Dissent, Public Space and Politics of Citizenship in Pakistan

Title: 1225 | Dissent, Public Space and Politics of Citizenship in Pakistan
Area: South Asia
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Shermeen Bano, University of Management and Technology, Pakistan (organizer, chair, presenter, discussant)
Rahla Rahat, University of Punjab, Pakistan (presenter)
Inam ul Haq, University of Management and Technology, Pakistan (presenter)
Ayra Indrias Patras, University of Punjab, Pakistan (presenter)
Maha Kamal, Information Technology University, Pakistan (presenter)
Uswah Firdous, Information Technology University, Pakistan (presenter)


The costs for dissent in Pakistan are high. The active, and increasingly anticipatory, suppression of opposition in Pakistan has momentous consequences for the freedoms of citizens in times of rising socio-economic disparities and human right violations. The space for free speech is diminishing evident from increasing penalization of journalists, student activists and minorities for state censure and participation in certain types of political activities. However, both marginal spaces and individuals in Pakistan have a dynamic history of resistance to authoritarian structures of oppression. This panel explores the myriad ways in which contextual realities are shaping the cultural politics of citizen dissent on the margins of public spaces in Pakistan. At the core of this panel lies the assumption that the South Asian cities, like Lahore, are confronting social transformations through reconfiguration of historic cultural alliances across urban margins and consequently engendering new forms of crisis, developments, inequality, and resistance. Through this approach the panel alerts us to the evolving tools and strategies of subversion that challenge authoritarian regimes through appropriation of ‘humor’, ‘mobility’, ‘citizen categories’, and ‘Public policy analysis’ in a radical politics of visibility. In addition, it challenges the notion that everyday resistance strategies lack the potential for altering enduring patterns of power relations. The contingent and heterogenic nature of subversive strategies of women protesters of Aurat March, gender variant Khawaja sira persons, low skilled labor and policy analysts in Lahore are important examples of emerging visibility of marginalized citizens and their acknowledgement in the wider citizen-state interactions in Pakistan.

Panel Abstracts:
Third Gender Recognition and Politics of Visibility in Khawaja Sira Community in Pakistan
Scholarly interest in exploration of transgender citizenship and its consequences for sexual minorities has increased in Pakistan after the legalization of third gender in 2011. However, majority of the research related to legal recognition of Khawaja siras- a marginalized gender-nonconforming group- has focused on either the administrative barriers in way of legal registration, on their indigenous resistance through “politics of ambiguity” or individual acts of contestation, all of which are seen as leading to failure of Khawaja sira’s national registration as “third gender” (Nisar, 2018; Khan, 2016). As an economically marginalized community that is subjected to discrimination, hyper‐surveillance, moral policing and consequent violence victimization on every day basis, this paper looks into the significance of third gender citizenship category for Khawaja sira community. The following paper draws on 10 in-depth interviews with Khawaja sira citizens in Pakistan legally registered as “third gender” with National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) to ascertain their responses and experiences of civic recognition. Findings suggest legal identification as “third gender” citizens as an emerging strategic response of urban-dwelling Khawaja Sira individuals to oppression of Pakistani state, society and Khawaja sira networks. These strategies defined by certitude, individual instead of indigenous resistance, state-led employment and a differentiated politics of piety represent a different form of resistance to social inequalities and civic inclusion through a politics of visibility. However, at stake is the identity related sexual and historic practices of this community that have been possible through maintenance of quasi-visibility.

Resistance from the Margins; Forced Urbanization and Right to the City across Gated Communities of Lahore
Gated communities are a source of segregation and social inequality. Urban sprawling in the form of secured residential enclaves i.e. Gated Community is leading to forced urbanization of thousands of rural residents around the cities of the global south including Lahore. This urban expansion leads to conversion of agricultural land into high-end residential colonies and results in leaving the poor local residents into small enclaves, often with walls, inside or around the gated communities. This qualitative study examines how the changing residential patterns at the urban center of Lahore, one of the most populated cities in Pakistan affects lives of young men on the margins of these gated communities. This research examines the consequences and everyday management of structural oppression by young men on the outskirts of two urban enclaves in Lahore; Defense Housing Authority and Bahria Town, whose access to these elite spaces is defined through temporary and low skilled employment in the service industry as guards, domestic helpers, and construction workers. The findings suggests that challenges of these young men include restricted mobility, monitored access to public/private spaces, stigmatization, feeling of lack of belonging to the city and of relative deprivation, loss of skills and social capital, unemployment, lowered self-esteem, and fear of violence. In this context of exclusion, nomadic mobility of young men, an outcome of economic marginalization, possession of low skilled labor, minority identities (Christians) and absence of city-specific skills- becomes a means of accessing the city and resisting its larger social inequalities.

