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What to the slave?

Slavery has persisted through the ages. It is a heart-wrenching saga for the inhumanity and tragedy it entails.

Aristotle and Plato are considered the fathers of Western philosophy. They thought slaves were like animals, fit for labour and bondage only. A household without them was unthinkable. Aristotle described a slave as a living tool and the tool as a lifeless slave.

Frederik Douglass Keith was born into slavery. At the age of 21, he managed to flee and went on to become a famed abolitionist, author and statesman. In 1852, the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society invited him to give a Fourth of July US Independence Day speech; Douglass opted to speak a day later. On July 5, with President Millard Fillmore and prominent politicians in attendance, Douglass laid out a scathing indictment. The speech is acclaimed as one of the greatest examples of speaking truth to power.

After eulogizing the founding fathers of the US, Douglass asked: “Fellow-citizens, allow me to ask: why am I called upon to speak here today? What do those I represent have to do with your national independence? Your independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. Above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July”?

He went on to answer the question himself: “A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty of which he is the constant victim. To him, your swelling vanity, your sounds of rejoicing empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality; hollow mockery; mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy; a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages”.

We just celebrated our 76th Independence Day. An eerie coincidence, Douglass’s famous speech too was on the US’s 76th founding day. His words may well have been those of our own horrifically tortured child, Rizwana, still battling for her fragile life. They could have been of eight-year-old Zahra, beaten to death just because she had inadvertently set her employer’s parrots free while cleaning their cage.

The heart-wrenching question may have been from a 10-year-old hungry Kamran who was beaten to death by his employer just because he ate something from the fridge on Eid day, while his six-year-old brother Rizwan was critically injured. The words could have been an agonizing plea from 13-year-old Rafiq, or 16-year-old Azra and many more nameless and faceless children who were and are brutally tortured and murdered, some even sexually molested by their employers.

The vaunted 18th Amendment is a much-touted talisman of our rulers. Its Article 25(A) binds the government to provide free and compulsory education to each child between the ages of 5 and 16 years. With 44 per cent children out of school, a mind-boggling 22.8 million and the second-highest number in the world, the criminal travesty lies fully exposed. These out-of-school children are the breeding ground for predators and child labour.

A refugee boat with 291 Pakistanis capsized off the Greece coast. Youth unemployment at 31 per cent and dire economic woes forced these young people to embark on this dangerous trek. Our status is highlighted by the fact that even the callous human smugglers singled out Pakistanis and relegated them to the lower deck of the floating crate. Out of the 12 who survived, 11 chose to apply for asylum in Greece; only one returned to Pakistan.

A national day of mourning was called; the forlorn national flag flew at half-mast. The prime minister ordered an enquiry warning that “heads would roll”, the usual choreographed antics totally devoid of heart and intent. An eight-member JIT with members of the intelligence agencies is needed to investigate the brutal torture of Rizwana. It exposes the comatose criminal justice system that is supposed to protect our lives.

Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif kicked off his campaign trail in Kasur last week. He listed his achievements and those of his three-term prime minister brother who now jousts for a fourth term. The same day, criminal negligence claimed 38 more precious lives in yet another train accident. Despite reportedly knowing there were issues with the wheels, the Hazara Express was deliberately sent on its death run. The concerned minister absolved himself citing lack of resources.

Talking about resources, it took our rulers 76 years to discover our $6.1 trillion mineral bounty and our immense agricultural potential, otherwise a fact taught in junior school for decades. The promised billions and trillions that are said to start pouring in soon is further trivializing the agony of the people who see their lives and their children’s future already bartered away.

Douglass’s haunting words 76 years ago unequivocally charged: “America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. This 4th of July is yours, not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me”.

In his farewell speech to a parliament that bulldozed a spate of self-serving legislation, Bilawal Bhutto blamed older political leaders, including his elders, for making politics a minefield for the monarchical heirs rather than the entitled cakewalk it should have been.

There was neither a murmur nor an iota of remorse about the preventable circumstances that lead to little angels being tortured, thousands of deaths or the miserable plight of a multitude that has borne the excruciating brunt of the same elders’ rule. On our 76th Independence Day, this is what summarized the tragic tale of Pakistan.

Email: miradnanaziz@gmail.com

Mir Adnan Aziz, "What to the slave?," The News. 2023-08-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , Parliament , Politicians , Frederik Douglass Keith , Rizwana , Pakistan , JIT