Give him a syringe and he will draw out his own blood, splash it on the soil and pay obeisance to the earth that molded him. Julius Salik has done it.
As for caging himself up, it was his community’s – Salik is Christian – demonstration of solidarity with his Muslim brethren in Pakistan during the Holy Month of Ramadhan.
He disconnects the electricity to his residence and brings in camels to share his living space. He burns his belongings. He treks thousands of kilometers. He observes silence for days on. He talks for hours on. He wears coarse cotton. He does it all for a cause. And for Salik, every action has a reason, and an effect.
Nobel peace prize nominee and former federal minister of Pakistan, Julius Salik, 57 year old is currently promoting his mission of world peace.
Understanding what he stands for doesn’t take much effort. He simply put, works for love and peace. He leaves no scope for ambiguity about his end-results. And in whatever he does, he strikes out a new path never following a trodden path. Salik plans to do just that. He names his home ‘The Black House’. Which explains the “Black House.” “Where does light shine? In darkness, isn’t it?” he asks. Which further explains why he had camels in his living room. That was his way of protest against the complacency of the authorities in disconnecting the electricity to the slum areas of Islamabad. He used a hand-fan, read by candle-light and heard the radio using battery cells. All he wanted was the authorities to realize the pain, the poor children in the slums had to undergo.
Salik burnt his belongings to press upon the authorities who delayed paying compensation to the family of a boy who drowned in an open ditch once again, pointing to the negligence of the concerned government organization. Salik donated the belongings of his house to the dead boy’s father.
He observed silence for days on to focus the attention of authorities on the growing drug menace. He talked to an audience of over 20,000 assembled in a Lahore stadium on world peace for 16 hours “not winking an eye-lid nor letting anyone in the audience sleep.”
He has trekked some 2000 kilometers, way back in 1985, to the Pakistan-Iran border campaigning for an end to the Iran-Iraq war.
In India when there was controversy in Sikhism and when Golden Temple was demolished, J.Salik protested against Indian government and said that all the religions and sacred places in Pakistan are in secure hands. J.Salik protested over massacre of Muslims in the Philippine and as a mark of protest he wore black robes for 40 days. J.Salik lent support to 8 point peace program in 1982 of Prince Fahd for the Middle East. J.Salik burnt and buried the effigy of Christian militia over brutal Muslim massacre in Palestine. J.Salik organized hoisting of black flags over the houses of Christian community to protest against over violence against Muslim minority in Burma.
He organized a joint Christian-Muslim Ulema conference to press the release of 72 American hostages by Iran and he appealed to Imam Khamini to release American hostages and said that Islam is a peace loving religion. It does not teaches hatred. The result of this appeal was that on Christmas day American hostages were released and they joined their loved ones at home. He wore coarse clothes to identify with the repressed all around the world.
During his minister tenure he reached war-torn Bosnia along with his family members. When his only son pointed the life hazard, J.Salik silenced him saying that the dead bodies of father, mother and son reaching Pakistan on Christmas would not only help arouse world conscience but also enhance Pakistan’s prestige. J.Salik owned the life risk in writing and donning bulletproof jacket and riding army tank left the airport to express solidarity with the oppressed Muslims in the city. He accompanied by his family members spent the second Christmas as Federal Minister in the refugee tents among the oppressed Kashmiri Muslims. He polled the highest number of votes, the record yet to be beaten in Pakistan, individually in each province namely Punjab, Sindh, N.W.F.P, Balochistan and federal capital. His election was without any investment which too is a record in Pakistan history.
In 1995 residential plots were being allotted to members of Parliament under a parliamentary housing scheme. The allottee was to pay only Rs. 0.2 million (Rupees 200,000) while the plot could earn a profit of Rs. 17.75 million (Rupees 17,750,000) on open market. At the outset J.Salik announced at a press conference that he would not accept an official plot until each and every poor man in Pakistan owned a house. J.Salik takes pride that neither he nor any member of his family owns even an inch of land anywhere in the world. He lives in a hired house in Islamabad. It has been an article of faith for him to attain distinction while remaining materially poor and to bring glory to his country. Not only in Pakistan but million of people are aware of the epic struggle of J.Salik spread over twenty-seven years and acknowledge that he never attained any personal gain.
