How To Recognise And Use Your Privilege To Make A Difference

How To Recognise And Use Your Privilege To Make A Difference
It's hard not to be petty about privilege sometimes. Instagram makes it fairly simple. A swipe, a tap and a scroll and suddenly you're knee deep in the visual history of someone's life, wondering why you weren't born a Kasuri or a Bhutto. Harder still is coming to terms with your own privilege, navigating through the nuances that the term encompasses. But perhaps the toughest pill to swallow is when the legal and political system of the country you live, work and dedicate your life to clearly has a bias against you, and gives differential treatment to people who don't have the same identity as you.

That authorities suppress voices of dissent is not a new realization, nor a recent development. The State has historically never liked elements that threaten its carefully woven narrative, but it has had to practice caution while smoothening the wrinkles. The less agency a group has, the less social or economic capital, the better its' chances of becoming a target. In recent years this disparity has gradually become more visible, with recent events making it hard to ignore.

Just today, yet another journalist from Karachi has been abducted, simply for expressing his views and opinions on social media. Arsalan Khan, who has been vocal against the enforced disappearance of Karachi's Muhajir was picked up from his house at 4:30 AM. Last week it was Nafees Naeem, next week, who knows what hashtag will be trending on Twitter? No arrest warrants, no charges, no due process, no respect. When juxtaposed against the pro-PTI journalists who were booked in sedition cases not too long ago, as opposed to being abducted in the wee hours of the morning from the safety of their homes, the inconsistency is appalling.

Possibly the most concerning aspect of this is the fact that at least abducted journalists have a network of likeminded colleagues and friends who can tweet into oblivion and ultimately pressure state authorities to relinquish them. Sometimes this even works for students, as in the case of Bebgar Imdad, Doda Elahi and Gamshad Baloch. But who tweets for the common man? Whose name is unknown, who doesn't have the support of a strong, visible community?

Of course, the powers that be follow no clear cut rulebook; the rules keep changing and we must dance around them. MNA Ali Wazir makes a speech critical of the establishment, gets embroiled in case after case, and gets imprisoned. Lawyer and human rights activist Imaan Mazari calls out the army chief, gets a case filed against her and then gets released. One wonders what the selection criteria for the conditional mercy is. Who is worthy of being released, and who isn't?

After a recent protest against Baloch enforced disappearances turned ugly, activist and professor Nida Kirmani found herself having to reckon with her unmistakable privilege after being taken into police custody with the protestors. In a Twitter thread, she highlights the stark difference in the treatment being meted out to her and the other protestors. The apologies and explanations regarding the involvement of the police were only given to her. When she got out, it was her name and bravery that social media and news outlets were commending.

Is it class? Is that the signifier of who deserves respect? Perhaps ethnicity? Or maybe its how strong someone's command over the language of the colonizer is? I've always understood the social hierarchy of Pakistan to follow the order of Sunni, Punjabi man, but maybe there's more to it. The nuances of privilege are subtle, but they're there. No authority should be allowed to deny their existence and pick and choose people, lifting them up whenever and however they want, like picking puppies out of a crate, or socks out of a drawer. It's dehumanizing, illegal and just wrong.

I felt this very strongly when former human rights minister Shireen Mazari was so quick to pen a letter to the United Nations after several leaders from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), her party, were charged with blasphemy. Her open disdain for the political leverage of the blasphemy law hurt me not because she was wrong, but because she was late. Where was this passion to fight against the misuse of blasphemy laws when Ahmadi men and women were being hounded? When ordinary Christians found themselves cornered simply because of their faith? Because Imran Khan is Imran Khan, his case deserves the attention of the UN. But for people like Junaid Hafeez, there is no law, there is no justice, there is only the maddeningly silent cells of solitary confinement.

Privilege makes me uneasy. I know I have it, but what do I do with it? How do I use it for the benefit of those who are devoid? Is it then the responsibility of every person of privilege to be the voice for the voiceless, or does that eventually run into the dangers of taking away agency? I'm not sure I have all the answers on how to best utilize my privilege, but I know I must acknowledge it, that's the first step. The second might be to never stop taking subsequent steps. To keep speaking, to keep demanding better from authorities who might take more kindly to you than to someone whose identity does not match yours. I'm thinking about my role, when will the State think about its?

Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.