ISLAMABAD:(Umar Cheema) The wee hours of late Saturday brought a metamorphosis in my life. Not just that I was muffled, picked up, tortured, and humiliated. No absolutely not. Rather the torture has removed the remaining fear, if there was any in my heart and mind, and has instead given me the realization that we have to die fighting for this country.
My love for this country is based on some reasoning which is inspired by my firm belief that we can neither change our past nor our national identity. I learned this during my stay abroad for one and a half years when I went for studies, first in the US and then in UK. Lord Curzon’s words that “exile is a nursery of nationalism” always keep resounding in my ears.
Let us suppose I decide to settle abroad. I will again be Pakistani-British or Pakistani-American and the prefix ‘Pakistan’ cannot be dropped from my identity. It is always counted where you’re rooted in. So I have to stay attached and take care of my country wherever I am.
Having decided to live and die on this land, I have a dream to see Pakistan where brains, not batons reign supreme, where people can question the use of public money, where all institutions can be held accountable without any fear or favour, where our children love to live instead of fear to live, and where we are governed by the rule of law and not on the basis of personal loyalties.
The message of my captors for me was to become a status quo abiding person, not law abiding. They forced me through violence to accept their views and become a silent spectator to the rot without questioning what was happening to my beloved country.
I instead learned a different lesson from the torture and humiliation, to stand guard for this country, help the oppressed, keep questioning the high and mighty and continue the struggle to make this land livable and safe for the next generation.
The captors thought themselves to be heroes but emerged as villains and will go down in the history with same status. I feel pity for them. They were born innocent but forced to become sick minds. Instead of cursing them, I only pray for them because they don’t know we’re fighting for their betterment too.
My captors were probably not aware that I was also hit by a car in December 2004 that left me with compound fractures in my left leg. But I never bowed to those attackers either. Although I’ve forgiven my captors but not forgotten the perpetrators of this act that should be exposed and this mind-set be eliminated once and for all.
I believe in reporting with a moral force without any personal grudge against anybody or any institution. Whenever I write about anyone, the concerned people have always been approached for their version to balance my reporting. It is however a different story that those without answers to our questions try to propagate as if the stories are being planted and we are being bribed for doing this.
Such excuses are crafted by the individuals and institutions not inclined to revisit their conduct. But they don’t know that we, by virtue of our profession, have been tasked to unfold the truth, no matter who is affected by whatever way.
Some consider journalism as a shortcut to rise on the ladder to political power but we are here to protect the interest of people, neither our own nor of the rulers.
I have no words to thank so many of my well-wishers in Pakistan and abroad for consoling me and praying for me. I didn’t know many of them before. I was amazed to note how they struggled to reach me. Due to the flood of calls, I could not attend most of them. It was a silent majority that rose against the oppression of a tiny minority claiming to have monopoly on violence.
There was a mixed reaction to this incident. Those who didn’t know me gave me a new strength and conviction, emboldened me further and offered all-out help. People, who know me for years, were concerned about me and my family’s security. They think that I should think about my children. This is a question which comes to every parent’s mind. I would like to explain that the fight we are into is for my children and for the children of all Pakistanis.
We have to see the broader picture. Pakistani media is fighting the war for the future of this country. The country’s neighbours China and India, are emerging as superpowers but we, in spite of our immense capabilities, are on the decline. There are many who are even worried about its existence. The situation calls for internal accountability and restructuring the society but vested interests and pro-status quo forces seem to be strong, at least for the moment.
But we have to fight on and they don’t realize that a change is in progress, it is bound to come, sooner than later. I’m ready to pay any price for speaking up. Thomas Horaceman, who is considered the father of the public education system in US had said: “One should feel ashamed to die until one has done anything for humanity.” And I stand by his words.