Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Intolerance behind Sufis!

Since the deadlock between the government and Barelvi extremists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan came to an end on Monday, November 27, one thing was loud and clear, the Pakistan Army refused to take action against “its own people”, as the chief of army staff said.

The civilian government had been trying to handle the situation since November 6, when the sit-in commenced, but was forced to request for army assistance to tackle the jihadi sentiments on the orders of the Islamabad High Court. However, the anti-Ahmadi rhetoric played by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz against the sitting Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa came back to bite them during the Faizabad Interchange sit-in. The army, instead of coming in to take hold of the situation 1953-style, chose to coach civilians about amicably handling Punjabis overdosing on the blasphemy law.

This incident has not only paved the way for the COAS to clear his name in the eyes of the largest sectarian group, but it also falls in place with the establishment’s plan to mainstream Islamic extremists as a political alliance.

Earlier, when Nawaz was deposed as per court orders, and by-elections were called in NA-120, one of the contestants was Qari Yaqoob Sheikh of the unregistered Milli Muslim League, technically a candidate of the Jama'at-ud-Da'wah, political wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Qari Yaqoob bagged 4.59 percent or a total 5,822 votes in the by-election. The launching of the Milli Muslim League was opposed by the PML-N, but their protests went unheard.

The other religious person, who was ahead of Yaqoob was Shaikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi at 7,130 votes or 5.62 percent of the total. Azhar participated as an independent candidate against Begum Kulsoom Nawaz of the PML-N; however, he belongs to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan - an Islamic political party founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the architect of the Faizabad sit-in.

Since the time Shaikh Azhar bagged third position in the strategic Punjabi constituency in the heart of Lahore, the party had been aggressively campaigning for getting a strong foothold in mainstream politics ahead of the 2018 elections. Tehreek-e-Labbaik holds Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the convicted murderer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, as innocent and his hanging unjustifiable. It has resorted to sloganeering and urged people to take to the streets to protest against the perceived persecution of Muslims in the Muslim majority country.

Originally, the demand of those sitting at Faizabad was to reverse the law pertaining to the finality of prophethood, which was accepted. To further gain momentum and support for the new party, Khadim Hussain had expanded the scope of demands during the protest and also called on the entire cabinet to hand in their resignations.

Faizabad Interchange, made in the 90s is the gateway between Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi, from where thousands of people commute to the federal capital on a daily basis. The blockade of the interchange by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan was strategic as it paralysed the twin cities for close to three weeks.

Since a vast majority of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan belong to the Barelvi school of thought, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan founder Khadim Hussain is vouching on them to help him win a majority in Punjab. Especially under the 'namoos-e-risalat' banner. Under whose patronage is anyone's guess!
Milli Muslim League on the other hand, has slightly lesser supporters due to its Salafi leanings, often at odds with the shrine-going majority of the rural and urban population, and hence closer to the Deobandi school of thought. It is this similarity which has been helpful in raising the Taliban and now Daesh among the Deobandis of Pakistan and Afghanistan, largely funded by the Salafi Saudi regime.

The turf war between the Barelvis and the other major Sunni groups is old and both have been involved in target killings of mosque imams for taking hold of an area in different parts of the country. The recent fiasco in Islamabad seems to be an extension of the same. The stance of the security establishment in the matter and their refusal to confront the previously obscure, but majority Sunni group, is recognition of the need for perhaps a grand religio-political alliance.

The failure to make the Pak Sarzameen Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan work jointly in Karachi might have served as a precedent for the deep state in this matter. Bringing politicians to heel is a problem when it comes to following without question.

This grand alliance in Punjab will not only deal with the PML-N and divide the Punjabi vote bank, but also keep in check the volatility of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership, another right-leaning set of hooligans who brought the federal capital to halt in 2014. A poor precedent was set during the more than 120-day demonstrations staged by the PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) simultaneously in 2014 when Islamabad was locked down for more than three months. Prior to that, the PAT protest in Model Town, Lahore in June 2014 had ended in violence and multiple deaths. A re-enactment of the PAT demonstration is perhaps on the cards too, as Tahirul Qadri landed in Pakistan on November 28.

This time around, the Faizabad sit-in however ended 'amicably' as the COAS brokered a six-point deal between the miscreants and the government which includes the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, inquiries and investigations against those involved in changing the wordings of the oath related to the finality of prophethood, and freedom for all those arrested during the operation against the instigators.

