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April 22, 2021

A matter of replacement

Opinion

April 22, 2021

Over the years, indeed over the decades, we have lost many good people. We have lost them to the natural process of ageing, we have lost them to accident, we have lost them to sickness and we have lost them to murder. This is not true only of our society. People die everywhere. They are killed, sometimes for the most trivial reasons. The history of many countries is, in this sense, similar.

The question for us is: are we being able to replace the good people who have gone away? Some of them, their pictures still placed on Facebook pages which have not been wiped away, remind us of who they were and what they achieved. For others there are memories that stay on for a very long time. These people of course intended to inspire others to follow in their paths. There are many who choose to take up similar causes in one way or the other, whether it is through writing or through charitable work. But are they enough? The question may be crucial to the future of our society, and the manner in which it shapes out as the years continue to go by.

The death of Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan left behind a huge void. He was one of the young people who spoke up for oppressed students and for students who were being manipulated by their university. The manner in which he was killed was brutal. These images of a young man being bludgeoned and beaten, will remain with us forever. But are there others who are going to fill that void, to take that place? It is difficult to find answers to these questions. And of course, Mashal is only an example. There many others like him, young and old, men and women, people of all ages and all ethnicities spread out across Pakistan.

One of our most enduring fears is that there are not enough replacements. There are too many people who attempt to mime liberalism, but do not truly hold the values that it brings with it. And it is not just a matter of liberalism. It is a matter of believing in humanity, believing in people, believing in equity in society, and in believing that society has to change and change in a way quite different to that envisaged by the ‘Naya Pakistan’ of the PTI or the kind of vision that groups such as the TLP would have liked to see developed before their eyes as they rose up in protest and violence once again.

Groups led by student leaders and activists, such as Ammar Ali Jan, have done a huge amount of work. But such people cannot continue alone. They have support, but they need much more. They need many, many more from all walks of life and not just urban centres to come forward and march with them. Only when this happens can the police be stopped from using water cannons and rubber bullets and canisters of teargas to stop peaceful people demanding their rights. Only then can people who truly wish to seek a change in society, and a change that does not depend on charity but on the basic rights that every citizen deserves, move on and achieve a goal that has eluded us for too long.

While charity may in some cases be a necessary evil in society where people die of hunger and children face starvation, we must remember and remind others that it is not a permanent solution. There has to be a situation in which we are able to give people what is written out for them in the constitution and what is the right of every citizen, not a handout given by other citizens out of kindness, or out of religiosity.

So, from where does good arise? Why do some societies have more good people than others? Do they really have more good people? The recent death of one black man after the other at the hands of the police in the US suggests there is a great deal that is wrong with that society as well. When we say that everything in our country has gone wrong, we understand that sentiment. But we must also try to remember that a very great deal has gone wrong in other societies as well. In these societies as in ours the question arises of where good is to come from.

In India we see terrible violence, terrible hatred, terrible bigotry, introduced chiefly by the government of Narendra Modi and the BJP. But we do also see good. We see doctors who have come home to serve their people even though they make very little in exchange. We have seen philanthropists work for schools where children of the poorest communities in society can reach their potential and achieve something in life rather than follow the pattern along which their parents have lived.

Such people exist in our country too. There are examples in every city and in many smaller towns and villages. But sadly, this is not enough. We need much bigger movements and we need to generate them by persuading people to come forward and demand the change that is their right and the right of all those who live besides them in society everywhere in the country, whether in larger houses or in the feeble shantytowns that are the only housing available to the majority of people crowded into our urban centres.

Of course, in many ways, good is not simply handed down. It has to be created. The best way of doing so is by bringing it into schools and into other places of learning. Textbooks are the starting point. When these books themselves bring forward bigotry and hatred, there can be no hope at all. Bringing to the life of children, the idea of working collectively for the good of everyone, rather than just giving charity, can be a hugely viable way to achieve something that can uplift society and give people their rights.

We should remember that this has happened in other communities across the earth. Humans may have a basically selfish interest. But they also have an unselfish instinct to help others and to stand by them. The sense of achievement gained through this is immense. Many who have passed away depicted the degree to which this is possible through their actions and through their work.

As we pay tribute to those who are no longer with us, to those who work tirelessly through long lives and far shorter lives for the good of others, we must try to find a way to generate the light that can spread through society and create good within it. As yet, there is far too much darkness. That darkness has to be taken away and a flame lit which will guide us into the future by bringing forward the good within humanity and using it to create a different and better society for everyone who lives within it.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected] com