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This all pervasive misogyny



Every country has its fair share of misogynist politicians trying to tell women not to drive or have abortions, wear or not to wear burqa or contest elections, but Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Sheikh Alauddin who not only is openly misogynist, he is also ill mannered enough to call his colleagues – female members of Punjab Assembly – all kinds of names, names so impolite that not only some of the TV channels refused to air his tirade against women MPAs before censoring it, but the speaker of the assembly also had to get those nasty bits removed from the records. 
Women MPAs protested against his spiel about the non virtuous nature of his female colleagues, but when he refused to stop, Seemal Kamran, an MPA Pakistan Muslim League-Q threw a shoe at Alauddin and all hell broke loose. Ms. Kamran was barred from entering the assembly premises by the Speaker next day, was involved in a skirmish with the security guards and when she later tried to file an FIR against Sheikh Alauddin for harassment and misconduct at workplace, she was told that an FIR can only be filed against an MPA after directions from the speaker of the assembly.
It is sad to realize that misogyny is seeped so deep in our society that a woman as powerful as one sitting in the assembly cannot file a report against a co worker for workplace misconduct and harassment despite video evidence. It is so ironic that a place that is supposed to make laws for workplace harassment houses some of the worst offenders who have no qualms in calling their colleagues circus whores (the exact words of Sheikh Alauddin were maut ke kuwo-on mein nachnay wali aurtain among other things).
While some TV channels showed restrain and did not air the abusive language of Shaikh Alauddin, some other TV channels aired selective footage where Seemal Kamran threw a shoe at him but aired it with sensational copy and did not show the abusive and misogynist behavior and speaker’s lack of response which prompted that incident. People who have witnessed the assembly proceedings say that Kamran’s response may seem a little over the top but the women in Punjab assembly are only returning the favour after putting up with four years of verbal & physical abuse during assembly sessions. No wonder legislation against misogynist practices, domestic violence runs into snags repeatedly because our assemblies are full of people who consider misogyny a way of life.
It is also to be noted that Shiekh Alauddin’s rant against women MPAs has openly mocked the constitutional provision of reserved seats for women by calling them the group that violates the sanctity of the house. Election commission of Pakistan should take notice of this at soonest of it wants its authority as the supreme body for electoral process to be respected. 
Women rights groups demands action against Member Punjab Assembly, Sheikh Allauddin for using abusive language for women members of the house on 20th June 2012 which of course is an appropriate demand, but it is not just the action of one man, the incident represented a mindset that cannot accept women either in public spaces or in a position of power. We must condemn people like Alauddin for their reprehensible behavior but the society in general and women’s groups in particular need to look for ways to redress the way we view women in public spaces and positions of power and deal with this all pervasive misogyny. 
Originally written for  The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Jun 11, 2012 - published work, Sindh, women    11 Comments

