Human rights begin at home.
Like a stylus stuck in a repetitive loop, the loudest demand for ‘human rights in Afghanistan’ comes from those who have themselves been the worst violators of human rights in the entire history of humankind. Ever preaching ‘human rights’ to others, it was the pretentious United States that bombed and ruthlessly killed millions of men, women and children in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. These barbarities were actively participated by the UK and other European allies. The duplicity of the ‘human rights’ standards could not have been more ironic.
Nearer at home, many human rights organisations and intellectuals have for years mindlessly mimicked the ideas and words of this fake Western ‘human rights’ construct. Not an eyebrow is raised when millions of undernourished, underpaid and exploited janitors are deprived of their human and legal rights, made to sweep the streets and remove the clogged faeces from the sewage gutters with their bare hands. This has been happening every day for the last 74 years, in full public view, in every municipality of Pakistan.
To pick just two examples. Hyderabad Municipality Corporation has 1,700 janitors who work as contract employees. These children of a lesser god are paid inhuman and illegal wages of Rs14,000 per month. They are neither registered with EOBI nor with Social Security. They have no option but to sweep till their dying day.
CDA provides municipal services in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. Its sanitation functions are performed by a fleet of 1,400 contracted janitors. These helpless individuals are paid illegal wages of Rs15,000 per month in blatant violation of the federal minimum wage of Rs20,000. They perform a 12-hour duty every day and are registered neither with EOBI nor with Social Security. Many are 80-plus but must continue performing sanitary duties. They are the invisible face of the ‘modern-day slavery’ in Pakistan.
A yet more serious violation of human rights is caused by dead or dysfunctional institutions. Little is said about the fact that the people of Sindh have been deprived of their Right to Information granted by Article 19 of the Constitution, as its RTI Commission was only marginally functional for the last three years and has completely ceased to exist for the past three months. Little do we hear about ZARRA, an institution that was to be established in 2020 to protect our missing and abused children. No such institution exists on the ground. Little does the Pakistani elite talk about EOBI, an institution that was to arrange for the old-age pension of workers. It is as good as not being there. The list of such parasite institutions is endless.
True progress is possible only when we begin our concern for human rights from the most downtrodden section of our society. Only if our privileged organisations and individuals could raise their voice for a single national Helpline, where any citizen could report if he or she received less than minimum legal wage or was excluded from EOBI or Social Security. Likewise, the daily incidents of abuse and violence against women and children could be reduced by establishing ZARRA and a single effective nationwide Helpline.
It is possible for Pakistan to become a progressive modern state if its elite and intellectuals were to raise their voice to uplift the plight of 90 million workers drenched in disease, poverty and misery. Likewise we could end the violence against women and children if we were to adopt modern digital techniques, responsive Helplines and efficient organisations similar to the NCOC that managed the Covid pandemic for Pakistan. Human rights, like charity, must begin at home. It is time to review and not echo the narratives of fake liberal democracies and false human rights as advocated by their own worst practitioners.