Apr 24, 2010

Whose province is it anyway?

Faiza Moatasim

Even though I am about to represent the resentment of the people of Hazara over NWFP's recent renaming issue, I would first like to declare myself a non-practicing hazare'waal. Despite the fact that both sides of my family hail from the city of Abbottabad, thus defining my ethnicity, I have only spent brief periods of my life there and visit it a few times a year to meet my nani jaan or attend to other usual family obligations. I understand that by declaring my loose association (no reference to the psychiatric disorder!) with Hazara over the years early on in this piece, I have already risked the merit of my opinion on the recent provincial renaming issue. However, my written response is mostly for personal reasoning, as I try to explain my feelings of hurt and frustration over the renaming of our province, like many other 'genuine' hazare'waals.

Before now, I had always wondered about the dark periods in our post-colonial history (1947 Partition or separation of East Pakistan in 1971), which turned common people, friends and neighbours, into worst of enemies, capable of inflicting unimaginable harm on others through acts of violence. Just like I am wondering at this very moment as to how the people of Hazara, who through their nature, mannerism and even language exemplify peacefulness, can transform into an aggressive group of protesters?

Their call for a separate province of Hazara in reaction to NWFP's renaming issue is ironically another example of history repeating itself. One of the reasons for the estrangement of East Pakistan from its western part was differences on the basis of language. Even though the Bengali-speaking population constituted the ethnic majority in Pakistan at the time of partition, however, as we all know, Urdu was declared our national language. Isn't it amazing that the card of representing the ethnic preferences of the majority population was not played back then while making major national decisions? Similarly, today by marginalising the population of Hazara as a minority in the NWFP province and by neglecting its ethnicity while redefining our provincial identity, we stand again at the juncture of further segregation within our society. This moment could not have come at a worse time in our history when the entire country and more specifically, our very province, are struggling to restore peace and security.

The question that evades me is how an issue, which creates further rifts within NWFP, can be justified on any grounds, whatsoever, when the need of the hour is to be reunited in our efforts to curb terrorism from our province. Maybe the provincial government also believes in the supernatural powers associated with a name change, which according to some believers can ward off evil spirits and bad fate!

But the question remains: why do 'I' feel resentful and aggrieved? It's not like I have lived or studied or worked all my life in Hazara or plan to do so in the future, unlike its 'genuine' 4.5 million population (a wikipedia estimate). I guess the root of my personal angst lies in what eminent anthropologists, John and Jean Comaroffs, have referred to as the claim to one's 'natural copyright' over ethnicity, religion, or nationhood, etc., much like one's right to joint property. Customs, traditions, values, belief, heritage, etc., constituting one's ethnic identity, like religion, are collectively owned, possessed and bounded off by others. An individual can choose to disown his or her ethnic identity based on personal preferences, however, to enforce these preferences influencing the collective ethnicity of others is not up to any one person or even a group to decide and make into a law through votes or any other political means. And, it is in this disregard of my existence and identity, which the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa name-change has affected, that I find my answer to feeling wronged and short-changed!

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