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 Dawn.com ‘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. Dawn.com 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. 

Daily wage earners get no respite

Published in Daily Times in 2010

KARACHI: The city relapsed into ethnic rioting for the second time within a month, making many daily wage earners to stay at home and lose their meagre savings.
Ishaq, 28, a pushcart vendor selling vegetables in PECHS, who hails from Punjab, while explaining his troubles said, “I have to send money back home to my parents, therefore even when the city situation is tense, I am on the road. I hope it remains peaceful or I would have to take a loan to survive this month.”
Muhammad Zahir who hails from District Shangla, Swat and is a taxi driver living in Manghopir said, “I have not worked for the last two days, and all the savings I had, which were only Rs 2,000, were spent. So, I decided to bring my taxi on the road even on a Sunday.”
Zahir usually stays at home on a Sunday to spend time with his family, but whenever the city situation is tense and he misses a day or two of work, he drives his taxi on Sundays to cover up for the losses.
“I want to get home as soon as possible as it is still not too safe yet,” he added.
While he spoke with this scribe his father called him twice on his mobile phone to make sure of his safety, just like Zahir, who was concerned about the safety of his children amid the ethnic violence in the city.
But both Zahir and Ishaq are not just worried about making their ends meet in Karachi, they are also concerned about their relatives back home in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, who are facing the countries worst flood in history.
Zahir said, “I have been trying to call my cousins in Swat for at least four days, but I cannot reach them. Our village is near the Tarbela Dam and most of the elderly in my family members live in the village.”
Similarly, Ruby, 22, daughter of an illegal Bengladeshi, is one of the many unregistered house-helps who remain unheard and unseen despite their significant contribution to the workforce.
She said, “I only earn Rs 3,500 a month for working in three houses and for the days I am unable to work for whatever reason, I don’t get paid by one of my employees. For me every penny counts because I contribute to the household income with my mother, who earns Rs 6,000. After paying for the rent and our needs we are not left with much to spare.”
The deteriorating city situation is perhaps bothersome for the office workers, but for the daily wagers it is far worse.
For Gul Zaman, a Pakhtun fruit vendor in Nazimabad, who hails from Quetta, every time an ethnic riot breaks out, the best bet, is to leave the city.
“I am scared for my life when hooligans start prowling the streets to target whoever they please, especially us Pathans, so I leave for my native place when the situation goes bad, and don’t return until some semblance of normalcy is resumed,” said Zaman.

More squatter settlements in city following intensification?

