Category Archives: Notable Personalities

Soul companion: Bilquis Edhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

Conventional wisdom has it that “behind every successful man in a woman”. In Abdus Sattar Edhi’s case, the woman is not behind him. She is there right beside him and now she is equally well-known. Today Bilquis Edhi has a public stature in her own right and not simply as the wife of Pakistan’s greatest social worker and humanist.

It would appear paradoxical that in a milieu where the female presence is virtually non-existent, a woman should have carved an exalted niche for herself. Mithadar, the downtown neighbourhood of Karachi from where the Edhis operate, is predominantly a male preserve. You hardly ever see a woman treading its narrow and unpaved lanes. Yet this is Bilquis Edhi’s kingdom. For more than 30 years, she has worked quietly without any fuss looking after distressed women and children while her husband collected the accolades. Continue reading Soul companion: Bilquis Edhi

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A scholar and a gentleman

By Zubeida Mustafa

Has Pakistan been reduced to such a hopeless state that even the most creative and prolific of intellectuals have run out of ideas on how the country can be redeemed? Hopefully not. But a meeting with Professor Khalid Bin Sayeed provided no reassuring answers. It left me wondering how Pakistan will be saved from certain disaster and who will play the role of the savior. Continue reading A scholar and a gentleman

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Not in silence



Rabab Naqvi
Rabab Naqvi

By Zubeida Mustafa

SHE lives by herself in a beautiful house surrounded by tall trees in Baie d’Urfe on the outskirts of Montreal. Twice robbershave broken into her home.But that has not made Rabab Naqvi any less determined than she is today. Life for a singlewoman can be difficult even in the more liberated and tolerant Canadian society. A few years ago she had a fall and fracturedher leg and she had to fend for herself, depending on some good friends for support. Yet she plans on staying permanently in Canada after she retires. “I might consider visiting the subcontinent, basing myself in Lucknow where my sisters live to study and research the issues close to my heart. But I would never like to give up my links with my friends and professional colleagues in Canada,” she says after a pause. Continue reading Not in silence

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John Hadfield: Passage to Pakistan


By Zubeida Mustafa

 John Hadfield has been visiting Pakistan every year without fail since the late sixties. He has lost count but Is certain that his latest trip to this country this month was his thirtieth. If not more. He says he Is happy here and feels at home, In fact when he was very ill a few years ago, his wife helped him get to his feet by urging him to recover fast so that he could undertake his annual pilgrimage to Pakistan. ‘It was a bit of psychotherapy she tried and It worked,’he remarks.

His mission? To conduct post-graduate surgery courses for Pakistani doctors. These courses are held every year in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar and according to a rough calculation at least a thousand Pakistani surgeons have benefited from his training. A number of them have attended his courses in Britain and two — the late Haziqul Yaqeen (of KV SITE Hospital, Karachi) and Mahmood Chaudhri (of Sheikh Zayed Hospital, Lahore) — have actually worked under him as his registrars. What is more, Mr Hadfield (the British conventionally do not prefix the title doctor before a surgeon’s name) does not charge a penny for the courses he conducts here. He even pays from his own pocket for his air ticket from London.

And yet when John Hadfield applied for a visa for one of his umpteenth visits, his application was turned down by the visa officer in the Pakistan High Commission in London. He had described the purpose of his visit to be to conduct a course which was not considered to be a valid enough reason for a trip 5,000 miles away. A senior official was more sensible and Mr Hadfield was allowed to come. The following year he simply described himself as a tourist and was promptly issued a visa. Continue reading John Hadfield: Passage to Pakistan

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A new look at old freedom movement myths


By Zubeida Mustafa
Professor Hamza Alavi has recently been in town. The suave, soft-spoken scholar, who says he developed a social conscience and became a socialist even before he had ever heard the word, has lived abroad for over three decades in pursuit of his academic career. Now he plans returning permanently to the city of his birth. That is, if he does not change his mind at the eleventh hour as he has done before. Continue reading A new look at old freedom movement myths

