Whither feminism?

IS feminism changing in Pakistan? That is the question that should be asked by those who are interested in women’s issues. That is the question that I pondered over at the Women’s Peace Table I attended recently in Karachi.

Organised by Tehrik-e-Niswan (TN) and a few other civil society groups, this gathering was the third in the series that was launched in 2015 on the call of the Peace Women Across the Globe. The idea is to encourage women to be involved in the peace process in regions in the grip of conflict. Continue reading “Whither feminism?”

Much ado about something


By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH has been made of the legislative dexterity that allowed Nawaz Sharif to return to being official president of the eponymous PML(N). What leaves anonymous citizens confused is that there are (at least) two starkly different interpretations of that bit of legislation.

One reading has it that the move exposes parliament as a farcical misrepresentation where parliamentarians connive in trampling public interest underfoot and are better circumvented in the cause of the state’s eco-political interests. The other reading is that parliament is to be congratulated for asserting its electorally mandated legislative powers and has embarrassed extra interventionism. It’s a tug of war figuratively speaking right now, but the mandated government and the mandated opposition seem determined to keep on pulling till something snaps.

For the PML (N) this isn’t  corruption, but adherence to parliamentary democratic form.  For the PTI, the party  is almost certainly the only real opposition — the only clean alternative, overwhelmingly beloved by those who eschew political evil. Foe the PTI supporters elections that do not endorse a leader’s popular presumptions and incontestable assumption of the highest office are an electoral nonsense.

We all agree our democratic process is sadly flawed and needs watching and weeding. But we do not all feel it is entirely worthless and best written off when short of the PTI standard. The reckless PTI logic of reworking the existing democratic mandate can take us down the path of judicial politicking and military social regularisation. Having established the parliament as wanting, it need not be beyond our powers to turn it inside out.

Radical departures and experimentation by elements where the only manifest is a carte blanche inevitably create question marks regarding the nature and intent of governance.  In the case of unscheduled or abruptly altered modes of popular reference , questions could be asked about Pakistan’s orientation and direction by friends and enemies.

Our conspiracy theories are hard to dispel as our theorists fight shy of specifics. They rely on portentous innuendo and vague warnings but they can predispose audiences by creating an ambience by using the social media– tweet and tweak. If I were to make so bold as to attempt to deconstruct intangible prefabricated conspiracies; I would discern two distinct genres. One where the components are all indigenous, no matter how varied the forms and combinations and propositions. The other where foreign partners are involved as controllers. They need not necessarily be regarded as rogue in their own contexts but would lack bona fides with us and by definition be subversive.

Political executive power may be experienced as a frivolously delightful end in itself. It can be purposive and sought to serve an agenda. Human nature being what it is, for the less cerebral even the trappings of power may be enticement. And so people can be used without much caring why or how or even without suspecting it. From this point of view it is reassuring to know our intelligence agencies are alert and active. And, from the same point of view, we can also watch out against a tendency to paint them black. True, there is much to be held against them historically, but we must also allow their more virtuous endeavours – especially in an ongoing  operation – cannot be publicised but do exist.

Part of the unsettling media-exacerbated buzz hums about the non-existence or incoherence of foreign policy, a conflicted interior ministry, a politically oriented divisive civil-military friction and divergent goals. Of course this could well be taken as indicative of a systemic failure of governance. Debate surrounding the response to external provocation and insult, excoriate pusillanimity rather than finding wisdom in considered deliberations. Harping on the interior ministry’s over-use or lack of access to its due power; habitually denigrating the motives of those in public office or service, whether intentionally or unintentionally, supplement the thesis of rampaging governmental irresponsibility and incompetence. Security can appear imperiled to a degree that generates popular panic. There is a right to information but there is also a need for editorial judgment.

Politicians appear fools or knaves when they treat crucial issues (reforms in FATA and the problem of religious bigotry) as cannon fodder to blast the government. Are ethnic nationalism, ‘righteous’ rage, mob fury, stoked deliberately or thoughtlessly? Cannot politicians see what the silent majority sees: the common good in using the parliamentary forum and working calmly till the next mandated electoral verdict. Why seek upheaval? Are ‘they’ scared this government may work? And so I come back to a question rather than a theory – who is conspiring with whom?

