“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.
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.
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.
A CONFIDENCE deficit is afloat. Will it reach the floor of the House?
With an increasing frequency the media’s elect and select fret out loud over the content and style of current governance, and what to do given variously perceived hazards to national security those in charge seem unware of. Actually the parliamentary system and our constitution – despite curtain calls or Muqarrirs of Zia’s Eighth Amendment – is quite clear as to the protocols of a vote of no confidence. But, since President Alvi can’t do a President Leghari on the PM; and the opposition is constrained and severely handicapped and has egg on its face over the no confidence motion moved against the Senate chairman, there is cause for debate as to whether the rescue service for democratic letdowns lies in a major systemic shakeup rather than parliamentary vacillations:
What sage and smooth analysts argue: is the point of recycling leaders and parties that have been tried and been found wanting twice, even thrice, over? Even the brand new party whose leader had been jostling to win the PM cup for twenty-two years and finally reached the finishing line remains, despite the passage of twenty-two months, at a loss in victory.
IT’S usual for me to cry: Cry in public, in front of junior doctors with the father and mother of young girls who have died in pregnancy during childbirth. Usually it’s impossible to hold my tears when I see a teenage patient with genital tract fistula passing urine all the time. Her mother or sister narrates horrible stories of the Dai who mishandled the patient to produce this terrible result. Usually I recover my composure soon and start functioning normally.
SINCE 1986, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has acted as a conscience keeper of the nation. Its flagship, the annual State of Human Rights in Pakistan, should jolt any government out of its stupor.
How did this government respond to the latest report? The human rights ministry, headed by Shireen Mazari, had a knee-jerk reaction and apparently without reading the report carefully issued a statement accusing the HRCP of having “overlooked several major milestones towards securing and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups” in 2019. It even questioned the ‘intent’ of the HRCP.
IN these trying times of lockdowns, I have found relief in books. Currently, Michelle Obama has brought me the comfort I was looking for. America’s former first lady’s memoir, Becoming, grips your attention with its lucid style. It also gives you a graphic insight into the life of the African-American community, whose struggle has fascinated me since Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech more than 50 years ago.
IN his keynote speech at the recent Karachi Literature Festival
(KLF), historian William Dalrymple spoke of the litfests that have
mushroomed in South Asia in a “fantastic” way. There is no denying that
these literary events are crowd-pullers. Dalrymple estimates that India,
which initiated the trend with the Jaipur Literature Festival — the
most well attended in the world — in 2004, now has 60 litfests a year.
He spoke of 10 being held in Pakistan, though I am not clear how he
arrived at this figure.