View Full Version : Insult the Baloch By Zaigham Khan - 21st March 2016

21st March 2016, 01:14 PM
If you are a young man or woman studying at a college in Punjab, you should have no problem in understanding why Ayub, Bhutto and Musharraf used military might against the Baloch and why the Baloch demands for rights are unjustified – because your sociology textbook has helped you understand that the “Baloch are uncivilised people who remain busy in fighting and killing” and they are “the people who lived in the desert and looting caravans [sic]”.

The textbook, ‘Sociology of Pakistan’, that has made many Baloch angry can teach us a lot more than it was originally intended to. It can enlighten us on stereotyping and inter-ethnic relations in Pakistan, and the garbage we are feeding our young minds in the name of education.

What should disturb us more than the content the book is the fact that it has been used by colleges all over the province for almost two decades without ruffling any feathers or generating any controversy. Hundreds of lecturers, themselves educated on similar masterpieces, recommended it to their students and year after year, students get good marks by reproducing its content in examinations. If our scientists are running cars on water, our social scientists are flying on carpets.

The tribute to the Baloch appears in a chapter titled ‘Sub-cultures of Pakistan’, based on the premise that there is a Pakistani culture that comprises four ‘sub-cultures’. In order to define the Baloch, the writer digs out the meaning of Baloch from some Persian dictionary – we do not know which dictionary because there are no references in the book.

Why is a sociologist using some Persian dictionary to make sense of ethnic groups of his own country? We have never used Arabic dictionaries to define Iranians or Iranian sources to define Arabs. In fact, if we defined Arabs using Persian dictionaries and the poetry of Iran’s national poet, Firdausi, many of our Arab brethren would shut down their embassies in Pakistan. Perhaps, the author is doing it because, in his words, “These people are Iranian by race, which had entered [sic] into Pakistan in 13th century on the invasion of Mongols.”

Almost everything quoted above is speculative nonsense, and the author is using essentialist categories to define ethnic groups – just as the colonial administrators did in their gazetteers. Essentialism is the view that certain categories (eg, women, racial groups) have an underlying reality or true nature that are almost permanent and one cannot observe them directly. So the Baloch, according to this line of thinking, have a permanent character that can be understood by digging into their origin.

As some psychologists have argued, those who use essentialist categories have a static view of human nature and are prone to social stereotyping and prejudice. But this is how we have carried out our business in caste-ridden and tribal South Asian societies. We use stereotyping to maintain identities, perpetuate power and wield social control over weaker sections. We deploy aphorisms and humour as missiles to carry the deadly payload of discrimination and hatred. I am not saying that other societies don’t do it; I am saying that we do it a lot more and more brazenly and shamelessly than most modern societies.

For centuries, such prejudice has played an important role in informing our individual and group attitudes. The British borrowed our stereotypes and carefully polished, packaged, and preserved them in their gazetteers and other documents. They found such ‘knowledge’ quite useful to rule a large population. During the Raj, a tiny number of British officials and troops (about 20,000 in all) ruled over 300 million Indians. As an author noted in 1907, “India was conquered for the Empire not by the English themselves but by Indians under English leadership, and by taking advantage of Indian disputes.”

An interesting paper by Paul Titus shows that Pakistanis, decades after Independence, still make use of the essentialist categories “through which colonial administrators knew their Indian subjects”. The paper revolves around the aphorism (believed to be a British formula): “Rule the Punjabis, intimidate the Sindhis, buy the Pakhtun, and honour the Baloch.” No wonder these gazetteers remain favourite reading in the District Management Group (DMG) of our civil services.

How stereotyping served the purpose of social control within South Asian societies can be seen through the example of the weaver community. In Punjab, the weaver community has been stereotyped as dim-witted and remained, until recently, a favourite laughing stock of the agrarian communities. In my childhood, I heard dozens of jokes about jolahas (weavers).

Most people who told these jokes believed strongly that weavers were idiots, and these people had a number of real-life incidents to back their claims. It is not hard to guess that it was quite useful for the dominant landowning castes to keep this community under control, a community that had sophisticated skills at its command and produced a commodity that was next only to food in its importance. Though the profession is now almost dead, many still live with the identity – and still face the humiliation.

However, stereotyping is not exclusively used by the dominant groups against the less powerful. It is also employed, quite generously, by groups that are considered more or less equals against each other. If you are in Punjab, ask a Jat about his opinion of the Arain community or ask an Arain what he thinks of the Gujjars. One interesting aspect of the Punjabi caste system is the fact that Pakhtuns and Baloch are not seen only as outside ethnic groups but also as inside castes. Castes that trace their ancestry to Pakhtun or Baloch tribes are considered to carry the essence of their ethnic heritage due to their bloodline.

Essentialist categories, stereotyping and prejudices had some place in the world of castes, biradaris and tribes. In the world of ethnicities and nations they can be deadly, resulting in serious conflict and inter-ethnic tensions. In Pakistan ethnic stereotyping is more common than we would like to admit – and it is not confined to Punjab alone.

For at least the last one decade, civil society organisations have been arguing that the textbooks used in Pakistan’s schools are replete with factual errors, and bias and hatred towards a number of religious groups and nations. A content analysis report prepared by National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the textbooks in Punjab and Sindh has noted that the hate content has increased manifold over time.

The biggest lesson from this book is to rid our textbook of all kind of stereotyping and prejudice and to teach our children how to respect those who have a different language, caste, language, religion or national identity. I cannot support banning or burning books, but it will do us no harm to pulp such books to prepare new paper and come up with something better. We can certainly do better than this.

I leave you with some amazing discoveries from the same book: “According to history 3000 years BC [sic] the Dravidians entered Pakistan through the route of KP Province” and “according to history, the first man who had [sic] entered Indo-Pakistan came from Africa and he was Negro. He came by the route of Balochistan. The Aryans also came through Balochistan.”

The writer is a socialanthropologist and development professional.