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July 23, 2017

Now, catch your breath


July 23, 2017

For all this time, we have had no respite from the fury and the passion of partisan politics that the media has whipped up. Not that the Panama leaks case against Nawaz Sharif and his family is undeserving of the nation’s interest and informed analysis. We are surely perched on a critical moment in our history.

Yet, the manner in which our news channels have dealt with this major story has greatly distorted popular appreciation of the state of the nation and the issues and challenges that we are confronted with. Around the juridical process that calls for an expert treatment, an entire edifice of opinionated observations and wild conjecture has been built up.

In addition, the idiom in which the political discourse is conducted is bereft of any sense of propriety, respect for truth and reasoning. It has become a media trial. Not just the participants of the talk shows – the same familiar faces that float across the channels – but the anchors are also merrily taking sides. Spokespersons of the parties are usually frothing at the mouth. There is an obvious attempt to arouse the emotions of the viewers and generate anxiety and anger.

On Friday, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment in what is also termed as the Panamagate case. Will this allow the media a pause in its frenzied attention to Nawaz Sharif’s struggle for political survival? Not likely. The usual suspects will continue to chew the cud. Consequently, numerous issues and events that relate to the lives of the people and are critical for the well-being of our society will be grossly underplayed.

In many ways, this is how we have stumbled through one political crisis after another without diligently attending to the mounting deprivations of our lives. Even in politics, it is not easy to be candid about the secretive aspects of how the game of power is played in Pakistan. It does not help that the political class retains its propensity to behave in a suicidal manner.

For example, the fondness among our leaders for pomp and show – generally through an obscene display of wealth – has subverted the democratic evolution of our political process. This, in the present situation, is the tragedy of Nawaz Sharif. But perhaps it is the congenital malady of our system. It is possible to look at Islamabad, marked by the glory of its official structures, as some kind of a death wish.

At the other end of the spectrum, ordinary people lead desperate lives. Their plight is not properly understood by our rulers. It should be the media’s task to portray our social realities without resorting to random, sensational and superficial glimpses of the misery and injustice that our people have to suffer.

Before drowning in the Panamagate avalanche, I want to highlight a few headlines that surfaced in the media. Just over a week ago, a boy died in the Lahore residence of a woman MPA of the ruling party. How? He was beaten with sticks by the daughter of the MPA. According to the post-mortem report, there were 16 marks of torture on the body. His younger sister, who also worked as a servant, told the story on camera. She had visible marks of torture.

What does this tragic incident really signify? What does it tell you about the state of our society? There, of course, was that heart-rending story of a little maid who was tortured in the house of an additional sessions judge in Islamabad. The chief justice of the Supreme Court did take suo motu notice of the incident. But we cannot be sure about how the demands of justice would be met in such cases.

The death of a household servant by torture could be the subject of a novel or a feature film that aims to interpret the state of a society at a certain stage of its development. Our ruling elite must legitimately feature in any such presentation. For that, we would need a Charles Dickens and a society in which literary and intellectual pursuits have an impact.

We tend to get passionate about the constitution, as the Panamagate trial has also underlined. For that matter, there is also Article 25A, which was inserted into the constitution as a consequence of the 18th Amendment: “Right to education: the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”.

Another headline of a different kind made its momentary splash and the media moved on – perhaps to a lengthy tirade of Imran Khan from his sprawling house on the hill. We were told that up to 90 percent of the water supplied to Karachi is unfit for human consumption. This is what a proper bacterial and chemical analysis of water samples has revealed.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court can be mentioned in this revelation. The decision to test water supplied to citizens in Sindh was the consequence of a judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court. The idea was to investigate the authorities’ failure to provide potable water and maintain sanitation in Sindh.

So, on the provincial level, more than 80 percent of water samples collected from surface and groundwater sources in 14 districts have shown that the quality of water has worsened over the past few months. Earlier, 75 percent drinking water samples collected from 13 districts were found to be unfit for human consumption.

The question is: what does this mean to our rulers? What news value would one put on this state of affairs? Think about it. Our people are forced to drink polluted water. This is just one dimension of their lives. In fact, every sector is deficient. Education and health are two areas that are completely in darkness.

This darkness, in fact, pervades the collective mind. Remember the Mashal Khan case? Again, this case is something that a sensitive person just cannot contend with. Yet, the rulers are not shocked into action with a resolve to change the fundamentals of our society.

A JIT is relevant here as well. A 13-member JIT that was constituted to probe the lynching of Mashal Khan has identified the group that had incited the mob to kill the 23-year-old student on the pretext of blasphemy. But we know nothing about what action was taken on the JIT’s report, which was submitted in the first week of June. Clearly, all JITs are not born equal. And it is the same with the people of Pakistan, irrespective of what the constitution or the concept of democracy would prescribe.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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