Pakistan is the result of a historical struggle of the Muslims of the sub-continent. The Muslims made every kind of sacrifice hoping to live a better life in an independent state. Now, many Pakistani citizens seem to have this question in mind: Are we the citizens of Pakistan? They are Pakistani citizen by birth but do they enjoy the rights of citizenship? Do they have the right to life, the right to health, and the right to education? Do they have the freedom of movement, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of religion? One hypothetical example may illustrate how does an ordinary citizen of Pakistan think about his/her citizenship rights?
One fine morning, I was walking by the shrine of a famous sufi saint in Lahore (Data sb). I saw a poor boy sleeping on the footpath. A bunch of flies was hovering on his face. I woke him up and started talking to him. Our conversation proceeded as under:
Me: May I talk to you?
Boy: As you like.
Me: Why are you sleeping on the footpath?
Boy: I have no home. So, I sleep either on the footpath or under the metro bus bridge.
Me: Oh, sad. Don’t you know that you are a citizen of Pakistan and you have so many rights under the constitution? Why don’t you claim your rights from the rulers and the courts?
Boy: I do not think that I have any right as such. I have nothing to eat except the food I collect from garbage or beg from the people. I can hardly afford my clothes and have no roof. Thanks to the government who built the metro bus, I often sleep under its elevated road. I also do not think there exists any constitution or the courts for the poor people like me.
Me: You are mistaken. You are a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The constitution provides all rights which are available to the citizens of any other developed country.
Boy: I may be wrong but in my view Pakistan is neither ‘Islamic’ nor ‘Republic’ in true sense of the word. The constitution talks about the rights of some other people and not me. In Islam everyone is given equal rights. And republics provide basic rights to their citizens. So, mere mentioning of the basic rights in the constitution is meaningless without their implementation in letter and spirit.
Me: Then it is neither the fault of the constitution, nor the courts nor the rulers. It was/is your duty to get education and awareness about your rights. You are equal to any other citizen of the state. You are talking against the interest of the state without any justification.
Boy: I don’t think so. My father was handicapped so I could not afford even school education, what to talk of the awareness of my basic rights. Even those who go to school are not getting proper education. Many schools are working like commercial enterprises and seem least interested in imparting education. Moreover, there is a dual rather multi-layered education system in Pakistan and a poor child cannot get access to quality schools. The constitution might talk about the equality of citizens but in my case it is not true. I also do not think that the ‘right to education’ is for people like me (though written in the constitution). The state seems to be least interested in me so how can I think against the interest of the state?
Me: I think you lack information. The constitution also provides the ‘right to information’. You just need to know what are your rights are and how you can get those rights enforced through the courts.
Boy: Okay, after having conversation with you, I have got some idea that there is a constitution which narrates basic rights and there are also courts to protect those rights. I have also learned that there is some kind of government too. In my view, the courts and the government need to have more awareness about the poor people living in Pakistan. The people having power and state exchequer pass by the Data Darbar every day, they do not even bother to notice the presence of our species i.e., the poor. I think either they are colour blind or they intentionally ignore us.
Me: No, they have complete data of the poor and statistics of the increasing poverty in Pakistan. They are highly educated and enlightened men. How can they overlook you while you are standing or sleeping on the footpath? They are quite rich and generous too. You are blaming them without good reason due to your poverty/class difference. Those people are the real servants of the state and very sincere to the people of Pakistan. Don’t you know that they have taken an oath to serve the people of Pakistan?
Boy: I may be excused again but I don’t think they have taken such oath because a true Muslim always honours his/her oath. They might also be highly educated but they seem to lack vision. They cannot even see that the ordinary people of Pakistan are the actual strength of this country. How can Pakistan be a strong country when major portion of its population is suffering from poverty, illiteracy, and disease? They might also have lots of wealth, as you said, but to me they still look hungry.
Me: You talk too much. You need to know once again that you have every right given in the constitution. Is it not enough that you have so many rights and are a free citizen of Pakistan? You can move around freely and can eat anything from the shrine and beg from anyone you like. You can also sleep on the footpath or in a park. What else do you need, by the way? Are you not being thankless to God? Are you not talking against the interest of the state and the rulers? You should be ready to face the music as you are inciting others to claim their basic rights from the rulers. Is it not rebellion against the state?
Boy: God forbid if I say anything against my rulers. They are the chosen spirits. They represent the will of God on the earth (I think it is also written in the constitution). Perhaps, it is also the will of God, or my fault alone, that I am deprived of my basic rights. I love Pakistan and respect my rulers. My ancestors lost their lives for the creation of Pakistan and I have lost my identity as a citizen of Pakistan. I do not exist, I merely breathe like animals. Poverty, corruption, violation of merit and rights, and discrimination have shattered my confidence as a citizen. I am from a weak segment of the society. I may not bring any revolution. I pray for the poor. I am a faceless and nameless. Am I still a citizen of Pakistan?