Published in Daily Times on July 5, 2010

KARACHI: The global meltdown in the real estate sector and the apparent bubble-burst in the fixed-asset investment sector first struck down the United States, giving way to a global recession that crumbled Dubai, and now experts also point towards Beijing as the next victim.
However, in Karachi, instead of taking a lesson from what the giants have already suffered, the government is furthering the plan for building high-density zones to attract foreign investors and develop the skyline.
There are already many projects under way in different parts of the city, including Centre Point near DHA Phase VII Extension, IT Tower at University Road, Sofitel Tower and Emerald Tower in Clifton, and the in-process and most gigantic of all of them, the Karachi Port Trust's mixed-use 78-storey giant.
With such development already under way, the Sindh government has also suddenly started taking swift measures to support the construction industry, and perhaps make a few quick bucks.
Several actions have been undertaken by the government including the Sindh High Density Development Board Bill No 14 of 2010.
Also, the recently announced anti-encroachment drive is perhaps connected to the same bill, paving way for the construction of high-rises on plots owned by the influential.
However, apart from the economic aspect, it would be relevant to question the sanity of the intensification, looking at the already chocked infrastructure, environmental degradation, crime rate and terrorism.
It remains to be seen how much the government and the private sector is able to control the existing problems while creating new ones with the giant commercial hubs, which would increase power outages, congestion and especially the deficiency in the housing sector.
Since the time of partition and later during the rapid industrialisation, the city saw many people migrating from the rural or less-developed areas to the urban centres, looking for work as watchmen, drivers, cooks, domestic help, gardeners, lift operators and so on.
Architect Nazar Rizvi, a University of Karachi graduate, said, "The government made the same mistake previously during industrialisation. North Karachi Industrial Area, Korangi and SITE labourers and workers were given an option to settle in Khuda ki Basti, forcing people to live in katchi abadis as commuting was time consuming as well as a drain on the household income."
Although the situation in Nooriabad has been better comparatively, it is far from perfect, he added.
According to reports, mass migration and unavailability of affordable housing has always been one of the major problems faced by the working class immigrants who came to the city in search of livelihood; hence, the city acquired a plethora of squatter settlements that the land mafia established for assisting them. As a result, around 50 percent of the city's population live in katchi abadis.
An architect wishing to remain anonymous, said, "Looking at the current trend for building commercial hubs with high-end users in mind, it would not be wrong to assume that once again, the city would be thronged by desperate workers looking for a place to call home. Moreover, the chances of their exploitation by the land grabbers are high."
She also said insufficient energy production was also a major aspect to be kept in view of the proposed rapid intensification, which would ultimately be a huge burden on the economy.
Massive construction of new high-rise commercial hubs in the city would only create a temporary influx of investments, which would later serve to be a bubble-burst that the dilapidated economy of the city would be unable to withstand, she added.
Moreover, the construction industry in the city is still not capable to build high-rises, which would prompt the government to import technology, requiring an exorbitant cost of investment, resultantly increasing the final open-market rent of the space that, hampered by the constantly deteriorating law and order situation of the city, cannot be a positive attraction for foreign investments anyway.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pads are not a luxury

Students of Beaconhouse National University recently protested against the stigma attached with menstruation and used one of the accessories needed by women in ‘those days’. They stuck sanitary pads on the walls of the institution to talk about something that is hidden behind a lot of negative mythology, especially in our part of the world. 

The students dared to talk of the unaesthetic biological process that is directly connected to fertility, something without which the world cannot move forward. No new brilliant brains will be born, no new astronauts made or engineers or doctors if this process did not exist. At least! not yet. But still, unlike the Neolithic people of Çatalhöyük, we chide those who bleed once a month.

We can say in religion that under a mother’s feet is the way to paradise, but we cannot really wrap our heads around the process which enables her to bring that paradise to life. We simply hate menstruating women, but we also hate those who are beyond that age and hence of no benefit to men who want to continue spreading their seeds, whether they are needed or not. We can easily ‘bitch’ about them when we feel like, especially if we have a bloated male ego.

So it is not a wonder that Shaan Taseer was very upset with the BNU students. Using his position of power, Taseer spoke of the students as privileged who did not know the situation, as a very small percentage of women in Pakistan uses pads.

In his haste to judge women, especially on their class, Shaan Taseer forgot his own privilege, which was pointed out by a journalist. That did not sit too well with the spoiled brat of the late Taseer and he resorted to further insults to her as a woman, as a feminist, and as a ‘guttersnipe’.

Shaan Taseer forgot that being a male, and that too a privileged one, born to a family known for having an extravagant lifestyle and stealing wages of its workers, he was treading on soft ground. He also forgot that being male he does not menstruate and cannot really tell what a woman goes through or feels when she is told ‘not to touch the Quran’ or ‘to not even think of being an imam at a mosque because of being filthy’.

He does not know how a woman panics if her shirt is stained because she sat for too long or when she forgot her ‘date’. Shaan Taseer apparently does not even know that menstruating is beyond class, caste, or color. Perhaps he is too busy wallowing in his sorrows about his stolen heritage and drowning in foreign booze.

Half the humans of this world menstruate, have menstruated or will menstruate some day. So the protest by the BNU students was very much valid and very much needed. The ill comments made by Shaan Taseer were neither needed nor welcome.