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Remembrances of things past


By Zubeida Mustafa

As she lays out before you her rich treasure of teaching aids, you are struck by her deep fascination for them. Oblivious of your presence, she chatters on, speaking more to herself as a child would, explaining the use of the board games, flash cards, cubes and charts she has herself devised for her students. Crafted from little odds and ends one normally throws away — ice-cream sticks, milk cartons, strings and shoe boxes — these sturdy but inexpensive little kits open up a wondrous world of learning for young curious minds and restless fingers. Continue reading Remembrances of things past

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CPLC: a viable allternative to the police?


90-28-07-1995-ABy Zubeida Mustafa

THE TRAUMATISED citizens of Karachi, where violence has killed over 1900 people in 18 months, live with a dilemma. Should they seek the help of the police in an emergency?

The harrowing experiences people recount of the law enforcers’ highhandedness deter victims of crime from seeking redress. Only in serious cases involving murder, kidnapping and car snatching are reports lodged, when one cannot avoid dealing with the custodians of the law.

The failure of the police to curb crime and violence in Karachi in a way vindicates the skepticism of the public. The credibility of the police is low and rampant corruption has robbed them of the confidence of the people. But the situation need not be all that bleak. Crime and violence need not be the curse of Karachi, if only the political will and the necessary systems are created to make the city safe and secure.

This can be done, as has been convincingly proved by Jameel Yusuf, who co-founded with Nazim Haji the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in 1990 when kidnapping for ransom had become a lucrative occupation in Karachi Since most of the victims were businessmen who were targeted because of their wealth, it was not surprising that two of their most dynamic members should have decided to act. That saw the birth of the CPLC, of course with the government’s blessings. Governor Fakhruddin Ebrahim gave the Committee space in the Governor’s House compound to set up its Central Reporting Cell with all its electronic adgetry and computers. Within five years, the CPLC had proved that the most hopeless of situations can be changed. The incidence of kidnapping for ransom fell from 79 in 1990 to three this year because the Committee’s success in solving a high number of cases has proved to be a deterrent.90-28-07-1995-CMore important than that was the fact that for the first time a new avenue was now available to the harassed citizens to seek prompt redress when they became victims of police excesses. The CPLC has emerged as an arbiter to look into the citizens’ complaints against the police.

Given his excellent track record, Jameel Yusuf’s observations carry a lot of weight. But he knows his limits. He will not try to bend the law and operates within the existing legal framework — though he does feel that many laws need changing and it is time our lawmakers did something about it. He is also very categorical about the nature of the present violence in Karachi: it has political roots and should therefore be resolved at the political level. Hence the dialogue between the government and the MQM is a positive development,
though the good offices of a mediator could have helped reconcile the differences between the two sides
faster. After all, the disagreements are quite basic. The person who is seen as a terrorist by one side is a freedom fighter for the other.

90-28-07-1995-BMoreover, the crisis in Karachi also has a social dimension for which the CPLC chief blames the
government — in fact all governments which have been in power. They have neglected this metropolis wilfully while fleecing it to the maximum. “If you cannot provide people the basic civic amenities which are their due such as water, sanitation and electricity and they are denied their fundamental rights of schooling for their children and jobs for their youth, how can you expect the citizens not to get disgruntled. That is how some elements have been able to exploit the deprivation and discontent of the people of Karachi for their political ends,” Jameel notes philosophically. They train the teenagers to use the gun and promise to give the people what others have failed to provide in 48 years.

But even with the best of political governance, crime cannot be eradicated totally. In fact, it has been growing worldwide with the growth in population and the development of technology. This needs to be combated with the help of an efficient police force. Do we have such a force?

Jameel Yusuf has specific ideas about the role of the police. He has studied and worked with the Karachi police very closely — that is what the CPLC has been doing in the last five years — and has managed to make inroads into some vital areas of crime detection.