The real Qaum ki Betiyan

Courage is not confined to people with college education living in fancy houses, it resides within every person but very few are brave enough call upon that reserve and make a difference – to their lives and to the communities they live in. Shabana and Nazira are those who not only have oodles of courage but they challenge others to call upon their reserves as well.
Shabana is a social mobilizer working with rural communities in Mirpur Khas (For Takhleeq Foundation) and give them basic training on a number of issues ranging from health, hygiene to start up businesses and gender rights. Once she was holding a meeting in the house of a Muslim woman and a few Hindu women also came in to attend it. One came with her toddler who was thirsty and asked for water. The host initially tried to ignore the child’s request for water because she did not want a low caste Hindu boy to drink from her glass but when the child repeatedly asked for it and other people also asked her to get him water, she brought him some in a dirty broken cup. The child refused to drink from the dirty broken cup and started crying. The mother of the crying child was frustrated and slapped her child to discipline him while crying herself at the humiliation.
Shabana was quietly viewing the whole incident but did not say anything. She asked the hostess to get her some water and when she brought it – in a fancy glass – both Shabana and the child drank water from it. Some women were scandalized but most just watched Shabana sharing the glass with a Hindu boy and then cradling him in her arms during the discussion with the group. After working for 16 months in the community Shabana’s perseverance, patience and courage has made such differences that the women eat and drink from the same plates and glass and some have even saved up enough to start their collective businesses.
Nazira – another woman of courage – is a low caste Hindu from a village in Southern Sindh; married off at 15,  and like all women from poor disadvantaged families, she too grew up malnourished and without education. Her husband was another poor man who has never been to school and had no ambition in life. He would only work when he feels like it and would expect Nazira to provide food for the two of them by earning wages as a farm worker. By the time she turned 16, Nazira has had her first child, a boy, and she was bewildered with the ever increasing responsibility that she had to shoulder – as a wife, a mother and the sole bread earner of the family. She has had two more children – another boy and a girl – in next five years while working full time as a daily wage worker in farms and other people’s home. When she has had her daughter, she told her husband that she is not going to have any more children. Her husband, a lazy man who worked sporadically and that too to just support his personal whims,  refused to agree to it and tried everything – from coaxing her to beating her black and blue but she remained steadfast in her determination and sought medical measures to ensure that she does not procreate any more. The husband just upped and left afterwards, leaving her to fend for herself and her three children.
Nazira is 27 today and is working as a labuorer for a community infrastructure development programme run by an NGO (Care International) with regular income, medical insurance and a saving plan which helps her save money for future investment. She has lost her home in rains last year but she is happy and content. Her oldest son goes to school and the second one will start it later this year. She has some livestock and looked up by the women in her community as a courageous woman who has worked hard in changing her life. Many other women – both Hindu and Muslim – adopted family planning measures emulating Nazira.
Shabana and Nazira may not be called heroes by many but what they are doing is amazing at many levels because it not only challenges unhealthy practices in our society but also give the communities much needed role models. They are the real quam ki betiyan, who are quietly working, contributing to the GDP, contributing to the society and bringing about the real and much desired change.
Nazira and her two younger children in front of her shack, the eldest was in school when we met

Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version

Jun 4, 2012 - published work, Sindh    7 Comments

Fate and fatalism

If I am asked to use one word that describes Pakistanis most accurately, I would be compelled to respond with ‘fatalistic’. No other country has faced as much and varied chaos — natural and man made — as we have; from drone attacks to floods, targeted killings, earthquakes, suicide bombings, honour killings, disease, poverty and everything in between, we have faced it all and still go on with our lives in a business-as-usual manner, believing it to be “God’s will”.

Most Pakistanis have a defeatist approach towards doom and death. Yes, death is inevitable, but the way we readily accept it in all its forms does speak volumes about the fatalism that pervades our society. It can be said that such a stoic approach to life is a coping mechanism for the majority. This attitude stops us from being proactive about bringing positive change and makes us unprepared for things like floods, fires and earthquakes. And while such an attitude helps us get through these disasters, it also ensures that we live in the worst possible conditions and somehow continue to exist despite everything.

The preponderance of matters related to religion in all spheres of life has also contributed to this aspect of fatalism. For instance, Shah Waliullah, a Muslim scholar from the 19th century, who has heavily influenced scholars in the Indian subcontinent, declared fate to be a fundamental article of faith and that anyone who disbelieved it should not be entitled to be called a Muslim. So, in order to retain purity of faith, acknowledgement of everything as a God’s way of testing humans is accepted, be it corrupt leaders or a broken down administrative system, or young children dying.

I recently visited a village in Hingorno near Mirpur Khas, where stagnant water around a cluster of houses stood like a sad reminder of the devastation that the floods brought in last year. Quite a few of the villagers lost their homes and almost all had lost assets like livestock and furniture. Except for one family, all others have rebuilt part of their homes despite abject poverty and some even have saved up enough to buy a goat or two. I was later informed that the neighbours in that poor village have decided to contribute some money and labour to help that family build a room before the next rainy season.