Milli Muslim League lagged behind the Tehreek-e-Labbaik candidate, it was a major sign for those in the power corridors to realise their mistake of not recognising the bigger terror group hiding behind its tolerant Sufi-turbaned facade. How this will end, with Hafiz Muhammad Saeed walking as a free man now, only time will tell.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Women are humans

#BeBoldForChange is what the International Women’s Day 2017 is asking us to be. Calling on us to take a stand and work towards a better future that is not only more inclusive, but more equal and prosperous.
So, while the world is working towards adding more women to the executive boards to accelerate gender diversity, and urging more and more women to join STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, is seeking reproductive rights for women, sending more and more girls to school, fighting against female genital mutilation, and explaining consent and that a no means no - teaching men not to rape, our society is still concerned about how to marry off girls to men who will ensure the women never work for wages and spend their life rearing their in laws offspring as well as their own.
These women are being forced into unpaid labour by their own parents who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen and her life must revolve around some lazy men who cannot be taught to cook, clean, make their own bed, and take care of children. (Sometimes I wonder if they expect us to be grateful that South Asian men wash their own piss and poo). These women will end with no say of their own in matters of finance, health, housing, employment, and even child rearing.
For all the sacrifices these South Asian women will make, they will be given a lollipop in the form of “the door to heaven lies beneath the feet of a mother”, ensuring that even if they do not want to, they pop out a baby. They will be told to forget about all their dreams and aspirations of doing something more productive, and will be cajoled into taking the “natural course” of reproduction.
How many of these women will take a stand? How many of such parents who force their daughters into drudgery are around us? And how many of us will take a step to put a poke in the wheels and help the women who are being forced by their own parents into drudgery? How many of our friends will be sure of support from the community in case they runaway or divorce their abusive husbands?
Will we believe her if she said her own father abused her and her mother was an aide? Will we stand by the woman who left her husband because he raped her on the wedding night, and promise not to doubt her story just because she is a woman wearing makeup and not crying her heart out?
We have to #BeBoldForChange for ourselves, other women, and everyone else living on this planet. We have to take a stand for our own rights and for that of others. We need to stop being afraid of saying no, be it to our family, friends, colleagues. We are not born to please everyone. We are not here so our bodies can be used in bits to sell products or to make babies or save men’s honours.
We are here like other humans.
We are humans!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When will the bubble burst?

Recently, a friend asked, how does one define 'elite' in Pakistan. It is one of the most important questions in the current circumstances. Not to make us hate them more personally, but rather to fix the mess we live in. The credit of this social mess, political mess, micro economic failure, and flawed policies, all goes to our elite. Basic human rights like access to quality education, healthcare, etc, are all out of reach for 60 percent or more of the population because of their non-elite status.
So, the question was, who were the elite?
The elite is at the top of all that is existing in this country. They are the ones in military, who have been there for the past many generations, decorated by the British. They are the ones who were bestowed with swathes of land by the British and have their people in the military, in the power corridors, in the cabinet, assemblies, etc. They have also married their children to people who form the business classes and bureaucracy to keep their money and power in place. These intermarriages have also enabled them to reproduce offspring who can go to the best schools, colleges, foreign universities or even local top academic institutions.
Their offspring are visible holding guitars in universities singing to the likes of Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. They get to sing in Coke Studio, they get to become editors of newspapers and chancellors of universities. Which means they get to represent the 60 percent to the rest of the world in the language they speak, 'English'.
They can own and run hospitals. Their teenage kids get to blog on various news websites. So many of them, also get nominated for awards and run NGOs. It is the elite who are shaping the narrative of what this country is. They or their families have directly or indirectly created this mess that they sell in PowerPoint presentations to get the funding needed to make some cosmetic changes in between their foreign trips and shopping sprees in Dubai.
It is after them that we have the office working class, who serve all these people. They hardly reach the bottom of the merit list because their father did not have a personal library or a bank balance to send them to an elite school where they could have polished their English to the right accent or their understanding of international relations. They lag behind in almost every way compared to the elite. They lack the finesse to compete with the toppers. For them getting a 'Fullbright' after an education at a neighborhood school is close to impossible.
After them come the poor, those who were born to serve everyone. They are considered a test for everyone. If they get to eat, they provide us a perfect example to be content with whatever we have. "You should be happy if you are eating three meals a day, what if you have only one?"
An excerpt from The Shape of the Beast: Conversations with Arundhati Roy
If you want to read:
The Shape of the Beast

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Military, land-grabbing, and the fate of Balochistan

Destroyed by conflict, threatened by militancy, and crippled by lack of development and resources, Balochistan is mostly off-limits for tourists, especially non-Baloch nationals of the country. Contrary to the press reminders about the importance of the Gwadar Port, the province suffers from severe neglect. However, there is one place in Balochistan, which seems to be protected for not only visitors, but even the Hindu minority of this country, which is stuck in the turmoil of terrorism and rampant extremism. Hingol National Park, a protected piece of land covering 407,724 acres, hosts the Hinglaj Mata Mandar, and Chandragupt and Khandewari volcanoes, all sacred for the Hindus. 

