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Pakistan next on line ?
By Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Taliban's destruction of ancient statutes is an extreme action of a state power. It has destroyed a heritage that was created by people of that land in thousands of years. In Pakistan it has not happened yet, but one cannot rule out such a possibility if the Taliban- like primitive minded forces take over the country. Many would contest such a projection, pointing out fundamental difference between populations of Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, if rising sectarian divide in Pakistan can lead to killing of hundreds of innocent citizens who will save pieces of paper, clay and stone embodying art? Already, due to negligence of the state, Pakistan's prime museums have been deprived of priceless pieces of art by greedy influential persons who have smuggled them to the west for financial gains. In any case, state affects the discourse of art and culture in every society.

The state, by taking a certain ideological direction, determines, directly or indirectly, what type of an art is produced and appreciated. A close examination of historical facts reveals that the state determines the choices, sometimes directly like in China and sometimes indirectly like in Pakistan and many other countries. In overtly ideological states, the state directly dictates which type of music (and other forms of art) can be played and which one is banned. In states like Pakistan, choices are determined by control of communication channels.

Pakistani state's complete control over radio and TV determined cultural dimensions in several ways. For example, up until radio had a monopoly over transmission of voice, certain types of music--mostly Urdu ghazal--was the most popular form of singing: Farida Khanam and Mehdi Hasan were considered to be the icons of the music world. After the audio revolution, that made recording and distribution of music manageable by individuals and small firms, different forms of folk music in regional languages started dominating the scene: Ata-Ullah-Eesakhailvi, Abida Parveen and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan became the best sellers. Technological breakthrough made state control redundant.

In the field of visual arts, Pakistani state control of TV determined the contents and the languages to be used. On the contrary, lack of control over the film industry presented a different picture. Since buying a ticket for the movie was purely a choice of the consumers, Punjabi film, reflecting the size of the population dominated the scene.

Due to market conditions, even non Punjabi film directors and producers preferred to make Punjabi movies. Compensation for Punjabi film stars was higher. Therefore, even non Punjabi actors and actresses were forced to learn Punjabi. However, in recent years, starting from Zia era, film industry has been demolished by debilitating taxes.

Similarly, development of languages has always been the prerogative of the state. When the Indian states were dominated by immigrant elites from Iran, Persian was the court language of almost every capital in India except southern parts. When the British started patronizing many native languages, elevating them to be used as official languages of respective provinces, the linguistic scene was changed. Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Sindhi and many other languages were standardized and became the vehicle of expression for the people. On the contrary, due to political or other reasons languages neglected by the British such as Punjabi, Pushto, Baluchi and some others, are barely surviving now. Incidently, most Indian languages (other than languages of south India) were standardized and made useable at the official level by the British colonialists. However, languages neglected by the British have remained so even after the end of the colonial era.

Linguistic politics of the state affects the literacy rates and intellectual discourse. Most of the Indian states (and other countries) with highest literacy rates are those where native languages are used as medium of education. This has been a pattern occurring throughout history. When Latin was the official language of England, literacy was limited to a tiny upper class. However, when Latin was replaced with the French, literacy expanded to sections of the middle classes. Mass literacy in England was accomplished only when English (standardized form of Celtic dialect) was adopted as official language and was made medium of education. Therefore, by preferring one language over the other, the state determines as to who should be educated and who should be left out.

Current cultural conflict between Europe and the US reflects a basic reality as to how much a state intervention can affect the creative arts. In recent years, American music, dance, film, and other forms of arts have been winning European hearts at the popular level. The European aristocracy, still dominating most of the institutions of the states, have been extremely resentful of the American domination of their cultural markets. Fact of the matter is that due to absence of any intervention or control by the state different forms of arts have been thriving in the US.

Every year, new forms of music and dance are created and popularized in the US. On the contrary, cultural discourse controlled by aristocratic traditions abetted by the European states has deprived the societies of creative vibrance so eminent in the US. The US Bill of Rights and freedom of speech--such provisions are lacking in most of the European states till now-- have created an egalitarian society which is more conducive to creative faculties of the individuals in every sphere of life. The Europeans are outmanoeuvered by the US in the cultural field because of their stringent cultural policies. Similar discrepancies exist between India and Pakistan. India, intervening less in the entertainment industry, has a significant edge over Pakistan in film, TV and other forms of artistic expression. If BJP succeeds in its retrogressive cultural revolution, Indian progress in cultural fields will be stalled.

It is evident that the state does not affect society by controlling politics and economy only. On the contrary, every sphere of life is influenced by policies of the state. Pakistani state by adopting regressive policies has harmed the creativity of its citizens. If Pakistani state continues embracing theocratic dictates, ancient artifacts in Harappa, Mohinjodaro and Texila may not be spared by Pakistani Talibans.

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