Sound of silence – 16 Aug 2022

Pakistan is a country afraid to talk about most of what ails it: from human rights to population growth to even something as seemingly-innocuous as the anti-polio campaign. This screaming silence is not limited to the people of the country but also the state, whose officials have increasingly become wary of saying anything that may be construed as too radical for a country that seems to have taken it upon itself to either turn a blind eye to rights violations or find conspiracies where none exist. And there is enough reason for this silent treatment: we seen people lynched on mere suspicion of transgression and state officials killed by regressive individuals. It is perhaps the fact that no one really points to this challenge that has made Finance Minister Miftah Ismail’s recent comments a breath of fresh air: someone in government is aware of this and has managed to articulate it so well and that too while on a news talk show.

The finance minister, while on a Geo talk show, has raised important questions regarding the pervasive intolerance in our society and how challenging concepts is not only difficult but can also come at a cost. Talking about how Pakistan does not own its two Nobel Laureates, Dr Salam and Malala Yousafzai, Dr Ismail also raised the issue of minority rights and how difficult it has become to bring up these sensitive issues. He rightly pointed out that not many raised their voice when a Christian couple was burnt alive in 2014 and, more recently, when a 62-year-old Ahmadi man was murdered in broad daylight. He also raised the issue of family planning and how every time someone brings it up, they are countered in the name of religion, and how polio teams are attacked due to the misinformation regarding polio drops.

It is a rare sight to see a mainstream politician – a minister even – talk openly about these issues. It was just a few days back that Pakistan observed National Minorities Day, and yet beyond mere feel-good statements, we have over the years only seen a regression in the rights of the country’s religious minorities. Much the same can be said about the direly needed anti-polio campaign. The disease is assuming alarming proportions once again this year, and countering it is a battle the state has yet to win. By 2030, Pakistan’s population is expected to cross 285 million; it doesn’t have the resources to cater to this population growth rate and yet infant and maternal mortality rates – healthcare concepts that should ideally be easily talked about – become an uphill task in the face of a conservative society that views population planning with inherent scepticism. Instead of celebrating our heroes, we make them controversial, cloaking everything under an arbitrary value system that belies logic. When critical and creative thinking is anathema, celebration is sin, and even healthcare becomes a battle of religious ideology, is it any wonder our Mashals are lynched and our Malalas are seen as a conspiracy?

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