Victory in Delhi

Badri Raina

guest-contributorThe performance of the  Aam  Aadmi Party  in  the  just concluded  Assembly elections in the Capital  city of India has been, however you look at it, a phenomenal event, and very likely a watershed departure in the political culture of Indian democracy.  Indeed, India’s Left parties must wonder at the circumstance that where they have failed election after election to make a dent in Delhi’s  hitherto customary two-party political structure, a fledgling new force should have out of nowhere succeeded with the aplomb it has the very first time it chose to wet its feet.

This for the reason that  the credibility of its appeal did not remain limited to the yuppie sections of metropolitan society but, indeed, penetrated to sections of the hoi polloi who have traditionally belonged to a habitual Congress party vote-bank.   In that sense, pundits who had imagined that the campaign of the AAP would not cut across classes have been proved wrong.  One reason why Narendra Modi’s trumpeted interventions in Delhi fell equally flat—notice that the vote-share of the BJP, instead of sky-rocketing owing to the Modi infusion, has actually gone down to its lowest ever in the Capital—has been that many falanges of the petty bourgeois class, for example, auto drivers, switched to  the Kejriwal persona that seemed palpably more intimate   and more  quotidian in its temperament and quality of touch. Continue reading “Victory in Delhi”

Opportunities for all

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE major flaw in the education sector in Pakistan that hardly ever figures in popular discourse is the deeply rooted inequity which denies underprivileged children access to academic excellence. This is not a one-time phenomenon. It is a self-perpetuating one.

The offspring of middle-class parents face a formidable challenge when they seek admission to a public-sector medical university, let alone the elite private institutions which charge a forbidding fee. Even government institutions now impose heavy tuition charges that are unaffordable for the majority of the people. Denied education of good quality, can these children ever hope for upward mobility which comes with a good job? Continue reading “Opportunities for all”

The media’s role

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week the Indus Resource Centre (IRC) and the Sindh Education Foundation held a joint consultative roundtable — the second such event in a series — to study the impact of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013.

The project funded by UKAID and DAI Europe seeks to mobilise schoolchildren to create a visible demand for education.

This consultative process has proved to be an instructive exercise and holds great promise, provided the IRC’s strategy remains judicious and does not succumb to ill-considered demands by the financiers. Ideally, education projects should be indigenously funded to ensure local discretion to determine strategy. But this is not always possible given resource constraints.

Initially, the IRC held a baseline survey in eight districts of Sindh. Called ‘It’s my right, make it happen’, the survey found that barely 2pc of the respondents knew about the right to education (RTE) law. Even the functionaries of the education department lacked awareness of the act passed in February 2013. Continue reading “The media’s role”

Zahra Sabri wins Zubeida Mustafa Award

KARACHI, Dec 14: The Dawn Media Group announced the result of the competition for the Zubeida Mustafa Award for Journalistic Excellence on Saturday, with the citation and cash prize going to Zahra Sabri for her article “A Textbook Case”, which was published in the Herald magazine in December last year.

Ms Sabri’s article was amongst the over two dozen investigative news reports and news features submitted for the competition by women writers whose work was published in various accredited, Pakistan-based and English-language publications, said a press release.

The judges were unanimous that Ms Sabri’s work stood out for quality of research, clarity and accessibility of writing, and for being closest to the ideals and ideas for which the figure who inspired the award stands.
Continue reading “Zahra Sabri wins Zubeida Mustafa Award”

Houbaras at risk

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Wednesday, a little over 20 Karachiites gathered in front of the Sindh Wildlife Office to raise their voices to prevent the extinction of the houbara bustard, the elegant and colourful bird that makes its appearance in parts of Sindh and Balochistan in the winter months.

The houbara story in this country is a long one and the size of the demo in that context was not big enough to attract public attention. But being in the designated Red Zone (the Governor’s House is in the vicinity of the Sindh Wildlife Office) the protest was at once noticed by the custodians of the law.

