Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeMain News 2Random Musings of A Senile Physician-IIDr. Alaf Khan

Random Musings of A Senile Physician-IIDr. Alaf Khan

Degrees, Diplomas and Titles 

Many Indo-Pakistanis are unaware of the proper form of addressing British, Canadian, or Australian citizens who hold certain academic qualifications or when they are decorated by the British monarch. Here are some examples:

Dr. Alaf Khan

Miss Jean Robson and Mr. Richard Thomson graduated from their medical schools. Though technically not doctors, they are conventionally referred to as Dr. Jean Robson and Dr. Richard Thomson in writing and Dr. Robson and Dr. Thomson in verbal conversation. They are never addressed as Dr. Joan and Dr. Richard. To their friends and families, they remain simply the same Joan and Richard as they had always been. Richard, William, and James are generally shortened to Dick, Bill, and Jim respectively.

Only the holder of a Doctorate, such as Ph.D., DSc, DD, MD, DLitt, LlD, etc is correctly addressed as Doctor. The title Professor, by the way, is a job description and not an academic qualification. Holding a diploma or degree does not by itself entitle a person to be called a Professor. I ceased to be a professor when I retired on my 60th birthday. The majority of our professors take their lofty titles with them to their graves — and beyond, if possible. Some institutions may bestow on someone the Honor to continue using the professorial title for life. Such a person is Professor Emeritus if a male or Professor Emerita if a female. Emeritus Professor should be avoided.

Muslim culture bestows on a woman an identity of her own. She is known all her life by the one or two names that she is given at birth. My wife was named Lala Rukh when she was born and remains the same Lala Rukh ever since we got married in 1972. The influence of Western culture and class-consciousness have popularized a lopsided imitation of the West by women of upper social classes in Pakistan. A girl at birth wrongly gets the first name of her father as her surname. Shireen, for example, is Khalid Shah’s daughter. She ought to be called Shireen Shah. Stilted modernity makes her Shireen Khalid. One day she marries Mr. Javed Lateef and becomes Mrs. Shireen Javed instead of Mrs. Shireen Lateef. The most touted case is that of Maryam Nawaz. She is the daughter of Pakistan’s ex-prime minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, and the wife of Captain Safdar Awan. The correct appellations for her are Miss Maryam Sharif, Mrs. Awan, or Mrs. Maryam Awan. Miss Maryam Nawaz and Mrs. Safdar are donkey English.

A Pashtun woman may have just one personal name all her life. My two late sisters were Feroza and Shahzadgai from their first cries to their last breaths. Males with just one name are not uncommon either. Problem arises when such a person is required to enter her/his First Name, Middle Name, and Surname on some document. The American and European minds can’t swallow the notion that one can survive in this world with just one personal name. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ismaeel, Moses, and Muhammad are examples of great personalities with just one personal name each Here is a case in which I was personally involved:

Dr. Ziauddin was a conscientious young medical graduate who worked as my House Physician for six months before going to Ireland in his quest for the coveted MRCP diploma. He entered his only name — Ziauddin — on the enrollment form for the MRCP examination. The Irish Royal College of Physicians rejected his application for want of a full name. His letter to me for help betrayed the agony he was in. I briefed the College on human nomenclature in Pakistan and suggested that the applicant’s name may be split into two, i,e, Zia and Uddin, without the lad coming to any harm. That is what the College did and Dr. Ziauddin ultimately returned to Pakistan as Dr. Zia Uddin, MRCP.

Marriages in our tribal communities are usually arranged within the clan or between members of two clans of a subtribe. Inherited diseases, other than thalassemias and retinitis pigmentosa, are surprisingly uncommon despite the widespread cousin marriages and the massive gene pooling. The lack of healthcare facilities, coupled with inhospitable living conditions over the centuries, might have weeded out some of the defective genes before the carriers could breed and transmit the handicap. Pernicious anemia, so rampant in the Celtic race, is unknown in the tribal belt and the rest of the northwestern parts of Pakistan. I did not encounter a single case of pernicious anemia during the 26 years of my clinical career in Pakistan. By contrast, there wasn’t a day when we did not have a case or two of pernicious anemia in our wards during a decade of my hospital practice in Scotland. 

