Youhanabad and the Language of Prejudice


*Originally published in The Nation.

Less than four months since the Peshawar tragedy and Pakistan has seen the Shikarpur bombing, the Peshawar Imambargah and Youhanabad attacks.

Blood does not seem to stop flowing in this land.

Much has been said about attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan, and it is often that the violence against them is explained by brushing it into the general epidemic of terrorism afflicting the nation and country; violence that raging yet indiscriminate. Certainly, attacks on religious minorities do add to and reinforce the plague of violence in Pakistan yet they are not one and the same thing. The danger of this explanation is that it is a narrative which blurs a gory reality; that religious minorities face fatal focus from terrorists and extremists; specially targeted and massacred. From the Shia Hazaras in Quetta to Shikarpur, from Kot Radha Kishan to Youhanabad, there is a cold-blooded calculation behind this blood-letting, and these are truly besieged communities.

Ali Sethi’s recent article in The New York Times on the Youhanabad attack states:

‘According to one estimate, in the last two years there have been 36 targeted attacks on Pakistani Christians, 265 Christian deaths from suicide bombings and 21 “persecutions” of Christians under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

What we have, then, is the peculiar despair of a people who are unable to articulate their real grievance, a people who have no political parties or voting blocs of their own, who have only churches and pastors and the eternal motifs of suffering and deliverance to see them through this dark period.’

Moreover, although Youhanabad falls in Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif’s constituency; he hasn’t visited it once since the attack. This does much to demonstrate the crass neglect and disregard prevalent in the ruling party’s leadership on the issue, aggravating the spiralling state failure at the cost of numerous Pakistani lives.

The extremist intolerance and hate that set off bombs in Youhanabad also bred further violence as two men were burnt alive by the resulting angry mob in broad daylight to the glare of photos being snapped and videos being captured through mobiles by the perpetrators.

As gruesome and reprehensible was the lynching, it is important to view the incident clear of the inevitable and intense emotions clouding it. Waqqas Mir, writing for The News on Sunday, offered the needed perspective:

“A mob is a mob and its violent actions need to be condemned for that reason alone. The religion to which violent individuals belong is not helpful in explaining the violence or, more importantly, controlling it.”

Religion can certainly not be held culpable in cases such as these which are clearly not specific to certain groups in the society if we are to recall that the savage lynching of two brothers in Sialkot happened not long ago.

However, the violent turn of events after Youhanabad revealed an equally important aspect contributing to the dismal position of Christians in the country: cultural and social.

The Youhanabad bombing and the mob that horrifically took the lives of two men spurred a rush of reactions. Soon some sentiments morphed into degradation of the Christian community in Pakistan.

Many expressed shock, outrage and despair at the incidents, yet a flurry of tweets and comments also ran along the lines of “chooray chooray hi hotay hain”. The attachment of choora as a disparaging and condemnatory label for the entire Christian community is neither new nor uncommon, and this was put to ample display during the ugly turn many comments took as the news of the mob murder emerged. Such is the extent of its use and commonality that choora rings synonymously with the Christian community in the country for many.

Language is the vehicle of culture, and inevitably, cultural prejudices.

Choora, a pejorative to belittle and degrade Pakistani Christians, is rooted in the utter lack of respect and recognition associated with those who have menial occupations in the society. The comments sought to shamelessly demean the Christian community by way of the label since socially and culturally, little respect is lent to the work of those who toil after the dirt and filth we leave in our wake, not quite different from this filth spouted at the Christian community; a religious minority whose members included illustrious individuals like Cecil Chaudhry, Mervyn Middlecoat, Justice Cornelius and Samuel Martin Burke who lived their lives for Pakistan.

The application of choora in its cultural context therefore ‘others’ Christians by degrading them as some sort of second-class citizens who are unequal to the rest. This is similar to the linguistic treatment of khawaja sira or khusras which is reflective of our societal treatment of them; in the form of exclusion; subjection to humiliation and jokes.

While to some these may ring only as mere words, they are nonetheless expressions of the deep-seated beliefs prevalent in many segments of the Pakistani society; cultural crutches for the bigotry that perpetuates prejudices against the cornered Christian minority. These reflect and reinforce prejudices that manifest as apathy towards their problems, grievances and pleas, and in the most extreme of cases, as bloody sores as in the form of Joseph Colony, Shama and Shehzad’s cruel murder and the Youhanabad bombing.

