The Blood on Our Hands


*Originally published in The Nation. Unedited version below:

“How I wished during those sleepless hours that I belonged to a different nation, or better still, to none at all.”

– W. G. Sebald

A glance at his profile reveals bits and pieces from which you can patch together his person: poetry, musings, an avidness for photography, friendships, quotes from books, posts on global affairs and local issues, a love for knowledge, an interest in Sufism, support for women’s rights and a heart for humanity.

This was Mashal Khan, a kind and gentle soul whose crime was to think freely, to have the audacity to think differently, and to envision a better society and a better people.

17884473_10158442725890577_6431532837485394761_n.jpg

He was brutally murdered in Mardan.

Is it even a shock that such a horrific incident took place in a country which has institutionalized bigotry and hate? Where politicians, representatives, leaders, judges, journalists, anchors and clerics peddle hate, bigotry and violence every single day?

Before the matter of blasphemous posts was concocted, Mashal was accused of being an Ahmadi which he had denied. Is such an incident unexpected in a land whose laws enshrine exclusion, discrimination and persecution towards the Ahmadi community?

When the state sanctions hate, it is a license for the public to have a free hand to apply it wherever and whenever they wish.

The gruesome incident also forces questions about blasphemy in Pakistan, including the reform and the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. It is undeniable that the matter warrants honest and candid debate, but it is also a point to ponder whether or not the people would stop baying for blood if the Blasphemy Law goes. In Mashal’s case, neither a formal complaint nor an arrest had taken place. There has been no appeal to law, mob vigilantism was the law of the day.

The baying for blood may not disappear with the Blasphemy Law, but let us be clear that state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas opens the floodgates for abhorrent public sentiments and abominable tendencies and menaces to come to the fore and actively play out. Trump’s ascent to the White House and the boost it has been for white-supremacists and racists stands stark in sight. One need not even look so far for proof of this, a glimpse at our eastern neighbor suffices. Modi’s rise has emboldened Hindu right-wing organizations and India has subsequently seen a sharp growth in incidents of violence, fear, threat and intimidation against those who provoke their ire.

In Pakistan, state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas, a certain narrative of Islam and the narrative of blasphemy, is an encouragement for the public to engage, express and execute their depraved schemes, bigotry, intolerance, and to take the law into their hands.

Mashal’s murder, however, must not push us into the utopian expectation and idealistic hope that the Pakistani government and state would step up to reflect on their responsibility, their complicity and decisively act to steer the country away from the destruction it is steeply descending into by each passing day.

Such an expectation and hope cannot be fostered while the state and government pander and patronize for their own agendas and interests the very elements and organizations whose extremism, intolerance and violence are fatally injuring Pakistan. Such a hope cannot be kept while religion is employed as a potent weapon for political expediency, for cheap political mileage and for silencing dissent; while lawmakers declare those who wish to see Pakistan should either mend their ways or leave the country; while the Prime Minister’s son-in-law engages in hate speech against the Ahmadi community; while political parties scurry to shake hands bloodied with the lives of thousands of Pakistanis, in the name of electoral alliances; when disappeared bloggers and arrested professors are struck with blasphemy allegations; when the Interior Minister threatens to shut down social media due to blasphemous content; when judges become moral crusaders and drum up perceived dangers to Islam to curtail freedoms.

That this witch-hunt and venom would extend and seep into online spaces was only inevitable.

545b6c88e717c

Shama and Shehzad

It is too much to expect for things to change when not a leaf stirred when Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down in broad daylight, when the Christian couple of a pregnant Shama and her husband Shehzad were lynched and thrown into the furnace of a brick kiln, or when an angry mob set fire to a house in Gujranwala killing three Ahmadis including eight-month-old Hira, and five-year-old Kainat.

The involvement of ordinary people in such acts does much to underscore the extent, gravity and ideological and cultural facets of the prevalent challenge of extremism and intolerance confronting Pakistan. We are complicit, through our outright espousal of extremism, through our apathy towards its victims; through the stutter and stammer of our tongue with “ifs” and “buts” when condemning these acts, through the repugnant “justifications”, “explanations” and “questions” we offer for these acts; and through our refusal and silences to protest against them. In one way or another, we are complicit.

When an institution of education, knowledge and learning becomes the site of a cold-blooded, brutal murder, it should be enough to recognize that the Pakistani state is a rotten state, with a diseased society, both of which can never bear a truly living and thinking individual like Mashal.

The state is complicit, and so are we.

