[Originally published on Chowk.com]
Time and time again we have been asked why we protest? Why do we choose to spend half our Sundays making posters, and the other half carrying them around in 40 degree Celsius heat, shouting till our throats give out, in Ramadan? It is a waste of time, a waste of effort, a waste of money. What have our rallies solved? They haven’t brought world peace, nor have they saved lives in Swat, nor have they resulted in true democracy in Pakistan. So why?
Why not to protest?
Reason # 1: “I’m going to get beaten up and arrested”
Following are the two articles of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that legitimize peaceful protest demonstrations:
Article 16 – Freedom of Assembly: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”
Article 19 – Freedom of speech, etc: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.”
Hence, as long as you stick to peaceful and legal means of demonstrating, you will be safe. In all the protests we have organized and attended, not once have been attacked by the police or arrested. Of course there are exceptional circumstances where there is a very real danger of injury or arrest. What we must realize here is that the danger that individuals face from coming out on the streets is negligent in contrast with the danger Pakistan faces if they do not.
Reason # 2: “There is no point, it is not worth it, change will never come!”
These were the very arguments that Mao Zedong, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela all were faced with. They were dismissed as idealistic, and told that they could not make a difference at all. Imagine what would have happened had they given in to the criticism they faced? There still would be apartheid in South Africa, African Americans in the USA would not be allowed to vote, let alone one of them being the president, and China would not be a trading giant.
Now lets look a little closer to home. Benazir Bhutto spent eight years in prison, including solitary confinement to become Prime Minister in 1988 and try to bring about change.
The Indians of the Subcontinent rose in an uprising to get their country back. Had they not protested against British rule, had they decided it was too scary or there was no point, then we would not be where we are.
Today, if the entire country mobilizes against injustice then a government that claims to be popularly elected and democratic will ultimately have to give in. Change will take place. Not overnight, or in a matter of hours. It will talke time. We just have to keep fighting until it takes place.
Reason # 3: “Pakistan has no future.”
Last week, one of our friends escaped to Canada, citing security concerns as the reason. This is just one example of the many families that have fled Pakistan to enjoy the stability that other nations have achieved through their own struggle. That’s the difference between Pakistan and other nations. The people in other countries have struggled to get where they are. Pakistanis, on the other hand, run to those countries, rather than getting their own nation up to the desired level. We as a nation are not willing to fight, to swim. We prefer to sink or to get on somebody else’s boat, rather than making our own.
If we leave, who will improve the country for people to not want to escape from it?
Skeptics will say that there is no future left for Pakistan. They are wrong. Pakistan certainly has a future; it is every single one of us. It is you, and it is me.
Frustrated with the undemocratic actions of the present government and the apathy of the youth alike, on March 7, 2009, some students of Islamabad decided to hold a protest demonstration against the imposition of governor rule in Punjab. They held posters expressing their dissatisfaction with the present government and shouted slogans such as “Hum sab kya chahtay hein? Jamhuriat! Jamhuriat!” (“What do we all want? Democracy! Democracy!”), “Adliya ki bahali tak Jang rahi gi! Jang rahay gi!” (“We will fight till the freedom of Judiciary!”), and “Give Punjab it’s CM back!”. It was particularly inspiring for all the students to have passer-by’s join them. Others drove by, flashing victory signs, pumping fists, and giving thumbs up. “Hum mulk bachanay niklay hein, aao hamaray saath chalo!” (We are out to save our country, come join us!) shouted the students back..
This recent demonstration by patriotic and concerned students is a prime example of how each and every one of us can contribute to betterment in Pakistan, to its future, and to its present. If there is continuous expression of dissatisfaction by the people, the government will have to give in to the demands of the public. To save this country you do not need money, contacts, a degree, or a position. All you need is passion.
Why are demonstrations like these worth it?
Reason # 1: The feel-good factor:
Ask anybody who went to the Long March last year, and they will tell you how amazing it felt. They will tell you about the spiritual electric charge in the air, the feeling of being part of one body, of one entity. A good protest can often have a spiritual effect on people, inspiring them to continue the fight for a good cause tomorrow.
After a protest, you will feel satisfied with having played a small but effective part in contributing to a positive change in the system of your country.
Reason # 2: Get attention to your cause:
Protest demonstrations are very effective in getting attention to your cause. You get noticed by the media, by passersby, by politicians, by other activists. People become aware of issues, rethink them, and develop their on perspective on them. By speaking out, you make sure that your cause is not forgotten.
Reason # 3: Silence is consent:
If you are silent about injustice that is taking place, you are in effect consenting to it. Hence, coming out and speaking up against it will show that you disagree with what is going on. We must stand up for our rights, and fight till we get them.
Before 1947, our forefathers shed blood to give us Pakistan. It is now our duty to sustain it well, and to save it from becoming a failed state that many international quarters have already claimed it to be. It is our duty to work for its very survival. Edward R. Murrow famously said: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves”. Let us not be sheep anymore, and let us get rid of the wolves. Once and for all.
(Usama Khilji and Humna Bhojani are student activists from Islamabad. If you wish to contact them or join in with them in their future protests, email at humnabhojani AT hotmail DOT com; Usamakhilji AT hotmail DOT com)