Browsing "Pakistan"

The most screwed up country in the world

I don’t get Pakistan. I really don’t.

And I lived all my life in that country.

After a day reading technical work related documents, I indulged in some random surfing this evening and read this short beautiful piece by Vikram Seth on criminalization of gay sex by the top Indian court. The crux of his piece was that everyone who wishes to ban love between people of different religions and castes and of same sex is basically declaring one thing. “My love is right. Your love is wrong.”

I was quite taken in by that heartfelt piece, but then Vikram Seth is a brilliant writer and has this way with words that makes you think. While browsing through some other links on my facebook feed, I came across this video and am flabbergasted. I mean what is wrong with Pakistan, like seriously?

There is a Z list TV actress who apparently could not find any acting job, so she decided to try her luck at journalism and someone was stupid enough to actually hire her as well. In this clip, she lands in the house of a transvestite/intersex/transgender (because we don’t really know whether people who pose as Khwaja Siras in Pakistan are transvestites, intersex or transgender. They could be anyone of those) person with TV crew, cameras and police.

The Khwaja Sira who goes by the name Naila but is legally named Mohammed Saleem (a man’s name) is at home with another man Nadeem  ul Hassan. The journalist started off in a very patronizing tone   addressing the man as “tum”, a term used either to express familiarity or is for people who are considered inferior rather than a more professional “aap” that most journalists would/should use when interviewing a person. She asked him for how long he has been with Naila/Saleem and Nadeem  said that he has been in that house for over a year. Now we do know that no one who is of sound mind would willingly accept to be in a homosexual relationship in Pakistan – and that too in front of camera and police – because if one is lucky, it is tried as a penal offence and one can end up in jail for at least two years, if one is not lucky, it can be tried under Hadd.

The Khwaja Sira tried to cover that up and told the so called journalist that Nadeem is just staying with him after his parents death and that he is not well. Nadeem himself told her that he is undergoing psychiatric treatment with a doctor in a hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal  (a middle class locality in Karachi). She scoffed at that information and said that what kind of mentally ill patient would be aware that he is actually mentally instable. She then proceeded to enter in the inner rooms, checked out the closet as if she had an arrest warrant and pointed out the photos of Saleem/Naila  & Nadeem in wedding finery (they were two separate photo by the way) saying that they were committing sin.

She entered someone’s house without permission with police – I only saw the clip so I don’t know if they even have a court issued warrant to enter into that house but they did so. The local police aided and abetted this travesty passing for journalism. The whole report – if it can be called that – was conducted in a sanctimonious and holier than thou tone. That Z list former actor turned journalist ended her tirade against Nadeem and Saleem/Naila by putting the fear of impending epidemic of homosexuality that will engulf the children of all the viewers if strong measures were not taken against people like Nadeem (a man undergoing psych treatment for heaven knows what?) and  Naila/Saleem a Khwaja Sira. The report ended with Nadeem’s arrest. As a gay man undergoing psych treatment with no relative in the country – his brother lives in Canada – I fear what will happen to Nadeem in the police station.

I don’t get Pakistan, I really don’t. My heart went out for this man who looked lost and had no idea what happened to him. This woman – the Z list actress – couldn’t have found two more vulnerable people to attack, even if she tried, but no one will step up to support them because why invoke the wrath of mullah’s by supporting a man who has admitted to being with someone who was not a woman. This country is afraid to stand up to people who kill and maim innocent people but it is considered fair game to attack people in their home for their life style choices that do not affect anyone else but themselves. Nadeem was shown affection by a Naila/Saleem when he was apparently abandoned by his own family, but now he is arrested because he was not shown affection by the right gender. The word irony does not even begin cover this situation.

It’s about time we claim the title for being the most screwed up country in the world. I mean there is water shortage, energy crisis, population explosion, inflation and what not. The country is plagued with terrorism and sectarian violence but most important matter that should be reported is two people living in a house minding their own business and the arrest of a man who was clearly not all there. On the other hand, people like Malik Ishaq are allowed to roam free and spew more hatred.

PS: This is not the most coherent post but then I am angry, and anger strips away coherence at times. I apologize for that.

