Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Forbidden Love: Tales From Pashtunkhwa

By SesapZai and Shaheen Buneri

Love is the emotional, psychological and spiritual need of every human being to survive among the harsh realities of life. It is not a socially limited phenomenon, for people also find love in societies that are marred by war and political instability. If, on the one hand, certain people want to spread hatred and promote violence on the basis of religion, colour, ethnicity, political ideals and economic interests, there are others who believe in the beauty of the human heart and advocate love, humanity, and a peaceful co-existence.

The Pashtun dominated region along the Pak-Afghan border is a land of beauty where snow-capped mountains, gushing rivers, alpine forests, fascinating meadows, and a rich Buddhist cultural heritage make an ideal environment for poetry and love.

Yet, at the same time, the Pashtun society is passing through a transitional phase. The whole region from Swat to Waziristan is in the grip of unprecedented violence, where military operations are in full swing and natural disasters displace families from their ancestral homes. The slow phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction further erodes people’s trust in the State institutions. Confusion, fear and an acute sense of uncertainty prevails, and centuries old Pashtun social values, cultural traditions, and customs are confronted with serious challenges for their survival. A network of militant groups and organizations want to impose their extremist version of Islam on the local communities that is resulting into stifling delicate emotions of the heart.

Further, romantic love is considered taboo – it is a revolt and an attack on the established moral and ethical system. Not only is romantic love wholly discouraged and condemned, but it sometimes results in the loss of precious human lives. Hence, Pashtun romanticism is deep, fierce and devastating!

There are characters in Pashtun social history like Adam Khan, Durkhanai, Yousaf Khan, Sherbano, Sher Alam and Mamonai, who followed the call of their hearts and refused to surrender to the exploitative customs and traditions of the society. Perhaps, at that time, Pashtun society condemned and persecuted these revolutionaries; but for the modern Pashtun youth, they are celebrated as heroes and heroines. Such is the power of the human heart! These romantic tales thus craft the very soul of Pashtun arts and literature, and inspire generations after generations to pursue their dreams and build their own worlds.
Although, Pashtun romantic folk tales are the stories of unfulfilled love, of betrayals and of immense human sacrifice, it is important to note that romantic love is rarely practiced and showcased openly for the reason that it is considered “forbidden.” This is primarily due to religious and cultural practices, especially if exercised outside the sanctity of marriage. Most Pashtuns have their marriages arranged by their families, and people commonly marry within the tribe or close knit family circles. Any type of love before marriage is considered “taboo,” and commonly ends in tears, broken hearts, lost familial ties/disownment, and perhaps even death. Hence, the idea that “love comes after marriage” is every so often accepted as the norm.

Conversely, this study will attempt to examine the idiosyncratic concept of romantic love and what it means, especially in the Eastern/Pashtun context. It will also take a close look at how romantic love was secretly practiced, among the Pashtun locality, not only in past history, but also in the most recent and current time.

A recent interesting account is that of Pashtuns who were internally displaced (IDP) not only during the rise of Taliban extremism, in 2008, especially in Swat, but also due to massive flooding that occurred in parts of Pakistan, including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in 2010. Albeit, extremism and flooding itself had extremely negative impacts, this was also a time when love was in the air; for young Pashtuns attained the opportunity to meet and fall in love in an open space, unlike that to which they were originally accustomed. Even during the flooding, war, and violence that had forcefully enveloped the region in despair, many Pashtuns were able to escape their horrid realities by creating a separate world in which they lost themselves in the euphoric solace of romantic love. It is no wonder that there was an influx of marriages once the IDPs returned back to their respective homes.

Moreover, this study will document romantic love stories of thirty Pashtun couples who have managed to overcome taboos of forbidden love. They are the modern Adam Khans and Durkhanais of our time for they, too, like the historical star-struck lovers, had to struggle through a plethora of religious and cultural obstacles to be with the one they love. One will quickly learn, through these personal narratives, how these star-struck couples have stopped to no end to achieve love, even if it meant putting their lives at risk.

However, it is also important to note that despite the positive element of romantic love, not all love stories necessarily have a happy ending; and this topic will also be covered in the study.

All in all, this study strives to examine the changing patterns of romantic love in the modern Pashtun society. Readers will get a first-hand peek into the hearts of those Pashtuns who want to keep the flame of love alive in a society devastated by decades of war and violence.

- The writers tweet at @Sesapzai and @shaheenbuneri 

© November 2012

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