By Taimur Rahman
In the 1980s when Pakistan’s largest and most advanced city became engulfed in a Tsunami of violence, when the people began to fight and murder each other on the basis of ethnicity and religion, when the state was a fascist religious military dictatorship that fostered sectarian violence, Edhi rose above the hatred and violence and raised the slogan of humanitarianism.
His call for compassion for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden resonated with all the grief stricken people in every corner of Pakistan. There is no gali, no mohalla, and no village or mountain where the name of Edhi does not arouse in the heart of the subjugated feelings of hope and love.
When I Heard of Edhi
I was a student at the time that I heard of Edhi’s work and from that moment I was a devotee of the man who showed us what it meant to call ourselves human. I, along with millions like me, became a lifelong supporter of Abdul Sattar Edhi.
And although we participated in many charities that sent money to the Edhi Foundation, it would be two decades later that I would finally meet the great man who inspired us all.
My first and last meeting with him was in his office. Yes the same office with broken pieces of old furniture from where the largest ambulance service was run. It was then that I witnessed the real stature of the man who used to joke about his own simplicity with the words “ab tu sadgi bhi mujh say sharmati hai”.
Edhi, his family, and his comrades, lived and still live in a commune. Very few bourgeois people work for Edhi because he pays only working class wages. They also get very few holidays. But dedicated socialists love working. For him because he worked harder than anyone. Most of his organisation is full of leftists.
Edhi doesn't beg in fancy hotels. He used to beg on the streets. More than the rich and famous it is the poor and middle class people who work and give tons of money to Edhi. He would even refuse big donations made by capitalists. Especially if they came with strings attached.
Edhi Is Not Mere Charity
Some bourgeois charities are created to weaken left-wing states. Some are created to undermine communist parties. Some are created to weaken national liberation movement. Some are promoted to weaken trade unions or peasant unions.
Which movement did Edhi weaken? Which trade union did he ever undermine? Which communist party did he damage? Which national liberation movement did he speak against? Answer is none at all.
He was a working class individual who cared for his class. In a more radical environment he would have been a Norman Bethune (caring for the poor in a revolutionary movement). But in the context of a counter-revolutionary sweep of the violence that gripped Karachi in the 1980s supported by a dictatorship that was fracturing the movement along ethnic lines through violence by the MQM and religious fascism of the right wing, he stood as a rock against these reactionary tides of history.
He gave refuge in his organisation to revolutionaries who were being persecuted by the ruling class and the state.
He put together money to eight feet dispensary in Mithadar. And although unlettered just by sheer force of example he inspired millions who rallied to his banner. Some gave their life savings. Some gave their property. Some gave their labour. Some even gave their lives in the line of duty. Today, there are 335 centres with 1,800 ambulances in the country, hundreds of volunteers. His centres are abroad too, in the US, Canada, Afghanistan, Nepal and the Middle East.
"In the west, governments take care of their own. In third world countries like ours, there’s no such arrangement. But it’s a two-way street. The awam dodges taxes, defrauds the government, and the government in turn lines its pockets to allow this to happen. You get the government you deserve, and meanwhile the poor and the needy get left out in the cold. So there’s a crying need for social workers from private quarters. The day this mutually beneficial arrangement stops, there’ll be enough funds in the national coffers to start taking care of the people. That day, I’ll become redundant and relinquish my job to the state. But since this isn’t likely to happen, I have no choice in the matter. It’s a responsibility I have taken upon myself, and I’ll carry on doing it under any circumstance.” Eidhi sb
So to turn around and say that his struggle was mere "charity" to undermine the left is TOTALLY RIDICULOUS. He was a dedicated leftist. Whose humanitarian work arose in the historical circumstances of urban ethnic war unleashed by the state to destroy the democratic movement.
Edhi in Politics
Edhi stood for election in 1965 from the platform of the Combined Opposition Parties (COP). He supported Fatimah Jinnah against the dictatorship of Ayub Khan.
In 1970 Edhi ran as an independent candidate from Lyari. Edhi Sahib refused to spend any money on his campaign and would even refuse to treat potential voters with a cup of tea!
In 1975, he was back as a candidate in a by-election in the Karachi from NA250.
In 1985 Edhi once again decided to contest an election. The PPP decided to support him. Edhi eventually dropped out of the race for unknown reasons.
