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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab


Dear Sir,
Allow me to introduce myself: I am a Pakistani woman, writing on issues of marginalisation, poverty, environmental and cultural conservation, reproductive health, human and animal rights. I make films on the same issues, and lecture at apex institutes around the country on the same concerns. I have done this for most of my adult life, and I have found that the only difference between when I started writing and teaching at the age of 23 and thirty years later, is the distance between the dream and the rhetoric.

This is a difficult time for you, Sir, as much as it is for the people over whom you rule. Let me offer my sympathies for all those in your government who are now wondering, if they wonder at all, why calamities have followed each other like the proverbial troubles which come in threes. Almost a month ago my attention was distracted by the gathering together of PTI supporters who had flocked to their Chairman’s home situated near mine in an old neighborhood of Lahore, Zaman Park. I followed the story which unfolded with profound interest, hoping against hope that moral courage would compel you and your cabinet to acknowledge that all was not well in this Land of the Pure, in particularly in the city of Lahore, where you live and hold forth on issues of deep concern to the public and of even deeper concern to the public exchequer: Questions about why the able speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Railways would be so anxious about the recount of votes in their respective constituencies raise doubts about the transparency of the May 2013 elections.

Anyone with integrity would, with an open heart and clear mind, embrace the process of recounting. Apparently, open hearts and clear minds are as rare in the Land of Pure Desi Ghee as are adequate drainage systems in low-lying areas, proper protocols for disaster preparedness, tried and tested emergency measures, and guaranteed access to relief teams who wade through waist deep water mixed with effluence and stinking of neglect, despair and abandonment.

Open hearts and clear minds are also as rare as that other commodity which is always the first casualty in a state of war: truth. If one was to watch the 24/ 7 coverage of the dharnas taking place in the city where Islam and your brother, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, rules, one would imagine that war has been declared against all the things we collectively abhor: deceit, corruption, lies, and the cold-blooded murder of unarmed civilians.

Flood victims wade through a flooded field as they head toward a boat to be evacuated to dry land — Reuters
Indeed, I imagine that you, too, Sir, believe that these are the very forces which have pushed us into the quagmire which threatens to swallow us, were it not for the several thousand people thronging that hallowed place in front of Parliament, demanding that accountability take place, that the killers of 14 people in Lahore’s Model Town, your neck of the woods, so to speak, be apprehended and punished. Of course I do hear the other voices, the ones coming from the mouths of Parliamentarians who resent being ushered into their plush leather seats from the rear entrance, being denied the pompous privilege of sauntering through the VIP gate at the front. I also hear the voice of the intelligentsia who, for the most part, have been coopted by the NGO movement so long ago that for them street protests have become a thing of the past, a mere memory of a time when structural change is what we demanded and for which some of us, myself included, went to jail. For these men and women of superior intellect, the husan-e-jamhooriat must be allowed to flower, to blossom, to come to fruition so that the “odorous reek” (I quote directly from an unnamed panelist on one of television’s plethora of talk-shops) of the “khakis” (not my term, but borrowed again) does not mar the fragrance rising from a system which, to my mind, and to the minds of thousands of disenfranchised, is rotten to the core.

Sir, you are now facing terrible things in your province, which is home to over half of our nation. You have had to wade through filthy gutter water, rubber boots not withstanding, to distribute cheques to those who have lost their homes, their belongings, their loved ones. You have had to deal with the sycophancy of minions who find it necessary to stoop before you after ensuring that all is as well as can be before your arrival, deaths and destruction notwithstanding. And now you have to deal with the fact that hundreds of villages have been inundated, over 250 people killed, many more animals lost, to the floods which threaten to drown even more.

All this is a lot, Sir, for a single man to cope with. But to imagine what you must have to cope with when you are fast asleep (for the few hours that you do take off from the concerns of your kingdom), is something which makes my mind reel. I am sure it is not easy, Sir, to be burdened with so much poor planning, despite the maze of flyovers and underpasses which become covered swimming pools during the rain (a phenomenon known to most people in South Asia, but perhaps your engineers at TEPA, LDA, and WASA are from the Kalahari Desert?). It must be even more difficult to figure out why water keeps flowing into the rivers, overflowing onto the land, drowning human habitation and destroying crops, killing animals. Perhaps the Meteorological Department could help you to understand that this happens every year, as sure as Eid comes and cakes are bought at bakeries in Defence.

Of greatest concern, Sir, is how you actually manage even the few hours of sleep you reportedly manage to get, when spectres of those murdered in Model Town haunt the dark night which descends, with certainty, every night, for the rest of your life?

With profound concern,
Feryal Ali Gauhar
Ordinary Citizen

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 14th, 2014

http://i.dawn.com/primary/2014/09/5410cc5e20c1b.jpg?r=1453709308