Unsilenced voice

Published February 5, 2016

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish.

The documentary that was screened at the event captured beautifully Perween’s smiling face and lilting voice. It reminded the 400-strong audience that her powerful message should not be allowed to slip away. Among those present were her family and friends and her colleagues and partners (from all over Pakistan — from Layyah in South Punjab to Mithi in Sindh). They had come to revive their spiritual bonds with their mentor.

The reading of Asad Mohammad Khan’s short stories and Zeeshan Sahil’s poetry by Qissa Farosh, a newly established theatre group, charmed the audience which sat in the open courtyard opposite the room that used to be Perween’s office where she had spent hours studying land maps. The stories narrated that day were about the wretched of the earth. I could feel Perween’s presence. She would have found the narrative familiar.

There has been no closure for those who mourn Perween Rahman’s loss.

What was most touching was a song Let’s Save the World sung by Tabrez Ali Saqib. He had written the lyrics and dedicated a stanza to Perween. It read, “Let’s save the homeless, the vagrant, the settlers who are compelled to leave/…./ Behold the edifice of the rich; Behold the sparkling opulence/ Pity the pauper in the street; Pity the dwindling sustenance./ There lived a queen without a crown, a mother to the disowned./ She was waylaid most cruelly, her children left forlorn.”

Perween’s message still inspires the OPP workers who have carried on their work despite the insecurity that surrounds them now. One of them, Abdul Waheed who ran a school in the area, was killed while another, Saleem Alimuddin, was attacked. Yet OPP has struggled on in search of redress for the landless and the deprived.

But the wheels of justice turn slowly — too slowly for the people’s reassurance. There has been no closure for those who still grieve Perween Rahman’s loss. The petition filed in July 2013 in the Supreme Court after the Sindh police had declared the case ‘closed’ has yet to produce results. On different occasions, members of the judiciary have expressed their dissatisfaction with the police investigations. A murderer allowed go scot-free creates a sense of insecurity for the public. The distinguished judges of the Supreme Court also understand the implications of an unresolved case, especially when the person who pulls the trigger does so at the behest of others who stand to gain by removing from the scene someone who is obstructing their heinous quest for loot.

Whatever little progress — not too satisfactory — that has so far been made in the investigations has been at the prodding of the court that justice must be done and the police must do its job. At one stage, hearings were being held practically every month mainly due to the fact that two former chief justices of Pakistan, ie Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and Nasir-ul-Mulk, were personally hearing the case. That had an advantage. It put pressure on the police to act.

No hearing has been held since September 2015 when the police submitted a report saying one of the main accused had migrated from his home in Swat and his house was demolished.

One can ask, what would we gain by going after the killer? Perween cannot be brought back. The fact is that we cannot abandon Perween’s mission — to provide homes for the homeless by giving them security. This security will only come when the goths ringing Orangi are regularised. This work is at a standstill and as long as fear prevails, the land mafia will have the upper hand. Arresting the killers and unmasking the unscrupulous elements behind those who instigated the murder would serve a dual purpose.

First, justice will be done which is the first demand of a civilised society. Secondly, it will drive away the fear that is terrorising the common man who, as it is, has no place in Pakistan’s political, social and legal system. Perween Rahman gave the poor a voice. She may no longer be there today but her voice should continue to be heard loud and clear.


Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016



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