‘Civic Duty’ or ‘Civic Responsibility’?

By Khadija Khan



Meeting deadlines, struggling with organizational bureaucracy, and cold weather as well as absolute agitation over the ‘Signal Free Gulberg’ I snarled my way through the jam-packed traffic of Lahore’s boulevards. In all of the daily chaos, I looked at a frail old man holding a banner ‘’We Need Jinnah’s Pakistan’’. A lone ranger, I could recall having seen him a few times before, at the Liberty Chowk.

The combination of the 11oC temperature grappling Lahore, the sheer grit and determination with which he held the slogan over his head with a firm grip and a straight face posed intriguing questions, and compelled me to at least lend him an ear. His name is Mr. Ikram-ul-Haq (Rtd. Additional Managing Director of National Fertilizer Marketing Limited). At the age of 86, clearly having seen it all, achieved it all, he could care very little about fame or recognition. Upon my inquiry as to why he was out in the open in such cold, his concise words were:

‘’ Be it old age or cold weather, I am fulfilling my ‘Civic Duty’’

The utter contentment and pride in his tone left me awe-struck. With a sparkle in his eye, he talked about the greatness of this country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He spoke with a sparkle unbeknown to us the young generation of a time when it was not an obligation but a natural sentiment which drove people to contribute towards the ‘Pakistan Movement’. He spoke of dedicating his younger years from 1944 to 1948 for this great cause. Distributing a pamphlet, to interested candidates, he laid out manifestations of Jinnah’s ideology for a perfect secular state (a perfect Pakistan that is still a far cry from where we stand today). The manifestation was a proponent of the rule of law, transparent democratic rule, freedom of thought and choice, protection of life, limb and property, quality education for all, patience and above all honesty as a virtue.

It is pertinent to define and differentiate between ‘Civic Duty’ and ‘Civic Responsibility’. While, Civic Duty is the set of actions required by law for a citizen to perform, for instance abiding by the law, voting or paying taxes. On the contrary, ‘Civic Responsibility’ is actions performed by an individual as a goodwill gesture, that is, volunteering, recycling, and helping other citizens, so on.

Will it be safe to state that as a nation we are a tad bit behind on both our duty and responsibility? It was not up until the 2013 elections that a rigorous campaign for the non-voting populace was carried out by political newbies such as the PTI to come forward and end their self-proclaimed exile from the voting booths. Structural issues still continue to daunt our electoral process which includes a toothless and incompetent Election Commission, lack of constitutional rights for overseas Pakistanis to cast their ballots as well as electoral rigging reports and re-election fiascos. Fulfilling Civic Duties and Responsibilities tend to set nation states apart. The legendry heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali who defied his Civic Duty by not registering to fight in the Vietnam War was reprimanded. He was stripped of his boxing titles, arrested and shamed. He had to come out of retirement in the late 1970s as a shade of a boxer he once was. Therefore great nations require commitment to Civic Duty and Responsibility from their citizens.

So, While we mourn for the APS massacre, Bacha Khan University Attacks and the countless other terrorist attacks that haunt us as Pakistanis. Complain about nepotism, anti-secular sentiments, bribery and all the other ills within our society, do we even take a moment to ponder how and what we are practically contributing towards our primarily; Civic duty and then focus on the Civic Responsibility? Valuing principles over our individual gains or being doltishly played into an interminable hunger for more?

Various countries have different legally enforceable duties. For instance in Minneapolis, USA has made it enforceable by law to keep pavements free from snow. Although, Pakistan on the contrary is a developing country and frankly our law and order situation is not one to even consider highlighting. However, one of John Kennedy’s famous quote goes by,’’ Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’’

We can as a community stress less about the trending lawn frenzy, class divide, and status consciousness, religious differences and develop a more nationalistic approach to our problems. Develop a sense of community welfare and keeping movements for change alive. Gestures as small as compulsory primary education for all would result in holistic changes to our social fabric. Therefore, in the everyday commotion, Respected Mr.Ikram-ul-Haq proved as a pleasant nudge in the right direction. Are we merely becoming Anti-nationalists or Plain Apathetic?