Deeming the protesters to be harmless the police allowed them to stand there for a while before they moved on to the Karachi Press Club on the suggestion of the law enforcers. That was a clever step as anything happening at the KPC has a better chance of getting some media coverage. Continue reading “Houbaras at risk”

Why they don’t drop dead

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Friday the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a ‘March against Hunger’ to demand that the government and civil society enhance people’s awareness of their right to basic nutrition and food security through combined efforts.

I think this event was most timely given the utter lack of public understanding of the issue. One example of poor knowledge of the subject was an observation on my column ‘Whose land is this?’ (Nov 20) where I had pointed out the adverse impact of our failure to introduce land reforms as being the “rise in food insecurity” leading to nearly 50pc of Pakistan’s population suffering from malnourishment.

A reader noted that if high levels of malnutrition in the country were a fact, people would be dropping dead in their hundreds, and that villagers produced enough food for themselves and the country. Continue reading “Why they don’t drop dead”

A basic truth

By Zubeida Mustafa

IF there is a basic truth we still have to learn with regard to improving the lives of people it is that development can take place only when a holistic and integrated approach is adopted. It is not possible to concentrate on only one aspect of people’s socio-economic lives and expect poverty to be eliminated and growth to take place uniformly.

It would be pertinent to study the approach of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a think tank working on strategies to address poverty issues.

The OPHDI emphasises that poverty is more than a lack of income. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Even if a person is earning a reasonable amount, he may not be able to improve his life if health and education facilities are skewed in favour of the very wealthy. Violence is another factor which affects people unequally and its impact on the poor is greater. The OPHDI cites a UNDP study to point out that “successful countries have addressed different deprivations together”. Continue reading “A basic truth”

Whose land is this?

By Zubeida Mustafa

MR Abid Hasan Minto, president of the Awami Workers’ Party, has done well to go before the Supreme Court to challenge the 1990 judgement of the Federal Shariat Court’s appellate bench declaring land reforms to be un-Islamic.

After that judgement it became fashionable to pronounce the demise of feudalism in Pakistan. Some economists of repute challenged leftist views on the subject. It was widely propagated that Pakistan is no more an agrarian economy. It was also said that the country was urbanising fast and the rural-urban divide was not sharply delineated any more.

I will not get into semantic arguments about the definition of feudalism or the social changes that are used as indicators in support of the argument that ours is not a feudal society now. What is more worrisome is that food insecurity in Pakistan is on the rise and rural poverty can be linked to a great extent to the size of landholdings and the relationship between the person who owns the land and the one who cultivates it. Also a matter of concern is the nexus between big landowners and political power.

In this context, the study on landholdings conducted by Dr Kaiser Bengali, an economist and government adviser, is extremely instructive. It reminds us that land reform is an issue that is as relevant today as it was in 1959, 1972 and 1977 when half-hearted attempts were made to change the pattern of landholding in Pakistan. Continue reading “Whose land is this?”

Tragedy of the Bheels

By Zubeida Mustafa

SO tough has been the race for land traditionally that even obtaining a plot for a grave can pose insurmountable barriers. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India, had said, “Do gaz zameen bhee na milee koo-i-yaar mein” (I didn’t get even a two-yard plot in my beloved’s street). That was more than a century and a half ago.

The situation is no better today but for a different reason. Then it was imperial politics. Today it is religious fanaticism combined with land hunger that denied Bhooro Bheel land for a grave in his ancestral graveyard. When obscurantism becomes the driving force behind a tragic incident one can expect rationality to take flight. Continue reading “Tragedy of the Bheels”

Unlocking the mind

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT what age does a child start thinking? Experts believe that children have a mind of their own since they are born. Some even believe that their cognitive abilities are present even when they are in their mother’s womb. That is why they are more at ease with the language they hear their mother speak.

It is a different — though sad — matter that we, as adults, suppress this creative and critical thinking power of children that nature has endowed them with. Since we are comfortable among conformists who do not pose uncomfortable questions we shape our education policies in such a way that children forget how to question. Continue reading “Unlocking the mind”