Chuura, Chaprasi, Chuurian and Khawaja Sira: Making a Nation out of Words

*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.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-VOTE-SEXNotwithstanding 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

The Burqa and Burqini Threat



So the French Parliament finally passed the law against the burqa, igniting many controversies and anger from the Muslim community. France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority but the sight of fully-veiled women remains rare. Only 1,900 women wear a niqab, 90 percent of them under 40, according to interior ministry estimates.President Nicolas Sarkozy set the tone in June when he declared the burqa “not welcome” in France.
The French government is concerned over the burqa as they believe it is threatening their ‘values’. The point lies, isn’t France supposed to be secular? Tolerant of all religions and the people who follow the prescribed practises of their faith?
Even some Muslims second them,  they acknowledge the Quran preaches modesty, but they believe that it doesn’t say that you have to cover your face. This is not a requirement of Islam or the Quran according to them, also believing that the burqa is giving birth to radical Islam.                   

How can one determine whether all women who wear it are forced to wear it?
Though it can not be denied that many women are forced or dictated by their husbands or men of their house and their society to wear the burqa but every woman who wears a burqa anywhere in the world can certainly not be classified as one being oppressed to wear it. Muslim women do have the free will to decide what they want and alot of women who wear the abaya, burqa or niqab, wear it on the basis of their free will.                                                                                         

The second point given by those Muslims in regard of their support for the ban is that the Quran preaches modesty but it isn’t in the Quran or Islam to cover the face or wear the burqa. One of the major reasons that they feel the burqa should not be considered related to religion is that it is not among the 5 pillars of Islam. This is absolutely absurd.. The 5 pillars of Islam are indeed an integral part of a Muslim’s life but so are Hadith and Sunnah. Why are Muslims  forbidden from committing adultery or ordered to help the destitue ? These may not be part of the pillars of Islam but part of the Quran.                                                                                                                                       

Islam may not preach the covering of the face but as there are 72 sects in Islam so are there numerous schools of thought in it. Each follows practices and traditions that they have derived from their interpretation of the Quran. Some consider the burqa as a necessity and entwined with the sacredness and sacrosanctity of religion.
Such sects and schools of thought can not be ignored in any country.

Wearing a burqa does not mean that one promotes radical Islam or the ‘Islam’ of the militants. This is sheer bias and discrimination.
How is France threatened by the burqa which is worn by a mere 1,900 women of the Muslim majority that resides there.

Columnist Masooda Bano once wrote an article in ‘The News’ that how would we feel if French women came around our streets and roads wearing mini-skirts, wouldn’t we ban them from this? For it will destroy our culture. This made me muse but after alot of pondering, I came to the conclusion that mini-skirts are fashion accessories not associated with religion as in the case of the burqa, which is considered a symbol of religious holiness.

Leaving alone the ungraspable problem of France with the burqa, it has already banned the hijab from being worn in schools etc in 2004. In regard of that the Human Rights Watch stated that the law is “an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice”.

Exactly what threat or fear does the wearing of hijab cause?
The leader of Sarkozy’s right-wing party in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, has already presented draft legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to cover their faces in public on security grounds.

The Netherlands and Austria are considering a ban on the full veil, while Denmark said it would limit the use in public of the burka and niqab although stopping short of an outright ban.

The question is not only about the burqa but religious tolerance. It’s about all other forms of practices that are associated with religion. The veil exists both in Christianity and Judaism. Is that a ‘threat’ to French ‘values’ too? Will they be banned too?

Ironically, freedom of religion was one of the 17 points in the ‘Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen’ demanded and formed after the French Revolution stated as:

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”

As in Point no. 4,  any action which does not harm anyone is free to be practised by anyone. So on what grounds of harm or threat is the hijab or burqa?

Point no.10 is the most significant for the arguments in favour of the hijab and burqa, that no one shall be shackled on the basis of their religion in case it does not disturb public order.

It should be known to France, that the burqa is not a tradition or merely a culture but part of the religious culture of the second largest religion of this world, Islam. Religion is a matter of paramount importance, respect and sacredness.  And Islam is not just a religion but a way of life.

Freedom of religion is also enshrined in the French Constitution. The question arises? Where is the implementation of this?

 One can not force someone to draw a veil and neither can someone force someone to abandon it.


Moreover, France also seems to disrelish the ‘Burqini‘ , wearing which seems in no manner as threatening, an act of defiance or transgression of French values. It is a mere dress that Muslim women chose to wear to preserve and maintain their circle of decency that they must. 

“It was described as the perfect solution for Muslim women who want to swim but are uncomfortable about “revealing” bathing suits.”

The afore-mentioned lines are the only reason behind the Burqini. In what way does it affront the French? Why are those who wear it, disgracefully thrown out of pools or reprimanded?

Isn’t it usual for a person to have his reservations, aversions or opinions about certain things? If indeed some women do not wish to wear the Bikni or expose their faces and head by wearing the Burqa and Hijab to guard and follow their Islamic values, why is it deemed anomalous and shunned?



Had it not been for Islam being associated with these two dresses, one is left to think if the Burqa and Burqini had been show-cased at the Paris Fashion Week as an adornment for beautification or style , would they have still been banned or become the vogue? It is without any doubt, that this ban is a strangulation of freedom and an instrument for alienation.


France must remember that any proposed ‘liberation’  (that they base these bans on : stating that they are ‘liberating’ Muslim women ) can never be imposed on people. It is an oppression in its own right.


The French banned the burqa, the Swiss the minarets. It is even reported that some countries are musing over banning halal food.  These countries claim to be the torch-bearers of tolerance, human rights and freedom and development but what we see from the mind-set of their Governments is the portrayal of narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy and arrant ignorance of the basic rights of humans and disrespect for cultural and religious diversitywhich has sprung from their misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of Islam. Not only are they closing in on a peaceful practise but displaying discrimination and prejudice against a religion and the Muslims community. It is a shame and an out-right example of the growing Islamophobia in European nations.

– Hafsa Khawaja