Catalysts for change

By Zubeida Mustafa

HAVE our writers and artists met the challenges posed by the 21st century? Have they played the role expected of them to promote human rights in our society?

These were the questions posed to the participants of the Sindh Writers/Artists Convention organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last week.

As was not at all surprising, the answers were as divergent and conflicting as could be expected from the diverse set of speakers assembled for the occasion. There was, however, consensus on the right of every citizen to be educated and to indulge in creative cultural activities and derive pleasure from them. It was deemed obligatory on the state to uphold this right.

It was also recognised that every region in the country had its own culture and language and these should be respected and not exploited to promote divisiveness and conflicts.

The announcement read out at the conclusion of the moot also took note of the most significant and telling observation voiced by some speakers. They accused the writers, poets and artists of pandering to the elites and they said it was time they engaged their creative skills to shed light on the conditions of the rural areas, marginalised classes and politically and socially oppressed sections of society.

This is something that merits a discourse in itself. Why should writers and artists who are generally sensitive individuals ignore rural society and the oppressed classes and their problems that call for greater attention? The fact is that creative writers and artists, unlike court poets of yore, do not produce work on anyone’s directives. They write or paint what touches their ethos and actually spurs the creative process. It is what poets describe as ‘aamad’ (coming naturally) and not ‘awurd’ (brought forth coercively). It is what they experience and the memories of their experience and angst that are the driving force behind their creativity.

That is why, as Zaheda Hina, the renowned Urdu writer, pointed out, it takes a writer some time after an event to experience it, absorb it and ponder over it before it finds expression in his work. Sometime this is a very time-consuming process, especially when powerful emotions are released. A case in point is of two books published 40 years after the event which had a profound and poignant impact on the writers’ lives. One is Aquila Ismail’s Of Martyrs and Marigolds and the other is Raihana Hasan’s Sips from a Broken Teacup.

Both are narratives of the writers’ lives in East Pakistan and their heart-wrenching experience of the events in that part in 1971-72. Aquila says it took four decades before she felt ready to put down on paper the trauma she had undergone.

The speakers, namely artists Fateh Daudpotho and Khuda Bux Abro, and writers Noorul Huda Shah and Nazir Leghari, had a point when they complained that the painful events in Sindh and Balochistan have not found sufficient expression in the mainstream literature of the country. The absence of translation, a neglected genre in Pakistan, has been responsible for our failure to bridge the language divide. By translating her Sindhi poetry into Urdu and publishing it alongside the original, Amar Sindhu, a professor at the Sindh University, has rendered a great service to the cause of promoting harmony among the various language speakers.

It is disturbing that only Sindhi writers are writing about what is happening in Sindh. Those writing in Urdu are so isolated from the events in the province and in Balochistan that their creative urges are not stirred enough to prompt them to write about the sufferings of the Sindhis and Baloch.

Unlike journalists who visit a place, look around, talk to people and write, creative writers have to be witness to the agony of the people and should be submerged in the pain that surrounds them to write about them. It is, therefore, a matter of great concern that the fragmentation of our society has segregated various sections of the population from each other. This is already having dire consequences for the country. Again, the social horizontal and vertical stratification of our people has also resulted in large sections being ignored by our mainstream writers. Since a writer throws light on the conditions of the people he writes about he must have knowledge about them — their lifestyle, their socioeconomic concerns and their culture and must experience firsthand their loves and sorrows — to write about them.

There is an urgent need for greater intermingling and assimilation of people of different ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Thus alone the stories of the people of remote areas will be told at the national level. True, artists have managed to capture on their canvas many issues that are confined to a small section of society, such as honour killing. That is because what hits the emotions can be portrayed symbolically in images if the artistic instinct is stirred sufficiently.

Art critic Niilofur Farrukh summed up the power of writers and artists aptly by describing culture as a transformative force.
That is what writers, poets and artists should aspire to be — catalysts for change in society. Music can also have the same effect.
One only hopes that the HRCP, which has entered this uncharted area, will take its endeavours further. The awareness one sees about human rights at all levels is remarkable. This is only the first step. Progress is possible only when awareness is accompanied with empowerment. This is not possible if development is not uniform. If there is growth in one area of life and backwardness in another it leads to either frustration or confusion.

