Pakistan needs a Hyde Park

Yes we need a Hyde Park! Hyde Park in London is famous for its scenic views and greenery but there is one more feature which adds reason to its fame. There, in Hyde Park, is a speaking corner, where one can say anything to anyone without fear of being caught. One can criticize government, can cry over some policy or lament upon things concerning him, irony is, no one will arrest him neither a case of any nature will be registered against him. He is free to express whatever he wants to.

Given the series of events happening in our country and the bills getting transformed into laws, it is imperative that Hyde Park must be built in our country too.

The political history of Pakistan is marked by many ups and downs and radical changes.

Some were pleasant while others came as a shock for masses. Some were expected, others were just thrown upon the people to tackle those themselves. Constitution is considered as one of the sacred books in a country. Ironically, this sacred book, in Pakistan, has been routinely changed, amended and trampled upon by those in corridors of power time and again.

The recent bill which has been passed by national assembly is a new addition to the tale of ironic amendments. It reads as: “anyone intentionally disrespecting the armed forces will be liable to the penalty of 5 lac rupees and imprisonment up to 2 years”. While a few hailed this as a ‘patriotic law’, a considerable number of people found it difficult to apprehend and comment upon. In a country where the culture of intellectual discourse is already shrinking, intolerance is rampant and hatred is unbridled, such law will prove to be last nail in the coffin of a civilized society.

What is disrespect? What is criticism? What is being sarcastic? If one gets to take a survey and ask people about these terms, one will find that masses often use these terms interchangeably and use these as synonyms of each other. The majority of the population is oblivious to the fact that there is a wide margin between these words. Criticism comes from someone who has closely and thoroughly analyzed a situation, found a flaw and directed towards that particular problem for the greater good of people. Sarcasm is a humoristic way of highlighting an issue which often is successful when it comes to social issues. Being disrespectful, however, is diametrically opposite to both of these which include abuses, misbehavior and undue tone towards someone. Having drawn a distinction between all these, one wonders if people of Pakistan have ever disrespected their armed forces?

Constructive criticism helps an institution to do away with the anomalies that are putting a dent on its name. Calling the criticism an act of disrespect underlines the rigid and i-am-always-right approach of those in power. This loosely worded law will be used excessively and dangerously for the witch-hunt of intellectuals who dare to call a spade a spade. Anything, which does not suite the demands of institution, will be called as disrespect and violator will be taken to task for this supposed crime. Moreover, what will be the rights granted to a violator? Will he/she be given a fair trial? Are there any chances of people accused of this crime getting acquittal? – are the areas which need an answer.

In our dear homeland, a common citizen is deprived of many rights and facilities. Citizens are deprived of quality education, basic and decent health facility, transportation system is in limbo, food insecurity is surging, right to fair and speedy trials is seen nowhere, security situation is volatile and governance is on ventilator. In such a scenario what can one do when he can do nothing? He can weep! He can cry! He can complain! He can criticize the concerned elite for the problems he faces. But unfortunately, citizens of Pakistan have been robbed off their ‘ right to weep and complain’ too. If one criticizes government, then the ruling party unleashes its supporters to demonize and belittle the person beyond limits. If one questions the working procedures of courts or a verdict, then ‘contempt of court’ is on its way towards him. If someone criticizes few individuals of armed forces or its people, then he is landing into jail for two years (still better than becoming a missing person). Such is the state of affairs in the land of pure. You can’t complain, you can’t question, you can’t resist, and the only option you are left with is to tolerate what so ever is being done to you.

So yes, we desperately need a Hyde Park! There should be a corner granted to the masses where they can cry, weep, whine- if not criticize those with the power, because slowly and gradually the common land is becoming a ‘no complain land’ for the people. There should be a place provided to the people which is well protected and where people can avail their freedom of speech and expression- at least on the ‘prescribed’ time.


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