Pre-pre-script: The comments on this article were quite phenomenal, many of them reiterating my point. To read them, please click here (scroll a little down on the page to view them).
Pre-script: I realize I’m using “Pukhtun” and “Pashtun” interchangeably – because they are the same thing. I don’t use “Pathan” because many Pashtuns mind that name and see it as a distortion of the original “Pashtun/Pukhtun.”
This is going to be tough to read for those Pukhtuns who are in denial of the fact that the mockery, the racism, the bigotry of the Punjabis against Pashtuns goes both ways: it’s not just Punjabis alone who mock Pukhtuns; Pukhtuns mock Punjabis constantly as well – they just do it in different ways. It’ll also be a tough read for Punjabis and other non-Pashtun Pakistanis who think “Pathan” jokes are funny or who deny the reality of institutional racism against Pashtuns in Pakistan.
One of the most popular “discussions” that takes place on Twitter (prolly right after the whole “NO, STUPID! A Pukhtun cannot be a Pakistani! There’s no such thing as a Pakistani Pashtun!” Or asking Pashtuns, “Do you consider yourself Afghan or Pakistani?”) is how vicious Punjabis are for mocking Pashtuns. It is true, it is very much true that Punjabis mock Pukhtuns constantly — and not just in the privacy of their homes but also in the media and on national television. But Pukhtuns mock Punjabis all the time just as badly but in more intimate spaces.
And when Pashtuns are talking about the hatred of Punjabis for us, you’re not allowed to step in and say, “Agreed – Punjabis are racist against Pashtuns, and their ‘Pathan Jokes’ need to come to an end, and they mock Pashtuns all the time. BUT it’s also true that Pashtuns, too, mock Punjabis all the time.” If you do say that, you’ll get things like what I and a few others I know get when we do this. The initiators of the discussions say what amounts to something like: “You’re a traitor for siding with the Punjabis! Pashtuns don’t mock Punjabis. We’re decent, honorable people.” Here’s the most recent example (Twitter). The bottom line of this discussion was that “No, what Pashtuns say about Punjabis isn’t mockery; we’re just joking. But what they say about us is wrong, it’s dishonorable,” etc., etc. They won’t admit that we do a lot more than just joke about Punjabis, but they’re ready to point out that Punjabis are always mocking us and that needs to stop.
Point being that if you acknowledge that Pashtuns mock Punjabis, too, and that BOTH Pashtuns and Punjabis are wrong in doing this, you’re accused of agreeing with the Punjabis, of supporting what Punjabis say about us.
Why am I writing about this? Sure, I enjoy being the devil’s advocate and I like to intentionally disagree with people because that forces me to be more educated about my opinions and the topic in question, but it also pushes the other person to be able to defend her/his opinion more strongly and to be able to respond to the opposing perspective more intelligently. Not every opinion needs to be defended, but when it’s something like the current topic in question, the opinion-holder does need to be challenged.
Now, let me give a few examples (facts) about the mutual racism, bigotry, hatred, mockery of Pashtun and Punjabis for each other.
How Punjabis Talk about Pashtuns
– “Pathan jokes” are a common thing among Punjabis and other non-Pashtuns throughout Pakistan. You can prolly google them and find many, but I won’t do that. These jokes are heard commonly in the Pakistani media, in talk shows, political discussions, and so on. The most recent of these examples is Javed Ghamedi, considered a scholar by many (most?) Pakistanis, falsely declaring that Taliban’s practice of beheading is “tribal Pashtun culture”! When those considered national “intellectuals” and “scholars” spread such falsehood and hate, you know your nation’s in trouble.
– A friend tells me that Punjabis refer to Pashtuns as “akhrot,” or brain-size walnut – meaning Pashtuns are stupid.
– Another friend tells me that he once got into an argument with an imam of Indian origin in a Chicago mosque because of the imam’s misguided message about Pashtuns as an inherently stupid and uncivilized people. The imam was giving a khutba (sermon) on how to speak to people according to their status and level, and the best example he could use to convey his point was: “Pathans [Pashtuns] are wild and not too intelligent by nature, so you have to engage them accordingly.” So our portrayal as a backward, uncivilized, stupid people isn’t perpetrated by Punjabis alone but by many others across South Asia. (The Arabs I’ve met in Jordan, Morocco, and Oman think highly of us, so I don’t think this is a universal presumption about us … except for what Western media has been spreading in recent decades about Afghans as a whole.)