He admits that to a great extent the police is corrupt and inept. But for that he blames the government and the administration. No effort has been made to recruit the right people for the job. Every government which comes into office doles out political favours by getting its supporters appointed to the force. With a stroke of the pen, a political leader has hundreds of men with unknown antecedents recruited in the police. The home addresses they supply are fake. Their characters have not been verified and their records are not available. Yet they have been trained and provided arms ostensibly to fight crime.”Now you have the unenviable situation where you are required to fight the terrorism let loose by many of the same people you yourself have trained and armed. The poor civilians who are not responsible for this state of affairs have become innocent victims,” Jameel observes.

What is needed is a major change in the mode of recruitment to the force. Recruitment needs to
be conducted professionally. Why is it that no one questions the discipline in the armed forces? There is
a chain of command there, and there are rigorous procedures and qualifications for recruitment. Besides, no one can jump ranks or outsiders brought in to infiltrate it. Why are policemen appointed without proper testing? Why are many of them inducted in midstream overriding someone who should have been senior? They are not even required to have passed their Intermediate exam and that is why their expertise is so low.
Jameel Yusuf very strongly recommends that an independent commission be set up to recruit the police. Without some set standards on the basis of which the policemen are selected, the force can never act as a truly professional body. Jameel Yusuf is also critical of the fact that every government in power has sought to use the police for its pojitical ends. This has corrupted the police more than anything else and robbed it of its credibility.cplc

Another factor which he thinks is important to promote a closer rapport between the public and the police is to give it a local complexion. “I don’t ask for the police to be constituted on ethnic lines,” the CPLC chief stresses. “What I do want is that the policemen in a thana be taken from the same neighbourhood where they have lived for years and have their roots there.” Thus they will not only have an interest in the community tljey are serving. They will also be known to the people who live in that neighbourhood. That will act as a check on their committing any excesses. It will also facilitate the work of law enforcement. The police could be linked up with voluntary citizens’ organisations of the area. This liaison between the police and the neighbourhood would be more effective in maintaining law and order

Buf that is not all. The whole system has to be revamped and the police has to be trained and equipped as a modern force. That would by itself help root out quite a bit of the corruption in its ranks. At present, the lowly-paid policeman is expected to run a thana in which even the stationery is not provided. On nine litres of petrol, the mobile is expected to patrol the thana round the clock. The thanedar is expected to feed his family on Rs 2000 or so a month. In other words, the government will have to spend more money on this sector if the police are to work more honestly and efficiently.

The system is so corrupt and obsolete that it is unbelievable. Jameel Yusuf gives examples. “The police
comes out with names of people who are wanted for innumerable crimes. They are nominated in FIRs
as was the case with the Liaquatabad supermarket killings. But they cannot be identified because the police has no records, though they are all men wanted for earlier crimes. They don’t even have photographs
This inefficiency and corruption extend to other departments of the administration as well and affect
the working of the police. For a paltry sum of Rs 2000, a person can obtain a fake identity card. We
have caught people who had fixed their picture on the ID card of a dead man and got away with it.Many people are released on bail on the basis of forged documents which cannot be verified because a letter from one government department never reaches another. Thus the criminal is back in the world of crime,” Jameel Yusuf says.

But most appalling is the failure of the authorities to acquire the latest technology for storing data, monitoring and scanning records. Such technology is available in Pakistan and the CPLC has demonstrated
its effectiveness. At its central reporting cell, computers are used to keep records of all.the cars registered with the motor vehicle department and of the vehicles snatched. This makes it possible to trace their movement in many cases. That is how at one time the CPLC could recover more than 40 per cent of the cars lost. (The recovery rate has gone down not because of any lapses in monitoring but because of lack ,of cooperation tion from the other provinces where these cars are re-registered and sold.)

