Pakistan has a number of extraordinary people who are willing to do whatever they can for their country. Some do it by engaging in philanthropic events that are aimed at raising money for a wide range of causes while others have taken up social activism and courageously struggled for the rights of people and groups for whom few speak.
There are restaurants that employ people with disabilities so that they can be ‘mainstreamed’ and are able to earn an income. Some people attempt to bring issues that are of immense importance – whether they are linked to society, politics, health and welfare – to the notice of others.

Unfortunately, there is little appreciation for these individuals. Some, like Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, were indeed able to leave their imprint on a country that desperately needs saviours. Despite the continuing efforts of Edhi’s wife and children, there is a risk that this imprint might be wiped out as fund collection for the Edhi Foundation drops and reports sporadically emerge about attempts to grab land at the foundation’s shelters.

Other individuals too have been pushed away and are sometimes physically prevented from making an effort to stand up for a cause or place it under the spotlight. Some have been killed while attempting to do so. If we connect all these strands together, we find that some people are doing more for the people than anything that the state has been able to do since Pakistan’s early days.

The problem is that each strand mainly operates alone and doesn’t intertwine with the others. Different ideologies drive these individuals and groups forward. Despite some efforts at the government level, it has been impossible to combine philanthropic efforts as a whole or unify the working of groups who raise funds for a variety of causes. This is perhaps the essential nature of charitable work. It runs on the energy produced by individuals.

Even though organisations such as Oxfam have made a difference across the world, this is a task that isn’t easy to achieve. It is even harder to gain success when more political or economic causes lie at the heart of movements started by individuals and taken up by others. It is important that such efforts are expanded beyond the individual level. This, of course, is never easy. Around the world, there have been movements which is only kept alive by the few people who pioneer and initially drive them.

There are some exceptions of individuals who inspire and motivate people long after they themselves are no more. These individuals – from Che Guevara and Bob Marley to others like them – follow a range of ideologies, beliefs and commitment. Through the efforts that these individuals once personally led, generations continue to be persuaded to carry on the struggle for rights and humanity in one way or the other. But such examples are limited and exist within a specific context.

The problem within society and the state is how to bring a change at a wider level. There is only so much that individuals can achieve. Yes, we have seen various movements draw force from each other. But even this is a limited effort. We can only hope that it will grow and create enough waves to drive forward a lasting change and make a true difference. But essentially, we need many more individuals to join them.

Over the decades, people everywhere have become more apolitical and indifferent to their fellow citizens and human beings. This is partly a result of deliberate efforts, such as those made in the 1980s when General Ziaul Haq banned student unions while actively promoting cricket and other collective efforts, which had worked against tyranny of all kinds in the past.

The labour unions that played an active role in the lives of people during the 1950s and the 1960s have also vanished. They barely exist as shadows, if they do exist at all. Railway workers no longer march for their rights; factory labourers don’t gather outside their industrial units to demand fairer wages or better terms. This too has been the result of the political leadership that we have had and the dictatorships that have dominated the country, overshadowing the short periods of democracy that have only been able to assume power for a few years before they are swept away.

But without movements and efforts that arise from within society and are supported by major political groups, there can be no real hope for change. Yes, individuals can inspire others to join them and work together for a particular purpose. But we need enough people who are willing and sufficiently determined to put in the effort, zeal and risks that this requires. Students at many colleges and high schools often seem to simply have no idea of what is happening within their country or what has happened in its past.

This is what leaders want. One movement that is desperately required is a drive to educate people in the real sense, make them aware of events from various moments in our history, and convince them that the news and endless debates that they hear over television channels are not really what makes up the nation or tells its story.

The stories of the nation are instead buried away in the small villages stretched out across its territory. In our cities, few are familiar with the struggles of people in the tribal areas or on large agricultural estates, which aren’t situated too far from where they live, where slavery continues in various forms.

It is only when people who walk down our streets, and take up their seats and offices in classrooms and other centres of work and recreation become more familiar with the lives of others that it will be possible to generate anything that resembles lasting change. Otherwise, our efforts – no matter how well-meaning and courageous they may be – will remain sporadic and not generate the momentum required to us forward and spread change further in terms of distance and time.

For too many people in our country – for reasons that are not difficult to understand – life simply revolves around work, family and the other trivial matters of existence, which dominate the reality that they see before them. This isn’t surprising and is indeed true across the world. The era of mass politicisation – and with it the mass change that we saw in the 1960s – has long gone. But in our particular situation, there is a desperate need to bring back something that resembles a desire for change.

Complacence will not allow this to happen. Believing that everything is rooted in fate and that people don’t have the power to change leads to an acceptance of all that is unjust and unfair. Yes, people are shocked when incidents such as the Sahiwal encounter take place. Yes, many people gather at rallies organised to protest against these incidents. But their numbers are still too few and their slogans are still too muted.

Only when these slogans grow louder and charity is converted into a movement for change can a real difference be made and the present driving forces in our state change for the better.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.