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Discrimination Against Hazara? – II

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This is in response to Mr. Kashif Jahangiri’s article that appeared in the News on the 18th of May 2010.

Mr. Jahangiri repeats his claim that the current movement for Hazara Province is a reaction to the “contempt” doled out by Pushtuns to Hazarewals. As I mentioned in my earlier article this labeling is not unique to Pukhtuns and Hazarewals, and it’s also not one sided.

While Mr. Jahangiri bemoans the label of “Punjabi” and the contempt stored in it, I would remind him of the labels “Khocha”, “Akhroat”, and “Phairay Pathanr” etc, that are bestowed on Pukhtuns by Hindko Speakers. Of course I speak of my own experience, and I certainly have not met every Hindkowan in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa to ascertain whether they think of Pukhtuns as mentally deficient, lower life forms. I also can not conclude on the basis of my personal experience whether these comments just end at jest or are signs of deep seated hate in the hearts of Hindkowans? Any conclusion that I draw based on my own experience and anecdotes from my friends and family would be marred by subjectivity. Although the conclusion and evidence would make sense to me, it would definitely not be good enough to be used in a debate.

It is for this reason that I consider a democratically elected provincial assembly as the ideal barometer to judge whether this ethnic labeling is just jest or entrenched racism? And whether the supposed “contempt” and “hatred” of the Pashto speaking electoral base is confirmed by the attitude of their elected leaders? But as mentioned in my last article; Pukhtun majority assemblies have no qualms about electing Hindko Speaking Chief Ministers. Not only that, Hindko Speakers from Hazara Division have graced the Chiefminister-ship of the former NWFP more frequently than people from any other division. Even Pukhtun Nationalists have no qualms about accepting Hindko speakers as their leaders; the champions of the Pukhtunkhwa cause on televised debates, i.e. Haji Adeel and Bashir Bilour are both Hindko Speakers from Peshawar city who are ANP stalwarts. This evidence only highlights the harmony and bonding between these two communities. The sour experiences of a few individuals cannot be used as proof to that not being the case, especially when the evidence in support of the harmony is so massive and undeniable.

Racial discrimination and contempt, that is of any consequence is more than just verbal. The reaction to labeling and name calling subsides as one ages, and is an essential part of growing up. But if this labeling is accompanied by a history of bloodshed and economic exploitation, only then does it have the potential to mobilize whole communities, ethnicities and races into action. For instance, the epitaph “Nigger” just does not refer to the skin color of a race, but has a history of bondage, slavery and exploitation that makes it an alarm bell for those upon whom it is bestowed. Its counterpart “Red Neck” also a racist slur, does not carry the same venom as the “N-Word”, because of a lack of similar history. The Bengalis despite being an outright majority were treated in a despicable manner in Pakistan. President Ayub Khan’s reference to them as “rats” (for which he later apologized) was based on the “Martial Race” concept, which denied our Bengali Brothers many of their constitutional and economic rights. For instance, their representation in the army was negligible; a mere 5% of all the commissioned officers in Pak Army in 1965 (Library of Congress Country Study). Even in development spending the majority in East Pakistan got a much smaller share.  If one is to divide the development expenditure of East Pakistan over that of West Pakistan, then from 1950 to 1970 they got just 40% of the amount that was spent on West Pakistan, in other words for every Rs. 100 spent in the minority West Pakistan, Rs. 40 were spent in the majority East Pakistan (Planning Commission of Pakistan). Therefore, I completely agree with Mr. Jahangiri when he says that the treatment doled out to Bengalis by us Pakistanis was too blood soaked to be compared with the communities in our discussion. It is also for this lack of bloodshed and a lack of economic exploitation between Hindkowans and Pukhtuns that the case presented by Mr. Jahangiri does not hold against rational scrutiny.

I also agree with Mr. Jahangiri when he says that the dismissive approach adopted by West Pakistan, in dealing with the genuine demands regarding Bangla Bhasha, was one of the key reasons for the creation of Bangladesh. Sadly this dismissive approach was not limited to Bangla Bhasha and was adopted towards the renaming of the NWFP as well. What makes the demand for Bangla Bhasha and Pukhtunkhwa legitimate is that both were backed by a numerical majority. The officialdom of Bangla Bhasha was also resisted by the Bihari Minority at that time, but as Mr. Jahangiri would agree, the dismissal of that legitimate demand was a wrong incurred by the Bengalis, a wrong that cannot be justified by quoting the opposition of Biharis. Similarly, the minority opposition to the name Pukhtunkhwa should not have been used to incur a similar wrong on the Pukhtuns.

One has to acknowledge the fact that the name Pukhtunkhwa has been approved by provincial assemblies, both with as well as without ANP majority, and thus is much more than a mere “unreasonable” demand of Pashtun Nationalists. Furthermore, the name Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, is a result of a series of compromises on the part of those who have been demanding it. One of the earliest criticisms of the acronym NWFP was done by the founding fathers of Pakistan. The Historic Pamphlet “Now or Never” (1933) which was the Declaration of Pakistan refers to the NWFP as “Afghan Province”. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, decried the name NWFP by saying “It is wrongful because it suppresses the social entity of these people.” The name Pakistan whose first “a” referred to the name “Afghania” incurred a major aesthetic loss, when this suggestion of the founding fathers of Pakistan was rejected. The rejection of Afghania was followed by the rejection of Pukhtunistan and then Pukhtunkhwa; names acceptable to and demanded by a majority of the Province, but denied due to minority opposition. This hyphenated Pukhtunkhwa was actually a suggestion from those who opposed the name and its acceptance showed magnanimity on part of the Pashtuns, but their chastisement rather than appreciation for agreeing to it is mind boggling to say the least.

The demand for smaller provinces is a justified demand for which our constitution has provisions. These four provinces were created to administer the population back in 1947, given the massive rise in our number since then, the creation of smaller provinces makes sense even on an administrative level. But unlike Mr. Jahangiri I would not dub the Sooba Hazara movement as a reaction to the label “Punjabiyaan”. I would not define this outpouring on the streets and calls for complete shutter-downs as a reaction to mere name calling.

Furthermore, there are Awans, Gujars, Abbasis and Jatts in Hazara who do not have a Pukhtun lineage and for whom the “denial of true identity” argument as used by Mr. Jahangiri, does not hold. Given that, I am confused as to what Mr. Jahangiri means when he says “…it is the rejection of the identity of Hazarewals that is being exploited to flare up emotions.” How is the slur “Punjabiyaan” a rejection of the identity of Awans, Gujars, Jatts, and other Non-Pukhtun Hazaraewals?

There is a fair chance that for the campaigners of the Sooba Hazara Movement, getting a province means a true realization of their identity, which is neither Pukhtun nor Punjabi but the Hazaraewal identity. Maybe they feel that with their own separate province they would be able to get an even higher level of development and prosperity. More power to them if that is the case, non-violent and peaceful democratic struggle is the only way for the achievement of their goals. Their efforts would be a fine addition to the history of democratic struggles in Pakistan and would make this country a stronger federation as well as a more mature democracy.

An edited version appeared in the The News on May 20th, 2010, under the title “Name-calling didnt trigger it”

Written by Imran Khan

June 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

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