Candle in the Wind

Published in The Friday Times on January 11th 2013

Pakistan has what you call an abusive relationship with its citizens. It isn’t a good provider: no electricity, no gas, no water. It is also not good at ensuring security, an essential in a stable relationship. Hundreds are gunned down in Karachi, abductions are common place and polio workers are assassinated by the Taliban. It is also at war with itself, judiciary versus executive fights, the army’s manipulations in politics. But what is most unforgiveable is the most defining characteristic of abuse: the systematic attempts to isolate its citizens. Internationally, as the country throws tantrums, for instance, the Salala incident, and locally, as it creates blocks 181 million cell phone connections for days, bans Youtube for months and restricts average citizen’s civil liberties.

As unfortunate as oppression is, an abuser never acts alone, he is propelled by the passivity of the victim – the unwillingness to act in defense for whatever reason, feeling powerless being one of them, the acknowledgement of the abuse being another. So powerful is this magic portion of inaction that it further emboldens the perpetrator into escalating the violence and weakening the victim until ultimately there is death of hope, of reason and finally of self belief. A typical cycle of violence comes a full circle.

In December 2012 religious zealots entered the Ahmedi graveyard in Model Town, a stone throws away from the Chief Minister’s house and desecrated the graves, broke down the tombs stones into pieces. There was no outcry. The discrimination against Ahmedis in Pakistan, thanks to the PPP government that declared them non-Muslims in 1974, is nothing short of genocide – routinely men, young and old are shot for being Ahmedi.  Though much more organized in terms of numbers, Shias have been attacked barbarically through terrorism, and particularly the Shia Hazara community, about 2000 of who have been killed in the past decade. Apart from superficial condemnation on the TV networks there is nothing but silence.

Often victims of abuse develop an alternate ego, and imagine that the abuse is happening to another part of them, that they are not affected. This is a coping strategy, and one that emerges out of pure delusion. Pakistanis too have been desensitized by the routine, sporadic and random violence to parts of them and they are unable to process the pain as their own. This disjointedness from each other’s communities will be the death of us.

The only thing that can break a cycle of abuse is the two feet we have under us.

And an ego. Willing to hang him on our walls as our poet philosopher, we don’t have any respect for Allama Iqbals’ concept of Khudi. The power must be restored back into this country’s citizens by their ability to show force. By walking away from it all towards a group of people who like us, want this madness to stop, want power back in our hands and want to not just send a message but to convince the world that we still have the fight left in us.

This is what I went to do at Liberty Chowk on January 4th 2013, to commemorate the second death anniversary to one of the greatest stalwarts of tolerance known to Pakistan – Salman Taseer. I lit a candle, me and a few 20 odd people, passionate and vocal, chanted anti-mullah slogans in the winter cold as cars drove by. And though no mountains were moved, the people there did their best in honoring the memory of a man who stood for a Christian woman wrongly convicted under blasphemy. We stood there to protest the pain over the fact that Aasia Bibi, the victim, still languishes in prison and Tasser’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri remains to be punished. What mattered was that we were there at that moment in the time quantum and not elsewhere. What mattered was I was telling my country, “NO.”

When 2013’s first week started, the United States marked 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important documents in History, calling for the end of slavery in the US. One of the justifications of slavery was that Blacks were better off in US than in Africa. Many such justifications would have prolonged the emancipation had it not been for the African-American community standing up for its rights. No freedom is ever handed over to anyone out of the altruism of the powerful, it must be snatched and fought for – two things needed for that are feet and ego.

Whereas now we have more modern mediums to protest, we have seemingly been varnished by the cowardice that enables us to tweet #OUTCRY from our fingertips to the World Wide Web but simultaneously be entrenched in our comfort zones because we are too afraid to be involved in the battle for the soul of our country.

India has soul, no matter how similar we are in our backwardness they leave us light-years away when it comes to getting their country to listen. The Delhi gang rape incident and the outpour of both women and men on the street prove that, that relationship may not be perfect but it’s healthy. The government is forced to step up its programs to protect women.

Next time, and there will undoubtedly be one in this cursed geopolitical region, let us light a candle.

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