While SanaSafinaz achieve huge profits, these profits are clearly not equally and fairly distributed to the level of the common laborer – including textile workers, weavers, power loom workers, dyers and cotton pickers. This is why the class divide depicted in the ad (below) is inexcusable and insensitive. The allegation against SanaSafinaz that the coolies were not told exactly how their image would be put to use amounts to a fraudulent representation which should be investigated. (1)
Everyone has a right to privacy, and a right to benefit from their own image in, or at least not have others benefit from or exploit it in a manner that they had not consented to and were ignorant about. Had the coolies been provided full disclosure of the nature of their business, they could have bargained in a more informed way. That choice was never theirs, perhaps, based on stereotypes of class and caste, and social status.
Moreover, the picture is Orientalist. True, all people are brown here. It’s the class and neo-liberal undertones. The Pakistan railway worker and the Pakistan Railways (PR) have suffered the worst neo-liberal, neo-capitalist, military assault that has reduced the railway worker to desperation and destitution, and destroyed the latter as an institution -- over the last twenty years. The railway worker, aptly, is depicted as a relic of the past. Most rich people, including the upper class woman in the ad with her LV bag, would travel by air. Trains are thrown in as backdrop, the coolies as props -- for the sake of nostalgia. The colors and mood invoke a sense of the colonial period. The fading, exoticized red of their uniform appears as a cynical contrast to the vibrant colors of the lawn worn by women of a class that has long since fled the world of Cantt Station and coolies. One suit is worth one week’s wages, if not more. The upper class woman is akin to a (colonial) white woman; her sense of entitlement and arrogance can be inferred from the picture. She commands servitude from the other, the invisible coolie (blurred in logos) -- the native, the dying working class crushed under colonization’s new form – neo-capitalism.
Watch ad here.
The history of Pakistan Railways is a study of how a lucrative, national institution was destroyed for private gains at the expense of the people and the labor in this country. It could be labeled the neo-capitalist agenda or military hegemony over the state's vital organs where private greed and profit were prioritized over the welfare of the people, and the preservation of an essential working system.
PR was a profitable institute in the 70s. It was systematically destroyed by the creation of the National Logistics Cell (NLC) in 1978 within it. By moving favorable freight business to NLC and through what appears malicious mismanagement, the PR was run into the ground. (2) The transaction amounted to moving public assets and revenues into the army’s private hands. Now the Railways is being broken into four departments each open to parceling out through partial privatization, public-private partnerships, outsourcing of activities etc. Here was an institution that was actually working. It was self sustaining and providing revenue to the state and employment to thousands of workers. It also provided a much needed service to the people who pay more for buses and coaches. Not only have passengers lost out with the cutting of essential railway services – with attempts at privatization, the World Banks’s interference and that of the NLC, the infrastructure was destroyed, and funds siphoned away. Railway workers lost pensions; they are not paid salaries on time and have attempted suicide to bring attention to their condition. They work under an onerous new contractual system where they pay for their uniforms, and pay Rs. 600 a month to retain their licenses. (3) (4)
What the government military and private interests have done to PR is comparable to the plunder that happens when a conquering army runs through a people and takes everything with it. Is this what class battle is about? Those who can, take over, and move resources and means to themselves leaving little for the masses in way of jobs, opportunities, services and social safety nets.
Perhaps, the SanaSafinaz ad represents the cultural hegemony, the conquering class’s narrative over the fading coolies and the poor, like natives getting wiped out in a colonial takeover. I wonder if the next ad will carry the cultural equivalent of black face or Chinaman. The SS corporation may not have thought about all these implications – which is worse. It makes them appear wanton and irresponsible that they have not fully understood what it means to depict and represent the working class in a sector that has been destroyed by the an unjust economic system – where coolies have lost livelihoods – and niche businesses like SS have made crores.