After this, Edhi quit politics altogether, even though he was offered party tickets by the PPP in 1990 and 1993; and, according to some, by the Musharraf-backed PML-Q in 2002.
In 1993, General Hamid Gul promised to make him President if he would help the army to overthrow the elected government. He refused. They became so angry with him they threatened to kidnap him. He had to go into exile.
Edhi the Revolutionary & Socialist Humanitarian
When Operation Clean-up was launched in Karachi's Sohrab Goth area. Drug dealers and death dealers were stoking ethnic violence by deliberately targeting innocent people to create anarchy and chaos.
“First, they came in groups of five to ten and shouted slogans inciting a particular ethnic group living in the area to join up with them. Once they managed to get these people with them, they started firing at random. When residents of the area emerged from their homes, they opened fire on them, stopping only when their victims fled. The mob then moved in, ransacked houses, looted them and finally set them on fire.”
“I’ve also told people to gather large amounts of stones and keep them on the roofs of their houses, so that if a situation of the kind were just witnessed arises again, they can use these in self-defense. For every five of them that gets shot, they’ll at least get one from the other side. Every human being has the right to self-defense.”
He was accused of being a communist. Edhi responded by saying “agar ghareeb ki madad karnay walay ko communist kaha jata hai tu main communist hun”. Edhi was inspired by Karl Marx, Maxim Gorky, Lenin from the age of 13.
Mullahs were angry with him because his service did not just work for Muslims but for all people. Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Ahmedi, Wahhabi, Edhi Foundation would care for you no matter your religion. Edhi sb, responded to them by saying “My ambulance is more Muslim than you”.
They said he will go to hell because he took care of children out of wedlock which encouraged bay rah rawi. He responded by saying “Mujhay maulvi bedeen boltay hain, bolnay do. Mujhay tu waisay bhi jahanam main jana hai. Kyun keh jannat main tu khushal log hon gay. Saray khushal hon gay.
Main jahanum main ja kar dukhiyon ki khidmat karon ga. Mujhay tu jahanum main jana hai”.
Edhi sarmayadaron, jagirdaron, mullahs ki jannat main nahin jai ga. Edhi ghareebon, dukhiyon, beyar-o-madadgar bachon ki anson ponchnay kay liyay dozakh ki aag bhi qabool kar lay ga.
Jis shakhs nay na is zindagi main, aur na hi aglay jahan main apnay liyay kuch manga - na doodh ki nehrain, na hooron ki sobat…
jis shaksh nay manga tu sirf yeh keh aglay jahan main bhi us ko moqa milay ke wo dukhiyon ka khiyal rakh sakay.
Jis shakhs kay liyay dukhiyon ki khidmat karna hi jannat ho, us ko yeh Kafir kehtay thay.
During Haj, Edhi Sahib refused to pelt the pillars symbolising the devil. Instead, he kept the pebbles in his pocket, saying that there were bigger devils in Pakistan and he will pelt them instead!
Jo Edhi ki insan dosti ki mukhalifat karta hai, meray liyay vo hi shaitan hai.
No institution can survive without good leadership and an individual that symbolises what the movement stands for. Now that Edhi sb is no more, a new symbol of the movement is needed to take Edhi Foundation forward.
I've known Faisal since we worked together for earthquake relief in 2005. I don't say these words for him because he is Edhi's son or because he is my friend. I support him because he has worked for decades by his father's side and only through sheer hard work earned his place in all our hearts to be considered the ideological heir to Edhi's humanitarian legacy. Qadam Barhao Faisal Edhi, Pakistan is with you.
Once someone said to Faiz sb "Faiz sb, aap shair tu buhut achay likhtay hain, magar parrhnay ka andaaz aap ka theek nahin hai". Faiz sb responded "Janab sab kuch hum hi karain? Kuch aap bhi karain na". One man cannot be expected to do everything. Edhi did what he was good at. Practically organised people and helped in their problems. The vast majority of those who could supposedly have made the right analysis never bothered to get out of their cushy little worlds. Edhi braved bullets and threats and did something to better the lot of the suffering poor. For that he ought to be honoured by all those who have any regard for the suffering of the poor.
The rest is up to us.
So to return to why Edhi is important to us I have to say that the violent fire that burns in the napaak neighbourhoods of Pakistan will inevitably alight the very curtains you used to screen the eyes of your home and family from the outside world.
It is only by grasping Edhi’s message of socialist-humanitarianism that we can extinguish this fire that threatens our very existence."