can translate math books biology books. Ok I can give you example look on any any translator like google translator and try to translate the first chapter of grade 6 math book. You will find what funny result will appear. These softwares one can use for daily communication translation help all over the world no body in world using for translation. Because there is no such translation software exist which know scientific meaning.
    You remember when Imran Khan and ex president Mushraf wrote books in english. Who long it will take there urdu translation to reach in market. I still remember Imran khan’s book took more than year. Why Imran khan not translate his book in one night? why one of Pakistani journalist was working on its translation for more than one year?


  • Khan
    Feb 25, 2013 - 3:13AM

    The writer himself and the readers (at least commentators) are not aware of the fact that Mr. Nawaz Sharif already took initiative to build a monument in Lahore in 90s called “Bab-e-Pakistan” After allocation of funds and land the construction work was halted after the military take over in 1999 and this monument construction could not be completed for nearly a decade.

    I wonder why the literary community does not have an oversight of such poorly researched article ?


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