Imran Khan is said to have said Nawaz Sharif is instigating institutional conflict and inviting martial law so that he appears a victim and is politically resurrected. Poor thinking: Nawaz Sharif already appears victimized. And as for his political resurrection: He is as yet far from politically dead. And yet again, accountability in the public eye at any rate, has already become a witch hunt.

But the significant democratic development – which gives cause to put in a good word for the effects of a decade of the ‘rotten’ democratic system – is that the witch-hunting this time is not conducted by the democratically empowered government. Also, although the former PM has been disqualified his party goes on: not banned, not defunct, but mainstream. Let the next election further clear the waters.

Are the stage hands, props and managers of our political theatre listening?

Mother of all tongues

By Dr Tariq Rahman

The book under review is a collection of 24 articles with a foreword by Professor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, and an introduction by the editors. An afterword by Ahmed Kabel brings the work together as a conclusive whole. As anyone at all familiar with the academic discourse in the teaching of the English language will immediately understand, this is the latest endeavour by people who have not accepted the hegemony of English without question: rather, they have chosen to make people conscious that English has become a hydra, in the sense that it is weakening the other languages of the world.

Indeed, writers, like Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, have been raising key questions about this hegemony for a long time. In a sense then, this volume revives some of these old anxieties, with the help of new case histories of countries as diverse as Iceland and China, and helps explain what precisely is at stake in the field of education in general, and language-learning in particular. Continue reading “Mother of all tongues”

Gender unit

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh government’s apathy towards gender inequity in education is almost proverbial. I was, therefore, taken aback when the minister for literacy and education in the province quoted the age-old adage: “When you educate a boy you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl you educate a family.”

It left me wondering why his party which has been in power in Sindh for a decade failed to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the province. Has wisdom been late in dawning on our policymakers? Continue reading “Gender unit”

The minimal role of the medical professionals in preventive medicine in Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

 A recent report issued by the British Heart Foundation said, “More than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive. Inactivity increases the risk of heart disease and costs the NHS around £1.2bn each year.”1

Seventeen years ago in 2005, the British Medical Association and the Irish Medical Organisation had warned in a public statement that a million British children accounted for a third of the cases of obesity seen in children in the European Union countries. The BMA called for strong action by member governments and the EU health commissioner to stem the rising epidemic of obesity in under-16s.2

This was followed by a report in July 2015 in which the BMA  called on the government to impose a tax of 20 per cent on sugar sweetened drinks to pay for subsidies on fruits and vegetables in an effort to slow down  the “obesity epidemic”.3

The BMA also demanded a clamp down on the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children and even a ban on clusters of fast food outlets.

This persistent campaign by the BMA has produced results. It has created enough public pressure and the British parliament is now set to adopt the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill 2016-17.4

Can we ever expect the medical profession to take  a stand on similar issues  in Pakistan and then sustain the pressure to produce results?

The fact is that the health professionals in this country focus too heavily on curative medicine. They are inclined to treat the person who falls ill with the aim of curing him rather than pre-empt his illness by preventive means. Doctors are trained to perceive their responsibility to ease an ill person’s pain and provide him relief while regarding it the civic authorities’ responsibility to work for preventive medicine.

Physicians and surgeons have launched campaigns on some issues that have serious implications for public health. For instance it was the collective efforts of the SIUT and the Transplantation Society that the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance5 was promulgated and the illegal organ trade was brought into the limelight. While this proved beyond doubt that our professionals have the capacity and skill to launch public campaigns, this was not what one would call a preventive health issue. It was a public evil, a heinous crime that also had to be curbed.

It is not that Pakistan never had a programme of preventive health. True it was the municipality that undertook this function but the health professionals were also concerned about its success.

What would qualify as measures of preventive health? In a nutshell it would be anything that prevented the outbreak of a disease and ensured that people generally remained healthy.

Preventive health would include immunisation programmes, sanitation, anti-TB measures, eradication of malaria by destroying the breeding grounds of mosquitos, nutrition projects, screening and monitoring drives and the supply of potable water.

True the main work will have to be undertaken by civic authorities but the medical professionals’ bodies could always pitch in to put pressure on the government to undertake the above listed measures that prevent disease and ensure the well-being of people. That is the role the BMA has played.

