by Imaan Mazari-Hazir

Abdul Sattar Edhi was a man for whom words will always fall short. A celebrated and loved humanitarian, Edhi embodied values very seldom found not just in Pakistani society but also throughout the global community. After his passing, his son, Faisal Edhi, while discussing his father, stated: “He wished to be buried in the same clothes he used to wear. He also wanted to donate his body parts, but only his cornea can be donated as rest of the organs were not in a healthy condition”.

Even after his death, Edhi wanted to give whatever could be of use to another human being. Had his organs been in a better condition, it would not be far-fetched at all to assume that he would have donated all of them, particularly considering his son’s words.

A few months have passed since Edhi’s death but no real introspection has begun in Pakistan. While we put up a fight to have hospitals, roads and airports named after Edhi, hardly any of us, let alone society at large, have tried to live by the principles he stuck to till his dying breath. In fact, the state funeral given to him was probably our way of easing our consciences but something he never really would have cared much for.

Without understanding Abdul Sattar Edhi’s background, those belonging to the privileged, ruling class can never even begin to transform this society. After all, we have never experienced the hardship and misery of the common man, and that is essentially what Edhi was.

Edhi’s mother suffered from severe mental health issues, and as per the usual conduct of the Pakistani state, they were unwilling to provide any sort of support or care. In 1951, Edhi set up his first clinic. The year is significant because it demonstrates that after a mere four years since the inception of Pakistan, while the state was still struggling to find its identity, Edhi had found his mission.

While the generations before mine talked of setting up the great State of Pakistan, Edhi was content with setting up the largest welfare organization within the country. His wife, Bilquis Edhi, told AFP in 2016: “He never established a home for his own children”. Instead, it seems Edhi was clear in his mind, from the very outset, that the helpless who couldn’t take care of themselves were all his children.

Edhi dispels the myth that you have to conform to a corrupt and inefficient system, by being part of it, in order to change things. He developed his own system: an honest system aimed at protecting the country’s most destitute.

When Edhi passed away, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement: “Despite all his success, he has always stayed humble, living a simple life in a small house barely large enough to encapsulate his enormous heart”. This was a pretty ironic statement coming from an office, which had a budget of Rs.799 million for the year 2014-2015. It is pretty evident from the State’s conduct that its remembrance of Edhi is just for show – it has no desire to actually take austerity seriously.

The same hypocrisy can be seen throughout our society today as we talk the talk, but are ever ready to sit down when it comes to walking. Donating to the Edhi Foundation is a wonderful step in the right direction and indeed, works to strengthen a community pillar. However, that in itself is not enough. Have we, the people, had the courage to question the conspicuous consumption of the State in the face of extreme poverty? Have we pressured the State into doing its job, which includes setting up hospitals, care-centers, orphanages, homes for the elderly, efficient ambulance services, etc.?

We have to ask ourselves whether we will allow Edhi to be a memory etched in our minds or a way of life felt through our everyday actions. It is not enough to remember – one must act. Pakistan will probably never see another Edhi again owing to the fact he was the one clean slate in a society plagued with corruption, bribery, nepotism, inefficiency and intolerance. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? After all, it was that struggle by Edhi that continues to win hearts all over the world today.