Category Archives: Social Issues

Shattered dreams

population

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FEW years ago, when the army operation took place in Swat and many families were displaced, I went to Baldia in Karachi to meet some of them. There I was introduced to a man who told me that he had 19 children. He had two wives. I was awestruck by his virility.

He may have been an exception. But we should not underestimate the reproductive capacity of Pakistanis. According to the Population Council in Islamabad, in 2012 Pakistan had nine million pregnancies of which 4.2m were unintended. Of these 2.25m ended in induced abortions. In other words, over six million babies were born that year. Continue reading

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Language fracture

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contTHE importance of education is reiterated so passionately that the phrase has become an end in itself: We stop dead after asserting its importance. Duty has been done and homage offered.

There has not been a single attempt at government – civil or military – that has not set up its own national education reform commission, taskforce, or whatever rubric the jargon of its moment favours. The labels change but one may comfortably hazard a guess that the substance of reports, the diagnosis and prognosis of the malady, are rather similar. The same sage recommendations and prescriptions have been heard over and over again, and whatever is attempted never really gets going. Yet, outstanding blunders perpetrated in the field resonate despite policy change or retraction – think Bhutto’s nationalisation and Zia’s madressas.

This article’s purported focus is higher education and language: the medium of instruction. I will forbear – but only after reminding clichés survive because they are valid – from the clichés as to the advantages of instruction in the mother tongue and the advantages of English as a global language. Look instead at what we have and what we want – not from the perspective of the arbiters, the consultant expert advisers on system – but from the point of view of their captives – Pakistan’s students and teachers: For students approaching higher education, and teachers as they receive and dispatch them, Continue reading

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Linguistic dilemma

Hello_World_In_Several_Languages

By Zubeida Mustafa

WE do have a language dilemma on hand, whether we admit it or not.

I attend a ceremony at a school of journalism in Buffer Zone in Karachi where 49 girls are awarded a certificate for the three-month course they had completed supported by scholarships from donors. The language of the proceedings is English and it is plain that few in the audience really understand what was being said. A translator comes to their rescue. I decide to speak in Urdu as I want to connect with these young ladies who have aspirations of joining my profession.

A few days later, I go to a conference organised by the Society for Pakistan’s English Language Teachers. I presume the audience at a moot organised by them would expect me to speak in English. But when I begin I am requested to be bilingual. I drop the English bit and stick to Urdu.

Sometimes in between these events, I visit the Ardeshir Cowasjee Writing Centre at the main campus of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, (established in 2014). I feel I am on firm ground language-wise. Ardeshir who earned fame as Dawn’s columnist with a distinct style of his own wrote only in English. So English would be the language here and I guess correctly. Continue reading

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‘ASER’ time is here

ASER Pakistan 2014 National Report Card

By Zubeida Mustafa

AN incurable optimist once commented that the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that you then have to move upwards. He probably didn’t believe that one may remain stuck at the bottom and not move at all. We were talking about education in Pakistan.

ASER 2014, released earlier this month, records a mixed bag of achievements. Since 2010, the Annual Status of Education Report, which describes itself as “the largest citizen-led, household-based initiative” has been collecting education-related data predominantly from rural areas to assess the quality of the learning output of children. Continue reading

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The neuter gender

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contTHE Pakistani woman: can she be defined? For that matter can the Pakistani male? Somehow we don’t think that much about defining the Pakistani male – its women are so much more interesting! Pakistani society is stratified and its cultures mixed; yet its male value stereotype is almost constant. Feudal lordling or serf, bureaucratic grandee or babu, urban or rural, whatever the income bracket or professional tag or social exposure, men are convinced they know better than their women – whether they indulge them or control them. They retain the right to intervene be it as wise men or tyrants.