With the help of this data, the CPLC can tell you which colour and make is most in demand by the car-lifters (white/red Suzuki), which are the days of the week you are most vulnerable (Thursday)
and the time and locality you are most likely to be a victim (one example, between 8-9 p.m. in the
Delton area of Defence Society). The cell has used computers to draw pictures of suspects and scanners to intercept telephone conversations which has helped them trace kidnappers demanding a ransom. Modern technology and methodology are available to conduct investigations in a civilized and scientific manner without torturing and killing a man. Jameel Yusuf is sorry that they are not being put to use in Pakistan by the police

The CPLC’s mandate is not to replace the police. But in the areas it has been asked to intervene, the CPLC has made a breakthrough. This should be reassuring to a demoralised public. But by its very nature, the agency cannot adopt a high profile. When the people in distress who approach it for help do not want the case to be publicised, Jameel Yusuf says that they have to respect the wishes of the party concerned. If they start producing an annual report of their work, they will be treading on many toes. So they keep quiet about it. They, however, have their accounts audited and they are available for scrutiny. But there is one area in which the CPLC would not like to be he quiet: in creating public awareness about safety measures. “We would like to tell the people how to protect their houses and motor cars. What to do and what not to do to preempt the criminal,” the CPLC chief says. But their resources are limited. They have tried a media campaign in newspapers. The ideal would be crime-watch spots on television but the government has not responded to this suggestion and CPLC does not have the resources to do it on its own as PTV wants it to ay excise duty for such ads. The disarray in the administration and the relative efficiency of the unofficial sector has convinced Jameel Yusuf that the only hope for the country lies in entrusting more and more responsibility to the NGOs. True, not all NGOs are honest and actually functioning. But there are some which are doing good work and making a headway. He is right, for after all the CPLC is an NGO, and its limited resources notwithstanding, it has achieved what the police could not.

But one may add, it is not just the expertise that is necessary. Motivation, dynamism and integrity also count. The CPLC has all three under Jameel Yusuf’s leadership.

Soure: Dawn 28 July 1995


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Filling a vacuum


By Zubeida Mustafa

Wnen I went to call on Safina Siddiqi on her return from South Africa where she had gone to receive UNEP’s Global 500 Roll of Honour award on the World Environment Day, she was not home. Her house-help who has been with the family for over 20 years duly informed me that she was somewhere in the neighbourhood. I set out to hunt for her, being familiar as I was with her favourite haunts. Within five minutes I had located Safina. There she was at the roadside supervising the planting of saplings. Her hands were full of soil, for she considers her supervision incomplete if she does not show her personal involvement in the work by joining the gardeners in their task.

That did not surprise me. For that is how I have always found Safina — down-to-earth, unassuming with no airs about her and always ready to pitch in when help is needed. No sooner had I asked her how she was, that her eyes lit up and she went on to give me the details of how she had planted sixty-two saplings further down the road before she left for Pretoria. Continue reading Filling a vacuum

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Filling a vacuum

Safina-11-07-1995-1When I went to call on Safina Siddiqi on her return from South Africa where she had gone to receive UNEP’s Global 500 Roll of Honour award on the World Environment Day, she was not home. Her house-help who has been with the family for over 20 years duly informed me that she was somewhere in the neighbourhood. I set out to hunt for her, being familiar as I was with her favourite haunts. Within five minutes I had located Safina. There she was at the roadside supervising the planting of saplings. Her hands were full of soil, for she considers her supervision incomplete if she does not show her personal involvement in the work by joining the gardeners in their task.

That did not surprise me. For that is how I have always found Safina — down-to-earth, unassuming with no airs about her and always ready to pitch in when help is needed. No sooner had I asked her how she was, that her eyes lit up and she went on to give me the details of how she had planted sixty-two saplings further down the road before she left for Pretoria. “Nine of them had died by the time. I returned,” she remarked ruefully. In the next breath she added, “I have now replaced them, so hopefully they will be fine.”

