He dreams of climbing the K-2 one day. But contesting against 20 heavyweight contestants in Karachi’s thickly populated and ethnically diverse constituency PS-103 is possibly tougher than climbing a mountain, especially if one is an independent candidate who does not have the backing of the affluent.
For Raza Shah, the fact that he is one of the few, or possibly Pakistan’s only differently-abled contestant for the upcoming general elections 2018, his being a polio survivor is not his biggest limitation. “We live in a world where political parties politicise everything to win the elections. If there were other differently-abled contestants, they would have been highlighted by the big parties by now for sure,” says 36-years-old Shah.
For everyone in their lives, there is one moment of epiphany. So it was for Shah who, witnessing the issues people like him faced and the fact that they had no one to solve the problems, realised he must step up. “For every problem, one had to either contact political bigwigs through networks and contacts, or through giving money. The people who were our points of contact knew nothing about our problems. I thought to myself ‘why can’t I be that point of contact?’.”
From 8am to 3am, Shah and his core group of supporters knock door to door in their constituency for the Sindh Assembly seat PS-103. Gradually, people are getting convinced, and the response is very positive, according to Shah, because he is one of them. But it hasn’t been easy. “Har party ke hissay kee gaaliyan bhi mein ne khayi hain (I have been hearing abuses in place of the other political parties),” he laughs and says, because when he goes to convince people, they ask what can he do if those political giants could do nothing, only to be convinced that here is a man who actually has the will to fight the odds and help his community. And the will is perhaps all it takes.
Campaigning has taught him a lot, as interacting one-on-one teaches what hours on the podium giving speeches doesn’t. “I have also learnt that our people are very hospitable and make sure you take chai or cold drinks, but there are no public toilets in Karachi,” he says, pointing out a legitimate issue in the garb of humour.
While newspapers proudly sported the headline given by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that disabled people are being facilitated and are allowed to vote through postal ballot, where is that much-awaited headline that says that differently-abled people are contesting elections? Yes there are reserved seats for them but is that enough? For Shah, his contesting the elections is also about making a point about social inclusion. Parties like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have sections in their manifesto talking about ensuring rights of the differently-abled.
Other major political parties have not even bothered to do that. However, Shah feels that this is all good to the extent of manifestos only, but Pakistan’s differently-abled need more than just job quotas. They need their voices heard. “Practically, no one has fielded differently-abled candidates from their parties, have they?” says Shah who contracted polio at the age of one and a half. “Every day is a fight, living with this [disability]. If I can fight this, I can do more.”
An optimist, Shah feels that more and more independent candidates will come up in elections over time. “Voters will also understand over time that those who spend crores on election campaigns will obviously invest that much to earn it all and more back after the elections. It is independent candidates who are focused on solving people’s problems because they are in it to serve their communities,” he adds. His election symbol is brick. “It is a symbol of constructing something. It reflects the ideology of progress.”
Shah also does not see his disability as his claim to fame. “I tell people that if I can contest elections with limitations like being an independent candidate, putting up a fight against representatives of Pakistan’s biggest political parties, and on top of it being differently-abled, then so can you. I am a reality. I am part of the equation, even though I have limitations. Unless citizens like me stand up for themselves, and gain the strength to help their communities, no one is going to help us.”