The diversity of the place attracts not just pilgrims for Hinglaj Yatra, but also the entertainment starved Karachiites, who are stuck with either eating out, going to the scarce and expensive cinemas, or the dirty beaches.

It is this niche that private explorers like Rover Adventure Club, The Globetrotters, etc are using to expand tourism, a neglected industry in Pakistan. The clubs take groups of 12-25 people each week to visit Hingol. One can find countless packages ranging between Rs2,500-3,000 for a day trip via the Makran Coastal Highway. The highlights include viewing the Princess of Hope, the Sphinx, and mud-volcanoes, as well as visiting the Kund Malir Beach and Hingol River. The area has varying geographical features from arid sub-tropical forest cover, to sandy mountains, and an estuary along the Hingol River.

Hingol National Park, the largest national park of Pakistan comprises 640 square miles that is home to a number of wildlife species listed as rare, vulnerable or threatened. The species include marine estuarine and terrestrial animals, including the marsh crocodile, green turtle, houbara bustard, two varieties of pelicans, plumbeous dolphin, Sindh ibex, urial, chinkara gazelle, pangolin, leopard, and some usual and seasonal visitors.

Adult male ibex
The presence of Hinglaj Mata, an avatar of Durga, is in a cave nestled between Kirthar Hills, on the banks of the river Hingol. The sacred site is taken care of by the devotees of Devi, who are very friendly and welcoming of all visitors. Since the site has restricted access and is a haven for pilgrims, even wildlife seems to find it a safe house.

Walking around the premises of the temple can be a delight for a bird-watcher as one can spot feral pigeons, plovers, black bittern, long-billed pipit, brown-necked raven, plovers, and bulbuls, etc. If one has a keen eye, it’s possible to spot a few reptiles, including the Indian fringe-fingered lizard and the sand-swimmer. Though the wildlife department does not report sighting snakes in the area, temple devotees speak of their presence due to the abundance of mongoose in the canyon. 

“We have seen snakes and mongoose both. We know mongoose and snakes are bitter enemies, but these two live in the same habitat,” one of the lady devotees of Nani Mandir said on a recent visit.

Another highlight of the visit is the Sindh Ibex or Turkman wild goat that abounds the anticline Kirthar Mountains in and around the temple premises. These stocky goats have thick-set bodies and strong limbs and hooves which enable them to climb up and down the almost upright hills.

However, the fate of this natural habitat for many of the protected wildlife species, including the natural heritage of the province has been put on stake by the Balochistan government, as well as Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).

In a conversation with an official, it was revealed that the 9,000 acres (14.06 square miles) of land allotted to SUPARCO would be used for research purposes (probably launching satellites). The land, owned by the Forest Department was handed over under the Balochistan Protection and Preservation of Forest and Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2015, passed by the Balochistan Assembly on November 9, 2015.

SUPARCO already owned an area Ras Malan in Hingol National Park, which it said was dedicated for developing indigenous Polar Satellites under the National Satellite Development Programme. The space commission claimed the area would be better preserved as activities would be restricted.

Laying claim to protected areas by the sensitive agencies is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. In 2006, Pakistan Air Force as well had applied for 23,000 acres of land in the protected nature reserve. 

It must be mentioned here that earlier, PAF not only acquired land in Maslakh Wildlife Sanctuary, Pishin, established in 1968, but also managed to wipe out the protected urial and chinkara from the sanctuary.

Same was the fate of Khadeji Falls, which is about an hour away from Karachi. A family who tried to visit the site in 2008 were told by uniformed men to not get any closer or else they would be shot.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

State funeral or Edhi's final humiliation?

Abdul Sattar Edhi is the only man who consistently stood up for the poor throughout the history of Pakistan. He didn’t shy away from burying the dead, no matter what their political, religious, or sectarian affiliation. He was the man, who didn’t put a cloth to his nose while carrying a putrefied body taken out of an open manhole. He was the true revolutionary in the face of the feudal-military-capitalist trio. And the same trio, that threatened him for his entire life and work, and for filling the gap left by the failed ideas of the multiple military and feudal dictatorships, humiliated him in death by hijacking his funeral and only making it about the corrupt and the puppets in the power corridor.