“Tell me something about your trip and the ceremony,” I said trying to get her to talk about herself and not just the plants and her work with which she identifies herself totally. Again her eyes lit up. “It was really thrilling,” she enthused. “You should see South Africa’s parks, they are so beautiful, so huge and so well-kept but with their natural environs intact,” she went on. •

Here was a woman who had received the United Nations Environment Programme’s prestigious award a few days earlier. She was obviously pleased with the honour. But all she wanted to talk about was the planting of trees, repairing of sewers and fixing of roads. To get her to tell me something about the occasion which focused attention on her seemed impossible. With a lot of prodding and questioning I finally managed to get her round to describing it all. She had received the loudest applause. “May be because I was the oldest recipient among the 25 award-winners who were present,” she told me modestly — Safina is nearing 64. Quickly she went on to add that she did not deserve the award singly. “There are so many people who have worked with me and I feel I owe this honour to them. Something more, I can’t describe the thrill and pride I felt when I saw Pakistan’s flag at the venue of the award ceremony,” she said.

Safina-11-07-1995-3It seems that not everyone in Pakistan feels that way. President Nelson Mandela found the time to make a brief scheduled appearance at the gathering to congratulate the award-winners and make an inspiring speech in which he spoke of being a member of the “planetary human family” and the need to preserve the environment. But no one from the Pakistan embassy in Pretoria bothered to turn up. Safina is the second Pakistani (journalist Nafisa Shah being the first) to have won this award which was instituted in 1987 to highlight the work of environment workers. She has emerged as a community leader showing the residents in her neighbourhood the way to operate as a pressure group to obtain from the civic agencies basic facilities like roads, sanitation and drinking water which are the rights of any citizen. In addition, she has also sought to mobilise the residents to work on a self help basis in areas which are not too capital intensive such as tree plantation, maintaining parks, keeping street lights functional and garbage collection. The Karachi Administration Women’s Welfare Society which Safina founded seven years ago has helped transform the area in which it is working. Not that the neighbourhood is an epitome of cleanliness and perfect roads. It is a middle class locality and problems are there in plenty. But without Safina’s driving spirit it would have been immensely worse, as the “before” and “after” pictures which she has methodically fixed in her album testify to.

And yet only 16 years ago, Safina had had limited exposure to the professional world outside. She was a simple housewife running her home for her journalist husband, Zuhair Siddiqi, and the two daughters living with them, the son having taken up a job in America. The sparks of the undaunting courage and initiative which have brought her where she is today were always present in her. Thus not many housewives study at home and appear privately for examinations to get a B.A. degree as Safina did when her own children were in school. She, however, never ventured to take up a job apart from a stint of voluntary social work she did for an institution for the handicapped in Lahore.

And then came the turning point. Her husband was killed in a car accident in Islamabad in 1979 and the sheltered life Safina had been accustomed to came crashing down. Although her son proved to be a great support, she had to find a focus in her life and find something to do to keep herself busy. She turned to what came so naturally to her — her culinary skills. She started conducting cooking classes at home. But after some time she felt her methodology must more scientific. “How could I teach a person to bake a cake or make jam without knowing the nutritional values of the various ingredients. I also had to have an understanding of the scientific principles involved in cooking and preserving food,” she observes. That prompted her to take up courses at the Rangoonwala Community Centre and the Pakistan Hotel Management Institute.

That was Safina. She had to approach whatever she was doing correctly and in proper style. When she moved to her own house in the Karachi Administration Society, there was no time for the cooking classes. Living conditions in the locality were in a terrible state. No paved roads, no garbage collection, no road lights and overflowing sewers. At first she attempted to approach the authorities to get them to set things right. But she soon discovered that a lone voice — and that too a female one — carried no weight in the corridors of power.

It was then that Safina set out to organise a women’s group. Since then there has been no turning back. Initially she worked on the agencies to get the roads built. Then came street lights, trees, a garbage collection system of sorts where none had existed, five parks, the cementing of the storm water drain which had been no more than a kachcha nullah , repairing of sewerage lines and much more.

