Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?
This photo shows Bara tribesmen, social activists carrying casket of a deceased during a sit-in outside Governor House in Peshawar. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE
When the living stop speaking up, the dead lead protests in Pakistan.
Two days ago, the Hazaras laid to rest the 87 bodies of their loved ones, while some 25 still waited to be identified in mortuaries across hospitals in Quetta. The dead watched and waited, anticipating a change, some sanity and a semblance of justice, as did the Hazaras and the whole nation. For that, they were made to wait for four days, while their loved ones could not even grieve as they were meant to because they were too invested in the hope that this sacrifice would result in a safer future for the community.
The Hazaras were laid to rest, as were some of their demands which the government dealt with deftly, diplomatically and well -politically.
Two days later, some 5,000 tribesmen are protesting outside the governor house in Peshawer, against the killing of the 18 people whose mutilated bodies were recovered from the Bara area of Khyber Agency on January 15.
What does this have in common with the Hazara protest?
Yes, the dead bodies.
Peaceful but not inactive, they sit with the caskets housing the bullet-riddled bodies of their family members, chanting slogans and asking for the army to leave. According to the tribesmen of Bara, these were ordinary citizens, not militants, killed by security agencies before they even got a chance to advocate their innocence.
What new levels of desperation are the people of this country reaching that no other form of protest seems to work anymore?
What extreme measures does a family have to go to in order to get people to notice their plight?
This, I assure you, is not done with ease. Family members of those whom we are calling “dead bodies” were changing the shrouds of those bleeding bodies of slain Hazaras sometimes more than once a day, carrying slabs of ice to avoid decomposition.
Too gory, these details?
Imagine having to live through that! Imagine a mother deciding that her son’s burial needs to wait. Imagine a son delaying giving a shoulder to his father’s funeral.
Too emotional, these details – I agree. And why relive them in these already morbid times, we may think.
The Hazaras are old news and the tribesmen in Peshawar sitting-in with those caskets are peripheral small news – really.
I mean, just look at what they are competing against. Tahirul Quadri’s blood-boiling use of rhetoric and promises, coupled with his interesting get-up. Peaceful protests hardly stand a chance when juxtaposed against the Long March that ironically threatens to destroy the very concept Quadri is repeatedly talking about – Jamhuriyat (democracy).
The Pied Piper pipes away. The awaam follows in throngs.
But let’s not blame the media only. The media gives you, pre-dominantly, what the awaam wants to read, see and hear.
A crowd that is accusedly a million strong gets attention like nothing else does – attention of a nation that has extremely short attention spans and no concept of following up on a cause.
The Hazara and Balochistan issue woke us up from our apathetic slumber for a bit. Once the dead were buried, we are focused on more glamorous issues.
The Shahzeb Khan issue is yester news. The tribesmen are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are desensitised to KP happenings in any case.
We are an emotional lot. All we have for free in this country starved of food, clothing and shelter (along with power and gas) is emotions. The good side of this is that if and when we wake up to a legitimate cause, we can make real change and ruffle just the right feathers.
But we lose that passion way too soon and get distracted way too easily. Sustained focus on causes challenges the status quo, else headlines come and go.
The political circus of this country shall continue, and will continue to get its share of attention. However, it is up to the people and the media to keep alive other issues that matter – like health, education, food-security and safety for the people of this country.
I pray that the Hazaras did not keep their loved ones waiting to reach their final destination in vain.
I also pray that no one, again, has to reach that level of frantic desperation that the only way they can draw attention to their cause is the coffins of their dead.
Too idealistic a hope, perhaps.