Whither feminism?


IS feminism changing in Pakistan? That is the question that should be asked by those who are interested in women’s issues. That is the question that I pondered over at the Women’s Peace Table I attended recently in Karachi.

Organised by Tehrik-e-Niswan (TN) and a few other civil society groups, this gathering was the third in the series that was launched in 2015 on the call of the Peace Women Across the Globe. The idea is to encourage women to be involved in the peace process in regions in the grip of conflict. Continue reading “Whither feminism?”

New horizons

NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.

This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc.

Though translations have helped popularise authors, this genre is one of the most challenging but least appreciated. I spoke to Anand, who is a literary translator and is fluent in English and Hindi, about how he feels about his work. He shot to fame after the publication of his elegant translation of his father’s book in 2010. He lives in Montreal and has just finished translating Alice Munro’s Runaway into Hindi which is in the press now.

Anand says that his ultimate goal is “the comprehensibility of the final text”. In other words, a translation should be so natural that the reader should not feel that what he is reading is a product of the process of transmission from one language to another. “I try to get into the author’s mind,” he remarks.

Why do we not have more translations in Pakistan?

That can be tricky, he admits, because every language has its own syntax and rhythm, and to impose those of the source language on to the target language seldom works. Many translators may not agree with that. But no one would question Anand’s assertion that the translator must have equal mastery over the two languages involved. It also means that the translator must be familiar with the culture, geography and history of the place where the story is set. Anand has an advantage in this respect as he lives in Canada and visits India every winter.

Personally I feel that the translation is best when the translator identifies himself with the author. In the case of Jhutha Sach, Anand had a ringside view of the writing process. He was a teenager in the late 1950s when the book was being written. He says, “I saw it being written. I knew some of the people who shared their experiences of Partition with my father.”

The book was first serialised in a magazine and hundreds of letters poured in. Anand helped his father by responding to them. He felt close to the book and it became a part of his being.

But most important is Anand’s statement, “I agree with what my father writes about post-independence India failing to deliver the expected sort of egalitarian society that was promised during the freedom struggle. The promises made about social and economic freedom, women’s rights and empowerment, were either sabotaged or inexcusably delayed by hidebound reactionaries.”

This is precisely what Yashpal captures in his book. When two minds think alike the result will inevitably be powerful.

This has left me wondering why we do not have more translations in Pakistan. We have a number of good translators, no doubt. Yet Ameena Saiyid, the MD of OUP, once told me that the translations they published do not sell. Is there such a chasm between the English-speaking elite classes and the non-English speaking masses? Conversely, are the Urdu readers rejecting English so conclusively that they do not want to read even the translated work of English writers? Or is it simply that the mindset and literary tastes of our society have diverged so sharply that there is no meeting of minds between them?

I have noticed this in the media of the two languages. Their worldviews are poles apart. Their social, cultural values do not meet at any point, nor do their literary tastes.

This alienation is a product of our social inequity. Language barriers have been erected to keep the poor beyond the pale. Or is it simply a case of our education system failing to inculcate the book-reading habit? If people don’t like to read books, translations will not sell either. Take Iran as an example. Iranians are avid readers and translations are also popular. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has 16 different versions of Farsi translations available in Iran. They must be selling.

Source: Dawn

The magic crop

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE existential threat that Pakistan faces today is the insidious devastation of our human resources. It is a silent crisis, yet to be recognised, as an entire generation of children faces a slow death by malnutrition.

Denied basic nutrients — especially protein — essential for their physical and cognitive growth in the critical first 1,000 days of life, the majority of children never enjoy the same health and mental growth as that of a normal well-fed child. Paediatricians tell us that the damage done during this window of life — from conception till the second birthday — cannot be reversed. We have been warned, but nothing stirs us out of our complacency.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14, 45 per cent of children under five in Pakistan are stunted while 30pc are underweight. That means many of our children are denied the capacity to realise fully their learning and growth potential. Malnutrition also affects their mothers who give birth to them.


New solutions are needed to provide nutrition to children.


This is the real food insecurity that Pakistan faces. Its grim implications are not reported by the media because we do not have too many deaths by famine. But, silently, the minds of our children are dying. It is an irony that we cannot feed the little ones when nature has blessed Pakistan with an abundance of wheat. Poverty and the unaffordable price of wheat mean that children are being starved of nutrition. The decline in official subsidies over the years and the rising cost of inputs has put food beyond the reach of the common man.

It is time to think of new solutions, especially in terms of providing nourishment to children. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has the answer in quinoa, which has been dubbed as the miracle grain, the magic food and, above all, the complete protein possessing all the nine essential amino acids needed to build the body and brain of a growing child.

Another major advantage it offers is its low cost of production and its natural adaptability to diverse climatic conditions. FAO, a vocal advocate, declared 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa.