We may not have been present at the site of the murder, but we enabled it.

One can suppose that the splatters of blood are lighter on our hands, but know that they are there nonetheless.

Every day, this country dies a ghastly death at the hands of the mob it has the misfortune of calling its people, its nation.

It seems even God has forsaken Pakistan for we alone are responsible for the hell and havoc at home.

Kitni badnaseeb hai who qaum jo apne mashal khud hi inkar aur tabah karde.

Kitne mashal bujhaye jayein gay is mulk main? Aur agar hai, tau kitna tareek hai iss mulk ka mustaqbil.

-Hafsa Khawaja

 

Complicit in their Abuse


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

The revelation of what is being called the country’s largest child abuse case has struck as a horrific nightmare. Two-hundred and ninety children abused in Ganda Singh Wala, most victims being under fourteen even including a six year old boy, their abuse videotaped and copies sold for sums as paltry as 50 rupees. Since 2006, just year less than a decade.

This entire tragedy has been nothing but a damning indictment of Pakistan’s government, state, society and culture; which continue to fail their children.

Sahil, an organization dedicated to the protection of children against abuse, issued 3508 as the number of cases of abuse for 2014. According to the organization, this brings the number of abused children to ten per day. However, it must be kept in mind that this figure has been gleaned from the number of cases reported in places such as newspapers; the real figure has to be staggering since child abuse goes widely unreported in the country owing to the clasp of culture. The practice of such heinous acts not just exists in this country but it is also rather prevalent, but child abuse is duly hushed up by “taboo” and “shame” in Pakistan’s society and culture and it is necessary that this norm ends today than tomorrow.

 

Abused children have done nothing to be held to “shame” – a concept used in our culture to continually silence the victimized and perpetuate such horrors in society. If there needs to be any shame, then it must be on our culture of silence, taboo and denial, and on all those who indulge in it. The silence demanded by our culture in face of such monstrosities is the very impunity and immunity granted to the perpetrators. And it is essential that the unearthing of this appalling case be taken to break this norm of silence by starting a conversation on the issue that can be helped by the government, the media and the civil society.

Further down the rotten list of arguments given against exposing the cruelty of child abuse is the national favorite: ruination of Pakistan’s image. Unfortunately, this argument was parroted by Rana Sanaullah when sought regarding this case who commented that the sordid affair should not have been reported since it brought “shame” to Pakistan’s image. A statement of such low caliber was certainly unbecoming of a provincial minister but perhaps there is scant to expect from those who hobnob and rub shoulders with those whose hands are stained and seeped with the blood of religious minorities. However, it is truly unsettling that such a mindset persists here which finds the revelation and discussion of plagues and problems in Pakistan far more perturbing than the existence of these troubles in the first place. Yet it is nothing more than a testament to our penchant for averting gaze from problems than acknowledging them. “Image” is merely a fancy concept many here use to toy with; to deceive themselves of existing dismal realities in Pakistan, for what good is an image when realities are so ghastly in this country? Where 140 children are murdered in their schools, where a seven year old raped is raped by several men for more than an hour; where hundreds of children are put through indelible pain and trauma, their childhoods forever usurped and lives ruined or put to an end.

It is only hoped that the provincial government won’t and doesn’t share the petty concerns and viewpoint of its law minister and deals with the seriousness the gravity of the matter merits. Dawn columnist Umair Javed correctly underscored the significance of Punjab government’s handling of this issue on social media: “This child abuse case, not some signal free corridor or some elevated expressway, will be the real benchmark for Punjab government’s effectiveness.”

The political figures that pressurized the victims’ families to withdraw allegations need to be named and brought to task along with the MPAs and police officials who refused to act. The government also needs to initiate a federal inquiry into the harrowing matter entailing the harshest of consequences for the sick perpetrators. What has happened in Ganda Singh Wala is neither a first of its kind and maybe not even the largest child abuse racket in the country; it is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg that has been unveiled. Therefore, this case must not be dealt myopically: passed to commissions, retributions handed down to the child abuse mafia involved in this alone and then forgotten as a distant nightmare that befell hundreds of children in a district of Kasur. This case must provide impetus for systematic inquiry into and operation against child abuse in Pakistan which probes its pervasiveness, traces it causes, victims and punishes perpetrators; followed by adequate legislation given teeth by strict implementation. Equally important is the need for a socio-cultural campaign that pushes for a conversation on the issue and convinces victims to come forward, for no such law or operation will work in Pakistan if devoid of cultural and social embrace – the socio-cultural acceptance, approval and support which is currently non-existent in the country whose society is in the grip of twisted notions of honor and shame that forbid speaking up against child abuse.

