On Hiatus

Have been away from my writings…in the midst of running my new startup, but hope to return soon when time permits!

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Mukhtaran Mai Weds…breaking all taboos

It was nice to see a follow up and update on Mukhtaran Mai’s life in this NYT article on March 17, 2009.  I just recently wrote about her in the Nicolas Kristof post here.

mukhtarwedding

So it seems that she has married a younger police constable (she is his second wife) after he has been pursuing her hand in marriage for the past few years.  Her will and resolve as a strong woman, rooted in her belief that she will lead her life on her own terms continues to resonate as she takes this new step in her life.  Read on….

There are several news stories on her:

Here’s the full report from the New York Times:

Rape Victims’ Advocate Marries

By SALMAN MASOOD
Published: March 17, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was
gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a
symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Mukhtar, 37, said her new
husband is a police constable who was assigned to guard her in the
wake of the attack and who has been asking for her hand for several
years. She is his second wife.
She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday
in a simple ceremony in her dusty farming village, Meerwala, in the
southern part of Punjab Province.
“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Ms. Mukhtar said with a big
laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.
Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Ms. Mukhtar, who is
also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her
attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She
runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in
her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has
defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani
society.
The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions
attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit
relations with a woman from a rival clan, but later investigations
revealed that the boy had himself been molested by three of those
clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.
Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect
her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop
her from pressing charges.
Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Ms. Mukhtar to marry. He had been
calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a
half ago, she said. “But I told my parents I don’t want to get
married.”
Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping
pills. “The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents
met my parents but I still refused,” Ms. Mukhtar said.
Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.
Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, joined
forces to try to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the
status of second wife. In Pakistan, which follows Islamic law, a man
can legally have up to four wives.
It was her concern about Ms. Shumaila, Ms. Mukhtar said, that moved
her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by
another woman,” Ms. Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”
In the end, Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to
transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree
to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.
Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband
in his village, Ms. Mukhtar said no. “I have seen pain and happiness
in Meerwala. I cannot think of leaving this place.”
Her husband, she said, “can come here whenever he wants and finds it
convenient.”

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Let the people speak today…

[Updated note to this post: Amid the jubilence, it seems suicide attackers have struck again in Rawalpindi, killing at least 10 and injuring over 20.  Let Pakistanis not loose the momentum to demand en masse, their right to be safeguarded against this grave threat which looms, to demand that the powers that be, stop pandering to the religious extremists and begin to take strong action with urgency to protect Pakistan's sovereignty and its people.  I hope we are not left waiting in vain (or worse) for the people, the masses, the ruling educated elite to speak up and march (now!) against the terror and atrocities being committed by Muslims upon Muslims as the country celebrates the dawn of this new day... ]

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A historic, emotional and proud day in the history of Pakistan- March 16, 2009.

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Hundreds of thousands marched the “Long March” towards the capital to demand the restoration of Paksitan’s legitimate Judiciary – for two years the lawyers movement forged tirelessly, beaten down on, but they have prevailed.  Never in the history of Pakistan, have PCO Judges been reinstated.  Never did the masses feel their voice and presence would matter.   Technology, media and the will to fight for a country mired in political dysfunction have given birth to a new hope and a voice to the people.

Skeptics who felt powerless in the face of the corrupt and ruling elite, feel they may have a chance after this historic day.  The task now is for more long marches to come – to demand the rulers to stop pandering to the Islamic extremists and protect them from this abhorrent homegrown violence; to demand justice for equal access to education, health, civil services, employment and the bare necessities of life needed to sustain the poorest of the poor, as well as the vast,  middle class – many of whom comprised the lawyers movement from the start.  The long march has only just begun.

I think it is best for those voices to speak for themselves.  The following are quotes from today’s (March 16, 2009) NYT’s article on this historic event:

Javed Ali Khan: “We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties.

…….

Hassan Akhtar, a lawyer who grew up in England, gushed: “It’s really wonderful. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t even dream of this.”

…….

“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.” “Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”

Ms. Javed’s daughters both wore stickers of Mr. Chaudhry stuck to the fronts of their brightly colored dresses, with the words, “My Hero,” in English, in bold script. The family earns about $250 a month, too little to send the children to private school. Most Pakistanis consider their country’s public school system to be broken.