The grain, it is claimed, has many nutritional properties and is also cheap to grow. Dr Shahzad Basra, professor of agronomy at the Faisalabad Agriculture University, is an ardent supporter of the quinoa and has been doing research on the seed since 2009 when he imported some germplasm from the US Department of Agriculture to test it in Pakistani conditions.

According to him quinoa is gluten-free, rich in protein (15-19 pc), has many minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, etc and a low glycemic index. Wheat, our staple grain, has only 13pc protein. Dr Basra also points out that quinoa is a resilient crop that is not affected by unfavourable weather, thrives in saline soil — clayey or sandy — and is drought resistant. The yield per acre is 800 kilograms. This is much lower than that of wheat. But I presume the yield of quinoa will grow with more research and cultivation.

What I find strange is that given these advantages, why is quinoa not being promoted in a big way in Pakistan? According to Dr Basra’s information, quinoa is cultivated on 800 acres (a little over 300 hectares) or so which means a production of 640,000kg a year, most of which is exported. It is true that a culinary taste for quinoa has yet to be developed. That calls for a public campaign in a land of wheat eaters.

This is worth it as quinoa has done well as the staple food of the Andean region in South America where the indigenous populations have preserved the crop carefully with their traditional knowledge and practices.

From what I understand, the government has not tried to promote quinoa at all. Those who have, including some resea­rchers and cultivators, have focused on its rich potential as an export item. As prices have risen in the world market, local production has increased somewhat in the last three years. As a result, the price of quinoa, Dr Shahzad tells me, has declined in Pakistan from Rs3,500 to Rs400-600 per kilo.

It is time we thought of our children. The government needs to draw up child-centred nutrition programmes focused on quinoa. This is possible if a policy is adopted to indigenise the grain and devise ideal agricultural practices to maximise its production. It need not displace wheat. Given its easy-to-grow properties, tillers could grow it on land that is not fit for wheat cultivation. Why not distribute the ‘barren’ land among small farmers and show them how to grow the magic crop?

Sensible pricing and export policies could ensure affordable prices with export being allowed only above specified ceilings after local nutritional needs have been met. Small entrepreneurs should step forward to produce cereal and baby food.

Source: Dawn

 

 

Right vs wrong

IN a society as morally perverse and corrupt as ours, does a centre of ethics have any relevance? A cynic’s answer would be a resounding ‘none whatsoever’. The idealist/reformer would say, ‘all the more’. That is a dilemma that faces all activists in this country seeking to light the spark of change.

In this context, the SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) faces a daunting challenge. It has been struggling for the last 13 years to introduce an ethical perspective not just in healthcare but also in the non-medical sector. Its endeavours became meaningful and received international recognition when last week WHO declared the CBEC a Collaborating Centre for Bioethics — one of the eight to receive that prestigious status worldwide. Continue reading “Right vs wrong”

A hill station in decay

The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background  can no more be seen from a point of one's choice due to buildings like this one.
The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background can no more be seen from a point of one’s choice due to buildings like this one.

By: Nasser Yousaf

guest-contributorAbbottabad. The name sounds romantic. But romantic it is no more. The small hill station, named after its first district administrator, is not even a shadow of its former glory. Sir James Abbott had been so greatly enamoured by the pristine beauty of his place of posting and temporary abode that he wrote an emotional poem in its praise. Continue reading “A hill station in decay”

No trashy issue

TWO seemingly insignificant events could amount to the writing on the wall for our municipal administrators all over the country. It is plain, the public will no longer turn a blind eye to poor sanitation. People are now beginning to understand the implications of environmental pollution.

Recently, the inhabitants of a village in Fatehjang tehsil (Punjab) protested against the garbage dump which the district municipality had created near their homes. Some of them actually travelled to Islamabad to meet the director of the National Commission of Human Rights to lodge their complaint. They were not happy with the odour that pervaded their homes. Even more encouraging was the fact that the inhabitants of neighbouring villages refused to allow the DMO to pile garbage near their homes when he tried to shift the dumping site. Continue reading “No trashy issue”

The politics of public policy

javedBy Zubeida Mustafa

Is Pakistan a failed state?

This question has been debated ad nauseam with no definitive conclusion being reached. It has been conceded, though, that there is something wrong with the process by which public policy is formulated. Self-serving rulers – both civilian and military – have projected their style of governance as being democratic, whereas in reality, both have ruled with a heavy hand.

Take the case of education. It would seem strange that after the experience of formulating 10 education policies dating back to the very inception of the country in 1947 – none of which were fully implemented – the present government has failed to announce the eleventh policy which was due in January 2016. Continue reading “The politics of public policy”

Walls of peace

The walls of Rustom Baugh have images of Karachi's famous spots
The walls of Rustom Baugh have images of Karachi’s famous spots

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is said that art heals and colours are therapeutic. As if proof were needed, one has to only see the transformational effect of a beautiful picture on a distressed child.

