Eurocentrism Amongst Pakistan’s Elite

Zahra Haider
“The East offering its riches to Britannia” by Spiridione Roma. via The British Library.

I’ve been privileged enough to reside outside of Pakistan, roughly maintaining the same standard of living in my other two places of residence, Dubai and Toronto, complete with childhood summer vacations in Europe. I belonged to a very small percentage of Pakistanis who grew up with the privilege of Westernization and unconsciously use it to their utmost advantage (except when we’re questioned by the TSA, then our life-long entitlement tends to immediately retract). The general population of Elite Pakistanis overseas, from my experience, remain in their bubbles of wealth and privilege; typically residing in higher-end, exclusive residences, fully-funded trips (once their visas come in), and a handful I’ve known have the ability to spend as much of their parent’s finances on alcohol, drugs and EDM concerts as they want well into their mid-twenties. Many of the overseas elite-class men that I personally know have claimed ‘Deep House’ as the elite genre; whiskey and cocaine tend to be the vices of choice, and getting into bed with a gori is the ultimate goal for a while.

From growing up on manicured lawns, three-digit license plates and three-storey mansions which served as vessels for catered dinner parties and imported wine, Pakistan’s elite have taught me so much about why issues ranging from colonialism and partition are still dominant in society. However, over the years there have been many things I’ve grown exceedingly despondent pondering. And (most of) these issues begin with Eurocentrism. The alliance between classism — prejudice against or in favour of people belonging to a particular social class — Eurocentrism and the power of the law should be obvious, because who else is it making the laws than the eurocentric elite class (which is the residue of colonial rule)? Another issue, which I’ve written about in the past, is colourism: prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Both are terms Pakistan’s bureaucratic elite have enough privilege and resources to be educated on.

Growing up with Eurocentric beliefs (“West is best!”) and adopting cultural tastes which were predominantly Western — excluding all the rich and novel things about our own culture — haunts me as an adult, an adult with a milky-white tongue that I’ve desperately wanted to shave off. I was ingrained with privilege in my mind, the kind of privilege that is impossible for the majority of the country. I interpreted the idea ‘you can do whatever you want’ as ‘you can get away with whatever you want’. I noticed the way many of my peers treated their servants, by berating them, releasing their pent-up anger on them arbitrarily, causing them to cry and feel worthless, demanding for a glass of water (something teenage boys are perfectly capable of going and retrieving themselves), amongst a myriad of other degrading and dehumanizing behaviours. The threat of violence is often exerted, which means, to us, that some human lives are more valuable than others.

During my time in Pakistan, I was tormented by the absence of my mother. From the ages of nine to sixteen, my sole maternal companions were my paternal family’s maids at the time. I would invite the four of them to my room, away from the potentiality of the male gaze. One of them maintained a collection of T-Series’ cassettes with early to mid 2000’s Bollywood music, neatly stacked on the windowsill of her servant quarters (a place I enjoyed hiding in for solace from the turbulence of the main house, which was frowned upon by family members), and so we’d play it on the cassette player in my bedroom and initiate a two, sometimes three hour-long dance party. One of these women sat with me for hours, removing lice from my head with her own fingers. One of these women assisted me with buying sanitary napkins the first time I menstruated. One of these women would wake up unnecessarily early and come to my room half-asleep with groggy eyes, to ensure I woke up for school on time. All of these women cared for me, adored me — and sadly, envied my perfect command of the English language.

In private school, our British-engineered curriculum was much, much more advanced than the curriculum circulated in public schools, and the middle-class children who attended these private schools were essentially ostracized if we perceived a lack of Western sensibilities in them, although they typically scored higher academically. The only Pakistanis with whom I felt at home with were people who identified with hybridity as I did. I was too ‘white’ for Pakistan, and too ‘brown’ for anywhere else. I’ve written about this before. I remained secluded and separated from exploring the arts, history, and the depth of the efforts towards decolonization since the British left India and the violent Partition that happened shortly after. We were taught: to be Westernized is to be valuable. Essentialization (more ‘West is Best!’ attitudes) remained omnipresent, albeit subtly so. Videos of people from lower social classes were mocked, as were the broken English phrases our drivers, cooks and maids all attempted to proudly impress us with. Ghazals were disliked and Bollywood movies (for the small percentage of us) were ‘absurdist and ‘unrealistic’. Many of us lived through our adolescent years without having folded a single article of clothing, and most, if not all, were in complete denial of exactly how much privilege we possessed.

This privilege — beyond giving us cultural capital so that we may successfully compete in the Western world, or even completely succeed in Pakistan — has a dark alliance with the violence of the law. Most people are wary of law enforcement, at least evil and malicious cops. At the time, however, our fear dissipated shortly after the first few occurrences we learned a ‘mere’ five hundred rupees can still assist with getting off the hook for being intimate with someone of the opposite gender, or for carrying alcohol in the boot of your father’s car. If you came from a powerful, influential and/or bureaucratic family, dropping the family name would easily get you out of the pickle you got yourself into with the police. Once, at a police barricade around five a.m. with two male friends, one female friend, and her male driver, we were forced to pull over, arbitrarily threatened, and were told that they would be taking us to the thaana (police station). Being completely averse to the act of sifarish (name-dropping), by the time the truck had come to take us away, I hesitantly and regretfully uttered my family’s name and residence. All was well immediately after, in fact, I even received a ‘sincere’ apology. Of course, we should all be entitled to kiss openly in our cars without the fear of police brutality and torture. But with money and connections, the girl in the backseat sitting on a guy’s lap, well, that’s no longer a problem. Inevitably, the less privileged do not possess the same advantage and are heavily fined, jailed, or even tortured for crimeless acts.

Privilege comes with recklessness; the reckless behaviour I’ve witnessed exhibited by Pakistani elites is frightening — it’s almost masochistic. I’ve sat in far too many cars with men who were more interested in appearing ‘cool’ than the safety of their friends as passengers. I’ve heard way too many stories from other women, and from personal experience, of the adamance of Pakistani men to engage in unprotected sex. And, another epidemic of reckless behaviour: heroin use. One could assume the most educated men in Pakistani would know practising safe sex is essential, however, it’s crucial to take into consideration how sex education is perhaps non-existent in Pakistan. The same goes for drug use. As a member of the elite class who sees its own members acting so recklessly and masochistically, it is no wonder that at minimum many of us are alienated from our own country and culture because of Eurocentrism. All these problems and many more affect Pakistanis from lower classes too. There are countless examples of incredible generations of Pakistanis engaged in critical social change. We can easily, and ought to become aware of our privilege, clean up the mess in our own behaviour to hopefully turn ourselves around for some social usefulness. How we can use our privilege to work for us is, in fact, a choice we make each day. The bigger shame would be to remain blind to it: to live and die in our classist bubbles, perpetually the victims of our past.

Zahra Haider

Written by

writer with a focus on gendered societal practices, specifically patriarchy and women’s trauma in South Asia. based in Toronto. portfolio:

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