My father, Shakeel Pathan (1956-1998), would have been really depressed and possibly assassinated on charges of blasphemy or for his stance against feudal lords and fundamentalists, especially at this point in time when extremism is on the rampage in our society. During the 42 years of his life, he fought against the evils in society, ranging from feudal lords who keep their employees as bonded slaves to fundamentalists and dictatorships. Shakeel Pathan left us in a world where there are more challenges than what he faced in his life, as today, Pakistani society is becoming more and more intolerant and unsafe for minorities.
Born in Hyderabad, Sindh, his political career began during his early college life. He was against the oppression imposed by capitalists and fundamentalists. He was also a part of the Palestinian movement in Pakistan. His struggle against the Ziaul Haq regime in support of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy and association with the National Students Federation took him behind bars but this did not stop him from fighting against the wrongs of society. He worked for the betterment of prison conditions and his focus remained mainly on serving humanity in whatever modus operandi he could. He was a firm believer in movements and struggles for the betterment of this country.
He was labelled ‘Wajibul Qatal’ several times because of his pro-minorities approach which, according to him, was a pro-humanist approach; he fought against injustices wherever and against whomever they were being committed against, irrespective of anyone’s ethnicity and religious leanings.
I know him more as Shakeel Pathan and less as a father because I only came to know a lot about him after his death (on August 23, 1998). Indeed, he was also a wonderful father who made time for us despite his busy schedule. My family, especially my mother, was very supportive and proud of his struggle. We became a part of his struggle and even visited freed bonded labourers and their families with him. Something that made him more admirable for me was that he never tried to avoid having meals in the homes of labourers. When they offered him water or tea, he never thought of them as untouchables. Similarly, he taught us to be humane to every human being irrespective of caste and creed.
His humanist approach led him to undertake fact-finding missions under the auspices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). He was among the 18 individuals who formed the HRCP in 1988.
Shakeel Pathan, along with his team, busted private jails of feudal lords in interior Sindh and faced several assassination attempts. He also faced strong resistance after he discovered children in the chains of a religious seminary. However, he survived because of his dedication to the cause of fighting for human rights.
His widow, Nasreen Shakeel Pathan, and friends continue the fight against injustice on different platforms. Even liberated peasants have become active in getting others released from the bonded labour. However, there is a need for a few things in order to continue his mission. We should learn lessons from his devoted life through his jail diary and incomplete book titled, Slaves not Masters. The only way to pay homage to this defender of human, political and fundamental rights is to start thinking with rationale and keep raising voices against injustices without giving any consideration to opponents. Shakeel Pathan’s struggle must move forward.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2012.
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