Confessions of a Punjabi Girl
A Few days ago, I told the editor of the Baloch Hal that I wanted to write for the paper. I see the Baloch Hal as an endeavor, being a part of which would be nothing less than a privilege for any Pakistani. But what could I possibly write about? The things which bother us are predominantly too “Pakistani” that are, ethnically, irrelevant to many in Balochistan.
They are irrelevant because the people over there are routinely abducted and are mercilessly butchered. Yet, this does not stir the national conscience. But what else do I know about Balochistan? Hardly much! I only know about the eventual tragedies resulting from decades’ long negligent behavior and unfulfilled promises. And amongst those tragedies too, I am aware of only a fraction, and within that fraction, the state plays the victim as do the dissident groups.
Finally, I had decided that I would write about the things the Punjabis have knowingly or unknowingly sacrificed for Pakistan and yet their acts are not acknowledged rather their attitude is seen as the imperial power that colluded with the establishment. However that evening I met a gentleman who has been working with a donor agency. He wanted to make a proposal regarding peace resolution, conflict prevention or something like that.
“Why not explore Balochistan?” I asked. He was reluctant. Nobody goes there, he explained. The law and order situation is at its worst in Balochistan. He even said that he would rather work in Afghanistan, where his organization is already working.
For quite a while, I have had a defensive attitude for the Pakistani side. I sympathize with the Punjabis especially, not out of chauvinism but because I believe that the establishment and the Punjabis are not the same and they are often mistakenly deemed as interchangeable. I believe that most of the Punjabis are the well-wishers of the people living across Pakistan yet they are ignorant of what is being done elsewhere in their name.
I believe that the Punjabis are so zealously Pakistani and Muslim that to them being anything else is sort of a sin. So they do not like being Punjabi and they do not recognize or appreciate any other ethnic identity. Many of them do not appreciate the existence of other sects and religions too. It is unfortunate but in a way the Punjabis of Pakistan were never totally free from the colonial imprints. They have been fighting a war of self-assertion and identity for a long time. During all this time, they have not been at peace with themselves or with their surroundings.
The Punjabis speak Urdu and appreciate English speaking people. The Punjabi language is usually shunned away as a language, especially in urban areas. So, their Pakistani selves have suppressed their native culture. They imitate the West and at the same time eulogize the Muslim conquerors. They think that Mahmood Ghaznavi is the real hero and they intentionally skip Bhagat Singh in national archives. Many of them know nothing of Bacha Khan. All I see is that the Punjabis are suffering from cultural cringe and an identity crisis. They assert the Pakistani self so much that they often overlook the basic tenet of the constitution i.e. Pakistan is a federation.
A federation does not simply imply that there should be two tiers of government. It implies unity in multiplicity. Federations rule out regulating cultural differences. It is not merely a congregation of the units, states, provinces or cantons. It is celebration of diversity. Yet, many Pakistani and the most of the Punjabis ignore these facts. Because of the complexes surrounding their identity, I sympathize with the Punjabis. However, on that very day when the guy told me that working in Balochistan is the last of all options, my all delusions vanished away.
It dawned upon me that the Punjabis and the rest of Pakistanis are not simply ignorant, they are deliberately ignorant. Their fault lies in ignoring the dark reality intentionally. The fault lies with the media too. Recently two earthquakes jolted the province of Baluchistan. In spite of that, all we see are few still shots and footages on television channels. The new island in Gwadar, on the contrary, was given live coverage in news bulletins. I believe even 2011 London riots were given better coverage by the Pakistani media than the earthquakes in Balochistan that have claimed hundreds of lives.
In the backdrop of this indifference, every Pakistani is a culprit. We want to own Balochistan without putting any effort for it. This definitely is a form of imperialism. We blamed the state machinery for the Dhaka tragedy. In the age of flourishing electronic and social media we cannot play innocent anymore. We know the situation in Balochistan is unstable but we just ignore and sit idly. This surely is not going to help.
Another disgraceful episode was the pre-election campaigns of Pakistani politicians. Many claimed legitimacy by just setting foot in Balochistan. They branded arranging one political rally in Quetta as their success. That surely is a point of mourning. It points out to the irony that they had been absent from Balochistan for years without caring about what had been going on and they appeared on the scene for political maneuvering just before the general elections. Moreover what about post-election scenario? There is silence again.
Pakistanis know that the conditions are bad, but how and why they are they so bad? They do not know and their attitude shows that they are not very keen either to change the status quo. All the government does is to blame India and so do many media persons. To improve the situation, we need to find out our own faults and work on them. Nobody from outside could have flared up the situation to the extent that we have done in Balochistan. It is high time that we in the Punjab realized our responsibilities toward Balochistan.
Naeema Saeed, based in Lahore, is a student of law and a freelance journalist who has previously worked with Geo Television