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Barbed wire

It’s like we grew up with the duty to make life difficult for others, before they could make it difficult for us.

June 26 was not a normal day, it was Eid, and like always in Lahore, places of interest like Race Course Park on Jail Road, Fortress Stadium and the likes, were overflowing with people.
This happens on every holiday.
On June 26, the hordes of people coming to Race Course Park were met not with Lahore’s authorities safely facilitating them, to enter the park, and enjoy what they could of an extremely hot day.
They were met with barbed wire spread on the footpath and the green belts outside the park.
The barbed wire is still there, a reminder that public footpaths and roads are not there for the common public to enjoy, they are there to scare them to just stay at home, or walk into the path of a speeding car.
There was no traffic warden helping the people on Jail Road to safely reach the park, advising where to park (there was no parking thanks to the barbed wire everywhere) – the traffic police was busy lifting cars of poor unsuspecting holiday makers on Jail Road, and laying down more barbed wire and roadblocks that further clogged the traffic.

In the urban planning nightmare that Lahore has become, one wonders if the purpose of a hundred security stops and blockaded u-turns is to protect people or to harass them? In GOR 1, where many a state official live in an idyllic walled community, VIP vehicles and motorcades are waved through, while in the corner of the community gates, there is a tiny opening and mental detector, where there is a long queue of people unfortunate enough not to possess a car.
Most of these people are domestic staff and workers, and come to the GOR 1 gates daily – but their security check (or harassment) is also a daily activity.

Who decides these things? Who gives the orders to throw around barbed wire in the city like confetti, unafraid that a child might run into it? Who decides where to place a road block today, without thinking about the intense traffic jam the city will face? Who is being protected when VIP cordons still exist, and the lower-income family’s car gets towed by the police for no better reason that, “Jee, yahan garhi khari karna mana hai”?

A few months ago, while crossing the security cordon outside Fortress Stadium, a young soldier stopped my car.
He didn’t ask for identification or check the car.
He just reprimanded my driver (who admittedly has an angry face in general) for not looking at him in the right way (aap neh shakal banai hai mujhe).
The common man doesn’t even have the freedom to frown or smile as he wants to, without being a security risk.
The uncommon man, with the sarkari numberplate and tinted car windows is the only one with the freedom to pull faces at everyone else, as he speeds through Lahore, with his security team trailing behind him giving the common folk the stink eye.

And the sad fact is that all of us in this common mess, the rickshaw driver that cant park his rickshaw outside a park on Eid of all days, and the traffic warden threatening him, both belong to the same social strata and have similar problem of long working hours, low wages and a system bent on keep them locked into their economic problem.
The common man is the one who makes the common man miserable, whether by design or nature.
There is no sympathy for the little guy, no compassion for his wife and kids.

A while ago, my cellphone was stolen in broad daylight, at a busy Mall Road crossing.
There was no traffic warden in sight, and no way for me to call the police.
I stopped at the nearest security cordon at the start of Sherpao Bridge.
There were only army personnel.
Scared after a daylight robbery, I stopped my car, and was immediately asked to leave because I was bothering the traffic.
I said I needed help, and was told they could not help.
They were not police.
I asked them to call the police for me, since my phone was stolen.
They said they could not, they had no phone.
I was just an ordinary person, alone, a victim of a minor crime.
There was no help that day if anything more serious had happened.
There is no help for us, only barbed wire.

There has got to be a better way to run our cities.
There is no barbed wire in markets and outside restaurants in DHA.
There are no cars being lifted in Gulberg in busy areas like MM Alam road.
There are no public fights of a man in a Suzuki Mehran or on a motorbike with a traffic warden outside the expensive restaurants of Lahore.
The ire of security is titled to wards the little guy, who can only afford to take his family to the park on Eid, not the overpriced coffee shop in Mall 1.
Many times it makes no sense.
This is how we behave because the VIP culture is so embedded in our social life.

Most of us in Pakistan think about what our lives would be if we were born in rich families, if we had contacts in the upper strata of the police or army, if we belonged to a political dynasty… our clothes would be cleaner, our children better educated, our life easier and safer.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
The common man, if he is respected and aided by the officials of his community, can life a contented life.
No Pakistani is shallow or one-dimensional enough to think that money solves all problems, but that’s where our system has pushed us.
If you have money, you don’t even have to notice the barbed wire on the footpath from your air-conditioned Mercedes.
When a majority of Pakistanis are living a life where they are just trying to get by, and dreams of winning the lottery are just dreams, kindness on the streets will go a long way.
If the local official, the local bureaucrat, the local police man does not show compassion, blocks rather than facilitates, what scope is there for the common man to respect them in return? To respect the rule of law that is never on their side? There are a million problems to fix in the way the police and bureaucracy works, but the easiest change to make is to be patient and kind.
Imagine a city where the policeman is as respectful to the man on a cycle going to work at below minimum wage, as he is to the VIP politician.
If we don’t build our communities out of respect and kindness, if the common man and policeman are not on the same side, we pit ourselves against the system.
While the common man fights over scraps, the VIP gets away by throwing money at the problem.

Almost a week later, there is still barbed wire on the footpath, which is owned by the people, not by the state.
It is unsafe, mean, and a reminder how difficult life is for a common Pakistani.

Gardezi, Saadia. Barbed wire. The Nation, July 3, 2017.

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