…….

“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”

…….

“This movement has given an awareness to the common people in Pakistan of their rights,” said Shamoon Azhar, 26, a doctoral student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, sitting on the lawn with a large group of his friends. “This is about awareness. It’s given people confidence. It’s shown people it can happen.”

…….

“The feudal system, it was in the past,” said Mazhar Iqbal, a private school manager. “There was no media then. No education. The poor were poor forever. Now is the time to wake up. It’s been 60 years and we’ve been wasting our time.”

…….

Saif Abbas, a consultant who used to work for the Asian Development Bank in Islamabad, was more clear-eyed about the meaning of the march. Pakistan is still a poor country with a vast illiterate population, and a corrupt, unresponsive ruling class, he said.

“This country has to take control of its own future, and that’s education,” he said, holding a flag. “Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.”  He continued:  “The next government is going to fear the people who pushed this one against the wall,” [...] A revolution it is not, he said. “But it’s a good beginning.”

…….

Indeed it finally is.

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Celebrating the Power of One

Wishing all a celebratory International Women’s Day.

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Nicholas Kristof is an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times.  To many, he is just a man who speaks his peace via the news media – but to millions of others, he may as well be their hero and savior.

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

I first took notice of Mr. Kristof when my husband would read me his columns on occasion and comment on his keen ability to find incredible stories to report and comment on.  But he did not only just report – he changed lives.

One such life was that of a Pakistani village woman by the name of Mukhtaran Mai.  In short, she became the victim of gang rape as a form of honor revenge by the ruling tribesmen – the revenge was issued by the tribal council.  While the perpetrators, thought she would succumb to the shame and horror and commit suicide, Mukhtaran Mai instead spoke up, and took her case to court where her rapists were arrested and charged. She took settlement money provided to her by the government following the court case, and opened a center for refuge and education, the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization.

Nicholas Kristof became involved in reporting this story in September 2004 (the incident itself occured in June 2002).   He has since reported on Mukhtaran Mai’s case, its setbacks, and the fact that President Musharraf (Pakistan’s President during that time) had ordered that she not be able to leave the country to share her story in the US and the West, so as not to malign Pakistan’s image abroad.  Kristof has written over 30 op-ed and blog pieces relating to Mukhtaran Mai.  He continues to write of her progress and plight in the ongoing legal case which changed her life and many other women’s lives Mukhtaran Mai has touched – all because this one person shared her painful yet inspirational story with the world.

Here is a link to a comprehensive list: NYT Articles on Mukhtaran Mai by N. Kristof.

Kristof also was able to raise close to $133,000 from his readers for her endeavors of running a school for girls and women in her village. Mukhtar Mai began to work to educate girls, and to promote education with a view towards raising awareness to prevent future honor crimes. Out of this work grew the organization Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. The main focus of her work is to educate young girls, and to educate the community about women’s rights and gender issues. Her organization teaches young girls, and tries to make sure they stay in school, rather than work or get married. In Fall 2007, a high school was to be started by her group. The Organization also provides shelter and legal help for people, often women, who are victims of violence or injustice. [ref: Wikipedia]

His most recent piece appeared just days ago on March 2, 2009 – from his “On the Ground” Blog entry, asking us, the readers to call upon the highest of Pakistani officials to inquire if there indeed is any political interference occurring in her continuing case, and to request the government’s assurance that the judiciary will maintain their independence in the face of alleged political pressure.  [Do go to the article and act upon this request, I'm sure it will only help put some sort of pressure].

On Darfur.  Again, for years, Kristof has been the almost only resounding, continuous and unrelenting voice on the genocide in Sudan in the news media at large.  Just the other day, at a panel discussion after the showing of a documentary celebrating International Woman’s Day (entitled, “A Powerful Noise” – which also celebrate the power of 3 different women, each making their mark and voices heard) in NYC, panelist Madeleine Albright told fellow panelist Nicholas Kristof how in debt the world is to him for keeping the topic of Darfur alive and in the news media for all these years.  In fact, he has visited this war torn region over 8 times at much risk to himself.  His recent tactic has involved taking Hollywood heartthrob, George Clooney with him on the current reporting cycle, in the hopes that it will attract media attention and possibly entice the paparazzi to follow Clooney to Darfur.  Here is an excerpt from the February 19, 2009 NYT Op Ed piece: Read the rest of this entry »

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Starting from behind zero. Is there a reset button?

