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February 8, 2015

Karachi: A city rich in compassion yet seeking it


February 8, 2015

Cities, which are older than countries themselves, define life itself. They define the intricacies of human relations and interdependence, thus becoming the embodiments of collective behaviour – living, breathing entities on their own. Therefore, what makes a city worth living in is the manner in which its residents treat each other and that is where the significance of compassion comes in.
Karachi, though enriched with compassion, has been unable to push past its tumultuous times. Why and what needs to be done, these questions dominated a Karachi Literature Festival session, titled ‘Compassionate Karachi’, on Saturday.
The session was held in connection with the Compassionate Karachi campaign that aims at instilling a sense of citizenship and ownership among the citizens. It is part of a global drive, the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.
“We must implement the golden rule of treating all others as we wish to be treated ourselves,” said Karen Armstrong, bestselling British author and founder of the global campaign, while addressing the audience through Skype from London.
Karen went on to explain how histories of people living in different parts of the world were intertwined. She also pointed out that what happens in the world affected people living thousands of miles away. “That’s why compassionate cities are so important. What’s at stake here is peace throughout the world.”
She also stressed the need for everyone to play a practical role for a better, compassionate society. “The prophets and the sages were born in tumultuous cities and places just like yours. Not only did they instil compassion among others, they also treated their enemies with benevolence.”
Speaking on the issue, panellist Dr Ishrat Husain, dean and director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and former State Bank governor, said it was important for people from different backgrounds to mingle with each as

this bridged gaps.
He gave the example of the IBA hostels where students from across the country lived in a harmonious atmosphere and forged new friendships. Unlike them, other students only interacted with those of similar social status.
Dr Husain also spoke about the importance of the performing arts, including dance and theatre, for creating an amicable atmosphere.
Responding to a question, he said education alone could not motivate the youth to take reformative steps. “When a student who has completed his degree in first division can’t find job and he sees his classmate who graduated in the third division and landed a job because of his relative’s connections, he loses his trust in merit.”
“First we have to deal with the problem of nepotism. Only then shall we be able to instil core values, including honesty and integrity, in the youth and reinforce their trust in merit.”
Jameel Yusuf, a Karachi-based businessman and founder and former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), rejected initiatives and advocacy of rights that remained restricted to rhetoric only. “Only talking won’t help anyone,” a charged-up Yusuf asserted.
“We must reach out to the poorest of the poor to achieve results. Practical steps are more important. We can’t tell a person who can’t afford a three-time meal to be compassionate while we gorge ourselves on food.”
He said that through the ‘I Am Karachi’ initiative, non-governmental organisations had been brought under a single umbrella for better results.
Yusuf said Pakistan ranked among the highest when it came to philanthropy. “This shows that compassion is in our roots. We just have to inculcate the right approach into the minds of the youngsters.”
The former CPLC chief called for taking matters into one’s own hands to deal with problems when the government was failing to deliver.
“In the area where I live, we have arranged a garbage collection system. We also have the street lights replaced. It’s about taking ownership. We have to stop ourselves from throwing away our garbage in front of the neighbour’s house.”
To back his argument, he gave the example of the CPLC: “For years the businessmen kept criticising the government for the poor law and order situation. Then they took matters into their own hands and the CPLC was formed, which successfully put 600 terrorists behind bars.”
Nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy blamed Karachi’s spiralling population coupled with the diminishing number of recreational spaces for its ills.
“The increasing population has made administration of the city very hard and is also responsible for the changing behaviours. “We can see it everywhere. The road rage, the way people walk, how they interact with each other.”
But overpopulation alone is not the problem. “There are cities like Mumbai and New York that have a bigger population but are still peaceful,” he said. “It’s the lack of recreational places that makes the difference.”
Pointing out that such behaviour was not unique to humans, Hoodbhoy cited the example of fish in an aquarium: “When there are a few fish in an aquarium, they coexist peacefully. But when you fill the aquarium with many fish, they become aggressive. It’s not because of food because they are given plenty of it, it’s about space. Even fish need space for their comfort.”
Hoodbhoy said that similarly, humans also needed their space for entertainment. “Places like parks, theatres and playgrounds are decreasing in Karachi. There should be places where boys and girls can meet. The sexual tensions in our society are destructive.”
The physicist also spoke about the growing extremism in the Pakistani society and the need to separate religion from the affairs of the State. “All citizens that have a national identity card and a green passport should be treated equally. No matter which sect or religion they belong to, they should have equal rights.”
Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui was optimistic that Karachi would reclaim its status of a peaceful city. “Karachi represents hope. It is a resilient city and has managed to carry on despite all the violence and terror it has witnessed.”
Siddiqui said a few people were responsible for tarnishing the image of Karachi, which otherwise was a city of kind-hearted and compassionate people.
“The issue is that of compartmentalisation. We have marginalised some segments of the society and that is causing the troubles,” he explained. “Karachi is already a compassionate city. We just have to build on this foundation.”

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