What started off as a humble attempt to provide a counter narrative to extremism and hate speech has turned into a campaign reaching out to hundreds of people through advertisements promoting social and religious coexistence using rickshaws.
The campaign is run by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) – a society working for tolerance, equality and peaceful coexistence. It has spread the message through 2,400 flexes pasted on rickshaws across the city.
IPSS chairperson Saeeda Diep says the campaign was inspired by similar campaigns promoting extremism.
“Earlier, one could see only a few posters on rickshaws inciting hatred against minorities.
The number has surged recently,” she says.
“It is sad to see radicalisation being promoted openly and going unquestioned.”
Diep says some rickshaw drivers charge Rs200 to Rs500 a month to advertise the messages. Some do it voluntarily.
“The posters carrying hate messages against a specific segment of society are unlike traditional commercial advertisement.”
Diep and a few volunteers decided to create their own posters and flexes to spread their message through rickshaws.
The flexes were designed for free thanks by volunteers. Discounts were available for printing.
“Our message is not radical. We use mild language and promote peaceful co-existence citing Islamic traditions and sayings of the Quaid-i-Azam,” says Diep.
The posters with the tagline Socho Pakistan have been put up on more than 2,000 rickshaws. An IPSS team keeps tabs on rickshaw drivers who have been given the posters.
Team members distribute posters at rickshaw stands near Minar-i-Pakistan.
“There was a greater acceptance by members of the Christian community. For most of them, the messages mean a lot,” says Diep. The campaign received the best response from rickshaw drivers from Youhanabad and Bahar Colony, she says.
There have been incidents that the team found worrying. Some rickshaw drivers have been harassed for carrying the posters of with the message: ‘Attack on Malala, attack on humanity and education’.
“We were concerned about the safety of rickshaw drivers. We are glad that they have not been harassed,” Diep says.
She says the team remains in touch with the drivers. “Some of them are even calling us to get new posters. At most 100 of the original posters are left… most have worn out.”
The campaign has now gone online seeking donations.
Each flex costs around Rs1,400 ($ 14). This includes the cost of design, printing and installation. More than $300 has been collected through the online crowd-funding campaign ending by October 17.
The IPSS is hoping to collect $10,000 that will help it arrange 700 flexes.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2014.