January 16, 2017
Champions of nothing
Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all really trapped inside some thoroughly complex sci-fi world where everything is being controlled by the deepest secret agency whose plan was this all along. The only other explanation for the filibustering we spend our lives indulging in is that we’re really this ridiculous. In some parts of the civilised world people spend time doing things like recycling; governments pass legislation that gives fathers more paternity leave, or makes wider bicycle lanes. Here our Senate Standing Committee on Interior discusses booze and drugs. For real. Someone set an official agenda and members of this committee came together and they didn’t address child labour and their abuse or the dire environmental degradation happening apace in Punjab or anything remotely useful; only mulling the differences between local and foreign alcohol. The learned members of this Standing Committee agreed that imbibers should all be given the death penalty, because it’s obviously okay to molest little kids in Kasur or go around beating pregnant women to death with bricks in front of the High Court—nobody baying for their blood. But the drunks need to die! Immediately!
I’m obviously in the wrong job as a lowly writer of columns and other things. I need to get myself a senate seat. I need to get paid to discuss earnestly how booze is bad and haraam but hash is but the vegetable of the mystics, a herby stairway to mystical enlightenment. Good news, kids! Don’t drink and don’t do drugs, but maybe if you don’t inhale and maybe if you’re toking at a shrine it’s legit because you know, mysticism. Also if the Committee had its way they would give all the politicians in the land a breathalyzer and dope test and most, heh heh, would fail them. And thus do not deserve to be representatives of this most august government. So if you ever had a bhang wala paapar then bye! Dirty degenerate. I have sudden empathy for other government-wallahs now. If these “debates” and their subject matter are what senators and party representatives find most urgent and important then you probably need to be high just to get through the work day.
Filibustering is the art of speaking a lot without saying anything in order to create delays. It’s a tactic used during government proceedings in the civilised world, but it’s evidently become an art form in good old Pakistan. Apparently, a people get the government they deserve, so what does it say about us if our government includes people who’d like to kill people whose personal habits displease them? It’s such a classic trope. And by classic I mean irritating and wearying. Why is it so troublesome that someone drinks but nobody is equally, or even half as disturbed by something truly terrible, like adultery? People will go bonkers clutching their pearls and touching their ears when someone goes to a wedding wearing something skimpy but won’t give a hoot about said woman’s husband slapping her around. Smoking up is so awful that you should be disqualified from a political career, but being a rapist isn’t a big deal.
It’s the same old tune. Focus on the less-relevant so that nobody ever addresses the real problems. Blame the smog on the Indians. Blame the rise in violence against women on the women wearing the wrong clothes. Blame the drinking on the people who make moonshine. Don’t use an opportunity to truly examine a situation with empathy and some intelligence. Why do you feel people are drinking more? What are the underlying problems there? Is it because people are feeling disillusioned and feel like they want to escape reality for a while? Do they feel like they’re being modern and it’s an aspirational gesture? How can you, as government representatives in a position of influence, help? By frightening people with the death penalty, a gesture at worst malicious and at best meant as a thoughtless jest?
Michelle Obama, in her last address as First Lady, spent most of it repeating her message for the youth of America: be brave, be hopeful and above all, get the best education you can because it will teach you to think critically and to speak clearly, so you are heard, and so that you can uphold yours and others right to freedom. This is the message American leadership gives to their children. Ours is too busy being judgmental to care.
The writer is a feminist based in Lahore