‘My Favorite Season is the Fall (Of Patriarchy)’: Humor and Subversion in the Aurat (Woman's) March In Pakistan
Christie Davies’s (2007) work on political humor claims that extensive use of jokes reflect the pervasiveness of political oppression in a society. This study explores the use of humor in Pakistan’s “Woman’s/Aurat March” as an emerging strategy of creative resistance to patriarchal oppression and rising authoritarianism in the region. The defining feature of the protests in the march was the strategic deployment of humor in visual and verbal statements. By examining instances from the three years of protests (2018, 2019 and 2020) and by drawing on literature on humor and protest, the paper attempts to describe the ways in which humor is implicated in formation and subversion of political subjectivities among urban women in the country. In doing so the paper focuses on the transformative function of humor with reference to political/collective identities of protesters and politics of affects especially fear with reference to the March. In this context, humor is not to be understood as a non-consequential ornamental element of protest spectatorship. Rather, it provides a tool of localization of feminist movement through de-escalation and affect redirection in a public space hostile to women’s voices and public protests in general. However, the findings suggest caution in romanticizing humor as it can also serve to hijack the movement by deflecting attention away from the focal cause of economic, social and sexual justice for women and minorities in the country as well as lead to a negative cultural framing of the protesters and their movement.

Inclusive Citizenship and Rights of Religious Minorities in Pakistan
Religious diversity and religious pluralism reflect different potentials for civic interaction explaining co-existences between two or more religious communities in specific geopolitical settings (Lindsay, 2015). In Pakistan where 97 percent of population is Muslim, Islam entails a strong influence on state law, policies and socio-cultural norms shaping people’s identities and ideologies. At the same time, Pakistan is also a home to Non-Muslim communities that include Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and other scheduled castes. Despite constitutional guarantee for equality of citizenry and safeguards for the protection and promotion of the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, the country scored low on Religious Diversity Index (Siddiqui, 2014). For constructing a harmonious and peaceful society, both State and Society need to adopt diversity policies to promote inclusion, interfaith relations and social cohesion. In order to measure the state of human rights of any country, the status of marginalized groups including religious minorities is an important indicator. Therefore, it would be of utmost significance to look at the state of religious minorities by exploring their concerns, interests and issues pertaining to the understanding of equal citizenship in Pakistan. Applying descriptive analysis, the paper will deliberate on the framework of inclusive citizenship and highlight the constraints causing exclusion, otherness and marginalization among religious minorities in Pakistan. It will recommend the policy measures to embark on affirmative actions in order to incorporate religious diversity and deconstruct socio-cultural norms that generate social divisions stemming from the prejudices and preconceived notions plagued with discriminatory worldviews.

Sustainable Cities as Utopia: Policy Innovation in South Asia
The idea of cities as public spaces to be governed, with traditional policy instruments has been shown to be reductive. Situated within the discipline of public policy, this paper aims to model a “Utopia” of Sustainable Cities in the 21st century in South Asia by using the theoretical approach of Thomas More’s Utopia. Exploring More’s spatial imaginaries - an egalitarian and harmonious society - this work examines the idea of sustainable cities of the future (SDG 11), showing limitations of traditional public policy instruments to govern public spaces. It further posits that public spaces are multidimensional - not merely confined to the physical, but rather extending to the virtual realm. Governance of these contested spaces in the 21st century requires policy tools that address their evolving nature. Drawing then on Lefebvre, Foucalt and Soja this paper then examines the idea of a Utopian “Sustainable City” as a “third space,” critically examining Lahore as a case study. This paper shows “an alternative envisioning of spatiality” (Soja, 1986), to propose a “Utopian” model of governance and design. The paper further shows that physical public spaces diverge from virtual spaces as not something to just be governed, but also as tools for governance. This theoretical paper draws on empirical work from the SDG Tech Lab in Lahore. We conclude with ideas on policy innovation within public policy to create greater efficacy for modern public spaces

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