– Throughout Pakistan, also, Pashtuns are frequently presented as abusive, controlling of their women, generally extremely violent, “backward,” obsessed with their “honor,” and so on. It’s also claimed that Pashtuns don’t want their daughters to go to school. This is undoubtedly true for a lot of Pashtun families, but only as much as it’s true for a lot of NON-Pashtun families. (I won’t be lame here and give the example of Malala Yousafzai, though – her case is too unique to be presented as an ordinary Pashtun case.) The reality, however, is that until 2009 when the Taliban banned education on girls in at least Swat, Pakistan, the northwestern province of the Pakistani Pashtuns, Khyber Pashtunkhwa, had the highest rate of females going to school. And personally, all the Pashtuns I know treat their women no better and no worse than the non-Pashtun Muslims I know do.
– In September 2012, I attended a conference that featured and welcomed some of the most prominent and emerging scholars from Pakistan or of Pakistani origin. One of the presenters was an artist who was showcasing and discussing some of her artwork. She had examples from all four provinces and I believe all the major ethnic groups in Pakistan. She had only one example of Pashtuns. Can you guess what that was? You guessed it: something about violence against women! This is the piece she showed:
The curator showed this as an example of artwork from the Pashtuns of Pakistan. The artist painted this when she witnessed (or heard about? I forget the details now) the murder of a Pashtun woman in court who wanted to divorce her husband. Her father and uncles or some other male family members murdered her to protect their honor by ensuring that she doesn’t get the divorce.
I’m not saying such tragedies and injustices against women don’t happen among Pashtuns. But the problem, besides the fact that they DO happen, is that these are used to define us. It’s juts like what the Islamophobic western world/media does to Islam and Muslims. It’s not that Muslims never practice misogyny; it’s that that’s not what defines us. And it’s that misogyny isn’t just a mark of the Pashtuns–or of Muslims at large–but of every culture, every religion, every society; it’s simply that the misogyny comes in different forms from different communities.
In other words, then, when an artist takes a story like the above of an honor-killing case among Pashtuns to present as THE artwork from the Pashtun ethnicity of Pakistan, we’ve got a problem. Honor-killing is sadly common throughout ALL of Pakistan, and when one ethnic group is singled without any qualification, it’s unfair and it’s intellectually dishonest on the “scholar’s” part.
How Pashtuns Talk about Punjabis
Pashtuns are not any nicer or more subtle about their mockery of Punjabis.
– For Pashtuns, any group of people in Pakistan who doesn’t speak Pashto or who is not Pashtun is a Punjabi. That means that all the Baloch, the Kashimiri, the Sindhis, and actual Punjabis are all Punjabis to Pashtuns. I’m not kidding – feel free to verify with any Pashtun you know. Sadly, this also means that all the non-Pashtuns, since considered Punjabis, are then hated, feared, otherized, and mocked. Let’s suppose you’re a girl and you get a proposal from a decent Punjabi family. Your parents will go, “WHAT!! No way in HELL are we ever going to stoop to the level of marrying our daughter to a Punjabi! No!” How common/uncommon Pashtun-Punjabi marriages are, I can’t say for sure, but the ones I do know came with a lot of sacrifices. At the very lest, the Pashtun family lost the respect of other Pashtuns for allowing their child to marry into a Punjabi family. But marriage is just one part of it – although I think if you really want to understand how much your community respects or disrespects another community, note their reaction to marriage within that other community. If they embrace it or at least recognize it as acceptable and fair, then all’s well; if not, then you know they have no respect for the community with whom the marriage isn’t respected. This goes for religions too.
– When the Pashtun women I know go to some gathering, one of the things they’re best at is mocking Punjabis. “Ew, those Punjabis – they’re ugly as monkeys. For us Pashtuns, the Punjabis are like the blacks of America.” (I’m quoting verbatim (translated from Pashto) from a recent conversation among a couple of Pukhtun women at my house.)
– Pashtuns use “daal-khor” to refer to Punjabis. Supposedly, Punjabis eat a lot of daal (lentil), and that’s apparently a bad thing, y’all. Even though all Pashtuns I know also eat daal like crazy, my family and relatives included. So we Pashtuns are no less daal-khora, huh. Uh-oh.
