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Wednesday, July 1, 2014
Beautiful dramatisation, brutal
truths and searching questions
The Supreme Court Bar Associations
in India and Pakistan have agreed to
help prisoners detained in each
By Sumegha Gulati
‘Dastan’, soon to
be shown in India
on Zee TV’s new
is a powerful
focusing on 1947
Horse-drawn buggis on
dirt paths surrounded
by mustard fields; villagers discussing the
weather, crops and marriages, speaking Urdu
tinged with a Punjabi accent; the turbulent love
story of a young engaged couple set against
the backdrop of a land
and its people divided,
amidst rapes, assaults,
killings and mass displacement.
Dastan, a 23-episode Pakistani television serial based on the late Urdu
writer Razia Butt’s acclaimed short
story Bano, is one of the finest works
produced on partition in contemporary
times. Soon to be broadcast on Zee TV
India’s new channel, Zindagi, it was extremely popular in Pakistan, winning
several awards and nominations for its
content as well as performances.
I stumbled upon Dastan on the Internet while researching literature and
cinema on India’s partition. Watching a
Pakistani TV show for the first time, I
was hooked from the first episode, not
just because it deals with a subject
close to my heart, Partition, but the
sheer beauty of the dramatisation.
The story starts with a Muslim family in Ludhiana, 1946. Women gather on
takhts in a courtyard, preparing for
Suraiya’s (Saba Qamar) upcoming wedding. Indian audiences will immediately
related to their affectionate bantering,
so common on both sides of the border,
and showing neighbours the jahez
(dowry) and bari (groom’s gifts to the
Cross-religion relationships emerge
through characters like Kamini chachi,
always present in the bridal house, or
the Hindu jeweler who acknowledges
how much he owes to the bride’s father.
Suraiya’s nephew, Hassan, a finalyear engineering student and a member
of the Muslim League, is the main protagonist. The restrained performance
Pakistani heartthrob by Fawad Afzal
Khan (Khuda ke Liye, Humsafar),
apart from his undeniably good looks,
The female protagonist
Bano (brilliantly acted by
Sanam Baloch) is the
younger sister of Suraiya's
husband, Saleem (Ahsan
Khan), a staunch Congress
member who admires
Gandhi and opposes the
creation of Pakistan. Overs
the passage of the years
spanned by the serial,
Bano emerges as a
woman of exemplary
courage, who fights all
odds to fulfill her dream
of reaching Pakistan.
Bano and Hassan’s
love story blossoms with
stolen glances and silent
nights spent watching
each other from their
terraces, their features illuminated by
lantern or moonlight. Sohail Haider’s
theme song Aasmano se utaara soulfully plays in the background.
The idyllic earlier episodes feature
newly-weds Suraiya and Saleem sneak-
n a welcome move, the Supreme Court Bar Associations of India and Pakistan are working together to
help Pakistani and Indian prisoners detained in each
other’s countries, following the visit to Pakistan of
SCBA India’s senior executive member Prof.Bhim
Singh at the invitation of the Lawyers Congress headed by
Zulfiqar Ali Jehangir.
The Executive Committee of SCBA India on June 28 sent
a letter thanking SCBA Pakistan for facilitating and honouring Prof. Bhim Singh during his ten-day visit to Pakistan in
In Lahore, the Supreme Court Bar Association (Pakistan)
presented Prof. Singh, has over the past 15 years provided
free legal aid to hundreds of Pakistanis detained or under
trial in Indian jails, with a shield. This is the first time an Indian lawyer was so honoured in Pakistan.
As a result of petitions filed by Prof Bhim Singh’s State
Legal Aid Committee, the Supreme Court of India has over
the years intervened to free nearly nearly 250 Pakistani prisoners.
During his visit, the Islamabad Bar Association invited
Prof. Bhim Singh to speak on the plight of cross-border pris-
Fawad Afzal Khan, Sanam Baloch in ‘Dastan’: stellar performances
ing out to spend alone-time in a park,
Bano’s spat with the maid Lakshmi, and
her innocent query to Hassan about the
meaning of the word “honeymoon”.
The issue of women's education is
highlighted in several instances. Bano’s
mother tells a neighbour that the girl
wanted to study further but has to learn
household chores. The Hindu neighbour complains that her own daughter
does not even know how to hold a needle. The Punjabi wedding songs, so
much like our wedding songs, come as
a pleasant surprise.
Such touches that bring home probably the most brutal of all truths about
partition – that a land and people, with
the same language, food, culture were
divided and forced to leave their homes
and friends behind.
The politics of the time are highlighted through the euphoria surrounding the 1946 win of the Muslim
League that shows how dear many
Muslims held the cause of a
separate nation. Dinnertime
discussions highlight the belief that Pakistan would enable Muslims to fearlessly follow Islam and give greater
security for Indian Muslims.
