Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones! Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so that heaven’s vault should crack. (King Lear)
What happened in Sialkot about a week ago provides a microcosmic indicator of the extent to which violence has penetrated our society. At the same time, and as a consequence of its utter lack of performance over prolonged periods of time, it is also symptomatic of the complete obliteration of the writ of the state and the decomposition of its institutions beyond a stage of recognition.
According to reports, two young boys were “mistaken” for robbers and lynched by a frenzied mob. When they died, their bodies were tied, dragged, paraded through the streets and hung by a pole. All this was done in broad daylight as a large group of people stood around watching the gory scene. According to credible reports, and as can be seen on the footages telecast by various television channels, the sordid drama was enacted in the presence of police personnel. The utter barbarity with which the hapless victims were ravaged by one after the other perpetrator is beneath human dignity to be described:
In the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. (King Lear)
The germs of the syndrome of violence having been institutionalised and the consequent emergence of a culture of intolerance can be traced to innumerable factors. In essence, it is the outcome of the gross inequality and inequity that mark our society, of the divide between those who have fraudulently accessed the tools to exploit a predominant majority of the national population and those millions who have continued to suffer mercilessly at the hands of one bunch of exploiters after another. This divide has only widened and has now reached a point where it finds expression in its own kind of savagery. The Sialkot incident is one degrading manifestation of frustration and anger at the state and its institutions having been corrupted and rendered irrelevant, even active partners in the enactment of crimes. The manner in which fake police encounters have been systematically glorified makes a horrible mockery of the rule of law by the very same people who are supposed to be its guardians. One recently reported incident pertains to a senior police officer having ordered that the dead bodies of the victims should be paraded through the streets of the city–and they were, with no one raising a finger.
There is patent lack of legitimacy in the manner the country is being governed. A gang of thugs, opportunists and alleged criminals has secured power in the country and is using all illegal, immoral and unconstitutional means to perpetuate its hold. While it does so, the institutions that are still functional, and which owe their current empowerment to the will and sacrifice of the people, seem to have languished into stupor. Day after day, sequence after sequence, it is a repeat of inane and inconsequential comments by leaders of all hues and colours, while decision on issues that would have a bearing on the fate of a nation are being consigned to the dust bin. Parliament has always been totally irrelevant. The judiciary is seen procrastinating in adjudicating on matters that require to be addressed without loss of time. The executive has been corrupted irremediably and has become an extension of the illegitimacy of the leadership that rules the country. In this context, the statement of the MQM chief that his party “would openly support the patriotic generals if they take any martial-law-type action against corrupt politicians and feudal lords” would, indeed, find takers across the spectrum.
The utter lack of organised effort to provide effective relief to the flood-stricken people by the civil administrations is another indicator of the nature and extent to which the malaise has penetrated. While an effort to project individuals is distinctly visible, the aid is nowhere seen getting to the people who have been ravaged by the gushing waters. To make matters worse, the entire leadership seems to be out with the begging bowl crying for mercy and morsels with utter disregard for national dignity. This effort is further afflicted with a distinct credibility issue as the world has expressed its utter lack of faith in the governmental mechanism to use the aid for the benefit of the people who actually deserve it. Consequently, aid is only coming in kind and at a halting pace. No one is paying cash. The donors are also interested in using the route of the NGOs in preference to the one that goes through the corrupt corridors of power in Islamabad.
What a pity! Natural disasters combined with those that are man-made have rendered a country ungovernable, forcing the people to take law in their own hands and cultivating a culture of violence and brutality that does not make for a civilised society. These are symptoms of a polity that has decayed into a putrid state and they call for extreme measures to address the situation. Ordinary remedies are not relevant any longer.
The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad. Email: raoofhasan@ hotmail.com