The BNU protest or awareness campaign was labeled un-aesthetic and very displeasing by the bourgeois, who said 'there are aesthetic ways' of doing so. Perhaps wrapping those pads up in brown paper bags would have pleased their aesthetics. Or maybe never even mentioning the word pad could have done the trick.

The ignorance is very striking. Pads are not a luxury, but a necessity. Using branded pads might be a matter of class, but not using homemade pads or some other form of absorbent, including homemade tampons. For almost all the women, Always or Stayfree pads might be considered a ‘luxury item’ due to the cost, which shouldn’t be the case. A woman living in the village, who is turning old rags into a pad, an urban woman who cannot afford pads and is using cotton and cloth, both need access to sanitary pads. (A woman whose salary has not been paid needs money to buy pads and wishes that money was not being squandered by her employer on booze and foreign trips).

If Shaan Taseer had said that a very small percentage of women in Pakistan have access to branded and hygienic pads, it would have made sense. If he had said having access to sanitary pads should not be a matter of privilege, his comment would have been appreciated. Instead of attacking the women who disagreed and the women who protested, had he simply said pads should not be a luxury item, it would have been different.

Sadly, he did not say any of those things and simply used derogatory language and continued to attack whoever tried to intervene or show him the privilege mirror.

And like in all debates, when a privileged male takes a negative stand on something, there are always people who want to come to the rescue of the shehri baboo. In this case the descendent of a man who is considered a martyr by the liberals of this country. Who, we are told was being defended on stealing the wages of Daily Times workers by his son.

.....and they said daagh to achay hotay hein!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Aasia died despite a burka

She had always lived her life cautiously. The caution began when as a child, her parents did not have enough money to buy her a good brand of watercolours. She persevered with the cheaper one. The colours were still pretty and bright, what if the quality was not the same. And anyway they say it’s not about the tools, but the skills.

Life went on and SLRs turned to DSLRs and those too were out of her range. She lived on. Wanting more out of a picture than what the other person desired. And the picture kept on getting blurred for lack of money. Pictures were blurred, life was dull in cheap paint, and without going to an expensive school, earning good money was out of question.

"Isn't life unfair," she asked Laila, her elder sister. Her friend recently bought a high end professional camera and she had to make do with a point and shoot.
Laila only smiled. Being the older one, she was more accustomed to accepting defeat when it came to affordability of things and life. Pads were expensive and old cloth, even if it caused infection was far cheaper, she thought.

"Why don't you sell some of your work and buy a better camera Naina?" she asked her little sister. Naina was 20 now, not little by any standards. She had bloomed into a beautiful woman, and so many who came from the marriage market to judge Laila as a potential mate for their sons, preferred Naina.

"Baji, but it is still not fair that Nilofer can buy whatever she wants and whenever she likes. Abba could have worked harder," Naina said licking off the final speck of chocolate from the wrapper. "I know Nilo's father is in the same office as Abba, but they have a bigger house and so many people who help her mother in the house. She doesn't have to do the cooking and cleaning like Amma does. And Nilo never has to help with anything in the house, it is always the maids, chef, and drivers."

Laila smiled her patient smile. She knew the works of Nilofer's father. If he had a chance, he may even sell his daughter to the highest bidder and throw in his wife as a bonus. Did he not pimp his wife out to the boss to get an extension before his retirement?

In this little world of theirs, life was such. The black hearted lived a better life. It was fate, maybe karma, or perhaps just god.

"Abba is too old to work now Naina, maybe when you find a very good job, you can buy all the things you have ever wanted," she told the younger one.

Jobs in the market were hard to find. As a good looking woman, she often received offers of a different kind when her resume reached the desk of a Seth looking for some receptionist or secretary. May they rot in hell, she thought to herself before turning back to her book.

Naina has to be ignored a bit. She will learn, as I did, she thought to herself as she moved on to the next chapter. But Naina had other thoughts. She snuggled up to Laila and whispered if she knows the boy who lived in house number 38.