As had happened with her cooking classes, Safina was not satisfied with simply getting the finished product. She wanted to understand the processes that went into the working of the system. “I felt I had to familiarise myself with the structure and functioning of the different agencies to get the work done. I had to operate within the existing framework or try to change it if possible.” she says.

She adopted a holistic approach. Thus getting the municipality to set up the parks on the plots earmarked for them and planting the trees meant that she had to look into the water supply system as well. Working with women also required her to address problems like the crime situation, insanitation and contamination of water lines in the area. That brought her face to face with issues of membership of housing societies for she soon discovered much to her chagrin that obsolete laws gave the residents and plot-holders who were not original allottees no membership rights and as such no say in the administration of a housing society. In her own way she has become quite an expert on the workings of the civic agencies. She has put her knowledge to practical use by challenging them in cases where she has unearthed illegal allotment of amenity plots and other unlawful activities and even managed to get them revoked. Safina’s ultimate test came in 1992 when she filed a human rights case in the Supreme Court to obtain clean drinking water for the residents of her locality. Armed with photographs and laboratory test reports of water samples she got residents to collect, she convinced the court that the leaking water mains and sewers were contaminating the water supply and thus posed a health hazard. The court ordered the concerned agency to change the pipes “There is much more to be done,” says Safina. “Since the Supreme Court bench dealing with such cases now sits only in Islamabad, it makes it difficult for me to seek legal redress,” she adds.

But she has made legal history for this was the first case of its kind in Pakistan. Similarly her effort to make the Sindh Cooperative Societies’ Act effective so that all plot-owners enjoy membership rights has yet to make a breakthrough.

What sets Safina apart from the innumerable NGOs working in the field of environment? Her goals are the same, namely, to improve the surroundings and thus better the quality of life of the people. For that she also believes that public awareness is essential to enlist the participation and cooperation of the people. This awareness has been created but involvement is lacking. Hence unlike most others she works at the grassroots level, not afraid of soiling her hands. Rather than sitting in airconditioned offices churning out jargon-filled and cliche-ridden reports and programmes, Safina actually goes out in the field and works to set an example for others. You can see her in the company of gardeners and sanitary workers motivating them to complete a task. If something illegal is happening, say an encroachment is taking place, Safina makes her physical presence felt in an attempt to stop it, while she approaches the concerned authorities.

When Safina first got involved in this kind of work she would strive more to bring public pressure to bear against the civic agency to resolve a problem. But gradually she has discovered that this does not always succeed because financial constraints are numerous and administrative hurdles prevent something from being done. Hence she has started mobilising the residents to undertake projects themselves on a self-help basis where possible.

Thus of the five parks she managed to get fenced before encroachments swallowed them up, one has been reserved for women. Safina has concentrated all her energy and resources on its development to demonstrate what can be achieved by the people themselves if they are motivated enough. Spread over 1900 square yards of land which was previously a sewage pond, the women’s park is lush green and well-looked after. The KMC has employed a maali for the park but the supervision and maintenance comes from Safina and her other colleagues. They not only keep an eye on the gardener’s work but take it upon themselves to buy plants and seeds and get the water pump repaired when it goes out of order so that the park does not go dry. Small wonder the park draws crowds of women and children, especially on days the city is in the grip of tension.

She now has a full understanding of where group pressure on the civic agencies is needed, where media exposure is necessary and where legal action is called for. “My immediate goal is to revive public interest litigation to help citizens obtain their civic rights. After all potable water, sanitation, public parks and clean air are the basic rights of the people. I hope to win these rights through the courts.

“But I must stress that we need public involvement as well. Environment awareness is not enough by itself. It must be followed by action, which unfortunately is not forthcoming in most cases. Public participation can come through mohalla committees which people in every neighbourhood of Karachi should set up. These committees should have in their folds public spirited men and women who are willing to work to obtain clean water, sanitation, tree plantation and security. We are willing to share our experience with them,” Safina says.

