This is a request to those who are free to conduct election campaign for their political parties before the country goes to poll on May 11 2013. Most of you are lamenting the drone attacks on Pakistani soil and vow to change the situation as soon as you assume power. Some of you are outright Taliban sympathizers and believe that a dialogue with them would yield desired results. A few of you have openly associated with terrorist outfits and have even sought their blessing before the elections. Even though it pains me to see you succumb to them, I wont criticize your diplomacy because a country like this indeed ask for the survival of the fittest and pragmatism demands that you maintain cordial relations with those obscurantist forces if you want to survive.
However, I would request you guys – the leaders of the political parties who are not under attack and are free to run their election campaigns – to take a few minutes out during the many jalsas and corner meetings that you address and show some empathy with the Pakistanis who are under attack from Taliban. They might not have been victims of a drone attack but they too have lost their loved ones, livelihoods and limbs in similarly gruesome acts of violence. The tragedy is that they are attacked by their countrymen hence rhetoric against their killers may not win you votes, television slot and space in international media. You might also be afraid of the Taliban and wonder that if you voice grievance against their ways, you may join these parties who are under attack. Your reluctance makes sense in the short run but what if they come after you once they get rid of these heathens? Fear that future when you may need help but there won’t be anyone left to stand beside you.
Think about your countrymen who may or may not vote for you and have an ideology which is different from yours but they are a part of this country that you call home and they contribute to its society and economy as much as you do, if not more. They need your support to survive right now, who knows they might end up voting for you in future elections if they manage to stay alive. Think about them, because if they perish, you may not even get to enjoy the election process in future.
A concerned citizen
These children have lost their father on a bomb attack on MQM’s election office in Bufferzone Karachi. – Photo taken from Twitter TL
Another kid mourning the loss of his father after attacks on MQM election offices. Photo – AFP
A victim of bomb attack on ANP’s election office in Orangi Town, Karachi. Photo – AP
Another family has lost a loved one after the Orangi Town attack on ANP’s election office. Photo – AP
A young victim of terrorist attack in Abbas Town last month – Photo credit AP
Residents stand among rubble and debris at the site of April 24th bomb attack in Quetta, the blast was one of the series of attack on Hazara Community. Photo – Reuters
PS: There are far more gruesome photographs of children who have lost their eyes & limbs and dismembered torsos of men who have lost their lives. I did not post those picture because the point here is to invoke empathy for those who are fighting this war against TTP and nothing else.
Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.
Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practice politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan People’s Party, with the ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and has won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behavior of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.
The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meager resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.
One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organizations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.
Policemen form the first line of defense against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents under prepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve their performance, it is time we start honoring our police force for doing what they are doing right.
With its incidents of terrorism dominating the airwaves, Karachi probably is considered the most dangerous part of the world’s most dangerous country. It may be true but it is definitely not the whole truth. Any news originating in Karachi trumps news originating in any other part of the country because Karachi is at the centre of the journalism business and other peripheral areas just do not get similar airtime. A recent study by Intermedia Pakistan on “How Pakistani Media reports terrorism-related conflict”, reveals that the geography of a news item is very important in determining its selection and and placement.
The study came up with some very interesting observations. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Fata, Balochistan and Sindh seem to be suffering almost daily from incidents of terror. While the print media is giving due coverage to all regions, the priority and non-priority areas are quite obvious in electronic media reporting.
According to the study, Sindh remains a priority area for TV channels. One of the reasons that Sindh is regularly featured with respect to terrorism could be the fact that terrorism incidents in Sindh, specifically Karachi, are usually linked to political upheaval. The fact that the head offices of most news channels with a team of skilled reporters happen to be in Karachi, also helps in detailed reporting of many aspects of the incidents, something which is not possible in remote areas. On the other hand, news about Fata and K-P seems to be relatively underplayed on TV.
The study reports a total of 119 incidents of terrorism in Sindh between January and March 2012. On TV, the region seems to be a priority with 56 stories aired in the monitored bulletins. Balochistan was mentioned as a terrorism target as many as 123 times during the same period but the number of related news items about the province was only 15.
