Enemies of the poor

The community centre's park for children
The community centre’s park for children

By Zubeida Mustafa

EIGHT years ago, a young woman from Khairo Dero (Larkana district) was so touched by the plight of her people that she decided to work for their uplift.

She had been fortunate to receive a privileged education abroad, was doing a lucrative job and had all that one could wish for in life. Today, she has renounced these privileges to work for her people. .

Thus Naween Mangi set out on her journey of creating a model village for development in Khairo Dero. Continue reading “Enemies of the poor”

After freedom what?

Sohail Fida-- a year after he was released
Sohail Fida– a year after he was released

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUR years ago, on a leap day, a young man of 28 walked out of Haripur jail to his freedom. Now when he looks back at this great event in his life, he describes his feelings on the occasion as ‘confusing’. It felt surreal, he said to me, as he looked back to that day. “I was asking myself, ‘Is this really happening to me?’”

Sohail Fida was hauled into prison in 2000 when he was only 16 years. Allegedly false charges of murder were brought against him and a confession extracted by torture.

Despite his incarceration for 12 years — five of them on death row — Sohail did not lose hope. His story is one of grit and courage. It is a story that inspires. Continue reading “After freedom what?”

Unsilenced voice

By Zubeida Mustafa

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish. Continue reading “Unsilenced voice”

A 40-year journey

By Zubeida Mustafa

siut9THIS week the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) is holding an international symposium to celebrate 40 years of its existence.

The logo designed for the occasion sums up its philosophy: “Every human being has the right to access healthcare irrespective of caste, colour or religious belief, free with dignity.” At SIUT you actually see this happening.

For long, it was the dream of its founder, Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, to create a nucleus that would evolve into an equitable and inclusive healthcare system that would be accessible to all. Continue reading “A 40-year journey”

‘Seedy’ business

By Zubeida Mustafa

COTTON growers in southern Punjab are facing a serious crisis. Their crop production has shrunk drastically. The reasons stated, among others, are poor quality seeds and severe pest attack.

These factors can be addressed, provided the will exists. Poor seeds and pest attacks that are interconnected have a causal link with the rapid spread of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that have begun to shake public confidence the world over.

The tide is now turning as demonstrations have been held against GMOs, which shot to fame when they were promoted as the miracle seed to eliminate hunger. But the fact is that hybrid plants in which genomes from different species are mixed are too new and untested a technology to win universal acceptance. Continue reading “‘Seedy’ business”

Arms and the man

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE sense of insecurity that hangs heavy in the air in Karachi is almost palpable. Even when life is following its near normal routine — the jostling crowds, the unruly traffic and the noise — the uneasy feeling persists.

For me this normality is not reassuring. Unpleasant memories of traumatic experiences of yore lie hidden in the subconscious. The sight of an armed guard reminds me of the gun-driven violence that stalks the city. It is the gun that has been held twice to my head to rob me when the day was so beautiful. The last time this happened was a few years ago when my peaceful morning walk was interrupted by three armed youths on a motorbike, out to steal my pedometer — worth not more than Rs100. Everyone I meet has a ‘gun story’ to tell. Continue reading “Arms and the man”

Who pays the bill?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ELECTRICITY and the energy sector have been in the news for a long time now in Pakistan. The enormous shortfalls in power generation have been the most talked about issue. The corruption factor has also figured prominently with circular debts and illegal connections drawing a lot of flak against the government. The heatwave in Karachi in June leading to the death of about 1,200 people and the proposal for a Heat Health Action Plan that came in its wake should focus public attention on a number of core issues.

Against this backdrop, I asked Yadullah Husain, a Canadian-Pakistani journalist, how he perceives the crisis. Husain was my colleague in Dawn 17 years ago and is today the energy editor at the respected Canadian paper, Financial Post. He has recently won the Newsmaker of the Year award given by the Global Petroleum Survey recognising the services of a journalist covering the oil and gas sector. Continue reading “Who pays the bill?”

Teacher in exile

By Zubeida Mustafa

bernadette
Bernadette Dean

CAN we hope to hear news from Pakistan that brings some light to the end of the tunnel? It is a red-letter day when we do and one such day came recently when I read about a group of creative artists who have shown the courage to counter Pakistan’s biggest existential challenge — the indoctrination of youth by religious extremists and militants.

These artists have ventured to produce rational literature which they are disseminating among young readers to inspire some soul-searching within them. The graphic novel titled Pasban is designed to encourage the readers to ask questions on basic issues of the day and help them seek sensible answers.

This no doubt will be an uphill task considering the government’s own failure to counter the extremist threat. All it was required to do was to introduce liberal values through curricula reforms. The primary need is to teach children tolerance and Continue reading “Teacher in exile”

Save Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.

Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”

Changing mindsets

By Zubeida Mustafa

TALKING about prisons, the chief justice of Sindh said last Saturday that more than retribution and deterrence the main purpose of imprisonment should be reform and rehabilitation. In Pakistan, where the prison system is by no means in ideal shape — Karachi jail has 6,000 prisoners when its capacity is for under 2,000 — the need to address the moral correction dimension is conspicuously inadequate.

To step into this unsavoury situation with the idea of bringing about reform is in itself an act of courage. Saleem Aziz Khan, the founder of the Society for Advancement of Health, Education and Environment (SAHEE), has nevertheless decided to meet the challenge. Along with Azhar Jamil, he launched the four-step Criminon Programme in the Karachi jail in 2007. The two now want to expand the project as they feel they are making an impact.

Having borrowed the concepts from internationally recognised and tried projects, Azhar defends the project as being “a secular programme that teaches common-sense values”. Continue reading “Changing mindsets”