THE infamous legacy of ‘enforced disappearances’ that the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet left behind has, unfortunately, been picked up by Pakistan. This phenomenon is today a source of great human agony in the country with thousands believed to have been abducted, many for political reasons.
Balochistan has suffered much. One cannot be certain about who is behind this torturous form of suppression of the freedom of expression. One hears of the ‘agencies’, Baloch dissidents, RAW agents, religiously inspired militants and others being involved. Continue reading Guns or books?→
AS the forces of feminism grow in strength, it is heartening to see women mobilising themselves and rising to fight their own battles. It is clear that the seeds of awareness that were sown in the 1980s are now bearing fruit.
We see many young faces taking up the cudgels. They are the generation which reacted to the oppression of their mothers in Zia’s Pakistan and the heightened misogyny of the post-9/11 years. Continue reading March of women→
In January 2018, Lahore, the seat of government of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, played host to the Children’s Literature Festival (CFL), a unique experiment in making education a fun activity. Thousands of children gathered on the scenic lawns of the historic Lahore Fort to hear stories, listen to music and songs, and watch plays and dances.
But this was not an entertainment event alone. It was more like a gigantic, unconventional school, and in many cases the children were their own teachers.
When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading Integrity above all→
ON a bright sunny winter day of January in Lahore, Pakistan’s renowned poet Amjad Islam Amjad spoke to a huge audience of young people. “Karo jo baat karni hai. Haan sunn lo dosto/Jo bhi dunya kahay/Uss ko parkhay binaa maan lena nahin (Speak out what you want to … Listen to what the world says/But don’t accept it without weighing it),” he exhorted the listeners. Amjad was speaking at the inaugural session of the Children’s Literature Festival. In a few words he captured the spirit of the CLF.
Launched in 2011 to introduce children to the power of the word — how to think and how to express oneself — the CLF opens for them the fascinating world of books that are the natural kin of words and language. It is appropriate that young readers should also learn to use their mind, which, unfortunately, our education system does not encourage them to do.
Focused on rote learning, schools and teachers resort to a one-way flow of communication in which students are expected to listen and learn. Questions are taboo and, unsurprisingly, children are lulled into a world of conformism where they lap up whatever they are told. Education is not participatory and the students’ contribution to their own learning is minimal.
The festival opens up a fascinating world of books for children.
The CLF, which has had 45 sessions all over Pakistan in big cities and small, is now gradually emerging as a people’s movement offering an alternative narrative to what our education system presents. According to its founder. Baela Raza Jamil, over a million children have been reached in the seven years since its inception. Now schools in remote areas group together to hold such festivals, initially under guidance from Baela’s team. The idea has been taken up in some cities of India and Nepal from where interested people attended some CLF sessions in Pakistan and returned impressed.
The festival held at the Shahi Qila Lahore in partnership with the Walled City Lahore Authority had a different dimension which underlined the importance of such events for the children of this country. Thanks to WCLA’s restoration work at the walled city we have yet another piece of heritage to introduce to our children. The CLF wisely used this opportunity to connect the children with their past, their culture, natural beauty, music, art, et al. Not only would they have returned home on those two January days with serenity in their soul, they would have imbibed love, generosity and tolerance for a lifetime.
According to a widely cited poet, Dorothy Nolte, “Children learn what they live”. A day at the CLF was enough to instil in them all the positive qualities our education system fails to do in 10 years. This holds true especially if the exposure to such an experience is on a regular basis.
The key lesson the CLF offers to our education authorities is that the best form of learning is participatory and interactive. When a child is acting in a play or in a theatre, singing or reciting, experimenting with material related to STEM subjects as she did in Science Fuse and the pottery, sculpture, bookmaking workshops, she is learning many skills much faster than she would have in a classroom reading from a textbook. At the CLF children used all their faculties when they participated in a session.
Take Atif Badar, a passionate actor, director and drama teacher who describes himself as “a children’s person”. He held five interactive theatre workshops and story-singing and dance sessions with hand puppets which were the best learning experience the children could ever have had. Atif not only told his own stories, he also encouraged children to join in with theirs. His stories and puppets were lessons in the universality of love, peace and tolerance.
In a session ‘Socho aur Bolo’ (think and speak) children were invited to share their views and experiences on issues ranging from anxiety, anger and other topics taken from a narrative. Thus they learnt how to analyse and think critically.
With continuous research, the CLF should break new ground. It is important that the organisers do follow-up sessions with schools that have participated in a CLF to assess the impact it had on the students. Thus the CLF can be fine-tuned further. As it is, I found the 45th session that I attended in Lahore was markedly more participatory and interactive from the point of view of the young audience than the first session in 2011.
The Teachers’ Literature Festival was launched in 2013 when its need was felt but only three sessions have been held so far. It is now widely recognised that our education system would improve considerably if teachers were more motivated and committed. What could motivate them better than the TLF? Workshops, discussions, lectures, films and plays for teachers could do wonders.
THE Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, or CPLC, recently released data on crime in Karachi in 2017. It confirms that we live under the shadow of death in this city that was once predicted to become the queen of the East. In 11 months until end November 2017, 54,473 crimes including killings, robberies, kidnappings and extortions were registered. Many were not even reported as the victims did not deem them serious enough to get involved with the police.
Criminologists and anthropologists would enumerate many factors and conditions that account for the rising crime graph in Karachi in the span of a few decades. Continue reading Say no to guns→
I am writing this letter to you a whit too late. Your sparkling pretty eyes have been shut for ever. And you are not there to read my words which are an outpouring of my grief, my anguish, my shame, my anger and, above all, the deep remorse that I feel for having let you down. True, I did not harm you directly. I wasn’t the one to hurt you. Yet I plead guilty because I failed to create the environment that every child needs. If I had given attention to this aspect of life, you wouldn’t have had to pay the price for my failure. You would have been saved.
So I will not indulge in the blame game I see that is being playedout around me by politicians and opinion leaders alike who derive some kind of perverse pleasure from accusing their rivals for whatever goes wrong. Continue reading So sorry Zainab→
THE problem with the policymaking process in Pakistan is that it receives very little intellectual input. In an authoritarian system, decisions are taken arbitrarily by a dictator or his coterie and that is why these are regarded as flawed.
But in a democracy, as we claim to be, it is unforgivable that the government should ignore the advice of those who “engage in critical thinking, research and reflection about society and propose solutions for its normative problems”. Wikipedia terms such people as intellectuals.
It would be valid to ask how many such intellectuals we have in Pakistan. Not many, it would seem, given the paucity of facilities and opportunities for research in the social sciences in public-sector institutions of higher education and the elitist approach of the private universities many of which also restrict freedom of expression causing students to live in a bubble. Continue reading Mind’s input→
AT the inaugural session of its 70th anniversary conference, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, did us proud when the proceedings were conducted in Urdu. It was a pleasure to hear chaste Urdu perfectly articulated at an occasion not dominated by our Urdu litterateurs.
I was told that this was at the suggestion of President Mamnoon Hussain who was the chief guest. Masuma Hasan, the chairperson of the institute, confirmed it, adding that it was her idea as well. Urdu is Pakistan’s national language, so no one should challenge Masuma’s decision. However, the smooth sailing at the PIIA function made me wonder why the demand for other provincial languages being given the same constitutional status cannot be considered favourably. Continue reading It wasn’t English→
READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.
Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect. Continue reading Storytelling→