From APS victims to Sabeen Mahmud: Honouring all who have been taken away from us
I write this from the #IamSabeen vigil at Do Talwar.
It has been 17 days since I have been present here daily from 8pm to 9pm.
I come to celebrate Sabeen, to grieve her death, to find comfort in fellow protesters and to tell the world that I have not forgotten her.
Perhaps all that they gather, the people who stream by, is that I lost someone that meant a great deal to me; enough that myself and others are compelled to come here every day.
No, she meant even more than that to me and for a few seconds, as they circle Do Talwar, these people’s lives revolve around Sabeen. For those seconds, I share something with our audience. For my life not only revolves around Sabeen, but is transformed by her.
Every day I meet new people who feel compelled to come to the vigil. They are also in her orbit. With every day, I grow to appreciate more deeply how essential Sabeen was to so many of us.
I met Sabeen somewhere in 1999/2000 and her effect on my life was instant. I fell in admiration with her. I fell in respect with her. I fell in love with her. Her tenacity, courage and impetus were contagious to say the least. She was a doer who inspired action, despised mediocrity and tardiness. She was not a perfectionist, but she was a catalyst; a game changer. She stood for all of us, for our rights, security, freedom and thought. I did not see her often, but I did not need to. She was an effective communicator, she was an efficient muezzin. Her religion was love.
Her loss is personal but it is also political. When I tell people about the tragedy, they often offer up names of people snatched away from them. I learn and am reminded of other injustices: the murder of two Karachi University professors, Dr Wahidur Rehman and Dr Shakeel Auj; the killing of Parveen Rahman; the murder of HRCP lawyer Rashid Rehman; the brutal killing of reporter Saleem Shehzad, Salman Taseer and many others; Shia, Ismaili, Bora, Baloch, Hindu and Christian killings.
Immense as my grief is, I am confronted with the fact that there is a long history of enforced silences on those who speak up in this country. Through this collective sorrow, I am able to grasp more fully the human tragedy behind missing persons in Balochistan, Sindh, and nationwide.
I want justice for Sabeen. Nonetheless, I also want justice for those people who have been killed for speaking, resisting or even simply existing. I want justice for the 145 victims of the Army Public School massacre, the 45 Ismailis gunned down at Safoora Goth, the thousands who have lost their lives to terrorism, sectarian violence, opaque state-led wars and patriarchal violence. I want the State to know that it is duty bound to provide us safety.
On Saturday, May 16, I will be joining a memorial march organised by the Concerned Citizens of Peace to commemorate the five-month anniversary of the APS attack and to remember all those who have been killed in acts of violence, random or planned.
In a national climate where silence and censorship are becoming the norm, enforced through violence, intimidation, and perverse laws, we will march for freedom of expression and freedom from oppression.
I urge you all to join me and become us; the people who stood for their own civic rights.
Many have said to me that protests are futile and they do not accomplish anything. I say to them that we may all be members of the same country by dint of our NICs, but we cannot be a community until we share in each other’s grief and honour each other’s losses.
Come and become a part of the community with those who have lost people they cared about and those who are losing the country they care about.
I believe nothing will change until we’re all willing to die for each other rather than live for ourselves.
In numbers we will draw strength and solace. In speaking we will push back the walls of silence drawing around us, even if temporarily. In showing up, we will celebrate the great courage and lasting influence of those who have been killed.
This is change enough for me; I pray this is change for us.
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