Roots of barbarism

Published April 13, 2024
Ours is a society in decay, afflicted by a deep rot.
Ours is a society in decay, afflicted by a deep rot.

NOT a day goes by in the land of the pure without disclosures of despicable acts against the most vulnerable. Sex crimes perpetrated by ‘learned’ religious functionaries in seminaries, abductions and forced marriages of young girls to men old enough to be their grandfathers, and unspeakable torture of child servants in the homes of outwardly respectable families are routine occurrences.

Ours is a society in decay, afflicted by a deep rot that cannot be wished away by overt ritualism or the hollow rhetoric of state elites. In fact, it is the callousness and self-obsession of the richest and most powerful that has brought society to the edge of barbarism.

The establishment has mainstreamed enforced disappearances, natural resource grabs and subsidies for its business ventures. The alleged Bahawalnagar incident over the Eid holiday indicated the scale of its domination. Beyond the formal state, big landlords effectively preside over Gangster Raj in Sindh, while death squads and target killers run riot in Balochistan and KP. The various shades of the religious right weaponise faith at will. More can be named.

Once upon a time, it could be argued that the militarised ruling class actually boasted a coherent project of social control; today, its various fragments are concerned only with the blind pursuit of power and profit, engaged in a no-holds-barred fight with one another to secure the proverbial booty. What this depraved ruling class considers the common hordes have been left to their own devices.

Ours is a society in decay, afflicted by a deep rot.

The establishment and the parties it ushered into office in February still insist they will get enough money from the IMF, Gulf kingdoms and China to stabilise the economy. But claims of a miraculous economic revival through supra-constitutional entities like the SIFC are delusions of grandeur which do nothing to arrest rapid societal degeneration.

It merits repeating that Pakistan is an exceedingly young country, with a median age of 23. Of the approximately 170 million Pakistanis under the age of 25, most face a future without even the semblance of public services and gainful employment. They also face increasingly regular and intense climate breakdown events.

Those at the lowest end of the class ladder are deprived even of a childhood. Thousands are sold into slavery as bonded labourers before they are born. Others are enrolled in madressahs or become servants in bourgeois households as small children — in both cases they are highly vulnerable to paedophiles and sadists.

One does not need a degree in psychology to understand that brutalised children often become brutalised adults that go on to reproduce systemic oppression both in the private and public realms. Brazilian educator and revolutionary philosopher Paulo Freire articulated this very simply: unless they are exposed to revolutionary pedagogies, oppressed peoples often uncritically seek to emulate their oppressors.

There is now enough evidence of mullahs sexually abusing young boys in madressahs to make clear that the brutalisation of children in such spaces is not an anomaly. Meanwhile, it has been empirically verified across the world that domestic violence — the greatest brunt of which is borne by women and girls — is more likely to be perpetrated by men who grew up in households where abuse was normalised.

These are matters which might be given the importance they deserve in a country where the institutions of state were subservient to democratic forces, but in our case, colonial logics of power have made democracy a sham, let alone allowing for a reckoning with deeper class, patriarchy, ethnic-national domination and other societal divides.

Rather than focusing on deepening public consciousness about such matters, we are left to lionise the trials and tribulations of bourgeois politicians and police officers vis-à-vis our unaccountable khaki overlords.

Still, there are some reasons to believe a complete slide into barbarism can be averted. Popular movements, such as the women-led Baloch long march, not only demand accountability of militarised structures of power at the macro level, but also challenge gendered and tribal structures of power within Baloch society. Such voices also call attention to long-term ecological-economic crises, such as the recent inundation of Gwadar.

This is precisely why such movements face the wrath of the ruling class, which cares only for the spoils of power in the name of national security. Those who offer a genuinely pro-people politics that acknowledges and seeks redress of our deep societal decay are not welcome in this land.

Visionaries like Freire insisted that the oppressed can transcend oppression, no matter how bleak the immediate future appears. History will absolve those of us who persist in the long struggle for genuine social transformation.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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