As I write this column it is being reported in the media that 25 passengers were hauled up from buses near the fringes of Babusar Pass and brutally murdered after their identification. From all the signs it appears to be killing on sectarian grounds.
The scourge of sectarianism in the multi-religious society of Gilgit-Baltistan is eroding the social and moral fabric of society. Without the moral bedrock, society loses its sense of direction and plunges into abyss of nihilism. The yawning abyss between communities and the fire of sectarian violence is devouring all the communities in the area, but they are under the illusion that the opponents are consumed by fire that is divinely lit.
When a society remains in constant denial of its own shortcomings, it develops a self image of being infallible. Every alley of Gilgit has been washed in blood before the very eyes of its citizens. In public space everyone absolves themselves of involvement in sectarianism. Prima facie Gilgit looks like the land of innocents. When the land is inhabited by purported innocent, then even angels fear to go with their message because the self-righteous people refuse to listen to the divine.
The next stage of such mindset is end of innocence and apotheosis into angels where words of proponents of violence turn into a sacred revelation. They believe denial of their commands can invite heavenly wrath for the earthly dwellers and they will face damnations of hell on the earth. These new angels take the charge of the angel who brings the edict of death. All this is done to save God. No doubt the road to hell is paved with good intention.
In a topsy-turvy existential situation, the mind reads every sign, word, sentence and act against their essential meaning and invests myopic meaning into them. When the edifice of values is turned upside down, then the only way to understand people is to look at meanings and things in a counterfactual manner. Such is the level of ignorance of the local populace that they think they are inhabitants of heaven on earth – Gilgit.
Upon entering into Gilgit one is welcomed with signboards which say “Welcome to heaven on earth”. However, the reality is that owing to the increasing sectarian strife, Gilgit has now been turned into hell on earth.
The local populace are fallen angels who have sinned, but have not been thrown out – not yet anyway. Rather the punishment is meted out to both land and inhabitants as the very land has been turned into hell by turning everyone against each other. Seeing the condition of the world Aldous Huxley declared “maybe this world is another planet’s hell”. Looking at the situation in Gilgit one can say with conviction that “Gilgit is [the] hell of the Pakistan” at least.
Gilgit seems to be morbidly in love with death and gore. Incessant killing of their own kin has turned people into cannibals like Shri Badat – an ancient cannibal king of Gilgit. The beauty of the region has been torn asunder by blood thirsty militants.
Everywhere societies progress when they affirm life by making connections with objects and people, whereas societies with a strong death instinct do not establish such connections and indulge in self-destruction, violence and mayhem as is seen here. Sigmund Freud calls the former a life wish (eros) and the latter a death wish (thanatos). The death wish has become so powerful in Gilgit that images of death and destruction are sources of pleasure, while the cries of pain have become music to the ear of this sadistic society.
When society collectively finds catharsis in such scenes, it means that it has found the audience to whom it should cater. The sectarian strife now seen in different regions of Gilgit-Baltistan was not possible without the locals becoming party to it.
The people of Gilgit are watching this spectacle of death and destruction and subconsciously enjoying the death of “others” with whom they severed empathetic connections just because they happen to hail from different denomination. All this indicates a deep rooted sickness in the social psychology.
It can be cured by treating the mind so that the heart can change. Unfortunately, the very sources of mind-building and soul-feeding institutions in the shape of schools, seminaries, mosques and even the home have become purveyors of this death wish.
When society loves death more than life, no one will listen to the voices of sanity all that will resonate will be life drowning in the bloody tide of sectarian strife. The society of Gilgit encapsulates this phenomenon.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org