In this context it was a brilliant idea to paint Karachi’s graffiti-marred walls with pretty pictures. I am not an art critic but have enough sense to prefer a picture of beautiful animals to slogans declaring adherents of different faiths/sects ‘wajibul qatl’ (liable to be executed). More harmless but equally uncouth are the ads of obscure dawakhanas promising to restore to men their manliness. Continue reading “Walls of peace”

Miracle of the wind

 

Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan
Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan

By Zubeida Mustafa

KARACHI has been abundantly endowed with one of nature’s riches — wind. Located on the Arabian Sea coast, the city cannot complain of being stifled by desultory stillness. Before the city’s horizon changed drastically with the emergence of high-rise buildings, Karachiites had always enjoyed the luxury of cool breezes during summer evenings. The breeze is still there, but has been trapped by concrete and steel structures. Now the breeze has been left only in poetic idiom to give us solace. Faiz Ahmed Faiz captured its beauty in this line, “Jaise seheraon mein haule se chale baad-i-naseem…” (Like the morning breeze in the desert) Continue reading “Miracle of the wind”

Measuring peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

WE seem to be living in an age when countries are constantly being measured, classified and ranked. The trend was set by the United Nations Development Programme 25 years ago when the Human Development Index was introduced. Many others followed suit as new technologies were developed for gathering and collating data from diverse sources that made the compilation of such indices feasible.

Today, virtually no area of national life has been left without being probed. We have international rankings on education, disease, poverty, corruption, press freedom, gender empowerment, religious freedom, and even happiness. Only recently, the Global Peace Index 2016 (GPI) — a relatively new area to be measured — was released which warns us how wars are taking us down the path of self-destruction.

The GPI, a product of the IEP (Institute of Economics and Peace, London) will not come as a revelation to those who aren’t too focused on statistics. We all know that violence has escalated worldwide. Terrorism is at historical levels; in 2014 alone, it took a toll of 30,000 lives. Battle deaths are at a 25-year high, resulting in the displacement of some 60 million people. This bodes ill for the future of humankind. What is, however, significant is that all countries ranked low by this index are invariably at the bottom of all lists.

How does Pakistan fare? Trailing at 153 out of the 163 states ranked, it has all the negative traits the report warns us against. This is not surprising for we figure equally poorly in all other indices.


The emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring society’s security.


The fact is that human life cannot be sliced into segments with one part doing very well and the other being in an appalling state. The abundance of analysis of data we are exposed to proves beyond doubt that one sector of life interacts with another, creating a holistic impact on the entire nation.

Hence policymakers should take the information and its analysis seriously when planning their strategies. Take the GPI for instance. It says that for peace to become a permanent feature in the life of a state there are certain qualities that must be promoted on an ongoing basis. This is termed as ‘positive peace’ which is defined as the “attitudes, institutions and structures” that sustain peaceful societies. These focus on achieving “acceptance of the rights of others”, “low levels of corruption”, “free flow of information” and a “well-functioning government”.

If these features are present the other goals stressed by the GPI — meeting citizens’ needs and resolving their grievances without the use of violence — will be addressed in the normal course of things.

Societies that observe positive peace principles are more “peaceable” and cohesive. We tend to neglect the basic fact that it is the instability and uncertainty in their lives that drives people to violence. Lack of control over one’s life deprives a person of equanimity of mind. Hence the emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring safety and security in society. This is possible only if citizens are provided social justice that guarantees their basic rights to health, education, shelter and employment. Inequality is another factor that robs large sections of underprivileged humanity of their self-esteem leaving them angry and humiliated and prone to acting violently. We see this happening in Pakistan all the time.

The state itself is often responsible for denying its people the safety and security that they are entitled to. That is not all. We are also seen as promoting violence by allowing weaponisation in society to go unchecked and not lessening tensions with neighbours. Since its birth the country has never been conflict-free for a long stretch of time. It has seen wars and been in the grip of domestic con­flict basically because of political instability and the failure of our leadership — both civilian and military. Our foreign policy has often been criticised. This, together with the feeble efforts put in for achieving political, economic and social strength, has paved the way for the security establishment to take charge.

A study of the GPI establishes that these factors have been present in abundance in all the countries that are at the tail end of the index. Thus along with Pakistan, four other countries — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria — have contributed to 78 per cent of deaths resulting from global terrorism.

There are two other factors that characterise the 11 least peaceful countries in the list. First, all of them have suffered some form of military and political meddling in their affairs by the US that has set the tone of war and peace in the region.

Second, with the exception of three in these 11 countries, all of them have a Muslim majority. It would be instructive for researchers to study the impact of the United States’ presence on peace in distant regions and the link between religion and war.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Measuring peace”