Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where to draw a line?

Religion has become almost an obsession despite one believes in it or not. It seems no matter where one goes or lives, it still plays a role in everyday life. If not as a ritualistic routine, as some important news detail which leaves the mind boggled with the far reaching implications it may have. This is a blog related to the news item being referred here.

Reading it is pretty simple; a Mormon family demanding the right to practice their own religion. Not demanding recognition only a right. This right includes indulging in polygamy, which is a practice for which Muslims have been shunned by feminists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews etc. My fear is, if the Mormons win the case, it will pave the way for Muslims too. So this fear led me to find out a little more on religious freedom and the extent of rights to practice.

In the United States, the religious civil liberties are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The "Establishment Clause," stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," is generally read to prohibit the Federal government from establishing a national church ("religion") or excessively involving itself in religion, particularly to the benefit of one religion over another. Following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and through the doctrine of incorporation, this restriction is held to be applicable to state governments as well.

The "Free Exercise Clause" states that Congress cannot "prohibit the free exercise" of religious practices. The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held, however, that the right to free exercise of religion is not absolute. For example, in the 1800s, some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traditionally practiced polygamy, yet in Reynolds vs United States (1879), the Supreme Court upheld the criminal conviction of one of these members under a federal law banning polygamy. The Court reasoned that to do otherwise would set precedent for a full range of religious beliefs including those as extreme as human sacrifice. The Court stated that "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."

It was reassuring to say the least. Hopefully, the case will be lost by the family. But it leaves me wondering where the State draws a line and on what grounds. There are women who indulge in this practice and do not mind. They are okay about sharing their husbands. What difference is between these women and the women in France who happily done the hijab and consider the ban, an intrusion on religious freedom. What about the liberals who support their right for doing so? Do they also support the right of the women who are happy with polygamous marriages? Or they would merely deny that there is any link at all between the two?

The question becomes if a woman is happy in polygamy, why should she not be allowed to do so? How do we decide on what aspects a person is allowed the pursuit of happiness and on what she/he is not.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The unaccounted girls?

Abductions of Urdu-speaking girls has been often claimed to happen during riots between the Pathan and Urdu-speaking community in Karachi. So far I mostly attributed it to being an extension of the old story about Gohar Ayub Khan picking ‘Muhajir’girls (since at that time the term Urdu-speaking was not coined) from Lalukhait in 1964, which resulted in the language riots. However, the frequency and intensity of these stories has increased, since Benazir’s assassination and the ensuing riots that engulfed Karachi. What further boggles the mind is that none of the major news agencies carry this information. From BBC to Express Tribune, Daily Times, Jang etc.

One reason could be that the stories are often only related by word of mouth and therefore can easily be considered rumors. If these are just rumors, they could be used to exploit the youth by the interest groups. If they are not rumors, it shows the tribal mentality still prevalent in our society where dishonoring women is just a part of an all out war, in which women do not even have a say. They are just a tool, used by the enemy to feel powerful and make the other party feel weak and dishonored. There could other factors too which must not be over looked, and that is some traditional Pathans buy a woman to get married. This could be a perfect opportunity for them to get a wife at no cost nevertheless this could not be the only reason for them to indulge in this activity.

Another question to ask could be why are the parents’ not reporting if this is happening? I suppose there are many reasons for that too; Shame, dishonor, fear of being ostracized, illegal resident status (in case of Bangladeshi families) and the 'ghairat' syndrome, which has more value than a woman herself. Combine everything together and we have unreported rapes, molestations, and abductions etc of women. Although many people may disagree since politically moticated issues always get highlighted by the media, citing the case of Mukhtara Mai and Shazia Marri, can anybody honestly feel that these are the only two political rape/abduction cases in Pakistan against women? These may be the two most reported cases, but not the only ones. The media needs to verify these stories or to put the rumors at rest so that the negative elements do not use it to further escalate the already deteriorated conditions in the city.

The incidents
The first such story was related in February 2008 by an old Baloch woman resident of Lyari. She was concerned about the moral deprivation of the youth and said, “I am shocked how they can steal from the same guy who provided them with food at no cost when they did not have any money. Not only that, they even picked girls from their houses.” What she said could be an exaggeration, one may never find out.

