Legend has it that Mughal Emperor Jehangir had installed a chain with a bell outside his palace so that anyone with a legitimate grievance could ring it to let the emperor know about his misery and expect some order that could redress the situation.
A historian can tell better if this legend is historically accurate. Nevertheless, it continues to be part of popular imagination, and has recently taken the form of the ‘Bell of Hope’ outside a gate of the Sindh Governor House.
The idea is that people with grievances — which, given the state’s failure to provide even basic rights to its citizens, are surely to be in the hundreds of thousands — would stop outside the governor’s residence and ring the bell by hand.
Then the staff present in a room set up by the gate would let the aggrieved person in to listen to their complaint and take some action to resolve it. The irony is that the governor’s post is ceremonial, having no administrative powers to get such complaints resolved.
So, the Governor House staff hearing the complaints can, at best, only forward those grievances to the relevant departments. Had those departments been discharging their duties effectively and honestly, there would have been no need for any such bell to be installed in the first place.
The bell might also help those with a cynical disposition recall the iconic satirical serial ‘Ba Adab Ba Mulahiza Hoshiyaar’ penned by Athar Shah Khan Jaidi for the Pakistan Television (PTV) that turned the idea of Jehangir’s bell upside down.
The PTV play was about a tyrant king who had no interest in serving justice to his subjects, but he, nevertheless, had installed a ‘chain of justice’ similar to that of Jehangir’s outside his palace so that he could show it off to foreign ambassadors as a symbol of his immense care for his people.
The bell in the play was also not properly maintained, and when the tyrant’s queen once suggested that it be repaired, he haughtily remarked that it was not the bell but the people using it who needed to be repaired.
The Bell of Hope, which was installed a few months ago outside the Governor House after Kamran Khan Tessori took charge as governor, sometimes reminds one of the legendary chain of Jehangir, as a large number of people, mostly underprivileged, have used it and got their complaints registered.
At other times, the bell reminds one of its sarcastic portrayal in Jaidi’s serial, as, just like in the play, the bell is indeed used to impress foreign dignitaries, since the governor often proudly shows it to the ambassadors and consuls general visiting him.
When the bell was inaugurated, it was supposed to be used only in the late night and early morning hours: from midnight to 8am. Now the bell is available round the clock, with the Governor House staff working in three shifts to register complaints.
It was around 3am when we stopped by the Bell of Hope on a cloudy night. The roads surrounding Fawara Chowk were wet with dew, and a few families who could be seen at midnight enjoying sitting on the stairs inside the roundabout had gone home.
Only a few vehicles passed through the mostly empty roads every now and then. But even at that hour, a few motorbikes were parked outside Gate No. 1 of the Governor House. They belonged to families who had arrived from localities as far away as Landhi and Shah Faisal Colony.
Four to five staff members were present in the room to serve the complainants. They were indeed kind and considerate. Even if people’s complaints are not resolved, the fact that those using the bell are treated with respect is commendable and explains the reason for the significant footfall there.
As we used the bell to check if it would prompt a response, some boys on a motorbike passing by laughed and, demonstrating the frivolity and impudence of their teenage years, remarked: “Abay In Ko Daikh. Yeh Ghanti Bajaanay Aaye Hain [Look at them. They have come to ring the bell].”
A few seconds after the motorbike had disappeared, a staff member, Muhammad Kamran, came out to check who had rung the bell.
He explained that the office of the Bell of Hope initially worked only in the night hours, but the governor later instructed them to run the office round the clock because of the increasing number of complainants.
Kamran said they do not accept every complaint. “But whoever comes, we at least listen to their problems and guide them.”
He said the bell staff do not entertain complaints in sub-judice matters, which is why they cannot offer help to those engaged in land disputes, because such matters are often sub judice.
He also said they have focal persons in government departments, so when they register a complaint regarding a particular department, they forward it to that department. Many people come seeking rations and jobs, and some even turn up for the resolution of their family disputes, he added.
A separate desk for police-related issues has been set up at the office where a police officer receives complaints and forwards them to the relevant police station through the Public Grievances Redressal Cell of the Governor House.
When asked how they offer help to people requesting jobs, Kamran said they are maintaining a database of such persons to share it with philanthropists and industrialists so that they can offer jobs to them.
“The governor has been holding meetings with industrialists, businessmen, factory owners and other private organisations to accommodate deserving candidates in their organisations.”
Governor House Deputy Secretary Samina Rajput, who was also present on duty at that time, explained that the office of the Bell of Hope was established with the aim to provide immediate relief to people.
Samina said that many complainants had got their issues resolved. However, when we asked for the relevant data, she said they did not currently have it. She pointed out that many people complaining about police not lodging FIRs had also had their issues resolved, as after their grievances were noted down at the Governor House, the respective police stations registered their complaints.
A busy place
Ahmed and Tabassum were sitting with their child Muhammad Anas on the footpath, hoping that the staff would provide them immediate financial assistance so that they could buy petrol for their motorbike to return home.
The couple with the child had come from Landhi No. 1 to submit an application to the staff of the Bell of Hope. Ahmed said he had been unemployed for six months and had no means to take care of his family.
“I have forwarded an application to the Governor House staff for a rickshaw or a job. I hope the governor will listen to my plea and my issue will be resolved.” When asked how he had come to know about the bell, he said it was not his first time at the Governor House, as he had earlier attended a Sehri gathering there. He added that he later found out about the bell by word of mouth.
He was full of praise for Tessori, saying that there had been no such governor in the past who had opened the doors of his residence to the public. We also saw another couple, Khalid and Shazia, near the bell. The man wished to rectify the email address of his younger brother who intended to register for the free IT courses being offered at the Governor House. Earlier, a young complainant, who was seen at the police desk in the office, told us that he wanted police assistance to get a family matter resolved.
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