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Salman Haider’s disappearance won’t silence our voices

Updated Jan 10, 2017 12:24pm

In Pakistan, a new generation of activists has emerged from the shadows of 9/11, subsequent wave of wars and atrocities, and the Lawyers’ Movement of 2007.

Progressive in beliefs, liberal in ideas, politically conscious, averse to religious fundamentalism; they are often mocked as ‘liberal fascists’, ‘mombatti mafia’, and ‘anti-state seculars’.

Outnumbered by their opponents, they have managed to keep the debates about modernity, place of religion in the public sphere, role of state in combating terrorism, and widespread misogyny in the society alive on social-media and have significantly influenced public discourse in the last few years.

La poésie est dans la rue – Poetry is in the streets – was a slogan raised by revolutionary students during the May 1968 revolt in Paris. The people of the Subcontinent have always spoken against power, corruption and injustices through poetry, and the gallant tradition of the poem has been passed down to our generation in the same undaunted spirit for which it is famous. Kafir Kafir is one such poem, and it was written by Salman Haider.

Salman Haider is missing since Friday night. He is an academic, a poet, and a human rights activist. Above all, he is a kind soul, restless and perturbed by the state of our society.

He could be heard and read at any occasion. From Shia killings to the APS massacre, from attacks on the Hazara community to the plight of missing persons in Balochistan, he was the voice of the voiceless, the armour of the defenceless. He was a rare voice of resistance marching through the barricades, tearing apart heaps of lies. He expressed the anger, concern, and all the other feelings that made us stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

There is something fundamentally wrong when open incitement to violence is permitted but sane voices are not tolerated. That we had to switch from hashtag #ArrestAbdulAziz to #RecoverSalmanHaider speaks volumes about the resolve of the state to root out terrorism.

That a proscribed group holds rallies in the heart of the capital while an enlightened activist disappears from the same city points to the shortcomings of the government. And this is exactly what Salman Haider was most critical of.

When violence is tolerated and dissent is crushed, rest assured that it’s not the pen but the gun that would write the future.

That a man speaking up for missing persons would himself go missing one day is not that surprising after all.

Truth comes with a heavy price. There might not be many who chose to ignore the dangers, but the ones who do are not only related to each other in heart and mind, but are also joined by their comrades in prisons and torture cells.

When Khurram Zaki shouldered Sabeen Mehmud's coffin, he was probably aware that his time wasn't far away either.

When Salman Haider spoke up for the missing persons, he may have known that that could be viewed as crossing some lines.

Thus he wrote yet another poem that I will not dare translate:

Abhi mere doston ke dost laa-pata ho rahay hein
Phir merey doston ki baari hai
Aur uske baad main
Woh file banun ga
Jisey mera baap adalat le ker jaye ga…

By the time you read these lines, the reasons behind his mysterious disappearance might still be unclear, similar to the countless souls gone missing in recent years. There might still be deliberate confusion as to the real motives of the people who took him away. And if poetry is going to be a crime here, the poem shall resist and fight until the safe return of Salman Haider and others like him.


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