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Pakistan Is In The Grip Of Majoritarian Orthodoxy

Pakistani society is in the grip of a majoritarian orthodoxy— socially, the basic features of this orthodoxy are implementation of strict moral code and enforcement of gender segregation, legal dominance of a certain belief system as a defining feature of full citizenship. This majoritarian orthodoxy also maintains a blinkered view of history and a recalcitrant foreign policy in the region at the political level.

This is perceived to be the defining features of Pakistani majority—a majority, which forces its opinion on the society and kills any attempt to express any opinion that goes beyond the accepted social, religious and political norms.

But wait a minute. There is no such majority. At least we don’t see any practical manifestation of such a majority in the public realm—the public opinion polls which often show that Pakistani majority believes in this or that (which is normally strictly in line with the majoritarian orthodoxy or the agenda of the state) usually come out from those organizations which have a slanted view of political and social reality in Pakistani society. Elections results usually don’t point towards ideological inclinations of consolidated vote banks that usually come together not on the basis of any ideas that secular political parties represent but as a result of pragmatic alliances between the affluent leadership and coopted lower social classes attracted by the patronage that the former offers during election campaigns. Pakistani society lacks the mechanisms and tools to ascertain the exact opinions and trends in the social, religious and political life of the society.

Than what exactly is the phenomenon we call Pakistani majority or what I am labeling as majoritarian orthodoxy? This is the collection of groups and classes, which represent and advocate the orthodoxy, public policies and political and social trends that Pakistani state machinery adheres to. This is the public mortality that Pakistan state machinery wants to uphold as the acceptable norm of the society in the social and political life of the country.

There is a symbiotic relationship between these groups and classes—which claim to represent the majority—and the state machinery that upholds the ‘majoritarian orthodoxy’ as the majority view of the society. These groups and classes are the most vocal and visible part of the society—and because they are most vocal and visible there views and opinion and social and political ideology they advocate is taken as the views of the majority or considered the majoritarian orthodoxy. The most important and most relevant fact of the whole affair is that Pakistani state takes this majoritarian orthodoxy to be the opinion of the majority of Pakistanis living in the land of the pure. Pakistani state machinery makes its policies and treats the religious, social and political groups in the light of the norms and moral values of this majoritarian orthodoxy.

There is a dominant view in Pakistani state structure that maintaining and upholding this majoritarian orthodoxy is a must for social and political stability of Pakistan. This majoritarian orthodoxy provides ideological foundation to so-called Pakistani nationalism as nationalism in Pakistan is based on the Sunni orthodox reading of Islamic and sub-continental history that is patently blinkered approach to understand history—both Islamic and sub-continental. For instance our nationalistic history would just reject the influence Dara Sikhoh—Mughal prince who rivaled his more orthodox brother and hero of Pakistani orthodoxy, Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir for Delhi throne—and his likes have on our social, cultural and political attitudes. This is a crude example, but paucity of space doesn’t allow me to give more complicated examples, which more deeply influenced our social, cultural and political attitudes than the few names of orthodoxy that we choose to teach our students about at the secondary and college level.

This background was very important to bring home the point that in Pakistan any expression of political and social thought, which conflicts with the majoritarian orthodoxy in Pakistani public life is perceived as a threat to the very continuation and stability of the concepts and ideas related to Pakistani nationalism. Therefore the classes and groups, which provide support to the majoritarian orthodoxy, are the same, which provide the support base to centers of Pakistani nationalism. These groups want gender segregation in the society and socially conservative agenda at the social and political level and curb on any unorthodox religious views. Pakistani state’s symbiotic relationship with these groups becomes apparent, when the state machinery out rightly imposes curbs on the expression of any social and political thought, which go beyond the accepted social and political norms.

During the last decade I have travelled extensively—as part of my journalistic responsibilities— in two provinces of the Pakistan that include Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. I have realized as part of my experience with the local communities in these provinces that the majoritarian orthodoxy might be a phenomenon imposed from above, this type of orthodoxy is not part of day-to-day experience of Pakistani people, at least in these two provinces.

My assertion might not have any scientific basis, but this is my impression after my encounters with local communities in Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa that they don’t lead a life, which is defined by the orthodoxy adhered to by Pakistan’s so-called majority.

Majoritarian orthodoxy gets undue coverage in Pakistani media—both newspapers and electronic media. The irony is that those segments of the society, which are opposed to this majoritarian orthodoxy don’t realise that this is not at all the opinion of the majority. This opinion is representative of those classes and groups, which have hijacked the state and hijacked the society. They control the centers of the power and they control the processes of distribution of resources in the society.

This brings me the final question, which I wanted to address right from the start of this piece: Why the male opponent of Aurat March, who misbehaved the female supporter of the March, on the other day in a TV talk show, is still refusing to apologise, despite intense pressure on him from all corner of the society? Because, despite the continuous presence a number of loudmouths on TV screens, majoritarian orthodoxy and the groups, which represent this orthodoxy, are in still underrepresented on Pakistani screen, or this is what majoritarian orthodox thinks and believes.

They are in search of more public champions of their cause. The male opponent, who is a leading figure in the field of popular cultural production, is an ideal candidate to become such a champion of majoritarian orthodoxy’s cause. Pakistan being a country deeply divided on ideological lines, gives an ideal opportunity to this male opponent of Aurat March to exploit the situation and become such a champion. So there is a method in his madness.


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Naya Daur