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My favourite club

March 25, 2013

I participate regularly in protests and vigils related to social, political and human rights causes. For most of such events, the location is the Karachi Press Club. Since there is no dearth of violations in Pakistan of every right known to mankind, my trips to the press club are quite frequent. The list is long; human rights, women’s rights, religious rights, minority rights, Islamic rights, secular rights, etc.

There is a demonstration nearly every day outside this humble building that is essentially the last rampart of resistance in town. The club also serves good tea.  This is not a place to take your car to since the event would be over by the time you find parking. My favourite means of transportation to the protest-of-the day is the Nifty Rick. No, it is not the name of my horse or donkey. It is the speedy little devil that cuts through the traffic of Karachi like a Henckels knife through a slab of cold hard Nurpur butter. With a little practice in lifting your bottom off from the seat, like a jockey, before the wheels hit a bump, you will ensure your spinal cord remains intact. Good anticipation is the name of the game with a Nifty Rick ride.

The demonstrations outside the press club are of two types: permanent and temporary. It is just like a museum where there is a permanent collection and from time to time a special exhibit. You can become an expert in history, politics, human rights, media freedom, fishermen rights, drone attacks, US foreign policy, the status of minorities, the price of blasphemy, the ills of Valentine’s Day and other such cheerful and interesting subjects by visiting this knowledge museum for just one week. Tourists can hire a Rickety Rick (part of the same Rick family) on a weekly pick and drop basis with airport drop-off at the end of the week.

The permanent exhibits are set-up on the sidewalk and are complete with banners, posters, bedding and water bottles. These permanent exhibits are related to long-term problems in Pakistan like that of the Balochs, whose family members have simply disappeared from the face of the earth into the khaki dust. An old man with a bent back, weak eyes, and a thousand creases on his face, holds the picture of his missing young son, while a young boy holds the image of the tortured dead body of his father. They are quiet. They don’t raise slogans – they are way past that point. Their silence is their protest, their dignity under adversity, their courage under persecution and their hope against hope.

Nearly every day a new entrant, holding a picture of a loved one, joins the men on the pavement: another young body stuffed in a gunny bag has been found. No one remembers how long these men have been there.; a week, a month, a year? Maybe forever. After all, these are permanent exhibits.

The special exhibits change frequently as demonstrations are regularly held outside the Club. Once in a while, more than one set of demonstrators turn up. Confusion erupts when that happens. The deciding factor in such a situation is the electrical charge in the battery of the megaphone used by the chief sloganeer. These competing demonstrations do not fight among each other as all the groups are on the wrong side of the thugs who are running the country.

The group of protestors to which I belong is called the “Civil Society”.  The way I know this for a fact is that on the day following a demonstration, the daily Dawn and other English language newspapers have a short report on the event.  The report always mentions that the participants were “members of the civil society”.  If you look-up the definition of “Civil Society” in the various online dictionaries, you will get thoroughly confused.  So don’t ask too many questions and enjoy the status that comes with being a member of this group.

While any presence at a demonstration to raise a voice against injustice is better than doing nothing, the small numbers in which the civil society members turn up is disappointing. The same faces seem to turn up at all the demonstrations. If an outsider came to these demonstrations at the Press Club regularly, she would conclude that there are no more than 200 concerned members in the entire civil society.

One of largest display of the civil society’s street power was last Sunday when nearly 200 tough-as-nails demonstrators turned up fully prepared with sun hats and bottled water to shake the foundations of the un-civil society. The occasion was a protest against the murder of Perveen Rehman, one of Pakistan’s most consistent and dedicated social worker.

Just 200 turned up to mourn a brave woman who had dedicated 32 years of the best part of her life towards providing a better life to the have-nots. But why blame the civil society when the people who were a direct beneficiary of her hard work, the residents of Orangi, did not turn up either?  Maybe they were afraid of the same bullet that took Perveen’s life, or maybe they just did not care. Who knows anything anymore in the dark jungle called Pakistan?

For tomorrow, I see that I have at least three interesting choices. I can join the protest against the death of a Shia scholar, or scream myself hoarse against the killing of three more young Balochis with severe torture marks on their bodies, or mourn the 100 poor Christian families whose houses were burnt to cinders. No dearth of choices here. We certainly live in interesting times.

So it is back to the Press Club tomorrow. The only remaining question is how many of the civil society representatives will turn up. Twenty is my guess, give or take a few. That is not a bad number: After all, Karachi is a small city.


The author is an engineer turned part-time journalist who likes to hang out at unfashionable places like shrines, railway stations and bus stops.


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.