Their disillusionment with the
Congress for failing to live up to its
promises made to Muslims also comes
across, as well as the view that Hindus
would make life hell for Muslims after
When Bano wants to join Muslim
League, her father’s response reflects
the progressive attitude of educated
families in those days – he allows her
to do so, even as her brother Saleem
remains a Congress member.
Historical notes and background
voiceovers intersperse the narrative.
Ustaad Amanat Ali Khan’s song Aye
Watan Pyara Watan plays in the background when Muslim League is mentioned. I was reminded of Indian TV
and cinema, where our filmmakers use
Iqbal’s Saare jahan se achha as the
background score for “patriotic”
scenes. It is in fact used at all occasions -- morning prayers at schools, at
Republic and Independence Days, at
Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru jayan-
tis, at Lokpal agitations. After Partition, even poets were divided. Who
holds a greater claim to Iqbal?
When Hassan comments on the
over 3000 Muslims butchered in Calcutta in just four days, Saleem asks if
Hindus are not being killed too. The
two come to blows, earning severe
reprimand from Saleem’s father who
points out that neither Jinnah nor
Gandhi would approve of their behaviour. And Saleem asks how, given
his father’s deep friendships with Hindus, can he consider them his foes
It is such ironies that Dastan so
When Suraiya wants to give away
her jewelry for riot-affected Muslims
regardless of their allegiance to
Congress or Muslim League, Saleem
reminds her that riots also affected
Hindus, Sikhs and others. His
character, in fact, comes
across as exceptionally
strong and ahead of his
A firm believer in
Saleem is even ready to let
his sister marry a Hindu.
His reasoning: both can follow their own religions without converting. “Ram has a job, a reputed family background and is well-off. Will you
turn down the proposal just on the
basis of religion?” he asks his father.
However, the divisions deepen with
daily killings, murders, loot and rapes.
Dastan depicts the horrors effectively
– entire families butchered, killing
their own women to save them from
dishonour, houses illegally occupied,
their owners threatened with dire consequences if they tried to return.
One of the most chilling scenes -for which Ahsan Khan deserves full
marks -- is when the Muslim women of
the locality gather at Saleem’s house
ahead of an impending attack by
Sikhs. When Saleem seeks Ram's help,
the family turns him away refusing to
risk their lives for Muslims. The reality
then strikes Saleem – the creation of
Pakistan is essential for the future of
The director effectively shows how
good and bad people exist in every
community. Dastan’s only drawback is
that the background narrative does not
acknowledge the barbarities perpetuated on non-Muslims.
Dastan also raises many questions.
When Bano says that she wants a separate country where Muslims do not
have to live on the rehmo-karam
(charity) of Hindus, I wonder where
this idea came from? Why did a community that had ruled over Hindustan
for centuries harbour apprehensions
that Hindus would subjugate them and
not allow them to follow their religion?
Is there an unspoken assumption that
a majority will crush and dominate the
Is the claim that Hindus and Muslims co-existed for centuries incorrect? If so, what about all those prepartition friendships, depicted in the
show itself? How did Muslims’ feelings
transform to such extent that they demanded a separate nation away from
their friends and neighbours? Is there
a missing link somewhere – were Muslims wronged or discriminated against
in pre-partition India?
In fact the British discriminated
against all Indians – Hindus, Muslims
and Sikhs. Only those close to the
empire could be called better off, due
to their allegiance to the British,
rather than their religion -- Hindu
rajas, Muslim nawabs, munshis and
The serial also raises questions
about the aspirations of those who
supported Pakistan, expecting it to be
a land of pious Muslims, where women
would get their due status accorded by
Islam. A country where nobody would
sacrifice women for dowry, where
there would be no inequality.
Dastan effectively pushes the
viewer to ponder these and many
The writer is a correspondent with
New Delhi-based English daily,
Indian Express. Her grandparents
migrated to India from
Lahore in 1947.
Acting President Pakistan SCBA Naeem Sarwar
presents a shield to Prof. Bhim Singh (second from left)
Cross-border prisoners are often poor and resourceless
oners in India and Pakistan. Several civil society organisations and representatives of the District Bar Associations of
Mirpur, Kotli and Muzaffarabad drove to visit Prof Singh,
who did not have permission to visit other cities in Pakistan.
Pakistani lawyers said they would take up the cases of
the Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails at their own expense.
PPP Senator Jehangir Badar has also pledged to work on
Several public interest petitions are pending in the
Supreme Court of India seeking the release and repatriation
of the Pakistani prisoners. They include 30 who are mentally
or physically challenged, and remain incarcerated despite
the Indian Supreme Court’s directives to release all foreign
prisoners who have completed their respective sentences or
are not wanted in any case.
Two recent Track-2 initiatives between Indians and Pakistanis underscored the need to ease travel, trade and visa restrictions between the two countries and let people meet
Talking peace in Chang Mai
t a recent meeting held in Thailand,
Indians and Pakistanis discussed the
significance of a new government in
New Delhi and the opportunities it
creates for Indo-Pak relations, particularly in
trade and economic integration, as well as
peace and security in Afghanistan, reports
Mariana Baabar in The News.
