Thursday, March 22, 2012

LYARI: PPP’S STEPCHILD

Kala Naag, Dadal, Laloo, Babu Dacait, Rehman Dacait...these names seem to be of characters straight out of a bad Bollywood flick. But they are far from figments of imagination. These are actual people who grew up to be feared, hated, and in some cases, gunned to death in streets like animals. Some might say that they got what was coming to them, that they were the scum of the earth while others might say that their only misfortune might have been that they were born in a pit called Lyari.

Lyari is one of the oldest settlements of Karachi. It is the smallest town by area but the most densely populated, home to about a million souls. These people are served by a few understaffed schools, a few substandard hospitals. Water is scarce and so is electricity. Roads are riddled with potholes and sanitation is just a concept. Basic needs to live a decent, hopeful life are absent, but the community is rich in certain assets. One of them is loyal voters for the Pakistan Peoples Party. The representatives win overwhelmingly from the district of Lyari, but have they ever walked in the shoes of their constituents? Do they know what a day in the life of a Lyari resident is like? None of them has ever lived there. They might not have even tasted the water from Lyari, for which its residents were paying fifty rupees per hundred litres until Mustafa Kamal, while in office as Mayor of Karachi, brought water to their homes. Yet come election time, the representatives of PPP drive in on their fancy rides and promise the heaven and earth to them and the loyal people of Lyari come through for them again and again.

The residents of Lyari have been ignored and marginalized by their representatives in office. Their needs have been consistently sidelined by their leaders. They have witnessed every form of violence, every insecurity. They have come to accept this hopelessness as a way of life. When confronted, these representatives blame everything on “gangsters,” but have no viable plans to curb the violence. One would think these are the forgotten people...but this couldn't be further from the truth. Maybe there is some method to this madness. If you look closely at chaos you start to discern patterns.

Violence and hopeless environments always breed a very unique people. Lyari is where you go when you need your dirty work done, when you need a place to hide a hostage, when you need an assassin, when you need desperate people to do desperate things. It has become a safe haven for criminals and separatists from Baluchistan. Drugs and bullets are the currency of the streets and necessities are given as payment by benevolent benefactors. As long as Lyari is on fire, there will always be an army for hire and an unpatrolled “no-go” area for war. It’s like having your own little piece of hell where demons are bred unchecked.

All the journalists sitting with the “peaceful” leaders of Lyari with ajraks (traditional fabrics from the region of Sindh) around their necks, discussing how Lyari is peaceful and law-abiding should maybe look for new careers, because pandering to their benefactors and producing these puff piece documentaries is not journalism.  These people deserve respect and hope for a future. We need to know what the mothers and fathers of Lyari want. What do they see when they look at the faces of their new-born babies? Do they see doctors and engineers, or do they see drug dealers and killers?

It is time to stop treating Lyari like the waste disposal unit of a giant machine, serving a vital purpose as long as you don't let the stench bother you. It is time to humanize Lyari and elevate it to the status it so richly deserves.
 

Friday, March 16, 2012

What Is Your Country Worth To You?

It has been said that for every piece of land there is someone who is willing to die for it. Unfortunately for Pakistan, those kinds of people are a rarity. But the number of people who are willing to sell Pakistan for a personal gain has seen a tremendous rise, like a festering epidemic.

It has also been said: “justice delayed is justice denied.” But justice is not only delayed, it is ignored for the sake of convenience when petitions are put away to “mature” for twelve years or more before seeing the light of day.

There is a list of politicians and members of the media who were allegedly offered money by the ISI to derail PPP in the 1990 elections. In retrospect, whether the outcome of that election was detrimental or beneficial for the country is not the topic of discussion here today.The point is, that influencing the election process by any form of coercion is unconstitutional in its most benign form and treasonous in its most malignant. The leaders who accepted the money, were they not bound by duty to protect the constitution? Were the rewards so great that they sold their country? Or were the consequences so dire that they had to betray their country? And finally, was it worth it?

As a matter of fact, it was an offer that, apparently, could have been refused.There were those who said, “no thank you,” and took the high road.  But those people are in a minority close to extinction. The integrity, loyalty and love of country that are the requirements for leaders of  a nation are the first aspects of character that seep out of a person when they decide on a political career. The tragedy is that decisions of prosperity or poverty, life or death for the common man, are made by these uncommon men whose first act in office is to shed all pretences of love of country and fellow man and engage wholeheartedly in the love of self. Self-preservation is the strongest of instincts and those who step beyond it and do for others are called “heroes.” We, unfortunately, are still waiting for ours.
 

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions!

I was sent an e-mail about another heart-breaking story about two women condemned to death as part of a resolution to a conflict. After hearing news like this, outrage is usually followed by discussions of women’s education and empowerment. Activists and citizens are wringing their hands in frustration. If only our system was geared towards protecting our women. If only they knew their rights. If only... but then a random comment in a random conversation took me in a totally different direction. It’s not the women who need education and empowerment, it’s the men who need education and enlightenment.