The fault lies everywhere; with the state, government, culture and society. And until each begins functioning in favor of the humanity, compassion, sympathy and responsibility deserved by the children of this country, we shall all be held complicit in their abuse.

-Hafsa Khawaja

National Clutter


*Originally published in The News.

It’s been over a month since the dharnas came to the capital.

And although Imran Khan warns of a civil war, the political temperature has come down considerably but not after exposing the bare and weak bones of Pakistan’s make.

To start off, with rumors and fears of a coup abound earlier; a most alarming reminder has been the persisting existence of the Third Umpire on the political front. Including a counsel of restraint on both sides, advocacy for facilitation of negotiations and advising the government not to use force, Dawn’s editorial published on 2ND September spoke on this string of the army’s statements and inaction towards the protesters that attacked the Parliament despite Article 245 as:

‘The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis has been torn apart.’

The fact that army had to issue these statements and later another to assert its neutrality brings out a sneering irony.  

It is obvious that redressing the civil-military imbalance is urgent and yet perilous since the Third Umpire will not be leaving a field it has dominated and played on since decades anytime soon.

Secondly, while mudslinging and uncivil rhetoric has been and is an inherent component of Pakistan’s chaotic political culture, the current developments have assisted their swift mainstream resurgence; lest we forget Imran Khan’s volley of countless allegations and accusations against the sitting prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary, police, journalists, bureaucrats and the media; and his free and open use of “oye”, “main choroon ga nahi” to “geeli shalwars”. The on-going rumpus has assisted and promoted the crude rhetoric of violence and slander in Pakistan’s political culture and discourse to once again rear its ugly head.

More importantly, a tweet by Mosharraf Zaidi on Imran Khan’s audacious release of his workers arrested by the police accentuates a disquieting issue:

‘One can blame PM Sharif to a certain extent, but delegitimization of the state machinery is now the unwitting PTI project. Disturbing.’

This act of Imran Khan’s may be hailed as bravado by his supporters, who condemn and decry Anjum Aqeel in the same breath, but since its declaration of civil disobedience, promotion of hundi; attempts to storm state buildings with PAT and this forceful release of arrested workers, PTI and its workers have certainly pursued a path of delegitimizing state apparatuses by way of blatantly defying the law.

With such a course of action, PTI has helped muddle up the distinction between the state and the government; attacking the former to shake the latter.

This is but a dangerous phenomenon in a country struggling for stability and security; adding a political plane to the constant challenges to the writ of the state by a plethora of groups including the TTP.

In the domain of the government, the consequences of ignoring political protests, as PML-N initially did with Imran Khan’s, have been dramatically revealed. Governments, especially that of parties like N which conveniently adopt smug complacency when in power, can no longer afford to be dismissive of opponents’ demands or perform sluggishly.

Moving on, as with every national occurrence, the media’s role has been of vital significance amid the inquilabi and tabdeeli mayhem. With fear-mongering, misinformation and sensationalism media houses flagrantly picked stances and sides. This glaring functioning of Pakistan’s media as propaganda houses for political parties with little room for impartiality and responsibility has been unfortunate. Media coverage has also been concentrated on the capital, with hardly any slot for the plight of the IDPs and later, the flood victims. All of this has once again lent weight to the idea that Pakistan possesses a vibrant, free media but a fledgling one not free from biases, unethical practices and oblivious to responsible, meaningful journalism.

Public discourse has also been affected, albeit with the curse of intense polarisation. With each lot sticking to its viewpoint and party loyalties with charged political self-righteousness, little room has been left for debate and discussion, let alone poor old nuance. All who oppose PTI’s politics are now ‘jahil nooras’ and all those who criticise PML-N ‘youthias’. And with debate and discussion shut off like this, this only strengthens the intolerance that is already embedded in Pakistan’s society and national mindset.

Another societal characteristic emerged amidst the dharnas, namely misogyny and hypocrisy. Appropriated into mainstream political discussion thanks to Maulana Fazul-ur-Rehman invoking the infamous fahashi narrative inside the Parliament, the dancing by women at Imran Khan’s dharna became a part of the political salvo against him.

A non-issue with no political weight or ramification, it is, as columnist and writer Abdul Majeed Abid, wrote:

‘One can disagree with the ‘dharnistas’ on dozens of accounts, without any mention of the term ‘vulgarity’….. this is important only in bigoted, misogynist societies such as Pakistan.’

