Are we a moral society?

Our sense of right and wrong is so intertwined with our skewed sense of the ‘greater good’ and ‘majority sentiment’.

Meera Ghani August 12, 2011

Lately, I find myself losing hope. It seems as if we all are so caught up in our mundane day to day lives that we’ve stopped caring about what’s going on around us. I would much rather believe that it is for this reason that not many decided to come out to condemn the recent illegal use of power and violence by our security forces because the other prospect is much too horrifying. I can’t fathom that our people actually agree with what’s being carried out in the name of justice. I can’t let myself believe that we as a nation endorse state terrorism and do not believe in due process anymore. But that certainly seems to be the case.

The culture of violence especially against women is growing in Pakistan and those who are meant to enforce law and order are doing the very opposite. The recent aggression against the curator at Nairang Art Gallery and the harassment of devotees at Bahauddin Zakariya’s shrine just show how women are always the first to suffer during difficult times. Our strange notions of ‘honour’ and ‘decency’ make men treat women like possessions rather than people. While many artists and civil society organisations are getting together to protest against police brutality this weekend, there are many who thought the actions of the police officers were justified because the women weren’t behaving ‘properly’. People choose to overlook the fact that these women were illegally beaten by a policeman and instead choose to focus on what they wore and whether their dress and behaviour was Islamic or not. And because of that their assault becomes justified even though they had done nothing wrong.

Similarly, I was appalled to hear some of my friends justify Sarfaraz Shah’s brutal murder by the Sindh Rangers. They thought that the alleged criminal deserved the punishment that was dispensed in less than 10 seconds. Why, because they felt ‘criminals’ like Sarfaraz Shah were responsible for making their lives in Karachi hell.

While I can understand why they are fearful for their lives and are frustrated about the rampant lawlessness in the city, I don’t think we can let our emotions guide our response. We can’t forgo the basic principles and tools that democracy provides us. How can we allow the enforcers of law — the so-called guardians and protectors of society — to disregard the laws of the land and deny citizens their rights? How can we as a society allow them to do the very opposite of what they pledge under their oath? How can we be okay with violence and extra-judicial killings and that too in the most inhumane and gruesome of forms?

Sadly, we seem to have landed back in medieval times where brutality and violence seems to be the only laws of the land. We seem to agree with on-the-spot justice whether it be state-endorsed or carried out by vigilantes. I see more people around me applauding moral policing and justifying violence than people calling for law and order. Our sense of right and wrong is so intertwined with our skewed sense of the ‘greater good’ and ‘majority sentiment’ that we seem to care very little about the violation of individual rights. We’re so obsessed with piety, religion, morality and other people’s sins that we forget the injustices that this may lead to.

If we want to see things change we need to demand and exercise our rights and use democracy to our advantage. We need to hold the establishment responsible. We have to make sure that our voices against these insane injustices are heard by those who are responsible for law and order, those who prosecute and those who ensure justice is served. So please join the citizens who will come out on the streets between 3 pm to 5 pm in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, outside their respective press clubs today, August 13, to demand an end to police instigated violence through various performances and street art. Let’s stop playing the blame game — the solutions to our problems lie with us.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.

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