"It's just a rock, I'm fine. Don't worry." I said to my friend standing next to me, blinking from the pain, as a broken piece of a brick hit me square in my shin. We were at the capital of our country, trying to reach the house of our Chief Justice held captive by a brutal dictator. The extent of his brutality, we were just beginning to get a taste of.
This was a procession of over 1500 lawyers, students, civil society members, gathered to protest against the blatant usurpation of our judicial institution, our media, as well as our fundamental rights. There were around 150 of us who had come from Lahore to join in today's protest. Marching on to the judge's enclave, we were chanting slogans, singing songs "na mera Pakistan hay, na tera Pakistan hay; yeh uska Pakistan hay jo sadr-e-pakistan hay…" [This not my Pakistan, this is not your Pakistan; this is that person's Pakistan, who calls himself the president of Pakistan…] followed by proclamations of our struggle to get our country back. "Freedom is ours, if you don't give it to us upon asking we will take it..." Wherever you looked, you saw people who had come together, united to fight for the collective good. Stating it was enough, we will no longer be silenced. We will no longer hold back, or bow our heads low.
What for many in Islamabad had become common at protests, for us from Lahore was a first. The treatment meted to us from the police in our city is worlds apart. The recognition that the police itself is oppressed and exploited is adamant amongst the students of Lahore. A suo moto notice had to be issued by a pco-judge in Lahore to get the police to arrest us-the students. The police here was something else.
I was towards the front of the procession, when we saw smoke, and ran backwards thinking it was tear gas. Soon we realized it was fire trucks positioned to hose down protestors with cold water in this chilly weather. They kept hitting us with cold, high pressure water in vain. When it became evident that we would keep going nevertheless, the police started shelling us with tear gas. Most of us smelled CS gas for the first time as we ran backwards experiencing its excruciating effects. A friend had held my hand and almost dragged me along as we ran backwards. Don't breathe. Don't fall. Don't stop. I kept repeating to myself as my throat, eyes, and nose lit on fire. I ran as far back as possible. The spoiled, protected and sheltered girl that I was, nothing even close to this viciousness had touched me before.
It was a surreal feeling as I stood on the very periphery, panting through my scratched throat and rubbing my burning eyes. This was only the beginning. I saw people coming back, drenched. Saw an Auntie who had fallen in a puddle. Saw a girl about my age screaming at the top of her lungs at the police meant to protect us, the people. I found myself craving to be up there, at the front, with my fellows, facing the onslaught. I did not come here as an audience to watch the show from the sidelines, a voice from deep within asserted. And I advanced. Whilst screaming GO MUSHARRAF GO at the top of my lungs. Who was where, who was who; nothing mattered.
While everyone was trying to regroup, some other girls and I started chanting louder than we had ever known our voices to reach, "LATHI GOLI KI SARKAAR, NAHI CHALAY GI NAHI CHALAY GI; YEH DEHSHET GARDI KI SARKAAR, NAHI CHALAY GI NAHI CHALAY GI" [this government of brute force and coercion, we do not accept we do not accept; this terrorist government, we do not accept we do not accept] and we marched. Amidst tear gas, amidst burning and itching throats, amidst pelting stones; nothing was going to stop us.
It was a battle field. It was us the people against them the colonizers—our military state. A broken piece of a brick hit me, I shrugged it off. A much bigger brick hit the girl next to me on her hip and left her limping for a while, she didn't stop. There were lawyers who would come in front of us whenever stones would be thrown our way. Yes, many of our serving police specifically targeted the women. We went on. There were students who would pick up the falling gas bombs spewing the poisonous gas, run to the police as close as possible and drop it back on them. Many would come back staggering almost falling from the effects of the gases, whom we would have to hold up and give salt to, and back they would go to do more. The police would retreat as tear gas bombs hit them, and the people would cheer and dance. Then many more would be thrown at us, and back to work for all of us. For over two hours the police could not advance on us.
As the situation intensified, so did our chants. "Musharraf ka jo yaar hay, ghaddar hay ghaddar hay; biknay ke liye jo tayyar hay, ghaddar hay ghaddar hay. YEH POLICE BHI GHADDAR HAY, YEH POLICE BHI GHADDAR HAY, YEH POLICE BHI GHADDAR HAY" [Whoever is a friend to Musharraf, is a traitor, is a traitor; whoever is a willing to sell out, is a traitor, is a traitor. This Police is traitor, this police is a traitor, this police is a traitor]. Ultimately the police stormed us. A certain police officer who was especially targeting women ran after me full force. I took cover inside a house to save myself. Never have I run so fast in my life. Many were beaten up, some had to be hospitalized. Today was more than just another protest. In the midst of raw emotions, hurt limbs and hoarse throats, the only thing that mattered was the wrong being done to us. Indignant, and offended at this treatment; our protest very much was for human dignity. And more than anything else, the sensitivity that this now offended dignity of ours cannot even compare to the years of torment and subhuman treatment that most of our people in this country have endured. Well no more. Passivity that translates into consent and complicity, never again!