Back in my university days, I wrote a paper on culture of underdevelopment. In a nutshell, it proposed that when a society is perpetually stuck between poverty and the promise of development, it mutates into the most disfigured version of itself. Institutions give way to sorry excuses for meaningless procedures. Values remain only in form not in substance and work as cultural inhibitors that either keep you from progressing or else push you totally out of the bounds of civility.
Sad as it is, I feel even after almost two decades, Pakistani society still qualifies for this definition. Look at the duality of fortunes where extreme riches meet squalor and poverty, where a designer car passes a street vendor clad in tatters. From the fanaticism of the religious elite to the obstinacy of the intellectual elite that is totally divorced from the reality of lives. Loss of taste is one thing but loss of sense occurs when someone rich, with a lot of hope and potential, is dragged down into the worthless and endless nightmare of disempowerment. I am told my country and society, too, were once rich in tradition and colours. No more sir. There were giants of profession who once roamed this part of the world. Gone. All gone. And you got stuck with us.
Let us get back to the loss of the sense of loss. In poverty, the first thing that goes is taste. When quantity becomes more important than quality. The second loss is of humanism. When you get selfish, greedy and cruel. This is not a rule of thumb and great exceptions indeed exist but this, more or less, is the progression of events. Then goes hope. The time when you are prepared to send your minor children to work at other people’s places. Young boys are forced to do hard labour. And the family unit becomes a farce. The last one to go is sorrow, regret and guilt. The worst tragedy in life. I have seen people losing their children and not even thinking twice about it. Honest truth. No exaggeration.
We speak a lot about our family values. Moth-eaten values. If you want to know how moth-eaten those values truly are, go randomly check how a majority of the country treats its children and elders. They endure mental torture. And there is no counselling available to control the damage. And pray do not get me started on how women are treated.
You measure your own poverty in relation to someone else’s wealth. In a country so full of ostentation, the realisation of poverty is a certainty. So when someone rich comes to the poor and tells them the other rich man is robbing them, they laugh and shrug it off. Yeah right, as if you have never robbed us pal. The disgruntled rich man then goes on national television or social media and declares the nation dead. And then you are told how democracy is not meant for your country. But wait a minute. Hasn’t this country been run by a rich and powerful minority for most of its life? The poor majority was allowed only to vote in governments — that too occasionally — and not to vote them out. A miracle happened only in 2013 when, for the first time, the common man was given the chance to vote a government out. The poor sacked the incumbents and the rich declared the election rigged. And since the state was mostly managed by the rich, it picked up their biases. It judges its own citizens. Considers them foreign stooges. Keeps secrets from them. And yet demands their total trust and loyalty. It resents popular politicians and keeps empowering them by making heroes and martyrs out of them. And then it complains the same faces are returned to public office. How myopic. Someone should tell that if Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was not sacked and hanged, his political career would have been over in a few short years. But the trouble is that a state that can tolerate a dictator for over a decade cannot endure a full term of elected representatives. If it wants the people to become a nation, it will have to change. It will have to let the people get bored with their old choices and will have to stop making martyrs out of ordinary men. Let the country heal. Empower them and yourself through democracy. In due course, you will get the desired results.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2016.