PPS: Watch the video at your risk, you might want to break a glass or two to vent after watching this. Trigger Warning.

PPPS: When will PEMRA wake up and take notice of this crap passing on as journalism.

 

 

Legal Status of LGBT in Pakistan

The Pakistani Constitution does not explicitly make mention of sexual orientation or rights of people of alternate lifestyle, but Article 377 of its penal code criminalized all consensual sexual activity outside marriage. As LGBT people cannot get married, any and all consensual sexual activities would be considered illegal and a person can land in jail for anytime between two to ten years for that. In addition, government appointed Islamic Nazariyati council also get to have a say in all matters as all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam, the official religion of the state so there is a chance that you can be tried under Hudood Ordinance, then you can be put in jail for life or can get life sentence.

 

Jul 15, 2013 - Pakistan, Ramazan, religion    4 Comments

Violence and the religious sanction it gets in Pakistan

My facebook Timeline has a couple items that were repeatedly shared by many today.

The first was a video of a security guard who was attacked by religious zealots for eating during the fasting hours in the month of Ramazan (when all adult Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sun down). He was attacked for not upholding the sanctity of Ramazan. There are quite a few people on Facebook who supported this act of violence by saying that eating is not allowed by law in Pakistan and that security guard should not have eaten.

The second was the photo of Abrar Hussain – a former Olympian and a Gold Medalist Boxer – who was gunned down in Quetta sometime back (4 other Hazaras were killed in Quetta today). His crime was that he was a Hazara Shia. It has been an open season on Hazaras and Quetta has become a killing field where terrorists of Laskhar e Jhangvi roam free and kill their prey at will.

Abrar Hussain - from his meeting with his idol Muhammad Ali to a bloodied bullet ridden body

 

I wont go into the details of Hazara killings because far more qualified people have written heartfelt pieces on the plight of Hazaras in Pakistan. I have just one question for everyone who reads it. Are these not acts of sheer barbarism and against everything that decent and human? As these acts are carried out in name of religion, isn’t there something seriously wrong with the way it has pervaded our society and provides sanction to most heinous of crimes?

If you condone above acts of barbarism, then I have nothing further to say to you but if you condemn beating up people for not fasting during the month of Ramazan or randomly killing them because they practice a different version of faith then please, don’t stay silent and separate religion from everything else – law, public spaces, government, social interactions and legislation. Religion should be a way that lets the believers connect with God, it should not give license to the practitioners of any faith to kill and persecute others.

Please think and reflect, it is as simple as that.
Photo courtesy: Traitors of Pakistan

Passing desi-isms as sage advice

Most people think that they have this one major problem and if they could change that about themselves, they believe their lives would improve drastically. Some people think that if they lose weight, or manage their anger or embrace spontaneity, their lives would be better. In my case, it is my lack of ability to say no that always ruins it for me. If I somehow manage to say the golden word NO, I end up with so much guilt that I actually regret making the right decision.

If only someone was teaching a course on how to politely say, “Please God, No”, “Not my problem” and “Whatever!” without losing friends and alienating people, I would jump the queue — and I never jump the queue, despite being Pakistani from all sides of the family — to sign up for that course.

The problem gets even more intense when you move to a new country. Unless you are moving to Outer Mongolia or Chilean Highlands — and I have my doubts about Chilean Highlands — chances are that you will encounter your fair share of desis, who will try and interfere with your life, dish out counsel when none is sought and try to sell you things and services that you have no use of. Saying no to that is not just difficult, it is almost impossible.

Everyone who has the opportunity to move to a country will probably meet people from the old country who may or may not help them get settled. When someone from our part of the world — I mean South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular — moves to another country there would always be loads of people from the home countries dishing out desi-isms and passing them on as sage advice.

There will always be people around you who would want to guide you in your job search — they probably have moved to that new country 15 years ago when the job market was drastically different — and easier to break into — but they will try and force their opinion on how you should carve out a career in your adopted country and will offer you a ten dollar an hour job at their father-in-law’s super store selling biryani masala and Bollywood DVDs to bored desi housewives.

It does not really matter that you are trained as a lawyer or an IT professional or a speech therapist, they will tell you that everyone goes through this because they have been through this.