It may not be much but this, I think, is the saving grace of Pakistani fatalism: a commitment to one another and the spirit of community. Most of us are mindful of the fact that while our life stories are heartbreaking, that of our neighbour’s might be even worse.

But can I really blame the people of Pakistan for their stoicism? Would I retain any glimmer of hope if I lose my house in floods, a son to hepatitis C or a daughter to childbirth? What if half of my family is blown up in a bomb blast during their yearly shopping excursion in the city before Eid? How can I live through the trauma of being caught in crossfire between militants and the armed forces and see my friends and family die all around me? How can I ever hope to not die and get on with my life? I, too, will need repeated doses of fatalism to survive.

Resignation to one’s fate is a necessary evil and, perhaps, a powerful tool of survival but one must ponder if this is what is stopping us from taking charge of our individual and collective lives and preventing us from bringing in the changes that we need.

First published in The Express Tribune.

Stagnant water that stands four feet deep a year after the rains in Hingorno
May 26, 2012 - population, published work    2 Comments

Where are the health stories in the newspapers?


A country where 58% of the population is food insecure and over 43% children are malnourished, health is an outstanding concern all the time. Add the repeated misery of floods of 2010 and 2011 and displacement of population in hundreds of thousands because of military operations in KPK and FATA and it becomes an ever more pressing concern. When a matter is that critical, you expect to see highlighted everywhere. Unfortunately, the Pakistani media is, by and large, silent on this issue.
Let’s start with the health issues of children. Not only neonatal mortality is responsible for 57% of all deaths in children younger than 5 years in the country, the country also has the dubious distinction of having the highest neonatal mortality rate in the region. Nearly two million children less than five years of age die of pneumonia. Similar number dies of diarrhea every year. According to UN figures, around 432,000 children die before reaching the age of five in Pakistan and the majority of these lives are taken by pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, tuberculosis and tetanus. But if you go through any newspaper in Pakistan or watch any news bulletin on any of the TV channels, you would think that the only disease killing children in Pakistan is Polio.
Pick any newspaper, almost 90 per cent of the news items about children’s health cover stories about polio vaccination drive of the government, its success, failures and the political mileage politicians get out of it. Half of such stories would be based on statements by political personalities such as Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Farzana Raja and Shehnaz Wazir Ali during various campaign launches. Ironically we are not even doing that very well and Pakistan is one of the three countries — the other two being Nigeria and Afghanistan — in the world which still has the disease. Pakistan has not done much to meet the millennium development goal of reducing childhood mortality by 2015 and control of infectious disease which should have been the topmost priority remains neglected.
Health experts have noted that the higher occurrence of communicable diseases among children and acute malnutrition in the country is primarily due to poverty, higher illiteracy rate among mothers and the government’s lack of commitment towards ensuring food security to each and every citizen. They also attributed it to the inherent problems in infant feeding practices and access to “right” foods, a problem that can be addressed if media makes it a priority and educated masses about it. Unfortunately media is busy pursuing its own agenda and is content with airing stories of nurses fighting it out with traders in the streets of Lahore during protests for increase in their wages. 
As far as health issues of adults are concerned, one sees stories only about cases of criminal negligence, medical malpractice, lack of infrastructure, absentee doctors and protests and strikes by medical and paramedical staff. There is hardly any coverage given to issues relating to nutrition, health policy, legislation and drug pricing policies, etc.
With the devolution of the ministry of health following the Eighteenth Amendment, Pakistan faces the challenge of developing a reliable provincial infrastructure that would integrate the efforts of various stakeholders in promoting better health outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not even at the stage where a workable policy is developed and budgetary priorities are reassessed, so developing a workable provincial infrastructure remains a distant dream.

