Who is Raza? | Pakistan Today

Who is Raza?

  • And who’s next?

The most pressing question at this moment in time – the one being asked repeatedly by the placard-wielding loved ones of our missing friend – is a simple one: Where is Raza?

Unable to answer this question, we beg forgiveness from those loved ones and attempt to answer another query instead: Who is Raza?

Raza is a tiny man-shaped tear in the national flag, hidden almost imperceptibly between the crescent and the star. He is one of the 2,257 little tiles missing from a mosaic intended to represent the map of a free country.

We know Raza was an ‘activist’ of some sort, but ‘activist’ is a heavy, intimidating word. The activist, as it is commonly understood, is un-relatable. When one hears about the disappearance of an ‘activist’, one imagines a political piece missing from an ivory chessboard high above the stratosphere, with little or no bearing upon ordinary mortals down below.

With regret, we remind such people that the ‘activist’ is your accountant son-in-law who, sometimes after work, writes a blog about a recent miscarriage of justice, or attends a rally. The activist is your daughter who started receiving rape threats after criticising a certain agency or organisation on social media. Activists are ordinary people – students, lawyers, labourers – taking meaningful political actions for the common good.

Raza is not a hero. Although his courage and valour may be described as extraordinary without risk of exaggeration, Raza is an ordinary citizen – like any one of your siblings, friends, and coworkers – doing whatever’s in his limited capacity to achieve peace. You may not agree with his political views, but you’ll be honest enough to agree that he care about this country; and that as a citizen of this country, he has certain rights.

Raza is a tiny man-shaped tear in the national flag, hidden almost imperceptibly between the crescent and the star. He is one of the 2,257 little tiles missing from a mosaic intended to represent the map of a free country

It is not possible to solve the mystery of Raza’s disappearance without asking who Raza was and what he did. Raza was a peace activist and an integral part of an organisation called ‘Aaghaz-e-dosti’, calling for improved relations between India and Pakistan. We know that he was an active part of Pakistan’s secular movement, working towards interfaith harmony. We know that Raza’s neighbour called the police on the night of December the 2nd to report that Raza was being kidnapped by unidentified men, according to Reuters. We know that Raza’s computer and mobile telephones were also missing from the house. And we know that on the day of his disappearance, Raza had spoken at a forum about Islamic militancy, the recent protests by religious organisations, and the army’s role in these events.

Raza is not the first secular, leftist activist to have gone missing in the past few years. While we’re examining Raza’s life, it may also be worth glancing at the works of some other activists that the perpetrator has attempted to silence. The pattern is not difficult to determine. On all political forums, there are clearly defined no-go zones and touch-me-not subjects. We know whom each one of the missing activists have criticised. We know they were involved in grassroots activism, using local languages. Some who returned even shouted out the identities of their abductors to international media, but were ostensibly not heard in this part of the planet.

We all know the boundaries of the political Bermuda’s triangle in which activists go missing. The worst of it is that the boundaries keep moving outwards. Every new disappearance sets a new threshold that journalists and activists cannot cross. In our minds, we keep redrawing the lines beyond which we know our friends and comrades start vanishing, and we keep submitting to the advancing tyranny.

It is likely that the next Faiz Ahmed Faiz or Habib Jalib has already gone missing.

It’s crucial that we do not base our opinion regarding these disappearances on our personal political views. Political expression of any kind is fueled by freedom, and expression against established power demands more of it. To abduct an activist, is to confess one’s own criminality while proving the activist’s innocence. Had the activist violated a law, you wouldn’t be dragging him into a black van; you’d be trying him in court using the stack of evidence you’ve gathered against him. You evade the legal process, when law and order are not in your favour.

Who is Raza, and why are you expected to be concerned about him? Because the odds are, you already know the next Raza threatened by the ever-inflating triangle of missing citizens.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.