By Rafia Zakaria
November 8th, 2014
They mould the earth and make the bricks that build the nation. Before they can write or read or dream the people of the brick kilns know how to take the loose grains of that shift beneath their feet and give them form.
The earth is all that exists for them, it sits in every fold of the cloth that covers them, and it seeps into the cracks in the naked soles of their feet, their eyes and their hair.
In a Pakistan grown fat with mighty mansions; theirs is the most earthly existence, attached to the land whose love is professed by all. But the earth does not belong to them, theirs is an enslavement created by the land and the men who own it and who own them. More than a million labour every day, child and sister and man and woman, shaping the bricks that build the nation.
It is a nation that doesn’t care and on Tuesday last it provided another testament to its uncaring, its indifference to those whose labour and losses are etched in the walls that shelter them.
In Kot Radha Kishan, 60 miles from the lights and leisures of Lahore, a brick kiln owner was angry. He was owed rupees 100,000, a sum larger than the lives of the men and women that toiled daily in his kiln. The targets of his ire were Shama and Shahzad, a young Christian couple.
Also read: Christian couple lynching incited by mullah of local mosque: police
In the picture of them, now reproduced in newspapers around the world, they stare wide-eyed and stunned at the camera. They are dressed up in their cleanest clothes and their nicest things; the only things untouched by the ochre earth that defines their dawn and dusk. Behind them, the photographer has imposed a picture of a tranquil lake and many gracefully swimming swans.
Perhaps, the couple themselves chose this fake landless backdrop, one with no earth in it, a small rebellion against the boundaries of their lives. In the picture, there is no clue of their coming condemnation, the horror of their last moments.
According to reports, pouring in as the nation heaps its after-the-fact indignation on another act of tragedy; one powerful man spoke to another powerful man. The powerful in Pakistan being experts at goading the poor, and the poor adept at carrying out the curses of powerful men on those most like them selves.
Shama and Shahzad were accused of desecrating the Holy Quran, and a mob of a thousand men, angry and unstoppable descended upon them. A terrified Shama and Shahzad tried to escape, shut themselves in a frail room, whose thin door soon fell to the rage of the mob. It was broken down and the couple was dragged outside.
Then, the public torture of the delicate Shama and her husband began, there were blows and beating and kicking and striking. Anyone who tried to stop it became subject to it. It is said that the policemen called to the scene tried to help Shama and Shehzad, it is said they were outnumbered.
It is known that they could not or did not save them.
The mob, a crazed and angry animal, hungry for blood and death pulsed through the village. The maimed bodies of Shama and Shahzad Masih were carried to the kiln where they laboured.
There, they were thrust into the kiln that bakes the bricks and makes out of the earth of this promised Pakistan, the bricks of its buildings.
Beaten and bruised and probably still breathing, they were thrown into the brick oven, their bodies passing from the fire of condemnation into the fire of death.
The killing of Shama and Shahzad was not a silent crime or an unseen one; it did not take place in the dead of night or the depths of darkness. The assailants did not hide evidence of their criminal act and they did not worry about being caught.
There were so many of them. Perhaps, like wolves after a kill, they lingered around the scene of their triumph; a murderous mob they say, provides the satisfaction of annihilation without the guilt of conscience.
Shama and Shahzad are not dead, for they made the bricks that build the nation. There are millions of them, these unseen brick makers, whose misery is etched in the surface of every habitation, the core of every dwelling in a country that does not care.
The bricks they built could not shelter them from the blows of their assailants, could not be a barrier against the wrath of a Pakistan in love with death and denial.
The bricks they made live in houses and homes, silent witnesses to moments of careless mirth and untouched joy, all of it encircled and complicit in their condemnation.
Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.