By Rafique Ali
‘How do you identify yourself’ is a question sometimes asked during a discourse. It can either be a political, literary and intellectual or a cause based conversation. There is freshness of liberation in this question. Sometimes this question has been asked with compassion & sometimes in an intimidating, accusatory, mocking & investigative manner. Doesn’t matter how & under what circumstances it’s been asked, the responder can feel the power of making the choice of identification as she/he does so. Unfortunately, the generation of post partition immigrants mostly settled in Karachi and urban Sindh do not have the luxury of identification. They can’t call themselves MUHAJIRS, let’s talk about why.
In 1991 I was a young aspiring accountant trainee in my early twenties, on an audit assignment in Saraiki Belt, Punjab and part a team was from a Karachi based audit firm. It was an exhaustive three week schedule as we were supposed to go to several branches of one of the largest government owned Bank. Back then, I had zero interest in politics or the phenomena of MQM who emerged as sole representative of Karachi throughout 1988 & 1990 elections. I was focused in my career & forthcoming CA exams. Then one day I with two team members had a humiliating encounter, first introduction to sample of Punjabi psyche. It was routine meeting, obviously about professional issues and had nothing to do with politics; to our surprise & utter astonishment we were bullied and insulted by two upper Punjab accented middle age management personnel. They were upset & angry about MQM emergence under the umbrella of Muhajir identity. As the days, weeks or months passed by, I often asked myself, what was our fault and what was the reason of their rage towards us? We were just a few guys who wanted to make a career in corporate world and that was it. We didn’t realize that they see us differently, however it’s not unusual for people to be little vary of people with different backgrounds. As life moved on, the answer evolved that a hybrid ethnic group emerged in urban Sindh who openly claimed new Muhajir identity. It didn’t matter whether I wanted it or not, I was still part of that group and the Punjabi management was resenting it.
Fast forwarding 25 years and plenty of water has passed under the bridge; I no longer live in Pakistan, however social media has reduced the distance and now communication is quick. Karachi & its politics still makes big news, social media erupts immediately when a news or an event surface about Karachi or its majority political leadership. The pulse of the comments coming from urban Punjab is still the same which I heard 25 years ago. I am not talking about Punjabi Establishment or Punjabi dominated security apparatus deployed in Karachi, these institutions have their own tunnel vision way of looking at Muhajir issue, which is a different topic of discussion. I am talking about thought process of Punjabi civilians from urban centers of Punjab. Though eventually, these same civilians provide recruits (thanks to ‘Punjabi Privilege’); who in the long run influence these institutions.
‘Since when you become a Muhajir , your dad or grand-dad was a Muhajir; you aren’t Muhajir’ or ‘There are millions of settlers in Punjab but they never called themselves Muhajirs then why you?’
Does my repeated use of word ‘Punjabi’ offended readers? Anticipating ‘Yes’, lets recap a quick piece from history of Civil Right movement in USA. Movement had millions of white (Caucasian) supporters, who never took offence when African Americans demand of justice. Young Bernie Sanders, now a seasoned senator and 2016 Democratic Presidential hopeful was a prominent white face. They never considered the movement was against white race because they understand it was about discriminatory laws and attitude of certain bigoted section of whites, not everybody. Therefore, Punjabis must not take offense upon my repeated reference. If you are against discrimination, bigotry and xenophobia then recognize Muhajir Identity and stand with them for their cause. I respect so many awesome Punjabis writers and millions more Punjabis too who believe in equal rights. However, that doesn’t change the fact that sizeable majority of urban Punjab hasn’t digested Muhajir phenomena. They are still connecting it with MQM, Altaf Hussain and punch words like Bori Band Laash, Bhatta, China Cutting etc etc. All these things are there and this article isn’t an attempt to defend Altaf Hussain or MQM. Also, snubbing sentences like ‘Muhajirs are no more majority in Karachi’ won’t help either.
If somebody expects end of Muhajir phenomena with political demise of Altaf Hussain then please think hard. Ethnic group Muhajir is a perpetual entity, leadership have limited human life. Leadership may change or political approach may change as well but the entity Muhajir isn’t going anywhere. Problem will continue if tomorrow all of sudden, organization of Mustafa Kamal or Afaq Ahmed will become an undisputed leader of Karachi. Then urban Punjab will despise them too because in their hearts they are yet to embrace Muhajir idenity and they want pacified leadership of Karachi subservient to the will of Punjab. This isn’t going to happen unless Punjab learns to respect will of people of Karachi and then people of Karachi will respond with same kindness.
Therefore, respect their choice and stop asking ‘Since when you become a Muhajir , your dad or grand-dad was a Muhajir; you aren’t Muhajir’ or ‘There are millions of settlers in Punjab but they never called themselves Muhajirs then why you?’ Karachi settlers did make up their minds and Urban Punjabis can’t do anything about it.
People of Karachi how dare you call yourself Muhajir? Tumhari Majal Kaisay Hui!
The author is a US based tax practitioner who tweets from @GoToMtns