Once upon a time, many decision-makers here in the land of pure ensured that our very own Pakistani Bengalis must be ridiculed on their being down to earth, simple, and affected by heavy monsoons. Such uncouth ones even had the audacity of expressing sigh of relief on the creation of Bangladesh (not because they respected the choice of liberation by Bengali majority) but as a “good riddance” so that they do not have to divert any resources to the then eastern part of the originally created Pakistan. Now the same Bengalis have made exceptional progress as a nation and their country is the top performer in terms of HDI in South Asia. Bangladesh’s premier Sheikh Hasina Wajid has even announced an aid package for our flood relief operations. Anyone who is even scantily aware of this region’s relatively recent past would be tempted to see it as karma. However, our politicians and other decision makers continue to remain oblivious of even basic etiquette and human values.
After more than 52 years of the liberation/fall of Dhaka, neither any apology has been tendered to Bengalis nor any action has been taken to repatriate stranded Pakistani Biharis. This is an example of the absence of empathy. Refraining from revealing the disgrace and baggage of 1971 and focusing on the current calamity seems to be the best timely advice or warning for all-too-few who still remember the price of patriotism being paid by the stranded Pakistani Biharis. Those who are continuously excluding this issue from their advocacy and activism on public policies and national interest are actually acting with deliberate myopia. Many kind-hearted, well-read, secular-leaning, anti-establishment and intelligent people too will find the fore-mentioned example a bit inappropriate and certainly unpopular.
Looking back at 1971 and empathising with those Pakistanis who are yet to be appreciated for their unconditional love for Pakistan and remaining in solidarity with the sufferers and martyrs of this climate injustice and corruption-induced calamity are not mutually exclusive. But the question is: what is the value of the solidarity of saner voices in our society and system? Is not it a fact that any anti-elite suggestion never gets translated into tangible actions? The prevalent culture of dealing with any disaster with a signature bureaucratic delay and calm is thriving even in these turbulent times.
More than 50 million human beings in my country are being displaced and disturbed mentally, emotionally, physically, and so many other ways. Like many other concerned Pakistanis, I am also thinking, discussing and tweeting about different dimensions of this emergency (I do not find any word that could justly translate it), crying without tears on our collective failures and in parallel trying not to overthink or become an uncontrolled empath.
Words and concepts like empathy and karma, in spite of being popular in everyday language, news journalism or even in literature (fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry and folktales) are seldom fully understood or embraced in our hearts. One proof can be found in the unchecked inhumane statements of many politicians and legislators and their unacceptable photoshoots in the midst of relief services.
Not disrespecting the determinant of destiny in our lives, it remains a fact that all of us have choices no matter how hard it might be to see choices in the middle of a calamity like the current one. The people who are most vulnerable are always being forced to make choises – and brutal ones at that. For instance, women in the patriarchal world, whether in the times of massacres or floods have had to let go of their daughter instead of son. The brunt of any such situation also pushes them to make certain ‘choices.’ Women often remain silent and withstand rape, incest, battering, dowry violence and different layers of psychological trauma may be yet to be named. How many kinds of devastations are we facing right now? Besides the visible wreckage there is a devastation on administration, governance, journalism, aid-dissemination, and many other fronts. We are dealing with damages that are yet to be quantified and internalised.
Informed and coordinated actions must be taken by our governments. Health should be given foremost priority and stakeholders from various sectors should be extensively engaged. Learned health professionals must not become sidelined or silenced. Urgent notice must be taken on the conspicuous absence of psychological first aid in this crisis. All public, private, and volunteer sector organisations who are involved in rescue and relief activities must act in coordination. The cluster approach of UN must be effectively visible on ground. “Adopt a District” should be considered as an efficient approach to assist the affectees with dignity and integrated services.
These floods have exposed the reality of development in our homeland. It is time to identify and admit flaws in our governance, political systems and civil society. It is time for a course correction. History should neither be tampered with, nor forgotten. It is time to learn from the history.
Let us dare to ask the state as to who is responsible for the poor, hungry masses, the stunted children out-of-school children, the malnourished women with fistula, the traumatised and violent men, or the adolescents and youth without any hope and skills? Who will held accountable the vadera, the sardar and all those the abusers who with their arrogance continue to thrive with corrupt practices that will ensure the stabilisation and vertical growth of an elite club in this country?