By Yusra Askari
I was asked to moderate a panel discussion at the ‘Social Media Mela 2012’. Scheduled for the 14th of July, the debate was titled ‘Connecting with the World In Their Own Voice: Bridging the Mainstream Media Gap’ and focused on the challenges faced by region’s minorities.
Among the participants; Smita Choudhary, a rights activist working in Chattisgarh and from Kashmir, Sabbah Haji and Raheel Khursheed. Representing the minorities of Pakistan, Imran Jattala of the Ahmediya Times, Anthony Permal, a Pakistani Christian based in Dubai and rights activist, Irfan Ali, a member of Quetta’s Shia Hazara community.
The participants spoke passionately about the threats facing their respective communites. All in attendance agreed, one voice clearly stood out: Irfan ‘Khudi’ Ali. His anger at the apathy of policy makers was clearly evident. He pleaded to the audience to unite and condemn the discrimination against his community before it was too late.
Late we were, indeed. The very threat Irfan spoke about with such conviction became the end of him and 100+ others from his persecuted community in Quetta on January 10th. Last summer’s SOCMM debate, came alive right before us. As Irfan’s coffin lay under the open sky on Alamdaar Road, one couldn’t help but think: even in death, he was part of the change he wished to see.Indeed; ‘Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqder se pehle, Khuda bande se ye poche bata teri raza kia hai’
Both, though his activism and in the circumstances that lead to his death, Irfan embodies the challenges of a community struggling to hold its own, a people under constant threat. At the height of winter, as families of those killed in twin bombings in Quetta staged a sit-in on Alamdaar Road along with the caskets of their loved ones; the entire nation mourned for them and with them. In solidarity, simultaneous peaceful sit-ins began from Karachi to Khyber. Pakistan united in grief, demanding justice not only for those killed in Quetta, but also themselves.
People from all walks of life, hailing from diverse ethnicities and religious groups, stood alongside each other in peaceful protest- not a stone hurled, no public property vandalized. Public pressure weighed in and forced Prime Minister Ashraf and his team not only to head to Quetta but also enter negotiations with the protestors. It was only after an agreement was reached and Governor Rule imposed in the province that Quetta agreed to bury their dead. A nation awoke to the realization that the issue at hand no longer about ‘us’ and ‘them’ but the collective ‘we’ the situation impacts. There indeed is no power, like people power.