ONE aspect of I.A. Rehman’s priceless legacy was his restless spirit that drove him to champion the cause of freedom and human rights in Pakistan. The huge community of human rights activists in the country drew inspiration from his rational and encouraging leadership.
Many of us — his juniors — were constantly turning to him to draw from his limitless pool of knowledge and saw him as a pillar of strength. In the gloom that followed his death I felt comforted when I received a book of poetry that resonated with me. It touched the same causes Rehman Sahib had inspired us to espouse. Titled Eik Subh Aur Aaygi and containing 103 poems by Anis Haroon, the book is a powerful statement on the sad state of human rights in Pakistan that has brought the country to the brink of a catastrophe.
OUR politicians — whether in office or in the opposition or on the streets — have a bizarre mindset. They think of their personal and family’s concerns first rather than the country’s interests when it faces a grave problem.
Look at the issue of the census and the lurking crisis of population explosion which seems to worry no one. The census is mandated by the Constitution and is to be held every 10 years. Its results form the basis of the number of seats in the national and provincial assemblies and also how the federal divisible pool is distributed among the provinces.
RECENTLY I received a call from Ali Mohammad Goth (in Jahoo Tehsil, population 40,033) in Awaran, Balochistan. Jahoo Tehsil has only two high schools for girls. Scores of students from one of these schools had demanded books to read. This message was conveyed to me by their headmistress Ms Sabar-un-Nisa, courtesy Shabir Rakhshani, the education activist of Awaran. This made me jump up.
UNESCO’S constitution in its preamble declares: “Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” In the feminist context it should read that the defences of women’s rights against patriarchy need to be constructed in the minds of the women who are the most oppressed and exploited. That should be the immediate goal of the feminist movement in Pakistan.
The fact is that the state of women reflects best what author Kazim Saeed titles his book, Dou Pakistan. We have had a female prime minister, a young girl as a Nobel laureate, female pilots, mountaineers, millions of women teachers and highly qualified doctors and so on.
THOSE who favour civil over military politics in Pakistan fret that PM Imran Khan’s personalised mode of governance obstructs the flow and continuity of the federal democratic political process and facilitates the entrée of centralistic benevolent dictatorship. A question then arises: is he using the military or are they using him? The tenor of occasional judicial pronouncements unpleasantly recalls the coziness of the relationship with President General Zia; and Imran Khan’s PTI is no grassroots, often aggressively independent, democracy-minded element in party politics aiming to reduce military trespass into civil space.
Is the PTI a king’s party or just the captain’s? If the iron hand has not merely donned cricketing gloves for form’s sake, are Imran Khan and a judicious military combine hand in glove?
Unlike 2018, the road to PTI success in elections 2023 is not paved with good intentions: these have been found functionally deficient.
Let alone the underprivileged irrelevant citizen, even the beneficiaries thereof, do not deny the validity of the corruption rubric conferred on the PML-N and PPP. But that is not enough to kill a party. Nor should it sustain it: And more than two years into its mandated tenure, a perception that the PTI too is nourished on the milk of human corruption cannot be quelled. Highlighting the corruption of other political contenders is now tactically a boomerang.
THOSE who sow the seeds of change must first prepare the soil for it. That is the immediate thought that occurred to me when I read about the Aurat March, its bold posters and the backlash last Monday. It created a rumpus but the gravity of its message was lost in the melee. That is because we never remember that we have to take it step by step when addressing sensitive issues.
For decades after the initial excitement of the early years of feminism had subsided, International Women’s Day had become a ritualised event to recall the achievements and non-achievements of women in their struggle against the burden of oppression put on them by the forces of patriarchy.
Once feminism stopped making ripples and frustration set in, it was time for change. And it came spontaneously in the form of the Aurat March in 2018. It was the radicals who responded to the challenge. I admire their courage to act but not their strategy.
Many of the problems highlighted by the Aurat March have existed for ages. Feminists of my generation were aware of them too but were too slow in reaching the woman at the grassroots. The radicals have succeeded in mobilising a large number of people from all classes that we failed to reach. But do the leaders of the Aurat March have a solution?
NO matter how they are conducted, the one constant about national elections is that the voter himself or herself knows how he or she voted. And soon enough the local grapevine reliably apprises them how things went by and large at polling stations in the neighbourhood. If gaming with the votes cast is significant enough to negate the predominant mood and intent; if it indicates more than a sporadic favouring of one candidate over the other; voters know and react collectively in common cause.
AT the Pakistan Learning Festival, the session on ‘Incredible Libraries’ attracted many bibliophiles. It is a paradox that in this age of ‘un-education’ in Pakistan a discourse on libraries should win a prized spot. The credit for this goes to the sponsors of the festival, the Idara-i-Taaleem-o-Agahi that has always regarded libraries as an important source of learning.
It was a great idea to showcase some extraordinary libraries that are real treasures in terms of their ingenuity and the inspiration they provide to young readers who are otherwise deprived of their basic right to education.
Study the principles that underpin the Alif Laila Bus Book Library (Lahore), the Kitab Garri, a rickshaw-library (Lahore), the Oont Library on a camel (Mand, Balochistan) and the Digi Kutubkhana in a steel trunk (Mubarak Village, Sindh). They owe their creation to innovative ideas. Their success belies the commonly held belief that big and expensive structures filled with costly books are the first prerequisite of a library. On the contrary, all you need are low-priced books in an appropriate language for the targeted readership and a librarian who loves books as much as children.
The incredible libraries identified above meet these criteria and are success stories. Also, their accessibility offers them an advantage. They are within easy reach of their readers who are not required to overcome barriers of distance to read the books they want.
I look out of my bedroom window as I sip my morning tea. I can see two little children playing together happily. I have already penned the three-year old’s thoughts on his school. Here is my attempt at reading a five-year old’s mind, who speaks in Seraiki.
It’s going to be a challenge, to say the least. The language barrier is scaled effortlessly by the little boy who speaks only in English. But I cannot say the same about myself though I can speak Urdu fluently.
The thought process of this little girl is complex, as she is my neighbour’s (who happens to be a relative) cook’s daughter. This four-year-old was taken away by her father to their village when her mother divorced him. She was returned to the mother after a year, after a hefty amount was given as ransom, I don’t know what else to call it. A traumatic event such as this will cause separation anxiety. With this in mind I observe the little girl.
“MUQABILA, aur woh bhi shaan-o-shaukat ka”(competition — that too of ostentation). “Zehniyat is tarah nahin badalti jab tak mahaul nahin badalta”(the mindset does not change until the environment changes). “Tumharay paas bangla nahin, nokar nahin, par tum zaat kay kitnay achchay ho. Sharif ho”(You do not have a house, or a servant. Yet how decent you are by temperament. How good you are.)
These are snatches of conversation from Hajra Masroor’s short story Standard. Through its protagonist, Begum Riaz, the author astutely comments on Pakistan’s society and its culture of ostentation. The story was written more than 60 years ago but remains relevant.
One of the front-ranking Progressive writers of her day and a feminist, Hajra wrote and spoke fearlessly and enjoyed much respect in literary circles.
It was a fascinating experience revisiting Hajra Apa. I didn’t read Standard, I listened to it. It was the 52nd episode in Zambeelnama, a dramatic reading series. It had a powerful impact on me as the medium of the sound enhanced its effect bringing back old memories of a woman I knew so well — friendly but with a mind of her own.