The last time there was a revolution here, it was a misnomer. It was not even indigenous. It was an American transplant called ‘green’ because it concerned agriculture — even though it replaced healthy manure with chemical fertilizer that once constituted arsenals for mass killing during the world wars and thereafter. It had far reaching negative consequences in South Asia, including Pakistan.
Although few realized it, and most still don’t acknowledge or understand it, thus began the takeover of agriculture, the mainstay of most economies including the USA’s, eroding our attempts at democracy and badly needing countering by another kind of revolution. Since then, Pakistan has been easy economic prey for strategies formulated outside including grooming our own kind as experts, decision-makers, movers and shakers in the globalised mould far removed from local culture and needs.
If rights are for all people irrespective of gender, is revolution even possible when there are elements that insist on women remaining subservient on claimed but unconvincing religious grounds that violate fundamental human rights? From that point of view, has any previous government really been democratic in practice at the grassroots level? Women, after all, make up half of any population.
Having mostly powerless women in parliament has made little difference to the masses, whatever the lip-service. Denial persists about what would happen to the economy if the horrendously exploited unpaid and underpaid women were taken out of agriculture as well as contractual services, both home-based and factory-based.
It was under very different circumstances, but since oppression and tyranny are similar everywhere, women could take inspiration from the Russian Revolution almost a century ago. Most historians routinely ignore women except as an aside. But an About.com summary provides a little-quoted but illuminating part of women’s history
“On Thursday, February 23, 1917, women workers in Petrograd left their factories and entered the streets to protest. It was International Women’s Day and the women of Russia were ready to be heard. An estimated 90,000 women marched through the streets, shouting “Bread” and “Down With the Autocracy!” and “Stop the War!” These women were tired, hungry, and angry. They worked long hours in miserable conditions in order to feed their families because their husbands and fathers were at the front, fighting in World War I. They wanted change. They weren’t the only ones. The following day, more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest. Soon more people joined them and by Saturday, February 25, the city of Petrograd was basically shut down.”
Czar Nicolas was forced to abdicate a few days later, and he and his family came to a horrible end thereafter. It starkly illustrated that it doesn’t pay to ignore basic rights and needs. The instinct for survival, the unbearable sorrow over the helplessness to care for loved ones, the burning desire for revenge, people – or those among them left with enough strength and fighting spirit — will eventually revolt.
As Chris Blattman, an American commentator, put it plainly and simply: “You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little, things get worse and worse.”
Nothing really happens overnight. People are driven to a merciless extreme for inexplicably long periods, before they curl up and die … or react.
Not that all revolutions are or have to be violent. The most impressive political movement in recent history took place in the Philippines in 1986, from which the term “people power” came widely into use. The country had suffered not one but three colonizations, and their last so-called saviours bled the resource-rich country white as its leadership colluded with American takeover and control of the country’s assets.
Few know that for almost two decades, the Philippines crushed domestic economy was held up by an endless stream of tens and thousands of women workers, who migrated to work in the Arab oil-rich and other countries to earn foreign exchange while their husbands stayed behind to mind the children. — So much so that the government set up a department to facilitate their travel. They made popular employees because they were all educated and spoke English. They were not just domestic workers; they were nannies-cum-teachers too.
But the revolution didn’t work out in the long run, because in spite of the dictator Marcos having to flee, the same old political and corporate elements took over again later. The men at home didn’t organize or plan enough. — So much for women’s sacrifices.
Many opine a revolution’s been long overdue, first in 1971 when the country broke in two, to ensure that the conditions that led to it wouldn’t recur. That didn’t happen. Not even with the passing of General Ziaul Haq, or with the imposition of crippling structural adjustment policies by the World Bank/IMF — a devious way of legitimizing violation of rights and mass deprivation. Instead cosmetic democracies took over, but even those didn’t address the public interest or public participation or land reform, even though each had opportunity twice over. We’ve had both party and non-party elections without democracy.
Corruption seeped into each and every level of official and daily life, so that there’s no escape from paying ‘bhatta’ — to be allowed to work or do business or just to exist. Even the roadside vendor or daily-wage labourer isn’t exempt. As Ramadan wound up, despite Rangers operations, ‘bhatta’ collectors of various political colours turned up at people’s doorsteps to collect the 100-rupee ‘fitra’ per person.
Jobs in the public sector have been on sale or for allocation to favourites for decades now. It made life, including investing in local small enterprise, increasingly unaffordable, and with the mishandling of energy issues, impossible. The only recourse left is finding jobs abroad or joining up with organized crime: these somehow merge with local politics so that corruption is further entrenched. The police are corrupted beyond redemption and can only be undone by a parallel independent police and legal system exclusively for citizens, not the same law-and-order police muscle catering to ruling groups.
While state resources and assets meant to provide public services are undemocratically privatized and sold off, when unprecedented hunger and unemployment are not considered concerns, when vast tracts of public property needed for productive purposes are sold off to foreign investors and domestic fronts, what territory or sovereignty is there left for a state military to defend? — Or to earn and pay our bills with? Isn’t the unnecessary borrowing within less than a year the equivalent of what was borrowed in almost three decades, not something to worry about? What choices are left when even officialdom defies High Court and Supreme Court rulings?
In Pakistan, the process of movements unraveling, whether genuine or pretended, has been a familiar one. Dr Mark Almond, Professor in International Relations, explains it thus:
“Graceful exits are rare in revolutions, but the offer of secure retirement can speed up and smooth the change. But if insiders and the men with guns begin to question the wisdom of backing a regime - or can be bought off - then it implodes quickly. …..What collapses a regime is when insiders turn against it. So long as police, army and senior officials think they have more to lose by revolution than by defending a regime, then even mass protests can be defied and crushed. Remember Tiananmen Square.”
The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.