Number of Downlaods: 24
Published Date: Aug 1, 2002
This paper explores how women relate to the forging of new identities in a complex negotiation, which involves accommodation, assimilation, rejection, interrogation, resistance and capitulation to the dominant constructions of identity. Women may go through all of these processes or a few of them, depending on a number of factors. They may identify with a particular identity formation, or contest and reject it, as the identity being formed goes through various stages of articulation and elaboration. The specific construct to be discussed here is Mohajir identity and sense of nationhood in Karachi, Pakistan. The purpose is to try to understand some of the ways in which ethnic and ethno-national identities come to be created, and the contradictions that may arise from other belongings, primarily those of class, religion and gender.
The word Mohajir has interesting connotations that influence the group’s sense of belonging as well as suffering. The word has been used to denote a migrant, which suggests a tentative, transient identity based on movement, with no emotional relation to the land to which one migrates, and a sense of loss of the land from which one moved. This connotation of the term suggests a latent or visible longing for what was lost or left behind. In this sense, the term is deployed in the process of a claim to rights based on loss, and the reference point is the past. The word Mohajir is also used to denote a refugee, implying a person who escaped death, destruction and violence and seeks shelter, land, food and other necessities from the place to which the escape is made. The mass migration from India at the time of the partition was often referred to as ‘the refugee problem’. This term has connotations of suffering and sorrow, apart from loss. The refugee is a figure of pity, and the state is expected to fulfill the needs of a dislocated and suffering person. Although now, increasingly the Urdu term for refugees is panah guzeen, and mohajir is used to refer to a migrant, the fact remains that the terms are used interchangeably. The use of the word ‘refugee’ also enables a claim to rights by an appeal to the suffering, violence and pain endured by people in their attempts to be a part of the new nation. The notions of loss and suffering are both deployed in the construction of mohajir identity, as will become clearer later.