However, it is not only the number of items about Sindh that makes this region a priority area. A look at the placement and significance of news items from here confirms this trend. Television channels give priority to certain news items by putting them ahead in news bulletins; news generated in Sindh is given more priority in prime time bulletins compared with news generated in Balochistan.
Balochistan seems largely under-reported on the electronic media. News from Balochistan makes only nine per cent of news on the nine o’clock bulletin. The whole world knows how bad the situation is in Balochistan and that incidents of terrorism occur every day, yet the province only gets about 10 per cent of the priority time in television news bulletins. The print media has been more responsible regarding this and 28 per cent of priority items that appear on the front page of newspapers are from Balochistan.
News is a serious business and reporting terrorism is a very sensitive matter. Many reporters have lost their lives while reporting from the conflict zones of Balochistan and Fata because militants felt that they were not given enough coverage. If news reporting continues to be about the urban centres, not only will we not know what is truly happening in the areas of our news periphery, but it may also trigger misguided policies at the state level.
One cannot be faulted for assuming that Difa-e-Pakistan Council comprise of officials of defence ministry, four star generals and decorated admirals who wish to ponder over the defense needs of the country and make major strategic decisions. To find out that it is actually a motley crew of 40 odd religious parties, banned terrorist outfits like Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a few other political has beens like Sheikh Rasheed and Ijaz-ul-Haq, and the former spy master Hameed Gul among others can be shocking. To figure out what it stands for can be even more astounding. Let’s try and figure it out by asking a few questions.
So what does this Council stands for? According to Hafiz Saeed of the JuD, it is a coalition with the aim to “defend Pakistan”. What do they actually do apart from claiming to defend the country? Not much besides holding rallies in different cities and threatening the government of dire consequences if their demands are not met.
What are those dire consequences? Chaos, anarchy and suicide bombings. But don’t we have them – anarchy, chaos and suicide bombings – already? Yeah, but they have promised to upscale the operations if their demands are not met.
And what are those demands? For starters, they want the parliament to not restore NATO supply lines. But those supply lines have always been open and were blocked only a few weeks back, why this sudden realization that it undermines the sovereignty of the country? Well, it is better late than never, isn’t it?
What else do they want, surely they cannot spend millions of rupees on all those public gatherings to seek that government does not restore the Nato supply lines? The ultimate goal is to severe all diplomatic, cultural, political and economic ties with United States of America. Errr, can our country survive this ultimate isolation? Most probably not, but the Council would surely like the government to try that. Is it Just USA that they want to do away with or has any other country faced a similar wrath? They hate India just as much and are angry with the government for awarding them Most Favoured Nation status.
But by regularizing trade with India, the government will not only discourage cross border smuggling of goods but will also benefit from taxes and duties levied on the imports which can be used for public welfare, surely that cannot be bad? Difa-e-Pakistan Council is not concerned with public good, According to its chairman, “the council’s sole agenda was to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan.”
What legitimacy do they have, if any, to demand all that? Between the 40 parties and organizations of Difa-e-Pakistan council, only JUI-F is in the parliament and they too have only 8 seats. One can surely figure out their legitimacy by their underwhelming electoral performance. They, of course, would like to think otherwise. According to Maulana Sami-ul Haq, Chairman Difa-e-Pakistan Council, their gatheringsare a clear message to US and it is a referendum for the government of Pakistan to immediately reconsider relations and foreign policy for US and its allies.
Does any of it make any sense at all? Not really, but then our politics has never been about logic, finding solutions and peace and harmony. It has always been about rhetoric, confusion, demagoguery and posturing and Difa-e-Pakistan Council is doing one hell of a job of it.
Yet another young man lost his life in what has become a norm in Pakistan – extrajudicial killings – and chances are that like previous incidents of such killings, the perpetrators of this crime will go free as well. It is not just a random speculation of a bitter citizen, there is hard evidence supporting this claim.
