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Classism In Denigrating The Protesting ‘Mullahs’ Of Azadi March

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Hurmat Ali Shah writes about the classist critique of the JUI-F Azadi March: the horror being expressed by the urban middle and upper classes, with open disdain on how the rural, the ‘uncivilized’, the ‘impure’ have taken over the city.

Assertion and ownership of space is a fundamental to debate of political representation and of politico-social power. Maybe how we experience and feel power structures is through the spatial experience of who gets to be visible and who has to live in invisibility, or being visible in a particular function, thus not to disturb our perception of the political and social structures in place.

Totally separate from the politics, nature and narrative of the Maulana Fazl ur Rehman dharna is the horror which is expressed by the urban middle and upper classes, supporters of PTI with open disdain, while the rest of urban classes through shock, is how the rural, the uncivilized, the impure have taken over the city. And how they have defiled the beauty of Islamabad and have dared to enter and appropriate the parks which are above their social and civilizational stand.

The horror that a Maulvi, an uncouth Madrassa student, the unexposed, the brute from far-afar land with disheveled beard, clothes, torn shoes or dirty strange dress, combined with that beastly Pashtun stereotype has put his foot on a space which is reserve of the urban-civilized.

In this resentment and horror the ownership of space, the urban, developed space, and in particular Islamabad, is asserted: it doesn’t belong to you if you are not of a particular look and class.

This kind of argument is not dissimilar to what patriarchy feels about the presence of women in public spaces generally. This dharna and the accompanying ‘subconscious’ signalling of it have thrown the question of representation and rights of women into the mix of supporting or rejecting this sit-in. And then the blame for erasure of women from the public spaces is put squarely on these religious organs and people. This, in my view, is a total misreading of social nature of patriarchy. Yes, these ‘Mullahs’ or students of religious seminaries don’t want women to be out in the public.

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Yes, their broader views can easily be classified as misogynistic, but can they be blamed for the evil of misogyny and patriarchy? Or are they part of a wider social context where they draw their views from? And importantly, does their patriarchal views, signalling and general discourse delegitimize their political goals, if those goals in themselves are not illegal or unconstitutional?

These questions remain to be answered and the answers will point to how we understand our social dynamics and location within a historical context. But the dismissal and mockery showed at the participants of this sit-in is a class phenomenon. The denigration hurled at this sit-in can’t be justified because of gender or other questions. Both class and gender are a product of the relations of power and they can’t be separated from each other. The denigration and the mockery at these Madrassa students, for being uncivilized, unexposed and dazzled by the perks of the capital show how they can’t be separated from the class they belong to.

Of course, the unsaid betrayal of class sentiment goes as: you can exist with that look and from that class as the underclass, avoiding the parks, the leisure spaces and being invisible so not to interrupt the scenery of luxury but you just can’t strut around like you have a claim to the space. I have no illusion that Maulana is waging a class war, neither will I pretend that the proletariat (yes, they are proletariat) have been proletarianized by class consciousness but the shock, resentment and mockery showered at them for defiling the beautiful Islamabad is class resentment, the upper class consciousness smirking at coming to contact with the undesirable.

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To criticise is everyone’s right but to call class denigration as criticism is upholding class privilege of the elite. These Madrassa students as well as the Mullahs belong to lower classes with rural location and in majority come from a particular ethnicity, i.e, Pashtun. All these factors go into making them a class and the reality that they don’t see or self-conceptualize themselves as belonging to a particular class of doesn’t erase the class denigration they are subjected to.

Upper classes are always combined and guided by their class instincts which are thrown into panic at the very rudimentary prospect of the lower classes mixing with them. And look at the discourse, social media activity and narrative of the privileged upper classes and you will see that a threatened class instinct is all in play.

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