It is astounding how women and men dancing at rallies can be an issue when there is a war being fought at home and a million Pakistanis are displaced from their homes, left for destitution.

This is a fine encapsulation of the clutter Pakistan is in today.

At the end, it is palpable that the political confrontation which began in mid-August sparked off a tense interaction between Pakistan’s politics, institutions, society and culture; the results of which are unsettling. A close to the current events may be uncertain but what is certain is that as a country aspiring for democracy, stability and prosperity, Pakistan has a long and difficult path to tread if it is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

The Real Malala Drama


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

One would reckon that a shot in the head of a 15-year old girl advocating education against the agenda of barbaric monsters and risking their wrath would shake the nation into unanimously becoming a steel wall of support behind her. Not in Pakistan. Not in a society so deeply divided on issues that invite no second thoughts in most societies.

Malala Yousafzai

The attack on Malala a year ago and her fight of survival was the only phase that saw the Pakistani people raising their hands in prayers for her, yet her subsequent rise has left many seething in ire, leaving others with bad taste in their mouth.

Malala’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and her being the global favorite for the Prize resuscitated the riling against her in her very own country.
And the riling itself, has roots within this society.

Pakistanis, as a people, have been socialized into a society and people that inherently resent recognition, acknowledgement and achievement if earned by anyone apart from themselves. It is disliked and downplayed with passionate disdain.
753848-un-pakistan-youth-malala-yousafzaiEven if it is a 16-year old girl. Jealousy in Pakistan creates a genuine, and otherwise lacking, sense of unity with no bounds of age, class, ethnicity and language. After all, how many of us can boast of having celebrated our 16th birthday by addressing the UN; getting nominated for a Nobel and claiming world-wide recognition and fame?

From decades, Pakistanis are also suffering from a chronic case of the diseased, conspiracy-theory mindset molded on sheer McCarthyism. Indoctrinated by the state textbooks that brim with propaganda; the generation that was schooled reading those and heightened by general ignorance, it has only nourished. The late Ardeshir Cowasjee once penned in a column of his for Dawn that we like to believe Pakistan to be the nucleas of the world. It is this self-constructed myth that misguides the majority to believe the world is engaged in a constant pursuit of conspiracies against the beacon of development, progress, peace and prosperity that Pakistan has always been as is today.
Malala-meets-ObamasMoreover, the conspiracy-theory mindset is used as an instrument to make sense of events and incidents in Pakistan. An unfavorable occurrence, such as Malala’s shooting, and especially if it yields the global stare, is fit to be framed as a conspiracy to ‘malign Pakistan and damage its image’ therefore, naturally, Malala becomes a Western stooge; who has left many of these people confused by being both a Western stooge and meeting the President of the USA and letting him know clearly of her stance against drone attacks and their damage to her country and countrymen. Mind-baffling.

It would perhaps, be beneficial to wake up from this hopeful slumber and see that any image that Pakistan may have had, has crumbled into nothing since a while now; therefore the image-insecurity has no basis to exist either. There is no image for us to maintain. If we are to build one, it will take years because that necessitates creeping out of the narrow conspiracy-theory worldview that rejects any call for us to look within and identify what plagues us, rather than ascribing the plagues to foreign origins, for the correct identification of problems is the first step to fix them. Fixing our problems would build and fix any image that is to stay, as blogger and writer Abdul Majeed Abid describes it: only a country’s reality reflects in its image; a negative reality will produce a negative image.

But what is rather worrying is also the direction of the image-insecurity, which is more alarmed at the coverage and publicity of an unpleasant happening in Pakistan than the happening itself. It is not the attack on Malala that often bothers many, it is the global attention the incident received that concerns them for it highlights the brutality in Pakistan. Even though the fact that this very form of brutality, terrorism, has become Pakistan’s predominant reality should be beyond the grasp of denial for us.

1pakistandanger-1123055i1

Remarkably, many of the seemingly educated have been seen to be the most vehement in expression against the respect and admiration being lent to Malala from every corner of the globe as ‘undue‘.
It is at this point that popular blogger Sana Saleem’s argument in a recent blog post of her’s becomes most pertinent:

‘It’s true that not all human rights violations get the attention they deserve, the media industry we have is at best manipulative and heavily politicised. When children that are reported dead in drone strikes or military action do not get the attention they deserve, attention that would call an end to extra judicial murders, we are in the right to be angry. But we are bigoted, hypocritical and self flagellating when we blame the victim of one act of terror for the lack of acknowledgement of the other.’

