Last Sunday I received an invitation to watch the final of the Domestic T 20 Cricket Tournament at the Rawalpindi Stadium. On reaching the venue and successfully negotiating with several police barriers, we found our designated gate blocked by a mob of people who were all trying to push their way in at the same time. When the situation became too unruly to handle, horse mounted police were called in for crowd control and in the chaos that followed, all decorum was lost. Having gained sanctuary in a corner of the mayhem, we found it prudent to return home without watching the game. It was during this episode that we found policemen on duty pushing in their guests by the dozens, while legitimate ticket and invitation holders found it impossible to reach the gate, let alone enter it. In a somber mood, we drove back to Islamabad. As we went past the hill that displays our national motto, “Unity, Faith, Discipline,” I felt ashamed of what we had become; a nation without a vestige of respect for rules.  

It is the observance of laws and rules that separates us intellectually from animals. However, watching animal behavior provides irrefutable proof that even denizens of the wild will follow a set of rules with total commitment. A wild animal will never hunt prey or attack unless it is hungry or threatened. I have seen a pack of lions, recently fed lolling about in the sun ignoring a herd of impalas grazing within striking distance. 

A pack of cheetahs will patiently follow an established hierarchy of devouring a fresh kill in a display of exemplary self-discipline. In stark contrast I have been witness to countless ‘food stampedes’ at wedding ceremonies. What angers me is the fact that a large part of this mob of ‘miscreants’ is educated. I have now made it a point to stand on one side and wait for the assault to end after which I gingerly put something on my plate and withdraw into a quiet corner. Sometimes I have left the venue in abject disgust at the behavior of the hungry hoards, far happier to consume a quiet meal at my home.

I recently watched the Rio Carnival and was amazed at the way the spectators numbering thousands enjoyed the greatest parade in the world without the necessity of a baton charge. I discussed this with a psychologist friend of mine. His answer was not only logical, but perhaps the best diagnosis of our national state of mind. He was of the opinion that over three decades of internal insecurity and thoughtless bans, our options for collective fun were greatly reduced, depriving us of opportunities to imbibe collective norms and etiquettes displayed by disciplined nations at public events.

Take for example the celebration of ‘basant.’ This festival signified the advent of spring and the seasonal harvest (sans any religious undertones); a key activity of which is kite flying. Basant was celebrated in the sub-continent since ages, but was banned in Pakistan because of fatal injuries received by motor cycle riders when the razor sharp string of downed kites cut them as they drove through. Instead of looking at the problem in an objective manner, a ban was immediately imposed on kite flying. A sensible government would have looked at alternate options, one of which could have been to declare a public holiday and ban the use of motorcycles for a defined period of festivities on the day.

Our lack of discipline has reached a point where entertainment events (and these are far and few) are likely to become scenes of ugly brawls, which quite often require police intervention. The possibility of an unruly chair-hurling crowd at an event or a stone-throwing mob is forcing law abiding people and families to stay away from such places.

My friend the psychologist is of the view that the state of our individual and collective discipline has disintegrated critically, and if not addressed, will affect all dimensions of the state and society. If this opinion is true, then it is incumbent on all of us to check ourselves, to check others as they break queues and abuse civilized rules of decorum, and in this way to play our part as concerned citizens in preventing a bigger national catastrophe from occurring.

The writer is a freelance columnist.