In Pakistan, appreciation of Indus Valley Civilisation ties in with attempts to erase its Hindu past


The ruins of Mohenjo-Daro. PHOTO/Wikimedia Commons

The message is clear – Pakistan’s pre-Islamic history is acceptable as long as it is separated from its Hindu influence.

In many ways, the Indus Valley Civilisation transformed urban living. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, two of the most popularly recognised cities from this ancient civilisation that sprang up around the rivers of Punjab and the Indus, were the first cities in the world to have a sophisticated sewage system. According to the standards of the ancient world, they were multi-cultural societies where traders from Afghanistan, Persia (now Iran), Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria) and even Egypt brought their wares and goods. The mighty Indus became their highway, opening up the world to these cities.

But sewage is not the only way these cities were unique. In all of the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation, of which Mohenjo-Daro is assumed to be the largest, there are no remains of a grand palace or a special temple. Rather, it is conjectured that these cities had community centres, including a community pool. This has led several archaeologists and historians to hypothesise that these societies were in a way much more “democratic” than some of the other ancient cities with a palace or a fort at the centre of the town. However, one has to pay heed to the use of the term democratic in this context for its contemporary connotation. It is highly likely that much like ancient Greece, this “democracy” was limited to a particular gender, class or caste of people. There is also a theory that instead of a king, these cities had a priest-king who, while not a monarch, was more equal in this democratic system than others.

Historians and archaeologists also point out that the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation were not governed by an overarching state but run as city-states with localised governments. The age of empires, at least in ancient India, had still not taken root.

Rival histories

There is, therefore, much to appreciate in these ancient cities. In India, it sometimes feels as if this appreciation has been amplified to an absurd level. In recent years, with the rise of the mythological and historical fiction genres, popular writers have crafted narratives about an ancient India that was “pure” from the “corrupting” influences of Muslims. This is imagined to be a time when India was technologically advanced with its indigenously developed helicopters, surgeries and even bombs. In these myths, the ingenuity of the simple innovations, such as a sewage system that truly transformed the world, is lost.

On this side of the border, the situation is reversed. India is projected to be an impure, uncivilised land that first saw light with the arrival of the Muslims. This narrative is created particularly through school textbooks, which rarely focus on the pre-Islamic history of the land. Even when there is mention of this pre-Islamic history, it is in a certain context, to highlight the ultimate ascendancy of the Muslim civilisation. Thus, on both sides of the border, it seems children are educated with mirror opposite images of each other.

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