Hazara Representation in Popular Culture by Dr Rabia Latif Khan

This post explores the representation of the Hazara community in popular culture, using the examples of a novel The Kite Runner, a TV talent show Sitara-e Afghan (Afghan Star), and a documentary Laila at the Bridge. Rabia Khan discusses the gradual change in perceptions about Hazara identity, especially in terms of community consciousness and individual agency, and highlights the manner in which contemporary depictions of the Hazaras reflect more intricate forms of engagement with the historical, political and social realities of the community.

The Historical Context of Hazaras

The Hazara community is one of many ethnic groups from Afghanistan, but there are differences of opinion about whether they are of Turko-Mongol heritage, or are an indigenous community from central Afghanistan, an area known locally as Hazarajat. The late 1800s was a particularly turbulent period in Hazara history which saw the community massacred and enslaved at the behest of Abdur Rahman Khan, the Pashtun king at the time, who sought to conquer Hazarajat in order to consolidate his power. He did so by instigating a jihad against Hazaras who were perceived as ‘infidels’, due to their Shia beliefs in a predominately Sunni Muslim state. The insurrection of Hazarajat resulted in Hazaras being at the bottom of the country’s social hierarchy, and they were subsequently sold as the cheapest slaves at the time.

Discrimination against the community continued into the 20th century; however, the 1980s saw a significant reconfiguration of Hazara self-perception and community consciousness in Afghanistan. This was mainly due to the Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan), which was formed in the late 1980s and was led by Abdul Ali Mazari with the aim of representing Hazara political aspirations, resulting in a shift in Hazara visibility in Afghanistan. The first 2 decades of this century have also been pivotal in the community’s history, with their earlier status as peripheral subjects changing markedly in recent years, particularly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The Hazaras have since made great strides in the fields of politics, sports and music, with the country’s first female provincial governor Dr Habiba Sarabi being Hazara, as is Afghanistan’s first Olympic medalist Rohullah Nikpai, and the renowned singer Elaha Soroor.

Read the full piece by Dr Rabia Latif Khan, Hazara Representation in Popular Culture, 8 Feb, 2021, LSE South Asia Blog.

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