Two years ago, in June 2010, Toronto saw the workings of state machinery at its worst. It was the time of the G20 summit, which later came to be known as Harper`s Folly` due to its obscene expense budget and the extreme security tactics which led to police brutalities and the abuse of citizens` human rights. While Toronto`s police chief was again reprimanded by a watchdog body last week for his officers` inhuman behaviour towards the public, the unruly police action was similar to that of the men in uniform back home.
In fact this June, Toronto experienced many incidents that brought that similar feeling of de ja vu for all South Asians, as the episodes were typically desi in flavour.
First it was the rain which brought about a collapse of Toronto’s main subway station. It was not even a lot of rain, less than 50 mm and the station got flooded, the sewage line broke and the adjacent mall was inundated — just like our underpass of previous days. With the subway line closed, hundreds of commuters were stranded for hours and angry words and foul tempers were given free rein. The flooding was followed by another, more serious episode of a shootout at the city’s main and largest mall. In true Karachi style, a cross fire between two gang rivals in the food court at the busiest time of the week resulted in two deaths and serious injuries of customers caught unawares. As if this wasn’t enough reminder of back home, there was more to come.
In perhaps the most tragic of all incidents, just a little over a week ago, many miles North West from Toronto, two people were crushed to death when part of the roof of a mall came crashing down. While the cave-in itself was a shameful reflection of the security standards being maintained, the rescue operation too was delayed and badly managed.
Residents of the area of course demand an inquiry to find out who should be held accountable for the shabby condition of the mall and the delay in rescuing the people trapped in the rubble. The families of the victims and other concerned people are stunned that such a thing could happen in Canada and are asking for explanations.
The flooding, the shootout and the insecure building are now serious concerns, being probed intensely by authorities and the media. However such incidents or political scams and human rights abuses — while they occur frequently — are never taken or accepted as `part of life’. Accountability is always demanded by the most powerful group — the people, without whose support, the government would not survive. It is the people who feel morally bound to correct a wrong.
The people define whether a society is socially conscious or not and they do not remain complacent in the face of injustice. They feel responsible when rights are compromised.
Numerous times has the issue been brought up — that in Pakistan, people have lost social conscience. While the communal fabric still exists, the rot emanating from the top has eaten the moral courage of the citizenry. Bad governance and poor economics have broken the back of a people who are otherwise intelligent, resourceful and by far much more cultured than many residents of the West. Breaking their spirit is the only way to muzzle their courage of speaking out against anything they consider wrong. Let’s pursue a conspiracy theory and say that this is by design — domestic or international. The weakened conditions ensure that no uprising against state run corruption, illegal rule or foreign intervention in Pakistan has a chance of success.
It is obvious that the government in Pakistan has abdicated from its responsibility of protecting the populace. They have weakened the economics of the majority and fed the greed of a minority who are content to live without their social conscience.
System breakdowns are occurring everywhere and no society is fool proof. If we can manage to get our act together, Pakistan has a chance of better survival in the future when more disorder hits the West because we have experience of handling it.
Didactic speeches don’t make very good reading, so I beg pardon. But there is hope. Hope in those who cannot be bought and from the younger and resilient folks who can eventually cure the rot at the top. There is strength in numbers and Pakistan’s freedom from oppression lies in the change from ‘me’ to ‘we’.