The reason many urban dwellers can not fathom the fanfare surrounding Malala, lies in their social and geographical locations and situations. As one Twitter-user @pindibuoy commented:
“The urban dwellers can’t get their heads around the barriers the rural girls have to overpower [to attend school].”

Some are merely skeptic of the Western hullabaloo around her, and understandably so. As London-based Turkish writer and academic Ziya Meral tweeted: ‘Malala is inspiring, but really hope there are people who will protect her from consumption by Western media, Hollywood, ‘speaker’ market’.

But mostly, there are those who are just exasperated by the commotion surrounding her, misinterpreting her head-shot as her claim to fame. It has not been the shot in the head which Malala received that thrust her into global popularity and adoration, it is her cause of education; her resolve; her maturity; her pacifism; her determination; her courage and her resilience as both a target and victim of terrorism which makes her nothing less than the spirit of Pakistan in the fight against it. Malala is Pakistan. Honoring her is honoring our fight, our battle.

Malala laughing

The real Malala drama does not have Malala Yousafzai as the central character, it has the people of Pakistan in the main role playing out their entrenched hate, bigotry, misogyny with the props of denialism, conspiracy theories and McCarthyism. The hand that triggered the gun also triggered these social characteristics and foul national features, a part of the wider persisting social phenomena in Pakistan, to play out collectively. The real Malala drama is, but an expose of the Pakistani society and nation itself.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Pakistan’s Political Messiah Fixation


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

A chapter of a survey released in July 2012 by PEW, spanning six predominantly Muslim countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia – shows that majorities in four of the six states believe that democracy, rather than a strong leader, can best solve their country’s problems.

The country with the most prominent opinion contrary to those of other countries is Pakistan, where preference of a leader over a democratic government is mirrored in the percentages: 61 percent of Pakistanis say their country should rely on a strong leader, while just 31 percent say democracy can better solve national problems.

The expression of favorability towards an individual over a system, be it judicial or governmental, isn’t a new phenomena but a political and cultural approach that has been ingrained in Pakistan.

The plausible notion of a strong leader being the pivot of progress has been made to inflate in importance through over-emphasis in the country, to a magnitude that all remaining requisites for the state’s prosperity are blurred into insignificance by it. That is, potential leaders or figures are deemed the panacea; virtually messiahs.

Although the roots of this precedence remain somewhat obscure, it can be assumed that they lie in the grounds of political culture and history.

A quick glimpse through Pakistan’s tumultuous history would reveal a dearth of stability and continuation of a democratic system, which all the more provides validation to the idea that Pakistan is a developing democracy, not yet a complete democracy.

In February this year, a survey conducted by the Oxford Research International says Libyans would favor a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government. Commenting on which Oxford University’s Dr Christoph Sahm said the survey suggested Libyans lacked the knowledge of how democracy works.

This applies to Pakistan as well.

This inadequacy of acquaintance with the system of democracy is one of the reasons for the ‘Messiah Mania’ in Pakistan: lack of understanding of how democracy works and interest in it leads to supposing one man can cure the country’s ills all by his existence at the helm.

A developing democracy, as we are, Pakistanis are also terribly disenchanted with the order of democracy itself after what they have seen in this greatly disappointing democratically-elected government’s tenure.

 Sifting through the historical pages of Pakistan’s formation, most Pakistanis evince towards Jinnah single-handedly creating Pakistan in support of this preference (of choosing an individual or leader over a system), forgetting the lapses of decades that have occurred since 1947 and the vortex of change that there has been on the geographical, political, social, regional and national landscapes, which cancel much, if not the entire, basis of comparisons and references of Jinnah.

Pakistan’s political culture has also bred this disposition: with parties centered on dynasties, their histories and scions, politics and governance in Pakistan have been made a play of personalities beyond what they should probably be.

But with the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it has been proven that the fashioning of this leaning is not exclusive to dynastic and ‘family’ parties such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The Kaptaan’s larger than life persona, charisma of the cricketing days and illustrious background in a sport that is similar to religion in Pakistan’s – along with philanthropy, his shrewd stance that subliminally echoes this mentality (a single honest man can channel change even through a team of ideological turncoats, opportunists and remnants of previous regimes) – has alone bolstered and intensified the idea of a messiah.

A dictatorial history may also explain why nations like Pakistan and Libya would choose a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government.

