Death of a dream – 03 Mar 2023

Days after the Italy boat tragedy where an ill-fated and overloaded boat sank in the seas off Italy’s southern region, authorities in Pakistan have identified Quetta-based hockey player Shahida Raza as one of the victims. There are layers of lessons in Shahida’s tragic fate. On the most important level, her death is a stark example of Pakistan’s inability to give hope for a better future to its young people, forcing them to take deadly risks in order to live a better life. Furthermore, through her case our class and ethnic divides have once again reared their ugly head. Shahida belonged to the minority Hazara community, which has for long been at the receiving end of consistent sectarian violence. A majority from the Hazara community live in Quetta, in a walled neighbourhood – protected from extremist wrath. But this apparent protection often acts as a barrier between the community and the state. Not only are they deprived of opportunities, they also have to deal with state apathy. When they protest, they are called blackmailers.

Given the treatment they receive in their homeland, most of them prefer moving out. In Shahida’s case she was also a single mother, making her very existence problematic in our patriarchal socio-economic context. We often associate starting a new life abroad as an upper and upper-middle class and, for the most part, male pursuit. However, there are millions of Pakistanis who harbour the same aspirations but lack the means to realize them. That Shahida was a former hockey player is sadly apt. Hockey has come to represent our bygone ‘golden age’, a time before terrorism, rampant street crime, power outages, hyperinflation and IMF bailouts.

Shahida’s death is a failure of this government – and every government that came before. Failure to provide employment, opportunities and support for single mothers, protect ethnic and religious minorities, ensure equal participation for women and attain broad-based economic and human development. We will have to restore hope for Pakistanis within Pakistan or else what happened to Shahida and the 27 other Pakistanis on that ill-fated boat will happen to hundreds if not thousands of others. As our youth bulge continues, opportunities here will continue to grow ever scarcer. Doing all the things we have thus far failed to do is the only thing that will save young Pakistanis desperate for a decent life from drowning in foreign waters in pursuit of their dreams.

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