Are sit-ins and protests the only way to be heard?

Published: March 6, 2013

When sit-ins cause trouble to the ordinary citizen, they lose their value. PHOTO REUTERS

When sit-ins cause trouble to the ordinary citizen, they lose their value. PHOTO REUTERS Shia Muslims, including relatives of recent bomb blast victims, protest in Quetta. PHOTO: AFP

Sit-ins, it seems, are the only solutions to all the problems people are facing in this country. Workers demanding the regularisation of jobs, people protesting prolonged power outages, villagers demanding justice against the high-handedness by the police or influential persons, families of the dead demanding the arrest of the killers, people protesting attacks on high-profile personalities.

All these people stage sit-ins to pressure the government into accepting their demands.

Here, I would like to refer to two of the biggest sit-ins in the country, which paralysed road and rail traffic throughout Pakistan. These sit-ins were staged by the Wahdatul Muslimeen in January and February against the mass killing of Hazaras in Quetta.

There is no doubt that the anger and demands of the protesters were genuine because the Hazaras lost scoress of their loved ones in bomb blasts that were seen as the failure of the government and its spy agencies to control the situation.

As a citizen of Pakistan and a journalist, I respect the sentiments of the protesters and even feel their pain, but the situation took an ugly turn with the blockade of national highways and all the main roads in the big cities, due to which hundreds of thousands people were affected.

Schoolchildren, office workers, transporters, especially rickshaw drivers and daily wage earners were among the worst affected.

In Karachi, for example, many main roads were blocked. People couldn’t leave their homes to go to work. Moreover, ambulances did not have space to pass. This created a lot of trouble for the ordinary citizen.

Recently, many ugly scenes unfolded when the national highways and other main roads were blocked after the attacks on Saen Hussain Shah of Qamber and Saen Hajan Shah of Shikarpur. Both men are apolitical and believe in spreading love, peace and brotherhood.

Would it not be safer for both, the protestors and the by-passers, that the protest takes place in a locality where their voice can be heard, their discipline commended and their cause highlighted even more? Wouldn’t Bagh Ibne Qasim have been a more suitable place for a sit-in, with ample amount of space, security and coverage?

Causing trouble to the common man only sparks feelings of detestation and frustration in the public, whereas, this same ordinary citizen would, on a more peaceful occasion, have taken part in the sit-ins. The inconvenience caused by the protest does in fact overshadow the cause being fought for.

Why lose the public’s support when the cause is great enough but only the approach is flawed.

When people block roads in protest, they treat all motorists and pedestrians as though they were the ones responsible for the crime. Motorists and pedestrians are often attacked with sticks and rocks, vehicles are damaged and innocent people injured. Such protesters don’t even respect schoolchildren, women and patients.

In a democracy, every citizen has the right to protest, but any protest or sit-in should not deprive others of their rights.

Read more by Sarfaraz here


Sarfaraz Memon

A reporter based in Sukkur who works at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • zehra

    oh but ofcourse really sorry for hampering your life for mere genocide going on, there should be no protests life should go on as usual so what hundreds die ,we ddnt your loved ones are safe are not being targeted why care for others great! this is why there will never be any change/ revolution in our country!
    one more thing dont compare the peaceful sit ins with the uncouth protests with batons and sticks that is different!
    the egypt revolution came coz of protests, had they thought lets not disturb life it wouldnt have happen!Recommend

  • Ordinary citizen

    Dear Mr. Sarfraz Memon I’m quite sad and shocked to read your baised article. First of all dont compare the peaceful sit-ins against Hazara genocide to other baton and gun weilding protests. Shame on the “ordinary citizens” who rather complain about a few roads being blocked rather than think of those hundreds innocent “ordinary citizens” who were killed. I am ashamed of calling my self Pakistani and hope the day doesnt come when I will be ashamed of declaring myself muslim, My heart bleeds for the bomb blast victime.Recommend

  • another ordinary citizen

    I agree with author, we should have sit ins but not at the cost of blocking roads and becoming cause of other problems. It might sound so simple that we just blocked few roads but the fact is people dont come out of home coz of fear after that and people living on daily wages cant have food for a day and ambulances have to take longer routes which might cause a life.
    I am not saying we shouldnt prtoests… we all should but keeping in mind that there are millions others live in this cityRecommend

  • Waqar

    @ Author:
    So what should an ordinary Pakistani do??? Tell us???Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    The Author does a point, public parks would be better than closing off Shahrae Faisal from multiple points.Recommend