No matter how educated and powerful women become, the truth of the matter is that the entire world is male-dominated. We have to accept that as the cold, hard truth. The injustices perpetrated upon women are mostly by men who are the self-appointed judges, juries and executioners. It is said that to truly understand an act, we have to understand the motivation behind it. In their own misguided way, these people are actually trying to purge their society of evil and mischief. They feel guided by the hand of God and end up doing the Devil’s work. Intoxicated by their righteous delusions, they ride roughshod over everyone who stands in the way of their distorted version of Allah’s Utopia.

The Panchayats and Jirgas are mostly lead by men who do not have an enlightened education. They have never had the experience of understanding the Qur’an through Tafseer. Even those who have been educated grow up so steeped in tradition that they have a hard time separating it from religion. In their misguided way, they are trying to uphold the laws of Islam as they understand it. No one is there to tell them that Islam has no place in their version of the world, where cruelty trumps kindness every time, where forgiveness is just a word and where injustice is the law of the land.

The icing on the cake is that we have political leaders, educated in the most esteemed establishments, who by not condemning these practices, condone them. We have government officials who add insult to the injury of illiteracy by stating that a degree is a degree whether earned or forged.

I feel that Punjab is taking a step in the right direction in making the study of the Qur’an and the Arabic language mandatory in schools.  My hope is that these subjects are taught by learned and progressive teachers who can separate culture from religion and nurture a generation of men and women who not only know their own rights, but also the rights of others so that we do not end up paving our road to hell with good intentions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

DO YOU NOT HEAR THEM CRY?



Once upon a time, long, long ago…around four hundred years ago, to be exact, there was a distant land called Mianwali. Two of the tribes were fighting a long, drawn-out war. 800 lives were lost and no end was in sight. At that point both tribes saw that the conflict was not going to end well for either side and decided that a compromise should be reached where either side can call a cessation of hostilities. So naturally, some asinine genius suggested that they should each give women to the other side as a token of their “good faith.” And the rest of the asinine geniuses agreed. And thus was born the disgusting tradition of Vani.
This story in itself is tragic enough, but the horror intensifies when we realize how prevalent it is in this day and age. A shameful incident, which should have been strangled at birth grew and blossomed, blatant, repeated and unchecked.
This is a country that boasts female political leaders, ambassadors, educators, activists, doctors, lawyers….the list goes on. On the flip side of this progressive fa├žade is the complete annihilation of women’s dignity and integrity on multiple levels. Women are traded like animals. Once traded, they loose all identity all hope. Their basic rights lie at the mercy of their masters.
Infant girls are traded as  acts of rectification or a gestures of reconciliation. How does a country with any kind of discernible judicial system stand impotently by and do so little to erase this damning tradition?
In Pakistan, all indicators of violence are present: poverty, discrimination, ignorance and social unrest.  We can blame one or all of them. But in my opinion, it is the cultural forces and their advocates that are the enemies of women’s dignity and freedom. The tribal leaders who defend these traditions claim that methods like Vani conserve peace and prevent bloodshed but in reality their main function seems to be the preservation of male domination and the total and complete subjugation of women.
Pakistan has laws against all violence against women and it consistently makes feeble attempts to bring the detractors to justice. But even if one abuser goes unpunished, it is inexcusable. It should be acknowledged as a failure of justice, not as a “well, we tried!” scenario. Women are kept away from education and enlightenment. They are brought up to be docile and submitting through conditioning. They are kept away from outside influences and they believe that once they step out of their homes in search of help, they will suffer a more horrible fate than what they are going through now.

The lawmakers in Islamabad have failed their most vulnerable citizens once again! Women are bound with the chains of financial dependence and poor education and these bindings are enforced by violence from the very people who should be protecting them.
Female empowerment is not a curse. It is latent potential waiting to explode. How can a country ever hope to prosper when it tells its women that they are not worth saving? That their life, their dignity, their honor bear no value? They are degraded from the day they are born and become prisoners of “the apartheid of gender,” a term coined by James P. Grant, the former executive director of UNICEF.
Then comes along a news article -- a blog or an Oscar Award winning documentary -- that picks at a scab and exposes the oozing reality of the unreported and ignored violence, which is part of the culture of Pakistan. The world sees it. Let this spur us on out of our apathy and compel us to erase these shameful traditions which have no place in a progressive society.
People who are dedicating their lives to abolish this heinous practice have stated time and time again that reform of the Vani laws and greater commitment from local authorities are crucial for ending the custom.
My question is to the sons of Pakistan and especially to PTI’s Imran Khan, a Mianwali native and a self-proclaimed champion of the masses: do you not hear their cries? The women of Pakistan demand to be saved. They don’t need you to beat a path of gold for them so they can walk up to the door of success. They can do that all by themselves! All they need is for someone to stand in front of them long enough so that they can take that first breath of freedom without choking on sorrow. Once they are on their feet, watch them stand with you and transform this country into the heaven that it was meant to be, when the founders first started fighting for it!