Category Archives: Children and Youth

Pakistanis Draw a Line Against Guns: We Will Not Dance to War Drums

By Zubeida Mustafa

In 2013, my friend, Perveen Rehman, a popular, soft-spoken development worker, was gunned down in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. She was shot in the neck three times as she returned home from work. The same year, according to media reports, approximately 2,789 people were also killed in the city. Although it’s difficult to obtain accurate figures on the cause of these deaths, it appears that many were the result of gun violence.

In addition to Perveen, two other people I knew were killed that year. Two years later, we lost Sabeen Mahmud, a social activist. She fell victim to armed extremists who wanted to silence her outspokenness.

The high rate of fatalities due to the widespread prevalence of guns has earned Karachi the notorious reputation of being one of the “least safe” cities in the world. Mercifully, the number of killings has declined in the past few years due to a crackdown by law enforcement agencies. However, the gun culture in Pakistan continues to thrive, a result, in part, of its foolish decision in 1979 to play the American proxy in Afghanistan. That opened the floodgates to heroin and Kalashnikovs, which quickly led to the gun violence we contend with today.

Before Pakistan’s involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war, Karachi was a peaceful city. So how did citizens react to this about-face regarding the security situation? Most turned despondent and grew fearful. Given the government’s failure to provide protection, citizens adjusted their lifestyles to ensure maximum protection for themselves and their families by purchasing guns. But a few brave souls chose not to take the situation lying down. One of them is Naeem Sadiq, an industrial engineer who is also engaged in research and activism to promote social causes. About 15 years ago, he started looking into what he calls “the disease of uncontrolled burgeoning weapons that were being used in crime and militancy.”

Sadiq concedes that every society has its share of conflicts and differences. What worries him is the fact that “the ready availability of weapons shrinks the space for dialogue and people tend to pull out a gun to seek a quick solution.”

He is right. Lives have been lost due to petty street crimes. But what should prompt one to ponder the gravity of the situation is that weapons have become tools for people to give vent to anger and frustration. Incidents have been reported, for instance, of a driver pulling out a gun and shooting another driver who dared to overtake the vehicle of the first. Similarly, jilted suitors have been known to use guns to teach their beloveds a lesson for turning down marriage proposals.

Initially, Sadiq expressed his concerns in letters-to-the-editor columns in newspapers and in passionate discussions with friends. Most of them dismissed the issue as being beyond the control of ordinary citizens. But not Sadiq. As his circle of like-minded friends grew, he founded Citizens Against Weapons (CAW).

Formed about five years ago, the group’s members believe that Pakistan should be a peaceful, tolerant and weapon-free society. “The group has a few simple rules. CAW has no hierarchy, no funding from any source, no formal office or registration and complete equality and openness,” Sadiq says. “Any citizen who is committed to peace, tolerance and deweaponization is welcome to participate as an equal partner in this struggle.”

Today, 100 distinguished citizens and 13 prominent organizations—including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Shehri, Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, Tehrik-e-Niswan, Pakistan Medical Association and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research—have endorsed CAW’s charter. Twenty members meet regularly to discuss strategy for creating public awareness and act as an advocacy group to lobby with the government.

CAW recently held a seminar in which civil-society members raised their concerns to draw public attention to the issues of peace and deweaponization. According to Sadiq, CAW’s agenda includes a complete ban on the issuance of all gun licences and a demand that weapons owned by private militias be eliminated under a surrender and buy-back scheme. This was proposed by the hosts and endorsed by the audience.

Lawyers involved in CAW are advocating public interest litigation. Since 2007, when former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan and lawyers rallied to have him reinstated, the courts have become active in redressing many wrongs that are inflicted on the people—hence this suggestion by the CAW’s lawyers.

Sadiq, who has campaigned against weapons for years, believes that gun licenses in Pakistan are “a racket.”

