«SUMMARY | APRIL 2 WORKING PAPER No. 030 | May 2015 Religion, Land and Politics: Shrines and Literacy in Punjab, Pakistan Adeel Malik and Rinchan Ali ...»
Probing the political dimension further, we investigate the determinants of political selection. We demonstrate that the religious and material power exercised through shrines is historically embedded: regions where a greater number of shrines were mentioned in British colonial documents are also more likely to have politically influential shrines today. Representing the interplay between religion, land and politics, political shrines enshrine a powerful structural inequality with important consequences for development. To our knowledge, this is the first systematic empirical assessment of the relationship between shrines and development.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. The second section briefly discusses the related literature and develops a broad historical narrative on shrines and development. The following section describes the data and sets out the paper’s empirical strategy. The main empirical results are discussed in the section after.
The fifth probes the political dimension in greater detail, and the next section offers supporting qualitative evidence. The final section concludes.
SHRINES AND DEVELOPMENTA Related Literature Apart from enriching the existing literature on the determinants of literacy, our study feeds into several interrelated strands of literature. Firstly, it adds to the growing discourse on religion and development (Barro 2003;
Guiso et al. 2003; Noland 2005)3. A parallel literature in political science links religion with democracy, investigating the role of religious beliefs and world view on attitudes towards democracy. Religion is shown to have contrasting effects on democracy. By fostering conservative attitudes, religiosity can undermine democracy. At 3 This is a selected list of references in an expanding field. For a detailed introduction into the literature, see Iyer (2008).
the same time, religiosity can encourage trust and engagement with civic institutions, thereby promoting democratic participation (Bloom et al. 2012, 2013).
SUMMARY | APR Existing literature that links religion with democratization and development is largely focused on the role of “beliefs, behaviour and belonging”. Empirical studies rely on large-N analysis and cross-country survey data.
Past literature has paid limited attention to studying religion’s role in its specific context. It has largely ignored the underlying social and institutional structures in which religion is usually embedded. This is an important omission. As Iyer (2008) argues in her wide-ranging review of the field: “The role of religion in economic development warrants a nuanced perspective that integrates economic theory with an understanding of socio-political structures”. Our emphasis on understanding religion as part of historically embedded structural inequality precisely underscores that spirit. Development is often characterized by feedback effects. The interplay between education, inequality and politics is central to major debates on democracy and development.
This study also informs the discourse on Islam and politics. Like the religion and democratization literature, it is also largely focused on political orientations and attitudes and ignores the structures through which the impact of religion could be mediated. Specifically, we make a direct contribution to an influential literature at the intersection of Islamic studies and history that throws light on the spiritual and political ecosystem associated with shrines. Studies in this tradition have considered the impact of shrines on nationalism (Gilmartin 1979, 1988), systems of political control (Ansari 1992; Aziz 2001) and moral authority (Gilmartin 1984; Metcalf 1984). None of this work has broached the development dimension in much detail. Our paper makes a first systematic effort at probing the relationship between shrines and development. Finally, this study contributes to a smaller, more localized literature, focusing on explaining regional variation in Punjab’s development outcomes (Cheema et al.
2008; BNU 2012). While this empirical literature is largely concerned with proximate explanations, this paper lays emphasis on relatively deep determinants of literacy.
Historical Background This section develops a broader historical narrative on shrines and development. We argue that this relationship is primarily shaped by local political economy. Although the influence of shrines is built on “sacred genealogies”, their material power is shaped by the negotiation between the sacred and the secular or, what David Gilmartin describes as, the interface between the “universal and the particular”. Given this emphasis on political economy, our focus is on the “this-worldly” influence of shrines. 4 The ensuing discussion extensively relies on detailed archival evidence from colonial District Gazetteers and various historical monographs. 5 The discussion below is organized around three inter-connected themes: dependence, privilege and persistence. Central to the intermediary role of shrine is the dialectic of dependence. Both the state and the subject are dependent, in their respective constituencies, on shrine guardians. Such dependence translates into material privilege that is consolidated through politics. A recurring theme in this discourse is one of persistence: the power of notable shrines is historically embedded and has persisted through time.
DEPENDENCE Since times immemorial shrines have played an important role in the religious culture and political economy of Punjab. The great sufi mystics from Baba Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar of Pakpattan and Shaikh Bahawal Haq Zakariyya of Multan to Sayyid Jalaluddin Bokhari of Uch have dominated the popular imaginary of Punjab. Sufi saints served as important conduits of religious transmission. As Gilmartin (1988: 40) notes, “many rural Punjabi tribes have traced their conversion [to Islam] to these medieval saints”. The physically imposing shrines dotted along Punjab are not only architectural masterpieces but also shape the lived reality of citizens. The tombs of saints are revered for their inclusive approach and social services. People from all walks of life, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, regularly pay their homage to these holy sites. For the seeker, the shrine provides not just a sight of spiritual devotion but also a temporary refuge from a precarious existence. It provides food to the poor, house to the homeless and traveller, medicine to the ill, and solace to the depressed.
This popular culture of respect and reverence is solidified through a rich tradition of annual festivals and fairs, where pilgrims congregate, markets are formed and networks are consolidated. Major religious festivals often coincide with key agricultural seasons, and an elaborate bazaar economy thrives at the footsteps of these shrines. Such movement of people and resources has continued for generations. Attendance at these festivals (urs) can sometimes run into hundreds of thousands. Even in colonial times some shrines received 50,000 people or more on an annual urs (see Appendix 1). Shrines receive public offerings that sometimes run into millions of rupees. These festivals have “marked many shrines as important centres of rural economic and political power” 4 Inspired by Francis Robinson’s distinction between “this-worldly and other-worldly”.
