ON Wednesday, videos of the police baton-charging unarmed protesters near the Balochistan Assembly in Quetta began circulating on social media. The protestors — men and women, old and young alike — were employees and students at the Bolan Medical College and the All Pakistan Clerks Association. These citizens were simply exercising their right to peaceful protest and for a chance to be heard by the powers-that-be who could bring change to their lives. After all, ‘change’ was this government’s motto — not shielding themselves from the words of the very constituents whose votes they needed to come into power.
A protest is simply the manifestation of a people’s grievance and desire to be heard. It is very much part and parcel of a culture of healthy debate, human rights and tolerance. And as long as it adheres to constitutional guidelines, it should be welcomed — or tolerated, at the very least. Instead of listening to their grievances, however, we once again witnessed the heavy-handedness and overreaction of state authorities towards a peaceful gathering. Over a hundred of those protestors were taken into custody. It is baffling how law enforcement continues to exhibit such brutality and suspicion towards those simply demanding their rights, thereby criminalising them, and yet barely lifts a finger against the many groups that threaten others with direct acts of violence and hate speech, particularly when it is directed against marginalised or minority groups. But this is not the first time we have seen such blatant abuse of power and, unfortunately, it is unlikely to be the last. From using batons against protesting teachers to water cannons against nurses in Sindh — both our distant and recent past is filled with examples of police excess against unarmed professionals. This bullying behaviour and inability to simply listen to some of the most powerless segments of society will only prove to hurt us all in the long run.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020