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When tragedy strikes

Huzaima Bukhari

We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.Isabel Allende

Humans comprise one race, the characteristics of which, keep unfolding and continue to baffle psychologists. Amazingly, to a great extent one can foretell what an animal would do under certain conditions but in the case of human beings this certainty is missing despite innumerable researches, profiles mapped, theories presented, experiments conducted, conclusions drawn. Each time a new aspect emerges that overruns an earlier finding and thus we remain ignorant about the scope and depth of earthlings. Nonetheless, one thing can be assumed with a high level of confidence—response of humans when a calamity of intense magnitude strikes mankind. Majority is on one page and that is to render all possible support to the victims during these crucial times.

With Pakistan being devastated by floods and a sizeable population rendered homeless, there is no end to the requirement of aid and support for the victims. These are the moments in time that witness how a nation, no, the whole world, comes together to pool its resources for providing food, clothes and temporary shelter. Red alert signals flashed across the country shocked everyone, videos of devastation caused by floods circulated massively brought out empathy, pathetic condition of sufferers of all ages, even new-borns, moved the hardest of hearts and forced them to rush to their rescue. The federal and provincial governments with their paltry resources would have been helpless had it not been for the many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), generosity of the local people and that of other countries. At this point of time people belonging to all walks of life are out in the open, helping their fellow citizens come to terms with their afflictions. A twitter space held by the former prime minister of Pakistan attracted a considerable amount of Rs. 5 billion within no time.

In order to alleviate the misery of flood victims, money alone is insufficient as suggested by a good friend based in the United States. According to him, anybody with a heavy purse can throw money at the people in need and easily walk away from their problems. Money can never be enough to address the adverse effects of the disaster especially if it falls in the hands of the corrupt, incompetent and the insincere who are merely interested in exploiting the situation for their own benefit. He suggests that instead of pleading for money, NGOs having humanitarian inclinations should demand professionals like architects, engineers, managers and workers to contribute with their time and talents. Additionally, if domestic and foreign suppliers provide free building materials it would facilitate in setting up colonies for those who were deprived of their homes.

Taking a cue from Benjamin E. Mays: “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities,” one can easily say that many of our difficulties are on account of our own thinking and doings.

Culturally we have yet not evolved from petty ideas about what should be and what should not be. Our teleplays that are viewed with tremendous interest by the local and international audience depict different facets of society, examples of some are mentioned here. A girl child is not as welcome as a boy; boys are given preferential treatment compared to girls; dowry is of greater importance compared to education and good grooming therefore any money given to a poor is used to buy and store household goods for the daughter instead of investing it productively; questioning elders and teachers is still a taboo; there is lack of democracy in families where terms are mostly dictated by the males; one must silently tolerate injustice because we would be rewarded in the afterworld for our patience; it is the women who plot against other women and malign the minds of men because they have no grey matter to think for themselves; one must abstain from offending a powerful person or his family otherwise one would be subjected to a series of unimaginable consequences; maintaining an artificial standard attracts more respect than modest living; a spinster or a teenage girl is a source of insecurity to married women; and charity and donations are usually in the form of cash.

This may look like irrelevant babble under the topic of tragedy but the fact is that much of our life is affected by the media that is fundamental in building the nation’s morals especially in the absence of a sound educational system that is churning out mere automatons. Rather than glorifying the society’s filth in a glamorous manner, if stories having moral undertones were told, if plays highlighted the importance of religious and ethnic tolerance and if the concept of contentment was given more importance, perhaps this nation would have developed a more nurturing character based on realities and loyalty with the country. Cash dole-outs are prone to be misused by such victims who are more influenced by cultural norms therefore the need is to contribute in kind to enable them to revive their lives. As Helen Keller said: “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained,”


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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