No genie in the bottle

To improve the state of Karachi, the mind sets of those residing within it must be altered

The city of lights once again roars with cheer. Seats are lined by a sea of faces with placards squeezed in between. Shrieks of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ follow every swing. Music blares across the field. Then somebody lifts the cup and the lights are turned off. The people scatter home. It is said the spectators are proof of a new era; the flag flutters between winds of change. But can we really build a bright new Pakistan with dirty old habits?

Behold: wrappers strewn across the field, empty bottles rolling down steps, placards left behind on seats. Pictures of the desecrated National Stadium were shared by the non-profit organisation Fix it on social media, exposing the hypocrisy underlying our chants for change. For years Karachi’s inhabitants have complained about its cleanliness issues, yet within hours the very same residents turned a recreational space into a garbage dump. Does this not make their demands for a clean and green city ironic? If it does, is it then not unjust to jab politicians in the chest for inaction?

An old saying goes, even if all the word’s wealth is redistributed evenly, eventually the distinction between rich and poor will re-emerge. Similarly, given the blame game approach currently being taken by Karachi’s residents, even if all the filth filling our city is cleared away, there will always be dirty and clean streets. The authorities responsible for timely collection and adequate disposal of garbage have no doubt failed us. But we are equally responsible for the foul condition of Karachi by seeking to instil a fear of the law, as opposed to encouraging a sense of social responsibility.

Stringent legislation and its immediate implementation has always been the go-to solution for analysts and the common man alike. Recently Sindh’s government, under Section 144(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898,imposed a ban on dumping garbage by any private citizen, municipal staff, or contractor’s staff, at any other locations than those specified throughout the province. Accordingly, Karachi police began taking action against those violating the order. Two suspects — Abdul Qadir and Irfan — were arrested for allegedly throwing garbage on a main road in Karachi’s old city area. An FIR was registered against them under Section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code — that is, ‘disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant’ – before they were shortly released on bail.

As per the latest census results,Karachi’s population alone is 14.9 million. One is then left to wonder how many black hats must be arrested before the law is taken seriously by every citizen. Moreover, between catching murderers, muggers and extortionists crawling through the city’s dark under belly in large numbers, should our police really have to comb through streets arresting those who litter? And why must one be punished in order to accept social responsibility? Are then, our dreams of a prosperous Pakistan futile?

August 14, and March 23, are celebrated with great pomp and circumstance to mark the birth of Pakistan. But unsanitary habits go against the very religion upon which our nation was founded. Before and since 1947, Islam has been deeply integrated into Pakistan’s nation building process. We boast of being the first Islamic country to have a female Prime Minister. We assert influence in international circles by being a Muslim nation with nuclear weapons. We kill neighbours in the name of blasphemy. We riot to safeguard the Khatm-e-Nubuwaat clause. Yet we forget that cleanliness is considered half the faith.

The authorities responsible for timely collection and adequate disposal of garbage have no doubt failed us. But we are equally responsible for the foul condition of Karachi by seeking to instil a fear of the law, as opposed to encouraging a sense of social responsibility

Islam mandates a hygienic lifestyle. During the Middle Ages, when other civilisations were rapidly succumbing to diseases, a Muslim’s need to perform ablutions and maintain clean spaces made him less susceptible to epidemics. During this period, the Muslim city of Cordoba in Spain, then home to over half a million inhabitants, had running water and was cleared of rubbish nightly.  At the same time, roughly ten thousand Londoners used the river Thames as their sewer and walked through garbage lined streets daily.

Today our Islamic Republic has regressed in its ways. Offal is thrown on the roads during Eid al-Adha. Worshippers spit on walls before they enter a mosque sitting on the same street. Yet we rant and rave for change standing passively. Once in a blue moon, the city’s foul state is brought up. Eventually the ruckus dies down. Karachi’s residents once again patiently wait for someone to bring change. But there is no genie in the bottle. Irrespective of who takes control of the city through the upcoming elections, if Karachi’s residents are hell bent, due to pure lethargy and habitual comfort, on ensuring their city stays dirty, nothing can ever change.

Renowned poet Rumi once wrote: ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’ Without the people which give it life, Karachi is just a large chunk of land. Thus to improve the city’s state, the mindsets of those residing within it must be altered. Small steps can pave the way to great change. So roll the window back up and hold on to your rubbish till you reach a bin.

The writer has a master’s in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She tweets @mawish_m

Published in Daily Times, April 9th 2018.