Television in Ramazan is usually all about fasting and food. This year, like in October 2005, we are dealing with a mega disaster, so there is some time allocated to the floods, some time to the relief efforts and some time to asking questions about man’s, in particular influential man’s, contribution to the disaster. And when that happens, it’s déjà vu and one is transported back to the earthquake. Our politicians come on television saying this is not the time to raise issues and ask questions, all this questioning about breached bunds and illegal logging only serve to damage the country’s image abroad and then we say the world is not helping us. Let's keep a lid on phrases like trust deficit and credibility or lack thereof. Let's present a united voice to the world so they open their purses.
There are many who agree with this, we have enough problems let's not take our dirty laundry to the international launderette. To do that we need to have a laundry service at home to ensure that the mountains of laundry that now make up our national psyche are effectively laundered at home. We struggled for two years to put the beginnings of an independent judiciary in place, and today the judiciary, constantly battered, is struggling to keep its head above water. With that struggle came a democratically elected government also battered and struggling to keep its head above water.
The floods have ravaged a fifth of the country and the waters have not yet abated, the scale of this disaster is greater than anything we have seen before and, man-made contributions aside, it is something the government could not contain. Then why is it that people are willing to contribute to Talat Hussain and Kashif Abbasi’s fund rather than the prime minister’s fund? If you talk to people on the street, there is an anger that boils up when they see anyone from government on television in the flood-affected areas, whereas the military does not evoke the same reaction. Perhaps it is because the civilian government is inevitably standing on dry land, in a plane or helicopter and always looking pristine. It’s like the water has not touched them. All around them you see destruction, despair and people begging for help. That’s the visual, it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by what is happening, it is the perception.
It’s a terrifying reality that rather than demanding what is their right, people are prepared to beg for it. It is the result of thousands of years of servitude, of a paternalistic system that reinforces dependence, where people are mere commodities and so the sale of a daughter or wife is quite the norm. It may turn the stomach of the urban elite, but does it turn it enough for them to do something? I am sure many of you saw Hamid Mir with Khurshid Shah on a navy boat in the flood waters. They came across a group of men wading chest high in water. When told to get on board the men said we need to bring our animals and belongings with us, the camera panned to some very sorry looking rubble and Hamid Mir said leave it and get into the boat. The man said it’s all I have, these are my worldly possessions and the animals are my livelihood. We cannot imagine having so little and as a result take much for granted. Needless to say they were left to tread water. The navy officer assured us that the men have the capacity to get to dry ground and I am sure they do but they would have done it with no assistance in which case what was the point of the boats in the water? No one is asking that question. There were according to that particular television report over 2,000 men in the water at that particular place because they had to hold on to what little they had.
Like the earthquake, this disaster brings with it an opportunity to change, to change the way we think, the way we treat people, change priorities — to change. And if we hope to survive as a nation, change we must.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2010.