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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Narrative around VIP-ism

Published: October 11, 2014

The writer is a senior sub editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi

It was long before Rehman Malik was offloaded from flight PK-370. I was driving in a one-way lane of Khadda market, Karachi. I was on the correct side. From the wrong side came an entourage of cars. Two police vans in the front, one at the back and an SUV in the middle. A security guard hopped over to me and said, “Madam back karain. Aap ko pata naheen gaari mein kon hai.” I was tired and wanted to get home. This was too much hassle. So I backed off, let them pass, the sirens and flags et all. Who knows, if I would have dared to push my way in, I may have been shot at, even though I was not a threat.

The recent incident of the young man, Malik Tahir, being shot dead by the guards of ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son has once again made the debate over what is being termed ‘VIP culture’, a burning issue. This is shortly after Arjumand Hussain and other passengers offloaded Senator Malik and MPA Ramesh Kumar for making them wait aboard the PIA flight. Without taking away any due credit from Hussain, who possibly lost his job due to this show of bravery, the fact remains that this nation has had enough. These incidences are now being seen as a metaphor for the ideal of equality. Ironically, the very champions of democracy have harmed this ideal the most in the past.

Such is the norm in Pakistan: queues are broken, traffic signals are disregarded, palatial mansions of absentee politicians are guarded by blocking off entire areas with containers, and we all stay quiet with resigned acceptance, seething with anger inside.

As a bureaucrat’s daughter, I grew up travelling in a flag-bearing car of the government of Pakistan. I never stood in lines at the airport and my luggage was whisked off by the ‘protocol’ hours before I casually reached the airport’s VIP lounge 30 minutes prior to the flight. Over time, I grew an aversion to this. It was all too unfair, too senseless and also too fleeting. The same people, who would go out of their way for you, couldn’t care less once you were out of service.

Societies evolve, inevitably. Muffled voices of an anti-VIP culture began with political parties promoting the welcome trend of middle class leadership questioning these practices. With Imran Khan’s slogan of ‘tabdeeli’, which essentially means questioning the status quo at all levels, the May 11, 2013 elections saw irate voters pushing back VIPs who tried to break the queue. “All this is not acceptable in Naya Pakistan.”

However, a problematic and confused narrative is building up around the term ‘VIP culture’. Questions need to be raised about what is exactly meant by the term. Affluence is being misconstrued as VIP-ism.

It is important to differentiate between the two because everyone with an SUV does not disregard traffic signals or overtake others on basis of having a bigger car, which has become a symbol of arrogance. Gilani’s family cannot be without security guards, and that is a fact. Everyone hiring security guards on personal expense or owning licenced weapons for safety concerns cannot be viewed as oppressors. De-weaponisation and getting rid of the dependence on security personnel still remains an unrealised dream in Pakistan, which will take time and systemic efforts to be realised. It would not be prudent for any political leader or a person in a position of power to take unnecessary risks. They owe it to their followers and people who look up to them to stay safe.

The problem arises when public property is infringed upon, when money the public pays as taxes is used to protect VIPs, when arrogance becomes the order of the day and when someone goes one-up on the common man using unjust means. The issue is when respect for human life becomes subjective, and when the life and honour of a senator or an MNA becomes more important than mine. And the anger is justified when Abdul Qadir Gilani’s life or Rehman Malik’s time is considered more precious than mine.

Sadly, we live in a society where value of human life depends on your financial and social status. We are used to a system where people in power literally get away with murder. This lack of accountability is where the problem lies. This is precisely what makes security guards armed with weapons so reckless.

But this pent-up anger is both dangerous and blinding. If economic and social disparity starts being viewed as VIP-ism and each one of us becomes a hero wanting to fight it, there will be chaos without order. When narratives become jumbled, activism becomes anarchy, and that, too, not anarcho-pacifism, but the full-blown kind. In these dangerous and angry times, it’s important we understand the difference.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2014.

