Pakistan’s Obsession With “Who Are You?”

Pakistan, a so-called independent state, is still in the grips of a menace. A menace that has gripped it from its very core. The menace of racism. The menace of cast. The menace of “Who are you?”

I have been working for quite sometime now and already have a few bank accounts. For the sole purpose of saving, I decided to open a savings account in one of the local private banks in Pakistan. With this purpose in my mind, I walked into this bank that is near to my place to open an account. The bank was United Bank Limited, one of the biggest banks of Pakistan. As soon as I walked in, the Relationship Manager greeted me and asked me to sit. I obliged.

And then, it began.

I am going to try and recreate the whole scenario, so that the main purpose is understood. The conversation took place in Urdu, but I will try my best to translate it into English.

Me: Assalam-u-Alaikkum, I would like to open an account…can you please guide me through.

RM: Sure Sir, its our duty and that’s why we are sitting here. (Discards the pan he was eating!)

He cleans his hands and reaches for his drawer to take out a booklet. He hands it over to me to fill it up. (Surprisingly- since the rest just fill it up themselves.) Anyways, I start filling in my details and the RM starts asking some questions. It is a routine in our part of the world. RM’s try their best to entertain their customers by asking them some personal and professional questions. So he starts by asking the usual questions.

RM: Sir, may I ask what you do for a living?

Me: I am self employed and have a job as well.

RM: That is really good. And your business is related to what? Software?

Me: Not really. I am a writer and also work in the online marketing industry.

RM: Okay, that is good. A lot of people are now doing freelancing. We try our best to offer freelancers some real good services…

I smiled and return the filled booklet back (to cut the long sales pitch short) and he’s surprised I filled it up so fast (Talk about practice.)

RM: Sir, everything looks good. Just a little information is required. You’re a Muslim?

The first shock.

Me: Yes, I am a Muslim.

RM: Good..and you belong to..?

I am confused as to what he was trying to ask.

“Belong to…what? Sorry, I didn’t get what you’re trying to ask.”

RM: Sir, I meant are you a Sindhi, Balochi, Pathan or a Muhajjir?

Now, he’s ticked me off.

Me: Why? I don’t think this sort of information is required for opening a bank account. Or is there a restriction in this bank for someone from a particular background?

RM: No Sir..every one is..just asking for my own knowledge.

Me: Then, I really do not want to add anything more to your knowledge.

RM: I am sorry, I didn’t meant to offend you.

Me: You should be, because I was offended.

RM: Sorry Sir. Anyways, I have all your details, I just need a copy of your CNIC and a deposit amount along with a proof of employment or business.

I give him the required stuff without uttering a single word. He looks at my CNIC and asks me:

Sir, if you don’t mind, are you a Shi’ite or a Sunni as it is not clearly mentioned on your CNIC?

I gave him an angry look and just asked him to provide me with my form.

I took the form and tore it up into pieces. Then, I told the RM on his face that I don’t think I need to open an account in a bank that is more concerned about my caste and religion then the money I am going to provide to it.

The Branch Manager heard this and came out of his room.

BM: Sir, I apologize for what ever mistake he did..please calm down Sir.

No, there weren’t any customers in the bank at that point in time.

ME: I am completely calm. You just need to tell your respected RM to learn a few lessons in customer service and then take a rod and hit himself in the head with it so he comes back to his senses. Anyways, I really do not want to open an account here. I don’t think I am allowed to.

The Branch Manager did offer some freebies along with an year of free services. However, I really was not in the mood. I stormed out of the bank. On my way out, I did hear the Branch Manager summoning the RM to his office, didn’t bother to know what happened afterwards. I had already heard enough.

While coming back to my home, I did ponder over what had happened. It’s a sorry state of affairs at the moment. I mean, the questions or the “knowledge” he was looking for were completely irrelevant to say the least. He has nothing to do with who I am and what my beliefs are.

However, these are now household discussions. On most dinner tables, I am sure a lot of people talk about

“Sindhi aisay hi hotay hain..nasal ki nasal aisi hoti hai,”;

“Punjabi’s kabhi bhi aage nahin aane denge muhajiron ko.”;

“Pathan toh qaum hi pagalon ki hai, khapti hotay hain,”;

“Balochi toh hotay hi naa shukre hain,”; and so on…indeed, these are the darkest of times.

But, I guess, this is a point where we all have landed at. After 70 years of Independence, we are still at war within ourselves. We still don’t want to free ourselves from these pointless discussions of life. We still don’t want to free ourselves from the “Wahabi’s” and “Sunni’s” and “Shia’s” and “Hari Paghri’s” or the “Sindhi’s” and the “Balochi’s” or worst, “Karachiites” or “Lahori’s” or “Pindi Boys”!

I guess, even after being declared as a Republic, we dare others to challenge our “Public” minds. And we fail.

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