Before Sarfaraz Shah, the 19 year old who was shot point blank by soldiers of Sind Rangers, a paramilitary force, in Karachi on June 8th, two teenage boys Mughees and Muneeb were lynched by a mob – including policemen in uniforms – in Sialkot last year. 17 men were arrested, with most of them out on bail. It must be noted that before the video of this gruesome murder came out, Sind Rangers claimed that Sarfaraz Shah was killed during an encounter with the Rangers after he was caught red handed while snatching cash from visitors in the park. When Rangers officials entered the park, the young man fired at them.
On the contrary, the video footage showed an unarmed young man being shot dead at a very close range by one of the five Rangers personnel who all have a weapon of some kind in their hand. Sarfaraz was seen pleading for his life and was shot at in full public view.
Mr Rehman Malik was at pains to point out that Shah was a petty criminal – as if it justifies the cold blooded murder – likewise, brothers Mughees and Muneeb too were accused of committing robberies. The District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sialkot, Mujahid Sher Dil, later confirmed that the lynched youths had no criminal record. With exception of the cell phone theft case and attack on Sindh rangers personnel case filed against him on the day of his death, Sarfaraz Shah, too had no criminal record. Even if he was a thief and was apprehended by the law enforcement authorities, why was he not taken to a local police station, why was he shot dead? Surely the law enforcement agency personnel must know that theft cannot be penalized by death in Pakistan penal code.
Some of the apologists were at pains to point out that the soldier was right in shooting at the victim as he was trying to touch his gun and he is legally permitted to shoot at anyone who tries to get hold of his weapon during a confrontation. They also said that the Rangers official did the right thing and shot the victim in the leg, as stipulated in the law. But one must ask under what law they left him to bleed to death when he was begging them to take him to the hospital.
Those who cite the rights of the paramilitary forces should also remember that ordinary citizens, those who do not wear any uniform and actually pay for the salaries of the armed forces personnel also have some rights – at least the most basic right to live.
Just like these two incidents, five Chechens were killed in Kharotabad Quetta last month. Officials initially claimed the five were suicide bombers, but they turned out to be unarmed and video of the shooting further undercut their claim. So far no one has been apprehended and the inquiry is still deciding if it was the police or the Frontier Constabulary that opened fire at the Chechens who were traveling with just bottles of shampoo in their bags.
New York based Human Rights Watch has documented the extrajudicial execution of up to 300 alleged Taliban supporters and sympathizers in Swat. Despite the fact that several videos have come out detailing those brutalities, no action has been taken against the armed forces to date.
The less said about Balochistan, the better. Parts of the province have become killing fields of late. Not a day pass by when one or two bullet riddled bodies are found on the roadsides. Since 2010 approximately 140 political activists, journalists, academics and students were killed inextrajudicialkillings.
Citizens have what social theorists call a social contract with their governments. Under that social contract people form states and maintain social order. The notion of the social contract implies that the people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order. The citizens pay taxes with which government is suppose to finance their security and provide them with an environment which is conducive to their well being and ensure systematic access to livelihood. Forget about other rights, this incident shows that every day in Pakistan, the right to life of the people is made a mockery of by the people who are supposed to keep them safe.
Civilian government is apathetic to the woes of the people, armed forces have learned nothing from the fiasco of Bangladesh and are carrying out atrocities against their own citizens and supreme court judges are busy taking suo moto actions against actresses for possession of alcohol and dishing out verdicts on tv channels and their broadcasting right, access to justice has become an unattainable fantasy for most citizens of the country. The incident got so much coverage because it happened in Karachi. Imagine what goes on in Balochistan where there is no one to challenge or raise voice against such carnage. This continued deprivation of justice will expedite our cataclysmic descent into chaos and the killing fields of Pakistan will remain bloody because some animals are more equal than the other.
After every major incident of violence that is perpetuated in name of Islam, religious leaders, politicians and common man of the streets repeat that those who kill and maim others are not Muslims and Islam is not a violent religion. In past few years, too many Pakistanis, no matter what their faith and sect is, have died because someone killed them in the name of religion. The rhetoric that Islam is a peaceful religion will not cut it anymore. We need to introspect why as a society we tolerate violence in general and condone it when it is perpetuated in name of religion.
