Category Archives: Culture and the Arts

Breaking the cycle

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By Zubeida Mustafa

PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.

There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.

  In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.

Also read: Psychiatrists concerned about plight of IDPs

This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading

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Teachers’ voices

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By Zubeida Mustafa

TEACHERS have been in the news recently as it is universally recognised that the quality of education and the learning output of children in any society depend preponderantly on teachers’ performance and academic standards.

Hence considerable improvement can be brought about only if we focus on the teachers on a priority basis. The Children’s Literature Festival has added a day for teachers since its Karachi session in February this year. Once again teachers got a day to themselves before the CLF opened in Lahore last week. Earlier, two reports titled The Voice of Teachers by Alif Ailaan and SAHE’s report on Teaching and Learning English in Sindh’s Schools Continue reading

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Justice in jobs

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By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN human rights are in the news, the focus is invariably on civil and political rights such as life, liberty and democracy. Their violation causes explosive reactions. Rights that are not of a political nature are not so visible though their continued denial has a profound and insidious impact on the lives of a far greater number of people. They are like slow death that kills society itself.

These are the rights that have a role to play in sustaining human life with dignity which is no less than the right to life itself. Yet strangely enough, these seemingly mundane issues such as jobs, education and housing do not receive the same attention in public forums globally. Mercifully, realisation is now dawning in some quarters that there is a solution to the problems caused by the absence of social justice.

If awareness were to be created about these issues, enough pressure could be generated to force the powers that be to take positive measures. With this goal before it, Poster for Tomorrow was formed in 2009 in Paris by a group of artists led by Hervé Matine. Continue reading

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No science culture

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S first Nobel Laureate, Prof Abdus Salam, constantly lamented our failure to promote science. His contributions to theoretical physics apart, he was a powerful advocate of science and research. For decades, even after he had left Pakistan in protest, Salam’s love for his homeland and concern for his government’s failure to promote science was undiminished. He continued to plead the case for science through his speeches, writings and the institutions he founded, till he died in 1996.

It is a pity that 18 years after his death, science in Pakistan continues to languish as the neglected stepchild of state and society. It never recovered from the severe blow it suffered under Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation and anti-education policies. Not that science and research had received preferential treatment at any stage, but today their survival is endangered. Continue reading

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Pakistan’s Youth: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Zubeida Mustafa

The so-called youth bulge in Pakistan has now become visible. One young woman making news around the world of late is 17-year-old Malala Yusufzai, who was named the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in early October.

Not that Pakistan has not been a young country for several decades. The country’s high population growth rate over the 1980s and 1990s means more than a quarter of the country’s population of 182 million today is between 15 and 29 years of age, which is how youth is defined by the United Nations. However, it is only in times of turbulence, as Pakistan is experiencing at present, that the youth’s presence has become pronounced. Two democratic elections in a row – in 2008 and 2013— have focused public attention on young voters.In the May 2013 general election it is said that about a third of the registered voters were under 29 (that worked out to 25 million in absolute numbers) and many of them would be casting ballots for the first time. The political parties took note, and all of them included plans for the youth in their election manifestos. Continue reading

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How Young Pakistanis Help Themselves

By Nudrat Kamal The challenges that Pakistan’s young people face today are significant and pervasive, and can be addressed only through sweeping systemic changes. Notwithstanding these challenges, many young people are defying great odds to become conscientious and engaged members … Continue reading

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Creating a Safe Haven for Pakistan’s Youth

By Nudrat Kamal

geust-contSohail Rahi, 44, and Nadeem Baig, 45, the duo who established the Lyari Youth Cafe in Karachi, Pakistan in 2012, were in their twenties when they first took up the cause of the youth in their neighborhood. In 1990, they began organizing street schools to make education accessible to the underprivileged boys and girls of Lyari. Two years ago, the idea of the street schools was developed further, and the Youth Café was launched.

When I visited them recently, we sat on the rooftop of the two-story building in the heart of the city’s bustling Lyari neighborhood that houses their brainchild. On one end of the roof is a small kitchen designed to provide free tea and coffee to visitors. The remaining area has small tables and chairs. On the floors below are makeshift desks where free classes are held for local children. The walls are covered with bright handmade posters proclaiming messages of peace and positivity Continue reading

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TV then and now

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by Rifaat Hamid Ghani

TV started out in Pakistan as a government monopoly dressed up as a semi-autonomous corporation. There was every reason for PTV to be a disaster, yet it was an enviable success.

President Field Marshal Ayub loved it for its power as a propaganda tool that dispensed with literacy requirements and had more magnetism than the radio. Aslam Azhar, PTV’s defining and trail-blazing station-manager, loved it for what it could do to educate and inform. That was the idealist in him. The actor in him loved it because it was a creative medium. The PTV he nurtured with a board of imaginative mandarins to back him, had an egalitarian working environment and it changed norms and mores.

All within the parameters of the Ministry of Information’s most stringent rules the new medium empowered women, dignified the artiste, and changed social conventions. PTV gave the artistes and creators of drama, music, dance, a place to go and be and earn. It gave the entertainment industry a respectability which assured parents their young could participate despite the amazingly irregular working hours and rather low grade recognition granted the programme producer, bureaucratically speaking. Of course the outreach of PTV’s state propaganda was soul-deadening – but even so programmes like Alif Noon redeemed much. And in terms of professionalism and entertainment value the quality of PTV programming and production and technical transmission dominated the region and was an exemplar.

Cut to now. Continue reading

4 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Education, Guest Contributor, History, Human Rights, Media |

Education myths

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By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is budget time in Pakistan and one issue of special concern to the people is the attention that the education sector will receive from those who hold the purse strings. In the federal budget for 2014-15 Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced an allocation of Rs63bn for higher education. The true picture will emerge only when the provincial budgets are presented, as they address the bulk of the education sector.

There are, however, a number of myths that surround this vital area of national life. One that has been perpetuated for long is that the more funds poured into education the more the latter will improve. For long the size of the education budget has been used as a yardstick to measure the government’s commitment to this sector. Hence the boast generally in budget speeches about the size of the education expenditure. Continue reading

4 Comments | Posted in Constitution, Culture and the Arts, Economy, Education, History, Human Rights, New, Social Issues |

A life journey or a travelogue?

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By Zubeida Mustafa

A question very often asked of writers is why do they write. Khushwant Singh, India’s best known author and journalist, said he wrote to inform, amuse and provoke. The author of Pearls from the Ocean , Parvin Shere, quotes the American writer and poet, Maya Angelou to answer this  question.  “There is no agony greater than bearing an untold story inside you,.” Says Angelou.

For Shere this untold story has to find expression and it does in three forms, prose, poetry and painting. She could not have been more articulate in giving expression to the discovery she made when she submitted to her  urge to penetrate the barriers of faiths, languages and cultures: the Earth  is home to all humans and their  oneness binds them together, but…

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