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Projection and Misrepresentation: A Self and Other Analysis of Regional Identities

Saeed Ullah Mandokhail

Saeed Ullah Mandokhail

Naturally it is one’s own self that is too close and thoroughly knowable. Proximity then systematically leads to acceptance and projection of the individual self. This as a result defines the individual self against other who is distant and less knowable. Yes, the other appears to be different and thus indirectly rejected once one begins developing likeness for one’s personality and propagates one’s own image.

And the rest of business is done by mirrors which intensify our belief in the superiority of our complexion and uniqueness of our outlooks. With each look the mirror does condition us to further like the physical self and adore it for psychological satisfaction, social uniqueness, recognition and individual projection.

Poststructuralist and postcolonial theorists believe that Identity operates on binary level. Instead of individual the above theories base arguments on group as identity marker. Perhaps group is the first and very basic social unit and thus an organized social self. And then there are several social groups: professional, ethnic, sect based, national, regional, racial, etc.

Group is an association of human beings who closely resemble each other, and on the basis of sameness the individuals form a combined (collective) self. The group derives its identity by finding similarity within its members and dissimilarity with other groups. On the other hand group identity is how people understand their relationship to the outside world; how that relationship is constructed across time and space; and how people understand their possibilities for the future.

In group identity, Tannenbaum believes, language acts as a conditional identity marker, closely linked with tradition and collective mythology. Myths and traditions are then carried within a culture which shapes one’s identity and personality. Norton maintains Language is the most salient way we have of establishing and advertising our social identities. But to Paul James Gee the link between language and identity is so strong that language use alone is believed to be sufficient to identify someone’s membership in a given group.

Here, what appears a topic of interest is group identity, especially regional and ethnic vis-à-vis different ethnic groups and state’s approach towards them.

How ethnic and regional identities relate to power imbalance, biasness and suppression within a multiethnic country like Pakistan? Why Punjab considers Pashtu as language of hell, its sounds (phonemes) as merely creating tin-like or steel-like noises? What makes Pashtun a laughing stuff in Faisalabad’s stage dramas? What led Abdul Hameed Taga in his Punjab Text book publication “Sociology of Pakistan” where he terms Baloch as moral-less, valueless and reactionary people?

There are scholars, sportsmen, soldiers, bureaucrats and celebrities among Pashtuns but why Urdu TV dramas portray Pashtun only as cooks, drivers and monchies in recurring identity patterns? After all, what prompted ISSPR to associate Pashtun cultural identities with terrorism in one of its advertisement this year? What identity the Pakistani TV laughter shows especially Younus Butt’s “Hum Sub Omeed Say Hai” associates with and projects of Pashtun?

Donald Horowitz’s book Ethnic Groups in Conflict 1985 considers ethnic identity as an umbrella concept that easily embraces groups differentiated by color, language, and religion; it covers tribes, races, nationalities, and castes. Simpson & Weiner term ethnic identity as the sameness of a band or nation of people who share common customs, traditions, historical experiences, and in some instances geographical residence.

Typically, ethnic identity is an affiliative construct, where an individual is viewed by themselves and by others as belonging to a particular ethnic or cultural group. Cheung believes the affiliation can be influenced by racial, natal, symbolic, and cultural factors. Racial factors involve the use of physiognomic and physical characteristics, natal factors refer to “homeland” (ancestral home) or origins of individuals, their parents and kin, and symbolic factors include those factors that typify or exemplify an ethnic group (e.g. foods, clothing, artifacts, etc)

Conversely, ethnic identity is an extension of group marking on the basis of its language, culture, history and physical make-up. Naturally, it finds a binary in its borders and takes a prolonged ethnic rivalry with it. The rivalry is significant in two instances: ethnic/regional rivalry within a federation or two ethnic rival stats.

Besides identity reception, ethnic group members maintain their identity by projecting their own ethnic image and stigmatizing or weakening the other group’s ethnicity. Pakistani Urdu news channels laughter shows that are presented in Punjabi, and that often ridicule Pashtu and Pashtuns may be an apt example in this regard. This, Derrida considers a clash point between the self and other. Furthermore, Dr. Tariq Rehman believes that research in ethnic identity leads one to observe institutionalized elements of racism, power imbalance and identity distortion of the weaker ethnic and regional groups.

Pashtun and Punjabi are two ethnic/regional groups who live side by side. To this neighborhood there is a history of political invasions and ruling. Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th Pashtun had been politically dominant and had many a times conquered most of the subcontinent up to Dehli. In this way, it had been the ruled and ruler relationship which is historically binary and in rival state.

Historically, Pashtun was associated with Afghanistan and Punjabi with Hindustan. And the Afghan-India rivalry, wars and intrigues are known to the world. One’s heroes were other’s cowards. And one’s religion was poison for the other. Yes, throughout the four centuries or even earlier the Pashtun converted Punjabis to Islam and ruled the region by sword. This country to country ethnic rivalry took new dimensions once they were merged into a new federating state.

Yes, with the emergence of Pakistan, the two ethnic groups came part of a federation. Since inception, Pakistan is found to be under the un-freeing grip of Punjab which uses it as a mean to extend its historical animosity with other ethnicities. Critics believe under complete monopoly of Punjab, Pakistan has institutionalized biasness, suppression and misrepresentation of other ethnicities, especially Pashtun and Baloch.

Because state’s narrative stems from the dominant group’s attitudes and thus it surrenders to its hegemony. So, the Punjabi numeric strength in the country and it’s ought-right hold of state’s institutions gives ISSPR advertisement, Yunus But’s ancestral grudges and Abdul Hameed Taga’s Baloch Portrayal, etc.

Research in ethnic conflicts and ethnic identity reveals that language is used as the most important factor in projecting and stigmatizing ethnic/regional identities. For instance, the French-English regional hostility forced Napoleon to belittle English language by saying that we (French people) speak English in French, and later on Churchill would reply that French is the mispronunciation of English. In fact, animosity towards a certain ethnic/regional groups is demonstrated by proving its language awkward and its culture horrible.

Rival ethnic and regional groups/states perception in regard to each others’ languages is aptly described by John Edward, a scholar in language and identity who writes that in Spanish community it was held that Charles V, the sixteenth-century Holy Roman Emperor would speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to horses. Exactly, as it is held that Pashtu is a language of hell, indirectly indicating to its rival as the language of heaven.

Furthermore, Richard Carew, the English poet while projecting excellency of English against other languages wrote, Spanish runs too much on theo, and terrible like the Devil in a play; the Dutch is very harsh, as one ready at every word to pick a quarrel. Carew’s attitude very much matches the perception of Punjabis towards Pashtu when they say Pashtu creates tin-like or steel-like sounds or its is nothing more than just a sum-total of mind blowing noises, etc.
John Edward believes such ‘language’ attitudes are, in fact, attitudes towards certain groups of people. In fact, the perception held against concerned regional and ethnic groups are manifestation of ethnic distortion and regional marginalization, even an inheritance of human documented biasness.

Michel Foucault maintains that within a state the self and other identity clash reveals elements of power and imposition. Amid suppression of the weaker ethnic groups, the dominant group identity will be legitimized and imposed on the former to the extent of social, cultural and political inhalation of the vulnerable identities. With complete monopoly on the narratives the state and its institutions prioritizes and projects identity of one ethnic group that it in a way considers as the self and distorts and misrepresents other ethnic group(s) that is held as alien and unimportant.

By Saeed Ullah Jan Mandokhail

The writer is a cultural critic and political analyst. He can be reached on facebook 



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