Tell me, what did you think democracy was going to be all about? Did you enjoy the free coffees/cakes/etc for voters, the enthusiastic ‘go vote!’ ad campaigns run nationwide with all the headiness of a teenager discovering life after 10pm for the first time?
Did you mug at each other, standing in lines, waiting for your turn to stamp your tiny but unalienable mark onto the destiny of the nation?
Democracy is about responsibility. It means that when it goes wrong, when it all goes wrong, you can’t throw up your hands and say: our leaders have let us down again. You can’t say, ‘they’ have betrayed us, ‘they’ have let us down. There’s no they in democracy, only us, only factions and subsections of ‘us’.
Freedom is a word thrown around like jubilant confetti, fast becoming a synonym for ‘good’. Like a mother’s love, peace for all and food for the poor, freedom has been wrongly classified as not only good, but always desirable, and always comfortable.
This is not the case. A gilded cage may well be more comfortable. A rich sheikh’s wife in Saudi Arabia is infinitely more comfortable – and leads an infinitely easier life – than a working single mother in New York, though the latter is undoubtedly freer than the former.
Freedom brings with it a heavy burden, for its flip side is responsibility which we shirk, and shy from, and reject, not realising we cannot reject one face of a coin without rejecting the whole.
Did you vote? Well done. Did you think, could you actually have thought for a moment, that that was it? That you were done with democracy until another half decade languidly rolled around again?
So we had concurrent elections. So what? Those are the exclamation marks on a democracy, not democracy itself, and right now they are looking like exclamations with no sentence behind them, triumphant shouts with nothing to say.
Don’t like the way the Taliban are negotiating not with us but at us, not merely from on high but from a place where they feel quite comfortable spitting on us? Killing generals and minorities? Come out and be heard. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa head Imran Khan are not only representatives respectively of PML-N and PTI supporters, they are representatives of the nation, of all of you, of all of us and if they fail to realise this it is to us to remind them.
Where are the checks and balances? Right here. We are the checks, and the balances, earlier only in theory but for at least one shining moment during the lawyers movement, made manifest. Pakistanis turned up in droves for the preservation of an institution. The courts may seem to be overreaching by miles (or light years) now, the CJ may have become a controversial figure but stretch your memory, and recall that the idea of the courts standing up to the executive in Pakistan was patently absurd a few short years ago.
Those days were more democratic, perhaps, than any that followed. Because an institution of democracy with no standing army rose from impotence with a rush of power, not power that flowed from the barrel of a gun or even a ballot box but from the people, united, not in class or caste or even opinion but on a fundamental principle: the idea that justice does not belong to the rulers, is not their sword to be wielded or sheathed at will.
That is the heart, the very soul of democracy: a diverse people that can nevertheless unite to defend the most fundamental of issues.
What can we do? The question in part answers itself, but you have to listen for it. Listen to yourself ask that question next time our country finds a novel and horrifying way to embarrass itself and hurt us. Is it a plaintive and rhetorical ‘what can we do?’, spoken in a whining tone of nasal defeatism?
Or is it a true question, a ‘what can we do?’ followed by a real attempt to think of answers? Because if it is the former, the democracy that so many have struggled so hard for is a sham, a broken thing. Broken not by those who attack us and use us, for that is the nature of the insane and the powerful, but by our unwillingness to push back.
So, to rephrase, what can we do differently? Everything.
We think of our actions and our words and the way we raise our children as drops in a bucket but there are millions of us, and the drops add up.
Radicalisation is one of the greatest threats – perhaps even an existential threat – Pakistan faces today. Yes, the drone strikes and our army policy sparked it, but we are fools to think we are not pouring oil on the fire. We stand aside, mute, as Christians are killed and we still treat them like ‘others’.
A brave fourteen-year-old advocate of education was shot in the head by a group of people who have repeatedly and proudly admitted to killing our men, women and children for a decade and a heartbreakingly large number of us immediately screamed that it must be someone else. Blame the US, blame CIA, blame India but please please please don’t let the blame lie here, not here, not where we have to deal with it, not where we are responsible.
We decry the falling standards of healthcare and the infinitesimal health budget but when doctors strike for better service structure, we turn on them, snarling for their blood, catching them between a dead-end job and a public shaming – or worse.
We bemoan – every day – a system that has grown so corrupt and ineffectual that pointing to its shambling corpse is a matter of truism and dark humour, rather than a point of any debate. And yet every time we, particularly we the elite, have an avenue to use our influence to further enrich ourselves at the cost of the integrity of the system, to subvert and sacrifice it at the altar of our convenience, we do so. We have become, we have made ourselves, objects of revulsion and envy to the poor and middle classes. And we act surprised, and shocked, and betrayed when they are turned to other paths.
Organised crime. Lynch mobs forming on the streets. Bowing to, sympathising with or out and out supporting terrorists. These things have a common denominator: barring a few psychopaths, they require the absence of trust in any good alternative. They require the lack of a compelling stake in the current system.
And if we don’t fight for those better paths, those good alternatives, if we fail to realise how our actions, our little drops become a flood then we are no worse off than we deserve. We have exactly the leaders, the system and the nation we deserve.
If we choose freedom, if we truly value it, then the work and responsibility that it is bonded to is ours to bear. If we shun responsibility, then we shun also freedom, and then we can complain as much as we please, for that is the only right that slaves have. – See more at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-207049-Dying-in-our-democracy#sthash.2ugIC43z.dpuf