Who Is A Hero In Pakistani Society?

Unlike Shehrbano Naqvi, people like Tariq Johnson and other police constables will never be hailed heroes because they do not have the required place, power, or religion

Who Is A Hero In Pakistani Society?

Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism explains decolonisation through Basil Davidson’s notions of ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ resistance. In the primary resistance, a community fights against outside intrusion, whereas in the secondary step, the local community moves towards restoring the sense and fact of community against the colonial system. 

On August 14 1947, the primary process of decolonization was finished, and Pakistan was established as an independent state. However, the secondary step of resistance did not materialise. 

A prime example of this is manifested in the incident of blasphemy charges against a woman who wore a dress with calligraphy in the old Ichhra Bazar of Lahore. The unnamed woman was rescued by Assistant Superintendent of Police Shehrbano Naqvi who acted bravely in front of a mob instigating dire consequences for the accused woman. 

For this, she was praised and commended by political and media personalities. Indeed, her role in rescuing the woman from the mob speaks of her courage to perform her duties where her fellow officers in the past have failed multiple times. 

However, soon the name of Johnson Tariq started circulating on social media for his contribution to protecting the woman accused of blasphemy. 

Johnson Tariq, despite knowing what it entailed for his community in the past to harbor a person accused of blasphemy, sheltered the woman in his shop. For this, he was neither praised by officials nor given any official recognition. This bespeaks the construct of a Pakistani Hero. 

The aftermath of this incident reveals the coloniality and deeply embedded class structure in Pakistani society. Juggan Kazim kissed the hands of Assistant Superintendent of Police Shehrbano Naqvi on television. 

Due to her position in the power structures of the country, Shehrbano became the only visible subject of the heroic deed, even though Tariq Johnson and other constables equally endangered their lives to protect the woman accused of blasphemy. 

In Pakistani society, heroes outside of power structures, political establishments and civil apparatus are invisible.  

A hero in Pakistani society is a subject with power, authority, and status. No matter how many acts of bravery are ascribed to the poor, middle class, and minorities, the subject with power and authority will hail supreme and showered unconditional praise even for the mundane acts. 

People like Tariq Johnson and other police constables will never be hailed heroes because they do not have the required place, power, or religion. Each of them contributed to saving the life of that woman, one with power reached the list of influential people in Pakistan, and the others remained invisible. 

Pakistani society after 1947 has not revisited the colonial structure to restore the sense of dignity to the community. As a result, despite independence, a civil servant, or representative of the administration gains credit for everything, even though they are paid servants of the same community who are never visible to them. 

Did Shehrbano go there alone in a Western genre Hollywood movie? Why then is she the object of praise and not others? 

This is reminiscent of the colonial structures empowering the civil administration to enhance their control of society. Such class structure introduced at the time of colonialism stays intact till the present day. This is further reinforced to induce the undisputed place of the rich, and powerful in society. 

The construct of the Pakistani Hero facilitates the interest of the powerful elites and subjugates the poor and middle class; therefore, utmost care is taken to maintain this disparity. 

If the poor and middle class become heroes, the privileged place reserved for the elite as the savior of the Pakistani society will be taken away from them. This is one of the reasons that among the heroic figures of independence, hardly, any poor person exists in the discourse of Pakistan studies. Poor and powerless are mentioned as people who sacrificed in migration without being given an appropriate place to create an alternative society for themselves. 

This continues to be so in Pakistan, where constables and people like Johnson Tariq are invisible, in contrast to the powerful strata of society. 

This subtly encourages the attitude of eulogizing the rich for their generosity and acts. Instead of liberating themselves from their subjugation, the poor of Pakistani society constantly elect them and select their examples which deprives them of visibility. 

Such an attitude ensures that the powerless of the country are intact in their place, outside of the power structure. 

The only way the poor make a headline in Pakistan is through their misery. This cannot change without active resistance to the existing colonial discourse within the country undermining the process of freedom started on August 14 1947.