  • Haseeb Talal Khan

    The SIt-ins and protests should be allowed but not at the cost of causing hurdles and problems of that area. The protest is a useful to give direction to the anger and frustration of the public, which otherwise can be channeled in another negative way….The people should not get panic and start creating hue and cry, all of a sudden, but is it possible in Pakistan? thats the problem….At the moment, one incident usually cause many casualties, and subsequently, the sit-in and protest can cause other casualties….these are the real turbulent times, and we have to stay united and should show our anger, frustration, anguishness, hate and every other problems through our vote….please do vote…The vote in the up coming election is the most important and vital…please do vote for the right candidate…and bring a change…that is the only option….Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    If you learn from your own history then Gandhi ji showed a non violent way of Satyagrah. Nothing wrong in following the footsteps of prepartition leaders.

    Till date that is effective in India, remember anna hazare?

    But that requires lot of patience and sustaining lot of pain.Recommend

  • Syed

    How nice would have been if the so called people complaining would attend and join their brothers/sisters in the sit-ins. After all their own Pakistanis are being butchered right? It is this attitude of the silent majority that shia genocide continues. Every other week or month we hear news that scores more die and what do you know someone of them happen to be my relatives too.

    So if any of you have a heart and conscious, please stand together with the innocent victims next time. Be there in the biggest number and our useless government and agencies would have no choice but to take action against these monsters. Recommend

  • gp65

    “Causing trouble to the common man only sparks feelings of detestation and frustration in the public, whereas, this same ordinary citizen would, on a more peaceful occasion, have taken part in the sit-ins”.

    So until these non-violent protests occurred, how many people had come out and spoken up against the ongoing Shia massacre? How much electronic media coverage had it got? 200 people get killed and you were silent. but if your daily commute is impacted you decided to speak up.

    Are sit-ins and protests the only way to be heard?

    HAs anything else worked?Recommend

  • Farhan

    I would like to apologize to all Pakistanis for the inconvenience caused by our sit-ins in response to the Genocide that is propagated against us. Unfortunately Pakistan is a poor country and it doesn’t have designated genocide protest zones so that we could protest away to our hearts content without disturbing the general public. You see we understand that the best way to bring change is to silently protest in the corner and not force the ‘majority’ to listen to your concerns

    Seriously?? are you really a journalist? Havent you seen protests before? The whole idea of a protest is to disrupt everyday life so that people stop an pay attention to a situation that no one is paying attention to.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Haseeb Talal Khan:

    You didn’t provide any solution. I disagree voting in Pakistan will bring about any change. Army needs to intervene and wipe out terrorist infrastructure. ISI needs to be placed under parliament oversight.Recommend

  • Mehdi


    Why don’t you answer what should people do when ordinary citizens are killed by these terrorists, who will speak for them. At least I am sure you are not doing in this blog. It’s people like you in Pakistan who constitute the silent majority, who implicitly turn a blind eye to atrocities. People shouldn’t carry on with their life, because you have terrorist roaming around killing innocent civilian.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @another ordinary citizen:

    Some people can go hungry or seek out monetary support from Sunni dawa groups who support these terrorists. if few people go hungry for couple of days they won’t die. What about those people who died at the hands of terrorist, who were sole bread winner for the family, loved ones lost and their entire life uprooted. I feel most Pakistanis are insensitive to terrorism, they just want to continue on with their life. Majority Sunnis are not under threat, it’s the Shias who are paying the price.Recommend

  • GhostRider

    @Author: If not sit ins then the other plausible solution is tit for tat killing…because its easier for me and you to comment on dark side of dharna and its effect on economy, but the people who lose many family members in wink of an eye feel the need to make themselves heard…so excuse them if they show no interest in your socio-economic dilema (caused by sit in)

    @Vishnu Dutta:
    Please dont preach Gandhi over here many of us are least bothered., and the places you pointed out are in India not Pakistan so tell it to RSSRecommend

  • Ordinary citizen

    @another ordinary citizen:

    Wake up my friend and smell the gun powder in the air. Today its them and God for bid tomorrow it will be you and me. Then we can talk about protesting in our drawing rooms so that other ordinary citizens can go about their daily lives until they are affected. Unfortunately you cannot compare our incompetent govt. with any other civilized country. Massacres on such a scale need to be condemned and brought to light to every citizen of Pakistan and the best way is to peacefully protest all over the country. Unfortunately the sit-in also didn’t have much affect on our Govt. besides a few cosmetic changes i.e. removal of CM of Baluchistan etc.