The ruling elite of this country is only good at one thing, and that is depriving the majority of their right to live with dignity. Today, they proved it further by not just depriving the poor masses, who loved Edhi sahib, of performing his last rights, but also by insulting Edhi sahib himself who was never on the side of the VVIP culture. 

Edhi sahib's funeral congregation at the National Stadium Karachi on July 9, 2016
The divide between the poor and rich was starkly pronounced on this tragedy.

Only men in uniform are visible in the front row at the funeral
The venue of the funeral was changed from Memon Masjid on MA Jinnah Road, a highly accessible area via most bus routes for all and sundry to the National Stadium amid ‘tight security’. The man who was threatened by the ISI’s notorious Hameed Gul and Taliban Khan, the man who travelled mostly in dilapidated Suzuki Bolan ambulances, the man who picked bodies amid deadly riots in Karachi and provided funerals for the unclaimed, was given a funeral by his tormentors. 

Women too were barred from Edhi sahib’s funeral, who prayed shoulder to shoulder with us, instead of the mullah prescribed step ahead.

Now there will be disclaimers and those who worship the armed forces will come out in defense of the hijacking. They will call it a well deserved state funeral and protocol. But to set the record straight, the protocol was not for Edhi sahib. It was for the ‘General’ and the ones responsible for every tragedy that befalls this country. It was for those people who left Edhi sahib no choice, but to continue being a philanthropist amongst greedy capitalists, and men with weapons and beards.

After all, the men in boots carried away our beloved Edhi the way Hameed Gul had threatened in 2011.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Domestic violence is an exaggeration

When I mentioned the recent article on ‘These women stayed in abusive marriages because Pakistan failed them’ and quoted HRCP for saying 90% women face some form of domestic violence, I was told it doesn't happen this much because:
  1. nobody in this room beats their wife: This makes sense to all those who feel they are being held responsible for something they did not do. Violence against women should not be mentioned to keep the fragile egos of such people intact.
  2. they've never seen it happen: Of course if you have never seen a woman getting a public beating, it means it cannot even happen in the privacy of her room. It simply means crazy feminists are making up things because they are PMSing.
  3. I have never seen it happen and I cannot believe what I have not seen: I should only believe what I see. I can only talk about domestic violence if I see 10 women being beaten on the road daily. 
  4. I am not a domestic violence victim myself: If I have not experienced it, other women have not experienced it either. I have to be a domestic violence victim myself or at least my mother has to be one for me to actually believe there is such a thing as widespread domestic violence.
  5. women abuse women more than men: Men cannot be as aggressive as women, so of course it is the women who are beating the shit out of other women and the innocent men are getting blamed just because feminists are misandrists.
  6. yelling is not abuse because the woman yells back too: If a woman can yell back she is not a victim and should not be considered abused. The only victims are those who can take it quietly.
  7. even men cannot lodge an FIR in this country so it’s not a gender issue: It is not just the women who cannot access justice, men cannot access justice either and so it means women are not facing domestic violence.
  8. 90% men in this country cannot be abusive: It is impossible to comprehend that such a large male population can be aggressive. If my friends don't beat their wives, domestic violence is a myth.
  9. it’s not an urban issue: It may happen a bit in the rural areas, but urban women like my wife and my sisters are very empowered and do not face this issue.
  10. it’s not an Urdu speaking issue: Punjabis and Siraikis have a culture to beat their womenfolk, whereas Pathans sell their daughters and can kill them whenever they feel their women have dishonoured them. 
  11. there are 20 women in their acquaintance and only one has ever told of abuse: If a majority of women are not talking about being abused, it is not happening. Stop being a feminazi. 
  12. it is an exaggeration by HRCP: HRCP is anti-Pakistan and so it highlights all the negative things about this country. 
  13. HRCP is headed by Asma Jahangir who is an abusive woman: If Asma Jahangir can use abusive language, other women can too and it means they are all lying about domestic violence happening at such a massive scale.
  14. children are abused more: Talk about other issues.
  15. men are also abused: Make a hashtag #ViolenceAgainstHumans.
  16. our wives abuse us: Women abuse as well, so it makes things equal.
  17. shouting or yelling is normal discussion not abuse: This is how we talk now because women no longer have patience the way they are supposed to have. 
  18. women are empowered in cities: Rural women are insignificant and can be ignored, it is the urban women who matter.
  19. women are not as powerless as feminists want us to believe: Everything the feminists tell us is a lie, women are not considered The Second Sex.
  20. women beat back men too: Some women beat back men and so women are not victims.
  21. they heard a neighbour crying when his two wives were beating him: Algebra is wonderful. If the same number of men are being abused by women, it means nobody is a victim.
  22. is not credible: Talking about domestic violence means one likes lies and sensationalism. 
  23. women have a habit to exaggerate: Women are inferior mentally and physically and like to seek attention which is why domestic violence has been created by feminists to remain relevant.
Violence against women is a reality that is often shrugged off even in well-educated circles. Mostly people want one to cite statistics and numbers to prove that it happens as much as ‘feminists’ say it happens. And when the numbers are quoted, most people dismiss them by saying they are fuzzed or unrealistic. If that doesn’t shut the feminists up, there are always a million other topics that are more worthy of attention and discussion compared to the silly, stupid, abusive women who have nothing better to do but complain.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

