Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


A nation of extortion


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

There are many forms of extortion that one has to keep paying. Whether we want to or not, knowingly or unknowingly, we constantly pay extortion money in one form or the other. Whether it is an urban or rural area, a street or a road, office, hospital or even a hotel, you cannot save yourself from the menace. Avoiding bhatta is completely useless – it is, to sum it up, a case of ‘you can run but you can’t hide’. Not only does it possess the potential to take your life, but also your world too. Here, if a life is spared by paying extortion money, there is another life saved by obtaining it. Both of these lives thrive on a sense of utter compulsion, both are correlative. One cannot exist without the other.

It all comes down to a balance of authority. One has authority, whereas the other does not. The one with authority must always be paid, whereas the one with no authority must always make the payment. Everything you own belongs to the one in power; both in the urban, as well as, rural areas. We used to hear and read stories of the adamboo in childhood. Now, we can actually the same cries of adamboo in reality. However, now one hears these cries through the media and not the stories that we used to read as children. And along with the cries of the adamboo, there is also its smell. Only it cannot be seen as the monster is kept under wraps by the media which perpetrates this shroud of lies.

There is such an overflow of lies that the truth gone into hiding under its layers. Even the minds of the so-called educated people are shrouded in these lies which prevent the truth from reaching to their brains. They also have layers of veil over their eyes, due to which they can hardly see anything. They sympathise, speak a few irrelevant sentences to each other and then leave on their own different paths, inwardly full of gratitude that they have been spared from this all-consuming fire. However, even they do not know how long they will remain safe from this fire. Everyone is helpless, walking around with their heads bowed. The lies proudly walk the length and breadth of the city, whereas the truth is running out of places to hide in.

During the animal sacrifices on Bakra Eid in the past, it was only the religious parties that asserted their right over the skins of the sacrificed animals, occasionally having a representative of the local madrassa replacing their representatives in the competition for sacrificial skins. Then, one day it was discovered that selling sacrificial skins is an immensely lucrative business, consequently giving rise to feuds over their possession. This eventually got to a point where the sacrificial skins started being bought before the sacrificial ceremony had even taken place. There were entire coupon books being handed out in the name of zakat, charity and even fitra in order to extort money from the people now. Before making any attempts to please the God above, one must please the “gods” down here. And with the increase in political parties, one party wants bhatta in the name of religion, another wants it in the name of nationality. So when you pay extortion money to one party and you will find another one standing at your door.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

When you load credit into your mobile, the bhatta is deducted immediately. Whatever bills you pay, the bhatta is already added to it. We are not in the habit of checking our bills anymore; hence we end up paying for the electricity that we have not even used. You must pay the bills even if you receive electricity for four out of the 24 hours a day, including telephone, gas and water. Even if you do not use these facilities, you have no choice but to pay for them. The ones who use all of these facilities need not pay anything. They have swimming pools in their homes when one does not even have two buckets of water to bathe. If the bill is not paid on time, the authorities will not hesitate to cut off your water, phone, gas and electricity connections. The court only considers pardoning bills that amount to lacs of rupees, then why take special permissions on bills that only amount to a few thousand rupees? The non-payment of the latter does not need the court’s permission to relieve the “defaulters” of their water, phone, gas and electricity connections.

If you wish to open up a shop, or start-up a business of any sort, you are required to go through numerous stages. The government has established numerous institutions to keep an eye on all the commercial goings-on and for obtaining government’s permission to conduct business. Not to mention the 10 people sitting outside the government offices who must be paid as well if you want your work done on time. You need to “feed” everyone, from the bottom rung of the ladder to the very top. All these “laws” are only for scaring everyone. Neither do the lawmakers themselves follow these laws, nor do they let others follow them. Try to use legal, lawful ways to achieve something, and you will surely fail. If you join them, prosperity is all you will ever see. But if you decide to part ways with them, you will spend the better part of your remaining life in courts and legal hassles. So, how does one decide between taking the path they have shown you or the lawful one?

There are all kinds of taxes that need to be paid by the powerless populace, especially the salaried ones in this country. By large, they pay the most taxes out of any other sections of the population. If the rest of the public does not wish to pay taxes, they attempt to gain political power and once they have managed to gain it, they conveniently relieve themselves of their taxpaying duties. Oh, they are not bothered about these “frivolities” of the general public, such as taxes. They can be politicians, officers, uniformed or not, people who trade faith or nationality, or even capitalists and contractors. They are all exceptions. If they are not exempted from paying taxes for some reason, they hire such people who actually know the law so well that they are able to tell their employers about all possible methods of evading taxes. Once you have done so, your problems will be solved and you will live a truly relaxed life. Appoint the one who is well-versed with the intricacies of the law and that person will tell you numerous ways to bypass the law so you can continue on with your illegal ways.

