Respect for the grieving

Published October 5, 2022
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

THE money is not enough. A few days ago, the UN said the $160 million appeal launched in August was simply not enough to meet the needs of the people — 33m — who have been affected by the floods. While aid has reached some it has been piecemeal; some have received tents others have received food rations but everyone is caught in the terrible grip of despair.

The UN will now need donor countries to collectively pledge $816m to get out of this crisis. The economic growth rate of the country is forecast to go down by a significant percentage in the next year. For its part the United States has suspended service payments on the $132m Pakistan owes them.

These figures paint a distressing picture. And even worse is the fact that the data does not, according to experts, truly reflect the desperation of the situation. Ironically, even while international donors are trying to gather money for the innocent and impoverished flood affectees of Pakistan, most in the country itself have long moved on. The fund drives that were inspiring common people to give what they can, seem to be petering out with only the truly committed volunteers remaining out in the field or keyed into the problems of affected populations.

It was the New York Times that published a story about the Hindu communities in and around Nawabshah that have been thrown into debt as they try to save what is left of their crops. The consequences for them is that they will likely be enslaved by their ‘lenders’ for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, in the rest of Pakistan a debate has been taking place about the public mirth and joy of celebrities and influencers. In recent days, a television entity held an awards ceremony in a foreign country that is quite literally on the other side of the world. A small crowd of Pakistani stars were given business class tickets to attend in dresses designed by Pakistani designers. The attendees, the company probably correctly assumed, would take lots of pictures and videos, and make a ton of social media posts grabbing everyone’s attention and admiration.

Neither the stars nor the company seemed bothered about the fact that millions of Pakistanis were literally homeless, unable to even feed their families without the charity that is being begged for from the international community. The celebrities of course are not alone.

The growing breed of Pakistani influencers who engage in their own mad gluttony for attention at any cost is little different. Both of course have willingly taken on public roles and so one imagines that they would invest a little more thought into their actions and how they appear to others. Recent weeks have shown this not to be the case.

All sorts of Pakistani celebrities have been cavorting on stages, singing, dancing, celebrating and enjoying, all in the public eye or with the express purpose of grabbing as much public attention as possible. If they have felt at all shamefaced or embarrassed for their own largesse of joy, they have not shown any signs of it.

In the face of catastrophic losses we must tone down our own life particularly its expressions of celebration and joy.

When they have been criticised for their public joy, they have offered a variety of reasons. One insisted that the trip was ‘work’. Others have cast themselves in the role of victims, saying that they, the celebrities, get blamed regardless of what they do. Yet others have insisted that they have done a lot for flood victims but that their actions have not been made public (something ironic for people who do everything else in public) because they prefer to keep their charity private.

Read: Floods and photo ops

None of these excuses quite work as an explanation for brazen acts of public mirth and merrymaking at a time when 33m (in the words of the climate change minister, Sherry Rehman) continue to be affected by the catastrophic floods. First and worst is the pretence that their concern (and charity) for flood victims is something they have chosen to keep private.

The issue of public joy and celebration at a time when the country is suffering is not an issue of public or private charity. It is, instead, an issue of respect for the grief-stricken.

Imagine if you knew that a family living next door had just suffered the death of one of their own, and that despite knowing this you insisted on having a loud party at your house even as the funeral was taking place at theirs. Yes, no one can stop you from doing such a thing but the fact that you would suggests a heart indifferent to the suffering of others.

Respect for the feelings of others facing huge and catastrophic losses requires that we tone down our own life particularly its expressions of celebration and joy. This is not a law, but it is central to the code of humanity. Similarly, it is not anyone’s ‘work’ to be callous and inhumane; surely allowances can be made for ‘work’ to be done.

Finally, it is important to note that while charity and the giving of it should not be a competitive sport, asking other Pakistanis to donate is not the same thing. Nobody is demanding that all public figures must make declarations of what they have given. However, since they do command public attention and have hundreds of thousands if not millions of fans, they stand in the unique position of being able to inspire other people who may not have contributed at all to donate. This fact alone should be an incentive to celebrities to donate their time and their name to help their fellow Pakistanis.

At a time when Pakistan is begging for money from the world, seeing Pakistani celebrities act like ‘flo­od … what flood?’ hurts even someone unaffected by the floods. Imagine how much it must hurt the people who have lost everything and who are witness to just how quickly the world moves on.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022

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