A past that has been a witness to and victim of four separate authoritarian military men wheels around the concept of a single omnipotent figure. This has devised the perception of ‘one-man-government’ in peoples’ mind who believe a lone man can cause massive shifts in the country’s fortunes, systems and situations depending on his nature an d intentions (good or bad).

After the death of Czech politician Vaclav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Joshua A Trucker, professor of politics at New York University, pertinently writes in his article on Al-Jazeera English ‘How much do individuals really matter in politics?’

The most pressing question for policymakers now is how likely it is that the course of Czech or North Korean politics will be altered by the death of Havel or Kim. Many important differences exist between the two, not the least of which is that Havel has been out of political power for years now, while Kim (we assume) has been running the country.

However, perhaps the most important difference is the fact that the Czech Republic is an institutionalized democracy while North Korea may be the world’s last totalitarian dictatorship. Therefore, one viable hypothesis would seem to be that there should be less disruption to the Czech Republic’s political trajectory (or any established democracy) due to the death of an important political figure than in a case like North Korea, where power is so centrally wrapped up around one person.”

Professor Trucker’s analysis is the principal point in this matter: power patterns contrast between a totalitarian and democratic governments and countries. Absolute control and authority is always vested in one figure in an autocracy but an individual is weighed by and down by the system in democracy (especially in a parliamentary democracy) with no space for any such ‘messiah’.

Another pressing question arises of this messiah culture that stresses a tremendous amount of reliance on a single figure: what will become of the country with the demise of the leader? Will the system, institutions and nation tumble into chaos? Who will take his place? After all, even messiahs are mortals.

Pakistan will have to take political leaders as they are: humans with flaws, who will have to make compromises, reconciliations and unfavorable decisions in the face of political gridlocks. A politician may possess a fine character and even a vision, but to expect him to actualize it for the country’s good all in his own entirety, unaided of followers, party members, a framework for implementation and a civilized system of governance is outright ludicrous. Which is why critical thought must be lent to all these factors and to make a cult of leadership is wholly nugatory.

Sculpting messianic idols out of political leaders, criticizing whom is to blaspheme and who are unknown to mistakes and over and above any system or principles – and the search for saviors needs to end for Pakistan, for it is an endless and futile one. To pull Pakistan from the precipice it currently staggers at will take more than a leader or a savior, and the population’s sensibilities being held hostage by this mindset that seeks a messiah will certainly not help.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Of Choorian, Cultures and ‘Calm Down, Dear’


First published at Viewpoint Online.

Posting the unedited version here:

Often things become such a commonality in countries that their implications and meanings, no matter what they hold, are simply reduced to being nugatory. Such is the case in Pakistan; questionable sayings, practices and customs that should usually arouse attention have become so imbedded in our society through repetition that they’ve developed into being a component of the declining environment.

Just a few months back, when the Parliament deplorably resounded with boorish bellows of ‘protest’ and other actions by the Opposition (that evidently consigned and littered all democratic and parliamentary norms, ethics and etiquettes to the trash bin) till the session’s end as Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh presented the annual budget – PML (N) MNA Tehmina Daultana came storming and flung her bangles at him in an entirely misogynist vein.

This, for some, might plainly have been a sign of rightful ‘condemnation’ or just another entertaining event in the history of parliamentary donnybrooks of Pakistan. But what it was an indication of, was left absolutely unheeded.

Hum nay choorian nahi pheni hui!’ (We are not wearing bangles) has assumed form of a very popular phrase amongst the tub-thumping and empty rhetoric of the demagogues in Pakistan.

This expression clearly and solely suggests masculine pride and male bravado along with an endorsement of the opinion (and a much-denoted one to the mores and beliefs of the Arabia of the Age of Ignorance) that women were universally inferior creatures in comparison to men.

By roaring that one does not wear bangles, he intends to put the message across that he is neither weak, a simpleton nor woundable or anything perceived to be of the other sex through the lens of condescension; thus completely depreciating womanhood and making it the subject of derogation.

And this is ignored and even met by cheers from throngs listening to speeches that contain the sentence.

But in the United Kingdom in April, Prime Minister David Cameron was entangled in a controversy while resisting demands for apology after he told a female shadow cabinet minister to “Calm down, dear” during an argument over proposed reforms in the House of Commons. Cameron had  mimicked a famous car insurance advert starring popular chauvinist Michael Winner.

Cath Elliot of Guardian wrote:

“Calm down, dear” is neither humorous nor edgy; it is instead a classic sexist put-down, designed to shut women up and put them back “in their place”.