But the Pakistani woman’s attitude to the male in her orbit varies dramatically depending osocial standing. The plane of stratification and the cultural mix make an enormous difference to her mental attitudes and responses. One could say that women are still evolving and the men have evolved – which is a polite way of saying that they are Continue reading

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A Visit to Vietnam

By Rabab Naqvi

geust-contOnce you step out on the streets of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, it is hard to believe that this is a country that was devastated by war not long ago. My cousin, Rashida, responded to my email from Vietnam, “I am glad you are having a nice stay in Vietnam. My mind still carries the war ravaged scenes of that country of 40 or 50 years ago”. To find remnants of war today one has to go to the War Museum and the Cu Chi tunnel complex.  Hanoi, which was bombed during the war, buzzes with life. Amidst restaurants, hotels, shopping plazas and bazaars pretty women and handsome men scurry around. Vietnamese are blessed with good looks and good figures. Men and women both drive motorcycles on roads and highways. Vietnam has the highest number of two-wheelers per capita. Whole families somehow manage to fit on one motorcycle. It is amazing how they can carry an incredible amount of stuff of varying shapes and sizes on a motorcycle. It appears to be their main mode of Continue reading

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‘Najma has gone’

Najma Sadeque (picture courtesy Dawn.com)

By Zubeida Mustafa

HER entire life was a series of battles she fought for the disadvantaged, the empowerment of women, the right of people to land and the preservation of the environment. Many of these were battles that she won. Others were ongoing struggles, as she never gave up hope. That was Najma Sadeque described as the activist who wore several hats.

Her last battle was against death and this one she lost. “Najma has gone,” I was informed by a friend who was in the hospital with Najma when the end came shortly after midnight. With her the courage and inspiration she had instilled in many had also gone, so I thought. Then I knew they hadn’t for Najma has left behind a legacy of courage and integrity embodied so clearly in her daughter Deneb Sumbul. A picture of her mother, Deneb’s dignity in her hour of grief is something only Najma could instil. Continue reading

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Karachi seeks peace

Logo of I am Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

JO dil par haath rakho tau/ faqat itna hee kahta hai/ Woh Isa Chowk ho ya Das Manzil ka koi mandir/ Lohari Gate ho ya Goth Qasim ki koi basti/ Woh Babul Ilm ho ya Masjid-i-Siddiq-i-Akbar ho/ Hussainabad ho ya woh meri Farooq Nagri ho/ Jahan bhi golian chalti hain meray dil pe lagti hain/ Har ek woh ghar jahan maatam bapa hai mera apna hai. — Ishrat Afreen

(I place my hand on my heart/ and all it says is/ whether it be Isa Chowk or some temple of Das Manzil/ be it Lohari Gate or a neighbourhood of Goth Qasim/ be it Babul Ilm or the Siddiq-i-Akbar mosque/ be it Hussainabad or my Farooq Nagri/ where bullets fly they strike my heart/ every home in mourning is my very own.)

These verses draw a startling picture of Karachi torn by sectarian/communal violence. The picture is of a fragmented city. The verses also poignantly capture the poet’s pain and sense of shared grief with the victims irrespective of their caste or creed. This theme — horror and empathy — has recently found resonance in the numerous conferences held under the banner of the ‘I am Karachi’ peace campaign. This is the need of the hour in a city that lost over 1,100 of its citizens to violence in 2014. Continue reading

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A new venture

mehru-2_Fotor

By Zubeida Mustafa

AWAY from the bustle of downtown Karachi in a remote area of Korangi bordering Ibrahim Hyderi, where our fishermen eke out a hazardous living, an experiment in social engineering is taking place. It is expected to be a milestone in the history of healthcare in Pakistan.

This new venture — the Mehrunnisa Hospital — is seemingly a modern hospital for the poor like any other, waiting to open its doors fully to patients. They are bound to visit it in droves once the bus routes are adjusted to make it accessible by public transport.

Built by a philanthropist — businessman Haroon Abdul Karim — it was donated by him to the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in January 2013. Abdul Karim’s obsession was that patients be provided services absolutely free of charge. He visited hospitals incognito and felt that the SIUT alone met his criteria.

What makes Mehrunnisa so different that it is expected to be a model? Continue reading

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We are to blame

rg1024_meeting_point_in_brillant_style

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Tuesday’s carnage by the Taliban in Peshawar has left the nation in grief and shock. Such was the enormity of the crime — more than 130 young lives snuffed out brutally — that the emotions it stirred have yet to subside.

The post-Peshawar reactions are intense. But will this be a watershed event? Many think not. Public attention has already started to wander. The discourse is changing. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty that has led to a spree of hangings has invited Continue reading

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