Some of them will not only suggest that you take that butchery course from your local community college but will also have the cheek to say that you will enjoy it because it is so different from what you have been doing before – you could be an Economist in your old country but they would not care. You feel like practicing some of those butchery skills on them and ask how in the name of everything that is holy and sacred can a vegetarian with two post grad degrees ever enjoy being a butcher?

Some of them will tell you where to rent an apartment and whom you should rent it from — it would almost always be some relative of their wives trying to con you into getting a smaller/smellier apartment in name of desi camaraderie and brotherhood.

Telling them that you have decided to share an apartment with a Jamaican co-worker close to your workplace will result in high dramatics. From telling you that your mom will be disappointed in you for spurning their amazing offer to making you feel horrible about not renting their space as they kept the apartment vacant for you because they knew your brother’s mother-in-law’s neighbours back in 1980s.

You being the ungrateful FOB not only decided to move in with your co-worker but you choosing a black person to share your living space will be taken as a personal insult. There will be implied or explicit racism — depending upon how integrated they are in the society — and they will regale you with tales of how someone they knew lived next to an apartment where one of the residents — almost always a black person — slit the throat of his/her flat mate and robbed them off their worldly possessions.

You try telling them that your Jamaican friend — a widowed lady of 55 — has only decided to share her apartment because she is suffering from an empty nest syndrome and is a fine upstanding, law abiding taxpaying citizen but they will continue to shake their head and make you feel bad for not taking up their offer.

At times like this, renting the smellier apartment seemed like the easier thing to do. If you happen to take them on their offer of renting an accommodation owned by a desi person, you are in for a treat. For starters, three previous tenants would still be getting their bank statements and phone bills and other assorted mail on that address and would want you to hold onto their mail so that they can pick it up whenever they feel like it.

When you try to tell them that they need to update their contact details with their cell phone service provider and their bank, they would give you the hurt look which basically says, “Et Tu Brutus? Can’t you just pick my mail from the box?” and you who perhaps wanted to scream “Please Gawd, NO!” agree to keep picking up their mail for foreseeable future.

Picking up the mail is less of a hassle because you do it once a day; the bigger threat to sanity is your land line phone. If the phone is registered in your desi landlord/landlady’s name, chances are that you will be inundated with offers of Quran classes for toddlers from dudes who call you behen or baji. When you try to tell the telemarketers that there are no toddlers in the radius of 600 sq yards and you do not wish to avail their services, they will try to get you to buy an online course for yourself so that you are saved from the eternal fires of hell.

This is not all, if your landlord has an Arabic sounding name, telemarketers who do not speak a word of English will call you and try to sell you channels running Turkish soaps dubbed in Arabic and you end up wanting to tear your hair out. As you are not bound by desi code — and the fact that they barely speak any English — you can scream and shout and let it all out at them.

I once spent some time in Slovenia with friends and found the lady working in the kitchen of the hostel where I was staying giving me seriously dirty looks. My Romanian friend and the lady found a common language that they both could speak — Italian — and asked her if she had a problem with me.

The cleaning lady was a Greek woman who assumed that I was Turkish and felt obliged to hate me. When my friends told her that I am from Pakistan, her demeanor changed and she became friendly to the extent that she offered me special hidden jams and freshest fruit for breakfast. You just cannot pull that in an English speaking country where everyone knows Bollywood, chicken tikka masala, our track record with women’s rights and the fact that one Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan for many, many years.

There are times when you get exasperated with all the desiness around you and you wonder about your decision of leaving home because there is no escaping the sights and sounds from home and you yearn to escape it all but that, too, passes away and you learn to coexist with it — at times reluctantly, and at times, wholeheartedly.

I remember once spending some time in Ukraine without seeing another person of colour and was ecstatic when encountered all things desi at Dubai airport after weeks of not seeing it. No matter how keen we are for integration in the new land or how insulated we want to be, a certain desiness will always stay with us, no matter where we live.

