Brutalised society

Published November 8, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

WHAT a week it has been, dominated by allegations and denials.

Imran Khan and others in the PTI march came under a gun attack. We heard the fire of bullets, we saw the blood and so did the ones in power, so the condemnations came swiftly and from all over. But once the PTI wanted to name names, the government seemed to be having second thoughts about the event itself. Did it even happen? Or did Khan do it himself? Questions are being raised.

Editorial: Political calculus

And the more Khan accuses the government, and more, the more the government, and more, deny it. But only if the allegations and denials ended here.

Azam Swati, a PTI senator, who is already alleging torture (which has also been denied) said he and his wife were sent a recording of a private moment. But the FIA denied it was any such thing. The agency was quick to use international-level forensics to judge the video was a ‘deep fake’ and there the matter rests.

We can only laugh and cry at what stands out as our brutalisation.

Now if there are questions about who created this video and why and who distributed it and how, these can only be investigated if the senator files a complaint.

The forensic analysis can be done immediately but the rest is to wait till the complainant comes forward. But the story had more twists and turns to offer.

Editorial: Serious allegations

Swati also added that the alleged video was made when he stayed at the Supreme Court housing in Balochistan but the apex court denied it, arguing that only judges can stay there — for rules are rules in Pakistan and never are they broken — and claimed the senator stayed at the judicial academy housing. But this claim was a bit much for the judicial academy which then denied it had housing facilities anymore. Here, it is hard to tell who will have to apply to whom or to which organisation to determine who stayed where in Quetta.

Khan wants to ask the army chief and the Supreme Court questions and the government only wants to ask Khan some questions. They all seem to be in the mood for Neelam Ghar or Kaun Banega….

The establishment only reacts — mostly through press releases and occasionally a press conference. They may be well intentioned but then given the mood we are in, their words tend to be treated with scepticism which grows proportionally to one’s distance from Constitution Avenue. Doubting Thomases are growing in number.

But the reason for this back and forth and allegations and denials is the larger breakdown. There are no institutions left that can carry out an investigation and convince everyone out there that their work is trustworthy and beyond any influence or pressure.

FIA’s international-level forensics have convinced only the government; Shaukat Khanum Hospital’s treatment has only convinced the PTI. The superior judiciary has its own troubles to contend with; everyone knows why the prime minister asked for a full court bench. The commission set up by the government to look into Arshad Sharif’s death has been rejected by his family and the government seems least concerned.

And if there are allegations of torture and worse, only some are worried. This includes some who have suffered such treatment for decades and a few who didn’t know this happened until Shahbaz Gill was picked up — the rest are still divided in the ‘it happened’ or ‘it didn’t happen’ camps. If the five stages of grief could be applied to our politics, the government is in the denial stage, while the PTI is grappling with anger and negotiation and the people are just depressed.

But in between this mess we can only laugh and cry at what stands out as our brutalisation. We are a populace of victims — of violence, oppression and humiliation. And so angry at the injustices meted out and the ridicule that may have followed that empathy is in short supply. For it was in short supply when X was targeted, so why should X now dish it out for Z? And rest assured, Z, who is now the victim, will not empathise tomorrow when Y is the victim. Brutality and cruelty leads to more of the same; only in fairy tales does it make us more humane.

And with this, comes victim blaming and even victim hating.

A victim is a victim only if entirely blameless. If women journalists face abuse, it is because of their biased opinions. If journalists are intimidated or killed, how could we ever forget their bad journalism. Violence cannot be divorced from the poor standards of journalism — we give a new meaning to the phrase, tear him or her for his bad verse.

If politicians are embarrassed or blackmailed, we wonder if it happened at all or whether they were decent enough to have not deserved it. Hardy’s Tess would not be seen as a victim in Pakistan and her death was well deserved, going by the views we hold.

After all, much of this has happened to compatriots not important enough or mainstream enough, and we either didn’t hear of it or were told it was deserved. And it was bought wholesale by so many.

Gaslight was first made in 1940 and we have been living in it since 1947.

Ours is a weak society, weak where violence of all kind is accepted and to be borne with stoicism. For after all, we are also a patriarchal society where men don’t cry if bad things happen and they should not complain either. And those who did, were not Pakistani enough.

No wonder then that things seem to be falling apart, for there is noise about issues in parts of the country which did not hear the cacophony earlier. But even then, we are not entirely sure, it will bring change. And this is perhaps the real tragedy.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2022

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