My parents had, before their marriage in the mid-1920s, lived in adjacent hamlets in the narrow valley of Yakhdand in Mohmand Agency. My father, like others of his age, farmed, hunted, wrestled, and grazed cattle. Keeping an old feud alive is a tribesman’s cultural obligation. My father was no exception. He was periodically engaged in clashes with the British expeditions into the rugged gorges of Krapa () and Nahqi () passes. Winston Churchill, ostensibly a press reporter, accompanied one such expedition into that region. Being manifestly arrogant and morbidly racist, Churchill did not endear himself to the Mohmands. This is, incidentally, what he wrote about the vendetta culture in the Pashtun tribal land: The Pashtun tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician, and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress. Every family cultivates its vendetta, every clan its feud. Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid.

In between such ventures, my father continued to keep alive one ancestral feud or another. The origin of some tribal feuds may be half-forgotten despite the cyclical mutual killings for decades. The tribal vendetta culture has reigned unchanged for centuries. Marriage could always wait a few years for a spirited young man. My future dad, perhaps, was one such vibrant soul. Feuds, incidentally, are virtually always within a subtribe. I have not heard of a feud between one major tribe and another, nor between one subtribe and another. It is, for instance, always between two clans of the Utmanzai subtribe, or between two Halimzai clans. A feud within the same clan, if ever there was one, has escaped my notice. Likewise, a feud between a Mohmand and an Afridi, each from a different major tribe, is unheard of.

Tribal Customs: The good, the bad, and the awful

Our tribal people are fiercely emotional about their religious rituals. Their apparent piety is dwarfed by their inflexible and inhuman tribal customs. Most of these customs will hopefully dwindle steadily after the merger, in 2018. of the tribal belt with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. A few of these vile tribal practices merit some space.
A. Honor Killing. (1) A Mr. X will murder a female member of his family if he discovers, or suspects, an affair between her and some Mr. Y. He then announces publicly that Mr. Y is his toar (black). No feud follows if Mr. X kills Mr. Y at the same time or someday in the future. The toar is now on his own. He has lost the protection of his clan. His own family often helps him surreptitiously in evading his predators. You cannot call a man your toar and kill him without first naming and killing a female member of your immediate family. She pays for a sin that she might never have committed.

(2). Mr. G feels that, for some reason, he has had enough of you. He decides to eliminate you without incurring the feud that would inevitably follow if he kills you for no reason. He resorts to the inhuman tribal custom of first killing an innocent female member of his family and then announcing publicly that you are his toar. This cruel custom, based on a diabolical pretext, entitles him to kill you whenever he gets the chance. You, as per custom, have lost the protection of your family and clan. This evil custom is mercifully no more. The last such twin murders occurred in my clan when I was a primary school kid in the early 1940s.

B. Koshinda (killer substitute). You killed a member of Mr. D’s family. The feud that followed has consumed several lives from each side. The greybeard elders convene their tribal council —Jarga— to negotiate an end to the feud. The Islamic provision of monetary compensation (bloodwit or diyyat) is abhorred in Pashtun society. Bartering blood for money is deemed the gravest dishonor.

There have been only two instances of bloodwit (diyyat) in Pakistan in my lifetime. One was that of the Blackwater American spy, Raymond Davis, who killed two young men in Lahore in 2011. The second was that of Col. Joseph Emmanuel Hall, the American Military Attache in Islamabad who, in April 2018, jumped a red traffic signal, killed one Pakistani and injured another. On only these two occasions some folks in Washington DC and Islamabad remembered the monetary dispensation in Islamic law in lieu of hanging or imprisonment.
What, then, is the Koshinda deal? You had killed someone and a long feud had followed. What can end that feud? Tribal custom allowed you to nominate a male member of your family as Koshinda (i.e. Killer-substitute). Generally, it was a male considered a weakling in the family who was nominated as a proxy killer in your place. The aggrieved party now had the right to kill the sinless substitute whenever they got the chance. The poor scapegoat had lost his clan’s protection. His survival became his own concern.

Tribesmen outwardly profess a tenacious adherence to Islam. But when God and a tribal custom collide, God is almost always the loser. This awful tradition is now mercifully dead. The last Koshinda I knew was a third cousin of mine named Hakeem Gul. He became the scapegoat for the murder his father, Shahzad Gul, had committed. Hakim Gul evaded his predators for many years and himself died of melanoma.

The Koshinda practice seldom buried the hatchet permanently even when it was in vogue. The initially-wronged party would often go for the actual killer or some other heavyweight in the family instead of the designated not-so-good scapegoat. Hakim Gul’s elder brother, Gultan, was killed by the aggrieved party about five years after the council of elders had negotiated the foul deal. The feud was resurrected anew.

