By Minahil K.
The pus and filth has risen to the top, it is what has gone on to construct a twisted notion of what it means to be a Pakistani national. And this image – this concept is one that totalizes – confusing religiosity with morality, and places undue importance on keeping appearances of propriety and piety. But underneath, something has given way and it’s only a matter of time that our actions become completely indefensible. Amidst all the loud talk of course corrections and paving way for a more inclusive and egalitarian society, there is literally next to nothing that is done to improve the conditions of the marginalized and the oppressed. This is not just limited to people who profess a different faith than the majority (the majority, which is somewhere above 95% of the population and ridiculously insecure and paranoid) but also those who constitute the vulnerable sections of society – the disabled, the old, women and children. Now, take a moment to see exactly what categories have been put together to make up what can be broadly referred to as those most at risk of discrimination and oppression in the country.
This is not in any way talking down at the citizens of the country but to make them realize that something is horribly wrong if this is what we have gone on to symbolize. In a country where we pledge to create a safe environment for our children post the terrible APS massacre, it is unbecoming to turn a blind eye to horrors like the Kasur scandal. The fact that another one has surfaced in Lahore other than the fact that it has finally been reported speaks of our societal decay on so many levels. Focusing on making just a single organ healthier when the cancer has spread into the entire system will not work. While we, at a more overt level, fight the much needed battle against terrorism and extremism, we must also not forget other areas that need the kind of commitment as well.
At any point, the argument that we cannot stretch ourselves too thin cannot be used as a response. This is for simple fact that Pakistan is a country that has a government – ministers and officials, state machinery and resources – all of which are paid for by the citizenry. We cannot say that the country is running on just mere will power. That it has not crumbled to dust must bear testimony to the fact that no matter how rotten or dysfunctional, there is a system in place and that perhaps lacks capacity and efficiency but still exists and manages, though with great difficulty, to sometimes deliver intended results.
The civil society and the media, in this regard, are great tools to bring about change. Things are changing, to some extent and though this might become a lot more clearer in the future as we look back at what all happened in the past, it would not be an overstatement to argue that for a long time Pakistan did not see so much debate on different issues of public interest on multiple forums including traditional and non-traditional channels of media. The fact that secularism is being talked about now; it is no longer entirely a taboo and though violence and extremism are still a part of Pakistan’s reality, people are beginning to take ownership of their words and engage with others who may have different views is encouraging. Women’s issues are being discussed and though it is perceived as an elitist debate for the most part, feminist thoughts and ideas and being debated on and hopefully there will be a trickle-down effect because finally it is those in a position of power and privilege that have the capacity to set the tone. Concerns like Girls at Dhabas and Shirkat Gah are championing the cause of gender equality and trying to increase the involvement and space for women in public spheres. There is opposition as there always will be because the status quo will fight to preserve its privilege but the cog wheels have effectively been set in motion by those who are prepared not to go down without a fight if nothing else.
These are truly challenging times for the country – both on the domestic and the international front. As Pakistan struggles to dissociate itself from its negative image, it will have to look inwards and try to muster the resolve to not lose sight of the larger picture. It must struggle to ensure safety and dignity of its own people –it must accept and truly own them in order to develop into a more egalitarian society. And for that, it must encourage constructive criticism from all stakeholders and take necessary measures to act upon it. This is the only way that the country has a shot at emerging out of what seems like a quagmire of complex challenges.