Written originally for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 

May 19, 2012 - published work, Satire, Urdu    4 Comments

The amazing art of writing an Urdu column

I write a weekly column for this newspaper, an English language daily, and at times it becomes difficult to comment on things with a perspective that is fresh, relevant and not dated – week after week. Not only that, but one is also required to be coherent and appear sane most of the time (there are some exceptions to the rule though).
I envy op-ed writers of Urdu newspapers; most of them are not encumbered with notions of relevance and coherence. If one reads Urdu op-ed pieces for a week, it becomes clear that art of writing an Urdu op-ed is quite straight forward. It mostly starts with a story of a brave kingof the days long gone and how he took care of his people and somehow linking it to governance issues of a country fighting a multipronged war, battling an energy crisis of epic proportions and is saddled with a population of over 180 million people. Most of the times, the king would not have name and even when there is a name, that particular incident would not be part of the history. I know, I have checked. At times, I have even looked into Dastan-e-Amir Hamza for references mentioned in one of the pieces but the stories were so fantastical that I could not find them in centuries old tales of Amir Hamza.
Introspection is alien to Urdu columnists. Pakistan is never to be blamed for its ills, it is always some foreign powers who are trying to sabotage the fort of Islam and our Islamic bomb (the last I checked, inanimate objects were not practicing any faith but I digress).  The foreign country bashing is not limited to but is generally aimed at United States of America and India – depending on what the topic of conversation is. The really good writers do not just go ahead and blame India for all slights and transgressions – imagined and real – they invent a fictional white Caucasian character they have met in trips abroad and make him say that India is a horrible place where everyone is evil and Pakistan is the ultimate Shangri-La.  After all, the hidden racist within us would agree more with a learned white man than a Pakistani, even if that Pakistan happens to be an esteemed columnist traveling to the foreign lands inhabited by learned white people.
Some Urdu columnists also like to reproduce the fan mail they get, usually from cities like Layyah and Narowal. English op-ed writers cannot do that because they generally do not get fan mail from Layyah. What they do get – and this generalization is solely based on the mail I and two of my columnist friends get – is hate mail for being (a) liberal fascist, (b) English medium elite or best of all, (c) an agent of the foreign variety.
At times I envy the Urdu columnists. I really like the idea of starting a piece with a fairy tale or two but it is not as simple. For starters, I like to be historically correct and even though I write for a newspaper, my editor is cyber savvy and always asks me to provide hyper links for the internet edition to provide context and to substantiate my argument which puts any fantasies I may harbor about introducing fictional characters in my op-ed pieces to sleep. As fantastical historical characters and fan mail from Layyah are not viable choices, one is only left with the option of blaming it all on the “unholy” trinity of India, Israel and USA. This is how one masters the art of becoming an Urdu columnist.
First published in The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
PS: After reading the comments on the Tribune website, I think I must point out that this is a satire and I do NOT (a) think I have the authority to declare any country/person/idea unholy/evil, it was just written to get a certain point across(b) intend to start a language war (c) represent every person who writes in English in Pakistan.
PPS: I have been trying to get published in Urdu, but failed, So before anyone goes and blames me for not writing in Urdu, find me an editor who is willing to publish me in Urdu.
PPPS: I envy Urdu op-ed writers. They get fan mail (postal variety) from Layyah and I get hate mail (electronic variety) from Lahore and Raiwind. I really really want to get postal fan mail from places like Naushki, Layyah and Kamaliya (meri choti choti khuwahishat).
May 11, 2012 - published work, religion, Society    3 Comments