“Calm down, dear” is what women hear when we’re allegedly being “hysterical” or “overemotional”. It’s that tired old gender stereotyping, the sort that implies that if we can’t even keep our emotions in check, then we obviously aren’t cut out for the more serious male world of politics and debate.’’

While Cameron did not apologise and his aides downplayed the whole affair, it may be rationale to deem that in view of all the media scrutiny and obloquy it drew out, he will be measuring his words and their significance in the future.

Harriet Stowe once said; Women are the real architects of society. How, one might ask.

Women, by divine nature have been bestowed upon with this sole authority and capacity. It is a woman, who nutures a child in her womb and then brings him up, instills values in him while grooming him that directly affect his behaviour, ethos and mentality.

Future doctors, politicans, leaders, journalists etcetra – all constitute a people and are indispensable to the system of the society and world, and each one of them owes his existence to a woman.

The role of a woman  is instrumental in everything. Even a female who is neither schooled,  not married nor a mother, naturally yeilds strength and inspires admiration leave alone one that is given her right to education, choice, freedom, equality and life itself . To remind one of Fatima Jinnah’s role in Quaid-e-Azam’s life would suffice here also.

Thus a woman is the real architect, an irreplaceable pillar of the society.

It was not only to highlight sexism but to illuminate the difference in the wider picture, the juxtaposition of the two incidents in Pakistan’s Parliament and the UK’s House of Commons in this article. What distinguishes the separate countries of the two events from one another, was culture. A culture and society that shuns torpor, prompts introspection and welcomes a discourse; something we are clearly devoid of and replace by impassivity, disinterest about such little things, denialism and nothingness.

It is of paramount importance for Pakistani to realize that it is not a revolution they need but a collective, national socio-cultural evolution.

This verbal male chauvinism, pellucid in the aforementioned Urdu remark, is part of the labyrinth of a mindset and culture in Pakistan that eventually translates and actualizes into the web of repugnant traditions of Vani, Sawara, Karo-Kari etcetra. It is all inter-connected and must be clipped from the roots that are strengthened by how each individual in Pakistan waters them; through silence at the and by ignoring the smallest of its elements (phrases such as the aforementioned).

With the backing and espousing of generations of people of different thoughts and time, cultures flourish and characterize traditons and norms that later all of new eras dare not abandon even if logic dismisses them (traditions). Traditions and beliefs such as, assigning women a position in the community of a lowly figure with not much purpose in life and even little ability. (Due to which’s perception, such sayings and disgusting activities are born)

It is about time as Pakistan totters from crossroads to the brink of a now-or-never stage, that  we cultivate a new culture – for which each indvidual must cast his efforts; question doubtful and wrongly established practises, convention and mores. Adopt better ones, encourage others to.

As individuals come together to become a people, people make a society bound by a culture constructed by them, that society is the base of a nation and nations form countries thus it is dervied that if the people change, the country will inevitably similarly.

To redefine Pakistan in front of the world, Pakistanis must refine themselves and their institutions; the culture and society.

– Hafsa Khawaja

Taming The Wild One : Media In Pakistan


Carte blanche for anything leads to an unhealthy atmosphere to be created in the sphere of its activities.

In a country where events have lead to the people lending unparallel countenance to the media, the line that should have been long drawn between freedom for the media and abuse of freedom seems to have self-effaced.

 

Media, both print and electronic, has become an important instrument in weaving a society’s ideologies and opinions both politically, mentally, emotionally and socially but in a country like Pakistan where for the past 63 years; the nation has been jerking between the rules of corrupt politicians and power-thirsty Generals which has nurtured the feelings of divestiture, infuriation and pessimism amongst them; the media with its raging political expositions and uncovering of happenings swept under the carpet by those running the country – has surfaced as a significant organ which is immensely trusted and supported by the people.

Media ethics have dwindled in the storm of the 21st Century that has left behind a plethora of ‘psuedo intellectuals’, anchors, journalists and a spate of private media channels.

Its influence on the mind of the average Pakistani has swollen to an enormous extent that almost boundless reliance and confidence is bestowed unto them.

Rather than informing people, the media has begun to feed them news that they wish to and each word of it is believed resulting into the paucity of much-needed critical thinking amongst them.

This utmost belief has also let the media commence with whatever they plan in the run for booming ratings or reader/viewership, without any questioning thus the swift corrosion of media ethics and principles.

 

It’d be apt to quote Arundhati Roy here:

 “In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred.”