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When one starts questioning the rituals of Eidul Azha

Published: October 6, 2014

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. PHOTO: FILE

Eidul Azha in a rural set-up has jarring differences when compared to how we celebrate this Eid in cities. I live and celebrate my Eid in Karachi, but if I celebrate it in my ancestral village in Khairpur, Sindh, this is what would be different.

The animals would be much less expensive, much more readily available, and the sense of community in sharing the meat would be the focus. Less affluent neighbours and relatives will casually come to the house where an animal is sacrificed and ask candidly for a share of the meat. The ones giving it out will not look down on the ones asking for it. There are fewer formalities and lesser ego issues involved, something that urbane sensibilities take away.

But perhaps the best thing about celebrating this Eid in my village is that no one questions the ritual. In an urban, more “aware” world, we question everything. But when each religious ritual is questioned, its efficacy is doubted and its methodology is demeaned, we are actually getting ahead of ourselves. A classic example is what we here every year:

“Why not do away with this ritual of animal sacrifice?”

The reasons given are many. The fact that this ritual involves blood and “gore” and millions of poor animals end up losing their lives, and so the ritual is too violent. The fact that the stench, the organs, the blood (yes, the blood is a pet peeve) and the slaughter waste makes our entire cities abattoirs. And the most classic one is that the same money could be used to help the needy with their more urgent needs.

“Why not pay a poor child’s yearly school fee, rather than spending the same money on slaughtering a goat?”

The answers to above criticisms are quite simple, really.

The problem is not with so many animals being slaughtered, but with the fact that our cities in Pakistan are not equipped with the infrastructure to dispose the slaughter waste on this day, or any day actually. Our anger is misdirected at the ritual, whereas the problem lies with the lack of civic sense in our citizens in how they dispose the slaughter waste. Here, we stumble upon a bigger issue – the fact that being a good citizen that does not harm others is a basic tenet of Islam, but is sadly not seen as one. But just because people break traffic signals, we cannot stop using cars on streets. Similarly, the ritual cannot be done away with because of the fault of some.

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. Try and explain to the shepherds who travel to Karachi from Tharparkar and to Lahore from villages in Rahimyar Khan that you think this ritual should be done away with. The reaction may surprise you.

What’s interesting is that most of the people criticising the ritual are avid meat-eaters all year round. It is not like they moved to being vegetarians and vegans. They love their ‘bong ki nihari’ and ‘mutton pulao’, but have a problem with this, giving reasons from environmental imbalance to being unkind towards nature.

The ritual is mandatory for those who can afford to sacrifice an animal. In today’s era of inflation, if a person can afford to spend on an animal’s sacrifice once a year, then that person can for sure spend on paying a child’s fee for school too. Why are the two things mutually exclusive? Why must I choose one?

But who are we kidding? The above given reasons, both for and against this ritual, are logical. And religion, worship, and most of all faith, cannot be explained by logic. Humans are innately selective in the logic they choose to strengthen what they already believe in.

Muslims, who unquestioningly carry on this ritual, or any ritual of faith, may have understood that salvation lies in trusting how the Mastermind has designed religion. He created us and He knows what works for us. Sitting and meditating is great but can never replace the five daily prayers. A nature hike may be great for your soul but can never have the effect that sa’ee between the perpetually overcrowded Safa and Marwa in the hot city of Makkah does. And if I spend money to help a needy (which I must, as charity is both a ritual and a purification exercise), it’s a great thing to do, but will not have the same effect as sacrificing an animal on this day.

In this act, I feel an affinity with that act of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). As someone who has genetic hemophobia and cannot stand the sight of blood, it’s not an easy ritual. But then, acts of love and leaps of faith never really are easy.  As mentioned in the Holy Quran, it is not the flesh or blood of animals that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. The biggest part of piety is handing over one’s reigns to Allah, and saying, “You Know best”. Accepting one’s human limitations of understanding when compared with Divine wisdom – that, my friends, is the ultimate sacrifice.

