A NEW UNIFORM, PLEASE?
In the midst of the sectarianism, murder and mayhem besieging our land, the charred remains of a burnt-out story rose up and whispered to me above all the din. That of 13 year old Kamran Khan, who committed suicide last week by pouring petrol on his body and setting himself on fire.
It wasn’t because of America’s war against terror, or India’s covert operations, that a boy as young as 13 felt compelled to end his own life. It was because of his poverty-stricken family’s inability to buy the child a new uniform when his old pair became tattered enough to start causing him embarrassment in front of his peers. Even as I pen these words, I’m struck afresh by the magnitude of this tragedy.
After Kamran’s father moved to Saudia Arabia in search of a livelihood that he ultimately couldn’t secure, the financial stress faced by his mother was enough to make him drop out of school and start selling scrap. When his principal found out, he offered to re-enrol Kamran at his school for free. That wasn’t to prove enough of a lifeline for the child, however, and in the desire for a new uniform, he burnt himself to death.
Pakistan, these are your real problems, these are your real tragedies, and these are the people you need to focus your energies on. America, India, or even the entire list of our ‘sworn enemies’ added together are not the culprit here. Rather, it’s the failure to provide our citizens with the very basic of necessities that has led to Kamran’s suicide. You need to have surpassed your threshold of endurance and resilience to do that. And for a 13 year old boy to have surpassed his, is a matter of immense shame for our entire nation.
The HRCPs annual report, ‘State of Human Rights 2011’, states that everyday there are as many as five to six teenage suicide attempts in Karachi alone, a result of the poverty and uncertainty plaguing our coming generation; the very generation we should be investing in.
These disillusioned teenagers are supposed to be our assets. Instead we’ve plunged them into darkness and set them on the journey of no return. When everyone from the top of the ladder to the bottom is corrupt and self-obsessed, what hope for the common man?
Can we ever hope for a model like that in the UK where no matter how poor a man is, at least his basic needs are met by the state, from a free world-class schooling for his children that even pays for their lunches if he can’t afford them, to free medical? Where an unemployed person receives unemployment benefits, a disabled person receives disability benefits, and a single mother who’s working to bring up her children receives income support benefits? Where parents start receiving money in the form of child tax to help with the family’s rising budget every time a baby is born? Can we ever expect that much support from our government, given as every Pakistanis right?
If we did, Kamran’s mother would’ve been able to buy her son a new uniform when he begged and pleaded with her; his dying wish as it turned out.
These ideals of welfare are also extended in form of aid to countries like ours. The £200 million British-funded school-enrolment campaign launched in Pakhtunkhwa this month might’ve come too late for Kamran, but it will help ensure that a tragedy like his isn’t repeated, by helping 80,000 needy students stay in school through 2015. It won’t just pay their fees but also provide them a modest stipend, and fund the construction of new schools.
What’s sad is that these ideals of welfare, charity and humanity aren’t just Western ideals, but are an integral part of our Islamic values that we, as a Muslim country, should not just be actively engaging in, but promoting world-over. We should be the beacon of these principles, and should be known for the positive role we play in terms of human development and welfare. Instead, we’re too busy blaming everything from the speck of dust on our furniture to the fly buzzing around our heads on the West, to give any importance to the one thing that really matter; our citizens. What hope of a cure when the correct diagnosis isn’t given?
Unless we’re prepared to abandon the anti-western paranoia gripping us, and subject ourselves to a gruelling process of self-analysis and accountability we can never hope to provide a sound and stable socio-economic environment for our children to grow up in.
And until that happens, there may be many more Kamran Khans for Pakistan yet.