At end of the two-day 14th Chaophaya Di-
Group photo of the participants: Let people meet
alogue in Chang Mai organised by The Jinnah
Institute and the Australia India Institute,
Melbourne, delegates urged both governments to take “steps for additional confidence-building measures (CBMs) to lessen
the trust deficit, particularly the establishment of a hotline linking the two PMs” and
“meetings between the two army chiefs as
well as the heads of intelligence agencies and
Bilateral Islamabad dialogue urges talks resumption
more frequent interaction between DGMOs”.
There is a need to revisit the 2003 ceasefire agreement on the LOC and create “norms
of necessary crisis management structure
jointly which will detail rules of do and don’ts
and standard operating procedure”, says the
The statement urges furthering trade between India and Pakistan and hopes that the
Commerce Ministers at the SAFTA
Ministerial Council in Thimpu in
July 2014 will “arrive at an early
conclusion of discussions on the
“India and Pakistan should commit themselves to
in the internal affairs
“not allow the
use of its soil for
actions prejudicial to peace and security in
The recommendations urge the two governments to liberalise the visa regime for students, academics and journalists, in particular for correspondents to be stationed in each
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I.I. Chundrigar Road, Karachi
t a bilateral dialogue last month in Islamabad,
delegates expressed a strong desire for India
and Pakistan to “free themselves from the
bitter legacy of tension and acrimony” and
stressed the need for “peace with justice and equity”
for both sides.
Organised by the Regional Peace Institute and supported by the Hans Seidel Foundation, the high-powered meeting held on June 14, brought together prominent politicians, diplomats and journalists from both
Indian delegates led by former petroleum minister
Mani Shankar Aiyar included former external affairs
minister Salman Khurshid, Ambassador N. N. Jha,
Dileep Padgaonkar, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sanjeev
Ahluwalia, Anil Padmanabhan, Dr Ved Pratap Vaidik,
Sudheendra Kulkarni, Dr Zoya Hasan, Barkha Dutt,
Amit Baruah and Aakar Patel.
The Pakistan delegation, led by for-
“Jinnah House”: Delegates urged India to let
Pakistan open its consulate in Mumbai. File photo
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri (left) and Mani Shankar
Aiyar: “Milne Do”. File photo: PTI
mer foreign minister and RPI chairperson Khurshid
Mahmud Kasuri, included Gen. (retd) Ehsan ul Haq,
co-chairperson, RPI; Raoof Hasan, executive director;
Dr Hafiz Pasha; Shahnaz Wazirali; Riaz H Khokhar;
Bushra Gohar; Farhat Ali; Aziz Ahmad Khan; Shahid
Malik; Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani; M. Ziauddin
Ahmad; Arif Nizami; and Dr Moeed Pirzada.
According to a recent press release, participants appreciated the
positive tone and content of the
meeting between Prime Ministers
Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi and
hoped that the proposed meeting of
the foreign secretaries will lead to a resumption of the bilateral dialogue, suspended for over five years now. “This
could bring about an extremely meaningful change in the atmosphere in our two countries as
well as the entire region”.
The participants agreed that the governments
should discuss all issues, including contentious ones
like Kashmir and terrorist violence. They strongly condemned all acts of terrorist and other forms of vio-
lence irrespective of the perpetrators or victims.
Both governments should “take all necessary steps
to combat forces of religious extremism and to promote our common heritage of religious freedom, tolerance, plurality, peace and brotherhood,” says the
Enhanced connectivity in the economic and social
sectors can greatly contribute to furthering the
prospects of peace, they said, highlighting the key role
that the media needs to play in this respect.
Participants stressed the need to allow the people
of both countries to meet. They urged the easing and
simplification of visa procedures, suggesting automatic visas for many categories, “to enable a wide
range of professionals as well as tourists to travel from
one country to the other”.
Pakistan and India need to fight two fights: the one
within and the one without. “The fight within relates
to addressing the fear factor and the fight without is
to engage with each other in an irreversible and interrupted dialogue that encompasses all areas of contention.”
The statement urges India to open a consulate
in Karachi and Pakistan to do so in Mumbai. The
Indian government, in keeping with its promise
in the late seventies, should hand over Jinnah
House in Mumbai to Pakistan to open its consular office, adds the statement, ignoring the
legal wrangling over the property.
The two governments must engage
with each other and to transcend the bitter legacy
of the past and focus on “the underprivileged and impoverished people of the region”, says the statement.
Such reconciliation will benefit the entire
South-Asian region immensely, ushering in “an unprecedented era of multidimensional progress and
A peace initiative whose time has come...
‘Destination Peace’: A commitment by the Jang Group, Geo and The Times of India Group to
create an enabling environment that brings the people of Pakistan and India closer together,
contributing to genuine and durable peace with honour between our countries.