Friday, January 1, 2021

The Plight of the Hazara People of Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Raya Tripathi

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The Plight of the Hazara People of Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

January 1, 2021

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Hazara Children at Bamyan, Afghanistan | Source: Sgt. Ken Sca via Wikimedia

The Hazara People, who are mostly found in some regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, are a mixed race community who are one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. Their situation is not getting better even to this date.

Who are the Hazara people?

The term ‘Hazara' was first used in the 16th century in the memoirs of Babur, to describe people in the region towards the west of Kabul, till Gor or Ghazni. The origins of this community remains disputed, although there are three theories to suggest it. According to the first theory, the Hazaras could be of Turko-Mongol ancestry, descendants of Genghis Khan's army which was left behind by him in Afghanistan.

The second theory goes two millennia back, to the Kushan Dynasty, when Bamiyan in Afghanistan was a Buddhist centre. Supporters of this theory claim that the facial structure of the Hazaras is similar to that of the Buddhist murals and statues (later vandalized by the Taliban) in the region. The third and the most widely accepted theory is that they are mixed race. According to this, certain Mongol tribes travelled to modern-day Afghanistan (then Eastern Persia) and then got integrated into the indigenous peoples, because of which the Hazaras still have some Mongoloid features.

They settled in central Afghanistan, where by the 19th century, half of their population had either been killed or exiled.

Hazaras during the British Raj

Amir Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan | Source: Welcome Collections

Their homeland in the central highlands was invaded by the Pashtun Amir Abdul Rehman, known as Afghanistan's ‘Iron Amir' by the British, forcing them to leave their lands and go into exile in Balochistan.

There were already some Hazaras who had started entering British India, searching for labour jobs such as mining. They also came to Quetta, to work in the construction of the Indian railways. But, due to Rehman's ethnic cleansing, they had to leave.

But one interesting fact is that in 1907, British officer Colonel Claude Jacob made a regiment specially for the Hazaras. The Hazaras had got an image of having martial strength, as the British liked to imagine, because of their possible lineage to Genghis Khan.

The remaining Hazaras, who didn’t qualify for the army, used to go for unskilled labour then, because they did not own any agricultural lands in this new country.

In 1935, there was an earthquake in Quetta, which caused many Hazaras to leave the city for other places. This proved to be a blessing in disguise for them as they started doing semi-skilled labour there and were able to become tailors, mechanics and shopkeepers. Even the Second World War proved to be helpful to them as more Hazaras were recruited as soldiers, some even getting a better position like General Musa Khan, who led the Pakistani army during the 1965 war with India.

What is Hazaras' situation today in Pakistan?

A Kid protesting against genocide of Hazaras in Quetta | Source: Hazara-Birar via Wikimedia

Since partition, the Hazaras have remained an underprivileged minority. In Quetta, they are spread in two slums in the east and west of the city. The two areas are called Mari Abad and Hazara Town. Most of their income is remittance payments from Iran, the Gulf, Europe and Australia.

There are thousands of new Hazara migrants in Quetta escaping the terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But in Pakistan, they are persecuted and seen as an alien community, because of two reasons—firstly, because they’re Shia (a minority in Sunni dominated Pakistan), and secondly, because of their facial features which look Central Asian. A third reason has a geopolitical context, a belief that the Hazaras might be having Iranian support.

There are around 900,000 Hazara living in Pakistan, yet this is a vulnerable community. For decades, they have been targeted for being different by the extremists through suicide bombings and shootings. There are regular attacks on their mosques, even on festive days such as Eid. The Pakistani authorities' response to the violence against Hazara community has been to build walls blocking streets leading to their areas, or placing military checkpoints along them. Although it makes at least the Hazara areas relatively safer, it traps them inside these areas which are like Ghettos now.

In an article by the BBC, one resident, Haji Mohammed Musa, said, “Yes, violence here has come down, but we can't go anywhere else in the city. We can't do business any more. We're living in a cage.”

And if they do go outside, there are really rare chances of them coming back alive. Hazara people are scared of going out of their area, and don’t even send their family members out for the fear of being attacked.

The number of Hazara students in Quetta's universities outside Mari Abad and Hazara Town, is said to have decreased in recent years. The Hazaras, trapped inside their Ghetto-like towns, are finding other ways to get rid of their frustration by keeping themselves busy in sports. A form of gymnastics, called Parkour, is getting increasingly popular here. The Hazara boys say it gives them “a feeling of freedom” and that they “forget all their worries”.