Health professionals have yet another function to perform. They have to act as the advocates of the health rights of the people. If doctors were to demand vocally clean drinking water for the people it would have a powerful impact. Besides they are in a better position to make a convincing case supported by facts and figures.

The PMA at times makes demands of this nature. A few months ago it had invited a sanitation expert for a talk and called on the authorities to lift the garbage from Karachi’s streets. But this was a call from the blue and not a campaign.

Unfortunately we do not have a strong tradition of health education. With such a weak education sector, it has not been possible to create health awareness in the public through schools and textbooks. Even in a limited way most physicians and surgeons have failed to teach individually their patients the basic principles of remaining healthy. With most doctors giving only a few minutes to their patients, they tend to skip out the preventive side. With the doctors’ waiting rooms chock-a-block it is a pity that the professionals do not avail of this opportunity to pass on the message of the good practices of preventive health. Many doctors have televisions fitted in their waiting halls to keep patients entertained.

One can understand that given the heavy load of work, it is not physically possible for the doctor to play the teacher’s role as well.  But it is not clear why doctors cannot with a bit of effort get social workers and health workers trained to talk to the patients in waiting rooms and tell them about basic health principles. There are measures individuals can adopt and reduce illness in the family such as boil drinking water, use mosquito nets and so on. This effort on the part of health professionals would certainly help in reducing the burden of disease. This apathy on their part is unforgivable.

The government’s indifference to preventive medicine is underlined by the health plans. I looked up the section on Dengue Fever in the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2011-2012.6 Titled Dengue Epidemic and Control Programme, it lists 13 measures ranging from sending delegations abroad, research, setting up task forces and cells to online surveillance of cases. There are only two points which can be considered as truly preventive measures. One is called environmental measure which includes proper disposal of waste water, desilting operations, timely repair of leaks in plumbing and cleanliness drive in eateries. The second point speaks of vector control without elucidating it. We do not know how much was actually spent on each item. We do know that Dengue Fever is now a common disease — perhaps as common as malaria.

This is certain that preventive medicine incurs less expenditure than curative medicine which is very expensive. And its impact is greater.


1. More than 20 million Britons ‘physically inactive’. BBC Health News. Cited on 9 April 2017. Available from URL: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39457993.

2. Lorraine Heller. More than 20 million Britons ‘physically inactive. Newsletter Food Navigator. Cited on 9 April 2017. Available from URL: http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Doctors-call-for-EU-wide-approach-to-obesity.

3. James Gallagher. Tax sugary drinks by 20%, say doctors”. BBC News, 13th July, 2015. Cited on 9 April 2017. Available from URL:   http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33479118.

4. BMA. Doctors leaders welcome sugar tax. BMA news, March 2017. Cited on 9 April 2017. Available from URL: www.services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/sugarinfoodanddrinkstargetslabellingandadvertising.html/.

5. The transplant of human Organs and Tissues, Pakistan, March 2010. Cited on 9th April, 2017. Available from URL: https://academic.oup.com/ckj/article/1/2/128/565238/Organ-transplantation-law-in-Pakistan-to-curb.

6. Health and nutrition- Ministry of Finance, Chapter 12,  Pakistan Economic Survey 2011-2012. Cited on 9 April 2017. Available from URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=Pakistan+ economic+surver+1995-1996+health+chapter&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8.

Source: Journal of the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, October 2017

Continue reading “The minimal role of the medical professionals in preventive medicine in Pakistan”

New horizons

NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.

This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc.

Though translations have helped popularise authors, this genre is one of the most challenging but least appreciated. I spoke to Anand, who is a literary translator and is fluent in English and Hindi, about how he feels about his work. He shot to fame after the publication of his elegant translation of his father’s book in 2010. He lives in Montreal and has just finished translating Alice Munro’s Runaway into Hindi which is in the press now.

Anand says that his ultimate goal is “the comprehensibility of the final text”. In other words, a translation should be so natural that the reader should not feel that what he is reading is a product of the process of transmission from one language to another. “I try to get into the author’s mind,” he remarks.

Why do we not have more translations in Pakistan?

