Hujra, one of the most important parts of Pashtun culture for centuries where people interact 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 negative factors.
According to the elders, a hujra was not only a place for social gatherings but also an institution for informal educational, where everyone had equal opportunities and exposure. It paved the way for a culture of constructive debate among the people who had different opinions over an issue.
Talking about the dying hujra culture, Farmanullah, 90, said, “I would like to say that the decline in hujra culture highlights the flaws in our Pashtun way of life because those who forgot their culture have lost identity in the world and the history will prove it in the case of Pashtuns too.”
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. Mosques are considered places for religious congregations. One the other hand, hujra is social and political in nature. It is the place where guests too are entertained thus a symbol of hospitality for which the Pashtuns are known around the world.
“Beside many other factors, the modernisation and advancement in technology have 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 there. 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.”
Many experts and Pashtun elders list the insecurity and religious extremism as the reasons for this decline.
Adam Khan, 69 has acknowledged that modernisation is 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 television, mobile, and many other modern tools have replaced hujra.
Answering a question, he said the people who used to gather at hujra had a better worldview and vision. He added that hujra culture was indigenous while the modern culture is colonial in nature.