The Machh tragedy: unfashionable opinion

  • A politically incorrect column

The media has announced its collective verdict: the government could not have handled the incident in a worse manner if it had tried. And as usual, the masses have wasted little time in getting on to the bandwagon. And why not, when it gives everybody an opportunity to play holier-than-thou? Anything that helps pass a day or two!

Let there be no misunderstanding: the state has failed the victims and their families, and not for the first time either. But the constitution that guarantees preservation of life and liberty of citizens also makes the state responsible for providing free and compulsory education, food, clothing, housing and medical relief to everybody. Sadly, articles of the constitution and cold, hard facts of life are two very different sets of items. This country faces many perennial problems, for which there are no simple solutions.

This is not to say that such events should be taken in one’s stride. The perpetrators must be taken to task and steps taken to prevent such atrocities in future. But how does resorting to cheap shots and clichés help that cause? It would be a different world if lip service and bromide helped solve problems.

Maryam Nawaz started her press conference in fine style by announcing that she had not planned on talking to the media given the sensitivity of the issue, but Imran Khan’s callous attitude had forced her to change her mind. Yeah, right! Videos have since surfaced showing her markedly less devastated by the tragedy than she wants everybody to believe. Well, Politicians will be politicians. What about the ordinary man though? That the incident has shocked everybody is beyond doubt. But I would love to be introduced to the noble soul who forewent even one meal as a result. Or who skipped watching his favourite programming on Netflix even for a day. I am not being critical here. This is the difference between one’s own tragedy and somebody else’s. It is probably as well because one would be continually paralyzed otherwise. Alarms must therefore go off in one’s mind before crying oneself hoarse about the supposed heartlessness of others.

That we are not blessed with the best politicians, bureaucrats and institutions in the world is hardly a state secret. What is more disturbing, however, is the state of the citizenry. It is essentially a good thing for the masses to feel involved in national life, but this can easily be overdone. There is way too much indignation (of the useless type) about everything.

This was a particularly heinous crime; but condolence is tricky at the most ordinary of times. How does one express one’s feelings? By saying that one is sorry? That is often technically true but is there any comparison with the sorrow of the immediate family? (It is true that at most funerals in Punjab there are ladies who have made a fine art of appearing more devastated than the immediate relations; and it is also unfortunately true that every Pakistani is in some part a Punjabi.) Then there are those who opt to remain silent and let their silence convey their sentiments. Each man negotiates the situation in a manner that he sees fit – none of which is satisfactory. It takes a great amount of courage therefore to criticise others for failing to come up to one’s impeccable standards of conduct in these matters. This is the kind of courage we have no dearth of. Another thing that we have no shortage of is the capacity to repeat and hear clichés ad nauseum. Such is the level of habituation that we feel offended when somebody fails to utter one for the occasion.

Over the years, what has unfortunately come to characterize this nation more than anything else is the perpetual search for avenues in public events to vent private anger and frustration. If one is merely interested in letting off steam, pinning the blame on a convenient scapegoat, and looking good in the process – that is a different matter; but any realistic analysis of the recent incident cannot fail to note that:

  1. Prime ministers have very little room to play politics on such issues. Politicians of the opposition rarely, if ever, let any opportunity go by without trying to score points.
  2. Those responsible for the killing are beyond reform and must be dealt with severely. The inability to eradicate them and prevent such incidents (which have been occurring for a long time now) is the failure of this government as it has been the failure of all previous governments. There can be any number of deficiencies in the performance of the state in this regard.
  3. However, what with the sectarian angle, three immediate neighbours embroiled in a geo-political tug-of-war, many other nations chipping in with their own contributions, and the peculiar landscape of Balochistan, matters are not as simple as some would make them appear. That dismissing this official or moving that check-post will somehow solve the problem; or that it would be a cinch if only the government and the establishment were sincere in addressing the issue – this is where real life differs from fairy tales.
  4. The families of the victims, who deserve every sympathy in the world, were understandably beside themselves with emotion. But there is a need to separate them from the little group that prevailed upon them in their hour of grief not to bury their dead until this or that condition was met. Shame on this group to exploit victims at their weakest in the guise of championing their cause!
  5. As for those who were far from the scene but who unwittingly let themselves become mouthpieces of the aforestated group, they need to do some soul searching. Their sentimentality may sound great to them, but it does no good to the victims – probably the opposite. Yes, social media has provided a platform to express every half-baked thought one believes is the greatest idea in the world; but there are issues which require one to exercise more care and caution. Not every matter is as frivolous as the latest Coke Studio remake.

That we are not blessed with the best politicians, bureaucrats and institutions in the world is hardly a state secret. What is more disturbing, however, is the state of the citizenry. It is essentially a good thing for the masses to feel involved in national life, but this can easily be overdone. There is way too much indignation (of the useless type) about everything. Throw in the compulsion on the part of everyone to instantly offer his passionate opinion on everything under the sun, and the sorry picture is complete. The situation on the ground certainly needs to improve in every sphere of life – and every meaningful effort in that direction is welcome – but can we please have some reduction in the levels of self-righteous cacophony?

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

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