"His eyes follow me and it is very scary," she whispered to Laila, who almost jumped out of her skin.

"You did not talk to him, did you? Did he ask for your phone number? Don't accept his request on Facebook if he sends one. And don't ever send a picture to him on WhatsApp," the agitated sister said.

These men are lechers; he couldn't have a chance with me so now he is trying for my little sister. She thought of teaching such men a lesson.

In her mind she had punished the man several times. From complaining to his mother to chopping his genitals off. None of this will work though. She thought miserably. Naina needs to be protected, and she will have to do that. Their mother was too inspired by the resident alima of their neighbourhood to do much. At the most she will stop Naina from going to the university and make her do all the housework as punishment for giving the opportunity to men.

Laila did try complaining to her mother about the man from house number 38, and it did not work out well. She recalled the conversation.

"Amma, aunty Farhat's son stares at me a lot." And that was the end of her.

"Junaid is such a nice boy. He can never do that. Maybe if you wore a burqa, such things won't happen with you. Farhat's daughter never has a problem even though she goes in public buses to the university. Only girls who do not wear a burka face this problem. Had Zarina maasi (maid) ever complained of harassment?" the pious mother asked. Zarina was the only maid they had ever been able to afford. A beautiful woman of 40 years with pale eyes and dark-black curls. She used to wear a black burka and came from the nearby katchi abadi.

Laila could not help but think of the often black and blue Zarina. Once she came with a purple eye shedding tears of blood. The maid always said it was her fate. “It is the destiny of the woman to be a subordinate. That is how god ordained it. If this did not happen, we will all go to hell; have you not heard the prophet (pbuh) saw mostly women in hell? For, it is in our nature to be sinful,” Zarina maasi declared, perhaps even happily that her beatings were a way to avoid hell.

What was her story, Laila wondered, forgetting all about her own stories of poverty and abuse. She remembered Zulekha, Zarina’s daughter, who often came with the mother and played with her. She stayed until it was time for the duo to go home.

Zulekha and Laila were the same age. Laila went to school, whereas Zulekha went to a madrasa. She was not even allowed to visit them once she was nine years old, and it all ended abruptly.

“Are you mad? Why will I add him on Facebook or send a picture on WhatsApp? He did ask for my phone number but I ran away,” Naina looked at her elder sister. She was much smarter than Laila, who was an introvert and hardly shared much. Naina knew Laila was harassed by aunty Farhat’s son, even though she never shared with her.

“I know he is not a nice man Laila, he bothers every other girl in the neighbourhood. Remember Aasia? She committed suicide because of him. Junaid told her he will marry her, but he never did. He was only playing with her. Aunty Farhat only wanted a burka clad daughter-in-law and Aasia did start wearing a burka to please her,” Naina disclosed to her ever quiet older sister, whose eyes began shimmering at the tragedy.

“Do you really think Naina that a burka will help us be safe from these eyes?” Laila asked thoughtfully.

“No, not ever, or Aasia would be still alive,” Naina said.

“But was she not already tainted?” Laila inquired.

“No Laila aapi, nobody gets tainted without someone tainting them, burka or no burka,” Naina said forcefully before storming out of the room in anger.

Naina had seen Zarina maasi the other day in the market. A shopkeeper was gesturing with his crotch at the burka-clad-old Zarina when she passed by his shop.

“How does wearing a burka change any of that,” she had thought.

Zulekha's story: http://andaleeb-rizvi.blogspot.com/2012/09/zulekha-wore-burka.html

The potholes and the missing covers

I counted at least 4-5 open manholes between Nagan Chowrangi and Centrum on the main road the other day. The remaining 14 or so, and I am sure I missed many, were either too low below the surface that a car or the plenty of rickshaws on the road could fall in or too high that a new Mira could get its rear misaligned.
It was in one such manhole that a rickshaw fell in today. The driver and passenger both suffered minor injuries.

