*Originally posted on The Friday Times’ Blog.
Words. They have the power to inspire and incite; uplift and daunt. From Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ to the fall of the Berlin Wall, they have wielded enormous influence and impact. Most importantly, they mould mindsets.
Often certain words, terms and sayings become such a commonality in cultures that their nature starts to elude people. Such is the case in Pakistan; questionable sayings, practices and customs that should usually arouse attention have become so imbedded in the society that they’ve become a part of us.
“Hum nay choorian nahi pehni hui!” (We are not wearing bangles), that consigns femininity as derogatory is one that has assumed form of a very popular phrase amongst the tub-thumping, populist rhetoric in the political arena of Pakistan.
Another popular example given to children to explain the consequences of deviance from or slack in studies is “Parho gay nahi tau chaparasi ban jao gay” or “Parho gay nahi tau cycle stand par lag jao gay” and so on.
Those who sweep and clean our homes, roads, streets and country and those who toil at workshops are reduced to lowly figures of little worth, therefore, little respect.
Consciously or unconsciously, this idea is implanted in the child’s impressionable mind.
Socialisation is defined as a continuing process, beginning in infancy, whereby an individual learns the culture of a society; the distinction between right and wrong; the social dictates of his or her gender; the kind of behaviour that is expected of him or her - in short, his or her social identity and person that inevitably is intended to conform to the social demands and be socially and culturally appropriate. This process of learning is often based on interactions between the individual and other members of the society, and language is the hinge of interaction.
It is through language that the beliefs and ideas of the society, even if they be social prejudices, the parameters of what is socially acceptable and what is not are conveyed and instilled into a child or individual which grow with him or into him as part of his personality and identity formation.
Linguistic anthropology is a whole interdisciplinary study dedicated to understanding the effect language yields on social life, beliefs and identity of an individual.
“Language socialisation is a concept we take to mean both socialisation through language and socialization to use language. Children and other novices in society acquire tacit knowledge of principles of social order and systems of belief through exposure to and participation in language-mediated interation. Language use is then a major if not the major tool for conveying sociocultural knowledge and a powerful medium of socialisation.”
Transgenders in Pakistan are also mentioned on the same lines, terming someone which is considered an insult and abuse, the words ’khussra’ and ’khawaja sira’ have been assigned the status of pejoratives just like the aforementioned sweepers and cleaners. A recent example of the usage was heard with the name of Khawaja Saad Rafique (FYI, to whom I bear no relation) by many of those who related him to the alleged rigging at NA-125 in the May 11th elections.
Notwithstanding the fact that the transgendered are what they are as products of nature, their’s is neither a life one would wish to lead nor a fate one would desire especially in Pakistan where they are ostracized and degraded for what is beyond their being.
Moreover, language prejudices may also acquire a religious colour skewed against people of a certain faith that translatte into stereotypes which may run into branding all Christians in Pakistan to be chooray, chaprasi or jamadars or possessing capabilities only fit to these. This is to be considered keeping in mind that these occupations have been debased into pejoratives.
It is instances and patterns like these that reproduce the rotten elements in our culture and society – as they have been passed down through language – : condescension of some classes against others; relative/occasional and situational employment of respect and regard towards others. In short, social decadence.
The result is often witnessed at public places like restaurants where poor waiters are subjected to much impolite, crude and rude behavior by many or when domestic helpers are made objects of jests and jokes.
A nation can be judged vastly from its character and conduct which are, need I state, shaped by communication of the society’s ideas, beliefs, values, norms and mindset that constitute its culture. And language, is the vehicle of culture.
All humans and individuals are equal and it is a demand of time that Pakistan transcends beyond the self-constructed barriers of class, ethnicity, race, sect, gender, regression and myopia. Place your words in your thoughts before letting them ride your tongue, measure their meanings, gauge their effects and consequences. thoughts and calculate their consequences for yourself and others.
For Pakistan to progress and prosper, the people will have to realize that change must not always and necessarily have to spring from the top but must also begin from within. Introspection, critical reflection must govern us first and foremost. We must be the regulators of ourselves for it is us that form a society from which the heart of a country, a nation is born.
~ Hafsa Khawaja