Historians or history enthusiasts often chose to write or work on the political issues of the subcontinent. This ancient land of conflicts, cultures and histories has given the writers, thinkers, philosophers and polemicists a plethora of arguments to choose from. 1971 war which gave birth to Bangladesh, is one of those arguments, chosen by Anam Zakaria. The independence, which Bangladesh achieved on that seminal year is still the country's greatest achievement. The nation hails the year 1971 as the most important in its calendar.
However, 1971 may hold different meaning for interpreters, including the two parties involved in the war that broke out after the Pakistan army's notorious Operation Searchlight on March 25. Nine months into the fight, Pakistan's defeated military regime, saw the events as the "Fall of Decca" (now Dhaka). India, Pakistan's arch enemy, considers themselves the saviour of the Bengalis, who decided to align with the regional giant in order to lend momentum to the war efforts that the then Soviet Union was all set to back. So, the claims and counter claims aside, there are laired narratives that are now available around the region on the issue of the war and historical reckoning which comes with hindsight.
Aanam Zakaria deals with these multi layered narratives. It is the young writer's third book. She is a prolific writer on the turmoil of sub-continental politics. Zakaria's previous two books "The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis" (2015) and "Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan-Administered Kashmir" (2018), also dealt with the region's volatile political realities and series of events that rocked the region and its aftermath.
Her latest book, "1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India" delves into the narrative of the subcontinental political catharsis of the 1971.
Zakaria sauntered through the subject matter with relative ease as she has an academic background in international development from McGill University and worked previously with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) in 2010.
She was the head of the Oral History Project of CAP and Exchange-for-Change Project and School and College Outreach Tours in Lahore and Islamabad. Zakaria interviewed first and second generations of Pakistanis, opening communication channels between schoolchildren in India and Pakistan and Pakistan and USA for her projects.
Zakaria found out from the repository of oral history she inscribed for her book, that the 1971 narratives that exist in the aggrieved countries, are different from each other. Bangladesh's version of the war defers completely from that of Pakistan. In India the variation curves out a newer route.
"The oral history interviews I conducted across Pakistan and India revealed that there was no singular narrative of 1947. This made me think of how 1971 too must hold different meanings throughout the region. It is defined as dismemberment or the 'Fall of Decca' in Pakistan, hailed as 'liberation' in Bangladesh and reinforces the 'saviour' narrative in India. I was curious to explore these unique meanings 1971 has taken on post 1971 and the ways in which the year continues to shape national imagination in all three countries," Zakaria told Indo-Asian News Service in an interview.
Surely, the variation exists not only on research journals or history books but in primary school syllabus also. Children are being taught from an early age, a vicarious version of truth.
"In Pakistani textbooks, children are told that Hindus can never become the true friends of Muslims. In Indian textbooks, the narrative on the independence movement socialises children to perceive Pakistan as an illegitimate achievement. My worry is that in present-day context where the majority of Indians and Pakistanis never meet each other, these texts have the power of becoming the only 'truth' children have access to." states Zakaria.
After discovering these anomalies, she tries to assimilate the variation of understanding on 1971 in her book. Zakaria investigates the institutionalisation of narratives and memories, regarding the historic year.
She did a lot of interviews for the book. She talked to a lot of people who knew the history of 1971, not through books or institutionalised memoirs but by living through it.
Anam Zakaria's book tries to register the events of 1971 and how it remained alive in the memories of the citizens of the subcontinent, taking into consideration the value they put into those memories and the value their accounts add to the genuine history. More importantly, her book attempts to gauge how this historical year has been institutionalised for politics and nationalism.
"1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India" will be published by Random Penguin House in India and will be available in Amazon.