FIR against 3 LUMS Faculty members and 2 students

Academics for Freedom condemns in the strongest terms the FIR on false charges registered against 3 faculty members of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and 2 students, including the president of the Student Council. The faculty members include:
1) Osama Siddique (Law faculty)
2) Rasul Buksh Rais (Social Sciences faculty)
3) Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Social Sciences faculty)
The students include:
1) Saad Hassan Latif
2) Umar Malik
The charge leveled against them in the FIR is that of wall-chalking the Defence Police Station. Academics for Freedom recognises that these extremely frivolous charges are simply an attempt to harrass and intimidate members of the LUMS community.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dawn at Noon

Veena Das

It happens frequently – people get fed up with politics. When Indira Gandhi declared a National Emergency in India in 1976, there were reasonable people who pitched the need for democracy against the needs of economic development and argued that the country needed stability and discipline. No one now remembers that notorious period with any fondness, for it became clear that the Draconian laws of the Emergency were used precisely against the poor in the beautification campaign and the forced sterilization campaign. Musharraf’s declaration of Emergency is surely not in accordance with the law when the Constitution of Pakistan stands suspended. But much more is at stake than narrow legality. What is being put into question is the very possibility of a democratic Pakistan. It is not the rulers alone who will decide what might be possible futures.

Depressing as it might be, it is well to remember that when General Musharraf came to power in 1999, many people, including the intelligentsia welcomed the development – they were tired of corrupt leaders, they said. This way they did not have to take responsibility for the leadership, for they had not elected him. Since the essence of a political community is one’s willingness to be represented by others, as well as the agreement to represent others, this reaction was nothing short of a bowing out of politics as dirty, corrupt, not worth getting your hands soiled with.

For me, one of the most encouraging signs is the fact that the middle classes are willing to again engage in politics. The blogs that have come up are, of course, full of comments on the corruption of the leaders. Says one blogger –“Democracy too is a farce in Pakistan. Benazir and her henchmen amassed billions. Nawaz Sharif is a thug, who beat up all opponents, all hypocrisy and more corruption. At least General Musharraf is personally less corrupt.” To such people one can only say that indeed there is a democratic crisis in many parts of the world (including the U.S.A) when the elected leaders who come to power with the support of big money turn out to be corrupt, or end up following policies and programs that do not have the mandate of the population or are against dearly held moral principles. But dictatorships are not any more successful in generating leaders who can fulfill the aspirations of justice or morality. And worse – in such regimes there are no channels such as courts or the press where the less privileged can organize to get relief from even if the actual reach of these institutions depends on other factors such as civil society mobilization.

So the popular protests in Pakistan are not to bring back a particular leader but to restore the democratic processes through which politics might be re-engaged. It is not elections alone but an independent judiciary, constitutional rights, free press and building of independent institutions of learning that would allow more than procedural rights to be delivered. It is not as if the field of politics has been empty. One of the urgent task before the academia is to ask how the present mobilization relates to other kinds of mobilizations – whether these were ethnic and sectarian mobilizations or the labor movements that were thwarted by the alliance of feudal and military alliances. They must recognize the intense interest in matters of not only getting education and health with which many of them will sympathize but also a search that many ordinary people engage in, on what would be a good Islamic life. Even a cursory examination of popular books such as the ten volume “Aap ke misail aur unke jawab” would show the deep engagement with questions of piety, modernity, and ways that are open for the practice of Islam. I suspect that increasingly there will be an effort on the part of the military regime to mobilize fears about new freedoms. Musharraf’s remarks that the women’s movement was going too far - thus implying that Pakistani society was “not ready for rapid change” show that there will be an important cultural politics to contend with. In such a politics it is important that the aspirations of ordinary people are engaged – that a love of democratic freedom is not pitched against a love for Islam.

As an Indian I am particularly conscious that there can be refusal to imagine that there are several possible futures for Pakistan. Indian commentators often get stuck at the point of Partition and assume that an allegiance to Islam, or to an Islamic modernity means that the future was always given, it was at the root of the project of Pakistan. But this is nostalgia, not as longing but as a refusal to allow the past to open up to a future – to assume that the future generations could not discover for themselves something different. This is not an inheritance that the founders of Pakistan could have wanted for their future generations. It is however, the task for these generations which are now out in the streets to ask what relations can be forged between the different inhabitants of Pakistan. What traditions of Islam do they want to inherit? What should be the relation between the state and sharia law?

General Musharraf thinks that the sovereignty of Pakistan is at stake and he tries to deal with the crisis by shutting down the media, making large-scale arrests of the very people who would fight for the sovereignty of Pakistan through democratic means. For these people who are braving prisons and lathi charges know that that there are many present and future conflicts that will arise over the question of what is the promise of Pakistan? These lie at the heart of a democratic polity. Economists point out that despite a 7% GDP growth rate, the human development deficits in Pakistan are stark. India takes pride in its democracy – yet we all know that securing basic rights is a daily struggle. A Gujarat pogrom against Muslims in 2004, an ongoing struggle in Nandigram in which a peasant struggle is brutally suppressed in the name of public good, and the everyday privations that should not happen after sixty years of independence. So when I use the expression “Dawn at Noon” after the philosopher Emerson, I mean to indicate that we stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan to hopefully see the sun rise but we know that dawn would be still further on the horizon and we have to work for that dawning at noon.

Veena Das is a Krieger-Eisenhower Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, USA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not first understand what it meant to speak of dawn at noon - now on reflection I can see that the struggle will be long - it might be that we have been pushed back five or six or even sixty years but we will keep the spark of freedom alive. Did Faiz not say that each chain with which we are tied will beocme our auban