Tuesday April 16, 2024

A nation of angry people

We have seen this happen before in cases of Salmaan Taseer and Mashal Khan and in other cases where members of minority communities were burnt alive

By Kamila Hyat
February 29, 2024
Protester hold banners and placard against blasphemy. — AFP/File
Protester hold banners and placard against blasphemy. — AFP/File

Anger, unfortunately, is deeply entrenched in Pakistan. In its worst form, it surfaced in the crowded Ichhra Bazaar last week when a young woman wearing a shirt with some Arabic text walked through the bazaar with her husband.

Initially, two men objected to her clothes. Later, an entire mob gathered outside the shop she was in and alleged that verses of the Holy Quran were inscribed on the shirt. This of course was untrue; the words written on the shirt simply meant ‘beautiful’ or ‘good’ in Arabic.

It is worth mentioning that putting text on clothes is a fashion trend these days. Fortunately, the young woman was rescued by some people in the shopping area and later by a female ASP who took her into protective custody. However, the young woman was forced to make an apology at the police station in front of cameras and surrounded by clerics although she had made no mistake and committed no offence, which could be held against her or would have angered any sane person.

The problem is that we have lost rationality. We have seen this happen before in the cases of Salmaan Taseer and Mashal Khan and in other cases where members of minority communities were burnt alive. We also see it in the case of university teacher Junaid Hafiz who has been in a Multan jail for 11 years now, facing blasphemy charges; he is in solitary confinement.

Junaid had returned to teaching in his country from overseas and was regarded as an extremely competent educator. His lawyer was murdered for taking on his case some years ago. And even after this, the young man remains in prison as do thousands of others, including those who are not mentally fit, who have been accused of blasphemy.

The terrible Ichhra incident and other similar ones show that the men making the accusation simply wanted publicity or a chance to stir up some kind of frenzy. The mob that gathered simply wanted what has come to be seen as ‘entertainment’ in our country.

Apparently humiliating or killing people is a form of ‘fun’ in a nation that seems to have lost all sense of connection with what is good and what is bad in the land and how we should be treating people.

We should try to decipher from where so much hatred arises and how voice is expressed in these ways. The young woman was forced to turn to the religious standing of her family to defend herself. She should not have been required to do so. And anger, it seems, has been created simply because there is very little else for people to do, and too many zealots or so-called zealots wish to gain publicity for themselves or for other members of their group. It was fortunate that in this case, two men who were watching the action stepped in. Credit goes to them and to the ASP.

The concerned ASP is being viciously targeted on Twitter, leaving behind less and less hope about the future of Pakistan and its people as we go from one insane act to the other. However, it is important to understand all that has happened in the nation over the last few decades in order to find a better path for the future for us.

A nation living with so much anger cannot live a healthy or productive life. Instead, we should be encouraging people to go out and work for the sake of communities so badly in need of help. There are plenty of them in the country. They include people displaced by floods or those who are being chased out of the country for reasons connected with geopolitics. It is on these issues and so many others like them that we need to take a stand.

Once again Pakistan has gone viral around the world with journals and newspapers as well as social media everywhere picking up the now-viral video and projecting it further.

Once again we have come across as a nation of people unable to control their emotions and unable to move forward towards any direction that constitutes good sense and respect for the law. Quite evidently if any person is believed to have committed a crime under the law of the land, s/he can be brought before a police station and then taken to court.

But the most important message of all is that we need to get our youth organized in other activities. There is a lot they can do. They can work to improve facilities in both urban centres and rural outbacks where roads need to be built and schools put right. They can also be encouraged to take up activities such as learning how to operate tech given that this will become more and more important in the coming years. Even participation in sport, with the discipline and dedication attached to this, can be very important.

In Karachi, a civil rights worker campaigning as an independent during the recent election was able to hold a highly successful football tournament for young people in his constituency. Such examples need to be emulated everywhere across the country. Such events give an opportunity to young people to express energy and emotion in a form that doesn’t do so much damage to others or humiliate them in any way.

We need to create such opportunities at every level. At the same time, we need to try and see why the present mindset exists. This has quite obviously been created over some decades, most notably since the 1980s. There is a need for far more tolerance, far more understanding of each other and far less resort to violence.

Pakistan, after all, is the only country in the world which has laws against so many persons and so many categories of citizens and uses them in violent form. This must be stopped; we need to find ways in which people can use their time in a more fruitful fashion and not wait to sensationalize any incident which falls along their path of life on a day-to-day basis.

For this purpose, we need to re-examine our education system. Education after all is not just about learning letters or numerals. It should also be about creative thinking and giving people the right to argue over issues – sensibly and without violence – while learning to accept the views of others.

Creating such an environment has now become essential. If we do not work towards it, more incidents, such as the Ichhra Bazaar one, will take place and hurt more people across the country as they go about their daily lives. This cannot (and must not) be tolerated, and we must act immediately to stop such events from taking place every few weeks, as is currently the case.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: