This is based on my short article that appeared in Express Tribune on June 19, 2012.
Marvi Sirmed while addressing a Press Conference in Islamabad
We in Pakistan are wonderful people. We are righteous enough to hate on the corrupt and chaste enough to impulsively condemn the corrupt when ‘exposed’, mostly without verifying the facts. But we almost always forget to bring in judicial process before maligning anyone. Our collective disregard for due process of justice has made things easier for the forces of oppression. Now they don’t have to murder, they just have to discredit voices of dissent through cyber bullies. Just a random figure, an account number with real name of a bank and you are all set to kill anyone with a graft accusation. No further question will be asked to substantiate the claim.
It happened so amid the hubbub of recent scandal involving the son of Chief Justice of Pakistan and the chief corrupter of the virtuous, the real estate tycoon Riaz Malik. We somehow landed in a debate about the corruption of media persons, especially the TV talk show anchors. That, one believes, is a very important issue, on which this scribe has written so many times. My readers would bear me out as one of the biggest critics of a section of media that has assigned itself the role of mediator, power broker, advocate, judge, and executor – just anything but journalist.
There appeared a list of journalists last week from anonymous source. The list bore the names of journalists and the amount of money and other moveable and immoveable assets alleged to have been bribed by Malik Riaz to them. It soon was rubbished as an attempt to malign senior media persons. After this, Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, demanded inquiry into the media people who have been bribed by Malik Riaz. Impressive statement. Who would not want to get the black sheep in media exposed? Next day, a YouTube video erupted displaying another list of 19 journalists and TV anchors on a supposed Behria Town letterhead. Originator remained anonymous.
This ‘updated’ list bore credible names from media alongside another odd name. Mine. Not a journalist by profession, not a TV anchor, I was shocked to see myself in that league. A professional in the field of democratic governance and an activist for human rights in my voluntary capacity, I could not understand why I was put under the rubric of ‘journalists and anchors’. The list claimed transfer of Rs. 1 million through bank transfer from “NIBC [SIC] Bank Limited (Behria Town Branch)”. To add meat, an account number was also given – # 8283982-5. No one bothered to confirm if the account belongs to me. Everyone who forwarded the list charitably on the Internet forgot to ask another basic question, why would a real estate tycoon invest his money in a human rights campaigner?
Neither this account number belongs to me, nor have I ever had an account in NIB Bank. In fact, the account number, according to the website of Behria Orchard, belongs to Behria Town itself, that too, for transactions in US Dollars. I own no moveable or immovable assets except a modest car, a laptop and appliances at home. My only, and most precious, priceless assets are my daughter and two-decades long history of struggle for the rights of people of Pakistan. I have two bank accounts, one of which is the salary account; the other one is a saving account that I used to keep aside small savings for my daughter’s education. None of these accounts are in NIB. We live in a rented house. Both of us husband and wife struggle hard to make both ends meet, which we manage to do quite well. We occasionally invite friends to our place and laugh the nights away. Both of us come from middle class educated families who don’t own any assets either. My mother in law lives in a small home in Lahore, which she managed to build in 1998 after a life time of savings. My parents still live in a rented house for they had to sell their only saving, a 10 Marla plot, for my wedding. But all of us live a very happy, satisfied and comfortable life without these worldly assets. My parents and parents in law are proud of us for our hard work and struggle.
Let me clearly declare here, all my financial details will be available to judicial procedure if and whenever it would require. Since we believe only on rhetoric of independent judiciary with no respect for the court and its procedure, we might not require any judicial procedure before making our judgments. My tax returns, any assets that my family owns, will be declared but on a condition. My demands are two. One; the author of the list must come forward and declare that s/he made the list. The author must come forward with the funds transfer details, the bankl statement of the account number given in the fake list, the evidence that the funds were indeed transferred to my account or any of my family members’ accounts. Two; we must be given satisfactory answers to how did Malik Riaz remain scot free for so many years after corrupting almost every state institution in this country. And how did Mr. Arsalan Iftikhar amass a wealth worth Rs 900 million in just four years? You do it and I will declare everything my family and I own. Although I’ve amply declared already what I have. I promise to declare everything in the court of law, with documentary evidence to prove my case if my conditions are met.
The fact that I have to explain all this is painful indeed. I had thought my passion to work for the betterment of my country is greater than any worldly goal especially the rat race for money. Never in these two decades, in any of the campaigns that I contributed to, did I ever care for my life, my existence. It was always at stakes. Once Shaheed Salmaan Taseer sent me a message asking to be careful and stay safe, for the causes I was choosing were in his opinion too dangerous for a lady in a radicalized society like Pakistan. He encouraged me for what I was doing, but at the same time, did not like too much of selflessness. Ironically, he succumbed to same radicalized mindset he always wanted me to beware of.
Never had I imagined I could be subjected to such a malign campaign, forgetting what I had put at stake. I was threatened for life openly, for gang rape, for acid throwing, for kidnap. I was abused nakedly on social media by cyber bullies who did not even spare my family. My daughter, then 11 years old, was bullied and abused, just because her mother had a different idea for Pakistani society. Even an average mind would have asked, was that all for money? Could that be for an amount as meager as Rs 1 million? Would you put your life in danger for even Rs 1 billion?
In a state of utter shock and under the feeling of extreme humiliation, I tried to contact Behria Town management to seek their explanation of that fake list. On calling Behria Town management, I happened to speak to Malik Riaz’s Personal Secretary who categorically rejected the list adding that the letterhead was forged too.
The important question remains, who could target a person with clear stand on difficult issues be it rights of Ahmadis, Hazara Shias, Hindus, Christians, the Baloch, missing persons, against discriminatory laws, rights of women, children and labourers, even the most controversial, LGBT rights. Not to forget my extensive writing against political role of Pakistan’s military establishment, against extremists, terrorists, against the propagated narrative by Imran Khan, on Pakistan’s Afghan policy, on counter-terrorism and for peace with India. I wonder where have I ever faltered in my consistency on these causes? Just try to think what among all these causes, would be sponsored by a real estate don? I might be an opinion maker, I might have been a free lance columnist, but what exactly did I write, which suited Malik Riaz? Till few days ago, I was alleged to be a R&AW agent. A MOSAD and CIA agent. And now I’m being accused of accepting money from a tycoon in bed with military establishment, on whose pay role are none other than retired generals. Can something be more insulting to average intelligence?
Taking a look at my record, it is not much difficult what forces would target me. The disturbing fact is that the list was forwarded mainly from PTI supporters. It would be, however, unfair to mention Mr. Simon Samson Sharaf from PTI who specially called me to express solidarity. ‘You have been putting your life in danger by standing up against extremism in a radicalized society. It is but understood that the list is fake and you were unfairly targeted’, said Mr. Sharaf.
Attacking my integrity has killed a part of me – my enthusiasm to change the society for better. Instead of doing this, you should have pumped bullets in me like you did with Shaheed Salmaan Taseer. Little hope could be attached to a society that disparages voices of dissent like this. May be, the history will judge me better. Tomorrow, if not today.