Karachi: Suddenly, out of the blue, one incident can jolt a group of people into corrective action. It breaks through their familiarity. It shatters apathy.
Simultaneously, several strong-willed, capable individuals are united in the knowledge that their own heart might intercept the next bullet that escapes a wayward weapon, unless they act this instant.
Shahzeb Khan, January 31, 1992 – December 25, 2012, was shot the night of his sister’s valima because of a tiff with members of a feudal family.
His murder was similar to millions of others in Pakistan.
The reasons for these tragedies are strikingly similar too; in the vacuum of law and order, some among us claim the right to kill others simply because they can. Even sadder is that we fail to refute this claim by our silence, our loss for words, and our lack of action.
Where similarities end and change begins is the attitude Shahzeb’s family has adopted towards their loss. A few hours after his murder, a Facebook page and Twitter hash tag were in place to raise awareness and support. Within two days, plans for a peaceful protest across Karachi and Lahore were hatched.
Less than a week after the tragedy, hundreds of people, most of them strangers to Shahzeb’s family, have marched alongside them to demand an end to disregard for life. They clutched banners and chanted for peace and justice. They lit candle flames and carried determination in their expressions and their hearts.
They were not afraid of speaking to the press, articulating their belief that the society they inhabit is not doing a good enough job of protecting their right to live. They were organised and purposeful. They sheltered women, holding hands on the fringes to keep the small community together and protected. They spoke in one voice, remembered a life lost, stopped in one place to reiterate that this pain is echoed through millions of families suffering today.
These people did not look helpless.
They did not sound weak.
They were passionate and disciplined, and they had a cause — the perfect ingredients in a recipe for change. The rallies were a miniature version of the larger community all of the protesters need Pakistan to be; a safe place where no feud and no feudal can murder.
Exactly a week later, over 50,000 people have condoled with Shahzeb’s family through social media. Political leaders have reached out to the grieving.
I am a perfect stranger to this boy, yet I write for him with tears in my eyes, because he could have been my friend, or my brother, or me.
I, like everyone else in that rally, know that some things lost cannot return. Shahzeb’s life is one of them. I also know that some things lost will not return unless we fight for them tooth and nail. Justice and peace are good examples.
There are so many fears that hold us back every day when our hearts and souls push us to do something about the ugliness in our surroundings.
There are questions. There is doubt.
What can I possibly do about something so magnanimous?
How can I alone fix anything?
When will this ever end?
Will we ever feel safe again?
How much more suffering?
And then one young brave girl, one handsome, treasured boy takes a bullet for us to understand that we are not alone.
We do not have to fix this by ourselves. There are more of us, more inquisitive, injured, anxious people who imagine change but do not move to implement it for fear of failure.
Yes it is difficult, perhaps unfathomable, to know how improvement will come. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a peaceful Karachi – or a safer Pakistan. It will take time. It will take courage. It will take a common vision. It will also take people who still believe in the possibility of peace.
Surely, our opinions of our own selves aren’t so low that we feel we do not deserve a better life than this? Can we not start small today?
It could be refusal to litter a public street with our trash. It could be a decision to volunteer for a local NGO. It could be walking in a rally toprotest against murder.
It could be use of social media, the ultimate asset, to garner support for a cause. It could be an idea we inspire, a group we found, an example we prove that sets the stage for progress.
If we decide not to wait for another life to be lost, it could be today that marks a new beginning.
This could be the instant when one innocent victim convinces us to act.