I am sure all of us have heard jokes featuring Pathans (a term used to refer to Pakhtoons or Pashtuns in Pakistan) and have enjoyed them at some point in our life. The gist of almost all of them was that Pathans are either dumb or aggressive. These jokes were even published in newspapers at times. I remember receiving and forwarding such jokes on my mom's phone as a kid. And then reading such jokes on meme pages on Facebook and Instagram.
Then come our Pakistani dramas that portray the same view about pathans. For example, in one of the episodes of the drama Bulbulay, a Pashtun character offers a gift to the male protagonist Nabeel. Nabeel responds by saying, "Iska gift kya hoga? Ya naswar ya bomb!"
Too often, the Pashtun/Pakhtoon characters in dramas and movies are given names such as "Talwar Khan". In Hum Tv's hit Ramzan drama Suno Chanda, the pathan character, who is shown as a non-serious and mischievous person, was named "Jalal". How often have we met Pashtuns/Pakhtoons in real life that have such names?
In media and in real life, Pashtuns are mostly given the roles of watchmen, servants or halfwits who cannot comprehend obvious things. For example, in one of Ufone's famous advertisements, a Pashtun servant bought a donkey instead of a mattress, as both words have similar pronunciation in Urdu, i.e. Gadha and Gadda, so he couldn't distinguish between the two over a call made using another network.
What's also concerning is that, at most times than not, the actors who are acting as pathans in dramas, advertisements and films, are not pathans themselves. Any actor who can speak in an exaggerated Pashtun/Pakhtoon accent, and put on a shalwar kameez, round white cap and scarf on his shoulders, can take on the role of a pathan in media.
It is high time that media becomes cognizant of its bias towards the ethnicity in question and takes steps towards portraying a realistic image of Pashtuns/Pakhtoons. Media cannot entirely subvert the prejudicial norms of the society, but it can definitely play a huge part by presenting alternative narratives and kick-starting discussions around the derogatory and problematic portrayal of pathans.