Another incident was reported by some relatives, a husband and wife, who were passing through SITE Industrial Area and witnessed the abduction of three women factory workers by some men in a Suzuki pickup. Their guess was they were Baloch and Makrani men.

Now this is July 2011 and the same kinds of stories are pouring in from Katti Pahari and Qasba Colony, Orangi Town. According to our Dhobi, he witnessed a stranded bus from which some Pathan men picked up the Urdu-speaking girls and the rest of their mob beat up whoever tried to resist or save them. The police standing nearby merely watched, since they probably had no orders to act. While some other men too witnessed similar incidents in the area, there is still a blackout in the news about these incidents. There is not even a report putting to rest such rumors.

Whether these stories are true or not, they remind one of the gory pre-partition stories written by Saadat Hassan Manto.

Our worthy politicians and their idiosyncrasies

Yesterdays drunken speech by Dr Zulfiqar Mirza made me run a Youtube search about the other gems by our worthy politicians, made over the last few years or so. It bore some fruitful results, and though I stayed up most of the night, at least my friends and I had a good time laughing at them.

I’ll start with gems by Chief Minister Balochistan Aslam Raisani:

“Inshallah hum unko… Bamboo karaingay”

Degree degree hoti hai, asli ho ya naqli..”.. Actually this one has a few other gems.

“Jo berozgar hai woh siasat karay, agar qismat lag gaya to wazir banay ga.”

Sardi sardi hoti hai chahay winter ho chahay garmi ho.

Since TV channels have already done a good job on the esteemed minister with Bollywood songs and clips. Lets now have a look at PPP former federal Minister Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, who asked an innocent question. “Kya corruption par hamara haq nahi hai?

He goes on to demand for a quota system in corruption.

And here we have former federal minister for law and human rights Wasi Zafar, who talks about some big arm getting somewhere?

There are many other videos and clips on Youtube for a lot of other idiosyncrasies our politicians are involved in. But I will end this post with Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s claims about Urdu-speaking being “Bhookay Nangay” on their arrival to the country they sacrificed most of their wealth and some of their families for. It is a serious offence, however, one cannot deny the funny expressions on the faces of the people around him, or the constipated expression on Shahi Syed’s face.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Outsourcing, a double edged sword

When economic progress is equated to getting out sourced businesses, destruction of an existing social fabric cannot be avoided. This is a three year old discussion turned argument with a friend, who claimed that third world countries will progress and thrive for the next few decades because of the call centers. My opinion at that time was (and still is) it is a short term thing and will have more repercussions then advantages due to several reasons.

My reasons were pretty simple, though for many it may sound totally unparalleled and unrelated. I saw it happening on a different scale in an isolated mountain community after a disaster. After the 2005 Earthquake struck Kashmir, several hundred international organizations (IO)s and NGOs rushed in to provide relief and support to the vulnerable public. It showed dedication and commitment on part of the rest of the world, and meant opportunity for the locals.

Work for masons, carpenters, laborers etc was plenty to be had and that too at a wage twice or thrice of what they usually received from their own community. So, there was a rush of a large workforce from all over Pakistan towards the destructed region. However, it soon started to backfire because while the NGOs and IOs had well-paid workers, the common people who actually needed work to be done, could no longer afford the market rate of a mason or carpenter. Also, as the foreigners started to gradually trickle out of the region, many workers’ dissatisfaction with local conditions, especially the normalization of wages forced them to migrate to cities like Karachi, Peshawar and Pindi. So, instead of staying in the disaster areas and implementing what they learnt regarding the construction of Earthquake Resistant buildings they ended up leaving the region leaving the people to mostly build for themselves or to use whatever labor force was left. Anyway, before I digress too much.

