This week started off with the commemoration of Pakistan’s 76th year of Independence. Despite the current political uncertainty and economic instability, the flag was hoisted high by the president; the national anthem was recited; and as per tradition, the lit roads were taken over by youth dressed in green and white.
And while passionate speeches were made praising the sacrifices of those who fought for the freedom of Pakistan, somewhere in the district of Faisalabad, an inaudible alarm of impending destruction rang through.
On August 16, a mob of hundreds of people attacked the Christian community in Jaranwala over alleged blasphemy allegations against two Christian residents. By night, the Christians in Jaranwala were homeless in their own hometown. Even the churches, burnt and destroyed, could not accommodate its people in need.
Members of our team visited Jaranwala yesterday and came back emotionally dazed after witnessing the helplessness and hopelessness of the Christian community. “What is the point of helping us now? Everything has been ruined,” one woman cried to us. And we could do nothing, say nothing to make her feel better.
The people in that mob who wrecked an entire community are inheritors of the same freedom that is signalled to us on national television with pride. It is the freedom that was equally granted to Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Sikhs along with Muslims. But somewhere along the way, it became the right of only one. Somewhere along the way, freedom became sectarian violence. Somewhere along the way, freedom became intolerance. And somewhere along the way, our freedom divided us.
And so, today we mourn and deplore the horrors of mob violence for the umpteenth time.
We continue to steer forward through blood and debris without minding the rotting smell of state’s conscience.
Perhaps it is time to redefine ‘freedom’ in Pakistan. Like privilege, it only serves a few and obliterates the rest. Like hope, it is a yearning; but elusive as a mirage. Like tragedy, it has become our nightmare amidst all that could have been.