The dead can make things happen

Published: February 20, 2013

The writer is a journalist and works for Express News

Do not underestimate the power of the few to overwhelm the many; nor the ability of the weak to shake the strong. This is the clear message that comes out of the protests the Hazara community has made with tremendous effect. By keeping their dead out of the graves and on public display for days, the second episode of the Hazaras’ outpouring of anger has created a model of articulating demands that is likely to change the face of public protests in Pakistan for years to come. While extremely troubling and deeply distressing, the sight of dozens of coffins lined up under rain and surrounded by the mourning families, with infants and children of all ages, is an arrangement that the other weak of this country can take up as their most potent weapon against a repressive and unresponsive system.

By any estimate, this is not the first time dead bodies have been used as a way to highlight grievances. In a span of a week or 10 days, you do get to read a couple of news items of families carrying the remains of their loved ones onto roads, blocking traffic, demanding justice. Around the same time as the Quetta protests were taking place, relatives of two brothers, killed in what looked like an overzealous and off-target raid against al Qaeda sympathisers in Rawalpindi, resorted to this time-tested method to draw attention towards their plight. Two days ago, a young person got killed at the hands of land-grabbers in Islamabad and his dead body, too, was placed in the middle of a busy road for hours. Earlier, victims of a particular operation in the Fata region had done the same thing in Peshawar.

However, the Hazara community’s move has been supremely methodic and infused with a spirit of total defiance. More than that, the large number of the dead provoked the families to come out in totality, leaving no breathing soul behind in the comfort of their homes. The chants and the slogans around the coffins  and the meticulous organisation in the mourning crowd (the hardest to handle because of extreme emotional stress  and deep trauma) has created a model of protest that is most spectacular, even if macabre and soul-destroying to view. This community has finally created the key for ordinary people to get an audience with the state of Pakistan — by making the dead their emissaries.

And they have been very successful in making this key work. Two protests of this nature have already made a dysfunctional government go out of power and forced the sleeping giant, the country’s security establishment, to wake up to the need to take real action against those who kill in the name of sects. This is no mean achievement. For years, the killing of this community remained a non-issue for the federal government. While the missing persons’ case got maximum publicity, the killing of Hazaras and, of course, those of the settlers in Balochistan, could never fetch any attention. Former chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, in fact, used to crack strange jokes about the extreme vulnerability that this community felt in his area of jurisdiction. The media remained quiet. The army and the intelligence agencies went about their work as if nothing of supreme urgency was happening under their nose. This continued even when the killings bore undeniable marks of racial and sectarian motives and took the form of an open declaration that all those who looked like Hazaras and acted in faith like Shias would be wiped out of Balochistan.

From that abominable apathy to the present-day alacrity in which the chief of army staff was seen huddled with the president and prime minister, vowing to carry out a “targeted operation against terrorists”, there has been a sea-change in the reaction that the Hazara community’s demands have got from the same set of political and military elite that ignored them for years. Clearly, the potency of the protest has been because of its nation-wide nature. Not just Quetta, but practically all big cities of the country had been shut down on account of coordinated strikes by different Shia organisations. This protest got great strength because of thousands of others who came out to express their anger, not because of ideological affinity with the Hazaras, but because of the sense that a grave tragedy had fallen upon a hapless section of the population. Obviously, not every other group would be able to paralyse the country like these protests have. Not every wronged section would have enough courage to delay the religiously-mandated and medically-recommended burial for days. But there will be copy-cat protests for sure, especially since the weak and the vulnerable across the country are being consistently put in the grinding machine of terror, injustice and hopelessness. The Hazaras, through their protests, have proven to the millions in Pakistan that here, in this land of the pure, the living do not matter but the dead can be deft negotiators. They can make things happen.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2013.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Ejaaz
    Feb 20, 2013 - 11:34PM

    “since the weak and the vulnerable across the country are being consistently put in the grinding machine of terror, injustice and hopelessness. The Hazaras, through their protests, have proven to the millions in Pakistan that here, in this land of the pure, “

    Syed Sahib, your name tells of an unparalleled lineage. This Pak Sarzameen was not intended to be a place where the weak were to grounded. Why has this been the result of all the Sacrifices of our elders?

