BALOCHISTAN is a paradox — like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that do not fit. The recent tragedy — the brutal mass murder of 11 Hazara miners in Mach — is testimony to this paradox. It is bizarre that, periodically, a cultured people with a rich tradition of poetry and learning should be subjected to such atrocity on the soil of Balochistan by brutes under the protection of non-Baloch.
“A few years to my sum of years,/ I am still stuck in the in-between./ A relic in this vale of tears,/ A reluctant ‘was’, ‘has-been’.” — Chris Z. Abbas
THESE verses were penned by a dear friend describing old age, three years before her death in 2009. Chris was 88 when she departed from what she called “this vale of tears”.
The fact is that medical science boasts of its success in prolonging the age of man — life expectancy in Pakistan has grown from 45 years in 1950 to 67 today. But society and state have done precious little to improve the quality of life for their senior citizens.
Hence it gave me great satisfaction when I learned recently that in 2014 the Sindh Assembly had adopted the Senior Citizens Welfare Act (SCWA) — the first province in Pakistan to do so. Lawyers dub it as a ‘model’ law, cut and pasted from the social welfare law of a West European state but without any plan for its implementation.
Before we take up the issue of the ethical aspect of education in Pakistan a look at its legal and constitutional status itself would be in order. I shall focus on school education as it is this sector that has a pronounced human rights and ethical aspect. In 2010, the National Assembly amended the Constitution of 1973 that made education mandatory for all children. Article 25-A was adopted and according to this, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
This provision should have been a landmark step towards universalizing education which is worldwide regarded as the fundamental right of all men, women and children. It naturally has to begin from childhood. It seems unbelievable that it took Pakistan 63 years to recognize this basic fact.
But Article 25-A has failed to achieve its purpose. The enrolment ratio of school age children is barely 60 percent and over 22 million children aged 5-16 years are still believed to be out of school. The resultant inequity geographical, gender and class – has demonstrated clearly that in Pakistan education is not the equalizer it should be. If anything, it is a factor that promotes inequality.
The pandemic, the anxiety and fear of the unknown, economic downturn—national and global, lockdowns–total, partial and smart—and social distancing had worn us out by the end of September. What did provide some relief to me and my daughter, the city-dwellers, was a little refuge in nature, a reclaiming of the bond with the sky, the plants (potted) of many hues and smells, and the little flora and fauna left in Karachi.
After four nights of stay in upper Hunza, we came down to a resort in central Hunza. Central Hunza, the administrative region of the valley with capital Karimabad, is famous for Baltit and Altit Forts and the ancient settlement Ganish.
ON Dec 9, which is designated as International Anti-Corruption Day by the United Nations, newspapers carried a prominent Sindh government advertisement titled ‘Let’s Eradicate Corruption’. It would have convinced few but it did amuse many. The ad claimed that action was being taken against corruption.
The ad admitted that corruption was against the interest of the nation and that bribery was punishable under the law. However, it made a tall demand by stating, “If you have encountered corruption, report immediately.”
Would one want to do that? I still think of my friend Perween Rahman, the head of the OPP, who was shot dead in March 2013, and how she was facilitating the regularisation of goths on the fringe of the city. In normal times too, ordinary citizens feel unprotected. Till today, we do not know who ordered the killers to pull the trigger to eliminate this dedicated social worker.
It is seemingly a brilliant idea to ask the public to report a crime even if it is as minor as a clerk demanding a bribe to move a file. Will the file actually inch forward when the accused is taken to task? As for big crimes, only a fool would hope for state protection if he dares to report it.
FOR 20 years, the US State Department has been annually documenting the efforts — or the lack thereof — of governments to check trafficking in persons (TIP) that has become a massive crime worldwide over the years. The major success it has achieved so far is in creating public awareness about this abominable issue. In some cases, it has managed to get governments to legislate on the matter in a bid to check the prevalence of the crime.
The TIP situation in Pakistan is horrifying for two reasons. First is its extraordinary rise in the two categories covered by the US report, namely, kidnapping for bonded labour and for trading girls in prostitution.
