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To the corridors of power

October 28, 2011


A society that is indifferent to the plight of its own people is a society in ruins. When Raja Khan stood in front of the Parliament and lit himself on fire he hoped to invoke the few men and women in the corridors of power, so that they would pay heed to the plight of their people.

At 22, Khan, is a father of two from Naushero Feroz Southern Punjab, who lost his battle with joblessness and poverty; yet he’s just one of the 1600 people — in a span of 10 months — who preferred death over the arduous struggle with poverty.

At least 283 people have been reported to have opted for suicide due to hopelessness and poverty in the past two months. This despite the fact that we assured the world that we would do whatever it takes to end poverty by 13 per cent in 15 years and meet the millennium development goal (MGD) that ends in 2015; a goal that for now seems absolutely impossible.

At the moment we suffer from multiple crisis, soaring maternal mortality rates, devastating recurrent floods — that have cut our GDP growth rate by 0.5 per cent — war on terror, volatile energy prices and food inflation, reflecting a battered economy. Under such circumstances will we witness a paradigm shift that views poverty and unemployment as a national security threat?

Probably not.

Raja did not make headlines, nor did any politician vow to fight the menace of poverty and unemployment to prevent others from a similar fate. His burnt body was wrapped into sheets, like his attempt at self immolation was a much expected accident rather than a consequence of the pent-up frustration in need of dire attention, as he was moved to the hospital where the doctor’s reported that he had suffered 90 per cent burns. Chances of his survival are scarce as he now breathes at the critical care unit at Pakistani Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) hospital.

“I am fed up of poverty, I am a father of two children but unable to feed them. My soul will rest in peace if the government took care of my family, including two children.”  Raja had scribbled on a piece of paper, with a few clothes and his identity card wrapped in a polythene bag. Raja’s note and his last hope from the state have now been reduced to a half burnt piece of paper and apathy from those in power.

I wonder if anyone of our respected parliamentarians would dare to stick their necks out of the windows of their high-priced vehicles and spare a thought at the site where Raja’s charred body was found on the road in front of the Parliament house.

Perhaps, Raja’s ordeal will fall on deaf ears and be forgotten as the likes of Ghazala Bibi, who stood at the city square for seven hours seeking buyers for her three children; the eldest being her 9 year old daughter. Muhammad Asif, 25, who killed his wife and his three children before hanging himself. Or if luck happens to be on his side, he might be subjected to a random act of kindness from government officials much like Aqsa Parveen, 35, whose four children put themselves on sale prompting the government to pay for their mother’s Kidney transplant.

But how long will this last? How many more children will be sold at the hand of their helpless parents? How many more charred, ripped and hung bodies will we witness before the men and women in the Parliament decide to prioritise poverty elevation?

Days before his death, Khan had tried to contact politicians, Member of parliaments hailing from Punjab, when all attempts became futile he left a suicide note that reflected his dying hope, a plea from the poverty stricken to the men and women in the corridors of power.

Sana Saleem is a blogger at at Global Voices, Asian CorrespondentThe Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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.