Tuesday January 18, 2022

A sinking feeling

December 10, 2021

It has been a few days since the Sri Lankan man was lynched and his dead body put to fire, but the sinking feeling refuses to fade away. In fact, with time, it is making one powerless within its relentless grasp.

This feeling is not of any physical threat that looms, or a sword that hangs over the head. This feeling is more painful than either of the two can cause: it is about something gnawing silently at you. This feeling neither has a shape, nor a hue or colour. One lives in the dread of this bestiality returning again. It is this feeling that is real, digging in deeper with the passing of hours. It is manifested in tentacles dripping in blood and soaked in immeasurable quotients of religiosity.

This feeling is the product of decades of policies made to promote the cause of those who insist on remaining embedded in the past and who are absolutely unwilling to grow with time. In fact, they want to drag everyone back with them to become the sentinels of antiquated customs and practices which have lost value and relevance. But there is an insistence on being recognised by wearing colours which have faded with time.

It is like something is staring menacingly at you, threatening to plant its thorns inside your being. It is about giving in gradually to what was alien to the way one thought about life. With time, that insignificant something has not just grown into a monstrous size, but accumulated tonnes of poison also. It looks as if it is not just out to get you, but others around as well who may feel vulnerable in confronting this demonic presence. This hideous creature is growing fangs at an alarming pace with breathing space shrinking rapidly.

The phenomenon dates back to after the creation of the country. Some even believe it was rooted in the creation itself. Nevertheless, it was much later that it started finding legitimacy through a process of legislation and practices both. Without caring much about our own, we took upon ourselves the task of ascertaining others’ religion, beliefs and character. Instead of showing tolerance towards those with a different way of living and a different set of beliefs, we started persecuting them. We indulged in demolishing their places of worship and desecrating their burial sites. If at all, we got stuck only with the letter of the teachings but overlooked the substance and spirit. We forgot that it is that something within us that we needed to clean up before focusing on what others did.

We did not bother to see whether the religion that we were trying to sanctify even permitted us to indulge in such barbarity. We were consumed by this demonic hate to misuse its name. We did it irrespective of whether we should or should not, then kept justifying it under one pretext or the other. It has been a sequence of shameful indulgences without a shred of repentance or remorse. It is like we are automatons with our controls being managed from those factories which are producing deep-rooted sickness with monotonous rapidity. We are either their hostages, or their victims. It appears living may no longer be possible in any other manner: either follow their ways, or be eliminated.

It is important for us to introspect where we stand today, where we are headed and whether it is the right path to keep treading. Let there be no ambiguity that the direction we have taken so far and which, understandably, we want to continue pursuing in the future also is only going to suck us deeper into the pit of degeneration. What, instead, we need to do is to find ways to divorce this past for a future that would be free of such criminal bondages. This is the challenge that stares us in the face. We have shied away for far too long in facing it which is why we are where we are.

There are no easy solutions. We have to move away from rhetoric and semantics. We have to encapsulate the causes which have generated this sickness. We have to evaluate the laws which have given licence to individuals to perpetrate terror in the name of religion and tear society asunder. We cannot go on administering doses of disprins. We need to go beyond that to pluck out the roots of this poisonous edifice that we have raised over decades of indulgence.

That is a difficult task. There are possible political ramifications. This could become a cause in the hands of all opponents of the prime minister to exploit. But it is a cause which cannot be abandoned as that would spell further disaster in the coming times. Prime Minister Khan has vowed that no one will be allowed to kill in the name of religion: “I will not allow such incidents to happen as long as I am alive”.

Elevating words, indeed, but it is moving beyond them which may be difficult. The fulfilment of this vow would depend on undertaking onerous tasks encompassing evaluating the causes of this intolerance and savagery. Even more difficult will be tracing the sources of this rabid indoctrination which blinds us to logic and rationale and instills in us a mad urge to kill. In the process, some of the laws which were enacted to fulfil certain person-specific objectives may have to be looked into. These are tasks which are integral to the purpose of ridding society of increasing levels of violence. This madness cannot be allowed to simmer and show up every now and then to take human lives and cast a shadow on Pakistan’s future.

Tackling this evil is not the responsibility of the sitting government alone. All political parties have a role to play in the task of addressing this challenge. Their future is linked with the state which has to be secured from the wicked clutches of obscurantism, extremism and violence. A healthy society cannot survive with infecting ailments which catch roots at an exponentially rapid pace. The causes that feed into this phenomenon have to be eliminated quickly.

The virtues of tolerance and forbearance are embedded in the Quaid’s speech made in the first constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947. These virtues should be integrated as enshrining principles of the state. People should be rallied, and no one can do it better than the prime minister, to ensure that they live by these chastening principles.

Most importantly, the state should not wear the apparel of religion. Instead, it should dedicate itself to the welfare of its people – irrespective of their faith, caste, colour or creed.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.

Twitter: @RaoofHasan