The white in our flag is soaked red and it is time it is reclaimed; but for that the state and society must work and change in unison; the latter must rid itself of cultural beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that sustain and perpetuate prejudices against religious minorities in Pakistan.

And for a start, we can all begin by challenging and changing the language of prejudice.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~~

4 comments on “Youhanabad and the Language of Prejudice

  1. Mahmood Ahmad Malik says:

    This is another sane voice reminding people of Pakistan to provide equal rights to minorities. The learned writer has mentioned Shias & Christians by way of illustration. But persecution of Ahmadis is all the more unjust that it has been institutionalised through specific constitutional and general law changes. Let there be realisation in the country that earlier course of religious persecution and social injustice is changed earlier there can be march to progress and peaceful environment in the country. Well done Hafsa sahiba for once again writing for the oppressed!

    On 7 Apr 2015 22:08, “Hafsa Khawaja’s Blog” wrote: > > Hafsa_Khawaja posted: “*Originally published in The Nation. Less than four months since the Peshawar tragedy and Pakistan has seen the Shikarpur bombing, the Peshawar Imambargah and Youhanabad attacks. Blood does not seem to stop flowing in this land. Much has been sai” >

  2. Mahmood Ahmad Malik says:

    Only two days ago Tahir Mahdi, an elderly Ahmadi has been arrested in Rabwah on the “charge” of writing Quranic verses in some newspapers/ magazines of Ahmadiyya community.Such acts of bigotry and fanaticism are worst type of religious persecution meted out to peaceful Ahmadiyya community in the name of God and Islam. A strong voice has to be raised to stop retrogressive acts of this nature. Details at http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/27042/as-a-constitutional-kafir-i-ask-does-my-religious-freedom-hurt-you-this-much/

    On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 4:46 AM, Mahmood Ahmad Malik wrote:

    > This is another sane voice reminding people of Pakistan to provide equal > rights to minorities. The learned writer has mentioned Shias & Christians > by way of illustration. But persecution of Ahmadis is all the more unjust > that it has been institutionalised through specific constitutional and > general law changes. > Let there be realisation in the country that earlier course of religious > persecution and social injustice is changed earlier there can be march to > progress and peaceful environment in the country. > Well done Hafsa sahiba for once again writing for the oppressed! > > On 7 Apr 2015 22:08, “Hafsa Khawaja’s Blog” > wrote: > > > > Hafsa_Khawaja posted: “*Originally published in The Nation. Less than > four months since the Peshawar tragedy and Pakistan has seen the Shikarpur > bombing, the Peshawar Imambargah and Youhanabad attacks. Blood does not > seem to stop flowing in this land. Much has been sai” > >

  3. Hamza says:

    “A mob is a mob and its violent actions need to be condemned for that reason alone. The religion to which violent individuals belong is not helpful in explaining the violence or, more importantly, controlling it.”

    Religion can certainly not be held culpable in cases such as these which are clearly not specific to certain groups in the society if we are to recall that the savage lynching of two brothers in Sialkot happened not long ago.

    Agree with everything except ^ above mentioned comments of the author you have quoted couple with your own conclusion. This is selective empathy which is prevalent throughout our society. If muslims are it, it’s got everything to do with religious division / hatred what not. When similar mobs burnt christian homes, it was all about religious hatred. But now the Christian society has reacted, we must analyze it in the light of mob mentality / frustration / oppression. Wow. And yet the Waziristan situation is brushed under the carpet as another generation of people consigned to no empathy on similar circumstances of oppression / frustration.

  4. I agree with you on the language thing and denouncing whole of the Christian Community.
    But the thing is how can the whole terrorism incident and number of Christian deaths be fault of Muslin community and why does Christian community need extra pampering? because Muslims have died a lot more in these attacks. The killers are anti-Pakistani. The faster everyone understands that easier it would be. As for oppression that is more exaggerated then it is really is, come in daily contact with so many Christians and only oppression i feel is on media.
    Secondly, if the same thing was done by a Muslim mob we all know exactly what the world would be saying at this point, let alone media or other facets.

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