A few weeks ago a young man in Aappara in Islamabad committed suicide. According to newspaper reports he left behind a note. He owed his landlord Rs80,000 and despite all efforts to repay the money was unable to do so because his business had packed up. An ice cream seller, whose business should have been booming in the hot weather, became a victim of long and frequent power outages. The ice cream melted, stocks went bad and he was unable to sustain the business. The note he left behind told an even sadder tale. It was addressed to his mother, his sister was getting married and he told his mother to make sure the wedding went ahead as scheduled. He also said that he had made arrangements with a carpenter for the delivery of his sister’s furniture well in time for her wedding.
The same newspaper that reported this story carried a second story on the same page, which is not only shocking but really makes you wonder what our priorities are and what they should be. The second story was about the return to Pakistan of Mr Usman Farooqi and the dropping of all cases filed against him. Mr Usman Farooqi was alleged to have embezzled two hundred and forty million rupees. His cases, along with dozens of others worth billions of rupees, were dropped under the National Reconciliation Ordinance and a young man trying to make a living selling ice cream commits suicide because he owed a sum of money the likes of those absolved by the NRO would undoubtedly consider a paltry sum. A paltry sum perhaps but in this case the price of a young life.
Ten days ago another young man, a 25-year-old Hindu, was brutally beaten to death by co-workers at a leather factory in Korangi Industrial Area. Jagdesh Kumar worked in a factory along with 7000 other workers; however, the factory records only list 350 workers. Most of the unregistered workers are illegal migrants from Bangladesh who are exploited and made to work in the most terrible conditions. According to witnesses, Jagdesh Kumar and a Bengali worker had a fight and were separated by one of the factory guards. Jagdesh was kept in the security guards room but a mob gathered outside the room, broke the door down and dragged Jagdesh Kumar out and proceeded to beat him. They kicked him with their boots, beat him with bars, chopped of his fingers, stabbed him with screwdrivers and stopped only when one of them pointed out that he was dead. The entire time the police and security guards stood by, watched and did nothing. They only intervened to prevent the mob from burning his body.
Reports suggest that some 1500 people were involved in this brutal murder. A huge number, it is almost impossible to believe that 1500 people were involved in beating one man to death, but even if they stood by and watched and did nothing they are complicit. Those involved claim that Jagdesh Kumar was lynched by a mob enraged because he had allegedly insulted the Holy Prophet. It is hard to believe that any one would be foolish enough to invite the potential wrath of 7000 people. What justice can Jagdesh Kumar’s family expect? Terrified of reprisals they have left Karachi and gone back to their village in the interior of Sindh. The police and the Sindh government have not considered this a priority and have done nothing so far. Is it the numbers that scare them? What will they do with 1500 illegal migrant workers? The jails are already over crowded and the courts don’t work. And what about justice, compensation, security or just compassion?
None seem likely in the near future. The Sindh government is trying to forge new alliances with old acquaintances and is at the same time send serious warnings to their political opponents. This leaves them with no time to do anything about this horrific murder. But something needs to be done, people need to know that you cannot get away with actions like this?
A few days ago a woman threw herself and her two little children in front of a train. She too left a note. This was a poverty-related suicide, the woman’s inability to feed her children, to care for them to see any future for them. It has to be the worst kind of despair that makes someone kill themselves, it is hard to imagine what sort of hopelessness leads you to end the lives of your children as well. The prime minister, Mr Gilani, went to the woman’s home to condole with her husband and parents. He gave the family two hundred thousand rupees.
There are so many cases like this reported every day. Poverty-related suicides, women selling their children because they cannot afford to feed them, stories of hopelessness and helplessness. What will be done about this? Is there a plan? If yes, when will we see it implemented? The government has been formed and it needs to start working for the citizenry. How many cheques can the prime minister or the chief minister hand out? Unless they start working at honouring the commitments they made to the people there are over a hundred and sixty million cheques that need to be written. It may be early days yet and unfair to expect miracles, but if the likes of Mr Farooqi can enjoy the benefit of a hard negotiated NRO, then surely the people can expect the government to start delivering and quickly.
If they had restored the judiciary immediately there wouldn’t be so much time, energy, manpower and resources being wasted on the issue. All that could be expended in finding solutions to serious problems being faced by ordinary people. People hit by the high cost of food and fuel. It would have also created an environment of trust and would have gone a long way in creating an atmosphere of cooperation between the people and those that say they govern them. Instead, in letting the robber barons roam free and in taking every opportunity to vilify those who fight for the rule of law, we have come full circle.
“In our country” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing”.
“A slow sort of country” said the Queen. “Now, here it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
Have we fallen down the rabbit hole?
The writer is a corporate lawyer, host of a weekly talk show on satellite television and a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com
Source: The News, 20/4/2008