That can be tricky, he admits, because every language has its own syntax and rhythm, and to impose those of the source language on to the target language seldom works. Many translators may not agree with that. But no one would question Anand’s assertion that the translator must have equal mastery over the two languages involved. It also means that the translator must be familiar with the culture, geography and history of the place where the story is set. Anand has an advantage in this respect as he lives in Canada and visits India every winter.

Personally I feel that the translation is best when the translator identifies himself with the author. In the case of Jhutha Sach, Anand had a ringside view of the writing process. He was a teenager in the late 1950s when the book was being written. He says, “I saw it being written. I knew some of the people who shared their experiences of Partition with my father.”

The book was first serialised in a magazine and hundreds of letters poured in. Anand helped his father by responding to them. He felt close to the book and it became a part of his being.

But most important is Anand’s statement, “I agree with what my father writes about post-independence India failing to deliver the expected sort of egalitarian society that was promised during the freedom struggle. The promises made about social and economic freedom, women’s rights and empowerment, were either sabotaged or inexcusably delayed by hidebound reactionaries.”

This is precisely what Yashpal captures in his book. When two minds think alike the result will inevitably be powerful.

This has left me wondering why we do not have more translations in Pakistan. We have a number of good translators, no doubt. Yet Ameena Saiyid, the MD of OUP, once told me that the translations they published do not sell. Is there such a chasm between the English-speaking elite classes and the non-English speaking masses? Conversely, are the Urdu readers rejecting English so conclusively that they do not want to read even the translated work of English writers? Or is it simply that the mindset and literary tastes of our society have diverged so sharply that there is no meeting of minds between them?

I have noticed this in the media of the two languages. Their worldviews are poles apart. Their social, cultural values do not meet at any point, nor do their literary tastes.

This alienation is a product of our social inequity. Language barriers have been erected to keep the poor beyond the pale. Or is it simply a case of our education system failing to inculcate the book-reading habit? If people don’t like to read books, translations will not sell either. Take Iran as an example. Iranians are avid readers and translations are also popular. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has 16 different versions of Farsi translations available in Iran. They must be selling.

Source: Dawn

Dr Pfau’s leprosy miracle

By Zubeida Mustafa

Haleema Khan (a name used in this story to preserve her anonymity) is a health management expert who is head of the secretariat in a prestigious hospital in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city. Efficient, professional and confident, one would never guess that Khan reached the heights of success by starting from the lowest rung of the ladder.

Khan grew up in a shanty town in the backwaters of Karachi, where she was born to parents who suffered from leprosy. This concentration of humble dwellings was home to the outcasts of society, and Khan, who had never contracted the disease herself, inherited a lowly status by virtue of her parentage. The stigma attached to leprosy has haunted her all her life (and is why she was reluctant to reveal her identity for this story). Read on

Source: Truthdig

Running where?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN the introduction to Pakistan at the Crossroad, Christophe Jaffrelot labels Pakistan as a “client state” and a “pivotal state”. For long, we had been dubbed an ideological state and a security state.

None of these titles are too flattering, but they are not inaccurate. The status of being a client and a pivot stems from Jaffrelot’s observation about Pakistan’s “ability to navigate at the interface of domestic and external dynamics”. Continue reading “Running where?”

Whatever lies ahead

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

WHATEVER lies ahead or went before, the IJIC inclusion of Nawaz Sharif’s family’s offshore assets as revealed in the PanamaLeaks, at a fortuitous but blessed moment for the political opposition, has culminated in his local political disqualification.
Diligent digital research yielded other Panama-originated leaks featuring sundry plutocrats – in drips as it were. Indeed an international basket of politicians has been highlighted by the ICIJ, so it doesn’t seem as if Nawaz Sharif was being targeted or a country prioritized for scrutiny by extra-territorial watchdogs. The leak was, however, a veritable tsunami of good luck for Imran Khan who had not been able to achieve his declared and entirely altruistic end of getting the ‘corrupt’ Nawaz to go despite a fiercely sustained battery of charges of election-rigging; state brutality; to say nothing of dharnas, lockdowns, jalsas, rallies and vehicular marches. Continue reading “Whatever lies ahead”

Time to heal

Voices of Partition, Mumbai 6 Aug 2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.

This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading “Time to heal”