Of being Pakistani or Indian

August 27, 2007 at 3:04 am (Blogs, India, Pakistan, Personal, South Asia)

WickedPinto and S. Weasel recently have inquired whether I am Indian or Pakistani (ethnically, I assume).

I tend, as WP has probably noticed, to avoid answering such a question. But let me answer and let me explain why I am reluctant to answer it.

My ethnic ancestry descends from two primary areas: the northwest area of South Asia (between Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Punjab. Specifically, regarding the former, I have ethnic roots that may be said to be Pashtun or Patthan. (As a point of reference: the Taliban is overwhelmingly Pashtun. The Pashtuns comprise one of Afghanistan’s significant ethnic people.) How Punjabi I am depends on how far back my Punjabi ancestors go.

What complicates matters is that my recent ancestors, for a number of generations, have not been from where they are ethnically from. Whereas my ethnic origins are from the northwest region of South Asia, my ancestors were most recently in northern central India (namely Uttar Pradesh) and Rajasthan.

Considering my ultimate ethnic origins, I can say I am Pakistani. Considering, furthermore, the fact that “Pakistani culture” is basically Muslim South Asian culture, which my ancestors have been for many generations, I can say I of Pakistani cultural origins. I and my relatives and ancestors, with regard to traditions and customs, can be quite different from the Hindu culture thereof, even though there has been a lot of syncreticism in the Muslim culture of South Asia.

However, the creation of a Pakistan in contradistinction to India — that is, to divide South Asia into such regions — really does not make sense or, for me, is relevant as South Asia is South Asia. Whereas I have no political inclination towards either of the states that could claim me as a South Asian (Pakistan on basis of my ethnic origins or my ancestors’ religion and culture; India on basis of my ancestors’ recent places of residence), I really cannot choose. And I still need to determine whether, all things considered, I would be more Indian or Pakistani.

There are many South Asians who identify as Pakistani even though their connection to the geopolitical area is tenuous at best: many have had parents or grandparents migrate to Pakistan.

So, to answer the question: Neither. I am of South Asian origins, and in a somewhat stubborn move I would like to refuse to classify myself as either Pakistani or Indian. The division is artificial and ridiculous. That said, culturally I do belong to the Muslim South Asian (Barelvi Hanafi Sunni) cultural milieu, which many classify as “Pakistani” for various reasons.

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1 Comment

  1. Tambi Dude said,

    We can understand your utter embarrassment of revealing yourself
    as a paki. In this day and age, being known as a paki is a total stigma
    in the west.

    Notice that no indian ever has this predicament, specially indian muslims
    who emphasize they are indians.

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