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Identity formation through national calendar: holidays and commemorations in Pakistan

Nations and Nationalism

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This article contributes to academic literature on the project of identity formation in a postcolonial nation‐state. The article argues that a nation‐state emphasising certain aspects of the past for commemorative or celebratory purposes, while suppressing or ignoring the memories of some other event or historical figure, are both parts of the same process. Both these processes, in different ways, seek to give a certain direction to the narrative about the history of the nation and the nation‐state. These aspects of national memory and amnesia have been explained through the prism of national/public holidays while foregrounding the case study of Pakistan. The article argues that although this process of shaping a specific narrative (referred to as commemorative narrative in this article by using Yael Zerubavel's work) is common to every project of identity formation, its peculiarity is more pronounced in a postcolonial state like Pakistan, which has certain cut‐off dates and ruptures but is, simultaneously, eager to emphasise continuities in its trajectory and antiquity in historical tradition. The study of the process of developing a national calendar in case of Pakistan will show that identity formation is a transient process in which various identarian values, political considerations and social processes play an important part. In particular, it requires an attempt on the part of the state to try impose a homogenising historical narrative by envisaging a national calendar, i.e. by announcing a national or public holiday. This helps accord prestige to persons credited as founding fathers or ideologues, ascribe solemnity to days remembering wars and festivity to mark independence or religious occasions. By discussing these themes in detail, this exploratory study of the history of national calendar will lend an alternative lens through which to look into the processes of identity formation in postcolonial nation‐states in general.