“Every gun license issued in the country has been issued without a single mandatory verification or test,” he claims. “There is no requirement for a training session, to attend a shooting range class or to pass a written test. The only criteria to obtain a gun license are status, power, influence and bribe.” The application form for a gun license testifies to that and gives limitless discretion to the bureaucracy, which explains why it is easy for unscrupulous men to buy a gun and hire an assassin for a few hundred thousand rupees to eliminate a rival.

Power and guns go hand in hand. People blatantly display guns to demonstrate their status. Most political parties have armed wings, and in November, an extremist religious party succeeded in holding the government hostage to its demands by blocking access to Islamabad, the capital of the country, for three weeks.

The CAW seminar drove home how guns affect Pakistan’s citizens. Dr. Seemi Jamali, executive director of one of Karachi’s major public sector hospitals, explained that an average of five or six gunshot patients are brought to her institution daily.

Those responsible for tending to the wounded are also at risk. There have been periods in the city’s history when doctors have been targeted by armed militants to create panic. From 1990 to 2004 and from 2010 to 2014, 140 health practitioners were killed in Karachi. At the seminar, the secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association said that these losses passed without comment by the government until the doctors went on strike. Even then, the compensation the government eventually promised the doctors’ grieving families was never given.

Although CAW demanded at the seminar that gun licenses should not be issued, it is clear that the problem is not licensing or registration alone, but the guns themselves. Pakistan is said to have 20 million guns, of which only 7 million are registered.

Many rightly feel that when a life is lost, it makes no difference whether or not the gun used was licensed. No bereaved person is comforted to know that their loved one was killed by a licensed gun.

At the CAW seminar, the father of a young man—a taxi driver named Ubaidullah Gilani, who was shot dead by unknown assailants—described his painful inability to answer his grandchild’s persistent query: “Who killed abba (father) and why?” Months had passed since Gilani’s death, and the family was still traumatized.

This explains why CAW is averse to any citizen being allowed to carry arms. It wants the government to revoke all the gun licenses previously issued and get people to surrender their firearms—even legally acquired ones. Sadiq believes that gun possession should be the exclusive domain of the state, and that no public display of firearms should be allowed.

To spread the message of deweaponization, CAW members write letters to newspapers, visit schools to talk to students, lobby with legislators and participate in any available public forum. It has held two walks to raise awareness.

At the heart of the problem is a culture that tolerates violence. In a patriarchal society, guns are a macho symbol, a concept CAW is working to change. At the recent seminar, two schoolteachers spoke about children’s fascination with firearms and toy guns and explained how they try to divert their students’ attention to the beauties of nature. Rumana Husain, a CAW member who is trying to mobilize teachers, also points out the importance of persuading toy stores to remove toy guns from their shelves and replace them with more peaceful playthings. As a children’s book author and an ambassador of the Children’s Literature Festival, Husain is working hard to popularize books in order to replace guns as a leisure pastime.

I believe it is also time to introduce peace studies in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities. If youths learn about conflict resolution and the destructiveness of war, their attitudes toward guns and violence will begin to change. At present, only four of the nation’s 163 universities offer post-graduate peace programs. (Two, ironically, are owned by the armed forces.)

The seminar’s final word came from Sheema Kermani, a fiery peace activist who has defied military dictatorships in Pakistan with her bold and beautiful dances and choreography. She recited “What I Will,” a poem by Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, which should clinch the argument for peace and deweaponization:

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. … I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Source: Truthdig

 

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Storytelling

If the storyteller is good, children listen with rapt attention

By Zubeida Mustafa

READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.

Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect. Continue reading Storytelling

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Fragility

Sabeen Mahmud was killed for her liberal views

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

JUST a few weeks ago there was an example of the inter-related fragility of our political-religious equilibrium. The wording of the oath for elected representatives was altered. The drift of reaction was that the reworded version insulated avowal of the finality of prophet-hood.

