Punjab Research Group

People’s history of the Punjab: Caste oppression, conversions and Sufism

Posted in Articles by Pippa on February 10, 2009

By Manzur Ejaz

The enigma of the ruled converting en masse to the religion of the rulers is best depicted by the following joke: in the last days of British rule, after a demonstration in Lahore, a desi garbage handling lady, Laveezan, asked her friend Mary what the demonstration was all about. Mary replied, “They are demanding freedom from us.”

Like Laveezan and Mary, Punjabi Muslims identify themselves with the Islamic rulers of India: being followers of the same religion as the ruling community, they consider themselves a part of it. However, the economic status of lower-caste converts to Islam remained the same throughout the nine centuries of Muslim rule in India. The same holds true for the British period: converts to Christianity didn’t find themselves any better for it.

Conversions to Islam in India have been the subject of furious debate. Hindu fundamentalists assert that the conversions were obtained by force, while many Muslims argue that they were voluntary; that lower-caste Hindus were attracted to Islam by the Sufis of Punjab. The truth probably lies somewhere in between these two extreme views. The controversy however makes the examination of the dynamics which made Muslims a majority in Punjab no less important.

To read the full article: http://www.wichaar.com/news/315/ARTICLE/11994/2009-02-05.html

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