The fatwa factory

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to start. The country is suffering the worst energy crisis of its history; it is food insecure like never before and almost half the children in the country are malnourished and stunted. In short, we are teeming millions who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in future because of stunted mental and physical growth of our children. At such a juncture of history, what is it that we do most? We issue fatwas promoting misogyny and obscurantism; against hygiene, education, health and progress.
The latest in the line of outrageous fatwas is issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman, came up with a series of misogynist fatwas, clearly detailing what should be the priorities of his political and religious followers. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be unIslamic. As just declaring the act of going to school and getting some education irreligious was not enough, he also had to reprimand the parents who send their girls to schools in Kohistan and asked them to terminate their education. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that failure to do so will earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.
The fatwa does not end here. It goes on to declare all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty’. He first blames the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing local women on health and hygiene issues and then calls on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully if they have to – to make them stay at home. Maulana Haleem’s religious credentials are dubious at best as this is the guy who thinks growing poppy for heroine production is shariah compliant. 
In short, a former legislator issues random fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting education for half the population haram and no one barring a few bloggers and tweeters raised an eye brow. A non issue like memogate which does not affect the life of any Pakistani other than our former ambassador to USA, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime. A religious decree that can affect life and livelihood and future of many Pakistani is not worth pondering or protesting.
Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, we would have had the luxury to ignore it. Unfortunately we churn out one religious edict after another for most ludicrous of purposes. If declaring vegetarian items like potato chips and hair implant services halal is considered viable marketing gimmick, then abduction of minor girls from minority communities also get a sanction in a fatwa (and a court judgment). Fatwas are so commonplace than even KESC had to resort to seek a fatwa a few years back to get people pay for the electricity. As KESC is still laden with hundreds and thousands of unpaid bills, we all know how effective that fatwa turned out to be. 
A country like ours can ill afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to fatwa to get a point across. Not only it breeds a narrow and rigid view of the things, it does not leave any room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an even more intolerant bunch. 

Written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Apr 21, 2012 - published work, terrorism    2 Comments

The geography of news

With its incidents of terrorism dominating the airwaves, Karachi probably is considered the most dangerous part of the world’s most dangerous country. It may be true but it is definitely not the whole truth. Any news originating in Karachi trumps news originating in any other part of the country because Karachi is at the centre of the journalism business and other peripheral areas just do not get similar airtime. A recent study by Intermedia Pakistan on “How Pakistani Media reports terrorism-related conflict”, reveals that the geography of a news item is very important in determining its selection and and placement.
The study came up with some very interesting observations. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Fata, Balochistan and Sindh seem to be suffering almost daily from incidents of terror. While the print media is giving due coverage to all regions, the priority and non-priority areas are quite obvious in electronic media reporting.
According to the study, Sindh remains a priority area for TV channels. One of the reasons that Sindh is regularly featured with respect to terrorism could be the fact that terrorism incidents in Sindh, specifically Karachi, are usually linked to political upheaval. The fact that the head offices of most news channels with a team of skilled reporters happen to be in Karachi, also helps in detailed reporting of many aspects of the incidents, something which is not possible in remote areas. On the other hand, news about Fata and K-P seems to be relatively underplayed on TV.
The study reports a total of 119 incidents of terrorism in Sindh between January and March 2012. On TV, the region seems to be a priority with 56 stories aired in the monitored bulletins. Balochistan was mentioned as a terrorism target as many as 123 times during the same period but the number of related news items about the province was only 15.
However, it is not only the number of items about Sindh that makes this region a priority area. A look at the placement and significance of news items from here confirms this trend. Television channels give priority to certain news items by putting them ahead in news bulletins; news generated in Sindh is given more priority in prime time bulletins compared with news generated in Balochistan.
Balochistan seems largely under-reported on the electronic media. News from Balochistan makes only nine per cent of news on the nine o’clock bulletin. The whole world knows how bad the situation is in Balochistan and that incidents of terrorism occur every day, yet the province only gets about 10 per cent of the priority time in television news bulletins. The print media has been more responsible regarding this and 28 per cent of priority items that appear on the front page of newspapers are from Balochistan.
News is a serious business and reporting terrorism is a very sensitive matter. Many reporters have lost their lives while reporting from the conflict zones of Balochistan and Fata because militants felt that they were not given enough coverage. If news reporting continues to be about the urban centres, not only will we not know what is truly happening in the areas of our news periphery, but it may also trigger misguided policies at the state level.
The detailed report is available online at Intermedia’s website www.intermedia.org.pk

