A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands

Waqas Butt, “A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

One of my favourite chapters – and its contents pleasantly surprising for its interesting discussion on caste (or quom).

According to a Pakistani sociologist, Hameed Tigha: ‘the social status of every Pakistani is determined by his ancestry, economic resources, occupation, education, sex and caste’ (Tigha Hameed 1978: 47). Ancestry, caste and occupation are very closely related with each other, because usually the occupation of the ancestor determines the caste or quom, of a person…

Some anthropologists equate ‘qoum’ with ‘caste’, others with ‘clans’ and still others with occupation. [Here, he quotes two anthropologists – Barth (1965) who studied the people in Swat; and Eglar (1960)] The general meaning of the word ‘quom’ is tribe, sect, people or nation. Both of them describe how each quom is named and membership of quom is achieved by birth which is not changeable. (p. 301)

There are some cases when the change of profession or class has enabled some families to change their quom names… A rise in economic status or change into a better occupation may lead to a change in status group membership, although this is not always immediately accepted by others. (p. 302)

Three of my informants in the Netherlands during my fieldwork admitted that they were working as a sweeper or cleaner. They are all male and belong to the highly ranked quoms in Pakistan, namely Arain, Mian and Awan. These quoms were positioned second and third on the ranking system of Barth (1965, 1981) and Ahmed (1977). A Pakistani from the Sayyed quom which is on the top in both the ranking lists came across me when he was working as a sweeper…

…the jobs of waiter, dish washer and carrier are considered to be low ranking jobs. But in the Netherlands many respectable Pakistanis from high ranking quoms do these sort of jobs. In the Netherlands, they consider work as a job, and their attitude to work has nothing to do with their quoms. (p. 303)

These excerpts are definitely to be cited in my thesis when dealing with caste. Speaking of caste, I cite Ibbetson’s definition as explained in Bayly (1997):

For Ibbetson, the Punjab contains at least four distinct manifestations of ‘caste’, once again overturning the idea of the dim ‘colonial’ taxonomiser forcing all Indians into the same stereotyped jati or varna classifications. These four different forms of caste in Ibbetson’s analysis may be summarised as follows: (1) caste as a bond of blood association; (2) caste as an homogenising designation for immigrants; (3) caste as a Bhramanical measurement of rank for those opting into the game of competitive status-marking; (4) caste as an occupational or trades-guild classification. (p. 210)

excerpt from Susan Bayly, “Caste and ‘Race’ in the Colonial Ethnography of India” in The Concept of Race in South Asia, edited by Peter Robb, published in (1997) by Oxford University Press in Delhi, India.

Social Life (Language)

The social life of migrants is in someways similar to that of Pakistan. Urdu is thought to be the language of the elite and Pakistani parents tend to speak to their children in Urdu rather than their indigenous language, Pakistani immigrants in Netherlands also follow suit and hardly teach their local languages to children… These figures clearly show that majority of the Pakistani immigrants in the Netherlands with a Punjabi mother language are changing their language because of their social conditions. They know that Urdu is the language of the Pakistani ruling class. Urdu is a language of the rich and the use of this language enhances their social status. (p. 306)

It is worth noting that in cases where second-generation Singaporean Pakistanis had migrant parents (both from Pakistan and speak their native languages to one another), Malay was used to communicate with their children instead. I argue that this is a conscious decision on the parts of their parents to give their children a head start in a foreign environment while increasing their prospects of an enhanced social status. Language then can be seen as a social capital invested in their children in order for them to survive in a new environment.




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