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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

The Pressure Cooker Society

          The first steam-powered pressure cooker was invented in 1679 by a French physicist named Denis Papin. The device called the digester, used steam pressure to cook food quickly and efficiently. The early digester was a large and cumbersome machine, requiring manual operation and careful attention to avoid explosions. The term pressure cooker can also be used as an allegory to describe any situation, environment, job, assignment, obligation or a relationship, in which a person is faced with urgent responsibilities or demands by other people, constant deadlines, or a hectic work schedule. The feelings of being pressed, stressed and pushed are now a commonplace i.e. in our careers, relationship, parenting etc. 

As envisaged by the nation's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan is a nation-state, constitutionally a democratic parliamentary republic. The national cabinet, led by the Prime Minister of Pakistan has executive power and the president is the head of state elected by the Electoral College. After Pakistan's first ever general elections, the 1973 Constitution was created by an elected Parliament. The Constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic and Islam as the state religion. However, during its chequered history of the last 76 years, The Democratic Republic of Pakistan (Islami Jamhooria Pakistan) has demonstrated that it has neither been fully democratic nor wholly Islamic but just in name; and that is where the pressure in Pakistani society starts building up.

The absence of real democracy has more often than not resulted in suppression, oppression and tyranny that mostly created chaos, frustration, anxiety and anger, causing rebellion, revolt, extremism and terrorism; which the state of Pakistan has ceaselessly been confronted with. The frequent dismissal of elected governments and the elected prime ministers under charges of corruption and inefficiency who in turn always complained about being not wholly independent and fully empowered is too well known to be explained. The consequent political and economic instability has kept the country struggling on all the internal and external fronts with ever multiplying and insuperable challenges. In such crippling national environment, the people of Pakistan are constantly faced with poverty, unemployment, poor education standards, pitiable health care, highly disturbed security environment, missing justice, slaying inflation, and unaffordable energy prices has driven the public crazy and suffering from a swarm of socio-psycho pressure which are akin to the high temperature gas pressure in a pressure cooker.  

In an evolving and a budding society like ours with a wide gulf between the haves and have-nots, the Oppression has many faces and comes in different scales. Oppression of women at home, oppression of employees by a tyrant leader, and oppression of a nation by a tyrant ruler are examples of oppression we still face today. Blindness of the tyrant father or leader leads them to consider short-term effects only. They see their power controlling others and temporary submission as signs of victory. Long-term effects are different. Explosion of the oppressed gets closer and closer. Designers of pressure cookers use release valves to avoid excessive buildup of pressure inside the cooker. They know that if a pressure cooker explodes they shall be subject to trial. Explosions come without advance notice. Imagine what happens when a pressure cooker explodes spraying randomly hot food and metal splinters in all directions. Same is the case with oppressed nations they may explode suddenly and then spray their hot lava of anger sporadically burning people and damaging property.

In a true democratic society having a real elected and fully empowered government, the freedom of speech, free print, electronic and social media, art and craft, availability of high standards of education and other civic amenities with equal human rights and justice act as a pressure ‘release valve’; and the absence of the same make the society burst like a pressure cooker with devastating consequences. Oppression does the same. It leads to the rapid heating of the oppressed people beyond their capacity to bear the building pressure inside. This results in violence and acts like rioting and burning whatever people can burn. Chaos spreads like fire. Worse if the buildup of pressure is not distributed evenly. Hot spots result and these spots become excessively dangerous when the explosion happens. Oppression may do the same with people feeling the oppression at different levels. Hot spots result and these become a source of violent explosions. Sometimes the faulty pressure cooker sends a steam-releasing sound. If this happens, the cooker is faulty, and repairing the faulty part becomes necessary. The tyrants may listen to the unusual complaining sounds but their pride makes them deaf to hear them and do the necessary “repairing”. An explosion happens and burns them. This becomes dangerously threatening if the explosion leads to the formation of a pressure wave following the initial explosion. Pressure waves travel very fast and reach remote areas burning them. The damage magnifies. Those nations become uncontrollable and no tyrant can do anything about a bursting nation.

Nevertheless, the ever ruling elite in Pakistan tend to believe, “When Life Is a Pressure Cooker, Remember the Frog”. If you drop a frog into a shallow pot of boiling water, he'll jump out immediately. But if you place him in water at room temperature, then gradually bring the liquid to a boil, the frog doesn't notice until it's too late. The people of Pakistan have been treated like frog; but now the boiling point is either going to kill the frog or make it jump out for survival. Hoping against the hope that a simile can give us due wisdom on how to respect people and their right to live in a freedom. Remember, A functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy, educated, participatory followership, and an educated, morally grounded leadership.”


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