Closing Open Spaces

Yesterday, my Facebook timeline was swamped with news about the horrific murder of Sabeen Mahmud, in Karachi, Pakistan. I hadn’t known or heard of Sabeen Mahmud until yesterday. She was a social and human rights activist and was also the director of The Second Floor (T2F): ‘a café and arts space that has been a mainstay of Karachi’s activists since it opened its doors in 2007.’


I had heard a lot of about T2F in Karachi but I had never been to T2F. I guess I didn’t have anyone to go there with and felt socially awkward attending any event all alone. But that’s another story.

The outcry on social media about Sabeen Mahmud’s death has indeed been overwhelming. On my Facebook timeline, at least 32 different people, if not more, posted about this unfortunate event. The popular narrative on the social media, so far, has been that Mahmud was killed for hosting an event about Balochistan’s missing people.

Balochistan is a Pakistani province that is plagued with a civil war of sorts between the Pakistani State (i.e., military and intelligence agencies) and various nationalist, separatist groups that seek complete independence from Pakistan.

The activists from Balochistan blame the Pakistani intelligence agencies for the systematic disappearance of many Baloch activists, including those who did not take up arms, as well as ordinary, non-activists. To discuss this, amongst other issues faced by Balochi people, T2F had organized the event “Unsilencing Balochistan.” Mahmud was shot soon after the event.

However, as far as I see, it is still too early to draw any conclusions about the individuals/group responsible for the assassination for Mahmud and the police are still “investigating the case from various angles to ascertain the motive behind the incident.

Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist, who himself escaped assassination in March 2014 and now lives in US, due to his secular views and vocal opposition of militant Islam, was deeply saddened by Mahmud’s death. He said that Sabeen Mahmud “was neither a political partisan nor a power seeker but Pakistan’s state and non-state actors are averse to any form of dissent. This is why she had to be killed.

Whatever may be the motive and whoever may be the culprit, one thing is absolutely certain: progressive, pluralist and secular voices that encourage and promote open spaces for creative expression, humanistic dialogue and peaceful coexistence are being silenced in Pakistan.

Time and again, it has been proven, without an iota doubt, that anyone challenging the prevalent social, political and religious beliefs in Pakistan will not be spared. Those who, in all honesty, raise their voice against the tyrannical system are squashed like bugs. In fact, the value of human life is not very different from that of an insect. It’s sad to see the direction Pakistani society is heading. Tolerance, peace, brotherhood and progress are all mirages in the barren desert of Pakistan.

People like myself are unfortunately left with no option but to leave Pakistan. To quote an atheist friend of mine, who left Pakistan to settle in Australia:

THIS is why!

You ask me why I worked hard all my life, planning to and choosing to get out of there just to make a strange country my new home, feeling lonely without any of the people I grew up with…



7 thoughts on “Closing Open Spaces

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