- You are important too
Thank you, dear civilian, for your service.
I feel that this isn’t said enough. And consequently, despite our constant financial and sociopolitical struggles that keep the country afloat, we’re made to feel like burdensome children. We are infantilised as hapless creatures under the protection of a higher caste of servicemen, barely worthy of our democratic powers.
What I say, I say as someone who does not believe in ‘better’ men. I believe in societies that function and grow together, where all individual accomplishments of the braver or smarter few are enabled by unthanked labour of countless others. What I say, I say as a person who believes that the man who made Einstein a cup of tea every day, is also owed some credit for the theory of relativity.
Powerful men embrace inequality as the natural result of uneven distribution of capabilities. They have power and privilege because they are smarter, stronger, braver, and more capable than the average person. This is the ideology of men who block your road and cost the public hundreds of collective hours for a protocol, because they believe your hours aren’t as important as theirs. This is despite the fact that it’s our time that pays for our roads on which their convoys reign. The honourable leader has no honour except that which the non-VIPs have given him.
To a dauntless soldier, a civilian may simply be that who needs to be defended. But a civilian does more for the country than demanding constant security. A civilian is the beating heart of a nation, and the steaming engine of its progress. While well-deserved tributes are given liberally to military servicemen, civilian contributions have a strange proclivity to go unnoticed.
I am a civilian doctor; one of many who run our nation’s private and government medical centers. My colleagues and I have spent many hours fighting a different kind of war in emergency rooms and ICUs across the country. During the course of my work, I have been accidentally pricked six times by used needles from HIV-positive patients and people with hepatitis. I have narrowly escaped deadly infections through rigorous prophylaxis and stringent safety measures. I have been physically attacked twice in psychiatric wards by patients undergoing acute psychotic episodes. I know colleagues who haven’t been as lucky as I have; those who have either contracted life-long illnesses or even outright killed in the line of duty. An average medical practitioner would likely not bother recalling the number of mild to moderate infections he’s inquired during the course of his career, as a direct result of his occupation.
A society functions as a sum of its parts, each allowing the other to thrive better than it may on its own
I have never felt the need to write myself an ode, nor have I ever taken offense at not having a parade organised in my honour. This is simply what we do as functioning citizens. It would be false to pretend that we do it simply out of charity or a sense of duty towards the country. Personal ambition and economic interest is always there. But it would also be incorrect to assume that risks aren’t being taken, and sacrifices aren’t being made by an ordinary civilian.
I admit that there’s nothing unusual about a state celebrating the achievements of its military, and honouring the sacrifices of its soldiers. Commonwealth states, for instance, observe Remembrance Day every 11th of November, marked by a flood of red poppies.
What’s problematic is associating patriotism with unconditional praise of a single caste of servicemen, while all other services are taken for granted. What’s unusual is the pretense that the nation’s existence rests on the shoulders of one particular class of men, while the rest of the nation – its labourers, craftsmen, engineers, nurses, lawyers, and vendors – are merely leeching off the ‘sacrifices’ of that higher class.
A society functions as a sum of its parts, each allowing the other to thrive better than it may on its own. It is perfectly reasonable to say that we wouldn’t be here without the noble work of our brave soldiers. But where would we be without our school teachers? If all the tandoor-walas of Pakistan were to suddenly pull shutters over their tiny shops, what do you imagine is going to happen?
The agency of an ordinary civilian is almost perpetually at risk of being overridden. And this has much to with the mistaken association of their labour as trivial. It’s considered acceptable for us to be heard less, the same way it’s okay for us to be forced out of our road lanes by armed guards in over-speeding jeeps, as they make way for a VIP’s protocol.
The men and women of our military deserve praise for the risks they take and the security they provide. Their work is irreplaceable. What’s often overlooked is the contribution of the civilian whose physical, political, social, and economic labour enables the operation of every institution. A civilian’s strength and wisdom is demonstrated daily, and manifests occasionally as an act of extraordinary heroism like Aitzaz Hassan’s.
Thank you, dear civilian. You are important too.