We bemoan the horrific crimes against Muslims under Israeli and US occupation in Palestine and Iraq and try to justify violence in our society because of those crimes but that is not true. We, as a society, condone torture and violence against weaker sections of the society in name of religion even before the invasion of Iraq and have legislation to support this violence. Both Blasphemy Laws, which can and have discriminated against minorities, and gender biased Hudood Ordinance use religion to maintain the status quo in which a powerful Muslim male is the sole source of authority and there is no room for personal liberty and individual thought. These laws make it very easy for anyone to score against either the non Muslims or women.
We glorify attackers and mass murderers such as Ahmed Shah Abdali, Nadir Shah and Mehmood Ghaznavi in our text books and popular media. We deify them and their acts of barbarism because they were Muslims and those who were killed by them were not Muslims. None of them fought in the name of Islam as we are led to believe. They were kings with colonial mindset who wanted to expand their kingdoms and annex the fertile heartland of river Indus, Ganga and Jamuna. Attaching any exalted and noble intentions to the expansion of their kingdom is factually and historically incorrect.
Shah Waliullah, who is venerated by most South Asian religious scholars, wrote a letter to Ahmed Shah Abdaali to invite him to attack the Marhattas. Shah Waliullah instigated this violent attack, which killed thousands of soldiers on both sides, because he did not like the declining clout of Muslims scholars in the court and hoped that the war would to restore Ulema’s former power and influence. How can a society that lionizes people like him ever hope to achieve peace?
Tackling individual incidents of violence and terrorism can never bring the desired result. Unless the philosophy and ideology behind violence prompted in name of religion is challenged, there won’t be much point in expressing indignation over it. The Jamia Hafsa fiasco is a case in point. The administration of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa violated many laws and started war against the state which is considered treason by the constitution of Pakistan but most Pakistanis including the politicians and highest level of judiciary voiced their opinion against government operation because it was against a group of people who were using religion to support their violent stance.
When religion becomes a source of income and a point of politics for people then people will use it to further their interests and foster violence in name of religion when it hurts their interest. Unless we decide to look inward and deal with such demons, peace will remain elusive.
On May 28th 2010, I was away from the TV and computer the whole day, a rare feat in this increasingly connected world. I came home around 10.00 pm and was inundated with images and sounds of what is called the worst ever assault on Ahmadis – a persecuted religious minority in Pakistan – during Friday prayers. While everyone from the Prime Minister Gilani to US State Department condemned the incident, no one is willing to look at the real cause of the carnage.
Ahmadis are the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. Although the other minorities do not enjoy perfect conditions in the country, Ahmadis are especially ill-treated, with constitution and penal code supporting those who perpetuate offenses against them. Following a violent campaign, led by the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1974 against Ahmadis, constitutional amendments were introduced by the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Ahmadis were declared non Musilms. Ten years later, military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq (May he rot in hell for all eternity) promulgated the anti Ahmadi Ordinance XX in April 1984. The ordinance prohibited Ahmadis from preaching or professing their beliefs, it forbids Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to ‘pose’ as Muslims. They were forbidden from calling their places of worship mosques. They were also barred by law from worshipping in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Azaan (Msulim call to prayers), using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the holy book Quraan, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. In short, the ordinance was in violation of Article 14, 16, 19, 20, 22, 25 and 28 of the 1973 Constitution and denied them basic civic rights. For Ahmadis, living in Pakistan is just as bad, if not worse than Jews living under Nazi rule.
It is not just the state institution and right wing political parties that are out for a witch hunt of Ahmadis/Qadiyanis, it is all of us who are responsible for the persecution of Ahmadis/Qadiyanis. Popular talk show host Aamir Liaquat Hussain instigated violence against the community in September 2008, which resulted in death of 3 Ahmadis. MQM, the political party he belonged to, publicly condemned him and kicked him out of the party, but the TV channel he worked for never uttered a word of apology and he continues to spew his venom to this date. Hamid Mir, another popular talk show host on the same channel and a public opinion maker, expressed his intense hatred for Qadiyanis in his leaked tapes which probably have triggered right wing terrorist into taking upon themselves to kill as many Ahmadis as they can. What was that TV channel and state’s response to that? That man is still on TV, dishing out his maligned version of truth day in, day out. Do they have blood on their hands? I say yes.
