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Recently, news items with pictures of young girls and boys holding automatic weapons have been flashing in the daily papers. The ‘security training’ programme is supposed to give them confidence. This situation is simply shocking.
These children have hardly grown out of playing with toy guns and they are now provided with automatic prohibited bore weapons, while being trained to use them too. They also participated in fake exercises, which included how to flee from kidnappers and jump from moving vehicles. The students seemed to be enjoying this part of their education.
To our young, scared children, this seems to be the message we are giving:
“In the process of protecting yourself and in time you can eliminate those whom you do not like, and as the fight heats up, join the armed wing of your own ethnic/sectarian origin”.
That is one sure prescription for civil war, which, for those who care to see, is not too far anyway.
The teachers I have met are unanimous in rejecting such a move. They maintain that besides interference in their studies, such measures by no means equip young girls and boys to become a match for the trained suicide bomber, who also has the advantage of a surprise attack.
The state should put a halt to this foolish idea forthwith and reconsider providing protection and confidence by practical and double actions.
Earlier, in the ’70s, when the health policy was under discussion, it was decided that barefoot doctors on the Chinese model would be introduced. From the platform of the Pakistan Medical Association, I wrote a piece “Life in their Hands”, arguing that Pakistan is not China and these semi-trained young boys and girls would soon join the army of quacks.
That is exactly what happened when the first few batches were given jobs but all of them deserted and set up their private clinics.
Before trying to make out what should be done, we must identify the causes of such intolerance leading to aggression, violence and brutalisation in our country. We must look at the whole picture to learn how we have arrived where we are today.
Without going into details (which is a subject for contemporary historians), it is worth recalling the psychological impact of politics adopted by successive governments and administrations.
The use and abuse of religion and a distorted framework of democracy have triggered a large-scale identity crisis; the voids of identity now being filled with toxic pseudo-religious forces selling identities along ethnic, sectarian and communal lines.
Intolerance and hate are their major weapons, and one of the ways their success manifests itself is the qualitative change in expressed emotion seen on the streets of Karachi and even inside homes – the readiness to bounce at the slightest provocation.
In one of the international forums (People’s Peace 21 – PP 21), our state is aptly summarised as:
“Early 20th century slogan was Progress, late 20th century cry was Survival and 21sh century call is Hope” – which is fading fast.
Stress leading to insecurity is naturally countered by a remarkable process called ‘adaptation’.
People undergoing stress resort to unhealthy practices like heavy smoking, drinking, drugs, crime, gambling, religiosity or sexual indiscretion. Yet, in our country, there has been an upsurge of cultural activity as well, such as the revival of cinema, theatre and literary festivals.
Is all this our resilience, adaptation, or sheer denial?
For a healthy society, the state should provide a situation where there is consistency, continuity, predictability and provision for stable orientation and security. Every new political arrangement demonises the previous one. It is a miracle that a few of our role models have survived, despite all our efforts to demolish them.
Mental health is achieved by relatedness, empathy and identity, which is only possible in a secular society.
Intolerance is the major factor shattering the very fabric of our society. How is it that the spirit of brotherhood shown by Pakistanis earlier has been evaporating with every passing year since the Partition? It was a faith-dominated political practice which has guided us to where we are – Taliban phenomenon included.
Faith is uncritical belief where there is no place for dialogue. As such, where religion (meaning faith) gradually and for the benefit of the then rulers is inducted into politics, the result is always the murder of tolerance.
There cannot be any relief from violence, aggression and senseless killings, unless religion is separated from the body politic of a country i.e. our state should be the protector of all Pakistanis irrespective of their cast, colour, religion or sect.
I and you can be Muslim, Hindu or Christian, but the state should be secular.
Secularism is not irreligious or laa-deeniat or atheism. If translated honestly, it can be hama-deeniat. If the state protects all citizens irrespective of their faith, violence, aggression and perpetual fear will disappear as there will be opportunity for dialogue – not on our faith/religion but on social, economic and cultural issues.
This is the only prescription for peace.
If I were to suggest, the areas to be focused on to begin with, are:
Educational reform on a massive scale, including radical revision of curricula especially at primary and secondary levels.
Teachers of primary and secondary schools be given prestige, remuneration and place they deserve in a progressive society.
Extracurricular activities be promoted like sports and now vanishing but once popular debating society and bayt bazi.
Empathy, compassion and tolerance be promoted by using appropriate tools by teachers, parents and now upcoming civil society.
Student unions be revived, diverting their energies to healthy pursuits.
Educational TV channels should be sponsored by the government (need advocacy).
Mental hygiene should be a part of teachers training. Sensitisation of parents and students by mental health professionals should be a periodic and mandatory activity.
At the Pakistan Association for Mental Health, we have been monitoring behavioural changes in our society and updating every two years on various parameters from 1996 onward.
In that regard, the most recent and serious developments in the last four years have been: target killing, bhatta mafia, land mafia, kidnapping for ransom and post-Friday prayer rallies, mostly hate-related.
If none of those trends change in the future, we and our children are headed to a very dark place, in terms of sanity and peace of mind.