Immediately some bikers stopped to help the rickshaw driver with getting the front wheel out of the manhole so the traffic could continue smoothly. The expertise with which the matter was handled showed how often such accidents occur on the roads of this megalopolis of more than 20 million residents.

This reminded me of an incident in July last year when the rickshaw I was travelling in hit a pothole on Nishter Road and broke its front wheel. Luckily the rickshaw did not topple and the driver and I both survived with a few minor bruises. After the accident people just picked up the rickshaw and parked it on the roadside in front of the Caltex petrol pump.

At that time too I observed people simply went about their business as fast as the accident happened. Some even said ‘ye to yahan roz hota hai, ye garha bara khatarnak hai’ (this happens daily at this spot…this pothole is very dangerous).

And this is routine.

Those who travel on the streets of Karachi are no strangers to the ailments of this city. From open manholes to overflowing sewers, too many accidents to signal free corridors, and lack of public transport to the dangerous qingqi (chingchi) rickshaws, we’ve seen all.

With no public transit system one has no option but to avail the dilapidated buses, occasionally sighted green buses, qingqis or rickshaws – taxis are only available outside the emergency of public and private hospitals where they charge exorbitant amounts to transport patients. But these options become more dangerous with the horrible road conditions.

On January 5, 2016, just five days into the new year, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah woke up to a campaign run by a Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf supporter Alamgir Khan asking to fix the uncovered manholes of the biggest metropolitan city of Pakistan. The esteemed CM ordered the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to #fixit. However, his directives held no sway over the KMC that has forever been complaining about lack of funds to even fuel their dumpers.

So, on February 25, 2016, Khan attempted to dump the garbage he collected in front of the CM House, for which he was arrested. Though the campaigner was later released, his idea of stencilling the CM’s head next to manholes garnered him a lot of support, maybe even respect.

This support was not because people just thought the CM’s head looks funny next to a gutter filled with filth, but because the public is genuinely unhappy about the road conditions. Perhaps unhappy is too small a word to convey the public annoyance over the lack of infrastructure maintenance.

Karachi has lived without a local government for close to eight years now. The roads and bridges that were so proudly laid out by Mustafa Kamal now lie in horrible conditions. Expansion joints on each bridge have separated and one can imagine what ox-cart rides in Khairpur and other dilapidated PPP constituencies must be like.

Potholes and broken roads are only being filled and carpeted where a new multi-story projects are under way. But the quality is so poor that the roads go bad faster than the time it took to get them fixed. The cherry on top is the the massive miscommunication among the public departments. They consistently forget to do all their works while a road lies dug up, messing up the routines of commuters and pedestrians again and again.

If things remain the same, it won't be long before the Sindh CM's face becomes a regular feature next to all uncovered manholes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Unending despair: women's access versus control over finances

