Credit: Hussain/Wiki Commons
When a tree falls in the forest, the ground shakes. Edhi grew to hold up so much of Pakistani society with his independent ambulance network, whilst the government of Pakistan provided none that, well, people literally owe him their life. And now when this tree has fallen, the ground shook. The number of children who did not die from infanticide because they were left in the cradles outside his charity’s offices, the poor patients provided medication and treatment, the mentally disabled he housed and the waves upon waves of orphans that Abdul Sattar Edhi raised from childhood to adulthood in his orphanages…makes everyone from the Pakistani citizen to the Pakistani state look small.
Credit: Sabir Nazir
Abdul Sattar Edhi leaves this world with a patch of humanity that is thankfully alive because of this man, his family and his foundation’s dedication.
Abandoned children live because of the cots outside his office, patients draw breath because they were taken to hospital in his ambulances, orphans have roofs over their heads and a reasonable life expectancy compared to if they lived on the street.
In junior school, I had to write an essay on a person I admired. Growing up in the disaster of Karachi in the mid-1990's I had no idea who to reach for as a real life hero.
And in desperation I wrote about Edhi, because that was all I could reach for. Abdul Sattar Edhi was a catch-all hero for Pakistanis. Now that he is gone words fail me on who to describe as a Pakistani who is a hero living in Pakistan. Abdul Sattar Edhi’s kidneys shut down over three years, refusing treatment abroad at the offer of former President Asif Ali Zardari. Edhi trusted Pakistan and Pakistanis dying from natural causes at 92. This titan has now fallen and even his natural death feels like a loss.
Credit: Zia Mazhar/Associatd Press
With so many of them dying, 2016 has been a bad year for beloved celebrities, and Edhi counts as one of Pakistan’s beloved heroes. The week since Edhi passed has seen a great deal of news, but I think Mr Edhi deserves acknowledgement for setting a precedent where so many others (like numerous Pakistani governments across his lifetime) have failed to do so. Mr Edhi and his organisation embodied humanitarianism, with their ubiquitous nation-wide ambulance service, and their total willingness to take care of anyone stricken by emergencies, with no questions asked of the victim about their religion, sect, ethnicity or gender.
By now Mr Edhi’s quote about his ambulance has been repeated everywhere he has memorialised, but it bears repeating in an age when sectarianism is being openly peddled across the Muslim world.
The quote is that when Mr Abdul Sattar Edhi was asked “Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in you ambulance” and Mr Edhi responded “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”
Credit: File Photo/Aaj.TV
This lack of discrimination and follow-up proselytization stuck in the craw of a number of religious and ethnic crypto- (and open) fascists. Mr Edhi’s son, Faisal Edhi has had to reiterate in a visibly apologetic tone to the dangerous, murder-prone power brokers of Pakistani society that he will continue to use the Edhi Foundation to provide services on a universal basis. This is the sick, disgusting point that Pakistani society has reached: when there is peace, those who provide services to the poor and the stricken have to be terrified when they promise that they will provide services without any discrimination. Powerful people in Pakistan want discrimination, they want this society to be ghettoised and to be divided so that their power is not challenged society, and in fact society itself does not give the impression of even being able to challenge them.
A final note about societal divisions and Mr Abdul Sattar Edhi, would not be complete without mentioning the spectacle at his funeral prayers.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was given a state funeral and slightly unexpectedly, the Pakistan military took over and turned the funeral into a militarised spectacle.
The funeral prayers for Mr. Edhi saw the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, the Governor of Sindh Province Ishratul Ibad and the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain present. The divisions became apparent, with these VVIP diginitaries in the first row of the funeral prayers, on all sides of that row and the two rows behind them were full of officers, soldiers, sailors and members of Pakistan's bureaucratic, political and military elite.
A giant empty space capable of holding four rows of mourners was maintained between the VVIP's and the security and the rest of the mourners at National Stadium, were kept at the back at Edhi’s funeral prayer. This visibly conveyed the social and class division that Edhi had so obviously spent his entire life fighting against.
The divisions witnessed at Edhi’s funeral prayers, and the all-military controlled event it became was very strange. We have to consider how all of this was to pay homage to a man who had to scrimp for donations to run an ambulance service for Pakistanis because the government would not provide one whilst the most well funded part of Pakistan’s state was now honouring him in death. The division between the first three rows full of soldiers, sailors and Pakistan’s military and political elite and the rest of the mourners in the overview photos of the funeral prayers just drove home why Pakistan needed Abdul Sattar Edhi and why it will continue to need someone like him.
Credit: Sabir Nazir/The Friday Times