A basic truth

By Zubeida Mustafa

IF there is a basic truth we still have to learn with regard to improving the lives of people it is that development can take place only when a holistic and integrated approach is adopted. It is not possible to concentrate on only one aspect of people’s socio-economic lives and expect poverty to be eliminated and growth to take place uniformly.

It would be pertinent to study the approach of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a think tank working on strategies to address poverty issues.

The OPHDI emphasises that poverty is more than a lack of income. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Even if a person is earning a reasonable amount, he may not be able to improve his life if health and education facilities are skewed in favour of the very wealthy. Violence is another factor which affects people unequally and its impact on the poor is greater. The OPHDI cites a UNDP study to point out that “successful countries have addressed different deprivations together”. Continue reading “A basic truth”

Whose land is this?

By Zubeida Mustafa

MR Abid Hasan Minto, president of the Awami Workers’ Party, has done well to go before the Supreme Court to challenge the 1990 judgement of the Federal Shariat Court’s appellate bench declaring land reforms to be un-Islamic.

After that judgement it became fashionable to pronounce the demise of feudalism in Pakistan. Some economists of repute challenged leftist views on the subject. It was widely propagated that Pakistan is no more an agrarian economy. It was also said that the country was urbanising fast and the rural-urban divide was not sharply delineated any more.

I will not get into semantic arguments about the definition of feudalism or the social changes that are used as indicators in support of the argument that ours is not a feudal society now. What is more worrisome is that food insecurity in Pakistan is on the rise and rural poverty can be linked to a great extent to the size of landholdings and the relationship between the person who owns the land and the one who cultivates it. Also a matter of concern is the nexus between big landowners and political power.

In this context, the study on landholdings conducted by Dr Kaiser Bengali, an economist and government adviser, is extremely instructive. It reminds us that land reform is an issue that is as relevant today as it was in 1959, 1972 and 1977 when half-hearted attempts were made to change the pattern of landholding in Pakistan. Continue reading “Whose land is this?”

Tragedy of the Bheels

By Zubeida Mustafa

SO tough has been the race for land traditionally that even obtaining a plot for a grave can pose insurmountable barriers. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India, had said, “Do gaz zameen bhee na milee koo-i-yaar mein” (I didn’t get even a two-yard plot in my beloved’s street). That was more than a century and a half ago.

The situation is no better today but for a different reason. Then it was imperial politics. Today it is religious fanaticism combined with land hunger that denied Bhooro Bheel land for a grave in his ancestral graveyard. When obscurantism becomes the driving force behind a tragic incident one can expect rationality to take flight. Continue reading “Tragedy of the Bheels”

Unlocking the mind

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT what age does a child start thinking? Experts believe that children have a mind of their own since they are born. Some even believe that their cognitive abilities are present even when they are in their mother’s womb. That is why they are more at ease with the language they hear their mother speak.

It is a different — though sad — matter that we, as adults, suppress this creative and critical thinking power of children that nature has endowed them with. Since we are comfortable among conformists who do not pose uncomfortable questions we shape our education policies in such a way that children forget how to question. Continue reading “Unlocking the mind”