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  • John B
    Feb 20, 2013 - 11:39PM

    The question is how many dead children should be buried by their parents before any thing happens. Is not one too many?

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  • M Baloch
    Feb 21, 2013 - 12:11AM

    Talat sb. nothing has changed, this bigotry has spread to other cities as well. First it was limited to Quetta, Hangu, Karachi, Parachinar, DI KHan now Lahore is the next station. In couple of months Shia professionals like Professor Sib ul Hassan, senior lawyer Shakir Rizvi and Dr. haider and his son tell that this community has become even more vulnerable. I don’t know what has happened to the mother of this rose : link text
    Nothing is going to change, the only favour u can do is to ask embassies to accept asylum applications from Shias http://dawn.com/2013/02/17/time-for-shias-to-leave-pakistan/
    Thank you.

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  • Ahmad Mirza
    Feb 21, 2013 - 12:28AM

    A place where only dead talk …. it was bound to happen.

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  • Nafas Khan
    Feb 21, 2013 - 1:29AM

    Could not quite get your point Talat Sahab. Do you mean, Hazaras were left with any other option? Agree that copycats are common and when a particular style of protest takes shape to prove a point, other protest gatherings may/will copy the same, yet it needs a lot more than a tactical strategy to keep one’s loved one from his/her grave. It happens only when every other option is closed. Missed your point completely as to why you compared missing persons to Hazara killings in one breath or if in your opinion these are interlinked. If the political Analysts in Pakistan have run out of excuses or reasoning of the events, it will not do any justice to Hazaras, who might also have run out of theirs.

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  • Roni
    Feb 21, 2013 - 2:52AM

    It is sad state of affairs that we need dead bodies to force the establishment and courts to listen to the genuine demands for stopping massacres and genocides. One can only wish that we do not have to go this extent to get justice.
    This is another form of non-violent protest. Non violence movements have been used in South Asia and Americas as late as by Martin Luther King and to some extent by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu to name a few. All of the above movements ended in success and achievement of basic human rights.

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  • m omar
    Feb 21, 2013 - 5:47AM

    Very poor article. From the starter… They are “not dead”.

    According to Islam these people are “Shaheed” and “Shaheed cannot be Dead”.

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  • anwar.suhail
    Feb 21, 2013 - 6:34AM

    Couldn’t get your point Talat. Are you serios, satirical or ironic?

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  • RAW is WAR
    Feb 21, 2013 - 7:28AM

    they sure did.

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  • Jawad Iqbal Jawad
    Feb 21, 2013 - 12:11PM

    What could be more tragic than making Rehman Malik the federal interior minister and Raisani the chief minister of already disturbed province

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  • m omar
    Feb 21, 2013 - 1:02PM

    Topic should have been, Dead cannot make anything thing happen. Talat should have written on the nation of Pakistan on how dead it is…

    Hazara people are Alive!!!

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  • Asif Khan
    Feb 21, 2013 - 1:18PM

    This proof only dead can make listen to dead people.Recommend

  • TraxRider
    Feb 21, 2013 - 6:16PM

    Just the fact that you have to keep your dead from burial for someone to take any notice is disgraceful as if killing them enmass and without discrimination was not enough. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 22, 2013 - 2:09AM

    A macabre and disgrceful act to dispay deads; This hsowshelplessness and therefore an illadvised response. Australia is reported to have offered to grant asylum to the members of Hazars. Were they so unwanted by other communities? So much hate towards fellow muslims, fellow citizens and fellow humans?.
    Pakistan must await retributions from god the creator of this world. There will be delay but justice wil come.

    Rex Minor

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