First appeared in June 2013 issue of Monthly Pique

Jun 3, 2013 - Pakistan, religion    9 Comments

Thank God Zakir Naik is NOT a Pakistani

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Last week I wrote a post about how Council of Islamic ideology is coming up with recommendation that DNA evidence should not be used as the principle evidence in cases of rape. Express Tribune’s blog section reproduced that post without much editing (for which I am grateful). Like most posts on ET blogs, that one too got some responses (hardly anyone leaves comments on my blog even though I publish everything except abusive language) but my favourite comment came from someone called “I am a Khan” who basically wanted every Mullah in Pakistan to be replaced by clones of Dr Zakir Naik.

This gentleman not only wants Zakir Naik to head CII but also want his disciples to rule and regulate religious norm in Pakistan. All of a sudden, I feel not too hostile towards our maulvis who despite many shortcomings do not come up with fictional characters, verses and books to prove their point. Here is a youtube link for those who can access it about lies and creative fiction that Zakir Naik passes as science, religious and social history and text.

And yes, I am still baffled that people can not only like but follow someone as odious as Zakir Naik. Albert Einstein was spot on when he said that human stupidity is infinite.

May 30, 2013 - Pakistan, religion, women    12 Comments

Fatwas against science and semantics

Pakistan is a strange country. Considering the fact that 70% of the population comprise of youth, there is no Council of Youth Affairs to safe guard their rights. A great majority of the population has no access to health & reproductive facilities but there is no council working to ensure that people of Pakistan should be provided with basic healthcare. On the other hand, a good 97% of the population follows some kind of Islam or the other but the country still need multiple councils and other bodies to safeguard the religion. Two such bodies – Federal Shariat Court & Council of Islamic Ideology – regularly come up with suggestions to make Islam even stronger in the country.

The latest in the line is the brand new set of Fatwas and advisements by Council of Islamic ideology (CII) against science and semantics – yes, you got it right – against science and semantics.

The CII has advised Higher Education Commission and other relevant institutions to refrain from using the English translation of “Allah”, “Rasool” & “Masjid”. That is not all; the Council also deemed usage of terms “Holy Book” & “Holy Place” illegal in reference to Quran & Masjid.

The Council also believes that the blasphemy laws of the country are perfect the way they are and should not be touched.

The Council also declared the process of cloning illegal. I am not sure what is their stance on stem cell research or if they even know about it but if they are against cloning, chances are they are against that too. I have a feeling that the minute one of the members of CII loses a limb or a spleen and is assured that they would get a new one made, they will change their tune.

Last but not the least, CII chose to attack the weakest of the weakest section of the society – the raped woman. The latest fatwa by the council says that DNA evidence should not be used as the principle evidence in cases of rape (zana-bil-jabar) and can only be used as circumstantial evidence. As I was unable to fathom the text and logic behind this ruling, I looked around. Nusrat Javeed and Mushtaq Minhas discussed the advisements in their May 29th show of Bolta Pakistan and spoke with one of the members of CII Allama Tahir Ashrafi to clarify the issue. Must point out that Nusrat Javeed pressed the issue as much as he could’ve done considering he is a public figure and lives in Pakistan.

Tahir Ashrafi reiterated that DNA should be considered – at best – a circumstantial evidence on basis of which arrests can be made and further investigations should be carried out. However, a suspect must not be punished on the basis of DNA evidence alone, for that evidence of 4 Muslim male adults is necessary.

Tahir Ashrafi also added that they have doctors in the Council who say that there is doubt in DNA testing (DNA testing is 99.9 accurate) and as the shariah compliant punishment for the crime is very hard, one has to be careful. What I gathered from Ashrafi’s statement on the TV show is that they are concerned about protecting the rights of a person who might be a rapist but are less concerned about the rights of a woman who has been subjected to a gross personal violation and a heinous crime.

The most logical response to that line of reasoning is that most criminals who rape women do it without audience and if somehow we happen to chance upon those elusive 4 Muslim male adults present during the crime of rape, under any civil law they would be considered accomplices to the crime, not morally upright witnesses. If I were a legislator, I would call for making a law that would hand out the harshest punishment for those 4 adult, supposedly pious Muslims men who were silently witnessing a crime as horrible as rape.

