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 Dawn.com.

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

.

Why PTI protesters have much to learn from the past

Updated November 07, 2016

I have never pelted stones or fought with the police. As a Peoples Party jiyala in my youth, I was an active political worker.

I addressed hundreds of rallies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, organised meetings, participated in and led marches, and was at the receiving end of police batons dozens of times.

But I never threw a stone or a punch.

In my youth, we struggled against General Ziaul Haq’s martial law. The educated and well-off youth were not part of our struggle.

Today, it is different: the educated youth have been mobilised on a large scale and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) deserves the credit for this.

I am though concerned about how this political activism is manifesting. The teargas in the air and the containers on the roads repeat the story of violent protests. Pakistanis are, justifiably, expressing their discontent at the state of affairs.

But unlike the semi-literate, lower middle-class youth with whom I protested, I see the upper and middle-class youth active on the streets today. However, their activism doesn’t reflect the maturity of their privilege and education.

What I see are seemingly educated youth who are ignorant of how to be active in the political sphere.

I see PTI supporters throwing stones at the police and some even wrestling with law enforcement officers in Islamabad.

I see PTI-supporting lawyers in Lahore attacking cars and assaulting parents transporting children on motorbikes.

This is no way to be an enlightened political activist.

Our youth need mentoring. There is a way to be a jiyala or cheetah, and it does not involve throwing stones or punches.

I became active in politics at a very young age. I owe this to my passion for public speaking and encouragement by my parents (who were both professors) and even my maternal grandmother who was active in the Pakistan movement.

I had the good fortune of being taught by the very best. My teachers were as much concerned about academics as they were about being productive members of society.

My transition from declamation contests to speeches at trade union gatherings thus happened naturally in elementary school. By the mid-eighties and in my teens, I was addressing PPP rallies trying to get left-leaning councillors elected in the non-party local bodies elections.

It was at Gordon College in Rawalpindi where my real schooling began. Some retired academics (Professor Khawaja Masud) and many others serving (the likes of Maqsood Jafri and Aziz Mehmood Zaidi) created the environment that nurtured both dissent and discipline. We learnt to disagree with respect and demonstrate with restraint.

I realised that speech was a powerful yet limited medium. I could only address those who were in front of me. To reach a broader audience, I needed to write. I started writing op-eds for Urdu language newspapers including Jang and Musawaat while I was still a student.

A few years later, the Peshawar University campus proved to be an equally stimulating place. I was studying engineering, but spent my time learning from scholars in the psychology, English, politics, and Urdu departments.

The Peshawar University Teachers’ Association provided the platform to hear from those who challenged the status quo and orthodoxy of our times. It was at one of the association's events where I first heard Asma Jahangir and Pervez Hoodbhoy speak about human rights and scientific thinking.

It was at the Frontier Post’s office in Peshawar where I would see Aziz Siddiqui edit a bold and independent English daily, challenging powerful provincial governors and military dictators.

I learnt there that the loudest political voice in the country was that of the Frontier Post’s cartoonist, Feica, whose cartoons hurled no stones but carried tremendous punch.

In Peshawar, and with the help of a handful of very committed comrades, we launched a formal human rights movement by staging a silent march from the university campus to Saddar on December 10, 1991, the international human rights day. We were protesting against a rape in Karachi.

We carried placards, banners and raised slogans, but we didn’t block roads or threw stones. We knew our message was strong.

People heard us loud and clear and we didn't need to shout. Those who missed our small procession read about it the next day in most newspapers.

The youth today have to learn a fundamental lesson about political activism. It is much more than dharnas: it is a daily struggle to work for the rights of those who are less fortunate than us.

When we were not out on the street with placards, we were teaching child labourers basic literacy at auto-mechanic shops in Gowalmandi, Rawalpindi.

We knew that being on the street was the easiest form of political activism. The difficult struggle was to sustain a movement that would spread literacy and eradicate poverty and disease.

So if you are out on the street today reading this blog on your smart phone, think. You should think about how you should honour your protest with dignity and restraint.

More importantly, you should think about nurturing your activism so that it becomes a sustained struggle and not merely an outburst.