“I firmly believe that unless the system in which intellectual contemplation is stifled and expression is enslaved; is not changed, any problem related to the betterment of the humanity cannot be solved … A true writer can never become an agent or cog. A writer is concerned with humanity at large and with a brighter and better future of his/her society. He is the torch-bearer of high human values, aestheticism, peace, moderation and patriotism. For bringing a revolution, he does not believe in using Kalashnikovs and missiles – he instead relies on his pen to achieve his objective,” so wrote Prof Waris Mir in one of his columns that appeared in Daily Jang two decades ago.
Waris Mir, a celebrated writer and scholar and the former chairman of the Mass Communication Department at the University of Punjab, Lahore was at the climax of his professional career as a writer and a voice of the dissident when a sudden death interrupted his writings on July 9, 1987. His writings, about political matters, feministic issues, social implications, cultural reforms, religious beliefs, philosophical ponderings, literary references and even historical background remain relevant to date because they were not directed towards one individual — they were rather directed towards educating the people about the ills of tyranny and the psychological problems that the military tyrants and political hypocrites possess. His writings were not just aimed to stand apart from the rest of the literary and pseudo-intellectual crowd, but were rather aimed at awakening a sense of liberation and rebellion amongst the despondent public.
His concerns for the posterity make him a timeless writer and it is only due to this characteristic of his writings that whatever Prof Waris Mir wrote is excellent reference material for journalistic writings, intellectual inquisitions, historical references, national issues, political dilemmas, religious and cultural tribulations, scholarly ponderings and a perfect guideline for those who wish to practice journalism in its true sense. If today he lived physically, he would be satisfied with the fact that at least he did not ‘play with facts to misguide the new generation.’ “The clash of right and wrong has been going on since Genesis and it shall always prevail, such as Musa (AH) and the Pharaoh, Ibrahim (AH) and Nemesis, Muhammad (SAW) and Abu Jehal and Hussain (RA) and Yazeed are those characters of history whose fiery stories have actually made human history more interesting and long lasting. Till existence lasts, men of strength shall keep on coming to this world in order to advocate truth and justice and to defy injustice and affliction. True as that notion is, it is important to add in the same breath that such coward hearts shall keep contaminating the world as well who prefer to live a tainted life for the sake of their vested interests,” wrote Waris Mir in one of his columns titled ‘Hussaini Shaoor Aur Haq-e-Hukmrani’ that appeared in October 1985. The worst decadence that comes with the package of military dictatorship in any part of the world is totalitarianism – an estimation of one’s self as a demigod – the totalitarian sees the world through his own pigeonhole and imposes upon others the same myopic view. The decade of dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq brought, amongst other things, the cruel subjugation of women by reducing their social and legal status to half of that of men. It was done through controversial legislation and the aid of the religious clergy. This meant that a woman’s testimony was considered half by the law, domestic and social suppression. Those women and a handful of men who did stand up to raise their voices against the laws made by Zia were slapped with tags of being Westernised and that they tarnished the name of Islam and Pakistan. A few were also faced with religious decrees calling them infidels. Waris Mir was one of them.
Usually, those who talk about the rights of women are women themselves. That is why it has always been so easy to dismiss them by giving them the tag of being Westernised feminists. Waris Mir, quoting from the Holy Quran, feminist thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir and by giving historical and social references, paints a picture that is neither based on a singular line of thought nor philosophical ponderings that are impossible to be translated into reality. Being an educator, his writings reflect sincere devotion and agonising concern that sometimes makes him sound ironic, even satirical and very forceful. What Waris Mir’s words emboss on the reader’s mind is not psychological charging, emotional fuelling or poetic rhetoric – and that is the reason probably why they get embossed – they are argumentative, challenging and well-rounded case stances.
“If I would get a chance, I would definitely stand up against the dishonoured figure of womanhood in our society. I would definitely convey to the people that a woman working for the sake of her family cannot bring a danger to the name of Islam. Rather what needs to be dealt with is the deplorable condition of the rural woman, the disgracing of women (from a social and cultural context), the trafficking of women as objects of sale – Does anyone related to the ‘so-much-concerned’ departments ever wonder how many women can cause harm to the religious laws and social setup of our society and how many of these women are actually victim of the very social fabric of our country?”
Waris Mir amalgamated historical orientation, international references and national situations in order to talk about issues pertaining to various sectors. These included political chaos in Pakistan, the unacceptable relationship between the polity of a country and the armed forces, ludicrous referenda of presidents holding military badges, rigged elections, sham democracy, suspension of the constitution and the like.
Heart broken by the lack of defence in his professional barracks, Waris Mir wrote about journalists, “As far as Pakistan is concerned, I believe that those with a light in the back of their minds have not really disappeared, they have just dispersed. The need of the hour is not only to find them but also to gather them on a platform from where they can speak out without any fear.”
Mir believed that “Even if the government of the day tries to stifle expression, there are those dissident voices which, with the help of a sigh or sob make their presence felt and get their message across.” Though humble in expression, he could and did ‘make his presence felt’ but it was not with a sigh or sob that he did so. Bold and accountable to himself, he could not have put his pen to rest until and unless he had poured out his heart and mind — not for his own satisfaction but to fulfill the responsibility he carried on his shoulders, to act as the voice of the people. Had Prof Waris Mir been alive today, his writings would still have had the impact that they had more than two decades ago.
Note: The death anniversary of Prof Waris Mir falls on July 9.