5 We rely, in particular, on David Gilmartin’s magnum opus, Empire and Islam, and Malcolm Darling’s Punjab Peasant.
(Gilmartin 1988: 43). Central to this is the distributive function of shrines, whereby offerings of land, livestock and produce are collected as alms and partially redistributed amongst the local population.
SUMMARY | APR Importantly, shrines are embedded, not just in the local welfare economy, but are also sometimes part of extractive institutions. Aided by superstition, ill-health and economic deprivation many shrine subjects are tied in a vicious cycle of dependence. Numerous accounts of this can be found in Darling (1928). Speaking of the wellknown connection between shrines and health, Darling notes that “superstitions are rife and the evil eye is universally dreaded. Since medicine has no power over the latter, medical aid is little sought, and those who are ill prefer to pay their hereditary pīr large sums in order to invoke his supernatural powers”.6 Being more prone to superstition and illiteracy, women are particularly attracted to shrines. Given their greater concern for family problems in matters of income, birth and death, women are more drawn to the spiritual support system offered by shrines. 7 For men shrines offer a domain of both allegiance and obedience. In the true spirit of Taqlid, murids uphold the “unquestioned authority” of the sajjāda nishīns. The world of shrines is one of tightly bound networks of devotees that sometimes extend to neighbouring villages, towns, districts and even provinces. 8 As suggested below, such undisputed loyalty of devotees serves as a crucial political resource that paves the way for a shrine family’s entry into politics. Guardians of influential shrines, much like tribal chieftains, routinely deploy the tools of patronage and control. Their power blends with local structures of control that are adept at enframing captive subjects. Recalling a description of the Alipur tehsil of Muzaffargarh, Darling (1928) notes how “every five miles or so is the house of a tribal or religious leader, who maintains a band of retainers to enforce his influence on his poorer neighbours”.
This can reduce the life of the poor to one of virtual serfdom. The ordinary cultivator of Punjab, we learn,
is “triply bound” by three scourges: the landlord, pir, and kirar (money lender). Each, according to Darling (1928:
101), “contributes to their fetter”. On another instance, he observes: “The poor man pays blackmail for his cattle to these local chieftains and for his soul to his pir, who may or may not live in his neighbourhood, but visits his followers to receive his dues” (Darling 1928: 99). Reinforcing this message, Aziz (2001: 31) argues that, “as lords of the shrine… they commanded both the body and the soul of the poor villager”. Even females are vulnerable to exploitation. Instances of sexual harassment and rape are a common occurrence, and routinely become the subject of press reports and literary caricatures.
This regime of coercion is facilitated through control of resources. The pīrs are often caricatured as leading a rich and extravagant life. In one commentary, Albinia (2008), they are described as owning “expensive Italian clothes, fleets of Mercedes cars and credit cards from American Express”. Donations from urs9 are a key source. “A good urs”, Albinia notes, “can bring in 30 lakh rupees”. But their real power is derived through state patronage.
PRIVILEGE In their search for legitimacy, local intermediation and “peace in the countryside”, rulers have often turned to the pīrs. Neither Mughal or Sikh nor the British could have ruled without their administrative support. With dependence comes privilege. The Mughals and Sikhs rewarded the loyalty of pīrs through land grants, a practice that continued in British rule and was complemented with other forms of appeasement, such as honours and appointments. Given “their hereditary bases of power” the pīrs resembled tribal leaders “who were readily susceptible to the common forms of state political control” (Gilmartin 1979: 488). As a class, the pīrs of Punjab are known for their opportunism and political expediency. As defenders of status-quo, they have always supported men in power.
The British found in them ready allies. The leading pīr families supported the British in overthrowing Sikh rule and quelling the 1857 uprising in Punjab. Later, in early twentieth century, they conveniently distanced themselves from the anti-British Khilafat Movement, a precursor to the Indian independence movement. 10 They aided the colonial administration in its War effort, contributing both men and resources. Such services were amply 6 The account pertains to Attock District (Darling 1928: 107).
7 Popular accounts, journalistic as well as literary, and District Gazetteers are often replete with references to the greater pull of shrines for females. As Aziz (2001: 129) argues, this is also true for urban regions: “The women of the urban middle class have exactly the same mentality and attitude towards religion and family problems as their rustic sisters”. For the female world of shrines, see Jeffrey (1979).
8 Many pirs of South Punjab have a wide constituency of followers in Sind province as well.
9 As defined before, urs refers to the annual religious festival.
10 The Khilafat Movement was a broader protest, led mainly by the Muslims of India but also supported by Gandhi, against the breakup of
the Ottoman Caliphate.
rewarded. Instances of colonial patronage to shrine guardians are extensively documented in the historical literature. The 1904 Gazetteer of the Bahawalpur State, for example, contains several records of landed estates (jagirs) and wells being awarded to pīrs.11 SUMMARY | APR Shrine caretakers in Multan, Montgomery, Muzaffargarh, and Dera Ghazi Khan, among others, were given jagirs (grants in perpetuity). Supplementary grants were offered in the form of revenue free gardens, orchids and vegetable farms. When the crown wasteland was brought under canal irrigation, pīrs were given preferential access to colony land. Occasional references to these can be found in the historical literature. The pīr of a “powerful shrine in Attock District”, for example, “was given a personal landed gentry grant of ten rectangles in 1916, along with the lease of 15,000 acres of rakh land in his home district” (Ali 1988: 106). In Multan 19,751 acres of land was reserved for religious shrines, with 99% of these grants allocated to Muslim shrines. 12 Other prominent shrines that received land grants included: Sultan Bahu and Uch Gul Imam Shah from Jhang; Shergarh and Pakpattan Sharif from Montgomery District; Shah Gardez, Musa Pak Shahid and Shaikh Kabir Qureshi from Multan;