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Bridging social divides

Published Jun 04, 2012 04:57am

Photo by Shameen Khan/Dawn.com

Last week,  I was shopping with a friend who is about to get married when we decided to check out a boutique located in one of the biggest shopping malls in Karachi. Dazed and tired, I decided to take a snack break and asked my friend if she was interested in going to the mall’s food court.

“Don’t you know its Saturday? The mall must be overcrowded with people from ‘the other side of the bridge.’ Let’s go to some other place where we don’t get leered at,” she shrieked.

I was amazed. What’s more, I was appalled at the sheer absurdity of how clearly we have categorised people in two social classes, based on which side of the bridge they reside in.

We all are cognisant of the so-called socio-cultural divide and experience it from time to time. From restaurants to picnic spots, all the places have been clearly divided between the haves and have-nots of Pakistan. Even mosques, which were traditionally considered as one of the only places where the elites and people on the far end of the social spectrum could interact, have been segmented into various categories.

Farees Khan, a driver outside the famous Sultan Masjid located at Karachi’s Khayaban-e-Bahria told me, “To be honest I personally do not like praying here but since I work in a house nearby, I come here because it is convenient. Isha prayers are the worst because it is just so suffocating to pray with all the sahibs.”

“Don’t take me wrong. Nobody acts rude or dislikes us in particular because at the end of the day this place is the house of God, but I feel slightly uncomfortable praying with people who are so mighty rich and resourceful,” he added.

It is saddening that the discomfort is felt mutually on both sides. Whether it is Khan, who feels slighted while praying with the movers and shakers of Pakistan, or my dear friend who doesn’t like the idea of being looked at, the socio-cultural divide is widening by the day, so much so that it has now created an abysmal divergence, which has historically led many countries to civil war.

I searched for places which served the poor masses and the chosen ones simultaneously, but drew a blank until I went to Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine. The horde of devotees, representing different socio-economic groups, appeared to be quite oblivious of their surroundings, stares and scrutiny, while visiting the shrine. The long stairway, which leads to the grave, was filled with people from remote towns for whom the trip to the shrine was enough to exhaust all their savings, the influential politicians seeking even more powerful positions, media personnel praying for progress in the industry and common people looking for better job opportunities or desire for a child.

No matter what their requests and prayers entailed, their desire to be heard and rewarded was enough to disregard all the social barriers and walk alongside the people they would have conveniently alienated elsewhere.

Madiha Masood, who is an anchorperson at a private television channel and lives in Lahore, seized the opportunity to visit the shrine while in Karachi. “When one comes to such holy and sacred places, it is difficult to concentrate on the ambiance or what other people are doing because you feel captivated and entranced. These places get you thinking about the end of life and eternal glory.”

Another woman who works for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), on condition of anonymity said she doesn’t care much about the people she’s surrounded by when she visits the shrine. “I come here every week . Well as you can see all sorts of people come here. If you are ‘unlucky’ you might find pickpockets too and they will steal all your worldly possessions before you even have the time to scratch your head, but that doesn’t stop me from coming here and nothing ever will.”

The glistening eyes of the devotees made me realise that such places, regardless of the controversies surrounding their existence, still give people hope and bring smiles to many faces. Given the current situation of the country and the pessimism shared mutually by the masses, a factor or a place which could placate and unite them was a welcoming sight.

At the same time it was extremely infuriating to realise that Sufi shrines are the only places where people from different socio-economic backgrounds are willing to go together by choice. Famous members of the national and provincial assemblies, who do not give a second thought before blocking entire sections of the city for moving from one place to another, also frequent the shrines amidst security and mingle with the ‘socially untouchables.’

It is important to understand that societies, where the gap between rich and poor stretches to this degree, sooner or later disintegrate. Societies, where the nobles and bourgeoisies look down upon the poor masses, with masses fearing for their protection and nurse grudges against the injustices of the ruling class, are more susceptible to social crimes.

Many people from the underprivileged section of the society indulge in criminal activities to cross the invisible, yet extremely palpable, social bridge in order to become a part of the upper echelon. It is the desire to have more than resources allow that makes people commit crimes, which is why robberies, mobile and car snatchings have become so common.

Whether crimes are preventable is arguable, however, the social dilemma that we all face can be addressed. It is time to accommodate and welcome people who might not belong to the ruling and influential class. It is certainly time to stop stereotyping people on the basis of where they live, what they eat or wear. And most importantly it is important to stop thinking along the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and focus on ‘we’ before the pillars of our society collapse.


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com


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.