She also hopes to develop the four parks in her Society which are at present no more than vacant plots with a fence round them. Additionally she is trying to devise a door to-door garbage collection system in her Society in the near future with the cooperation of the residents. “I am confident that this can be done especially now that sufficient awareness has been created and people themselves want it. They approach me for advice and help and are also willing to pay for some of the services,” she says.

To mobilise and lead women for their own uplift comes very naturally to Safina. She went for a year to Murree to get her house built on the land that she had inherited from her father. Within no time she had mobilised the women in the neighbouring village to set up a vocational centre, obtain clean water and open a dispensary.

And yet Safina is working against heavy odds. She realises it. “The major problem is that the community feeling which was such a source of strength to the people in yesteryear has broken down all over the country. Pakistanis have become more individualistic and more selfish in the process. They do not want to share anything — be it their wealth, their knowledge, their time, or their effort. Money and upward mobility has destroyed their collective spirit,” Safina observes sadly.

“Not that they are not concerned at the garbage littered around or the shortage of potable water. They are quite articulate about their concerns. But most of them are not at all prepared to take collective action by getting involved in common corrective measures. Thus they do not want to join hands to demand water. Instead they will go and buy bowsers for themselves. If there is crime in their locality, they do not opt for a neighbourhood security system. They will hire an armed guard. If their own garden is clean they will not do anything to get the garbage dump outside their home cleared. Of course there are some people who are an exception and I derive a lot of support from them, but their number is not substantial enough to make a wide impact,” she adds.

“You will be surprised that the worst are the so-called educated people, especially the professionals, who can and should be doing the most. But no lawyer from our neighbourhood offered us his services when we went to court although we have so many lawyers living in this locality. None of the doctors who lives here has taken any interest in the sanitation work we are involved in. Even the religious leaders do not want to take up the cause of the environment. They never talk about issues such as planting trees or keeping one’s neighbourhood clean in their khutbas and dars. Probably they consider such matters as too mundane. But when we planted trees around the mosque the pesh imam was delighted — could he not have undertaken this job himself with the help of his congregation?” Safina asks. The public approach and behaviour very often leave her in despair.
Source: Dawn

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An unemotional look at Edhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

Edhi-13-01-1995-1ABDUS SATTAR EDHI has been in the news ever since television brought him into the limelight with a programme on him in 1988. Pictures of him standing on the roadside to collect alms (bheek, to use his own word) are quite familiar to newspaper readers Unfortunately, the maulana (as he is fondly called because of his shaggy beard) was forced to leave the country recently when he felt threatened.His statements accusing unnamed agencies of trying to eliminate him politicised him, which is not something good for his work. One only hopes the row will blow over.

The fact is no one has ever questioned this old man’s love for the poor. His work for the destitute has not only brought him recognition and laurels (including the coveted Ramon Magsaysay award). It has also won for him the confidence of the people. The faith the public has reposed in him is central to his work. For Edhi’s huge network of welfare organisations depends entirely on. voluntary donations. One observer estimates it to be worth over Rs two billion. According to the same calculation, the maulana needs another 210 million to invest and bring returns to meet his day-to-day expenses. But he has other ambitions too. He wants to set up a chain of welfare centres 25 kilometres apart all over the country.

For a semi-literate person with hardly any political or social clout to mobilise massive amounts through voluntary donations, at times by simply standing on the roadside collection box in hand, is something remarkable. More so because the donations come from a society so notorious as ours for tax evasion. It is difficult to believe that people who go to all extremes to cheat the government can be so generous when it comes to giving donations for a charitable cause. But the army of beggars which subsists on public philanthropy, the langars set up outside mazaars and other congregation spots to feed the poor, and the scores of appeals for assistance (which are presumably answered) from organizations working for public welfare are testimony to the generosity of the Pakistanis.

