Freedom? Not Really

Millions gather together at the same place, at the same time, they cheer, they jump. They stand all day in the sun, nothing but excitement and revolution in their hearts. They stand hours, just for a few second glance of the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. It doesn’t matter to them if her government was successful or corrupt, the intricacies of her agenda don’t matter to them. They believe in the woman with a loose white scarf on her head, they see the future with her. She is no more, but millions still can’t help but feel that they are betraying her sacrifice if they don’t vote for her ballot.  It is said that when Jinnah spoke at rallies, he usually spoke in English, most people did not know a word of English but still hung on to his every word, because they believed, they trusted. They saw freedom his voice, in his eyes, oh what a beautiful thing is freedom.

We are not free, we are constantly, throughout our lives put into shackles by society. Women are enslaved by the patriarchy, the poor enslaved by the owners of wealth, the rich enslaved by their status. Freedom means different things to different people, Pakistan meant freedom to the Muslims in India in 1947. Not a day goes by when the Kashmiris, Palestinians, the Kurds and millions of others don’t wake up as prisoners seeking freedom, to be able to call their land their home, to live and die in dignity.

We all go through different times in our lives, we all carry our chains with us, some with more, some with less. Everyone has their own unique struggle, unique battle to fight. Millions all over the world have it worse than many, that does not mean that the chains of one are any less important than that of another. We can not be free until there exists even one person in chains, allowing the enslaver to survive. Let there be no enslaver for there to be freedom. I write this as I am embroiled in turmoil as a student, I too am enslaved by this system of competitiveness of education as a brand versus another. The millions who seek to just steal a glance at the former Prime Minister, are not enslaved by her as they remain even when she is no more, they carry the chains of their belief and revolution. The leader is not the revolution, the millions in the crowd are the revolution. Theoretically it is not people from whom we have to seek freedom, it is the mindset.

The workers of the world did not lose their chains in 1917 or in 1959, they did have nothing to lose but their chains, but were they really prepared to lose their chains? Fayyaz Hashmi says that in this prison of time, there is life but only a few moments of freedom. We need to look for those few moments, we need to believe that such moments may exist or will exist, only then will we be prepared to lose our chains, only then will the spectre that surrounds us be within us.

 

Violence, Do we really love it?

Strangely, the world has always had this uncanny attraction towards violence. From the medieval times all the way to modern times. It however needs to be acknowledged at some level, society today does strive and campaigns for peace, governments may(honestly) not, but society does(majority). This idea brings my attention to our society, sub-continental or Pakistani society, do we really prefer peace or are we inherently lovers of violent ideologies? I do understand that such generalizations are not accurate pictures of our society but considering it is important for the sake of understanding the issue at hand and to place it accurately within the sections of society. It is often seen on social forums that even to condemn violence, people often call for violence, that too, extremely brutal forms of it. People would suggest without shame the public hanging, stoning, amputation, gutting and at times even the burning of alleged perpetrators of violent crime and would even garner considerable support for such ideas. We as a nation actively suggest/support the brutal ‘crushing’ of all elements that we view or grow to view as ‘Anti-state’ ones, we do not think about ideological issues, we do not look towards permanent reconciliation of grieved parties or even perhaps structural development at a scale that would erase the ability of the said actors to operate with success. Our most easy and desired solution has always been ‘bombing them into oblivion’. It is important to note that I am not denying the need for armed force against groups that principally aim to oppress and murder innocents but what I am saying is, can it work independently without structural, social, economic and ideological changes in the narrative? Another question, do we really admire the brutal crushing of elements that are at odds with our morals? Do we see our military ability and viciousness as a source of pride? If Yes, then there exactly we have a problem. I understand that these questions may hold true for most societies around the world and under such circumstances we have a general problem around the world of rise in the culture of militancy, however the degree to which it is deeply entrenched into the minds of the people tends to be greater in regions that are war torn, have a poor literacy rate and extreme inequality or wealth and opportunities. I mean to place a lesser emphasis on ‘violence’ on let’s say on the border involved between forces of two nations or militant groups, but I wish to emphasize on acts of communal violence, oppressive state violence against innocents which tend to garner support from the masses, justifications such as, ‘They asked for it!’, ‘Should not do something that hurts others’ sentiments in the first place’.

(Public flogging in Pakistan, 1980s) *TZA does not own the picture*
                                 (Public flogging in Pakistan, 1980s) *TZA does not own the picture*

During the 80s military government in Pakistan, protesters were often flogged in public, those who had the courage to speak up were thrown into jail cells, tortured and starved there. The state was extremely brutal and did not flinch in using violence to suppress or even ‘eliminate’ those who hurt the ‘social order’. Lawyer, poets, journalists and free thinkers were brutalized,censored and labelled traitors. Yet people would come out in hundreds onto the streets to watch the public floggings and hangings as if it were a spectacle, a large section of society would continue to justify the state’s actions, even sections in today’s society continue to justify those past atrocities. When the state butchered and suppressed countless innocents in the former East-Pakistan, even then there were champions of nationalistic causes who referred to the brutality as ‘saving the country’. Such violence was not even toned down by future democratic regimes, police brutality was always an acceptable force to crush those who were a ‘National threat’. Even today, a large section of the country lives as the oppressed, thousands live under forced bonded slavery, women are killed and burnt to death for honor. Violence gradually over all this time has become embedded into our society and we don’t even realize it. The oppressed are traitors when they demand rights and the women are immoral when they demand rights. Those who speak up are traitors and are often called to be ‘hanged to death’ very casually on social forums. Those who even die in violent crimes, state or third party are casually flicked away by statements such as, ‘They must’ve done something’, ‘He/She should not have done or said that anyways’, ‘He/She did not posses a good moral character anyways, why do we even care?’, ‘I condemn it, but you know he/she was partially at fault too’. I don’t only mean social activists, journalists and politicians, I also mean alleged criminals, killers and alike. Why do we/can we as a nation justify violence so casually as if it is completely normal to us and happens all the time. Have the years of state violence and war on terror truly desensitized us to violence?

Is it suddenly ‘not that bad’ to kill just because ‘She asked for it’?  Why does it matter who the victim is? I understand that the world is not all rainbows and flowers, I understand that violence, crime and hate is also a large reality within it but does that really justify us being okay with it? Even if it is, does it then go far enough to be justified for us to be celebrating it? Why has, ‘Hang all you people’ become the default counter to most opinions and ideologies that are not in line with yours? Showcase of arms and ammunition and ‘hawayi firing’ (shooting bullets into the sky just for the fun of it) have become rituals and symbols of pride. So the question comes about, do we really enjoy it? Do we love it when violence is practiced against those who are not us nor dear to us? We are truly onto the path towards an increasingly militaristic society without us even realizing it, we can not expect social development and progress until and unless we realize it and take corrective measure to gradually change the narrative, just like it has gradually been constructed with the passage of time.