Listening to Coke Studio’s “Rah-e-Haq kay Shaheedon” is an emotionally draining experience. It is an emotionally draining experience not because the words reach out to me, but because it is a stark reminder of the exploitation of our memories, a sustained exploitation of our collective grief. The song begins with a dedication to “those who sacrificed their todays for our tomorrows”. I am not sure who comes in the list of people who sacrificed their lives or when this tomorrow will come. The list of martyrs is an endless one, inclusive of women, men and children, inclusive of soldiers and thousands of civilians, inclusive of people from every social class and every religious group. And in their deaths we have only been worse; poorer and emptier.
Yet, we are told again and again about the importance of their ‘qurbani’, through the media, from the prime minister, from provincial government representatives, from the military. Again and again we are told it will get better, that it is for a greater purpose, that the ‘shahadat’ will be for a cause. And now in Coke Studio too, the violence that has taken over all our lives is made to be justified for a better, imaginary tomorrow. It adds to the systematic abuse and manipulation of our remembrance of violence. But this is more than just about Coke Studio, it is about how deeply the narrative of the greatness of (involuntary) sacrifice has seeped into every sphere of our lives. There is no justice in such remembrances. How can we speak for the dead or the half living who will spend the remainder of their lives mourning a child or a sibling? How do we tell them it will be worth it?
Our lives have long been reduced to the expectation of this imaginary tomorrow or illusions about our present. Days after the song was released, we lost a generation of lawyers in Quetta. The spaces left in their deaths will take decades to be filled and it will never be filled for the people who loved them. There will be no replacement for Amjad Sabri, he is gone and there is no other like him, just like there was no replacement for Hakeem Saeed or Saba Dashtiari or for Parween Rehman or Dr Ali Haider or for children who never got a chance at life. These are irreplaceable losses that no number of shahadats can replace. They are among the few names we remember, and the many thousand children, women and men, whose names we don’t.
The perpetual abuse of our grief is among the greatest reasons of our continued failings because we never care to realise what is lost. Our hope has been reduced to believing that at least people are expressing concern about an incident, at least they care, that at least tributes were paid to Amjad Sabri and thousands of people came to say their final farewell. We remember how strangers and friends cried for Sabeen as she left T2F for the last time, we remember the thousands gathered to mourn Sibte Jaffer, people who knew him and those who didn’t know him. How unfortunate is it, how unlucky are we that comfort is sought in the belief that at least there are mourners left. From the time this country emerged till today, the state has legitimised itself on the politicisation of our memories. This August, we celebrated the 69th year of our birth. It will be celebrated without a word of loss, without a sense of grief, without an understanding of trauma. How well we have been forced to forget and how quickly. And so we will celebrate our brutal past and the largest migration in history, we will never remember the millions who died, we will never remember the thousands who were raped, we only remember the triumphalism, the greatness of the ‘qurbani’, only the ‘azadi’ and not the ‘batwara’.
This state-sanctioned emotional abuse needs some expiry date now. It has gone for far too long. There is no glory in these deaths and certainly no glory in this violence. I don’t want my people to die, I don’t want my body identified in a pile of dead and I will certainly never want to ‘sacrifice’ anyone I love. Our tomorrows need to be filled with the living, not the dead.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2016.