At the advent of independence, the middle class of the Punjab was mostly constituted by the Hindus and Sikhs. When India was partitioned, the Punjab was also partitioned into the Bharati Punjab and Pakistani Punjab. We are presently concerned only with the latter where the upper class consisted mainly of the feudal lords and the lower one of the Muslim and Christian working class. Not that these classes did not include the Hindus and Sikhs as their components. When the province was partitioned, almost all the Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India with the result that their migration created a vacuum mostly in the middle class. This was unfortunate; but this did happen. Consequently, the Muslims from the working class got sucked up into that vacuum, who then constituted the middle class of the post-partition Punjab on the Pakistan side. There are of course exceptions which, however, do not contradict the generality of this statement. I shall record here, in support of my analysis, only two narrations of which I am the first hand recipient – one by a gentleman who was a salesman at a jewellery shop and the other by a budding lawyer, at the advent of independence.
The owner of the jewellery shop was a Hindu gentleman who was also a part of the jewellery industry. When he left Pakistan for India, the shop was taken over by the Muslim salesman (the narrator) although the manager of the shop was a Parsi gentleman who was in fact the salesman’s boss. The salesman would come to the shop all the way from Model Town on a bike, bare headed, in the heat of the Lahore summer. The Parsi manager, taking pity over the salesman, bought him a hat to protect him against the Summer Sun. The manager’s pity did not sit well with the Hindu owner who objected to his act of kindness. When finally the Muslim employee usurped the business of the Hindu owner, the former flourished and became a millionaire. Thus the Muslim working class man became rich overnight, a part of the middle class of the Punjab. He would go to Europe almost every year on holidays or business and send a picture post card from there, religiously, to his former super boss, the Hindu emigrant, to remind him how the fortunes had changed. This was all very well for the Muslims of the Punjab to whom I wish prosperity. But the question is: was it also good for the so-called new middle class of the Punjab? Did the social uplift also mean cultural uplift? Did it also mean automatically the change of values and attitudes? Unfortunately, no. Lack of respect for subordinates, greed for self-aggrandisement and show-off, etc., are amongst the manifestations of lack of synchronisation of social and cultural uplifts.
The gap between the social and cultural uplifts is, for one thing natural, and for the other due to the lack of wisdom and foresight on the part of the social and political leadership. Or, did such leadership exist at all? When I migrated to Pakistan in 1950, some sort of political leadership did exist; but, in my opinion, no social leadership, worth the name, existed, not to speak of wisdom and foresight on its part. In those days, the mood of everyone was that things would take care of themselves – no special effort was required for any uplift. If you come to think of it, this is the root cause of every national problem today. This, however, is my opinion for whatever it is worth.
The other narrator was none other than the late Mr Mahmood Ali Kasuri, an ex-law minister and a highly respected legal counsel of the country. He was once asked to comment on the state of legal practice before and after the partition. His comments were as follows: “The legal profession, before the partition, was dominated by the Hindus and British. There was a tradition of hard work in the profession. Once the Hindus and British left Pakistan, even one eyed persons like me became the leading light of the blind people.” What he actually said can be translated like:” ham jaise kane, andhon mein raja ban gaye.” Even a person of Mr Kasuri’s stature considered himself a one-eyed man as compared to those who practised and administered law before the partition of the country. But, today every Tom, Dick, and Harry is enrolled as a member of the bar. Consequently, the lower class of lawyers has become the middle class of the province and they even claim to be the elite of the society. When I was president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, I realised that some members of the Association, in fact, deserved to be behind bars. They did not hesitate even to forge documents to “help” their clients. I have been lately informed that some members of the bar do not even possess law degrees. Can such a society survive? Neither the leaders of the bar nor those of the society seem to be bothered. They would be bothered only about such matters as might yield something substantially material to them – not otherwise. What a society!
My conclusion is that the reason why nothing good is coming out of the efforts of our so called “leaders” is that everybody is occupying a position higher than he deserves. Everybody needs to be put in his place.
Returning to the position of classes in our society, it must be said that the noveau riche middle class need not despair us. It takes only a few generations for such a middle class to become a real middle class – with all the requisite values, culture and all that. Two generations have already passed without any meaningful results. But, there is still hope from the future generations. The delay is because of the lack of leadership, both political and social. God willing, we will also overcome this hurdle.
Na ho naumeed naumeedi zawal-e-ilm o irfan hai, etc, etc.
The writer is a retired judge of the Lahore High Court
The Nation, 28/7/2008