An account of a night at the hunger strike camp
“If all the students rise up against it, no oppression can last in this country” said the middle-aged man with a gleam of hope sparkling in his eyes that moment. The next moment that gleam vanished and my attention returned to the premature wrinkles on the forehead of this otherwise strong and healthy man. He was a not any political leader egging students into revolting – he was a policemen stationed to harass the student protester.
As we sat observing the hunger strike, we, the students, were vowing not to quit until our arrested colleagues are released. We had a detailed conversation with him and other policemen after accosting them and giving them one of our coal heaters. We had a long and cold night ahead of us - on the footpath outside the Lahore Press Club, the students and the police were in it together. The lines on their foreheads, their knits brows just like the sad tone of their voices eloquently told the tragic tale of our nation – the story of a nation marred by repeated oppression, persistent deep-rooted social injustice, unfulfilled dreams and the frequent corruption of otherwise noble souls. Indeed, writ in those lines was the story of humans miserably trapped in a system that pushes some into oppression, others into helplessness and most into ignorance.
It’s a strange thing. We were supposed to be enemies – the police and students. But we became friends. The truth is that some powers want to pit the people versus the state. They cannot succeed because the state, after all, is comprised of countless humans, none of whom can be completely beyond the appeal of conscience and reason, no matter how miserable constrained by material circumstances they may be. The police constables cannot help arresting, tear-gassing or baton-charging us when ordered to do so by those who control the bread and butter of their families. But their hearts and minds are theirs and there we have scored a clear victory over the powers-that-be. That is why, in the longest run, the people stand assured of victory in their battle with the state. The people are everywhere, within and outside the state, and in their hearts and minds they stand united in opposition to centuries of exploitation and oppression. They are united also in their hope that the youth of this nation will herald the coming of a brighter dawn than that in which their elders have lived their lives.
Lying on the footpath, as the night grew darker and colder around us, and our hunger increased by the moment, hope was all we needed – hope that the night will soon be over, that our fellows will be released and that life will soon get back to normal. May be it true that no one can completely live life off hope; but you can pass the night with just that. We, however, had a lot of other things to keep us busy - keeping the coal heater alive, maneuvering to fit all into the scarce razais, singing songs and reciting poetry of all sorts. Then, there was strategy-making but that is just another form of hope.
Dawn did break. The road became busier. More people, in buses, cars, on rickshaws, bicycles and on foot started passing. Some looked, others stated, yet others stopped to talk and some gestured support. We showed the victory sign to every passing police vehicle and got quite a few similar gestures in return – we have a video to prove that, but it is, of course, confidential. May be, the cold and hunger we went through does not soften the hearts of rulers who have caged our fellows. But it taught us what Pervez Musharraf and his cronies - who have never spent a night protesting on the footpath to solicit the people’s support - will, unfortunately, never learn. That lesson is: the people are with us as we resist the entrenched, systemic oppression rampant in this country. With all their machinations, tricks, frauds and bribes, they will never get as much love and sympathy from God’s people as we gathered in that one night, lying exhausted on a cold footpath. We don’t know if our hunger strike will succeed in getting our arrested fellows bailed out. But the hand that controls destiny has bestowed upon us a lot of other valuables – including the admiration of policemen deployed to harass us and the sympathy of thousands of ordinary passers-by.