Cultural Stereotypes in Pakistan - Bazigah Murad

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

“Real cultural diversity results from the interchange of ideas, products, and influences, not from the insular development of a single national style.”

Pakistan is home to a plethora of norms and values, grouped together in a term called “culture”. Our country is often said to be “rich in culture”, hence explicitly manifesting the notion that diversity is dignified and wholeheartedly welcomed in our space. Though, this idea is disregarded after every case of honor killing, cancel culture, death threats over difference of opinions and etc. Now, don’t get me wrong. As a collective society, our culture is beautiful. It represents us outside of the borders. The languages spoken here are exquisite. Qawwali and Ghazal are our auditory treasures. The hospitability our people offer to new visitors is commendable far and wide. Our cuisine is *chef kiss* one of the most appealing ones out there. We have certainly the most wholesome festivals and traditions. It cannot be denied that Pakistani culture constitutes some of the most beautiful aspects of a society.

But as Pakistanis, we are in desperate need to learn and unlearn. Culture is not only restricted to shalwar kameez and dupatta. It includes everything that anthropologist EB Tylor defines as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” It is not allowing men to be whoever they want to be, and forbidding women just the same. It is not assigning strict milestones to mark off at certain ages. It is learning to be flexible and accepting of our evolving traditions and giving room to novelty.

Our culture is also the root cause of our interdependence and loyalty to the ones who share our beliefs. But that’s just it. We are so tenacious to dismiss the individuals who don’t. And that is where the cultural stereotypes are birthed. The secular behavior and orthodox inherency of our society leads to the advocacy of strict obedience to certain conventional beliefs at the expense of personal freedom which consequently incites conflict among people sharing the same faith, although differing in its expression. Contrary to the claim of being welcoming and diverse, our society has confined us to a box. It has impeded us to express ourselves in ways that lie beyond the stereotypical societal beliefs. Stale practices that have been part of our society since forever end up undermining the freedom of expression.

Cultural stereotypes in Pakistan often extend beyond society and ravage the individuality of people, starting from what they wear to what they believe in, rather than speaking out against bigger issues enveloping our country. The fact that our culture may amuse the foreign visitors is enough to keep our ego in check, and that is also because our people are more accepting of their customs than our own. Unfortunately, our culture is mostly characterized by honor, authority, faith, and extremism. And honor is that of women; who are further weighed down by carrying the honor of their families on their shoulders.

As of the 21st century, when people claim to be more “woke” than ever, gender segregation is still one of the most mortifying predicaments that need resolution and has hindered Pakistan from moving on from the imprisonment of incessant superiority complex and victim-blaming, unable to look beyond the cultural stereotypes that came into being hundreds of years ago. In a world where women are considered as a pillar of society and are successively setting records in every arena they set foot in, women in Pakistan are still marginalized and are bullied for merely speaking out against injustice towards them that has been a common trait of Pakistani culture for years. Gender inequality against women ignites frustration in me, this is why I will let this be the story for another time.

Cultural stereotypes influence the status of men in our society as well – though in a different light. On one side, they are looked at as an earning machine often getting burdened with over expectations of our society, whereas on the other, their ability to be human is often diminished behind the society demanding them to be man enough. Although, in comparison, women are statistically, and indeed more helpless when it comes to defying societal beliefs since most of the norms are the result of overarching patriarchal culture set by men. In addition, our media has also perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes but that is also the story of another time.

Our country is named as an Islamic Republic state, hence Islam being its foreground and all of its laws governed by it. Our culture is largely driven by a false understanding of our religion and misinterpretation of its principles; furthermore bending those principles as per convenience. People in our country tend to incline towards extremism from both sides. They either use our religious values as bait to send death threats towards people who slightly deviate from it, or openly cancel reverent bodies on the basis of their credence. In short, everyone has taken it upon themselves to become the moral police and monitor them through their prejudiced eyes and deem people’s actions acceptable or unacceptable.

Our culture has never been purely Islamic – from extravagant wedding culture where no less than a million worth shadi ka jora is approved along with a dozen shadi ke functions that seem to have no end, to violently executing people in the name of religious bigotry, we sure talk a lot about Pakistan being an Islamic state rather than actually getting our facts right. Embracing flexibility also includes acceptance of cultures and traditions that are not Islamic. It is also the acceptance of minorities as a whole being and allowing them their right to practice their customs as instructed in their culture. It is unequivocally acknowledging more voices and shaping the definition of Pakistani culture in accordance with them.

However, among the battle of extremists, social media seems to be led by the ones who take the lead in the screaming competition and end up becoming the reason for supplementary turbulence: aka liberals. Liberalism has managed to undermine the voice of sanity and crippled the sense of discernment; turning a blind eye to ground realities and being unable to assimilate each other’s opinions – as a result, “cancel culture” is born. Most people on social media tend to jump on the bandwagon and cancel whoever causes them slight inconvenience, without bothering to double-check the sources. It has also given rise to a false portrayal of Pakistani culture, trying to normalize obscenity through the eyes of the media that has stepped over the boundaries in order to adapt to the contemporary world of modernity.

Adaptability in customs and traditions is a fitting concept, as long as it includes giving people the benefit of doubt, educating ourselves on the subjects that we know little of, and allowing diversity in a state of 22 million people; doing all of that whilst abiding by the boundaries and condemning violence as an act to make understand. The first step is to learn to perceive people as individuals instead of shoving congregation down their throats and expecting them to give up their individuality just because our deteriorating society won’t allow it. Reconstructing our mindset and letting go of the thoughts that we are conditioned to think whenever we see a person deviating from the “norms” is also an essential breakthrough.

Stereotypes are often resistant to change; and in a country like Pakistan, all the stereotypes are so deeply embedded into our minds since adolescence that it automatically makes all the wrongs look right; therefore, rejuvenating our definition of culture will take practice – a lot of it. But it is also the key to moving forward, embracing our differences, and accepting that diversity extends beyond the people practicing the same religion.

Our culture is Faiz and Faraz as much as Friday prayers and Eid celebrations; it is Ajrak and Soosi as much as hijab and sherwani; it is Qawwali and tappay as much as naat and majlis.

Bazigah is an eloquent writer, here's what she has to say about herself:

'Juggling between life and university, I like to consider myself an aspiring writer, striving to find a place among the list of notable writers in Pakistan. Being a reader all my life, I started out my writing journey from writing short rhyming poems when I was 12 just for the fun of it, to becoming a regular writer in several teenage magazines, running an online lifestyle blog, and occasionally writing stories inspired from real-life events.'

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