C. Swara. The word literally means a woman riding a horse or a camel. She is given as a bride by the killer’s family to a man in the victim’s family. It sounds like degrading a woman to the status of some commodity. It is endlessly decried by the neoliberals, the media, and the scores of NGOs. Such a bride is occasionally maltreated by her in-laws who consider her to be the price of the blood of one of their family members. Such a sour relationship is uncommon. The reverse scenario is not unknown either. An occasional Swara, endowed with a strong personality and a volatile temper, has made life sour for her in-laws. One high-ranking officer of the Federal Revenue Board of Pakistan whom I knew personally was so cowed that he could do nothing about the corruption that his Swara wife practiced in his name on a grand scale. You did not marry me, she was reported as reminding him periodically, you purchased me like a cow with your brother’s blood. He was a timid soul. But for her financial misdeeds in his name, he would have retired with clean hands and a cool conscience.

Swara is the one and only evil-looking tribal custom that has almost always permanently ended a feud. It, as a rule, welds the two families into an enduring kinship. This should be seen in the context of the age-old tribal traditions. Tribal damsels seldom, if ever, chose their soulmates themselves; their parents or guardians arranged the bonds. A young man may whisper to his mother his fondness for some lassy in the clan or in the extended family. Girls were usually content with the choices their parents made for them. Many a girl didn’t even know for a good while that she had been betrothed to someone whom she had known well as a neighbor or relative. My own two sisters got the news of their engagements only a couple of months before their wedding days. Modern minds consider such arranged marriages a social crime and dehumanization of women. But virtually all such marriages are lasting and happy unions unsoiled by matrimonial infidelity or domestic violence.

Divorce in the tribal belt is almost unknown despite the lucid and elaborate Quranic rules for ending a rocky marriage. Calling a tribesman a divorcee is worse than calling him a bastard or a catamite (passive gay). Domestic violence, with the exception of honor killing, is uncommon and is usually on a token scale. The high incidence of divorce, wife-beating by drunken husbands, battered-baby syndrome, and matrimonial infidelity by both spouses was news to me when I reached Britain in 1955 at the age of 19 years. Cultural norms have changed vastly in the past few decades. We shall, later, visit these issues of human rights, gender equality, abortion-on-demand, the sexual revolution, and the LGBTQ lifestyle.

D. Badal is the exchange of brides and grooms between two families. Couple AB has a son C and a daughter D. At the same time, couple EF has a son G and a daughter H. An exchange produces two couples: CH and DG. Each family takes care of its own wedding feasts, bridal robes, and jewelry of approximately equal value. This arrangement has a built-in social security for the two brides. Each has to be treated well by her in-laws, or else their daughter shall pay in kind. Each such bride is, in a way, a Damocles’ sword hanging over the heads of her in-laws and an Insurance Policy for herself.

E. Rasmana / Narkhnama (price range). This custom has been in vogue mainly in Kurram Agency. Women were classified as virgins, widows, kidnapped ones (), and elopers (). Each category had a price range prescribed by the tribal traditions. The sum varied from 800 to 2500 Kabuli rupees in the past. The price of a divorced woman remained unknown just as divorce itself is virtually unthinkable in the tribal region. The price of a virgin was proportional mainly to her complexion and her body mass: the fairer her skin color and the stouter her build, the higher her price. Young women were actually weighed at engagement to determine the price.

A tribal girl’s stout build, unlike that of an obese modern woman, usually resulted from a hard-working life that increased the bulk and strength of her muscles. A woman’s muscular strength is a valuable asset in tribal life in the hilly terrain.

Measures to legally regulate this custom and control the bridal prices were initiated in 1931 by a British Political Agent, Maj. Ross Hurst, and were finally enacted in 1944. This legislation was deemed necessary because of the exorbitant prices demanded by the parents of shapely girls with muscular bodies. Many men, consequently, remained unwed till middle age or beyond for want of money. Producing and raising enough manpower was not feasible in middle age and later. The government of Pakistan was contemplating legislation to be titled the Tribal Area Riwaj (Custom) Act in order to regulate the matrimonial market in the region. The merger of FATA with the rest of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in July 2018 rendered that proposal redundant.

(To be Continued)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -spot_imgspot_imgspot_imgspot_img

Most Popular

Recent Comments