Pakistan plans to introduce a new law according to which, anyone who calls a place in Pakistan by a different name than notified by the government, even if its unintentional, will be punished to do so.
The objective stated behind the proposed legislation is to preserve national identity and heritage. The proposed naming system would supposedly respect the diverse ethnicities, beliefs and faiths, but the country’s track record does not inspire confidence.
The federal government also aims to establish a new mechanism to name roads and places as quite a few places across the country are named arbitrarily. For example, Salman Rashid, the travel writer, a few years ago found a that a road junction in Lahore was named after a local miscreant.
Historically, “national identity and heritage” has been defined by Pakistan quite narrowly. Sculpted out of “Hindu India”, the state felt it to be necessary to distance from the “Hindu” past. Consequently, ancient cultural and religious traditions that had been absorbed by the Muslims were termed un-Islamic and shunned. Traces of the country’s non-Muslim past slowly faded away as hundreds of temples and gurdwaras were taken over by land grabbers, sometimes with the tacit support of state institutions.
Even with the Islamic tradition, only a particular kind of “heritage” was owned and promoted. Muslim invaders such as Mahmud Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghori and Ahmad Shah Abdali became symbols of our “heritage” because it suited the narrative the state wanted to promote vis-a-vis India, whereas Sufi poets, who actually had a profound impact on the culture of this land, were not given the same importance because of their emphasis on religious syncretism.
It has been seen across the country, roads, villages and towns named after Hindu or Sikh personalities were renamed to reclaim the “Pakistani identity” – Ram Bagh in Karachi was renamed as Aram Bagh, Krishan Nagar in Lahore became Islampura, Wan Radha Ram, a small town in Kasur was renamed to Habibabad, Bhai Pheru was renamed as Phool Nagar.