Senseless, preventable deaths


It is almost as if control is viewed as a business in itself

2016 stands out as the year where we lost more than the usual number of good and talented people. Prominent among them was our own Abdul Sattar Edhi, a titan amongst men to whom the people of Pakistan, and others, will forever be grateful on a thousand fronts. We also lost the talented Junaid Jamshed and Amjad Sabri, and the gutsy Qandeel Baloch. Across the international arena those who died in 2016 included David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Fidel Castro, John Glenn, Richard Adams, and Debbie Reynolds, men and women of immense talent, skill and achievement whose deaths saddened us, and left us with a feeling of loss. But somehow what shook the world most was the election of Donald Trump, a man with a mediocre personality and few talents aside from making money, who now has access to the little red button. His election leaves the world feeling most truly vulnerable and shaken. Little can be done to ensure that events such as the election of Donald Trump do not occur again, other than to suggest that the people of the USA should learn a little more about the world and what happens in it. But there were other events in 2016 that it is possible to prevent from occurring again, given a bit of intelligence and honesty.

Of such events the one that stands out most for Pakistan, not least because it happened just as the year drew to a close was the death of about fifty persons in Toba Tek Singh as a result of consuming contaminated alcohol, leaving many others seriously ill. These were needless, criminal, senseless deaths which can be prevented in future by a more considered approach to policy.

You’d think that in this wonderful Islamic Republic of Pakistan alcohol would not pose a problem. Quite the contrary however is true.

The husbands of all three women working in our home were for many years addicted to alcohol, and one of them still is. Two of these couples are Muslim, the third is not. The husband of a fourth woman who comes for an hour each day to massage an elderly member of the family is the only one who has not been addicted now or before. That couple is Christian. That, and further such experiences and what one learns from other sources bears out three things. The first is that alcoholism is exceedingly common in Pakistan. The second that the anti-alcohol laws of the country, among the strictest in the world, have failed to work. The third is that an addiction to alcohol occurs – or does not occur independent of whether or not a religion allows the consumption of alcohol. By condemning certain practices aka declaring them haram, religion has done its job of bringing the ills of those practices to our notice. The rest is up to us to handle as intelligently as possible.

Like with most other social problems, widespread alcoholism has links to social conditions. That it is more widespread amongst the least well off classes in Pakistan as opposed to the upper middle class indicates that poverty and its related tensions and frustrations encourage the consumption of excessive alcohol, because it is used as a substance that numbs the mind. In the wake of the tragic event in Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan needs to re-examine its policies relating to alcohol. There is little point in banning a substance that is easily made at home, and which is easily available to whoever wishes to consume it, legally or otherwise. The problem lies with the quality of the substance that is available, and that is what should be monitored rather than the morals of the people of the country which are best left to a higher authority.

As with prostitution. Making prostitution illegal had no effect upon the business in Pakistan. The celebrated Hira Mandi in Lahore lost its lustre only because the persons running the business of prostitution relocated to other areas around the city, not because it ceased. On the contrary.

Increasing an awareness of the hazards of unprotected sex in countries where campaigns have been conducted on the other hand has had an effect on the incidence of sexually transmitted disease.

It is almost as if a control is viewed as a business in itself, a means of making money, by the persons licensed to sell the controlled object or service, as well as by those who are given the task of enforcing the control. At the end of the day, those who sell liquor legally in Pakistan and those who are supposed to enforce the no alcohol law both end up in pocket. As do those who manufacture alcohol illegally, mostly because they use such cheap and spurious ingredients and manufacturing methods. These are the people who must be targeted. For the users, they require education and relief from the deplorable conditions they live in. These are the things that will have results a ban can never achieve. If instead of indulging in verbal abuse and physical violence in places where laws are made our leaders give some thought to such matters Pakistan would become a better place for everyone.