What has happened in Sialkot is simply beyond words. It is a ruthless, human-less example of using, abusing, and exploiting ill-bred minds, misunderstood religiosity, and misplaced loyalties. If we keep quiet on it, we will in fact be aiders and abettors to this horrifically tragic crime. Our heads are hanging in more than shame.
Shame on seeing our own countrymen lynching, murdering, setting fire to the body of a man who was just doing his professional duties. A man who could not read Urdu and did not even know what was written on the posters he asked to be removed.
A man who had given them their jobs and earning. A man who was training them to become better workers. A man who was instilling the values of discipline and work ethics in them. A man who was helping Pakistan become a bigger exporter in this field. A man whose own colleagues vouch for his integrity. A man who was the father of two young sons. A man from a country that has been the biggest donor of eyes for our blind. Why have we reached this state of mindless, heartless, soullessness? Consider:
Decades of intellectual darkness— The idle, illiterate and closed mind is a devil’s workshop. The story of Pakistan is the story of education suppression. Be it the military rules or the civilian governments, everybody has kept the masses ignorant. Ignorance of the meaning of being human. Ignorance of their rights. Ignorance of rule of law. Ignorance of the value of intellectual development. With minds that are empty it is easy to write and plant agenda-based scripts. An unaware mind does not question generally and religion in particular. Ignorance thus is the best weapon to subjugate and remote- control people. It is the best tool to manipulate minds. It is an intentional mutation of the human ability to distinguish right from wrong. The rise of the cult groups based on religion, language, ethnicity has created huge divisions in the country. This has created polarization that makes conflict, emotional reactivity and mindless destruction a possibility any time.
Legitimizing politics— Politicians have used religion to propel their campaigns and governments. The Bhutto era ended with him trying to ‘Islamise’ the country to save his government and to ward off opposition. Ziaul Haq being a dictator and illegitimate ruler, used religion to legitimize his rule. His style of creating religious groups and using them for political purposes has done serious damage to Pakistani politics and our international standing. His government was behind the emergence of ethno-linguistic party, MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), which later enjoyed the massive support of another military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf. Every democratic rule has compromised on reigning in the illegal activities of these groups because they are afraid of the mob power that these groups have.
Poverty and inequity— Underlying all this knee jerk mob terror is the lack of outlets and opportunity in masses’ lives. Millions of young people hanging around doing nothing except watching TikTok, listen to video speeches and wait for an opportunity to jump on any chance of a cause that vents their frustration exacerbated due to an empty stomach and empty mind. Scenes of a dharna two years ago by JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl) in Islamabad were a reflection of this huge deprivation. Most of the young people in that dharna were enjoying their stay despite the harsh weather. Getting free food, taking swings in parks and playing games showed how little life has to offer to them. This almost joyless existence makes the life of three guaranteed meals and trips to events under the guise of a misplaced cause too attractive to refuse.
Every now and then an event happens that stirs the society and nudges governments. Mob lynching, terror attacks, child rapes, the Noor Muqaddam murder all make social media trends for weeks. Then the judicial, legal and religious constraints take over. Short-term anti-septic measures de-sting the hurt and the country goes into the comfortably numb state. What is required is a transformation that is deep, long and risky:
Opening minds— Closed minds can only see that is repetitively ingrained in them. Little other information is allowed. The fundamental change needs to be is to let other information seep in. This requires a huge change in information and education. The Single National Curriculum that has been castigated in the media is one example of how difficult this task is. What we had expected was huge opposition from the Madrassa heads but surprisingly the biggest opposition is coming from our elites. The objections may be genuine but just reflects the difficulties of creating a balance between two extremes.
Closing legal gaps— There is a 200-year-old judicial/legal system operating that has made the justice system itself look like a punishment. Cases are resolved in decades. Cases are decided on influence. Cases are deliberately under- defended. Case evidence is concocted. Case witnesses appear or disappear on convenience. Closing the gaps of legal loopholes and cleaning the judicial system is something nobody has done. This government is also struggling but is at least at it. The lawmakers themselves are the biggest law hurdles. When ordinances are passed they cry for democracy. If this government is able to create a law for speedy justice this will set the stage for other reforms.
Creating social awareness— The best thing about the Sialkot incident is the almost unanimous condemnation of this event. It was so bizarre and off the mark that even its supporters are silent. This then is the opportunity to create a social non-tolerance for murder under the guise of religion. The Prime Minister’s gesture to give award to the manager who attempted to save the Sri Lankan manager is an excellent encouragement to stand up to this gruesome terror. The business community’s decision to pay $100,000 to the victim family along with salary continuation are great steps. What is now needed is a social awareness programme on how these acts deface and defame all of us.
This is a moment of soul searching of how we have let the rot of inhumanity continue due to fear of reaction. This is a moment of introspection of how insensitive we have become to the growing danger of becoming spectators to daylight barbarianism. This is a moment when we as nation must face the moment of truth.
The truth that do we want to keep on shaming animals with our behavior or do we want to stop, punish and annihilate those whose acts have brought, sorrow, tragedy, regret, shame and a huge slur on the face of religion and humanity?
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021