It was Mark Twain who said “clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” While no one can deny the importance of sartorial choices in making us who we are, it is our environment – literal, social, cultural, and psychosocial – that decides who we are and what we are going to be.
Owais is seven years old and lives in Karachi – Orangi Town to be precise. His father works as a junior care taker in a shrine and his mother is a maid. When I first met him, he looked like a happy go lucky, fairly smart kid who likes cricket and bananas in no particular order loves going to school because he gets to hang out with his friends and considers his mother to be the best person in the world. Sounds like a regular kid? Yes, he does. It is only when I started to talk to him about his career choices that one realizes what living in a society like ours has done to him and hundreds of thousands of other children.
Owais wants to join the army which looked like a decent career option. A lot of kids would want to do that but when he was asked why he would like to join the army, he said that he will have a big gun with which he will be able to intimidate everyone. He also relishes the fact that an army person is at the top of the food chain and can even beat a police man.
His second career option is to go into the police. Just like the armed forces, police officials are also powerful people who can beat up everyone whenever it takes their fancy. Owais’ father was once beaten up by them for no reason. Owais thinks that if he joins the police force, no one will be able to harm his family except for the army officials, only they are more powerful than the policemen.
Owais’s third and least desired career option is to become a maulvi. When asked why, he said that a maulvi is well respected in the community, gets sent good food from every house in the neighborhood and most of all, he gets to beat up all the children he teaches Quran.
Owais has lived with frequent and continual exposure to the use of guns, knives, drugs, and random violence in his neighborhood. He has witnessed shootings and beatings many a times in his short life and thinks only those professions that can offer a modicum of security are worth pursuing.
Living in a society where it is an everyday occurrence, Owais thinks violence is a natural state of being. For him beating up random people including children is a fine way to live and make a living. At this point in time, he does not even have access to a television at home, nor does he hang out with adults who indulge in violence, imagine how he, or any other child like him who thinks violence is cool, will behave when he gets to watch all the violent material available on television and make life choices after that?
The responsibility of providing our children with a safe and secure environment falls on all of us, parents, teachers, clergymen, relatives, government executive, political leaders and actors. Its about time we learn to get over our petty squabbles for short term personal and political gains and start thinking about our children?
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.