AS we mark World Human Rights Day today, Dec 10, it is worth asking whether much has changed over the year past. There seems, unfortunately, little to celebrate, given the recent assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif; needless furore over transgender persons’ rights; the millions of children out of school; allegations of torture by politicians; threats of violence and attempts at public intimidation by elected officials; as well as the continuing malaise of enforced disappearances. It had been hoped that the change of government in Islamabad would result in the removal of some of the most suffocating curbs on the media placed over the last few years. While there has been some improvement, the core issues remain. The targets have only moved to media outlets that were once favoured by powerful quarters but which ran afoul of them for choosing to align with Imran Khan and the PTI.
There does not seem to have been much improvement in religious tolerance either. The organisers of a seminar on ‘Tolerance in Pakistan’, held recently at one of the country’s most prestigious private universities, were forced to drop a guest seemingly because the university administration did not think it suitable for someone from the Ahmadiyya community to address the event. The various violations highlighted above also pale in comparison to how the state has treated the millions whose lives were upturned by the 2022 floods. They have been abandoned to their fate, alone and defenceless, at the bottom of the social ladder. This is overall a frightful state of affairs. The entire concept of human rights centres on the treatment of all human beings as equals, with the same right to enjoy the privileges their peers have. However, when both public attitudes and state policies reinforce hierarchies of power and encourage discrimination on arbitrary grounds, these rights become meaningless. We cannot have a society that only works well for the very few. It is, therefore, becoming imperative to recalibrate the social contract.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2022