Apartheid was the official policy of the South African government until the year 1990. The National Party had introduced apartheid after being elected to power in the elections of 1948. Apartheid called for the separation of the white population of South Africa from its non-white population. Laws were put in place to exclude black people from voting, public places and even traveling inside South Africa. Inter-racial marriage was not permitted and considered as an offence. Apartheid was finally removed in 1994 after the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela reached a resolution with De Klerk the President of the South Africa and the head of the National party (NP).
Growing up in Pakistan and witnessing continuous injustice towards a particular section of the society, I have started to believe apartheid still exists. It exists in Pakistan between the rich and the poor. I see a wall, a divide, and segregation between the two.
Sarfraz Shah was shot dead at point blank range by the law enforcement agencies a few days back in the city of Karachi. The incident was recorded on camera which brought some attention to his death. While looking at the video and the way Sarfraz was being pushed around, I felt as if he were some other species. Sarfraz was a human being and yet he was not like you and me. His only fault was that he was poor. Similarly, a few months back, a relative of mine was walking towards his house when a few drops of paint fell over his clothes from the top of a wall that was being painted. He looked up towards the person working on the wall who apologized immediately. This relative of mine went on swearing at the laborer. After a point, the laborer swore back. My relative took out a hand gun and shot him in the head. The laborer was left there to die and (I am ashamed to say this) my relative roamed around free as if it were a bug he had shot at. Again, the laborers only fault was that he was poor.
These and many other such incidents happen in our society on a regular basis. Very few are recorded on the camera. Hardly any victim gets justice. Our politicians come and make a few fancy statements against such incidents. The media talks about it for days. A commission is formed and we move on. No one addresses the underlying causes. Once our emotions die away and they do with time, no one cares anymore. We have to take a more proactive approach and take action before these things take place. Crying over someone’s death or forming a commission serves no real purpose. It is superficial justice.
In the rural areas of Pakistan, the land lords sit on high-rising chairs while the poor, the peasants and the farmers are made to sit on the ground or ‘peeris’- low rising stools. This is done to remind the poor of their position in the society. These customs are there to instill fear in their minds. So many places in Pakistan have different cutlery for the poor and the rich. A friend of mine rightly said, a few people in Pakistan are citizens, others are just subjects.
All the laws and all the law enforcement agencies we have work towards protecting the rich from the poor. The poor have no big houses, or property or wealth that needs to be protected. They have no money that they can use to bribe or silence anyone. The sad reality is that if Sarfraz Shah came from a rich family, he would never have been shot like that. The sad reality is that if the Sialkot brothers were sons of a politician or a wealthy businessman, police wouldn’t have stood there watching them being tortured.
We keep asserting how Islam treats everyone equally and yet there are no signs of equality in this society. The poor only find solace in their religion as it promises them a better after life. This keeps them from rising against their masters and rulers. If anyone, it’s us the fortunate portion of the society who have to stand up to all the injustices towards the poor. We have to give those a voice whose voices have been suppressed. We have to give those people hope who have been shunned by the society. We have to give those people an opportunity who have the potential but find all doors to progress locked. We have to free those people who have been chained by the society. We have to free those peasants who have been enslaved by the landlords. We have to provide equal opportunity to all regardless of their social status, their religion, their ethnicities and their backgrounds. Justice has to be based on merit and not money. It is never too late to change. If we still heed to Imam Ali’s saying, ‘societies can run without God but not without justice’, we can steer our society towards the right direction. If we remain satisfied with what we have, if we only care about ourselves, if we let things be the way they are, our society will never change.