Originally written for The Express Tribune 

Apr 15, 2012 - published work, Society, women    1 Comment

The problems with Jamat-i-Islami

The war of the words between Jamat-i-Islami (JI) and Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) is neither new nor shocking. The residents of Karachi and newspaper readers all over the country are well aware of it. However, the latestround of spat where JI head asked the government to deal with their coalition partners – the MQM – in a high handed manner ostensibly to bring peace to Karachi borders on ridiculous, even for a party that boycotts elections and has not had any noticeable presence in the national and provincial legislative assemblies for quite some time.
For starters, MQM is the single biggest representative of the people in Karachi in the parliament and has been consistently getting the votes since ’88, kicking them out of the government and dealing with them in a “high handed” manner will not yield any lasting – or temporary – results. JI has been so long out of the parliament that its leaders have forgotten that popular politics is about taking care of the wishes of the electorate, not dealing with their mandate in a high handed manner.
By constantly targeting MQM, a party with a decent enough mandate in the province of Sindh, JI is indirectly proposing the political isolation and disenfranchisement of a large group of people. In a country where sense of victim hood is high among so many marginalized sections of the society, adding one more to it is tantamount to internal security hara-kiri, but JI is vigorously following this policy. Instead of working to bring in more groups into the political arena, they are trying to push away those who are part of it.
JI is supposedly a national party but they are only concerned with safety and security of Karachi – an issue that gets enough coverage in the media and is never out of the discussion. However, one is yet to hear a single word of condemnation from their leadership on the premeditated targeted killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta, probably because the ‘banned’ organisations that have taken responsibility for most of the attacks are ideologically identical to the JI vision of a Pan Islamic Sunni hegemony.
While they are quiet on the Hazara genocide, JI decide to speak against the sectarian violence in Gilgit – Baltistan and are supporting the protests by Majlis Wehdat Muslemeen in front of the parliament. However their denial about the causes of the violence continues and they are blaming the ‘foreign enemies’ for the latest spat of violence in Gilgit-Balitistan. To add injury to the insult, they are seeking council from the right wing militant Sunni outfits – the very perpetrators of the violence – seeking to bring about the peace in the region.
JI also opposes the bill on the domestic violence which was presented again the national assembly recently after being lapsed. What JI should realize is that they have lost their right to protest legislative amendments when they boycotted elections. Only the parties with presence in the assemblies get to discuss and amend the constitution.
If Jamat wants to be taken as a serious political contender they need to focus on the issues that are relevant to the people of Pakistan instead of blaming MQM for violence in Karachi and USA for everything else that is wrong with the country. But if their previous record is anything to go by, it is pretty obvious that Jamat does not want to be a serious game player and is happy to play the rebel rouser with a nuisance value and not much else. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 
Apr 6, 2012 - published work    1 Comment

Career choices Karachi has for little Owais


It was Mark Twain who said “clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” While no one can deny the importance of sartorial choices in making us who we are, it is our environment – literal, social, cultural, and psychosocial – that decides who we are and what we are going to be. 
Owais is seven years old and lives in Karachi – Orangi Town to be precise. His father works as a junior care taker in a shrine and his mother is a maid. When I first met him, he looked like a happy go lucky, fairly smart kid who likes cricket and bananas in no particular order loves going to school because he gets to hang out with his friends and considers his mother to be the best person in the world. Sounds like a regular kid? Yes, he does. It is only when I started to talk to him about his career choices that one realizes what living in a society like ours has done to him and hundreds of thousands of other children.
Owais wants to join the army which looked like a decent career option. A lot of kids would want to do that but when he was asked why he would like to join the army, he said that he will have a big gun with which he will be able to intimidate everyone. He also relishes the fact that an army person is at the top of the food chain and can even beat a police man.
His second career option is to go into the police. Just like the armed forces, police officials are also powerful people who can beat up everyone whenever it takes their fancy. Owais’ father was once beaten up by them for no reason. Owais thinks that if he joins the police force, no one will be able to harm his family except for the army officials, only they are more powerful than the policemen.
Owais’s third and least desired career option is to become a maulvi. When asked why, he said that a maulvi is well respected in the community, gets sent good food from every house in the neighborhood and most of all, he gets to beat up all the children he teaches Quran.
Owais has lived with frequent and continual exposure to the use of guns, knives, drugs, and random violence in his neighborhood. He has witnessed shootings and beatings many a times in his short life and thinks only those professions that can offer a modicum of security are worth pursuing.
 
