|Saturday, January 10, 2009|
|The emerging lexicon of ’emergencies and violence’ in the name of religion such as ‘Khooni chowk’ ‘Fauji Taliban’ etc., trigger the urgency for redefining our belief and value systems and what we mean by civil and political society in Pakistan, itself a nation born out of a colonial dispensation. The call for action from our fellow citizen Zubair Torwall from Swat in his moving piece ‘From Swat – with no Love”, in your newspaper on January 8, must have made many of us jump out of our inertia. The imagery of ‘khooni chowk’ does not merely conjure surrealistic symbolism of bodies hanging without heads strewn across wires and trees, but is a reality that many children and adults encounter in what was once a ‘people friendly’ valley.
The notice to girls’ schools /education institutions to shut down by the ‘Taliban’ will run out on my mother’s birth day Jan 15. It is ironic that I am bestowed with the responsibility of a vice chair for emergencies and girls education by the UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) for the region. I have often asked my peers in Kathmandu, what do you want me to do under this role? To date I have not found a very clear cut response, whilst I must admit that I too have resorted to the ‘convenience of subservience’ syndrome waiting for the ‘UNGEI Donor community “to define”. Why?
As I write, reflecting that my mother’s birthday is now synonymous with the shutting down of girls’ schools in Swat, where my dearest friend the accomplished, Professor Shaheen Sardar Aii hails from, it is because of my and our own inertia. Zubair, if you do not mind my direct conversation in this piece with you, may I also let you know that I belong to a group called ‘Child Rights Movement’ and to this day we have not quite sorted out protocols for launching a collective offensive for child rights? Isn’t it ironical that over 200 girls schools have been burnt and closed down in Swat and FATA due to violence by the Taliban, but we, the civil society are still arguing about when and where to cast the first stone? Are we a movement or not? The cacophony of ‘civil society’ mounts, and political society – in the form of Talibans, citizens groups, such as the angry workers of Faisalabad or the irate citizens on the streets protesting load shedding or shortage of petrol, flour, water, etc. – is mounting its pressure to confront the state through more active transactions, both democratic and extra democratic, for doing what they think is correct, particularly in the absence of an effective state. The time is running out for civil society for its ‘development, pro-poor, rights based’ charade.
That brings us to two major rethinks and action points. 1) Post colonial societies are plagued by the traditional ‘elite exclusivity’ of its ‘civil society groups’. So we need to unpack ‘civil society’ as we understand its indigenous origins, operations and actions, and not in its current ‘western interpretations’, of civil society, as groups ‘standing apart from the state’. 2) What is the anatomy of the emerging political society of the non-elites who feel disenfranchised, seeking increasingly to occupy political space for transactions both democratic and, in our case, anarchist as well?
We need to do this very fast, to decide whether we can be at the vigil against this khooni chowk and by the girls who will stop going to school on Jan 15, or be a part of the celebrated two year movement for the restoration of a ‘ corrupt judiciary’ as an institution, or the protestors against the Israeli bloodbath in Gaza. We need to find the courage to protest the blood baths and widespread erosion within our own ‘nation state’. To Zubair Torwali, I would say, my friend, we will do this until we can wash away the stains at Khooni Chowk and restore its original life giving name ‘Grain chowk’.
The writer is a concerned citizen who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (The News)