People who must do more
FOUR men stood having an animated discussion in front of graffiti on sidelines of the literary festival last weekend.
In the black of mourning against the thick white background, someone had written and signed “Uss bewafa ka shehr hai aur hum hain dosto, ashk-i-rawaan ki lehr hai aur hum hain dosto” (In the city of [my] unfaithful, I wander, with tears cascading in a stream).
The verse was the basis for some debate and cause for some astonishment among the group of four before it was finally dismissed, attributed to a particular someone’s lack of understanding of the topic: the murder of a Shia doctor and his 12-year-old son at the Lahore Canal a few days ago.
It could very well be that — like you, me and our neighbour — these four onlookers were not yet prepared to fully acknowledge the link between a ‘bewafa’ city and the betrayals that it has been a common site for.
Their approach is defined perhaps by the fear of them blowing their own security cover — like you, me and the city around us. It could be either that the actual subject of the protest site, a lament about an old town struck by a benumbing disease, escapes their notice or they are not prepared to look it in the eye.
At the literary festival itself it was mostly about the need to restore and revive the city by combining forces. The unprecedented event inevitably brought to the fore a romanticised view of what Lahore was and inspired desires of what it should be. There were few celebrations about the present, even though a reason for celebrations was offered. Despite the city’s general reputation, the predominantly young attendees’ responses to the talks at the festival generated hope that Lahore was far more capable of reacting to Balochistan today than it had to East Pakistan four decades ago.
More poignantly, it was the helplessness of this public response not being encouraged and harnessed towards a goal which once again had heads shaking in despair. The prominent missing organisers of the society were easily identified — the government and the media, which as writer Mohammed Hanif points out, prefers to cover live Tahirul Qadri’s sit-in than the coffin protest of the Hazara Shias in Quetta.
The people have a job to force these institutions, but it can be asked what more can a people do than let the living and the dead among them combine to form the grimmest-ever demonstration? Those who cannot be moved by 100 coffins will not be moved by the murder of a doctor and a son.
The dilemma is that while the people will continue to be accused by our conscience-keepers of failing to exert pressure on the institutions, they need encouragement from these very institutions for persevering on the side of right.
Those who are placed in leading positions must lead the people out of this dark alley. They must inspire by creating hope instead of promoting justifications for notions of relative security in comparison to other places and other sects, a strategy which contributes to the divide and could leave the people more immune than safe.
There may still be time. Just when you feel that you have become immune to routine displays of gore, a face crops up to leave a deep scar on your soul. The faces of young Hazara children and that of Murtaza Haider, the young boy murdered on the Lahore Canal, will pain the heart forever. There is no way you can shrug off the image, unless you have ideological or administrative reasons.
For a brand of the ideological this was a mini war won in a continuing battle. Murtaza’s serene young face symbolised the future — in the killers’ book the future of a sect that mustn’t be allowed to nurse any notions of peaceful living in this land. Hence the targeting of successful Shia professionals — and the young boy sitting next to his highly respected doctor father could not be spared.
For the administration it was an ‘unfortunate incident’, but one which could hardly have been avoided in a city of so many millions. Do not killings take place in the most advanced of cities in the most developed of countries?
Even in the context of this country, Lahorites need not be reminded every time that they have a much more secure life compared to those stuck in other Pakistani cities under other, less efficient and badly corrupted governments. The administration here has proven this in the past and as the surviving millions would see, it will have many more occasions to corroborate this fact.
One such opportunity presented itself soon afterwards courtesy children who suffered burns due to the negligence of the elders that they been given under the charge of at a Shahdara school. The young boys and girls at the school survived the ‘accident’ caused by a stove left switched on overnight. That no life was lost was sufficient enough victory for the relief of a public that has been trained to see the injured in a pile of the dead as a positive. For the administration, this was an occasion to order some prompt action to show its efficiency.
The fire in Shahdara has been followed by inspection orders requiring the local administration to look at precautionary measures against such incidents at all schools in the city. And it can, perhaps, be hoped the inspection campaign will trickle down to the rest of Punjab.
There have been far too many false starts in the past to expect that another apparent drive, launched to curb militants fond of sectarian violence will also be sustained.
One thing is for sure, the blame will again fall on the people — for not exhibiting their dead powerfully enough.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.