I am not a good person

My six-year son, Arshad, recently came across an old scrapbook of photos. Pointing at one of them, he asked who the man in the photo was. This is Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, pacifist and non-conformist, who authored several books on history, philosophy, sociology, politics and education. He vehemently opposed the First World War and the Second World War. He was accused of being anti-state, anti-English and unpatriotic. Was he a good man?, I was asked. I think so, I replied.

Who is this black man? This is Martin Luther King Jr, a civil rights activist. He fought for the rights of black Americans and also protested against against the Vietnam War. A combination of his agitation and an anti-war movement forced the mightiest country on earth to withdraw its troops. Was he rewarded for saving millions of lives? my son asked. No, he was accused of being a foreign agent and being anti-state. Was he a good man? I think so, I replied.

Who is this woman? Oh, this is Arundhati Roy, an Indian novelist and an activist. Roy shot to fame after she received the Booker Prize for her novel, ‘The God of Small Things’. She also wrote on social and political issues and took part in the movements of the voiceless indigenous people of India who were displaced by various development projects, especially large dams. She also raised her voice for Kashmiris and other oppressed nations of the largest democracy besides expressing solidarity with Indian Maoists who are countering the three-pronged attack of Indian bourgeoisie, transnational monopolies and caste-promoting clergy. Was she rewarded for her struggle? No, she has been accused of being anti-state, unpatriotic and a cheap publicity seeker. Is she a good woman? I think so, I replied.

Who is this cigar-puffing man with a beautiful wrist watch?, asked Arshad. Oh, this is a great revolutionary poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. His poetry is a blend of romance and revolution. He used his poetic talent to raise a voice for the oppressed masses, and dedicated his life for the cause of workers and peasants. His books have been translated into several languages. Is he our national hero?, Arshad asked. No, unfortunately he was also accused of being anti-state, unpatriotic and a foreign agent. Was he a good man?. I think so, I replied.

Who is this lady? This is Mother of the Nation Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. She challenged the dictatorship of Gen Ayub Khan in the 1960s and contested the polls against the dictator. Was she treated well? I remained silent for a few moments and then I said that unfortunately she was also accused of being a foreign agent by the dictator. Was she a good woman? I think so, I replied.

Who is this angry looking young man? This is Hasan Nasir, a great revolutionary and student leader. He came from a rich family. On migration to Pakistan, he joined a revolution party. However, he was caught and the tortured to death at the Lahore Fort.

And who is this man with a smiling face? Oh this is Ahmed Faraz, a very famous poet of Pakistan who challenged the dictatorship of Gen Zia. Was he rewarded? Arshad asked. No, he had to flee the country during the martial law. Was he a good man? I think so, I replied.

Who is this policeman? This is not a policeman. This is General Ayub Khan. He usurped power in 1958, imposing martial law in the country, creating the famous 22 richest families in Pakistan and offering a joint defence pact to India against the possible onslaught of communism. He violated his own constitution by handing over power to Gen Yahya. Who was Yahya? Yahya’s critics believe that he was responsible for carrying out a military operation in East Bengal instead of transferring power to the elected party; and this partly culminated in the separation of that federating unit.

And who is this pious-looking person? This is General Zia. Prior to his arrival on political horizon, the country did not have even a single heroin addict or Kalashnikov. He hanged the first elected prime minister of the country, violated the sanctity of constitution (equating it to a piece of paper that could be torn), curbed all civil liberties and flogged political workers and journalists. He is accused of promoting religious bigotry, sectarianism and obscurantism. Were these guys trialled and punished? I remained silent.

Ok, leave it. Tell me: who is this smart-looking uncle? This is General Pervez Musharraf who toppled a democratic government and pampered the religious right at the same time as trying to fight extremism. He also violated the constitution and installed a puppet government. He must be in a jail then, my son concluded. No, I said. He is ill, severely ill, unable to walk properly.

Before he could ask any further questions, the breaking news on TV caught our attention. The newscaster excitedly reported the arrest of Dr Riaz of Karachi University. Seeing his picture on screen, Arshad asked: who is this bearded man? This is Dr Riaz, one of the few PhDs in applied chemistry who preferred to teach in Pakistan after completing their higher education from one of the most prestigious universities of the world. He is someone who has always spoken for the marginalised sections of society as well as against ethnicity, weaponisation, sectarianism, drone attacks and terrorism.

This made my son very sad. With a gloomy face, he said, “Baba, I think I am not a good person.” A bit upset, I asked him why. “Because I have never been accused of being anti-state or unpatriotic”.

Write By: Abdul Sattar

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