The problem with call centers is on a larger scale with the additional baggage of being in a stagnant situation progress and skill wise. On a call center floor, there’s hardly enough room to move forward in any direction, unless one is really lucky. Moreover, in countries like Pakistan and India it works like a vicious cycle. Once you get in, there’s no way out. Reminds me of a line from Hotel California, “You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave.” The major reason why it’s a cycle is, call centers despite requiring very little skill, pay more than the skilled jobs in these countries, so once a person gets used to the pay scale they cannot return to the paltry sum they get as, let’s say as an entry level junior Architect or Civil Engineer.

This in turn leads to social problems, dissatisfaction, and alienation, to mention a few. On the other hand, there is also this constant threat of the outsourcing businesses deciding to move back their offshore offices. Which, I do think will happen ultimately since training new recruits again and again in foreign countries will become a costly burden. We may have an endless supply of new recruits, but the supply of money is limited. It will become expensive to train a new customer service agent, telemarketer every 6 months then having a stable worker at the main office, who also does not have any accent problems. How long it will take for all this to happen? In my estimation, definitely not a few decades, rather not even one.

And also, let’s not forget the havoc it wrecks on the economies of the countries like the US, where the unemployment rate has reached an all time high of 9.1% this year. While the people in the first world are being pacified with more and more discounts on consumer goods and services, their jobs are being sent offshore so some college student can get new Nike shoes or a Gucci bag.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No choice but Facebook

Is it just me or people are actually not as much hyped about Google+ anymore? According to the Google+ discussion forum, tempers are flaring at Google not letting in even the people with invites and new users who are excited to try out the service. A few are even predicting that the excitement will die out by the time Google opens the floodgates. This scarcity, demand/supply thing can work only for so much.

After trying for a week I finally got in on Google+ at around 6pm Pacific Time. My friends who tried to login between 6pm to 9pm got in. But the ones’, who tried logging in after that, were unable to do so. So, what am I supposed to do here when most of my friends are on Facebook?

It seems that not being able to get more friends soon will be the death of Google+.

After all, it’s a Social Network not an anti-Social network. As long as my friends are unable to use Google+ am sticking with Facebook.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Google+ just another transition ?

Here is my tirade about the Google+ project. I know, I know. This is not what I write about in general and am no tech geek or such. I am not even using Google+ yet, the invite is not working ($%#@%$%). However, I am an avid Google user, from Google being my favorite search engine, to Gmail (both personal and for work), Google Docs, Google Latitude, Google Maps, Google Labs, Picasa, Picnik, Blogger, Youtube, Google Sites, Google Analytics, Android. These are all my daily tools for work and personal use, while there are the occasional services like Google Sketchup, Reader, Books, Google Earth etc. The only thing I have been using apart from Google is Facebook, and though I do like Facebook, in the past year or so I have been unhappy with its privacy policies. This was the same reason I stopped using Orkut and moved to Facebook. Orkut privacy policies sucked, and it seemed to be a place only for people with hormonal problems or substance abuse tendencies.

When I switched to Facebook it felt great. I had more control over privacy, I knew who should be able to view my display picture and also people seemed to be real, unlike people on Orkut with names like \/\//-\Q/-\R etc. Moving on, the first issue I had with Facebook was, when they changed the display picture policy. Since then on, the problems have increased instead of being less. Recently, the worst Facebook could do, was changing the group privacy settings, and people who know me, would definitely know what it means to be an apostate from Pakistan. So, it is high time for transitioning from Facebook to Google+, which up until now has been receiving positive reviews in regards to its privacy policy.

I have also already fallen in love with the Circles concept, layout and the maneuverability. Perhaps because only 2 or so weeks ago I had been discussing with this friend of mine about the single wall Facebook offers us and the way the privacy lists are setup. It takes a minimum of 5 clicks to share something on the wall with a specific list on Facebook. I had thought having multiple walls could have solved the issue. And it seems Google+ did exactly that, although the number of clicks is 4, only one short of what one had to do on Facebook, the layout looks more comfortable and easier to manage.

The option to upload from Picasa makes it easier to integrate albums directly onto the profile, and share with exactly the people you want to share with. I see this as having endless possibilities once Google integrates the other services that we are already using. It would be great if there is an option to import Facebook albums, links, videos, groups and pages directly to Google+ as well. But, perhaps that’s hoping for a bit too much. :P