  

 

Impartiality seems to have withered visibly with open bias seeping into what is written and reported. One-sided stories, deceptive and misleading headlines and fallacies have become rampant.

Interpretive journalism with sharp visible tones of personal opinions has rocketed causing a considerable abrasion of neutrality.

Thomas Patterson, a Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government guages the reasons that breed negativity in news in his book ‘The Vanishing Voter’ which can be associated to journlaism here also:

 [Excerpts]:

 “Interpretive reporting has unleashed the skepticism traditional in journalism. This style requires reporters to give shape to the news, and they tend naturally to shape it around their perspective on politics. To the journalist, politics is not a struggle over policy issues. They see it largely as a competitive game waged between power-hungry leaders. Politicians’ failings and disputes are played up; their successes and overtures are played down.”

 

Bashing political figures with boisterous, unjustified insolence and a brazen condescending attitude has slipped into the garb of a growing fad while sensationalism (which is defined as “the notion that media outlets often choose to report heavily on stories with shock value or attention-grabbing names or events, rather than reporting on more pressing issues to the general public. In the extreme case, the media would report the news if it makes a good story, without much regard for the factual accuracy or social relevance.” ) and yellow journalism coupled with impudent insensitivity, have transformed into a raging conflagration.

 

American historian and journalist Frank Luther Mott had defined yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:

1. Scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news

2. Lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings

3. Use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts

4. Emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)

5. Dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

It is undisputably conspicuous from here, that some of these characteristics do exist widely in Pakistani media.

The need of the hour is certainly a code of conduct for the press and media in Pakistan.

The last was adopted by the General Assembly of the Committee of the Press on May 17, 1972 – with only 17 points and those too in accordance with the situations 39 years ago.

In October 2002, the government issued a new code as part of the “Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance”, though published under a military government, it is comparatively better than the former.

The Pakistani Government needs to revise, update, make alterations and additions in the previous documents of media conduct or chart out an entirely new comprehensive code of ethics which neither provides or is used as a tool for advantage by any of the two parties (Government and the media), which addresses and establishes accountability of the expanding affairs related to the media of today and ensures the prevention of misdemeanor by journalists and the media-men.

 

Even India’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct is a much particularized set of rules.

Ranging from Pre-publication Verification, Parameters of the right of the Press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials, discernment between Conjecture, comment and fact, / encouragement of social evils to be eschewed, Covering communal disputes/ clashes, Reporting on natural calamities and Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters – it is characterized enough to deal with the emerging matters and activities of the media in this decade.

Keeping in view the stage of our budding media, the introduction of restraints and limits concerning the print and electronic media has become a compulsion of time. They need to be made and put into effect immediately so that our media evolves into a mature and responsible structure whose rightful freedom, position and flamboyance is preserved and protected while guaranteeing it complies to remain inside the set boundaries.

 

Most importantly, the regulations should be enforced and strictly actuated with their following stringently monitored by either a Government or autonomous body – for implementation of laws and plans is one of the basic problems in Pakistan.

A position paper titled ‘Codes of Conduct’ by Mike Jempson, Director of ‘The Press Wise Trust’ is a commendable work that concisely provides an understanding of why the code is required and the plan to sketch it and implement it.

It also mentions:

  “Media freedom is NOT about allowing those who can afford to own media outlets, or who work as journalists, to do what they wish (to make money or obtain political advantage); it is about guaranteeing the public the right to receive and communicate information and ideas.

 As The Press Wise Trust puts it: ‘Press freedom is a responsibility exercised by journalists on behalf of the public’.

The position of the media of any country forms an essential part in the criterion to judge the state of matters there and an independent media is the cornerstone of a democratic government but a sense of aversion and a feeling of distastefulness is developing towards the media in Pakistan due to the wrong direction it is taking its given freedom towards.

Rather than availing it, it is being abused.

I A Rahman, in his piece titled ‘Balance or Power’ states:

“The Pakistan media has almost always been the victim of excesses by governments, democratic as well as dictatorial, though the former cannot be as highhanded as the latter. As a result, the media has developed a persecution syndrome that has bred an exaggerated feeling of self-righteousness on the one hand, and an aversion to self-criticism on the other hand. Neither can be defended all the time, and the present appears to be a good opportunity for the media to do some soul-searching.”

 

So as the media gallops, wildly, to enjoy its independence on Pakistani soil – it must be tamed before it tramples much on the very ground.

 

– Hafsa Khawaja