Self-Humiliation and Second Class CitizenshipSunday, March 14, 2010
A Self-Humiliated Society
One of the important health checks of a society is the way it treats its own people both in relative and absolute terms. In a healthy society, the native citizens or nationals are perceived more favourably and enjoy more rights than aliens (foreigners). The government and its functionaries award their citizens at least the same level of respect as given to clients in a private enterprise. In a society plagued with feelings of inferiority or vulnerability, the reverse is true. For instance, in Pakistan, foreign investors are treated like gods and local investors as dogs. Foreign journalists are escorted to troubled areas (FATA, Swat etc.) like VIPs to witness and report our dirty linen whereas local journalists are humiliated, arrested, abducted and even killed at times for daring to report or even witness the truth.
But the above unfavourable treatment is not limited to governments. The same attitude or pattern of behaviour can be observed in the society at large. We tend to respect and facilitate foreigners with far more zeal than dealing with our own people. Thus howsoever inconceivable it may sound, the fact remains, that we treat foreigners far more favourably than we treat ourselves.
We may fool ourselves by attributing this unnatural differential as an old cultural value - hospitality. But upon analyzing the phenomenon in more depth, it becomes evident that the most important factor behind this tendency is our valuation of people. In our deep-rooted perception, a foreign national (especially of western origin) values and weighs more than a fellow citizen - even our own self. It's a simple self-image problem. In our subconscious, we are an inferior people - both in absolute and relative terms.
Devaluation of People and the Image Problem
When you devalue your own people in such a way, no strategy, policy, measure or amount of spending can ever work to lift your image abroad. Self-image is essentially a socio-psychological phenomenon. If you feel inferior, that's exactly how you get treated. We are a humiliated people (from within) and we carry our humiliation whenever and wherever we travel. Now you realize why the green passport is viewed so unfavourably around the world? A bad name depends at least equally if not more, on bad perception than on bad deeds. From a psychological perspective, a negative self-perception (attitude) is probably more damaging to self, than any other "fact of life". To be treated as equals among other communities, we must first feel and believe to be equals.
Second Class Citizenship
In many third world societies including Pakistan, as is evident from the above discussion, the general public qualifies for a second class citizenship. Second class citizenship can be characterized as follows:
- There is a strong contrast between the rights (and treatment) of the elite and the general public
- The fundamental purpose of the law is to regulate and control the masses and to safeguard the interests of the elite
- The law is practically irrelevant to the elite and more powerful classes of the society who can breach (and even make or amend) the law as and when desired
- The masses have no or limited means and power to claim rights from the state or from other social institutions
- The common man has no voice, or it is too feeble to be heard in any meaningful forum of the society
- The masses in general, lead an insecure life and are often harassed by the more powerful, and at times by their own governments
- People have limited opportunities and hope of advancing as individuals, family or community
- The quality of public services (health, education, work etc.) available to the masses is too low to qualify as adequate for decent living from any standard of evaluation
Reclaiming Full Citizenship
To become a first class citizen, we must first become more important in our own eyes. A psychologically inferior class of men, with low self-esteem can neither claim nor attain the status and treatment they deserve as valued citizens (or even humans). Pets of the affluent segments may enjoy greater benefits than self-humiliated individuals with ragged souls. People who know they don't matter don’t matter.
No government in the world has the means or power to suppress a 160 million people. The fundamental device that controls such a mass of people is ignorance. Yes, ignorance about one’s own power and ability to assert and change.
Our present is the aftermath of continuous degradation over time, decades of passivity and unqualified patience. Our future lies in the understanding and actions outlined below:
- The knowledge, belief and conviction that we are worthy of respectful and equal treatment as humans and as citizens of the state
- Acknowledgement that much of our "inferiority" and suffering is owed primarily to our own ignorance about ourselves, our capacity to bring about change and our undeniable rights that are guaranteed by law and the constitution
- Deep respect for fellow-citizens and their rights, especially of the lower classes (quite contrary to the current practice of appreciating the classes above, which ironically serves as an instrument of status quo)
- Reviving community life to collectively assert and strive for rights. In the game of rights, a lone individual stands no chance against the system. The modern system is a complex web of institutions and the only way forward is through formation and mobilization of groups and institutions
- Collectively work to develop and strengthen the lesser classes of the society. There is no greater reservoir of energy and enthusiasm than the one found among the masses of the poor, rejuvenated with hope. Is it a coincidence that it is usually the most feared class of any underdeveloped society?
- Say goodbye to patience. Tolerating mass injustice fortifies injustice. With widespread acceptance of suffering, change is not forthcoming. If you cannot do something, at least say something, but not in solitude. Mobilize people, and raise your voice collectively
- Readiness for sacrifice. Yes, a little "mess" is sometimes unavoidable. If you are too weak to assert and resist, then it's ok to go to sleep - but that too, without dreams
- Constantly mobilize and strengthen your social network to the point where your voice can no longer be ignored by the circles that matter and where the law becomes applicable to all and sundry
See also: Confronting the Self-Defeating Assumptions, Beliefs and Norms in Pakistan