August 2016. The whole valley presents a gloomy look and our village is no exception to it. Tens of people have been killed, hundreds injured and many blinded in the mayhem that started on July, 9. It is 9 am. The internet services are snapped, roads blocked, shops closed and the ambience lulled as if it is shrouded. Some old men have started assembling near the Jamia masjid besides the main road. Their gossip is on and gradually 2 to 3 groups of young boys start huddling near the shop fronts, whispering. It is a normal scene of my village these days. Occasionally some loud voices come out because of argumentations between the boys. Amidst the fear and anxiety many rumors are high in the air and people are scared of saying anything in the open. So, as soon as the voices rise they fell to a whisper. A man in his early 50’s comes out of a street. His only son who is a student of class 8th in a private school hides himself for a while and then sneaks out. The man looks here and there furiously and after a thorough look he passes on, stops in the middle of the road, gathers his pheran over his shoulders and screams out, “Why are the schools closed? These teachers. Ah! They might be enjoying the holidays that have no end in sight. What about the future of the students? When would you start to compensate their loss? Would you ever? As he was giving vent to his anger and frustration, people watching there were awestruck. They could not believe their eyes and ears. For a while the ambience hushed. Then began the reaction. A wave of whispering disseminated. “He is such an opportunistic, selfish and short-sighted man that he puts a trivial issue before a larger cause”, a young boy murmured his dissent. The old man, as it appeared, had invited a public wrath and put himself deliberately in trouble. But all does not go as we speculate. Gradually a few village men began to take positives from his speech. It all started when a young boy pointed out hesitantly that though uncle has chosen a bad time to raise his voice, we should not out rightly reject his concerns. It harbingered a ‘let’s debate’ kind of situation. Eventually the focus of all the idlers sitting at shop fronts shifts from whether the protests should continue to whether the schools should be opened; from the number of lives lost to the conflict to the academic loss of the students. Thinking on such lines was iniquitous only a few hours ago. Though alienated for a few hours post ranting, next day he was seen accompanied by five contemporary men and a young boy. Gradually more people joined the discourse and a consensus developed on opening free tuition centers to compensate the loss of the students. Some volunteers joined in to make the program successful. It worked and eventually it paved the way for reopening of schools preceded by a private school where students of affluent families study. Its context aside, this and some analogous experiences instilled in me the belief that civil society has got a power and a greater role to play. It rises to the occasions and comes out with alternatives to deal with any kind of precarious situation. But of late some of its activities have filled me with apprehensions. For example, RET teachers are at loggerheads with the government from a long now and their fight for the restoration of their rights has proliferated during the past few months. Enough has been written on the subject as the heart wrenching stories of some of these teachers are enough to sear the hearts of even stone hearted people. Usually we see these teachers protesting for their salaries. It is a fact that they never get their salary without protesting for it and they have sort of become habitual of it. They leave their classrooms and hit the streets unabated. While we can’t question their right to protests as they don’t have much options at their disposal but we can deliberate on its repercussions on the student community. Why are the poor students becoming scapegoats in this tussle between the government and its employees? While checking a teacher’s attendance register of recent months I found that many days have been lost to teachers’ protests and other factors. It excludes the days lost to pen down strikes. It merits to mention that more than 70% of the teachers in government primary and upper primary schools are RET teachers. These teachers are in mental trauma as they are facing financial constraints and social apathy. Their cause is genuine and it is but natural that they would not be in a position to give their best in the classrooms. But whose sins are these children of a lesser God paying for? Adding to their sufferings these poor students lost almost a month to T-1 exams that could have been completed in a week.
The question that has been haunting me from a long has enabled me to reach to the bottom of this plight of the poor students. Man is by nature selfish and whenever he raises his voice against the injustices happening in the society, they are overtly or covertly motivated by his selfish motives. Wherever his own interests are not concerned he either opposes even the genuine cause or remains silent. Civil society and its role is a much hyped phrase prevalent in media circles these days. Who actually are those that represent civil society? It is those occupying the seats in the power corridors, the white-collar job holders, the business tycoons, and the affluent lot of the society. The parents of the students whose wards are admitted in these government run schools do not belong to any of the aforesaid categories. They are the poor, downtrodden and deprived lot. They can’t even use social media to voice their concerns as access to smart phones is a distant dream for them. They are mostly not allowed to represent the village level Awqaf and other such committees. They are not allowed to raise their voices in public circles as their every word comes from the mouth of an illiterate, the despised one. They are those gullible people who are just used and threw like tissue papers by politicians who manipulate them for getting gatherings and the subsequent benefits. Had the man who had raised his voice in my village in 2016 been one amongst them, he would have been silenced at that very instant. These inconspicuous people never get the courage and means to voice their concerns. There is a constant pressure developing on them that forces them to believe that they are a helpless lot and the only thing they can do is to endorse the decisions and consume. As Allama Iqbal says,