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Death of civility
Sunday, May 27, 2012
From Print Edition
On the one hand, it is difficult to disengage yourself from political events and violent disturbances that portray a breakdown in public order. On the other, it is becoming more and more difficult to lead a normal life and find solace in your social encounters. There is nowhere to hide from the mounting sorrows of this unfortunate country.
This week, Karachi has suffered another deadly spell of killings and chaos. By now, of course, Karachi has become accustomed to periodic disarray. Targeted killings surge and abate but never die out. But Tuesday’s violence has raised the fears of ethnic confrontation and this could be a qualitative change in the pattern of disorder not just in Karachi but in the entire province.
On Friday, seven passengers of an inter-city bus were killed near Nawabshah, prompting fearful thoughts about a chain reaction setting in. Reports indicate that it was a ‘reprisal’ attack and an outfit calling itself Sindhu Desh Liberation Army has claimed the attack on the bus that had departed from Karachi for Swabi. In off-camera conversations, grim appraisals are in circulation. Conspiracy theories are apparently gaining more credence.
At the heart of this latest crisis in Sindh is the suspicious campaign for a Mohajir province. Earlier this month, there was extensive wall chalking for this demand and there was also a demonstration in which a fair number of women participated. Who, actually, is propping up this potentially lethal divide in Sindh? Be that as it may, the issue is bound to cast its noxious shadow on relations between Sindh’s coalition partners.
Anyhow, to counter the orchestrated demand or some kind of a trial balloon for a Mohajir province, a rally was organised on Tuesday by a Sindh-based nationalist party, with support from some other factions. But just as this rally had moved out of Lyari, it was ambushed by unknown gunmen and more than a dozen persons were killed, including women and children. The irony is that it was billed as Mohabbat-e-Sindh march.
Incidentally, on the same day, the body of Muzaffar Bhutto, secretary general of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz, was found near Hyderabad. He had been missing for about three months and it was alleged that he had been picked up by intelligence agencies. Quite naturally, it added to the sense of outrage in the interior of the province and the strike called in protest against the terrorist attack on the Karachi rally was widespread.
Are there intimations of Balochistan in Muzaffar Bhutto’s killing? A statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan underlined this point when it said that Sindh was in danger of suffering Balochistan-style mayhem. The commission said that it was alarmed at the number of enforced disappearances in Sindh and now the dumping of bodies was also expanding in the province.
In a statement, it said: “One hopes that the authorities have learned their lesson by now and would desist from relying on the illegal practice of picking up citizens and holding them in violation of law in Sindh or indeed anywhere in the country”.
Well, it would be pointless to expect that the agencies and other authorities responsible for maintaining law and order would mend their ways. In fact, there are growing signs that either the law enforcement agencies are themselves behaving in a lawless manner or they have simply abdicated their duty as protectors of public order. Consequently, ordinary citizens feel totally defenceless against social disorder and violent crime.
In this situation of fear and uncertainty, there is ample evidence of deviant behaviour and social waywardness across different strata of society. It would appear that more and more people are suffering from acute distress, even mental disorders. This week, I had to suffer the loss of another ‘optimist’ – a friend who had previously insisted on finding hope in our muddled circumstances.
The point that I would like to make is that while political events attract the attention of the media, with the television talk shows serving as an arena for senseless verbal combat, there is little concern for societal discord and its reflections in the lives of the harassed individuals. Evidently, our society is losing its equilibrium and its eventual impact may be more dangerous than, say, an economic meltdown or sectarian or ethnic killings.
Just look around and you will find that otherwise respectable or educated groups or individuals easily lapse into disorderly or aggressive behaviour. There have been cases of lawyers beating up judges of lower courts and also policemen. Students of colleges and even universities have used violence against their teachers. Angry teachers and parents can vent their frustrations on little children. The simple values that sustain a living community are becoming more and more scarce.
Is it because we feel threatened by unseen forces? To a large extent, it is the law and order situation that makes us so jittery and emotionally stressed out. Quite a few of us have been victims of violent crime, mostly unreported because the police are unable to enforce the law and to track the culprits. In fact, as the Lyari operation had demonstrated, the non-state actors seem to be more organised and better armed than the functionaries of law. Remember that attack on the Bannu prison in which the militants were the proud winners?
In this environment of fear, people’s sense of insecurity is heightened by the manner in which the high officials of state are guarded by armed, uniformed personnel. The walls of their citadels have risen higher and it is nauseating to watch their convoys on busy roads that are sometimes blocked for their convenience. The impression you get is that they are the only precious assets in this country to be protected.
But what about the rest of us? By and large, we have to fend for ourselves. It is this task that is taking its toll. As it is, we are a society that is less than civilised. In some ways, primitive urges are sustained by our lack of social justice and an indifferent process of socialisation. Lack of knowledge about essential human values is also a result of our poor and conceptually crooked system of education. Then, we have to contend with religious fanaticism and intolerance.
Another source of depression is the overall human rights situation in the country. We had this week Amnesty International’s 2012 report and it has noted the abuses we are familiar with. There is also the annual report on human rights released by the US State Department in Washington. But no international agency can measure the turmoil that resides in the minds of the people – and how it expresses itself in our daily existence.
The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail. com
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