It goes to Edhi’s credit that he has managed to tap this source of funds. The seeming ease with which he collects voluntary donations from the public should put to shame any Finance Minister struggling to raise revenues and reduce the budget deficit. All the more so if it is recalled that many of the big donors are also the tax evaders. Why this paradox? Of course, in absolute terms the amount raised for charity cannot compare with the billions the administration collects in taxes and duties. But what is really significant is that the donations are all voluntary. Unlike the tax-collecting machinery of the state, Edhi has no army of tax collectors with coercive powers to generate funds.

Obviously the people are prepared to pay if they are convinced that their money will be put to good use. Nobody wants to finance corruption and ineptitude, which have reached monumental proportions in the public sector and have disenchanted the people. After all, who wants to pay road tax to fill the coffers of the contractors and their accomplices in the municipal bodies while roads lie in a state of disrepair? The idea of paying bills for telephones which do not work and for water which you do not get in your pipeline is not very attractive. But the same person is happy to send in huge amounts to Edhi and expect nothing in return, at times not even a receipt. Why? Because he feels reassured that his money will benefit the needy. The general absence of a sense of responsibility and community spirit notwithstanding, people are mindful of their social and religious duty to help the poor. Whether they are prompted by superstition (to ward off the evil eye) or the fear of the hereafter (wash off their sins), Pakistanis are generous in giving charity. They will cheat, they will rob but they will donate for a cause.

What better outlet can there be for giving charity than an organisation that works. And Edhi is, after all, producing results. His ubiquitous ambulances which appear in no time wherever there is an emergency, his welfare centres linked by wireless, shelters for the homeless, institutions for the handicappedare living testimony to the judicious use of public donations.

Furthermore, the muidanu has been prudent enough not to erect grandiose structures which are seen as a monumental waste of good money by donors. The centres where the ambulances are parked are an embodiment of simplicity. Its capacity to perform and produce results is the Edhi Foundation’s secret of success. Coming from the Bantwa Memon community, Edhi from early childhood could boast of inherent financial skills. Though ostracised by his community for extending his horizons beyond the confines of his people, the maulana did not reject its unorthodox and down to earth management methods. He keeps a strict and personalised control over his staff, and his accounts. For instance, he unseals all the donation boxes himself every month, personally -counting the cash people have dropped in them. He says he has his own method of detecting any fraud his staff migh have indulged in. If any ambulance is misused, he knows for he has a fairly good idea of how much fuel it will consume for a trip. Small wonder there are no computers in his office (a Pakistani expatriate in America has now offered him one). His records are kept in a primitive style and modern methods of accounting and book keeping are generally not visible.

He claims that he gets his accounts audited but refuses to disclose them to anyone. He nonchalantly declares that he preferred to keep out of this dhanda (racket) of preparing reports and statement of accounts. “People can see what I am doing with their money. Dena hai to do, nahin dena hai to mat do (If you want to give, donate, if you don’t want to then don’t),”he says. But he is punctilious about issuing receipts for the cash received and also has a system of double checking. A donor is issued two copies of the receipt with a self- addressed, stamped envelope with the request to post one of them to the head office. Each donation thus comes in the muukmu’s knowledge. Given his performance, it is strange why the maulana has so far not taken any step to institutionalise his working. True, most organisations collecting public donations do not disclose their budget. This was confirmed by random phone calls to a number of big names in the field. The two organizations which were found to be most transparent were the Layton- Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust which runs a number of eye hospitals for the poor and the Society for the Patients of Urology and Transplantation, Civil Hospital, Karachi.

They prepare an annual report and a statement of account every year which any one can see on demand. But many others are not so forthcoming. Requests for a statement of account from the Fatimid Foundation which is running a blood bank and helps children with thalaessemia produced a surprised response. “No one had made such a request before,” I was informed. Maulana Edhi rejects the concept of transparency in his financial transactions. Under the law of the land, he is not even obliged to disclose his accounts, since his Foundation is registered as a trust and the deed does not require him to do so.

Source: DAWN 13 January 1995

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