The people of Mari Abad are not able to meet the other Hazaras living on the other side of Quetta, in the Hazara Town. They can’t travel there without the fear of being shot or killed.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are two sectarian extremist groups which have targeted the Hazaras.

People of Hazara diaspora protesting against discrimination in Quetta | Source: hazarapeople.com

Around 70,000 Hazaras have fled, mainly to Australia, while hundreds may have drowned during this perilous sea journey.  Even after settling in Australia, the Australian Hazaras are concerned about the 'Talibanization' of Afghanistan. They also held demonstrations in support of the people of their community who have remained behind.

Hazaras' present situation in Afghanistan

The Hazaras have always been persecuted in the predominantly-Sunni Afghanistan, especially by the Taliban. The worst form of violence started when, on August 8, 1998, the Taliban attacked and captured the Mazar-i-Sharif, which was then the only city controlled by the United Front, which is opposed to the Taliban. Within hours, it had started killing people in a frenzy and literally killed “anything that moved”. There were reports about women and girls, especially in the Hazara neighbourhoods, getting abducted and raped. The killings of Hazara men and boys was mainly done out of revenge by the Taliban for the Hazaras’ failed attempt of attacking them in 1997. Hazara fighters killed thousands of Taliban fighters and prisoners in the north in 1997. When Hazara strongholds fell the following year the regime massacred entire communities in revenge.

The Hazaras are confined to a huge open-air prison in central Afghanistan called Hazarajat. They can’t venture out, as there is fear of being killed.

ISIL in Afghanistan | Source: Najibullah Quraishi and Jamie Doran via Al Jazeera

IS-Khurasan, a group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State, is another terror group in Afghanistan which has also proved to be a threat for the Hazaras. In 2016, at least 80 Hazara people died after dual suicide bombings by IS-Khurasan, during protests which were held for electricity transmission line to be routed through Hazarajat. IS-Khurasan stated that it attacked the Hazaras because of their involvement in the war in Syria. Most of the Hazaras, who happen to be Shias, have been recruited in the Iranian army which is an ally of the Al-Asad government. An IS-Khurasan commander told Reuters, “Unless they (the Hazara Shias) stop going to Syria and stop being slaves of Iran, we will definitely continue such attacks.” Poor Afghan Hazaras residing in Iran are offered Iranian citizenship to fight in Syria. Some are even forced to join as fighters. But, this is just an excuse, as the IS-Khurasan would have attacked the Hazaras even had they not joined the Iranian forces fighting for the Shias, because, just like its parent organisation, ISIS, this organisation sees the Shias as 'infidels' or outsiders who are against Islam and therefore, worthy of death.

There were mass graves of Hazaras who were the victims of the Taliban bloodbath in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. A UN team went there to see those graves in 2002, just after the fall of Taliban.

Hopes from the US

The Hazaras, Hindus, Jewish, and other minorities—especially women of all ethnic and religious groups—in Afghanistan, were relieved that finally their nightmares are over, when the US forces started bombing the Taliban in 2001. Hazaras see the US as their liberator. Their hopes will be destroyed if the US withdraws from Afghanistan without completely finishing up the Taliban.

The situation in several places in Afghanistan has become better, where the Taliban is no more. People are able to attend colleges and schools and have more freedom. But the remaining states still suffer at the hands of the Taliban. There are deep scars still left in the country, which are difficult to heal even if the Taliban fades away.

Hazaras in the Covid-era

In Pakistan, the Hazaras were blamed for bringing the virus in their country. Their movement was restricted and they were targeted time and again for spreading the virus in their country.

They even had to face discrimination at workplaces. Mohammad Aman, a prominent Hazara activist, told Institute of development studies, “Places like Civil Hospital and The State Bank of Pakistan have unofficially asked their employees belonging to the Hazara community, including doctors, not to come to work.”

The Hazaras have been quarantined in their areas, Mari Abad and Hazara Town, and are not allowed to move out. Further, no other Pakistanis except the Hazara Shias are quarantined at airports. There is a belief among the Pakistani people that it’s the Hazaras who are bringing the virus from Iran.

Even after so many decades of persecution and mass killings, nothing much has changed in the situation of the Hazaras. They continue to live a life full of fear and abandonment. They left their homelands in Afghanistan, because the Pashtuns and the Taliban persecuted them. They came to Pakistan, where again, they are persecuted for the same reason. Those who left for Iran, were bullied for their Central Asian ancestry or had to fight in wars. Then the remaining who left for Syria, are now stuck and left to die in the Syrian war. There’s no place called home for the Hazaras.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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