Wishing the deluge away - Talat Farooq - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Flooding of this magnitude would be a daunting challenge for any country but for Pakistan, already submerged in terrorism and poverty, such a natural disaster quickly transforms into a catastrophe that grows with every passing day and whose social and economic repercussions will continue to haunt the country long after the waters have receded.

Those of us who remain untouched by this calamity cannot even begin to comprehend the plight of the victims. Losing your home is like losing a limb; it paralyses you physically and emotionally. Losing your loved ones is like losing your eyes for there is nothing to look forward to; a part of you dies with them, never to be resuscitated. Losing your self-respect is like losing faith in both God and humanity; it kills your will to carry on.

Each one of these calamities is a life-shattering experience; to suffer the onslaught of all three combined is beyond expression. A sudden transition from the familiar to the unknown; from the security of a roof to the fear of imminent danger -- from the sense of happiness that springs from a human relationship to the irreparable loss and cessation of all joy -- from the humble self-sufficiency of a lowly abode to the pain and shame of subsisting on charity -- not even the most compassionate soul in the world can empathise with such experiences unless it has experienced it firsthand. A great deal is being said about governmental ineptness and inadequacy to deal with the problem, Zardari's visit abroad, his chateau and the old man's shoes. Does public opinion, the feeling of the common man or the plight of the flood victims really matter to the president? We all know the answer to that.

Since 2008 the prime minister has been talking himself hoarse emphasising the supremacy of parliament. Under the present circumstances when immediate steps are required to evacuate, house and feed the victims, shouldn't the parliamentarians sit down and discuss the situation and come out with doable solutions and supervise their implementation? Instead they postpone the National Assembly session and go into hiding, unable even to show their faces in their own flood-hit constituencies; wishing the deluge would go away and people would move on. This time around the moving on may not be that simple and the sooner the government and its allies realise it the better. But will they? We all know the answer to that too.

In an environment of growing anarchy the disconnect between the state and society is a foregone conclusion. Angry words condemning the politicians, who are immune to all such criticism, will not help the flood victims. Let us instead appreciate and augment the ongoing private efforts undertaken by religious and secular organisations, individuals and the media. Let us do our best and try and alleviate the suffering and persist in our efforts even after the novelty has worn off. Disasters have a way of uniting people by tapping into their collective goodwill. The earthquake of 2005 proved this point. The sentiment wore off only after the government bureaucracy stepped in to take over. As citizens of a weak state we have to believe in our own power to make the difference. Expecting the elite to do it for us is a mirage.

Let those with the material means and management skills join hands and coordinate with private organisations already in the flood-ravaged areas. Employing the internet for coordination and encouraging the youth within and outside Pakistan to join in the effort could yield fruitful results. Synergy has its own dynamics. Pakistan's common men and women are endowed with the limitless capacity to do good. Any call for help brings out their innate humaneness. It happens because it is one of the possibilities. On the other hand, expecting the feudal elite to care for the downtrodden is to expect a dead rock to turn into a human being; it is against the laws of nature. Demanding compassion from them is like talking to the deaf. They will not hear for they cannot. Their genetic make-up and exclusive environments that shape their worldview render it impossible. Their minds are trained to dehumanise people in order to rationalise their own excesses, to justify their own imagined superiority and that of their offspring. Judging from this perspective, the president's visit to the United Kingdom is nothing out of the ordinary.

History tells us that poverty itself may not breed violent reactions against the powerful elite but the flaunting of power and ill-gotten wealth, that adds insult to injury, surely does. It turns apparent apathy into gushing anger, much like the floodwaters of the Indus and Chenab. The Goliath in Pakistan may appear to be well-entrenched because David is nowhere to be seen; but then David is by definition unassuming and unpretentious; his power becomes visible only after he has struck. Feudal rulers in democratic garb possess the robust ability to fool themselves into believing self-created myths, and the myth of invulnerability tops the list. Again, history belies such confidence; where people do not rise to protest injustice against the weaker segment of society, change may take longer. But eventually nature has its own way of restoring balance and when it does, kings, queens, courtiers and bystanders are swept away indiscriminately.

Like all natural occurrences the recent floods are meant to teach us lessons at the temporal as well as the spiritual levels. Let not the powerful in high palaces and the smug watchers of flood-shows on television ignore the allegory.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email: talatfarooq11@gmail.com

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