Sectarian Discourse in Pakistan : Case Study of District Jhang (1979-2009)

Khan, Muhammad Yasir Ali

Sectarianism involves differences, divisions and ruptures with a supposedly homogenous religious community or group, which often ignites flames of religious violence between sects over doctrinal differences. Pakistani society has been the victim of shia-sunni sectarian violence over the last four decades which has engulfed the peace of the country by appearing in various ways. Its appearance in both violent and non-violent ways, has affected almost the whole country but Jhang, a district of Punjab province, stands prominent. Its central position is due to many reasons which include the influence of Shia feudals in the politics, the foundation of Anjuman Sipāh Ṣaḥāba and the demographic proportion of sectarian populations after the establishment of Pakistan. Sectarianism in Jhang attracted the attention of journalistic and academic analysis. The works of Khalid Ahmad, Tahir Kamran, and Mariam Abou Zahab cover the different aspects of the issue. Most of the works discuss historical, political and socio-economic aspects of sectarianism. The present study on the sectarian discourse in Jhang tries to understand the phenomenon by employing the cultural tools of inquiry. It seeks to investigate sectarianism by exploring those sectarian performances, which, inherently, are culture specific. These performances are the parts of discourse. Every discursive position in the shape of a particular viewpoint involves some practices and performances. These performances, according to the newly emerging theories of cultural performance, seek credibility from the audience to achieve a dominant position in a discourse. This credibility is a relationship between the performance and the audience in a particular culture. It is a subjective relationship which varies with the changing dynamics of time and space. Similar discursive formations have differences of structural building in different sets of cultural conditions. The hegemonic status of a particular viewpoint in a particular discourse depends upon the intensity of relationship between the act and the audience in the performances attached with that viewpoint. This relationship is relative, and this relativity keeps the discursivity alive in a discourse. This relativity rather than the absoluteness keeps the struggle alive and reduces the level of inertia in a society. Sectarian performances, in this study, include textual, oral and customary performances. It also includes the concept of cultural script for the examination of cultural sectarian performances. This categorization yearns to explore sectarian texts, sectarian oral traditions and some customary practices. This scheme of research will help to find the cultural roots of sectarianism and will be equally significant for the overall understanding of the issue, which till now, is understood dominantly as religious and to some partially socio-political.

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