Can The Oppressed Be Racist?
Shueyb Gandapur discusses Khar Qamar incident and the allegations of racism against some Pashtun leaders. He says we need to empathize with the victims instead of finding fault with their vocabulary.
13 Pashtun civilians were allegedly killed in the incident at Khar Qamar check post in Waziristan last week, but the ISPR claims the caravan led by MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar attacked the check post. Those killed were going to join a protest sit-in under the leadership of their elected members of the parliament.
What we know is that the establishment in Pakistan has a long held tradition of brutally quelling movements for the rights of minority ethnic groups.
A few days before the Waziristan incident, a 10-year old Pashtun girl was abducted, raped and killed in the capital of the country. For several days, the victim’s father kept visiting the police station to register an FIR, but the police would ridicule him and turn him away.
In the case of Khar Qamar, the so-called patriotic media is unfortunately not reporting the complete facts. Every media outlet has chosen to report the incident as an attack on the check post by the peaceful procession, as per the ISPR’s press release. No journalist has tried to find out if the victims were actually unarmed, as the eyewitnesses claim, whose statements are circulating on social media.
In the case of the disappearance and murder of the minor girl, the response of the police and the same media was to question the citizenship and legal status of the victim’s family, because they hailed from a tribal district. The loyalty of Pakistan’s Pashtun citizens is always considered a matter of doubt.
While the affectees were asking for redressal of the brutalities they faced, some circles found it more pressing to take offence at the supposedly racist comments directed towards Punjabis, rather than sympathising with the cause of the affectees.
Racial prejudice exists against all ethnicities in Pakistan. However, not all of them are vilified for asserting their ethnic identity, being called traitors or asked to leave the country.
Tribal Pashtuns, even if they reach the national parliament as elected representatives of their areas, can still be picked up and disappeared without due legal process. System of justice in the country has a thousand flaws, but the aggrieved from all ethnicities are not asked to prove their Pakistani citizenship when they are wronged.
This reflects the institutionalised prejudice that is directed only at people from minority ethnicities. Because the celebration of any aspect of one’s identity other than that of a homogenised Pakistani Muslim is considered a threat to the unity of the country.
Racism is never viewed in isolation of the related power dynamics within the economic and political structures. Smaller ethnicities generally lack the power to damage the interests of the group that is in majority or holds dominance at the national level. Therefore, one thing that such claims of reverse racism tend to ignore is the location and identity of those dominating the power centres, even if that power is not directly enjoyed by everyone sharing that identity.
Every marginalized group in the world may feel disgruntled and even hold prejudice against the group in majority or perceived to be privileged, but that doesn’t equate it to the discrimination or oppression systemically directed towards the former.
Instead of addressing the grievances of the marginalised groups, accusations of reverse racism against them amount to denial of their experiences of oppression.
Focusing on the language and vocabulary of the victims rather than empathising with their pain reflects the insensitivity of those belonging to the privileged group, whether they are aware of their privilege or not. Questioning the validity of the experience and sentiments of being oppressed is hardly going to reduce the feelings of resentment amongst the ethnic minorities or convince them that their oppression is imaginary.
While the narrative from those spearheading PTM has always been within lawful and constitutional limits and never been anti-Punjab, it is important for the movement’s supporters to disallow any space for hateful racial sloganeering within their ranks.
Because it would unnecessarily discredit the movement for holding racist leanings which it does not. It is equally important for everyone else to remember that racism flows from the powerful to the powerless, not the other way around.