The gender bias of the CII is evident from the fact that they have ruled out use of DNA sample as a primary evidence in rape crimes alone and has not barred their use as primary evidence in other criminal activities such as murder.

We are living in 21st century where Artificial Intelligence has made human participation is so many acts redundant. Any function that can be mechanized will be mechanized yet Maulvis is Pakistan are busy ruling science out from every sphere of life, from Ramzan and Eid moon sightings to crime investigation.  Rape is a crime, not a religious matter hence its investigation should also be criminal matter following the protocol of any criminal investigation. Human beings can and do lie but DNA evidence does not, if implicated in a crime wrongfully, most human beings would prefer to prove their own innocence through scientific evidence rather than something as flimsy as another man’s word.

Pakistani maulvis have very selective appreciation for science. They like it when it is used to make air planes that take them for umrah, loud speakers with which they make calls for azaan five times a day, cell phones, missiles, bombs and what not but declare that DNA evidence is not a conclusive proof of rape because science is uncertain and there is a .001% chance of the evidence being incorrect.

As far as legality of things stand, appointment of Maulana Muhammed Khan Sherani who headed that CII session is also illegal, hence all the recommendations of CII should be immediately discarded (if you ask me, the whole council should be disbanded but that is just wishful thinking on my part).  The constitution demands that CII chairman has to be a person with no political affiliation but Maulana Sherani is a parliamentarian, JUI-F’s Senator from Balochistan, which makes the whole council a bit shady.

May 30, 2013 - Pakistan, Politics, Social Media    No Comments

Beyond voting

So everyone and his dog has been outraged at polling irregularities in some constituency or the other and blamed everyone from rival political parties to provincial governments to local patwari to bijli ka muhikma to TV anchors to their darzi and in-laws for imagined and real slights and injustices. It is heartening to see that people not only voted but they also cared about the process and did whatever they could to ensure that their voices are heard.

The elections are over now and the people have spoken. They have done their duty as voters but now they have to be responsible about their role as concerned citizens and continue their pressure on not only the government but also the opposition parties to fulfill the promises they made during the election campaign and to get their voice across.

The easiest way to stay in touch with your representatives is through social media.  Almost every political party has official facebook presence, use that page to put your point across and garner support for your cause or opinion. Use twitter to directly interact with politicians, if you speak to them without resorting to foul language and name calling, chances are that they will interact with you and listen to what you have to say.

Make sure you know who your representative in provincial and national assembly is and try and contact them irrespective of your political affiliation because they do not just represent the people who have voted them in, they represent their entire constituency. For instance, if you believe that elected local bodies should be brought back for smooth functioning of the government at your town and tehsil level, badger your representative into bringing that system back.

Once all the assemblies are in order, their websites would have email addresses and phone numbers of all the parliamentarians who can be contacted, if you have suggestions, opinions and views, share them with your representative or any representative who you think will respond. Talk to them, inundate them with your message, wear them down and make them listen to you because they are your representatives and they are in the parliament to make sure that your voice, your hopes and your aspirations are represented in both legislation and government actions.

Be active, participate in the process. If you want the system to change and the politicians to change, you have to change the way you have behaved until now and take charge because that is the only way to bring about any change. There are no guarantees that you will get the desired results if you do your duty as an active concerned citizen but if you don’t shake things up, you know that things will remain static and you will be contributing in maintaining that status quo, it is up to you what you want to be, an agent of change or someone who maintains status quo.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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As a reader, I am not particularly fond of the term ‘coming of age’. As a writer, I try not to use it at all because what can be more clichéd than using the phrase ‘coming of age’, but if one reads Mohsin Hamid’s latest book “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” one is forced to use a term as corny as this.

Let me start by saying that there is no love lost between the author and I. I found his first book rather ordinary. Hamid was descriptive in Moth Smoke and his protagonist was odious, obsessive and had no redeeming qualities. He became introspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist; the tone was improved greatly and the monologue in which the novella was written dominated the reader in such a way that it required great effort to see beyond the protagonist’s point of view. With ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ Hamid presented his readers with a prose that is beautiful, lyrical and profound.

