The actions of the BSF, among other groups, reveals how—as Gramsci pointed out—culture is a
primary site of political and educational struggle, and how political alienation underlies another
political opportunity: the ability to mobilize culture as a primary site for political struggle.
201- Cultural activists in Baltistan—including members of the BSF and the BCF—invoke threats
to Balti language and culture as a means of mobilizing political support. Such threats include an
increasing prevalence of traders from other areas of Pakistan in local markets, and state attempts
to generate a nationalist basis for cultural identity through the control of social institutions
This strategic construction of a threat allows cultural activists to rhetorically justify their actions
as an attempt to protect pure Balti culture and language, However, in doing so they are deploying
a concept of culture that is relatively new in Baltistan, and one has been brought into the region
through a number of routes.
One of these routes has been through the increasing migration of men to lowland Pakistan for
work or study.
Given the marginal position (both politically and geographically) of Baltistan within Pakistan,
these men typically encounter various forms of discrimination, and are constantly in a position of
needing to explain who they are in cultural terms. Men mention three specific effects of this
One has been the need to explain one’s identity to those not familiar with it. Having to explain or
document who you are, in your own country, to unfamiliar others opens up spaces of
contradictions and categories for questioning (and objectification).
These are the categories through which individuals learn what “culture” means, and through
which they learn to talk about culture.
They also witness the way in which cultural identity is used by self-described cultural groups
(e.g., “Punjabis,” “Sindhis,” “Mohajirs”) to structure nationalist politics in Pakistan.
Notably, they associate a third effect of the encounter with the other two; describing how a form
of solidarity grounded in cultural identity emerges in sites outside of Baltistan as experiences of
discrimination and alienation generate a desire, and an instrumental interest, in associating as a
“cultural” group. In essence, they come to realize the material and political benefits that derive,
within new socio-cultural contexts, from developing a critical mass of individuals who share a
common cultural identity.
Another route through which new, and politicized, understandings of culture enter Baltistan is the
travels of young Balti development workers sent abroad to study or on assignment. These travels
facilitate a number of encounters that transform understandings of culture. Particularly through
educational programs examples of the instrumental use of culture as a mode of defence against