By Zubeida Mustafa
IS change in the offing? I should hasten to add that I am not talking about political change in Islamabad which is perennially the subject of much speculation. It is socio-economic change I want to write about this week.
Recently at a two-day conference of stakeholders titled `Floods and Beyond` hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research some speakers spoke of the changes that will mark people`s lives in the post-floods period.Dr Kaiser Bengali, adviser to the Sindh chief minister, pointed out that the floods have brought a general awareness of the measure of poverty in the rural areas and what this means for the people. According to him, this has stirred even the residents of Defence Housing Authority to talk about it today. This should augur well for the future.
Two days later, at the Hamza Alavi distinguished lecture, social analyst Arif Hasan delivered a thought-provoking talk on feudalism and the process of change. Arif Hasan pointed out the numerous changes — many of them very subtle, nevertheless profound — that he has observed over decades of travelling to big and small cities and the rural areas of Pakistan. He considered these changes inevitable because the nexus between the administration and the landlords that held the social structure in place has broken down.
Given the dismal state of existence of the overwhelming majority of Pakistan`s population today, these prophecies of change should give rise to hope. But why is there scepticism? There are a number of reasons. The general awareness that has been created, which Dr Bengali so correctly identified, can only be translated into reality if those in a position to act actually do something. The awareness that had sent many into a state of shock is fast dissipating. qurbani
The back-to-normal atmosphere on Eidul Azha would have been reassuring to those who want the status quo to continue. Cows and goats were sacrificed in massive numbers at a time when the headcount of livestock losses in the flood was said to be 234,982. Plea for conserving cattle and making cash donations to the flood victims as a symbolic fell mostly on deaf ears.
Can we then hope for change? The feudal who is no longer believed to be as strongly entrenched as before can still not be written off for he continues to control the lives of the people living on his lands. They have nowhere else to go and they seek his help for their livelihood or for other `favours` which in democratic societies are citizens` fundamental rights. To acquire the latter, `connections with high quarters` are not needed.
This explains why change is such a difficult process in our society. Arif Hasan attributed the difficulties being encountered to the failure of the intelligentsia and the media to provide a value system I think more to blame is the failure of the state to provide protection and the basic human rights a person seeks to make life tolerable. wadera
Apart from employment he also needs healthcare, shelter and education for his children. If the system cannot guarantee these, he has to turn to someone — be it the family, community or the .
And don`t think it is only the poor who suffer from insecurities of this kind. Remember the axiom `uneasy lies the head that wears the crown`. In the absence of state protection and a social security net even the elites fear change. After all, how can they assume that a change would be in their favour?
Change, especially if it comes fast, can be emotionally destabilising. It is human nature to create a comfort zone where a person feels settled and relatively stable as he adjusts to the changes in his wider environment. But if he has to make adjustments in quick succession that can be a challenge for even the most well adjusted. Linked to this is the need one feels to be in control of one`s own life.
Pakistan`s poorest have never enjoyed that luxury. Upward social, economic and political mobility has enhanced the control factor progressively. But today, as recent events have shown, upward mobility is virtually absent and whatever informal support systems people had created for themselves have become fragile. It might be a natural disaster, an act of violence, a criminal activity or even a policy decision by a foreign government that can play havoc with a person`s sense of security today.
It is interesting to see how people have responded to this growing insecurity that has quietly crept into their lives over the last few decades. Religiosity characterises our national ethos. More are turning to religious rituals that enable them to hand over responsibility for their own actions and decisions to a supreme creator.
If it had simply been a case of the whole nation adopting religious values, should not there have been a fall in corruption, a rise in ethical norms, a decline in crimes and an increase in human compassion? After all, we are told that this is what Islam teaches us. On the contrary, this is not happening. Many who are suspected of being involved in wrongdoing of the most heinous kind resort to rituals in a big way because they believe that these are atonement for the evils they have committed.
Take the case of Eidul Azha. On account of soaring prices of sacrificial animals the number of sacrifices offered may have declined somewhat. But that was because of economic compulsions and not in support of conservation. Those who were financially well endowed, celebrated Eid as they have always done — with ostentatious display of their sacrificial booty.
Scant attention was paid to this telling verse from the Holy Quran published by the newsletter of a philanthropic eye hospital in Malir headed by a leading ophthalmologist of Pakistan, Prof M. Saleh Memon: “It is not their (sacrificial animal) meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22:37)”