Lahore never owned me

September 27, 2020

I want Lahore to own me and I want Peshawar to do the same to a Lahori

I am a Seraiki, born and brought up in a Pashtoon neighbourhood. I moved to Lahore in September 2018. It was my very first time in a Punjabi urban centre. Living in a diverse society made me understand the importance of coexistence and respecting the differences.

Lahore, being a very busy and diverse metropolis, was a totally new experience for somebody coming in from Dera Ismail Khan. Perhaps, my accent sounds like that of a Pashtoon, therefore, I was treated as one here.

Soon I realised that Lahoris’ perception of Pashtoons is quite flawed. They view us all as lawless tribals who have known nothing in life except guns. Unfortunately, this image of Pashtoons was what the British left behind. 70 years since their departure the image stays.

My interaction with everyone in Lahore was very interesting, though. Most of the people here would be surprised (read shocked) at my fluent Punjabi. But there were some painful aspects which always worried me. It is these very aspects that describe the state of affairs in Pakistan.

It’s about the alienation of Pashtoons. Being a diverse federation, Pakistan is home to many distinct ethnic groups. A diverse federation always owns all of its groups and no group is treated as a foreigner despite their different outlook and language. However, being treated as a Pashtoon in Lahore made me realise what discrimination you face due to your outlook and language if you don’t belong to the majority — ethnically or religiously. In order to find acceptance in your own country, should you change your dress and the way you speak?

The other painful aspect is the denial of a separate identity to the Seraikis. Due to the centralisation of power in Lahore, the people in south Punjab, especially the Seraiki, are considered low-caste Punjabis. (Here I may admit a correction: Seraiki is not a Punjabi dialect; it’s a separate language.)

Since I identify as a Seraiki, I always felt I was being treated like a low-class Punjabi. The Punjab is Pakistan’s power hub and the most populous province. Its attitude towards other provinces and ethnicities decides so much about Pakistan. Small provinces and ethnicities always lament Punjabi domination. Punjabi nationalists dub this as hatred for the Punjab and its residents, but let me tell you it is not so.

I know so many amazing people in Lahore who have been so kind and cooperative and I am sure there are many others like them to be found. But sadly, Pashtoons, Seraiki, Baloch and Sindhis are still not spoken of in the same breath. Instead of celebrating our diversity, we resort to ‘othering’.

This is not Hitler’s Germany or Kim Jong’s Korea that we are talking about; it’s about a democratic federation. Even in the past, our state tried to homogenise the country. Let me say that Pakistan is a heterogeneous federation and it will be better if we accept it as such.

We have very good examples of such heterogeneous countries doing amazingly well. Discrimination has a reverse effect: in a Pashtoon-dominated city or province, you would be treated as a Punjabi, so to say — that is, “not one of us”. But that’s the reaction of discrimination the Pashtoons faces.

I’m a Seraiki and I have friends in both communities, so I know the differences very well. Every culture is different in its own ways; there is no such thing as a superior or inferior culture. Our cultural differences must be respected, if not celebrated.

In the end, I would say that I want Lahore to own me and I want Peshawar to do the same to a Lahori.

The writer is a freelance graphic designer. He tweets @Ehteysham1

Lahore never owned me