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Torchbearers of humanity

Dr Parveen Rehman, 56, a renowned social activist working relentlessly for the poor and dispossessed, was ruthlessly gunned down on March 13, 2013 in Karachi while on her way home after work. The name of this great humanitarian and Director of the Orangi Pilot Project, that won a United Nations Habitat Award in 2001, will now feature in the list of thousands of people that have lost their lives at the hands of enemies of humanity.

The latest incident was the targeted killing of Professor Sibte Jafar, a prominent educationist and the principal of Government Degree College, Qasimabad, on March 18, 2013. These merciless murderers are bent upon depriving our society of the blessing of selfless persons who have opted to devote their lives for serving fellow human beings.

Dr Perveen, an architect activist, spent 30 years in serving the poor, providing low cost housing, micro credit and sanitation to some poverty-stricken Pakistanis following the Participatory Development theory of the renowned progressive Nobel prize nominee Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan who had launched Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi and changed (of course with assistance of Parveen and others) the living conditions of occupants of the largest slum of this part of the world.

Simple and committed, Parveen believed in self-help and utilising local resources. While leading dozens of socially active organisations and groups in all parts of the country, she resisted mega projects funded by the World Bank and other imperialist donors. She was continuously receiving threats from land mafias for standing firmly against displacement of the poor inhabitants. She showed extraordinary steadfastness and sacrificed her life for the cause she stood for. To accomplish her mission, which she pursued wholeheartedly for three decades, she even denounced marriage. Content with receiving a few thousands as salary, she spent the life of a Sufi – a devout servant of masses. Popularly known as Mother of Karachi, she also spent her life taking care of her octogenarian ailing mother.

Noble men and women – Abdus Sattar Edhi, Bilquis Edhi, Mother Teresa, Ardshir Cowasjee, Dr Ali Haider, Dr Adeeb Rizvi (SIUT Karachi), Shehzad Roy, just to name a few who, with their whole-hearted devotion to serve humanity, quickly win support and love of society’s hapless and downtrodden. Dr Parveen will be remembered as amongst this illustrious class of benefactors.

Where the materialistic worldly advantages attract many high ranking professionals, taking them to distant countries where money, luxury and security are not scarce commodities, there are many others who feel that working for the cause of humanity far surpasses these temporary benefits. They decline lucrative offers only to turn their attention towards the destitute, millions having lost any prospects for salvage. Dr Parveen became the hope of the hopeless. She devoted her life and all her energies to bring them out of plight and misery. She chose a hermit’s life rather than bathe luxuriously in the glory of money and power. She preferred facing difficulties only to ease out complexities from the lives of those who cannot help themselves. No matter how frail she was, she courageously stood up against brutal oppressors only to fight for the rights of the poor, dispossessed and victims of high-handedness. Is her crime of serving humanity so appalling that she deserved to be killed in cold-blood?

It takes many years of effort to nurture and develop a person like Dr Parveen into a full-grown intellectual or professional capable of sound work and ability to act for the betterment of one and all. In a country where the meaning of human life has lost its meaning and blood has become cheaper than water, each day someone is mercilessly slain, each day we lose a precious soul whose existence is a source of blessing for innumerable other human beings. We all have to die one day but premature death and that too at the hands of paid assassins working for the aggrandisement of a handful of power-hungry criminals, is simply intolerable.

Killing human beings whether in the name of ethnic cleansing, sectarian bias, hatred, or blasphemy, by itself is condemnable but killing a noble person who has dedicated his/her life for the cause of humanity is an unpardonable sin. In a world where selfishness is the order of the day, where people thrive at the expense of others, where close relatives easily usurp the rights of their kith and kin, where the rich waste millions on their petty cravings while millions are forced to beg for food, where a mighty few conveniently trample upon the belongings and souls of the weaker segments of society as if they are totally worthless or have no right to live; presence of a caring, generous, righteous and courageous benefactor is a breath of fresh air for those who have lost their trust in humanity. Such people need to be respected, cherished, eulogised and glorified as they are role models and their existence is a strong support for those who cannot carry the burden of their lives.

It must be emphasised that extinguishing these torches before they can spread their light to every nook and cranny of the country is like asking for the doomsday long before it is destined. Let us pray for Dr Parveen and all others, and condemn vehemently their ruthless murderers – instil their thoughts, enthusiasm and hard work in our own minds and hearts as well as that of our coming generations. Let light not be restrained by darkness.

(The writers are visiting faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

Email: huzaima@huzaimaikram.com and ikram@huzaimaikram.com

Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq, "Torchbearers of humanity," Business recorder. 2013-03-22.

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