Reconciliations are taking place wherever you look, the entire country is functioning on a system of give-and-take. All those in power share their spoils with each other and sometimes even attempt to cover up each other’s illegal activities. The leaders of political parties, who, if they got a chance, would physically strangle each other are now holding friendly conferences and pledging to work together in accord. They surprisingly never tire of this. Also, the institutions that already owe large amounts of money to each other establish new projects and schemes instead of paying off their debts. They take more loans so they can start another developmental scheme just so they have more happy news to give to the public, a “noble” work that never tires them. All those schools, hospitals and roads that were merely mentioned in official files just had many more added to their existing number so that these institutions could arrange their bhatta.

As the elections come closer, many new jobs are announced, some of which usually go to the uncles, nephews and other relatives; the remaining jobs will merely appear in official files. There are going to be even more salaries drawn in the names of fake employees, as the rates of dollars (US$) and pounds (GBP) touch the sky.

There is a fire burning at one place, whereas another drowns in the floods. Announcements are followed by some more announcements. What does it matter if relief goods reach the flood victims or not. It has to cross our way before getting to them anyway. Our extortion is safe, brother. Why worry about the poor? They will shed a tear or two, gain or lose a bit and then forget everything and move on. Life is after all the only constant change; it will always come and go.


The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.

Author Image
The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Abdur Rehman Mahsud Sep 21, 2012 08:29pm
Nice article Mr.Abro...I like it very much
Waltair Sep 21, 2012 01:38pm
NoSir. This is a South Asian specialty where the poorer you are the more you are a victim.
khoso Sep 21, 2012 05:55am
haris Sep 21, 2012 09:03am
True depiction of our society. To the point and very well written. Thanks Mr. Abro Our society needs a major surgery. From top to bottom every organ has to be surgically fixed or replaced but unfortunately it seems to be inconceivable until the current batch of politicians, bureaucrats, military personnel and government officers remain in their offices. The only way to fix our fractured society is by taking the authority from the aforementioned thugs. To do so, educated and talented people must come forward and join civil services to achieve rational public administration. I know it sounds little peculiar but we must understand clearly that, To remove the dirt around, one must 'get his hands dirty'. Unless educated and honest people stray themselves away from the system the dis-functioning prevails, therefore, in order to fix this dysfunctional system one has to become a part it. Again, 'Get your hands dirty' if you really care about cleaning the mess.
Gulshan Sep 21, 2012 05:40pm
Bravo ! A very sensible comment. You are truly a good human being and a good citizen. Let them not shut you up. My prayers for people like you.
yassir Sep 21, 2012 06:38am
I guess the it is the spoils of capitalistic system, found everywhere on the globe.
raika45 Sep 20, 2012 10:44am
What about those who donate millions in cash or some in gold ornaments and what not to Durgas,temples and other holy place to placate their Gods instead of helping the needy. Are they also not offering a bribe to get their wishes fulfilled? Or a better after life.
Yogini Sep 20, 2012 04:46pm
What a statement !! What are you doing about it?
ashok Sep 20, 2012 09:59am
The same problem exist in India.
ali m. khoso Sep 20, 2012 03:15pm
good work mr. abro. the word nationality must be replaced with ethnicity. that 'll be more appropriate. the article clearly depicts the situation of sindh specially its large cities.
Abdullah Sep 20, 2012 03:14pm
This only exists in Karachi, not in Punjab, Balochistan, KP
Gulshan Sep 21, 2012 05:54pm
You forgot to mention Mullas who will not let us think and talk freely. Sep 20, 2012 02:53pm
So we must be doing really well as well.
Don Sep 22, 2012 08:24am
The problem in India is not that severe.
Gulshan Sep 20, 2012 01:27pm
Thanks for the state secret, Mr. Ashok Muhammad.
Mansoor Sep 20, 2012 06:12pm
By not paying one direct Tax (income)as most civilised nations do we have to pay hundreds of taxes. If I pay one income tax I can hold the governments accountable, the baboos my servents and army on leash.As I only pay indirect taxes, none is accountable.The government donot want to tax me as it will make them accountable and it is easy, painless and quick to leave the future generations under mounting debts to IMF/World bank in the hope that they might be written off.
Joe Highlander Sep 20, 2012 11:40pm
So, you are saying that all this is part of cost of business of being alive, earning livelihood and being out of certain circles-OK. But the takers should set some limit and not ask or expect more than a define percentage of the honest earnings. Various taker groups should deal with each other in dividing up the take. Bhatha, chai pani, fitra, gifts, donations etc should not be more than a fixed percentage. The giver should not be bothered with deciding who gets how much. They should have syndicate. Corruption of all types must have defined process. When and if ever society decides to do away with extortion, then you will be left with government taxes only.
Sharma Sep 21, 2012 02:58am
Temples and Durgas are structures and most of the money donated flows to the less prosperous people. Only one can have opinions on better utilization of these funds
reader Sep 20, 2012 04:59pm
beautiful way of writing hats off !!!! very true picture .. i would put a name to this " a silent killer of society"