Why we are failing ourselves

WE are not good at facing dissent. And, over time, things have gone from bad to worse. Instead of talking, making an effort to understand the point of view of others — giving space for their views and agreeing to disagree, at times, but still managing to live with each other — we have slowly gone down the route of trying to shut others up.

Look at conversations that strangers and even friends have on Facebook and Twitter, look at our chat shows and discussion programmes. Whenever there is disagreement voices get raised, people accuse each other of being sell-outs, they dredge up each other’s pasts, and shouting matches sometimes escalate to verbal abuse; in fact, we have even witnessed physical altercations on television shows.

Like most societies, we too are a society where people differ in their views on very fundamental and foundational beliefs and issues. We have many religions and many sects within each religion. The differences between sects are also not minor.

The state bears the ultimate responsibility for the current climate of fear.

There are ethnic and linguistic differences amongst us; by some estimates there are more than 70 languages/dialects that are spoken in different parts of the country. We are divided into castes, sub-castes and tribes. Our social, economic and political disparities are also very significant. On the one hand, we have immense poverty, malnutrition and stunting and, on the other, a small minority enjoys the same lifestyle that is enjoyed by the richer classes in more developed societies. How can such a diverse society exist if we do not create ways of living with our differences?

The biggest responsibility for creating an environment in which all can thrive without fear lies with the state. The state has to ensure that laws are in place to protect people and give them as much latitude as is possible, while protecting the rights of others to be who they are and want to be. The state is the arbiter. It has to allow all citizens equal protection and equal latitude without taking sides. It cannot favour a religion, a sect, an ethnicity, a language and/or a way of being. This is one of the reasons for bringing a state into being. If it does favour one belief system or point of view over another, it cannot be an arbiter. This view of the state is idealistic, but it has to be the ultimate goal. Individual states might fall short of this ideal, but this is the direction citizens must push the state towards.

Disappearances have become quite common in Pakistan. From the proceeding of cases in the Supreme Court to other evidence, it has become clear that certain state agencies have been behind many of such incidents. It is not surprising, then, that with the recent disappearances of four or five people, suspicion once again falls on these agencies. And if they are not behind these disappearances, it is important for the agencies to find out who is — not only to end the ordeal of those who have disappeared, and of their families and friends, but also to signal that the practice of enforced disappearances is not official state policy.

The state cannot take away the freedom of a person without due process. This can never be justified and should never be tolerated. The state cannot allow any individual or group of individuals within a country to do that either.

Those who break the law should be arrested. But they should face due process. Making them disappear is no way to deal with differences; neither is breaking the law. People have rights and those rights should be respected.

Most importantly, the state is responsible for ensuring the rights of the people. How can it become party to violating the people’s rights and still expect that the people will trust it to look after their interests?

When Pakistan’s laws have provided state agencies with wide powers to arrest and detain people, why is there a need to allegedly resort to disappearances? Clearly, it is not to get information from them. The police, despite working within the confines of the law and under the scrutiny of the judiciary, often resort to torture to extract information. It is alleged that for certain security agencies, the use of torture is even easier. So, even if they make a public arrest, they can always get the information they need. No one needs to make people disappear to get information.

‘Disappearances’ are being resorted to in order to frighten the people. They follow a similar pattern. Someone disappears. Everyone denies being involved. The interior minister says he will look into the issue but clearly has no control over those allegedly responsible. The person who has disappeared knows he could very easily end up dead. His family and friends also fear the worst. Those who share similar views have real reason to stay quiet lest they too are picked up. It is to instil this feeling of fear and helplessness that disappearances are enforced.

But why does the state need ‘fear’ as an instrument? Why would it need its citizens to fear their own government? Why would it feel so vulnerable that even conversations can be considered dangerous to the existence of the state, country and/or religion? Why this paranoia? This is a key question that needs to be understood. It has something to do with the state having a particular and narrow ideological basis. But this needs further exploration.

The state is supposed to protect its citizens. If the state is weak enough to allow factions and/or groups to undermine the rights of citizens, or if the state itself turns into a violator of rights, it loses its reason for existence. The state cannot and should not deal in fear. Making citizens fear their own government can never make for a stronger country and/or polity. Will our state institutions ever understand this?

Article Source: Dawn



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