The judges in our court are obviously sympathetic towards the alleged terrorists and most of the terrorists who were captured and brought to courts were released citing lack of evidence. I am sure like all other previous terrorists who were released, the courts in Pakistan will also release the one who was caught by the people yesterday, even though he was caught red handed killing people. Punjab’s law ministers openly consorts with supposedly banned terrorists outfits, the Chief minister of Punjab is retweeting film song lyrics on twitter after 22 hours of this incident instead of making sure that people who did this are nabbed. While Jamaat-e-Isalami blamed it on USA and Blackwater, Shahbaz Sharif blamed it on enemies of Islam and Pakistan and Commissioner of Lahore Khusro Parvez blamed it all on RAW a couple of hours after the incident without any intelligence report, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks. A text message sent to journalists said this: “This is a final warning to the [Ahmedi community] to leave Pakistan or prepare for death at the hands of the Prophet Muhammad’s devotees.” It was signed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Punjab wing of al-Qaeda, the latter a hitherto unknown group. Do all those who live in denial have blood on their hands? I say yes.
The common people are just as bad as our right wing and centre of right political parties; our talk show hosts and mullah sympathizers. In a public forum pkpolitics, many people were justifying the killing spree of Qadiyanis by repeatedly calling them wajib-ul-qatl (must be killed category of apostates) because they act and behave like Muslims. A friend, who works for education ministry in Punjab called and said that most of her junior colleagues were celebrating the death of many Qadiyanis, and these people work for the ministry of education! Do they all have blood on their hands? I say yes.
Every identity card and passport holder in Pakistan – including me – who filled out the form declaring themselves true apostles of the faith have denounced the basic citizenship rights of Ahmadis/Qadiyanis. Do we all have blood on our hands? I hang my head in utter shame and say, yes we all have their blood on our hands.
After leading a nomadic life for a better part of his life, my dad chose Karachi to be his home and bought our house back in 1975. Of all his children, I am the only one who is a true blue Karachiite – born and raised in the city I affectionately call ‘the city of candle lights’.
My father used to work for a bank in a tall building on Chundrigar Road. Being an over curious child I wanted to know everything about his work. I must have been around 9 years old when he took me to his office for a day. I did not learn anything about banking except for the fact that everyone swivels their chairs in the office and was suitably impressed by his assistant’s perfectly coifed hair – a kind lady who gave me a lot of office stationary. One thing that is still vivid in my mind about that visit was my first glimpse of Merewether Tower from his 11th floor office’s glass window. That was the day I fell in love with the city I still call home.
After that day, I would request my dad to take me to work every day because I wanted to see the city. He obviously refused and I remember telling him in a huff that one day, I too will have an office on the same road. Fast forward to a few years and I am newbie at a newspaper. I was given assignments that no one would take and I gladly took them all because those assignments gave me the chance to discover my city. I have had a fairly protected middle class upbringing where parents pick and drop the children and don’t let them wander around the city. My new found independence was heady and I discovered Kharadar and Methadar, Bolton Market, Tower, Urdu Bazaar, Chakiwara and Lyari while meandering through the streets on the pretext of working on my stories. For someone who cannot file the tax returns of her minuscule salary, the sight of white clad old Memon entrepreneurs calculating millions on old rusty calculators was enchanting. I remember my first visit to Jackson, a notorious area in Lyari famous for finding all the stolen goods where a man wanted to sell me a fairly new stolen motorbike for 10,000. When I told him that I don’t know how to ride a bike he threw in the lessons for another 200 rupees. I remember discovering a paan wala near Civil Hospital who sold special pan for 250 rupees a piece. I also remember my first visit to Lunda Bazaar where I was astounded to find out that if you look hard enough, you can actually find the labels you are looking for. Each and every part and person of the old city made me fall in love with Karachi a little more.
