As someone very wise once said, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem - and he was right. It's easy to sit and armchair philosophize over the state of this country at International House, New York amongst a group of political science students at Columbia. In that setting it's easy to talk about how democracy is (or isn't) the solution for Pakistan's problems. To deliver long diatribes about how there's no real point in voting because them-politicians-are-all-the-same. But none of us smooth talkers really have to live this life. Do we?
I have never had to resort to eating out of rubbish heaps, or worse, to fend of hunger pangs caused by rising prices of food combined with rampant joblessness. I have never had a child torn out of my hands and sold because she was a burden on the family, and the money her bride price would bring would be better off supporting my husband's drug habit. I haven't had to think about suicide because I'm an unmarried and pregnant in a country that wouldn't think twice about condemning this sort of immorality while other kinds are actively promoted. I haven't had to spend eight hours a day of back-breaking labor for a pittance. I haven't had to go home and submit my monthly earnings to my father, who will never think to spend a paisa on my health, or my education. I have never had to submit to beatings after beatings, indignity after indignity because I have no place to go, and no legal standing. I have never had to face a life where by virtue of being born in a particular kind of household I am automatically inferior. I've never been denied my rights because I happened to not subscribe to the tenets of Islam.
And yet, in my privileged little bubble, I have the potential to hold the future of this country in my educated, elite, connected hands. Hands, pampered by manicures, adorned with nailpolish, sporting a fancy ring are those that will decide - by virtue of birth, opportunity and upbringing - what happens to those tiny hands scrounging through rubbish dumps for food. Hands like mine that work with the private sector, government, civil society, NGOs, media - all those hands have the power to decide what happens to the laborers, exploited home-based workers, rag-pickers, beggars. It's ironic how untutored and unexperienced as we are to the harsher reality of this country given that we're in the position where we are the (unwilling) voices of the subaltern.
But we will not speak. Perhaps because we don't understand what it feels like to stand in their place. Perhaps because even though we see them we lack the capacity to empathize - instead we blame them for their own helplessness (why don't they work harder, think sharper, make smarter decisions?). Perhaps because we're apathetic. Or perhaps because we really don't think that anything we do can make a difference to the black hole of hopelessness we feel around us. We think it may be smarter - and better for us - to move out and to join the ranks of concerned expatriates around the world who engage in armchair philosophizing and the occasional guilty charity.
We all have a path to tread at the end of which we die. I don't know if there is a heaven, or there is a hell - and I don't know what qualifications are required for either. All I know is that in this earthly journey we all have a choice - either we do what is best for 'us' or what is best for 'all-of-us'. Either we live for ourselves, and our loved ones or we also spend a little bit of time living for those we don't love - who we don't even necessarily like - but who we are obligated to speak for. And by remaining silent, by not responding to their silent screams we're as guilty of seeing this country fall apart as the politicians and the terrorists.
Speak up. It's the least you can do.