On the question of citizens


And their inalienable rights

One day, somewhere in April of 1989, A was sitting with his friends in one of the few private restaurants that he had in his country when talk about a revolution stirred up. He went to a protest in front of the Forbidden City. The square was full of people similar to A. They all were educated, some from within the country and some from outside, but they were all considered intellectuals. They demanded their political emancipation. The state also took action, disregarded their demands and crushed all the people residing in the square. A died there, dreaming of emancipation while finding it in his death.

A was a person who loved going to his university in Beijing, where he spent his time with his people, talking about how democracy can bring about a change to their lives and also how his ideas are different from the ones who still support the communist party.

One needs to ask the question that why is it that the rights that A wanted, that are agreed upon by the world, were not given to him by the state? Why is it that when the social movements are formed, whether that be on the idea of political freedom or inalienable right, the state resists to provide them with their demands? And, what happens when the existing order of the state is questioned by the people in their moment of defiance?

In the Pakistani political sphere, a death similar to that of A started a social movement that demand for the rights given theoretically in the bill of rights in Pakistan. But interestingly, this movement is being dealt with an iron fist. Taking the example of A and the PTM movement, one needs to ask the question that when a population deviates from the state narrative, attacks on the state directly or tries to build a narrative of their own, are they really people who are within the state or are they stateless? Why is it that the idea of being a citizen is taken for granted by the people who start a movement that may or may not turn into civil disobedience? One also needs to ask the question that is it not that the idea of citizen is only guaranteed by the state and through the state? And when the idea, narrative and order of the state are challenged, are not these challengers rendered stateless? Perhaps, there is a distinction that one needs to draw, between people who are living in the state and the people who are living within a country and are stateless and whether or not these stateless people are protected by the inalienable rights.

These actions of individual and actors, who in this Hobbesian world are continuously negotiating with the omnipotent state, are what matters

To that one even needs to question the existence of the inalienable rights. Hannah Arendt, a political thinker, draws a distinction between the rights of ‘Men’ and rights of the people, and she argues that it is the latter that is tangibly manifested in our world, while the former finds its existence in the realm of what is ‘ought to be’. And, it is only through the state that these rights are manifested and if powerful, the state can take away these inalienable rights whenever it wills. So in short, if something is taken away, something that can be alienated through coercion, narrative or belief system, then are they really inalienable? Can a civil movement really be ethical just because we believe that something is inalienable? Or is it just a threat to the power structure that the state maintains? In all cases, what logically appears to be the case is that in all sense, such rights are alienated from the people, through the power of the state, who are rendered stateless by their actions.

These actions of individual and actors, who in this Hobbesian world are continuously negotiating with the omnipotent state, are what matters. And whenever these actors are mobilised (in political and social movement) they always pose a threat to the existence of the state altogether. It is only logical for the state to either prevail or be lost in its demise. Although some might argue that these movements only bring about an evolution in state, but when the writ and power of the state is challenged, and when these movements prevail, is it not in essence a death of one state and rebirth of another? So whenever any movement in the name of democracy claims ethical ground for the sake of the people will always be the ultimate death of the existing state. In short, when agents, using their agency, start a movement against the state, it is this agency of the unknown that threatens to throw the state into an abyss of non-existence, and people like A are not the victim of state oppression, on the other hand an outcome of the preservation of the existence of the current state. Then the only question that one is left to ask is what matters more, the agent or the stagnant state?