    Next time innocent citizens of Pakistan need your support be there for them.Recommend

  • Ahsan Raza

    Two and a half months back ,i used to think that people die and there are many of them in karachi dying every day.Nobody cares.So when a protest was arranged ,i used to think that hundreds of people have already died ,y protest for just for a chosen few.Y block the roads and disturb common people in their daily routine?I was also stuck in traffic three or four times.I used to think there must be a better way and place to protest.I wont comment on whether staging protest is right or wrong.My point writing this is about poor hazara families who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attacks.The sit in protests were held in solidarity for the hazaras.I think this was a brave and courageous move.Nobody likes to leave their comfortable homes and sit in protests for 3 or 4 days.I think that was standing up against suppression and cruelty.U say it is depriving people of their common rights ,I say it is giving people the most common right ,the right to live!!!! U talk about better ways of protesting,I say there is no other better way of protesting in Pakistan.You stage the protest in a garden you stay there for the rest of your lives and nobody is going to listen.Nothing happened after the january attack coz right in the middle of feb there was another attack.These sit ins may not stop the suppression of hazaras but they give them the most important thing in life,HOPE ,hope that there are thousands of pakistanis who are with them and who wont go to their homes until their demands are met.Nothing so humane in the history of pakistan has ever happened ,not even at the time of 2007 earthquake.The sit ins showed people`s integrity ,their courage,their willingness to stand up when people are being harassed.It was no more about shia sunni anymore,it was about humanity this time.Most amazing thing was that there were people from all schools of thought.Sunni ,shia ,christians ,media persons ,human rights activists all were present to show solidarity with the hazaras.It looks very nice to criticize people on the roads.u look very civilized.Point here is not about looking civilized.The point here is about the innocent hazaras.sorry to say but why didnt u write articles each time when political parties call for strike and the shops get closed.May be bcoz then u d be writing for the rest of ur lives on the same topic.This is not about writing ,hundreds of thousands of people are killed in ur country and u are talking about the traffic jams.This is a shame for us as a nation.I know that u are not the culprit for whats happened to hazaras but ur saying this when people were staging protests makes u one.Forget every thing ,just for a moment ,think that u are a hazara and now read the article that u ve written.
    Sorry ,i ve hurt ur feelings.Recommend

  • ab

    i want to ask how many people who are reading this blog want to vote for the parties who are in or were in power again in 2013 and still want revolution and change?Recommend

  • Samo

    Dear Author:

    The day you carry the ripped dead body of your loved one in your hand feeling helpless, and thinking why was this done? You will understand the reason behind the sit in and the protest, .

    The same happened to these people. I tried to replace myself in one of the pictures where a father was carrying his 4 year old, not even for 3 seconds i was able to visualize me holding my son like that. It hurt me, and then I thought if i am not ready to feel that pain what is actually going on with the ones who have gone through this….

    Please I request you all before commenting on such a matter try to feel that pain, the pain of loosing your loved one..Recommend

  • another ordinary citizen

    @ Mehdi, I am sorry but you should accept the fact that MUSLIMS are dyeing not SHIA or Sunni. I mean every day in karachi almost 8-9 men die and we say A belongs to X party died and B belongs to Y party died. No one say a sunni/shia died. I accept that LeJ is attacking specifically against shiaz but just take a look at Abbas town blast, both shias and Sunni died there and according to some reports the majority were sunniz. Lej is killing us ALL and we should accept it and dont ever bring our sects in between.
    @Ordinary citizen
    may be I am wrong in saying that sit ins, which disturb lives of common men, are wrong but my whole point is as you pointed out that our govt dont listen to us even if we staged protests, they removed CM in balochistan and after few days we lost more hazara brothers.
    our economy is at its worst and closing city for 4 days in a week wont help.
    we should all standup for innocents and against terrorists but not at the cost of other innocents. Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    I dont know if you are being sarcastic but you sound like a civilized solution is not possible in Pakistan. If thats the case then i hope you are fine with tens of people getting killed every day. We all can see how well it is working for you.Recommend

  • kanwal

    . You are rightly bashed by so many people in such a concise and complete way that if it has nt helped you feeling truly sympathatic, not just the show of it as apparent by ur writing, nothing would. Recommend

  • kanwal

    I forgot to write something i should really have: i think the author should have commented on Altaf Bhai and Co. too. Them and their strike antics. But its easier to write against minorities in this country specially if all that these mimoroties generally do is dying and staying non violent in protests even after loosing hundreds. Easy to condemn the weaklings, eh?Recommend

