In theory, Pakistan has the largest African population in all of South Asia yet the representation and treatment of this major population are beyond horrendous. In 2020 there was a major wave of media coverage of the 'black lives matter' movement. While we shared, retweeted, and made #blacklivesmatter trending, We forgot about the black lives that reside in our own country and that how imperative it is for us to stand up for them. This African Pakistani population is known as 'sheedi' and are the descendants of east Africans brought as slaves by Arab merchants between the eighth and nineteenth centuries. they entered the subcontinent through the ports of Sindh and Balochistan in present-day Pakistan, where many remain as dock workers, domestic workers, carpenters, and blacksmiths.
Since their arrival, this African population has been discriminated against, first as slaves, then under British colonial rule for being black, and not much has changed since the independence of Pakistan in 1947. From the start till today the sheedi population has been confined and restricted. In Karachi, the sheedi population lives in the slums of Lyari where crime runs rampant, there is a lack of education and basic living necessities. Outside of Karachi, most sheedis live in southern Pakistan, not in any better conditions; mostly confined to villages and work only as farmers for upper-caste feudal lords.
Outside of physical restrictions, this community faces political, social, and economic restrictions. In trying to integrate themselves within the social and cultural landscape of Pakistan, they lost parts of their own culture, tradition, and even language.at some point, the sheedi people started marrying outside their community mainly with the low caste fisher folk clan. In my opinion, sheedi people probably considered marrying outside of their community as a means to achieving racial intermixing, hoping to grow the acceptance of their community as a means to achieving racial intermixing, hoping to grow the acceptance for their community by the society. Though by mixing into Pakistani culture much of their culture, tradition and language have been compromised, however, there is one thing that has lasted the test of time, the SHEEDI MELA. This yearly festival has been going on for decades to the point that even the sheedi community doesn't know when this festival started. It is an annual three-day festival that is celebrated in the honor of Hazrat Khwaja Hassan, also known as Manghopir. If one has the opportunity to attend this celebration, they would be able to catch glimpses of their African culture, the little parts of their culture that they have been able to hold on to.
Moreover, Due to their area of settlement and living conditions, they are subject to little to no education, and even if they do get a chance to pursue higher education, they are subjected to racism and unequal treatment including lower pay. Even with all the hardships faced by the community, there are many diamonds in the rough and truly inspirational names that are not given any recognition as they should. Yaqub Qambrani is the president of Pakistan sheedi Ittihad and has been working for many years to change the status and mistreatment of the sheedi population. He argues that many doors of success are shut on the sheedi community and they face discrimination at all levels, including schools, workplaces, etc., but "We are battling hard to establish our true identity".
Now let me introduce you to the first-ever African Pakistani lawmaker, TANZEELA QAMBRANI. She is single-handedly endeavouring for the welfare of the sheedi community. In 2018 she took her oath at the age of 39 and joined the Sindh assembly being the first-ever sheedi woman to do so. she is a mother of 3 and holds a postgraduate degree in computer science. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was a retired headmistress. her family is one of the few sheedi families who lived in better living conditions. She believes her lineage can be traced back to Tunisia where her sister is currently married off too. Tanzeela is a step towards a better future for the African Pakistani community but there is still a long way to go and we need to support her and her cause to create that change.
Moreover, there has been evidence, in recent years. of increased mobilization among the community, including the formation of organizations such as the young sheedi welfare organization (YSWO), focusing on expanding access to education, health, and livelihoods for sheedis and other marginalized communities. But there is a lot more to be done
WHAT CAN WE DO?
A lot more than we think. Allow me to provide you with a 4 STEP GUIDE TO CREATING CHANGE.
First, there is a need for employers and government entities to work on their methods such as better hiring practices when it comes to black Pakistanis as well as rethinking the language they use in advertisements and generally in our media and market to work towards equality.
second, Pakistani celebrities and prominent figures need to use their platform to raise awareness amongst their followers and audiences about the history of African people in Pakistan and their systematic oppression in the country. they need to use their social capital to call out the pervasive colourism prevalent in our society and culture.
Third, people who are influential and have access to decision-making platforms need to advocate for ensuring inclusivity, acceptance, and equal opportunities for the sheedi community. Moreover, people in media such as journalists, photographers, creative writers, artists ought to use their respective means of communication to ensure that these marginalized communities are well-represented, their reality, their struggles, their resilience, and their stories.
Last, but not least, EVERYONE HAVE HARD CONVERSATIONS.
This is a step that every one of us needs to take if we educate ourselves and learn to have hard conversations. As the millennial generation, we not only have the power to change our and others' views but it is also our responsibility. We need to have these conversations about the problem of colourism, racism, and the systematic oppression of our black community. we also need to learn about their history and culture and educate others about it as well. By doing so we will be able to contribute towards a better future and lead the younger generations on the path to becoming better human beings.
It is always said and told that one person cant change the world, but I believe that even though one person may not be able to change the world. We should also note that now in the digital age it is a lot easier to spread change as we saw with movements such as #blacklivesmatter that changed lives and continues to do around the world because its reach was augmented through social media. Hence change is a lot more achievable and so is educating ourselves. Before we even begin to talk about social change. it is our job to educate ourselves and bring change in our behaviours first. I know many people who say the 'N-word' without realizing what it means and for our African Pakistani community, we should start the path of change by first educating ourselves, then changing our behaviours, and then endeavouring for social change in our actions. Change is a chain reaction and by writing this article I hope to initiate that reaction, lets see how far it goes.
Cover credits: Abro