‘Piercing Silence’ amid hidden facets

KARACHI: Keeping true to its commitment of bringing together different artistic narratives and allowing dialogue between cultural perspectives, Artchowk The Gallery inaugurated a solo exhibition ‘Piercing Silence’ by Fraz Mateen on Monday.
The exhibition revolves around existentialism, as the artist keeps trying to find a true identity. Fraz Mateen is a sculptor, who works with latex, wood, fibreglass, terracotta, marble, stone and paper, using processes like moulding and casting, welding, carving and wood construction.
Perhaps the diversity of materials, mediums and methodologies Fraz employs, is also a manifestation of the big question of his collective identity crises. Even the title of all his artworks is ‘ID’ along with a number, explaining his concept aptly.
The multiple IDs that he has sculpted are mostly carved on paper, depicting the numerous faces we all posses on different occasions, in diverse environments.
An art piece titled ‘My Life in Heavy Metal’ - carving on paper – is a strong conceptual 3D of the multifacetedness of a person, being born in a particular setting, at a given time.
Or as in the artist’s words, “One changes identities depending on which group of people one is with.”
When Fraz was asked about his favourite piece, a tricky question for a creative individual, he took a while to say ‘ID-4’, which is also a carving on paper, measuring 10.25 x 7 x 7.5 inches. The sculpture is a head lying on a telephone directory from 2007, as if listening to the secrets it carries. “We use a directory to search for people, places and their contacts,” he said, while talking about how, the place where one was born affects their character development.
Fraz speaks about how we correlate each of our identities to synchronise. Mentioning his own behaviour at work and home he states that although it is a necessary act, the question about ‘one true identity’ is left hanging in the air.
The society, or environment shapes who we are in even a fraction of a moment. Fraz said, “A force is asserting a collective identity and an individual has to compromise at times to come to terms with it. This compromise leads to a silence, which is piercingly present everywhere.”
The title of the exhibition, ‘Piercing Silence’ and Fraz’s works remind of ‘Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin’, an action video game developed and published by Konami, a Japanese developer and publisher of numerous toys, trading cards, anime, tokusatsu, slot machines, arcade cabinets, video games, as well as health and physical fitness clubs in Japan.
Incidentally or otherwise, ‘Piercing Silence’ is a song composed by Michiru Yamane for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. And though Fraz is not a gamer, his work, dealing with identities is very close to that of 3D role-playing games, where one keeps changing their roles and characters.
“I find these collective or group identities very interesting and how an individual has to manage and juggle these. As much as these are necessary for coexistence, they also create a drawback and that same individual at the end of the day is left wondering, which is his true identity? Maybe this is a process of self-discovery and a process of carving a true identity among different ones,” claims his statement.
Speaking of carving, Abdullah Qamar of Dhaba Art Movement considers Fraz’s work and skill exceptionally sensitive. “He has a good grip, and the finishing has been handled very properly. Fraz understands the mediums very well, and his compositions are brilliantly made.”
Abdullah said he was impressed with the way the artist turned paper into sculpture. “When we think of paper, we think in two dimensions, but Fraz has given paper a third dimension. Paper cannot be chiselled,” said Abdullah, while relating that Fraz uses surgical and cobbler’s tools to carve the basic form, and later uses a mini-grinder for finishing.
The artist completed his Diploma in Fine Arts from Karachi School of Art in 2006, majoring in Sculpture. He has displayed his work at Karachi School of Art Thesis Display and Emerging Talent at VM Art Gallery in 2006, as well as at Faculty Art 3 at IVS in 2008.
The exhibition will continue until December 10.

Published in Daily Times in November 2013.