At the end of his tenure as a minister he left his bungalow in the minister’s enclave, which he had declared as a national orphanage, with fanfare. National anthem was played on the occasion. He transported his belongings on slow moving camel carts. The slow motion aimed at presenting his possessions for open scrutiny and project that he discharged his cabinet functions dutifully and to promote mutual brotherhood. The camel carts carrying his luggage took ten days to reach Lahore.
Salik makes head lines for the right reasons. “I have suffered pain, humiliation, insults, beatings and torture. I have faced death threats and intimidation. I have been accused of treason and fraud. I have survived a barrage of abuse,” observes Salik. He is aware of the numerous epithets not all of them kind he has earned. He simply isn’t bothered. “Good work will always fetch criticism,” he says. “I don’t give ears to such negativities because if you start listening to loose talk, you can’t work.” Work, thus, is his priority.
Salik portrays his story as one of “hope, courage and conviction.” Entering community service early in life, thus losing out on conventional education. Salik says his “life experiences is worth more than an PhD.” He has no regrets in not abiding by the accepted theories of education because he feels “the theories and practices of others would have contaminated” his free thinking. For him, languages don’t matter. “If you know what you are talking about, if you understand your mission in life, language is no barrier, and you can communicate,” is his mantra.
Growing up in Lahore, a member of the minority community. Salik’s life is one bullet point string protests. Speaking against oppression has become so much a norm of his life, he has to think before describing his first protest: “It was nothing out of the way, I guess,” he says. “I was a teenager then, I would get up early in the morning and take my scooter to the city, and on the way, would stop and shake hands with all those who were employed in menial jobs. They were considered such outcasts my gesture surely must have consoled them,” says Salik.
His grandfather had built a church, and his father served in the army before he was court-martialed for insubordination. “He was technically skilled and set up a chemical factory,” His parents and brothers moved to the US some twenty years ago, but Salik refused to part his home-country. Salik hit headlines first when he staged protests demanding the release of Pakistan’s premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He endured hardships but earned public confidence and sympathy, and he was elected Lahore’s municipal councilor. That is when he expanded his horizons and started to campaign for global peace discarding fashionable clothing for coarse wear. He founded the Peace Education Foundation of Pakistan in 1986, and to this day he would call his mission: “Peace Education.”
Re-elections, resignations and evocative protests later. Salik sold off all belongings to undertake the famous trek to the border. He returned and contested in the National Assembly elections but had to wait for close to two years before he could take oath and assume office. That very day the Assembly was dissolved, recalls Salik with a smile. Not shying away from any opportunity to make a statement condemning administration inefficiencies and bureaucratic style of functioning was rewarded with a ministerial position by Benazir Bhutto.
He was initially to serve as minister of state, “ I said I would join office only after I have fumigated the office to symbolically rid off all its corruption,” says Salik. This evoked strong protests from politicians themselves but the conviction was to pay off. Salik, overnight, was chosen as federal minister in charge of social welfare. That meant access to high-level confidential meetings and a decisive role in policy making.
Corruption, he knew, ran deep, and he didn’t want to be tainted, which is one reason for his total disregard for material comforts. He believes that a leader must lead by example. He has lived by the wayside in tents with his then two-year-old son, David, who is now in the US. “The boy, he chides me in private for not giving him the pleasures of life but in public, when he sees the adulation I earn, he compliments me,” says the doting father. Salik’s wife, Marie, has been part of his struggle all the way.
He left office in style, too. He rode down in camels carrying all his personal belongings. “I wanted to demonstrate that I was not running away from the people. Anyone who felt I had wronged them during my term could come up to me and ask an explanation. I wanted to be with the people.
A highlight of his activities was his nomination for the Nobel peace prize. He is continuing on his work, and awards or not, he executes is the reason of his existence. “I have not hurt any one. I have never touched a pistol with my hand. I have always been engaged in peaceful protest. I am happy in my work, and I am happy that my work has attracted others, who consider me a father-figure,” he says. Salik says his whole work is against three divisions: “Class, dress and glass.” Glass? “Yes, glass. The rich refuse to drink from the same glass as the poor. It is a symbolism of the emotional and societal divide.” “Some call me mad, some laugh at me, tease me, but all I ask them is to look inside themselves. What do they see there apart from misery and strife? For them, life itself is madness,” says Salik, who attributes his inspiration, drive and recognition to God.
His father named him Julius after Caesar. “He named me after a king, a rich king; I am the king of the poor.”