Every year, Martin Luther King is remembered to honour his life and struggle for the civil rights movement. His oratory skills and non-violent approach regarding equal rights for African Americans earned him praise. In 1964, he was awarded Nobel Prize owing to his contributions to the development of civil society for African Americans. One of his memorable speeches is “I Have a Dream” in which he talked about freedom and equal rights of the people.
Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech during the eve of the March on Washington which took place in 1963. The demonstration is one of the inspirational examples of civil rights rallies. It also transformed the nature of protest culture in the US.
In particular, this speech of Martin Luther King is revolving around many concepts. It is not only about the civil rights of African Americans but the speech asked for ‘integration’ as well. Integration in any society haunts the people who believe in the status quo. And integration, more specifically, asks for power sharing.
In this regard, King said in his speech that he had a dream that “sons of former slaves” and “sons of former slave owners” sat together at the same table. And what is the point of sitting together when there is no economic equality among them? In this context, King once said;
“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
Thereupon, it is said that King never gave the idea of some romantic mixing of of peoples. According to Lewis V. Baldwin, King asked for power-sharing and mutual harmony in the context of integration. The power-sharing and economic factors are the fundamental parts of King’s speech. Therefore, Leonard Steinhorn reiterates that integration is the name of access to credit, employment, quality education and all other necessities of life together.
Integration in a region or country could not take place where one part is developed while the other is focused on every non-development venture whether it is slavery or security.
Moreover, historians also suggest that King was putting forward a more ambitious and aspirational idea of national cohesion. He dreamt of a US where there was no place for discrimination based on religion as well. Furthermore, it is also said that King’s vision included a common humanity and shared identity.
It is pertinent to note that the civil rights movement brings oneness and cohesiveness to any society by ending systematic discrimination. It is not a factor to threaten national security, image, ideology, etc. It is a democratic venture to strengthen civil society.
Some useful lessons can be drawn about the case of Pakistan. After 75 years of independence, still there are gaps in the national integrity of Pakistan. Many parts of the country are still demanding justice and freedom. Moreover, there is still a need to carve a shared identity and common ground for humanity. Therefore, we are now witnessing several civil rights movements and protests across the country to claim civil and economic rights. Thereupon, we have many activists and political leaders who are following the non-violent and democratic path of Martin Luther King.
Following that, it is a common misconception in our country that a civil rights movement can jeopardise national unity. This is not a logical stance but a propaganda technique to suppress independent voices.
In actual fact, several other factors are harming national integration such as the inequitable distribution of resources, bad governance, power overlap, institutional inefficiency/encroachment, militancy, authoritarianism and centralised federal structure. These factors are repeatedly mentioned during the ongoing civil rights movements across the country.
In the context of Balochistan, the civil rights movement is termed the ‘Baloch Spring’ or ‘Haq Do Tehreek’. The movement is concentrated in Gwadar and the local populace is fighting for their economic rights. The main demands of the Haq Do Tehreeq constitute the generation of employment opportunities and the ending of unnecessary check posts along with illegal trawling. However, the Baloch Spring witnessed mass arrests and violence to silence the emerging voices. These repressive tactics and authoritarian acts of state are deplorable. Accordingly, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the policies of the state to relegate the Baloch as some ‘second-class citizens.’
Similarly, several protests have appeared in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. These demonstrations are also asking for their civil rights which include taxation rights, land rights, end of long power cuts, and the availability of wheat in the markets. The protestors are asking what the Haq Do Tehreek is demanding: i.e. their economic rights. Both protests are also aggrieved due to CPEC-related projects as well. Gwadar is a flagship project of CPEC whereas, in GB, the state is acquiring land for CPEC. As per the concerns expressed by these protest movements, what is the point of any development or economic venture if it does not benefit the local populace? Or what is the point of CPEC if it is encroaching on the fundamental rights of citizens? Besides, the protestors also maintain that the GB Revenue Authority bill will not help the general masses. Contrarily, this bill will impose additional taxes on the region, which is already poverty-stricken.
The civil rights movement is not limited to Gwadar and Gilgit-Baltistan. We have seen mass demonstrations taking place in KP against militancy and extra-judicial killings. The movement in this periphery region is called as ‘Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’ or PTM. In this regard, the more recent sit-in happened in South Waziristan’s Wana, where the protestors demanded to end the repressive tactics of the state under the supervision of the ‘Olsi Amen Uprising.’ Like Gwadar and GB protests, they demanded that Pashtuns not be treated as ‘second class citizens’ and be allowed to live peacefully in their homeland. They also demanded to stop supporting terrorists, extrajudicial killings and kidnapping for ransom.
In Pakistan, the civil rights movement is not confined to political leaders and activists. The movement has also seen participation from women, transgender communities and students. As far as women are considered, the Aurat March is an annual demonstration that takes place in several urban centers of Pakistan on International Women’s Day. Around the globe, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. Therefore, every year, Pakistani women take to the streets to demand their civil rights and end systematic discrimination. In addition to that, the transgender community also raised their voice this year under the banner of ‘Sindh Moorath March’. Lastly, the student community is also increasingly involved in the ongoing protests across the country. From Turbat University to Punjab University, students are taking to roads to demand their rights, whether it is the issue of fee hikes or mass arrests.
In a nutshell, Pakistan is witnessing the arrival of hundreds of Martin Luther Kings in the form of political leaders, activists, women, transgender people and students. They all are asking for freedom in the context of civil rights. For them, the mantra of freedom means economic opportunities and not relegating them as ‘second-class citizens’. As our peripheries are security-stricken regions, the notion of freedom further incorporates an end to terrorist militancy and extrajudicial killings.
In short, they all present a dream to have a shared identity and common human grounds to live peacefully.