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Biased system

January 19, 2017


IMAGINE a 100-metre race, with the likes of Usain Bolt competing against someone who is carrying a 100-kg backpack. What if the latter won the race but was disqualified for carrying the extra 100 kg? Imagine how the winner would feel, especially when that extra weight was not a personal choice but just his fate.

There are few avenues that a middle-class individual can explore to achieve a strong social standing in this country; joining the civil service is one of them. The brightest Pakistanis educated at the best local and foreign educational institutions take the CSS exam to gain access to the higher echelons of the bureaucracy in this country.

Faisal Majeed and Mohammad Yousef — like many others — also took this exam a couple of years ago. They have been visually impaired since birth, but did not let this disability diminish their resolve to be high achievers.

They aced the exam; one achieved 12th position, the other 22nd. Before that, Yousef, once applied for a position of a teacher and was told that since a teacher must use a blackboard he could not be selected despite being the best candidate. One must wonder at the lack of vision of those who have been blessed with eyes than can see.

Would they have qualified had they not been blind?

However, their test was not over yet; when it came to allocation to various service groups, they were told that they couldn’t be given the service groups of their first choice because of their disability. The rule was self-negating because if they had qualified against the merit seats, which comprise seven per cent of the total available seats — a criterion they missed by a whisker — they could have joined the service groups of their choice. However, they easily qualified against the provincial seats, but their handicap was used as an excuse to deny them this choice.

To add insult to injury, those who scored a lot less in the exam were placed in groups of their choice but not them. That is the difference between divine and man-made rules — God does not discriminate and rewards the hard work of even those who may question His existence, and we discriminate even when the truth is as clear as daylight.

We in Pakistan are quick to make parking space for the physically challenged, because it does not take ‘enlightenment of the mind’. But when it comes to allowing the physically challenged real inclusion, equality, and access to opportunities in life, we shy away.

They say winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win. So, Faisal and Yousef, approached the Lahore High Court with a writ petition to change the rules.

Had I been heading the Federal Public Service Commission or the Establishment Division, the respondents, I would have simply acceded to the demand of an equal, rightful share of the winners. But since we hire civil servants who somehow take out a rule book and follow that in letter rather than spirit, no matter how self-conflicting or inhumane, it appears they decided to defend the discrimination. One deputy secretary even had the audacity to suggest that, being blind, they should be thankful at getting the job rather than vying for their wishes.

Thankfully, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court admonished him, leading to a more considerate stance, but the damage caused by such attitudes and rules emanating from them cannot be undone so easily.

Finally, after months of litigation, a lot of arguments and counter arguments, the hearing recently came down to the final day when a couple of questions were asked. If Faisal had not been blind, would he have qualified for his first choice? And if Yousef had not been blind, would he have qualified for his first choice?

The answer to both the questions was an obvious yes. The rule has been struck down, but it took a couple of stalwarts to fight yet another long and tedious battle. The war is still not won.

Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is one thing to be a signatory to various global pacts and quite another to implement them. My request to all those who are in power is to not wait for someone else to fight against all odds to claim their rights; rather, facilitate them and encourage them by getting rid of all discriminatory laws and rules on their own.

A quota for the handicapped in the legislature would perhaps make the goal of equality and inclusiveness easier to achieve, because no one can think for their rights in a better way than those who have been there.

Lastly, thanks to those who are blind but can see better than those who apparently are not.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2017