Just as Pakistan was sailing on a high last week with its "umda (excellent)" chai diplomacy, the PTI minister of culture for Punjab had to spoil it all by abusing Hindus and their faith in the most vulgar fashion imaginable.
There was an immediate uproar among the ever-vigilant Pakistani Twitterati, widespread condemnations followed. I had the misfortune of hearing not only this minister's views on more than one occasion but also those of his leader, so was not in the least surprised.
One could say the said minister could be relied on for routinely making bigoted remarks on pretty much everything, from gender to faith to personal attacks on opponents.
In fact, my first ugly encounter with him was on a talk show on Capital TV in 2014 where he was bullying fellow women panellists. The public outrage at his behaviour and my firm snubbing resulted in the transcript of the show being sent to the party leadership.
This show led to one of my many arguments with Imran before he proposed. Later as his wife, I was privy to the fact that Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan's TV appearances were privately cheered on by Imran. A call of appreciation by Imran usually followed the PTI tiger’s obnoxious TV appearances.
The first time Imran slipped into my consciousness was from PTV’s iconic comedy show 50/50, starring the legendary Ismail Tara. There was a poem about the cricketer that linked the Bollywood actor Zeenat Amaan to him.
Raised in a household where sex and boys were never discussed, I didn’t really fully understand at the time. All I knew was that there was this cricketer whose link-ups with women were very much the reason for his fame. Other gifted cricketers have not actively promoted a playboy image. Even Boom Boom Afridi, who I know for a fact has a huge female following for his looks, has never flaunted this heart-throb image. Instead, Lala has opted for a family-man image.
So imagine my surprise when during my first meeting with Imran -- in January 2013 -- after I had briefed a completely clueless Imran about the horrific rape of the physiotherapy intern in Delhi, which had grabbed world headlines, I was told by the playboy that it was because Bollywood showed women in skimpy clothes that the masses were frustrated.
I looked in bewilderment from the leader to the chief of staff, who simply nodded in agreement.
How could a man who had an Oxford degree, albeit in 3rd class, played most of his life in the West and partied hard with the media elite of the world say something like that?
How could he associate the length of a woman’s skirt with rape?
Of course, I had no idea how many more contradictions I would find in his private life and public rhetoric in the years to come. At the time, I dismissed it as a dumb comment by a not-so-bright sportsman.
Fast forward to the fall of 2014. After six months of persistent wooing by Imran and a few serious arguments later, I found myself married to him in October. Contrary to what was written about our personal relationship, we had no personal disagreements but his repertoire of racist jokes and cliches would frequently generate a raised eyebrow from me. Especially since I have raised my children in a politically correct environment.
It is unthinkable in my household to use derogatory words for individuals of other racial or religious origin. Imagine my horror when Imran would routinely use words for Christians and Hindus at the dinner table which my children had never even heard. Imran derived great pleasure from torturing me once he discovered my discomfort. He joked about how he was in the middle of typing the derogatory term during the dharna on the Minority Day when he was called to give his speech.
My shocked look would generate peals of laughter.
My youngest daughter, who wants to pursue a career in acting, was frequently lectured by Imran how acting was not a respectable choice. His choice of words to describe Bollywood stars cannot be repeated here. Inaya was smart enough to take no notice of her stepfather’s ignorant views but it was embarrassing for me. He would retell the story of how his mother had slammed the phone on a reporter after giving her opinion on Indian actresses when asked about alleged rumours of Imran’s marriage to Zeenat Aman.
So, I am not in the least bit surprised when I hear his ministers routinely make identical remarks in public about Hindus or filmstars. The direct calls made to Imran to remove these racist, bigoted loudmouths make me smile. If only those complaining knew that these men mirror their leader. In Imran's defence, it may be a generational thing and certainly, these sentiments are not uncommon. Sadly in India and Pakistan, hatred towards each other is perhaps the only definition of patriotism. Religion is almost always the first point of attack for opportunistic politicians.
My information about life in India is limited but if recent TV offerings are anything to go by, bigotry and suspicion against Muslims seems to be deeply ingrained. Many of my Indian friends say it is more or less the same in India and certainly, the Modi government hasn’t been the best advertisement for a secular, democratic India. Neither has been the rise in violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir in the past year by Indian forces.
In Pakistan, the Kashmir issue gives politicians ample ammunition to drive up the anti-Hindu agenda. This isn’t good for regional peace and is very disturbing for us as we have a sizeable Hindu community in Sindh and a sprinkling elsewhere.
Children like me, raised in the jihad environment of the Zia era, were encouraged via school textbooks and old uncles like Imran to hate everything Indian.
Enlightened families like mine jumped in to correct the racism and bigotry society throws at you by discouraging name-calling or any negativity, but many like Imran come from family backgrounds and social circles where it is considered funny to be rude.
Imran although a Niazi from the Saraiki belt of Punjab had this superiority complex of being a light-skinned Pathan.
While both my parents are Afghan-origin Pashtuns, my father found this Khan complex rather medieval. He never used Khan as his surname and found his red hair and freckled heritage not something to gloat about.
Imran, on the other hand, like many in Pakistan suffers from the fairness-cream syndrome. He would often say “I can spot you in a crowd because you glow like a light bulb because of your pale complexion against the ‘darkies’ ". This line he had picked up as a child from his grandmother who found it hard to accept a bahu of Bengali origin.
When in conversation about a candidate for one of the constituencies of Karachi I said the candidate did not seem to belong to the constituency, Imran said “you mean he isn’t short, dark and ugly"?
While the dismissal of a minister is to be appreciated as a positive step, it should not just be an effort to play to the gallery. It must open the door for a debate about our deep-rooted bigotry.
Making an example of the minister is important, but one must not forget that Chohan is a typical product of our government schools, where children are brought up on a curriculum of hate and then brainwashed by the deep state's narrative through media. If we really are serious about “tabdeeli (change)”, the government will have to do more than just good optics. It is never funny to be cruel to the most vulnerable in our society. The private conversations will have to change too.
Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and single parent in Pakistan. She authored ‘Reham Khan’, an autobiography
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Updated Date: Mar 11, 2019 13:52:18 IST