Source: Dawn

10 thoughts on “Catalysts for change”

  1. I really appreciate the article of Ms Mustafa. I missed the conference but had read about it in the newspapers. To me tv channels completely ignored such an important conference because to them such issues are no issues. Our biggest problem is "Intellectual corruption." I still wonder why not much written on Ayub and Zia's era. Nothing had been written on the role of the media in 1971 crisis. No one wrote on the great media struggle in 1970 and 78. There will be no Zamir Niazi so Pakistan media's history ended with his death as no one is writing. One must praise Sindhi language and the rise to progressive Sindhi literature, though in the recent years it become biased. Sindhi progressive writing really emerged after 1983 MRD movement, when number of Sindhi language newspapers, magazines came, something you may not find in any other national languages of Pakistan. Hanging of Bhutto, MRD had great impact on Sindhi political litrature and on the mind of young educated Sindhi middle class. It is an important debate and must continue. Mazhar

  2. " —-Those writing in Urdu are so isolated from the events in the province and in Balochistan that their creative urges are not stirred enough to prompt them to write about the sufferings of the Sindhis and Baloch.—"

    —the sufferings of the Baloch and the agony of the HAZARAS of Quetta ,too !!

    " —-fragmentation of our society has segregated various sections of the population from each other. This is already having dire consequences for the country.
    Again, the social horizontal and vertical stratification of our people has also resulted in large sections being ignored by our mainstream writers.. .."

    *stratification * into smug cacoons ; not simple groupism !!!!

    After all what can one expect ? Writers are a reflection of the society they breathe in . If society is split along
    lines of deep regional identity, how can an individual from the URDU-walla background have empathy with the culturally acknowledged * other* ?

    As you mentioned much earlier, most Urdu speakers hardly know any reasonable Sindhi or Baluchi.
    Elite Urdu families have Sindhi maids , perhaps , who use a mix of sindhi/urdu semi-literate spoken phrases, in
    the course of their domestic work.

    South Asian societies and sub-societies are as insular as the British .

  3. Dear Madam,
    WHat the writers can do in it? The organizations did not give them chance to learn and practice it.
    I am trying to do summer internship in Dawn (on the board of opinion/editorial writing) but the answer came is; we are not teaching institute. 🙁
    They are also right but refining toh mil sakti ha na… 🙂

  4. most people we call intellectuals are really academics or specialists tied to specific institutional interests and sources of funding;
    Gramsci said all of what is memorable and instructive in this matter; Edward Said's Reith Lecture (1993?) set out all that for contemporary audiences;
    badri raina

  5. i have met some sindhi writers and intellectuals and lawyers-they do
    not realize that if pakistan was not created they would have been
    second class citizen itself-
    1.in sind most property was owned by sindhi hindus-
    2.much of the agricultural land of big muslim landlords was in the
    possession of sindhi hindus-
    3.in the newly created jamshed quarters area built after the 1932
    congress session here- in lt 3 houses were owned by muslims-
    4.so the sindhi muslims have gained a lot by the creation of pakistan.

    sameen khan of sherpur.

    1. This blame game takes us no where. The fact is that narratives and discourses from Sindh and Balochistan are not reaching people generally because the mainstream writers and even journalists are not taking note of them.We should acknowledge this and try to make amends.

  6. To recognize that every region had its own culture and language and these should be respected and not exploited to promote divisiveness and conflicts is itself a great recognization of the issues raised herein. After every hundred miles the culture and language gets changed without loosing its originality.

    This interrelatedness makes it difficult to discuss one aspect without involving another. So writers should not stop at Sindhi or Sindh but must embed the issues and languages surrounding the core topics.

    The hardest thing about any CONCERN is the fact that no element exists in isolation. Instead, the components of the language, culture, readers choice, acknowledgement of common agony, Govt responsibilities & duties work together.

    All writers know and believe that PEN is mightier and so they should use their PEN in a mightier and broader way.
    .

  7. Catalysts for change
    Writers and poets have a gigantic role to play in the society. They by dint of their pen and verses could do the part of their job vizavis transforming the society. A change in any environment can not take place per se rather some catalysts are required to this effect.

  8. I think writers (and other people of arts) play an important in making a sensible and civil society. Sadly, in Pakistan, not many people believe in that. The problem also occurs that where a writer will go when a publisher will refuse his or her work. I am sorry if I am taking this debate to a different extent but a lot of Pakistani publishers are too afraid to revisit history or write about controversial issues.

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