Globally, women are demanding for equal wages compared to men, but in Pakistan, even if a woman is earning an equal wage, her right to her own income is mostly not recognised. At the most she is gifted a gold or silver trinket, which too is either pawned or sold in the market if the man requires money at any stage.
But if she is the wife of a landless farmer, her situation is worse. Her existence is merely to assist her husband who works for a feudal on a farm where he is indentured along with his whole family, including women and children. These women and children merely add to the number of hands the head of the household has- their wages and power is zilch.
Though financial independence varies between rural and urban women as well as educated, less educated and illiterate women. Workforce participation is the highest among women with no education or those who have completed secondary school, whereas women with primary school education remain the least employed.
Perhaps this is one reason that participation of women in agriculture is higher compared to the other sectors. In Sindh, where the feudal system is still present on a larger scale, women have no bargaining power, whereas in Punjab, where landholdings have been diluted, mostly due to inheritance laws, there is a bit of room to bargain for women. Nevertheless, women do not get to have their fair share in the produce in any case; and on top of that, are held back by social obligations, including the burden of being the 'family honour'.
Hanging onto this delicate thread called ‘honour’, many women are continuously deprived of their right to refuse to work for a particular landlord, often at the risk of abuse and even rape. Worst is the situation of women who are part of the 1.7 million bonded labourers.
Many peasants are paid with a share in the crop produce, with a minimal monetary compensation, which can be as low as Rs5 per 40 kilogram of sugarcane, or Rs5 plus three kilogram of tomatoes for a day’s worth of picking tomatoes at a local landlord’s farm.
Experts have claimed countless of times that this situation can be mitigated via land reforms and distribution.
In March this year, Sindh government has reportedly distributed 55,439 acres of land among 6,000 people in 17 districts, which included 4,000 women and 1,200 men.
However, there are cases where the Sindh government allotted land to some women farmers, who later were stuck amid court cases brought against them by landlords who claim the allotted land as their property. This disparity, despite that women contribute close to 60 per cent in the rural agricultural economy, is one of the major reasons of rural to urban migration, which has its own downsides within the urban development sector. Nevertheless, urbanisation has its positives too.
With rapid urbanisation, participation of women in the workforce is increasing gradually; but again, many women, whether they work in a village or a city, do not necessarily have financial independence.
Many women, who have migrated to the cities, work as either home-based workers or domestic help, having no worker rights. Categorised under undocumented economy, their situation is dismal, with women getting Rs10 for a chickankari dress worth Rs3,000 at a flashy retail store; Rs17 a day for peeling 10 kilogram of garlic; or working eight hours a day as a maid at some NGO worker’s home for food (if lucky) and Rs1,200 a month.
But from there, it is downhill since the power over these resources is automatically taken over by the male members of a household, making a woman more vulnerable.
Though there is a difference between women working in menial jobs, and those in the white-collar sector, the access versus control matter remains.
One comes across countless stories of women domestic workers forcefully being relieved of their income by a male member; or stories of women working as teachers, doctors, engineers who have to give up their right to their own earnings due to the manoeuvrings of their partners.
Data of women’s workforce participation shows the most disproportionate numbers compared to men, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. But what is missing in the statistics is the information regarding how many of these women actually have power over the resources they generate or have been bequeathed via inheritance or any other means.
Between 2010 and 2012 the World Bank (WB) recorded female workforce participation of the total number of women in Pakistan at 24 per cent, which increased to 25 per cent in 2013, whereas male participation remained stable at 83 per cent throughout the same periods. This means female workforce participation in Pakistan has only been above Afghanistan within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Among SAARC countries during the same period, women have made up the lowest percentage of workers in Afghanistan at 15 per cent in 2010 and 16 per cent between 2011 and 2013. India has been slightly ahead of Pakistan with 29 per cent in 2010, 28 per cent in 2011 and 27 per cent in both 2012-13, showing a downward trend. The highest and most stable number of women workers has been recorded in Nepal by the WB at 80 per cent during the same period, followed by Bhutan at 66 per cent between 2010 and 2012, and 67 per cent in 2013. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, during the same period have remained stable at 57 per cent and 35 per cent respectively. Maldives is at par with Bangladesh and has a little more than double the female participation rate compared to Pakistan with 55 per cent in 2010 and 56 per cent between 2011 and 2013.
Though political parties talk of women participation in politics, and NGOs focus on women’s health, education, violence against women, and economic empowerment, the fact remains that financial independence of most women is a distant dream.
Economic empowerment of women is a game-changer in a staunchly patriarchal society. One of the most fundamental attack on a woman is deprivation of her financial rights, which is followed by food security, burden of extra manual labour, lack of reproductive rights and, more often than not, psychological battery regarding lack of financial means.

Published in The News at: http://e.thenews.com.pk/newsmag/mag/detail_article.asp?id=10513&magId=10#sthash.2vk5s7RY.dpuf