IT is difficult to recall the last time Islamabad drew this kind of crowd. Thousands of discontented individuals, working for various departments of the Pakistan government, and hailing from trade unions and other groups, assembled on Wednesday to protest the scourge of inflation. They planned to march on parliament but their way was blocked at the point where rulers and their spokespersons felt that they were getting too close for comfort. Quite often, these government employees are overshadowed by big files flashed on media, although they have been pressing for reasonable compensation in these times of soaring expenses across the country. Wednesday’s protest, which carried the message right to the heart of power, was a sit-in organised by the All Pakistan Clerks Association which has demanded a well-structured basic pay scale and an end to downsizing besides the redressal of other complaints. Most of the participants withdrew after this latest, very large and restive protest demonstration, without getting reassurances that they could bank on. However, the Lady Health Workers stayed on and continued with their push under the most adverse conditions, even when the street lights were switched off, with reports that the nearby petrol pumps were forbidden from extending any facilities to these stubborn protesters to freshen up. These women have earned quite a reputation for themselves as tough street fighters against the raw deals they are subjected to by their employers. Time and again, they have proved their mettle.
The cause is there and the protesters who left could return. But there is nothing in sight which could qualify as a sign of the government’s desire to tackle the issues which are reflected in the demands of these government employees, and that are being faced without discrimination by all Pakistanis bar a privileged few. It has become impossible to live within one’s means after the increase in the price of essentials in recent times. Perhaps the situation could be termed unavoidable given the unfortunate equation of local conditions and foreign diktats that we have to deal with. But how has the PTI government responded to this? By trying to check the prices at retail shops? Is this where the problem lies? This gimmickry is surely not the answer to the woes of government workers and other Pakistanis caught up in straitened circumstances. They could all join hands to make it impossible for the government to stop them outside Islamabad’s red zone the next time.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020