Who Speaks for the Other Pakistan?

Posted on April 13, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Photo of the Day, Politics, Society
20 Comments
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Adil Najam

Every time I read one of Shirazi’s wonderful posts I am reminded of the fact that even though Pakistan is still a predominantly rural entity, the voices that speak about it are nearly entirely urban. Not surprisingly, we tend to speak about Pakistan in a mostly urban idiom, with a dominant urban bias, and using a strikingly urban imagery.

There is , of course, nothing wrong with the urban vernacular. It is, after all, the lived experience and felt reality of so many of us. However, there is something striking — and disturbing — about the near absence of the rural voice (Shirazi notwithstanding). This was not always so. An earlier generation of urban Pakistan was still very connected to the rural landscape; they were themselves rural migrants and understood the smells, the tastes, the sounds and the touch of rural Pakistan.

For too many urbanites in my generation and beyond, rural Pakistan is no longer a place you ‘go to’; it is a place you ‘pass through.’ In this age of motorways and airways, you pass through it as fast as possible; touching as little of it as you can. The tanga, the rail-garhi, the bus-larri (lorry) used to force us to stop and try out the wares of that platform, that bus-adda, that roadway khokha. There is no longer any need to stop and breathe in that little bit of rural freshness.

Politically, of course, we urbanites have turned the rural voice into the villian. The rural voice is the voice of the wadera, the jagirdar, the chaudhry, the sardar. To the extent that the vast majority of the rural proletariat enters the discourse, their role is merely that of observers on the periphery.

Conveniently, the ills we face are all of their making. We, the urban elite — at least in our own self-image — are the progressive, educated, enlightened forces being pulled down by the so-called ‘feudal’ tendencies of rural Pakistan. Even in less stark narratives, it is we the urban elites whose responsibility it is to bring — even if we have to drag them — rural Pakistan into the ikeesvien saddi (21st century). We are, and we must be, the benevolent modernizers of the ‘rural masses’ (‘masses’, of course, is that de-individualizing term of endearment that is always applied to them, but never to us).

All this, and more, I worry about. And when I do, one of the places I seek refuge in is the photographic portfolio of Umair Ghani, whose work we have featured on ATP before. Umair’s work speaks poignantly and beautifully of the reality of rural life in Pakistan (Punjab in the case of these pictures).

P.S. This is a repost of a post first published at ATP on August 10, 2006.

20 responses to “Who Speaks for the Other Pakistan?”

  1. HaroON says:

    @Tariq Mufti
    Can you please explain how the premise of this article is flawed even if “only 55%” of Pakistan lives in rural areas? You do realize that is still a MAJORITY.
    But, of course, they deserve no voice according to you!

  2. Tariq Mufti says:

    I’m afraid this post contributes, perhaps unwittingly, to perpetuating one of the most damaging falsehoods about Pakistan. Romanticism aside, the country was predominantly rural only until the 60’s; since then there has been real change, and today the rural population is no more than 55%, and the rural economy no more than 35% of the total. This enduring myth continues to skew the political power balance in favour of reactionary and regressive forces; our parliament is evidence enough.

    Pakistan is far more urbanized than India or China, yet we do not see those countries shackled by a retrogressive class, or perspective.

  3. Khuram Khan says:

    You have touched my sensitive nerve with this post.There is no rural Pakistan left except in Balochistan and remote areas of Sind and Punjab. Urban unplanned expansion has gobbled up the surrounding rural areas thus depriving us of many things essential for a clean living.Whatever is left are the fiefdoms of large land holders with farm houses.The ugly, tv channels alien cultural invasion and unscruplous cable operations have helped destroy whatever was left.Instead of developing the 70% areas of Pakistan we continue to develop our chaotic urban areas.You can blame anyone for that but damage has been done.Gone are the days when one looked forward going to the village for holidays. Now we either go to Gilgit Baltistan or Kashmir not even KP.Hope this post helps in finding a solution.

  4. Basit Beg says:

    Dear Adil,
    I really have to appreciate how different and meaty topics yuo touch in your blog. Yes, you are right the silent majority living in our village and small towns need someone to speak up for them. We need to listen to what they think, what are their problems and how they would like to solve them. The y are pure people and really love our country. Sadly many of them are suppressed by the jageerdar tabqa, which we need to end. I wrote few words on it here:

    http://ihaveadream-pakistan.blogspot.com/p/land-re forms.html

    Many thanks for sharing your views.

  5. Gardezi says:

    Very good post. Yes, we shehri baos seem to become thekedars of all of Pakistan.

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