Independence is one of those words that is used excessively with the awful price that its meaning becomes more diluted and more meaningless. Pakistan is going to celebrate its Independence Day again on August 14th yet we have become fixated about ‘Independence’ meaning military might and consolidating our image as a nuclear power. The discussion about Independence should be about individual rights, human dignity and our common humanity – it should be about our struggles, our efforts and our aspirations for the future.
But every year when we speak about Independence, we as a nation collectively practice a modern day form of slavery. This searing contradiction is nothing short of hypocrisy – while we speak about ‘Independence’, in households across Pakistan domestic servants are exploited and abused. Theirs is a suffering that is not talked about, because it isn’t ‘fashionable’ or it doesn’t generate enough business for the media machine. But this is our collective shame – the way in which we treat our fellow citizens demonstrates that we have not yet fully grasped the meaning of Independence or the vision that Muhammad Ali Jinnah had.
Countless stories of horror, terror and suffering can be heard, seen and read about in our Republic where domestic servants are treated little better than cattle. Women especially have it much worse – their wages are lower than men and they are more prone to be abused by their employers. Children are employed, yet the rich who employ them don’t even bother to enroll them in schools while they send their children to the best institutions of the country.
The shocking thing is that this is an area where each of us can make an individual difference yet we are oblivious to it. Here is an area where real liberation can be experienced yet our silence speaks volumes about our hypocrisy. But underlying this obscene phenomenon is a deeper question – do we not consider domestic servants as human? Do we consider them as nothing but slaves who should do our bidding unquestioned and who should be denied opportunities for education that can allow social mobility?
Women are exploited in the most sinister ways, children are robbed of their innocence and the men vanquished and reduced – these are the effects of domestic servitude as practiced in Pakistan. If Independence means to be liberated from oppression then why do we collectively oppress this vulnerable section of society? Domestic servants have families yet there is no emotional empathy, no human connection or sense of responsibility shown by their rich masters.
This again suggests a frightening lack of moral conscience and yet again poses serious questions about the ethical mindset of modern day Pakistan. There are of course stories where rich employers do their civic duty and help out their domestic servants by providing more opportunities for further employment, education and health but these stories are too few and far between. Instead we hear stories of domestic violence, and in some cases psychological and sexual abuse.
Personally, I have seen that those who question this terrible practice are seen as either ‘naive’ or dismissed as ‘foolish’. We are told the great myth that we can do nothing about this tragedy and instead we can make the best out of a bad situation by participating in this oppression for our own personal benefit. But rich employers can make a great deal of difference. Helping their servants in matters of health, education and employment is not something terribly difficult but merely requires some moral resolve.
The poor have lesser prospects – does that give the rich the right to exploit, abuse and plunder? Does that provide the justification for the oppression inflicted? What is noble about abusing the weak when one is powerful, and what satisfaction can possibly be gained? How can a democracy function in a country where inequality is rampant, where there is no sense of community?
But more than the workings of our democracy, it is that bond of humanity that has been crushed under the hooves of arrogance and supremacist torture. One fears that the problem has gotten so out of hand – it presents a worrying scenario of whether Pakistan can ever become ‘human’ again? Have we become inhumane beyond redemption and beyond salvation – because make no mistake this is a deeply widespread problem, we all see it in our day to day dealings.
This Independence Day, we as individuals should look within our own households and reflect on how we treat others who happen to be weaker than us, poorer than us, more vulnerable than us not because we are in some ways ‘superior’ but because of biological chance. The belief that those who serve as domestic servants are always destined for a live of servitude as are their children crushes the egalitarian impulse of Jinnah’s Pakistan. These domestic servants have been robbed of this gift of Independence not by some foreign power but by us. We have usurped the rights of our fellow citizens and yet we do not recognize the severity of the crimes and transgressions made.
A nation cannot be composed of master and slaves. Jinnah did not envision such a nation, he fought for Independence. When it comes to the plight of domestic servants, many of us have the power to emulate Jinnah’s fight for dignity – it is a shame we choose to ignore this power.
If we do not face up to these dark deeds that plague the rich and educated of this nation then why bother with Independence at all?
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.