Between the lines

Published: May 14, 2015
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More often than not, the past is categorised as hallowed ground which cannot be easily tapped or tinkered with. Hobbling under the weight of this label, only a handful of artists, writers and scholars look beyond the surface and challenge its validity. As a result, difference and diversity take a backseat to the ‘official’ narrative.

The decision of a media watchdog to serve legal notice to an Indian channel for airing Pakistani TV serial “Dastaan” is a case in point. Be it an attempt to monitor content for sensitivity or a reaction to frequent bans imposed by its neighbour on Bollywood films, the move has deepened the cycle of mistrust between India and Pakistan.

On the face of it, the watchdog’s decision to take legal action against the channel is an attempt to shield the country’s narrative from the blows and punches of adversity. Faced with similar circumstances, the relevant authorities in Pakistan would have responded in the same manner. And yet, the decision is unjustifiable.

Based on a novel by Razia Butt, “Dastaan” is set against the backdrop of Partition and chronicles the optimism and human tragedy surrounding the division of India. From being an account of the trying moments of the protagonist’s life, the TV serial probes the reactions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to social and political change.

However, the media watchdog believes the story only portrays Pakistan’s view of the historic event and paints a negative picture of other groups. Unfortunately, these concerns seem to have been taken out of context.

While I admit “Dastaan” offers a partial representation of the truth, viewers must not forget that art and literature are not always mouthpieces to promote political ideologies. There is a fine line between fact and fiction and “Dastaan” is nothing more than fictional depiction of a woman who is exploited by the traumatic realities of change. There is a grain of truth to the story and the protagonist is not allowed to become a caricature or a symbol of a political bias. On the contrary, she is just a Muslim girl whose destiny is shaped and distorted by historical forces.

If a story which puts spotlight on an unspoken reality can be construed as anti-state propaganda, then society as a whole must re-evaluate its commitment to uphold the truth.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2015. 

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