By Zia Gurchani
Tue, 02, 24

The unacknowledged heroism of ordinary, uncelebrated Pakistani deserves to be lauded, and with as much fanfare as possible....


The unacknowledged heroism of ordinary, uncelebrated Pakistani deserves to be lauded, and with as much fanfare as possible. During the post-Depression period and Hitler’s threat, Franklin Roosevelt delivered a celebrated speech inspiring the Americans by emphasszing four essential freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. These freedoms were so valued by the masses, Roosevelt won an unprecedented third presidential term. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, except for a handful of the ‘privileged elite’ ordinary citizens have none of those freedoms; the majority has no basic rights.

‘Freedom of expression’ is a perilous undertaking in Pakistan: it comes with myriad of threats. Speaking one’s mind or standing up for oneself is neither expected nor tolerated; in fact, considered audacious it is not in the norms. To articulate one’s views without being threatened is a fundamental human right. However, those with profound or independent opinions face relentless oppression from a system, which subjugates them. Even in the corporate world, hierarchy strongly influences dynamics, where higher management often disapproves of disagreement and favours meek, submissive employees over bolder individuals.

‘Freedom of worship’, as described in Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is basically the ability to practice one’s faith peacefully without threat or interference. An essential responsibility of the state, it has fallen into the clenched grips of extremists and fundamentalists who issue fatwas and sanction violence and gunning down those with different religious beliefs. Secularism died with the advent of fanaticism. The citizens, no longer seen as fellow Pakistanis, are classified as Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. The Zoroastrians, of course, emigrated long ago in droves.

‘Fear’ is deeply ingrained in the Pakistani psyche, making freedom from fear a tall order. Living in perpetual fear is what makes the ordinary Pakistani a hero. Everyone is cautious while expressing one’s views. How can one be free of fear in a society, when a seaside drive can turn into a nightmare due to hostile policemen on a motorbike with the headlight switched off blocking one’s car. Wallet, mobile, and wristwatch snatching at gunpoint are no longer alarming news. People have accepted it as the new normal. Cars snatched at gunpoint are hardly ever seen again and those parked in public places are regularly broken into and car accessories stolen. The fact that policemen are often involved in criminal activities and dacoities has eroded the trust of citizens. Fear is rampant in political and journalistic circles. Honest and hardworking individuals if dare to challenge the well-connected can become ‘Missing Persons’ in severe cases. The line between the ruling party and opposition is not merely a line but a wide gulf with a steep pitfall in between.

‘Freedom from want’ is an elusive dream, an illusion that the average Pakistani keeps hoping for to become reality. In every government, taxes and bills remain the only constants. The elite and the deprived alike suffer the misery of unreliable water supply. The upper classes run after water bowsers while the underprivileged search for water with buckets. Deprivation of water was enough punishment, but power outages, inflicted at random times, plunged the nation in depression and darkness alike. Summers become unbearable when even a fan does not work. Fending for oneself by investing in UPS equipment and generators is mandatory as random power outages can ruin happy gatherings or even sad funerals with total darkness. The misery of Pakistanis worsened even further when another torture was inflicted upon the entire nation by intermittent gas supply, making a simple act like cooking a jihad.

A society living in the modern millennium with a Stone Age system, with no water, gas, and electricity is certainly resilient. Even after paying forced taxes, garbage is strewn all across the metropolis with no effective municipal system in place. Garbage dumps in empty plots sandwiched between posh bungalows are permanent eyesores. To top it, a city like Karachi does not even have an efficient public transport system adding to the frustration of commuters. Commuting to work in a crowded bus, with one’s dignity intact and without suffocating in a humiliating one-foot only space, remains the major cause of anxiety for office workers.

All of this, especially in Karachi, has produced a frustrated society fuming with bottled anger and resentment with no viable opportunity to vent or see an end to the misery. In social gatherings, guests discuss timings of gas supply, water bowser prices, latest robberies, and hardly remember to laugh and have a good time. Although the Principles of Democracy advocate that every person has a right to their opinion, not so in Pakistan. The tether of tolerance is so tight that political disagreements lead to verbal assaults and serious conflicts. Individuals cannot tolerate disagreement or difference of opinion and directly resort to abusive language. Verbal wars on Facebook reveal how low the moral values have sunk. Modern - very modern – individuals lash out at anyone daring to differ with their choice of a political leader and retort with unrestrained abuse. Friendships and relationships are trashed in one disagreement. All of that confirms a very frustrated society.

Society becomes fulfilling and happy when there is support, tolerance, and generosity among people. It fosters a sense of belonging. These days majority of the people have taken to criticising and ridiculing the country; a dangerous and unacceptable trait. Self-loathing will never provide the bonding vital for nationalism. This is the only country we have. It has provided us an identity, shelter, and sanctuary.

Something needs to change. It is the attitude. All of us have flaws and stress in our lives. We need to build each other up instead of tearing down the last remnants of dignity we have. Provincialism is secondary, nationalism is primary. Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi, or Sindhi are irrelevant as, regardless of ethnicity, the entire nation is in the same boat. Whatever happens to the country, happens to all of us. The fact is that the majority is battling evils on a daily basis, whether it is inflation, unemployment, phenomenally high rents, or shortages of everything. So the average Pakistani needs solace and support. Heroes who win trophies for the country are celebrated and lauded but the never-ending struggle of the ordinary, stressed, and worn-out Pakistani, never understood, goes unacknowledged.

Zia Gurchani is a columnist, political analyst and author of ‘In the Ruins of Solitude’. He can be reached at X - @ziagurchani.