Hujra is consider as one of the most important part of Pashtun culture for centuries, where people interacted with each other, but this tradition is losing its hold, importance and popularity and is on the decline continuously for the last four decades.
The hujra in Pashtun society used to be a symbol of unity and it was a hub of social activities and a place for informal education, as hundreds of people of different ages used to get together and discuss different social and political even international issues.
Beside social and political debates, many other events are hosted at hujra – from resolving community issues to wedding ceremonies; however, it is now threatened due to different factors including modernity.
According to the elders, a hujra was not only a place for social gatherings but also an institution for informal education, where everyone had equal opportunities and exposure. It paved the way for a culture of constructive debate among the people who had different opinions on an issue. It promoted tolerance and etiquettes among the youth.
Talking about the dying hujra culture, Farmanullah, 90, said, “I would like to say that those who forgot their culture have lost identity in the world and the history will prove it in the case of Pashtuns too. We need to pass on such traditions to our coming generation, else our way of life will perish”
According to Farmanullah, hujra was a sign of unity, love and care for each other, but this culture is dying, meaning the Pashtuns have lost unity, love and care for each other.
Apart from hujra, the other place for gatherings in Pashtun society is mosque. The mosques are considered a place for religious congregations. One the other hand, the hujra is social and political in nature. It is the place where guests too are entertained, thus is a symbol of hospitality for which the Pashtuns are known around the world.
“Beside many other factors, the modernization and advance in technology have very badly affected this great culture, as no one in the current era is ready to give time to social gathering at hujra. People are more interested in computers and mobiles.” Farmanullah said.
He further added, “There are still some huge hujra buildings in many villages but there is no sign of human activity in these structures. They are lying empty and as far as I know militancy has a big role in the decline of this tradition, thus ruining our culture and traditions.”
Many experts and Pashtun elders list the insecurity and religious extremism as the reasons for this decline.
Adam Khan, 69, acknowledged modernization as one of the reasons for the decline, but said parents were not ready to let their children come to hujras due to security threats and religious extremism that had badly damaged debate culture.
He said, “Everyone used hujra as the common guesthouse. The guest of one was considered as the guest of all and the people served the visitor with great passion and hospitality.”
Hujra has also played an important role in promotion of Pashto language as it helped in teaching Pashto literature to the new generation.
Khan Zaman Kakar, a PhD scholar of Anthropology, said in the old kinship-based communities, the hujra culture was very strong, but it was affected by the changes in political economy and introduction of modern means.
He said hujra had been replaced by television, mobile and many other modern tools.
Answering a question, he said that the people who used to gather at hujra had a better worldview and vision. A good thing about the hujra culture was that it was developed by our people indigenously, while the modern culture was colonial in nature and had been imposed on the people.
At the end it must be noted that the provincial government should play its due role in the revival of such important institutes. It would not only save our cultural norms but will also help in the revival of Jirga system in Pashtun Belt which has too lost its importance in the last 3 decades. Government and parents need to engage the young generation to ensure that they remain connected to their roots and keep such beautiful traditions alive.