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A nation of extortion

September 20, 2012

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

There are many forms of extortion that one has to keep paying. Whether we want to or not, knowingly or unknowingly, we constantly pay extortion money in one form or the other. Whether it is an urban or rural area, a street or a road, office, hospital or even a hotel, you cannot save yourself from the menace. Avoiding bhatta is completely useless – it is, to sum it up, a case of ‘you can run but you can’t hide’. Not only does it possess the potential to take your life, but also your world too. Here, if a life is spared by paying extortion money, there is another life saved by obtaining it. Both of these lives thrive on a sense of utter compulsion, both are correlative. One cannot exist without the other.

It all comes down to a balance of authority. One has authority, whereas the other does not. The one with authority must always be paid, whereas the one with no authority must always make the payment. Everything you own belongs to the one in power; both in the urban, as well as, rural areas. We used to hear and read stories of the adamboo in childhood. Now, we can actually the same cries of adamboo in reality. However, now one hears these cries through the media and not the stories that we used to read as children. And along with the cries of the adamboo, there is also its smell. Only it cannot be seen as the monster is kept under wraps by the media which perpetrates this shroud of lies.

There is such an overflow of lies that the truth gone into hiding under its layers. Even the minds of the so-called educated people are shrouded in these lies which prevent the truth from reaching to their brains. They also have layers of veil over their eyes, due to which they can hardly see anything. They sympathise, speak a few irrelevant sentences to each other and then leave on their own different paths, inwardly full of gratitude that they have been spared from this all-consuming fire. However, even they do not know how long they will remain safe from this fire. Everyone is helpless, walking around with their heads bowed. The lies proudly walk the length and breadth of the city, whereas the truth is running out of places to hide in.

During the animal sacrifices on Bakra Eid in the past, it was only the religious parties that asserted their right over the skins of the sacrificed animals, occasionally having a representative of the local madrassa replacing their representatives in the competition for sacrificial skins. Then, one day it was discovered that selling sacrificial skins is an immensely lucrative business, consequently giving rise to feuds over their possession. This eventually got to a point where the sacrificial skins started being bought before the sacrificial ceremony had even taken place. There were entire coupon books being handed out in the name of zakat, charity and even fitra in order to extort money from the people now. Before making any attempts to please the God above, one must please the “gods” down here. And with the increase in political parties, one party wants bhatta in the name of religion, another wants it in the name of nationality. So when you pay extortion money to one party and you will find another one standing at your door.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

When you load credit into your mobile, the bhatta is deducted immediately. Whatever bills you pay, the bhatta is already added to it. We are not in the habit of checking our bills anymore; hence we end up paying for the electricity that we have not even used. You must pay the bills even if you receive electricity for four out of the 24 hours a day, including telephone, gas and water. Even if you do not use these facilities, you have no choice but to pay for them. The ones who use all of these facilities need not pay anything. They have swimming pools in their homes when one does not even have two buckets of water to bathe. If the bill is not paid on time, the authorities will not hesitate to cut off your water, phone, gas and electricity connections. The court only considers pardoning bills that amount to lacs of rupees, then why take special permissions on bills that only amount to a few thousand rupees? The non-payment of the latter does not need the court’s permission to relieve the “defaulters” of their water, phone, gas and electricity connections.

If you wish to open up a shop, or start-up a business of any sort, you are required to go through numerous stages. The government has established numerous institutions to keep an eye on all the commercial goings-on and for obtaining government’s permission to conduct business. Not to mention the 10 people sitting outside the government offices who must be paid as well if you want your work done on time. You need to “feed” everyone, from the bottom rung of the ladder to the very top. All these “laws” are only for scaring everyone. Neither do the lawmakers themselves follow these laws, nor do they let others follow them. Try to use legal, lawful ways to achieve something, and you will surely fail. If you join them, prosperity is all you will ever see. But if you decide to part ways with them, you will spend the better part of your remaining life in courts and legal hassles. So, how does one decide between taking the path they have shown you or the lawful one?

There are all kinds of taxes that need to be paid by the powerless populace, especially the salaried ones in this country. By large, they pay the most taxes out of any other sections of the population. If the rest of the public does not wish to pay taxes, they attempt to gain political power and once they have managed to gain it, they conveniently relieve themselves of their taxpaying duties. Oh, they are not bothered about these “frivolities” of the general public, such as taxes. They can be politicians, officers, uniformed or not, people who trade faith or nationality, or even capitalists and contractors. They are all exceptions. If they are not exempted from paying taxes for some reason, they hire such people who actually know the law so well that they are able to tell their employers about all possible methods of evading taxes. Once you have done so, your problems will be solved and you will live a truly relaxed life. Appoint the one who is well-versed with the intricacies of the law and that person will tell you numerous ways to bypass the law so you can continue on with your illegal ways.

Reconciliations are taking place wherever you look, the entire country is functioning on a system of give-and-take. All those in power share their spoils with each other and sometimes even attempt to cover up each other’s illegal activities. The leaders of political parties, who, if they got a chance, would physically strangle each other are now holding friendly conferences and pledging to work together in accord. They surprisingly never tire of this. Also, the institutions that already owe large amounts of money to each other establish new projects and schemes instead of paying off their debts. They take more loans so they can start another developmental scheme just so they have more happy news to give to the public, a “noble” work that never tires them. All those schools, hospitals and roads that were merely mentioned in official files just had many more added to their existing number so that these institutions could arrange their bhatta.

As the elections come closer, many new jobs are announced, some of which usually go to the uncles, nephews and other relatives; the remaining jobs will merely appear in official files. There are going to be even more salaries drawn in the names of fake employees, as the rates of dollars (US$) and pounds (GBP) touch the sky.

There is a fire burning at one place, whereas another drowns in the floods. Announcements are followed by some more announcements. What does it matter if relief goods reach the flood victims or not. It has to cross our way before getting to them anyway. Our extortion is safe, brother. Why worry about the poor? They will shed a tear or two, gain or lose a bit and then forget everything and move on. Life is after all the only constant change; it will always come and go.


The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.