A REGULAR event from the pre-pandemic age that I miss a lot is the Children’s Literature Festival spearheaded by Baela Raza Jamil. Held regularly all over the country, it was designed to unleash the power of the mind.
From the treasure trove of memories I have of the festivals, there is one that never fails to delight my heart. That was recorded at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Turbat in 2018. It was the theatre session in which a bunch of inhibited, shy and reserved youngsters comprised the participants. The resource person was Atif Badar, who struggled to overcome the language barrier with the help of two Balochi teachers. There was also the challenge of drawing the boys out of their apparent reticence.
Atif was directing a play that was to be presented before the chief of army staff. Sociocultural barriers also made the actors nervous as they were required to deliver a dialogue that to many of them must have appeared to be mumbo jumbo — Urdu not being their native language. Then something happened. With prompting from their teachers and the excitement of entering another world, the boys perked up, demonstrating confidence. Atif, who is always encouraging and reassuring as a good teacher should be, got these youngsters to perform a wonderful play, projecting the importance of storytelling and reading. The impromptu actors were wonderful and received a loud ovation from their audience.
Above all, the performers enjoyed the new experience. That is the magic of theatre. That has always attracted Atif to theatre in education which he believes is important to teach children the skill of communication and improve their confidence. He acquired his own skills from Sheema Kermani’s Tehreek-i-Niswan whose contribution to theatre in Pakistan is unmatched. Although he has been teaching theatre for 10 years in some prestigious schools in Karachi, there are few who really appreciate the value of theatre in education. At the most, theatre is equated with the annual play performed on Parents Day in schools. It is not a regular subject used as a tool of learning. Article continues after ad
Could one dub the military establishment a sacred cow? Risky: the figure of speech could be taken as mocking or belittling Hindu theology. Offenders could hopefully plead not guilty for the expression ‘sacred cow’ is common usage globally in the Queen’s English. But there is another pitfall – what about the subject to which the epithet is applied? If that is taboo for critical discussion locally and you broach it; you, rather than the sacred cow, could become meat for dissection (figuratively of course). To put it another way — it is politically unwise to offend the military establishment. But circumspection carried too far raises socio-civic issues, can leave the public proverbial ostriches with heads buried in the sand, for, in another sense, prodding sacred cows might be corrective politicking no matter how politically incorrect. The sacred cow of freedom of speech here is curtailed by two enormous public perceptions of religiosity and national security.
HOW the Single National Curriculum is being formulated betrays a gross ignorance of the principles of public policymaking. As I wait for the final document I often think of my friend Javed Hasan Aly who passed away last month of Covid-19, leaving his family and his many friends bereft.
I can imagine him shaking his head sadly and declaring that policymakers in Islamabad were violating public interest blatantly.
Javed was in the government himself (1965-2005), engaged in policymaking. He rose to the influential post of secretary Establishment Division. But he could make no impact. Why? He was so unlike the crowd in Islamabad vying for the boss’s favour. Whenever I teasingly referred to him as a bureaucrat, he would feign annoyance to remind me that he was a ‘civil servant’. “I have always striven to serve the people and that is why my priority has been to learn about the interests of the public”.
ONE could well think Pakistan is short of problematic issues, for the focal topic of unflagging heated discussion among politicians, anchors, analysts — ongoing from the closing week of October — is the perspective on something that happened at the close of February 2019.
The peg is what Ayaz Sadiq (the even-toned and even-handed Speaker of the House in the preceding PML(N) spell) had to say about an attitude towards it in Parliament on 28 October. Until tutored into thinking otherwise, I would have said ‘referred to’ February 2019 rather than ‘said about’ for he was just being childishly rude about a fellow parliamentarian, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, FM then and now, who he depicted as scared silly by possible developments back then. It was a cascade of unduly disparaging personal remarks in bad taste. It could have been ignored or condemned as such, instead of being officially exaggerated into serious aspersions on the part of the PML(N) upon military ability and attitude.