We may need a quick fix to rid Pakistan of the rise of the new brand of Talibanization, but perhaps we will have to step back much further and start from scratch, in the hopes of attempting to rebuild a breaking  nation.  Many say it is too late, but we cannot know if we do not try.

education_pakistan_1

EDUCATION.           As obvious as it may seem, but seemingly never hailed as a priority in many underdeveloped countries – including Pakistan.  Countries at war, in economic turmoil and on the cusp of religious implosion do not see investment in any human capital as necessary or a priority.  Perhaps the fear is that too much knowledge and awareness can backfire?

Everyone knows about the multiplier effect of educating a child, a girl and how in turn that child goes on to bring pride, knowledge, vocation and income to the family and its greater community.  It being International Women’s Day today and having just viewed the live broadcast of the documentary (“A Powerful Noise”) shown across 450 US movie theatres this week in its honor, I was reminded about how important the investment in people was.  but this was certainly not the first time I realized this…Having grown up with a father whose main mission was to promote education and health of women and children (he devoted his entire adult career at UNICEF in many parts of Asia for over 35years), and having seen the immediate benefits of those efforts, this led me in my studies to pursue the root causes of underdevelopment in emerging countries.  My senior thesis in college simply argued that NGOs and grassroots educational programs which were either initiated by local non-governmental organizations or local populations themselves, would be the most effective way out of poverty and access to income generation, national economic growth and eventually a decline in social strife and civil unrest alike.   Change from within, is when true change can occur.  People have to want to help themselves – and many populations do.  But that is only half the battle.  Lack of adequate fiscal investment in infrastructure and education programs by the government in Pakistan, have essentially destroyed the chances of attaining access to education for children, and has resulted in one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.

I am constantly reminded of how important it is for countries, especially emerging countries, to enable access to schooling at the most basic level: Universal Primary Education.  Many wonderful NGOs – not the government – in Pakistan champion this cause, including DIL (Developments in Literacy), TCF (The Citizens Foundation), AKRSP (Agha Khan Rural Support Programs), Behbud Association, among several others.  But naturally, these organizations cannot meet the immense need to fill the deep canyons.  The void left by the failure of lack of government spending on human capital investment, has been rapidly filled by the extremist elements and their brand of ‘madrassas’ or schools which teach in this case, Islamic studies and the Qur’an.  As Mr. Dalrymple aptly states in his March 8, 2009 piece in the UK Guardian, “Wahhabi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas, which have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.”  He continues in his article to get at the essence of why this nation has gone so far astray: “The Pakistani government could finance schools that taught Pakistanis to respect their own religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and handing over education to the Saudis.”

It is clear to us, that State education has no sense of urgency to improve or allow the greater population of Pakistanis access to at minimum, universal primary education.  The small droplets provided by international and local NGOs cannot meet the vast and ever growing demand and needs of the people –  We are keenly aware at the same time, that their needs go beyond educational access, but are basic human needs like food, shelter and medicine. According to UNESCO, the current literacy rate in Pakistan is about 49%. Statistics from over 10 years ago show the following trends in literacy according to UNESCO : “In 1951, there were nearly 22 million who couldn’t read in Pakistan, while the 1998 census results showed that the illiterate population has risen to 48 million.”  Today’s population is estimated to be about 172 million – about 50% of them are illiterate.  Do the math and therein lies the problem.

Without the commitment and investment in universal primary education, girls education, adult literacy, and income generating adult vocational training, there is little hope for Pakistan.  While this is the very long and tedious path, it could end up being the most long lasting solution.  We need a reset button and this could be it.

Then again, I confess that I am uncertain if Pakistan has any time left to even begin to contemplate, let alone implement this philosophy, given how fast the time bomb is ticking…but try, we must, as the will of the people will be required to overcome so many of these hurdles facing Pakistan.

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Will Cricket be the last straw to wake up Pakistanis?

