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Scream

27 October, 2005

By Umair Khan


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Spare a scream for the 100,000 dead and 3 million homeless, muted out of world media.

Unmourned by the news media, unmarked by the world, Saturday October 22 was the two week anniversary of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan, India, and Kashmir. An estimated 100,000 have been killed and, of the 3 million made homeless, at least another 100,000 are in high peril as winter rolls down from nearby K-2. If they perish, they would surely have been suffocated by the silent air waves.

For the 3 million homeless the bell tolls noiselessly. Beyond Pakistan`s national news media, their coverage is a silent movie playing out on inside pages (if at all). Four more weeks of radio (and print and TV) silence and the region will become as quiet and stone cold as the news media. The news folks whose attention to the tragedy has declined as swiftly as the deaths have mounted, may finally get to report a "frozen" death toll. In four weeks, winter too will white-out the survivors.

Intense and swift and whole-hearted as the response has been among the compassionate and the aware, it has been far too noiseless. For Pakistanis, for Kashmiris, for South Asians, for Asians, for humans and for humanity everywhere, this is not the time for whispered tears, silent if ardent prayers, mumbled grumblings, and soundless emails.

This is the time to scream.

Not in despair, or panic, or anger. But in recognition and in resonance.

This is the time to broadcast  the unbroadcasted. And this time expires in 4 weeks. There will be little point to being heard after that.

There have been No vigils to mark the disaster: week 1, week 2, now week 3 - I keep counting. No silent, candlelight vigils at sunset. No minute of silence at 8:51am. No day of mourning. No protest march (silent or loud) against NATO`s refusal to airlift the injured. No sit-ins to demand of governments the desperately needed helicopters, tents, medicine, monetary aid. And no demonstrations in front of the oblivious offices of world media.

3 million people have cried out, shouted, groaned, and screamed for 14 days. Cries of pain, of loss and mourning, out of deep rubble, for a sip of clean water, in despair, in panic, in anger. That is a lot of noise muffled down by the media.

These screams must make it through us into radio, TV, online editions and hard copies. Why? Because compassion and humanity do not stifle the cries of the helpless. Villainy and inhumanity do that.

Why else? Because as long as these screams are unheard, they will keep multiplying.

This is the time to scream.

Here is one scream that keeps ricocheting within me. The scream of a boy born the same month and year as my 6 year old son, who was laid out on grass and given candy in place of anesthesia, as one leg is amputated with a non-surgical instrument. Given the 40 or so similar amputations on children each of the last 15 days, there is a scream from a child who was born the very same month and year as your child. If you make his scream heard, it may not multiply.

Why, I wonder, have we not screamed till now. Those for whom the quake struck close to home have responded with unimaginable emotion and effort. I have never seen anything like it within my community. But the din of our passion blocked out the silence around us. That must be why the even the most well-intentioned among us have not reached out to all colleagues, friends, family, schoolmates, neighbors, bystanders, celebrities, talk radio hosts, politicians, journalists. That must be why Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who met with Angelina Jolie a few months back has not called upon her to raise awareness of the plight of these people. That may be why we have not plastered our local public spaces with flyers and posters. Or called our local TV stations and demanded that they cover the news. Or incessantly called and emailed world governments to send in helicopters. Or protested NATO`s refusal out in the streets. Or bombarded the detached media with voicemails.

But there is still 4 weeks of time left to scream out to the what-you-never-hear-never-exists world. Not just a metaphorical scream but a real one: close your eyes, clasp your hands in font of you,  focus on the unheard scream of a victim, then exhale a loud "Aaaaaaaaaah" till you have no breath left. Smile at the absurdity or cry in relief.

Do this at home, at work, in public places, at non-silent vigils you hold, during commemorative moments of non-silence that you declare, and at rallies you help organize (preferably in front of news media offices). And when others (colleagues, friends, family, schoolmates, neighbors, bystanders, celebrities, talk radio hosts, politicians, journalists) see and hear this, and ask if you are feeling alright, tell them about the earthquake: about the helicopters, the tents, the winter, the 100,000 dead, the 100,000 to save, the 3 million homeless,  the injured, the amputated, the NATO refusal, the silent media.

Tell them about the screams and how to stop them.

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