I think nothing makes us feel more alive than pushing ourselves to the limits, dreaming big, digging for new experiences and getting romantically involved; the trials and tribulations of hard days work, animal attraction, wanderings in to realms that have no precedents but have rewards beyond our wildest imagination and equally intensive challenges in shapes and forms that cross the normal human threshold. At least in my philosophy, call me narcissistic and some have over the years, or even elitist but that is my point of view. For now.
I also happen to believe that these are the attributes of a good researcher.
So I’m in Hong Kong (HK) now folks the most vertical city in the world and one of the four asian miracles of the 20th century; grossly inflated real estate prices, thriving capitalist service economy, cheap sea food, pricey vegetables, centre of a political shit storm (tussles with China), rather behaved residents minus the wacky taxi drivers, massage parlours (yes there are many) and typhoons all, for an experimental doctoral program that spans across, Asia and Europe.
However this post is not going to be about my experience with sushi buffets, dancing fire dragons manned by 50 strong or selfie sticks (yes there are devices now that makes selfie taking more professional. You better believe it!). This post will attempt to bring a perspective of a Karachiite to the massive street protests staged by HK students against their government for universal suffrage and democracy, a right they believe is being denied to them by the central government in China.
I left for HK from Karachi on the afternoon of August 31. You would recall that prior night, Imran Khan and the maschismo, Allama Dr. Sir. Tahir UlQadri’s revolutionary and freedom marches had boiled to a hostile standoff with law enforcement agencies in Islamabad. Tear gas, rubber bullets and aerial firing were used to ward of protestors. The political climate once again brought the affairs of our fragile state to yet another precarious moment in time. Media outlets, political parties, including the omnipresent establishment, scrambled to score points; revising stances and shifting allegiance to suit the perceived winds of change.
As is customary in such volatile times – and there are many in Karachi, so many in fact that volatility has lost its traditional sense of meaning – fuel stations are closed, cell phone services are terminated, law enforcement presence is increased, shops and markets are shuttered, at least during the day and the ones that remain open for business are coerced by political parties. To say that the KSE index drops down would not be enough as the working class finds it difficult to report for duty when public transport is suspended thereby affecting the entire economy. The whole fabric of society is thus affected when people chose to stay under the safety of their homes. The massive class divide becomes apparent even here, when the silent majority of urban Karachi, politically exhausted remains homebound and waits for the chaos to pass as it usually does, while the poor and zealous take active part. Some get killed and become collateral in these recurring events which are essentially power struggles among the elites.
So when I visited the protest sit-in at HK’s central financial district I was overwhelmed by the sheer level of organisation among the youth, which forms the bulk of the Occupy Central movement, and their resolve. The demonstrators that fluctuate between 10 to 50,000 have vowed to protest peacefully and not affect the routine functioning of the government. Every morning they collect and clear the trash that has accumulated on the site, distribute food and water, provide gas masks and goggles for new arrivals and keep a steady spray of water to account for the heat.
The general feeling of camaraderie becomes apparent when you participate in the hundreds of small conversations that are happening all over the site. Hong Kong like Pakistan was once a British colony and follows a legal system very similar to the common law system that Pakistan follows. In 1997 when the British formally handed the territory back to China, it was under the condition that the state would have universal suffrage and enjoy complete autonomy under a ‘one-country-two-system’ policy. So while HK has its own mini-constitution, independent judiciary, separate currency, law enforcement, electorate and legislators, it’s foreign policy and defence is under the control of the PRC government. The protests essentially are a part of the evolving nature of the executive authority of HK as it attempts to maintain its distinct identity while remaining part of China.
But I won’t start a political commentary here. Because, we students of political science are trained to look at matters objectively and as external observers which often dehumanises the process of change. Let me explain…
As I made my way through the heart of the protests, I saw children, adults, students alike camped together on the roads; sleeping, chatting, doing their home work etc. all very solemn however in the awareness that the future of their country and culture is at stake and genuinely believing that they can and will change the decision of the government. It didn’t matter that they represent a small percentage of the 7 million people living in HK, or that the PRC government and the Chief Executive both have announced not to budge on their initial ruling of vetting the candidates for the country’s highest office first by NPCSC. It dawned upon me how little credit I always give to the collective understanding of the people, always coming with prescriptions where in fact collective reasoning may prove just as beneficial if not more. Maybe this is what democracy stands for. The idea of a philosopher king following Plato’s school of thought which is a characteristic of authoritarian rule presumes an elitist perspective on governance. Maybe the existing order of HK represents this rule and maybe the state of HK has grown out of this form of governance?
These people are not the sheep that follow greener pasture trails or the fear of the whip, or that most destructive force, ‘the wrath of God’ unlike in Pakistan. There belief is supported by prominent local scholars of law and urban studies who are also the leaders of this movement. So there are flyers shared online, on social media platforms and distributed as hard copy that attempts to answer questions and educate an average Hong Konger; Why is this crisis taking place? Who are the players involved? What can we gain if they meet our demands? What is being done to maintain civility, law and order? There is even a path within the massive sit-in that ensures thoroughfare and everyone respects it…
In stark contrast to the 9mm pistol demonstrations, in Karachi that bring the entire city life to a grinding halt, or those festive concerts and rhetorical performances that promise to change the country overnight. Some people have argued that brutal force is the only way to get anything important done in the city. But have we forgotten, the May 2005 earth quake where citizens of Karachi made a peaceful and collective effort to send massive supplies to effected areas? When women, men, policeman, officers and politicians alike joined hands without any prejudice towards a common cause? Its a pity that it takes a natural calamity for us to act civil.
And yet, I am writing now to draw parallels so that we may also aspire to be citizens of Karachi in a real sense. Take ownership of our actions and our community heavens know our bread and butter depends on it. It may take a generation to realise it but the awareness for the process must start now! It is possible yet.