– Pashtuns mock the way Punjabis look (Punjabis are generally a little “darker” than Pashtuns, and unfortunately like the rest of the world, “dark” is considered ugly and “white/light” is considered beautiful); we mock the Punjabis’ habits, culture, traditions, and other lifestyle. When a Pashtun girl dresses in a way that doesn’t please her family/parents, they go, “What! Do we look like Punjabis to you?! We’re Pukhtuns! We don’t dress like that.” This dressing style can be anything depending on the family: showing arms (like wearing a sleeveless shirt), wearing a sarree, wearing tight clothing, not wearing a parruney, and so on. The idea is that Punjabis are indecent, be-sharam (shameless), immodest; that their women are “loose” and the men don’t care enough to control them or decide for them what to wear. You get the point.
How the Racism/Bigotry/Mockery is Different and How it’s Similar
Since I know for a fact that the hatred, mockery of each other among Pashtuns and Punjabis is entirely mutual, I should explain why Pashtuns feel more like the victims and are less willing to admit that they, too, are just as bad with their perpetration of racism.
– On the Pashtuns case, it is generally more private. The racism, the mockery takes place more inside intimate spaces like the home. On the Punjabis’ side, however, their mockery of Pashtuns is more public and we witness it on national TV. The portrayal of the Pashtun man as violent, bearded, chewing naswaar (tobacco, snuff), abusing his wife and daughters, being an extremist religious man are all common in Pakistani dramas, for example.
– Pashtuns mock Punjabis in Pashto, Punjabis mock Pashtuns in Urdu. Punjabis don’t know Pashto, but since Pakistan’s national language is Urdu, Pashtuns (and other racial minorities) have to know it and they do know it. So we come to hear and read all these “Pathan jokes” about us in addition to the despicable way we’re talked about in the media. Punjabis, however, don’t have any access to how we speak about them because they don’t know our language. And so, for example, I once went to a Pashtun gathering where a couple of Punjabi women were also invited because the hosts were close to them. One of the hostesses was passing out mithaai (sweets), and as she passed them around, one of the Punjabi women took a couple of the sweets instead of just taking one or just a tiny little piece. So the hostess makes this unpleasant, ugly face and says to the Pashtun women what would be translated as: “Dude, what the hell – these ugly, greedy people! They don’t even know how to pretend to be decent and greedily want to have all the mithais!” Um. Yeah. Because the Punjabis had no idea what was just said about them, they couldn’t react or defend themselves.
So, basically, Punjabi racism against Pashtuns is more institutional and so the Pashtuns feel it more because they have access to it. Pashtun racism against Punjabis is generally less accessible to Punjabis, so the Punjabis don’t feel it as much.
The racism, bigotry, mockery is similar in that: both sides, due to a miserable lack of understanding and knowledge about each other, they both have a false notion of how the other treats its women, for example; or because how the other practices Islam; or how the other conducts marriages and so on. We Pashtuns think the Punjabis are “loose,” indecent, immodest, don’t care about their women, are all prostitutes themselves and sell their daughters around; they think we’re controlling of our women, extremist, and sell our daughters!
But, dude, just because some of the Punjabis we see on TV are bad people or because they dress differently from how we think all women should dress, doesn’t make them less respectable than us, folks!
A Message to Pashtuns:
Stop denying that we’re just as bad as the Punjabis when it comes to hating, stereotyping, judging wrongly and unfairly, and mocking. We’re just as wrong as they are when they mock us, and we need to educate ourselves about them and learn to live in harmony for a better world.
A Message to Punjabis:
Your stereotyping Pashtuns, your mocking us, your hating us, your picking on us seriously is getting out of hand. Educate yourselves about us so you don’t remain ignorant about us and arrogant in your thinking and lifestyle. You’re no better than us – nothing about you is better than us. We’re an honorable and valuable people, and so are you. Your thinking that you’re better is getting you nowhere, and it definitely doesn’t increase your value in our eyes.
To both Punjabis and Pashtuns:
Stop hating each other, goddamnit. Hasn’t history taught you a thing? Love and respect for all is the only way towards peace!