With the recent attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in my birth city of Lahore, it begs the question: When will Pakistan wake up and realize that we have a problem – and actually act on it?

grief_by_firesign24_7

In response to a friend’s blog post, (Sportz Insight), I penned my thoughts here:

To the blogger:  …written from the heart – a lovely piece. Sadly, it may be too late perhaps, that we are all finally waking up to what has been building up for years and years. The madrassas sprouting everywhere in Islamabad’s backyards, and the general re-Islamization of moderate Pakistanis has been percolating for the past several years…the more violent and blatant infiltration is evident in the more recent past with hundreds of suicide bombings, kidnappings (of many ‘wealthy’ folks kids – whose ransoms fund the militants, no doubt), blowing up of hotels and the like. But it has not seemed to put any sense of trepidation or impending doom in the minds of the average (well, let me correct myself, the wealthy, educated, governing elite) until now, when it has hit home: CRICKET. Is this the wake up call, or will it be shoved behind us in our short term memories again like all the other incidents of late? Apathy is the norm. 200 schools demolished in Swat didn’t wake any of us up – none of us were up in arms about it (just a ‘sigh, this is horrible’ at most). No one protested when 500 music shops were closed and burnt down in Mingora. No mass street protests or condemnation of our politicians was made when those 5 unfortunate women were buried alive (with the Baluchi minister, Zehri, approving of it!) or when the dancer, Shabana was dragged and killed in the city square in Swat recently. Are we human? It seems like we as Pakistanis are immune to anything violent or that which does not directly inflict harm on us. There are not cries of mass protest or indignation -anywhere. (“hum kiya kar laengay?” is the mantra).  Why is this? Why do our people feel that their voice en masse cannot make a difference? Is it in our DNA? There are countless examples throughout the history of man where people’s movement, even beginning with the voice of one person have led to change, reform and restitution. I know in my heart, that ultimately Pakistanis have the will – I for the first time saw this in my lifetime when the whole nation seemed to come together in October 2005 after the massive earthquake. Where are those hearts and minds now?? We need to put forth a movement and voices – March to the President’s House/Parliament/ISI with 100,000 people like you and me, shopkeepers, teachers, CEOs, industrialists, university professors, jamadars, doctors, company presidents, drivers, and children and demand to be protected and tell them to take action and no longer feed the beast with appeasement. We may snicker and be cynical – but ultimately, that is exactly what we’re best at doing as Pakistanis. So, I agree with you – it is up to “us”. If we let the media report on how bad the situation has become (tsk, tsk), how India may be to blame and just sit sit sit, then my friend, we need to be ready to right off Pakistan as we know it.

05 March 2009 18:32

[with some minor edits]

A parting thought from our recent history:

If a skinny, black kid from the South Side of Chicago was able to organize his communities and ultimately an entire nation, why can’t we?  The whole world, including all the cynics and naysayers out there were all grandstanding and patting each other on their backs as they watched in amazement on Election night, what one person and his organized followers managed to do for the United States.  People who had never voted, never volunteered, never phone-banked, never stood up for anything in their lives – the old, young children, blind, once racists – all pitched in.  This is the message we should be sending to our children – not one which says, ‘me, what can I do??!’.

Post Script:

On Bravery: Actually, I do want to say that there are times when we CAN acutally take a lesson from a child.  Fear is another factor which most likely what keeps people from banning together to demand and protest.  But then we can gain strength from this fearless young 11 year old girl in Pakistan who has taken on the Taliban with her poetry.

On Activism (the counterproductive kind) : While there have been ‘protests’ in Pakistan, mainly ‘activists’ coming out and burning Indian flags in Lahore there have been no mass protests against the rise of the growing local terrorism – other than peaceful candlelight vigils.  The psyche of Paksitanis and an unresponsive, disfunctional government, unfortunately continue to stand in the way.

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A Must Read: Israel 1948 to Gaza 2009

Israeli Oxford Professor of International Relations, Avi Shlaim, wrote this detailed chronical of what makes Israel tick, why they are opting for land vs. peace and insight into the underlying objectives for each and every one of the wars.

Source: AP. A child injured in the Israeli bombardment of a UN school yesterday is taken to Shifa hospital in Gaza City

From UK’s January 7, 2009 Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine

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Another good piece in today’s UK’s Independent by Robert Fisk trying to answer “Why they hate the West so much”

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-do-they-hate-the-west-so-much-we-will-ask-1230046.html

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