‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’.
— William Shakespeare
I RECENTLY watched ‘Live with Talat’ on Aaj TV. Despite being a practising psychiatrist for over 20 years and having come across countless stories of human misery, trauma, hopelessness, violence, aggression and abuse I was shocked at what I witnessed.
Here was the state apparatus let loose on protesting but absolutely unarmed lawyers, journalists, students, housewives, the general public, the young and old, men and women. And let loose as though it was dealing with the most vile criminals on the face of earth.
Uniformed policemen, with the help of other men in white shalwar kameez, were laathi-charging and tear-gassing the protesters in the most violent manner possible. They would first charge towards the crowd and disperse them, then would isolate one individual and about eight to 10 uniformed men clad in white shalwar kameez would descend on him, hold him by his arms, pull his hair and start punching, slapping and kicking him before violently pushing him into a waiting police van. (Please visit www.flickr.com, type ‘Pakistan police lawyers’ and see the treatment meted out to those who dare to raise their voice).
As I watched the programme, I thought to myself: what have to come to? How have we managed to sink to this level of depravity? Where are we heading? Who is responsible for this brutalisation? And does anybody care?
Are we inherently violent? Or have we become so because of what we constantly witness around us? Do the policemen who swing the laathis and those who give the orders not belong to the same religion — one that espouses peace and love, brotherhood and tolerance — as the protesters? Do those who give the orders not have mothers and daughters and sisters and sons and brothers? What kind of brutes rule this land of the pure?
In terms of psychological evolution our society is functioning at what Sigmund Freud called the ‘id’ level. This is the level where we want instant gratification, cannot postpone our desires, do not think of the consequences of our actions and give free vent to our innate aggressive drives. We have yet to enter the ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ levels when individuals and societies develop concepts of ethics and morality, right and wrong and a conscience that rewards and punishes good and bad behaviour respectively.
There is a serious crisis of governance in the country. Corruption is not only institutionalised in Pakistan, but internalised as a societal norm. We have no qualms about not paying taxes or not stopping at traffic lights or allowing our 14- and 15-year-old sons to drive.
Witness the number of guns on our streets. Witness their naked display by the growing number of security guards. What if the gun goes off accidentally? How many guns have gone off accidentally? Does anyone know? Does anyone care to know?
Our television channels have dehumanised brutality. By showing acts of violence repeatedly — witness the security guard being knocked down by the rampaging truck at the FIA building in Lahore or Dr Sher Afghan being manhandled — we have trivialised acts of violence to the level of everyday events, in the process increasing our tolerance for them. No wonder that six people were burned alive in Karachi in the afternoon and by evening everything was back to normal.
Why has no government invested in institution-building? Why do they always bring in their ‘own’ president and their own judges? Nawaz Sharif brought in Rafiq Tarar (remember him?) while Benazir Bhutto brought in Farooq Leghari. The motive in both cases was ulterior (‘our’ president would not go against us). While the former got away with it, the latter bit the hand that fed it. It is the law of nature — actions that are not morally right will be undone in due course of time.
Now we have another illegitimate situation initiated in October 1999 that has continued to this day. It came with a promise to do away with ‘sham democracy’ and to give us a government ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’ (shamelessly using Abraham Lincoln’s hallowed words). In the intervening eight years every institution of this country has been decimated and emasculated, the law treated as a nuisance and the Constitution trampled upon so many times that it has become almost irrelevant. We forget that when those in high positions break the law and violate the Constitution, the lowly-ranked police constable and man on the street take it as a signal to do the same.
Is there a way out of this morass we find ourselves in? Can the rot be stemmed? Can the blatant brutalisation of this society be stopped? The answer is — yes. But there is a big BUT after the yes.
First, we have to accept that the present generation is a lost one — it cannot be rescued. Its value system is so flawed and sense of ethics and morality so poor that trying to salvage the behaviour displayed by it is all but a lost cause. There is hope, though, that future generations may fare better, provided we declare an emergency and invest heavily in education, healthcare and the social sector. We have to include the teaching of ethics and morality in our curriculum. We have to build, strengthen and make all pillars of state truly independent.
We have to stop using violence against unarmed innocent men and women who have every right to raise their voices in protest against injustices. Our leaders, whether politicians or retired generals, have to publicly recant on violence. They are all part of this system and all have directly or indirectly contributed to the brutalisation of this society. They must apologise to the Pakistani nation. Reconciliation does not mean turning a blind eye to the excesses of the past and carrying on as though nothing has happened.
True reconciliation means realising, accepting, confessing and being genuinely sorry for the wrongs done and asking for forgiveness from those who have been wronged. Only then can the wounds begin to heal and a true spirit of understanding be fostered. There should be no ‘sham reconciliation’.
This country was bequeathed by the Quaid to honest, decent, hardworking and law-abiding Pakistanis and not to the crooked and corrupt, who trample on our rights, who have no respect for the law and Constitution and who take the law into their own hands. Pakistanis deserve better than this. This brutalisation has to stop.
The writer is professor of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University, Karachi
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 19/4/2008