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April 1, 2021

The value of life


April 1, 2021

We have seen multiple cases in our country in which people have died or been killed, without any penalty for the murderer or any action by the state. The situation puts into question the actual value of the life of Pakistani citizens, and whether they matter at all to the state whose primary task it is to protect them at all costs and in all circumstances.

This duty has quite obviously been pushed aside and not treated with any degree of earnestness or urgency. Most lately four boys, aged between 13 and 17 years, according to limited news reports, left their homes in a village in the Bannu area to visit some nearby forests and shoot quail. This is a common hobby in the area well known for the quality of the birds that are shot by hunters for family meals and for festive occasions.

The boys never returned home. Instead, four graves were later discovered in the area, with the bodies of the boys. Local people claim that non-state actors, whatever this term may mean, murdered the children. Human rights groups, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have demanded a full inquiry and action against these murderers if any evidence is found.

Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to seek justice, the families of the teenagers collected in Bannu and placed the bodies of their children outside the local police station in the hope of seeking justice and perhaps just a passing visit by a local dignitary, minister or someone else to show that the government and the state does care for such tragic losses. The families had planned to march to Peshawar, and crossed police barricades to do so, with former lawmakers from the area joining them, but were finally persuaded to bury the bodies.

The scenario, of course, is similar to that faced by the Hazaras last year after death suffered by that much persecuted community. A situation in which families need to stage protests in order to gain justice after murders is a truly desperate one. No citizen in any country should need to get to take such action simply to gain justice in a case of obvious murder. We can only imagine the agony of the parents and other relatives.

There are other cases which indicate the lack of value for human life. In May last year, a PIA plane flying from Lahore to Karachi crashed near Karachi. The 198 on board were killed. Ten months later, there has been no clear report or indeed, any report of any kind to explain what happened and no compensation given out to families who have in fact been told that if they sign a document to collect the money they cannot go to court at any later stage against PIA or any other authority.

It has already been nearly one year. Perhaps the reason for delaying the report is to cross this two-year mark. We do not know. But whatever the factors, we do know that the truth has not been uncovered and the families may never know why their loved ones died, in what must have been terrifying conditions at the end of their journey from one city to another.

This is also true of other air crashes which have occurred before. The reason why an Air Blue flight crashed into hills in Islamabad in July 2010 after taking off from Karachi is still not entirely clear. The accident in which 152 people were killed has been blamed on pilot error. This may indeed be accurate, but there is so little credibility in the country for authorities investigating such matters that it is impossible to say.

This lack of credibility, and the difficulty in questioning those in charge, of course means that families are often left without any definite information on what happened and why. In some cases, they may be given some amount in cash. But this cannot do anything to restore those who have already died.

The same is true of deaths in other circumstances, whether they come in the Baldia fire, which was fortunately investigated a little more aggressively, though a definite answer was found only after years, or as a result of car crashes such as the one involving influentials.

It seems the rich in our country cannot be punished. This is simply not the way we do things. The lives of those who are poor and not empowered simply mean nothing. Many communities have discovered this over the years. They include people who have died on roads, in train accidents, in bus mishaps and in many other places. The investigations, if carried out at all, answer few questions, and since the heirs of the victims are rarely allowed to ask questions in turn, nothing really comes of them.

This then is the situation we live in today. And, of course, death continues to come as a result of negligence, carelessness and the knowledge amongst the more wealthy and consequently more influential sections of society that they will get what they want, without any real attempt to push the levers of the law and ensure justice for victims. There have been other cases in which people have died as a result of their houses being bulldozed to build some development project or the other even if this means the loss of a life that can never be brought back.

The state does not care about such deaths. This much is clear. How things can change is difficult to say. We appear to have reached a point where it is simply not possible to bring about a change in thinking or to recognise that people, whether rich or poor, whether empowered or disempowered, whether influential or lacking in influence are all human beings and under that, now tattered and torn, constitution of Pakistan, equal citizens of the land.

We have multiple cases of children who have died as a result of corporal punishment at schools, at madressahs and at other places. We have cases in which children have committed suicide as a result of bullying or pressure from their schools to gain better academic grades. Yet parents are often unable to go to courts against these schools and people are left helpless when loved ones are killed whether in a car accident, in a plane crash or in a disturbing incident, such as the one which took place in Bannu. Too many lives are lost each year without action or penalty.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

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