  • GhostRider

    @Vishnu Dutta:
    I just wanted to point out that we have our own way to protest and we did it across the country without any mayhem. All I was saying was we dont need any inspiration from Gandhi or Anna Hazare. period.Recommend

  • Syed

    @another ordinary citizen. For God sake please try to understand that Sunnis are not being killed because they are Sunnis. They didn’t die in Abbas Town because they were Sunnis. I don’t know a urdu mahawra very well but its something like “geyhoo ke saath ghun bhi piss jata hai”. Recommend

  • Saad Khan

    Mostly all of the critics are biased themselves. The author has written the feelings of 99% karachiets in words. If these protests were in solidarity with Hazara, Go to Quetta and do that. There is no need to panic Karachi as it already has pressure to its max. I second the author’s thoughts.Recommend

  • Saad Khan

    I ask my dear commentors who strongly believe that it was an attach on Shia community only. Did this attach in so called “ABBAS TOWN” really took place in “ABBAS TOWN” ?? Secondly, why is it being made a sactarian issue? Sunnis also dies.

    on an average 10 people are dying in karachi every day, how many shias are amongst them? 1? 2 may be? does not even make 20% of the total loss. so how can this be shia genocide?

    plus how many sunni ulema died in terrorist attacks in pakistan? NO SIT IN whatsoever?

    my question to SYED, so if “geyhoo ke saath ghun bhi piss jata hai”, shall i assume that it was an attack on sunnis and shias were the “ghun” that got involved? The name SHIAGENOCIDE is totally incorrect in all context. Its MUSLIMGENOCIDE or more better HUMANSGENOCIDE. and we all condemn that. I am totally against all sort of killing whether it is shia’s blood or sunni, but sadly, people like you, are the ones creating a division line, and again sadly, YOU DONT KNOW ABOUT IT.Recommend

  • A.A.

    The author and those having the similar mind set are themselves the enablers of the genocide. I wonder the author have written anything for the victims or helped them in any form. Extreme selfishness and lack of intellect! Recommend

  • Ali Hamza Riz Khan

    Surprising that ET let such bigotry prevail on its pages. What the author fails to understand is the fact that it’s hard for those who lose their loved ones every now and then to exercise control. He should be thankful and praising their resolve and patience in them being quiet uptil now rather than criticising the peaceful protests. They could as easily have resorted to violence which could have had a sprillaing effect. It is people like these with their naivety and vague thinking which allowed terrorism to flourish in the first place.You should keep your myopic views to yourself rather than exhibiting them because they disgrace everyone. Peaceful protests across the country were held and blocking highways was a part of it to subdue the government into actually taking an action against the terrorists. If you cannot bear that for a community which makes up 20% of the total populace, you are being ignorant of the fact that they could as easily turn violent on not being provided with justice.
    As far as who is being killed?! Yes, Muslims. But do not contort facts and confuse political killings with sectarianian killings. Shias are the ones who are specifically being targeted. The community has paid for almost 300 martyrs in the first three months already in an effort to still maintain peace. Do not mock the feelings of the affected and do not push them so hard against the wall, that they find no other option except for retaliation. Recommend

  • afza siddiqui

    @ ahsan raza
    man u have given words to my feelings.
    i think that actions speak louder than words. we as a nation should stand by our shia brothers in these protests. its a moral responsibility on all of us . its really not a routine issue we will soon be at the verge of a civil war if the situation remains like that.we need to project our support.keeping it silent is the same as supporting the status quo.Recommend

  • afza siddiqui

    @ kanwal
    haha miss i wonder how ur comment got published :pRecommend

  • another ordinary citizen

    @Ali Hamza… so you are threating people of Pakistan that if they say anything about these blocking of roads and all, then people will turn violent and thats the best way to get your demands heard ? and if our sunni brothers die, its a political murder and if our shia brothers die then its a genocide ?
    I agree that there is genocide of HAZARA shias BUT here there is no such thing happening and yet karachi end up being most affected city. Where ever someone dies all we do is to block roads in karachi and close business and say (RAZAKARANA TUR PER BAND KIYA GAYA HAI). Why cant we just sit in front of assemblies and in front of these political leaders home?
    @Syed please have some respect for all those who die. MUSLIMS are being tageted and not shia or sunni….. Recommend

  • another ordinary citizen

    One more thing … These are my personal opinions and may be wrong. I am not enforcing them to anyone or stopping people to what they are doing. I am just presenting the other view point
    peace Recommend

  • Pakvestor

    The opinion of the author is frankly not surprising. Its the typical response of “not in my backyard.” Do what ever you want as long as it does not disturb my life. Let my life continue as status quo. Let me continue to proceed to my work so that I may earn my end of day bread. Let it be Business as Usual.