Living in a society where it is an everyday occurrence, Owais thinks violence is a natural state of being. For him beating up random people including children is a fine way to live and make a living. At this point in time, he does not even have access to a television at home, nor does he hang out with adults who indulge in violence, imagine how he, or any other child like him who thinks violence is cool, will behave when he gets to watch all the violent material available on television and make life choices after that?
The responsibility of providing our children with a safe and secure environment falls on all of us, parents, teachers, clergymen, relatives, government executive, political leaders and actors. Its about time we learn to get over our petty squabbles for short term personal and political gains and start thinking about our children?
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 
Mar 31, 2012 - published work    3 Comments

The lost generation


Though Bara is a town in Khyber Agency, it is quite close to Peshawar and those who can afford to send their children to schools and colleges in Peshawar tend to prefer that. Quite a lot of them used to commute daily between their homes in Bara and schools & colleges in Peshawar. 
Not anymore.
Bara is under siege; army and paramilitary forces have launched an operation against the infamous Mangal Bagh and his banned Lashkar-e-Islam in the area. All roads are blocked and no means of transportation are available. Those who are stuck in the area find it very hard to get out. Among those trapped in the town amidst army offensive are children who were appearing for their high school board examination this year.
Earlier this month a few students managed to come to Peshawar for their matriculation exams, braving both the curfew and bullets being sprayed from all sides. The students from Bara started their papers an hour later than their local peers. It was a miracle that they managed to make it to the examination hall at all, but when they requested their invigilators for extra time to make up for their late arrival because of curfew and cross firing they were denied. Luckily a reporter was present and pleaded their case and they were given some extra time.
This incident reveals two hard hitting realities of our society. First is that we do not listen to our children. They were the ones who first suffered the trauma of living under the influence of a terrorist like Mangal Bagh, then an army operation in their area and the death of their loved ones as a result of the cross fire  between the armed forces and the militants. They experienced the tragedy first hand but the teacher did not pay any heed to their pleas. It took an adult, in this case the journalist who intervened on behalf of those children, to get through to the teacher to make him understand their plight.
Second is that the teacher who should’ve been more considerate and sympathetic towards those children has perhaps lost his compassion because he gets to hear such stories or even more terrible ones every day which has toughened his outlook.  
Horrific as it may sound these children were not the worst sufferers of the conflict, there are thousands who are living as IDPs in various parts of the province and their access to education is limited at best in camps for IDPs.
It is not just the children living in areas under the army operation or in the IDP camps that suffer. Even the host communities in the areas where the IDP camps are set up suffer because a lot of times these camps are set up in public schools or near public schools and their teachers are engaged in the camp work. In the areas which were previously under militants or army operation, the schools are open but many are damaged and some are without teachers who have permanently fled the area.
The worst victims of the armed conflict are the children and the most damaging impact is on education infrastructure. The roads and bridges can be rebuilt but the time and opportunities for the children in conflict zones are lost forever. It has not only hindered the economic growth of the area for now, it reinforces future poverty of such children and holds back their progress as individuals, as a community and inevitably as a country.

First published in Express Tribune, this is the unedited version

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