One of my German friends who lived in Islamabad for a few years once asked me why do I love Karachi and I said I don’t know. Loving Karachi is an acquired taste and those who have not lived here would never know it. Karachiites love their city the way a mother loves her ugly child, warts and all, but I have always known one thing. One of the reason I love Karachi is the business district and the area surrounding it. I love the buildings from the British Raj period and once told Nasreen Jalil, city’s deputy mayor, that she is the luckiest woman in the city not only because she has an office in one of the grandest buildings (KMC Building) in the city, she has a designated parking space to her name.
In a planned arson attempt on December 28th 2009, part of the same building along with Denso Hall, Akbar Building and approximately 1500 shops on M. A. Jinnah Road, Bolton Market and adjacent areas were set ablaze. According to renowned architect Yasmin Lari, the one-and-a-half kilometers strip between the KMC building and Merewether Tower houses about 60 historical buildings, majority of them protected under the Sind Cultural Heritage Protection Act. Not only people have lost their livelihood and their life savings in the fire, we, the citizens, have lost a part of the architecture that made Karachi the city it was. I am at a loss why such incidents of vandalism happen in Karachi alone and nowhere else in the city, who are the people who surface after every such tragedy armed with petrol and phosphorus to loot and burn the city. I almost died on December 27, 2007 when similar carnage was wreaked upon the citizens of Karachi and I know of people who are still reeling from the financial loss they accrued on that fateful day two years ago.
The suicide bomber who started it all obviously died, but the CCTV footage shows the faces of vandals. They not only destroyed the private property of the shopkeepers in the area, they also burned down public property such as Police and KESC vehicles and buildings under cultural heritage protection. As a tax paying citizen, I DEMAND that the home ministry runs the faces of vandals through NADRA’s database, find them and publicly punish them so that people will think twice about destroying public property in future. They should also release the tapes to the media so that we will know the faces of the people who destroyed our beloved city. I, along with all the other tax payers bear the cost of such acts and I am sick & tired of paying for it. I want the culprits behind the bars and I want them there right now.
The tower of the KMC Building is visible behind the theick dark smoke.
The fire that turned millionaires into penniless people.
A few months back, I started teaching at a local university as visiting faculty. The reactions I got varied from extremely flattering to downright insulting to my decision. One foreigner I know mocked it with a very derisive “So what will you achieve by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms?” Honestly, at that point in time, I had no idea how to respond to that scathing comment. I seriously did not know what I am supposed to do as a teacher apart from imparting knowledge on the subject I teach.
In the past three months that I have been teaching, I have had my highs and lows. I have had some very good days and some not so good days, but one remarkable change that I have seen in my students is that they want to discuss issues instead of just going through the lectures like they did in the first couple of weeks. They question, they debate, they ponder, they contest, they deliberate, they argue and they have learnt to respect different views even when they don’t agree with them. This is something that we don’t often see in Pakistan and for a teacher, it is one of the most encouraging and heartening sights.
On Wednesday, I got an email from my student Bemisal saying that the student body is extremely distressed at the twin bombing incident at Islamic International University. What irked them most was the government’s cavalier attitude towards the safety and security of the students and the fact that most provincial governments refused to provide security to the institutions of learning and closed them down till October 26th. They wanted to protest against the acts of terror and government’s apathy towards its citizens. They also wanted to show solidarity with the students who died at the twin blasts on October 21st 2009.
In two days time, they managed to not only mobilize other students and made their presence felt with out any prior activism experience; they did so in face of opposition from their parents and families who tried to discourage them from stepping out of the secure confines of their homes. They did it when a local tv channel aired the news that a suspected bomber wearing a suicide jacket was seen in the vicinity of the area of protest.
Seeing my students at the protest, demanding their constitutional rights with a consciousness and confidence not common amongst most Pakistani, was perhaps my finest hour as a teacher. Arfa, Sabah, Danish, Hiba, Umair, Bemisal, Farwa, Aqsa and Ahmed, you guys made me proud today (most of them are girls, so double hurrah for them). Looks like all those debates in the class and gargles I took after every three hour session were well worth it. If anyone mocks me any more and say what have I achieved by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms, I would say that I played my tiny little part in bringing them out on the streets. They don’t need to be out on the streets but they decided that they don’t want to stay apathetic and stepped up to claim their right and space. How is that for an achievement?
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