The previous wording was rapidly restored before cries of heresy and the like gained violent momentum. But the matter gave clerical-conglomerate cause for a rally; and the fact of the cancelled alteration is there to be referred to by those who choose to find Islamic intent deficient in the way persons or parties of their naming practice politics. Continue reading Fragility

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Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar

Demonstrating against the death penalty in Islamabad

By Zubeida Mustafa

OBITUARIES should not be set aside for another day. But I am writing one after two years when I have summoned up the courage to write about a man who was hanged on May 6, 2015.

There was a time I wrote frequently about Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan when he was living. I wanted to save his life. He remained in prison for 17 years — seven years on death row — before the hangman got him. The night before his hanging I had received a desperate message from Justice Project Pakistan if I could help get him clemency. I, a retired newspaperwoman, have no clout. The next morning, JPP informed me that Zulfiqar was no more and I felt I had let down his two young, motherless girls. I had also failed the cause of education in Pakistan. Continue reading Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar

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Gender unit

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh government’s apathy towards gender inequity in education is almost proverbial. I was, therefore, taken aback when the minister for literacy and education in the province quoted the age-old adage: “When you educate a boy you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl you educate a family.”

It left me wondering why his party which has been in power in Sindh for a decade failed to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the province. Has wisdom been late in dawning on our policymakers? Continue reading Gender unit

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Time to heal

Voices of Partition, Mumbai 6 Aug 2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.

This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading Time to heal

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Women are at the heart of development in Pakistan

The Garage School founder Shabina Mustafa at her desk in the educational center in Karachi, Pakistan. (The Garage School)

By Zubeida Mustafa

Three years ago, when Truthdig invited me to write an article on “How the women of Pakistan cope” for its newly launched Global Voices Project, it was a challenge for me. I wished to show the readers a face of Pakistani women that does not generally figure in the global media. They are the women who do not in the normal course create a sensation. But in their quiet way they are the change-makers.

The relaunch of Truthdig offers me the opportunity to take another look at the situation of women in Pakistan. Has it changed?

First, let us redefine the dichotomy in the women’s situation in Pakistan in terms of their achievements. The two classes I spoke about in my earlier article still exist: We still have a small, privileged class of the haves, and there is also the huge, underprivileged class of the have-nots. The world fails to recognise Pakistani women through this perspective. Read on

Source:Truthdig

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What ASER says

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANY country which values education provides for an independent mechanism to test the learning levels of its students. That is the only way a state can assess objectively the strength and weaknesses of the system that it has in place to educate its children.

In Pakistan, the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has been doing precisely that since 2008 when its first annual survey was held. It is like an audit and should be valued for the database it collects — mainly in the relatively inaccessible rural areas. Policies made on the basis of this wealth of information should make learning tools more effective. Continue reading What ASER says

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How we grow

By Zubeida Mustafa

IS the world really waking up to the population crisis that received a lot of international publicity at the London Summit on Family Planning last week? One wishes it were. But all the noise seems to be emanating from the developed states which have managed their own demographic affairs very well while generously supporting the Third World countries’ population programmes. Their success is to be attributed mainly to their strategy of working honestly within a holistic socioeconomic framework.

Unfortunately, developing countries, which are the biggest contributors to the galloping global population growth and that have restricted resources, have shown a poor record. According to the UN, the current world population stands at 7.6 billion and is expected to be 8.6bn by 2030 and 9.8bn in 2050. The world has roughly 83 million new mouths to feed every year. Continue reading How we grow

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No child’s play

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUZIA is 13 and is employed by a working mother of two children. Fouzia is the victim of oppression on three counts. She performs the duties of an adult woman, which would be classified as child labour. She is not attending school as is compulsory for children from five to 16 years of age under Article 25-A of the Constitution.

Above all, she will soon be another example of early marriage as she is said to be engaged. The wedding will take place as soon as she has earned enough for her dowry. In the process, Fouzia has been robbed of her childhood and an education.

These deprivations do not bother this young girl’s family. Their sociocultural norms and, according to many, poverty have landed her in this ugly situation. According to Unesco, from 1987 to 2005, early marriage was the fate of nearly 32 per cent of all children in Pakistan. Continue reading No child’s play

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