Guardian called him Pakistani Fitzgerald – I would not call him that because the respect I have for Fitzgerald is the kind that is reserved for dead people who are way out of your league. Mohsin Hamid is not that – for starter, he is alive, a fellow countryman and much closer to me in age. But he sure is in a league of his own – heads and shoulders above most other sub continental writers who put far too much emphasis on the story and a lot less on nuance, tone and style.

The book is about an unnamed character that moves from an unnamed village to an unnamed city, attends an unnamed university and falls in love with another unnamed character in Rising Asia. The defining feature of this book perhaps is the fact that it is written in second person.  The writer talks to ‘You’ in the book and you are not really sure if he is talking to ‘You’ the protagonist or ‘You’ – the reader. It engages the reader in a way that they feel like a part of the narration – at times even a character.

The appeal of the book lies in its style for its story is fairly common – there is rural urban migration, boy meets girls, boy falls for girl and of course there is that rags to riches element as well. The style transcends the story, its characters, its period and its location. The characters did not have names or addresses which gave the text a whimsical feel and brought the reader – no matter what their age, location or the reality is – closer to the protagonist.

The characters are believable, relatable and it was perhaps the only book I have read where I – the reader – had empathy for each and every character of the book for there were no heroes or villains. The woman who wanted to be with her husband in the city, the boy who was sent to work as an apprentice at a spray paint shop to supplement the family income, the girl who escaped her family, the boy who understood the loneliness of his widowed father, the widowed father who did not know what to do with all the spare time he had and the woman who wanted to win the affection of her husband and then completely lost interest in him are all real people – even the minor characters are dynamic and have many sides to them.

There are three main female characters in the book and though they all belonged to different generations and approached life differently, the common factor was that they were braver and ballsier than a lot of men around them. Women in Hamid’s book are such amazingly fierce and independent characters that you cant help but root for them – even when you do not agree with their course of action.

The book is more enjoyable because of its contradictions. This is a novel but it is written like a self-help book with appropriately titled chapters such as “Move to the City”, “Don’t fall in Love” and “Have an exit strategy” and it does not let go of any opportunity to mock the self help genre. It praises the vitality of youth but has just as tenderly dealt with old age, frailty and mortality. There is a subdued longing for a love that got away and admiration for a spouse in a marriage of convenience. There are dreams tinged with pragmatism and practicality laced with romance.  It values the connection that a person has with his clansmen and with his land but it also appreciates the anonymity that comes with abandoning the roots and relocation to a bigger city.

Some books start well but loose the plot later, some peak in the middle and some have great ending. This one starts with a promise, maintains the momentum throughout and ends just as well as it started. Last paragraph of the last chapter has dealt with death not as something morose or romantic but as a transition that is keenly anticipated because the life before that death was well lived.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia satisfies a reader like very few books do. It is a love story; it has action, drama and elements of political thriller. Most refreshing is its moral ambiguity, everything that is produced in Pakistan is sermonized to the extent that all joy flies out of it, Hamid’s characters are as free of such restraints as they can be in Rising Asia.

The first lecture of Creative Writing 101 would tell you to write about what you know best. Most writers do that and excel, they deviate from what they know and do not do too well. For instance, Afghan American writer Khaled Hosseini was in great form in The Kite Runner because the book had traces of a life he has lived but he fell flat in A Thousand Splendid Suns and his characters became a sad combination of cliché and caricature – if that is even possible. Hamid is amazing because he is at his best when he writes about something that is quite far removed from his own life experiences. His background is urban and cosmopolitan – unlike his nameless protagonist – and he probably has never set a foot inside a public university in Pakistan where getting a room in the boys hostel means bowing down to the student wings of the political parties yet he nailed the details, the aspirations, the fears and the emotions perfectly.

Though a novel, ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ did become a self help book for me for it tells me how to write a poignant story and how to be ruthless with one’s own work because it is fairly obvious that the writer has written a lot more but chose to present his readers with this edited version. Such restraint is admirable in anyone but more so in a writer. I was a reluctant reader and read Mohsin Hamid’s first book three years after it came. He got me interested in his work with the second one and completely won me over with the latest offering. Needless to say, this one comes highly recommended.

Originally written for The Friday Times, this is the unedited version

 

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