South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Cultural invasion
S M Hali

The interest of the Pakistani public in the Indian entertainment industry has been aroused to the extent that Pakistani private television news bulletins extensively air reports about the latest Bollywood releases and developments in the Indian film industry
US philosopher Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 to May 7, 1915) once commented: “He who influences the thought of his times influences the times that follow.” This lesson has been learnt well by India, although it did not lack tutelage on the subject because of the maxims provided by that master of deceit and guile in statecraft, Chanakya, who professed that the “mind is the ultimate weapon”. The Indian electronic media, comprising film, television, radio and social media, has been more than adept in the art of promoting Indian culture. Sushma Swaraj, the current Indian external affairs minister, in her earlier tenure as minister for information and broadcasting (MOIB) under the BJP regime, had declared that India does not need to invade Pakistan physically as it can conquer the minds and thoughts of Pakistanis through an onslaught of Indian television and film content.

India has indeed invaded Pakistan culturally through the use of all-pervasive media tools. Pakistani society comprises of two schools of thought: one pursuing an orthodox bent of mind and the other a relatively liberal one. The Pakistani electronic media had a head start over India and its content was so strong that it was being followed with interest, awe and admiration in India too. For Pakistani viewers, Indian television’s only appeal was the broadcasting of Hindi films but, before the advent of the satellite dish, only the residents of the border areas could view them. Pakistani television content was moderate and devoid of propaganda elements since it was directed towards domestic audiences. Moreover, the Pakistani electronic media, until 2002, comprised of only the state-owned television channel, PTV, and the PBC radio network. Satellite television and the cable network, which made some ingress into Pakistani viewership in the 1990s, enabled Indian television channels to be accessible to Pakistani viewers. The Kargil incident prompted the Indian government to ban the ingress of Pakistani television channels into India, perhaps because India wanted to insulate its viewers from the truth regarding the Kargil operations, compelling them to accept the Indian version. Pakistan also followed suit and banned Indian television channels from its cable network.
With the advent of media freedom and the granting of television and FM radio licenses to the private sector, unbridled power was gained by the private media sector. India found it opportune to invade Pakistan’s airwaves by entering into agreements with various Pakistani entertainment television channels to air Indian dramas, talk shows, song and dance programmes and even quiz and infotainment content for children. Indian movies also started being aired on Pakistani television channels and, at a later stage, the government of Pakistan relaxed conditions for Indian movies to be screened in Pakistani cinema houses.
The result has been explosive; the Indian cultural invasion has pervaded Pakistani minds, especially the youth and the tender thoughts of children. The interest of the Pakistani public in the Indian entertainment industry has been aroused to the extent that Pakistani private television news bulletins extensively air reports about the latest Bollywood releases and updates regarding developments in the Indian film industry.
Resultantly, Sushma Swaraj’s prediction of invading Pakistan culturally appears to have been fulfilled. Song and dance tableaus being presented by Pakistani school children now render Indian film songs and dances instead of following Allama Iqbal, Khawaja Altaf Hussain Hali, Faiz Ahmed Faiz or Hafeez Jallandheri’s nationalistic poems. The Pakistani fashion industry, even our bridal couture, is under Indian influence. So much so that Pakistani children have started mimicking and emulating Hindu customs in their social events. This cultural invasion has softened the stance of average Pakistanis towards India, eliminating enmity, hatred and promoting overtures of friendship. The latter would have been welcome if the Indian government, its intelligence agency RAW and the current Indian national security advisor, Ajit Doval, had not been engaged in machinations to destabilise Pakistan.
Under these circumstances, the government of Pakistan, especially the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB), which appears preoccupied in day-to-day political firefighting, must adopt policies to check this Indian cultural invasion. One step could be to outright ban Indian movies from being screened in Pakistani cinema houses and Indian television content on local media. This would be a harsh move and could be counterproductive since, in this age of information technology, even the ban of YouTube in Pakistan has not been effective as the youth manages to view it through proxy servers. Instead, the MoIB must adopt measures to motivate the Pakistani film and television industry to produce content superior to Indian media instead of making cheap copies so that Pakistani viewers slowly lose interest in Indian programmes and this cultural invasion can be checked effectively with a counter-narrative.