    Well I hope you feel the same way, and you continue to proceed to your everyday routine if (god forbid) some one from your near and dear one is killed because of his belief. Let me be very upfront about this. You feel this way because you do not feel for their loss. You mention it in your article that it was a great tragedy. But that statement is purely out of formality rather than true meaning. You do not feel for their loss because you do not feel them to be your brothers and sisters in religion or in nationality.

    Finally, if the issue of sit-ins is so agonising for you, would it not be better for you to vote someone into power (@ Haseeb) who is more responsive to these matters. It took our administration (if I can even call it that) a full 4 days in the January bomb blast to respond to the genuine grievances of the Hazara community. And this was after over a hundred dead bodies were lying on Alamdar Road and after a nationwide sit in across innumerable sites. I wonder how many more days the administration would have taken had we had a “sit-in” in Bagh e Ibn Qasim and let things been business as usual for our other less caring brothers in citizenry. As for the proposition that Anna Hazare would work here. Please remember the plight of Jehangir Akhtar and our response to that effort.

    It is for the first time that a section of society has shown us how to protest for one “right” in a peaceful manner. Not a single shop window was broken during the entire sit-in process. This being in a country where even the protest against the YouTube video turned violent.
    Tell you what next time you vote, please vote for a party who does not believe in the freedom to protest. Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Saad Khan:

    Those Sunni ulemas who died were themselves great supporter of bigotry prevailing in Pakistan. They are being killed for being less extremist. Saad, problem with Sunnis like you is that your inherent bias towards shias are obvious. It is one way killings. If you read the news with clear mind, you will find that extremists who carry out this monstrosity are all Sunni groups and they go on to claim their responsibility. Shias are specifically targeted because of their faith, while if Sunnis are killed, they are either collateral damage to terrorist attack or are victim of random crimes in Pakistan. From your writing I can see that you don’t like shias. many people like you are there in Pakistan and in Muslim countries who espouse this inherent bais, hence this one way secterian will not go away any time soon. Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @another ordinary citizen:

    Concept of umma doesn’t exist for me anymore after seeing so many killings of innocent Shias, as a protest I will always distinguish myself as Shia Muslim. That’s my identity as a Muslim.Recommend

  • Ahsan Raza

    these arguments will continue on and on and believe me there is no result.let us all be on one page keeping aside all the differences.
    a)we are first all humans and then shias or sunnis
    b)hazara people died and that was a cruelty so we all as humans condemn it.
    c)hazaras had been harassed for a long tome now (any body can research on it) and this time it was the destruction of their hundred families.
    d)We all .as humans ,are sad on what happened to hazara “humans”
    e)some humans did not like what happened to hazaras and as these humans live in pakistan so to be heard they couldnt protest in a garden ,they had to come on roads to make the prime minister fly to quetta and even that took 2 days.
    f)these humans who came on roads do not have the hobby of coming to roads with their families leaving their jobs.
    g)the sit in in some way paid off and the govt. took action because of these sit ins and u ll agree to it.
    h)some humans were thoroughly disturbed by the traffic jams and inconveniences so the sit in humans are very sorry.
    if we all agree on these points then there should be no other further arguments and if we do then we are wasting our precious times…. Recommend

  • bigsaf

    @another ordinary citizen:

    You are entitled to your opinion, however I respectfully disagree with it due to history, facts and the lives lost over the decades on motive of sectarianism and sectarian terrorism alone. Karachi has been a hotbed for sect violence and objective of cleansing by Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni extremist militants that has cost thousands of lives, mostly the Shia minority, in the pre-2000’s alone. While it may have gotten worse for everyone now, like many majority Sunni victims, due to blowback of us harbouring these local and foreign extremist militants, every statistic and neutral observer will tell you it is still disproportionately worse for Shia minorities who are still ideologically targeted frequently in the grand scheme of overall terrorism. Just because it has not reached the sickening levels of Quetta or Parachinar, does not mean it hasn’t been particularly horrible for minorities in Karachi. It absolutely has. I don’t understand why downplaying their plight helps in forging unity. Of course there are Muslims, Pakistanis who are all dying…and no one should deny Sunnis aren’t dying…but the risks increases significantly for non-Sunnis and we should absolutely acknowledge the reality of this sectarian crisis instead of sanitizing it for a faux narrative of unity, when there’s a clear disparity even in motives of attacks and victimhood.Recommend