The Goodwill Ambassadors – Shining brighter than ever

Published: October 1, 2014

These people who are making this world a better place include those who are off the silver screen and performing stage, but are remarkable human beings.

For a moment, I felt star-struck, as Alicia Keys entered the room bustling with journalists from world over. We, a varied group of journalists, had been invited by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) to report on and learn from the experience of being in the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York for the UN General Assembly and the Climate Summit 2014.

All of us are fans of the many celebrities that we saw all around us in those few days. But once done with the initial gushing and surreal feeling of being in the presence of “stars”, we not only saw these goodwill ambassadors in a different light, but rediscovered them as bigger celebrities than we thought.

Anyone who has been inside the UN knows that the gray concrete flooring and white lights give it a formidable and cold ambiance. The warmth, then, came through these stars and the work they are doing. These people who are making this world a better place include those who are off the silver screen and performing stage, but are remarkable human beings. Like celebrated humanitarian Graca Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, who punctured the bubble of world leaders by criticising their speeches over the issue of climate change.  Or like the lesser known unsung female hero from Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova, who has pioneered an environmental movement that will save lives of generations.

Among the many celebrities from the performing arts who have embraced real life heroism by contributing to worthwhile causes, here are a few who made the mark this year at the UN:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio

“Honoured delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living but you do not.”

Photo: Reuters

With an overgrown beard, a caveman look, DiCaprio looked different. But for once, it was not about his looks, his acting or his personal life. While friends sent messages asking why he had the bearded look, all I could hear was words that will go towards changing the life of millions.

His speech on the issue of climate change has been hailed as a game changer, calling upon world leaders for understanding and action. He began by saying,

“I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen, one of the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of New York on Sunday, and the billions of others around the world who want to solve our climate crisis”.

DiCaprio was referring to the People’s Climate March in Manhattan that brought attention to the issue like never before.

“I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe that mankind has looked at climate change in that same way,” said DiCaprio, ruffling just the right feathers.

2. Alicia Keys

“It’s not about me. It’s about we.”

Photo: Indrani Basu

As she sang the song We are here… for all of us, the theme song for her campaign, sniffs from the audience were audible. She told the crowd to hold the neighbour’s hand, a human chain, and we all did, experiencing a powerful moment.

“The song We are here is born from a very special place. The backdrop is everything that is going on in the world. There has been one issue after another: Syria, Nigeria, Gaza, Israel, Ferguson. I wanted to do something but did not know what. I used to have anxiety hearing about all of this. I would literally ache. There was a lot of what if, could we, would we! This work and this song is a dream come true,” said a visibly pregnant and highly motivated Keys.

Here, Keys pledged a million dollars to her We Are Here Movement at the fifth annual Social Good Summit. This Summit is defined as a convening of world leaders, media and technology leaders, activists working on grassroots, UN experts and voices from around the globe.

3. Emma Watson

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Photo: AFP

We always knew that this young woman who played the genius Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series is brilliant. But her masterstroke came as she redefined feminism as the UN Female Goodwill Ambassador. Watson extended an invitation to the men of the world to fight sexism. She spoke at the launch of the #HeForShe campaign which is a solidarity movement for gender equality.

“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend you a formal invitation,” she said.

“Gender equality is your issue too.”

“For the record, feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,’” said the remarkable young woman.

Watson has become, through this, a champion not just for women’s rights, but also a hero of many men world over, who agree with her that equal opportunities between the sexes cannot come around if only half of humanity is invited to participate in the conversation. Watson touched upon how feminism is often misconceived and associated with “man-hating”.

4. Kajol

“Help a child reach five.”

Photo: Twitter

Championing the cause of maternal and child health, Kajol graced the 69th annual UN General Assembly summit. She has been part of an active hand-washing campaign, Help A Child Reach Five, that aims at improving health of children and guarding them against illness and death in infancy and the age group under five years.

Kajol, in a tech savvy manner, used Twitter well to get the message of propagating this life-saving habit across.

“The cause is getting requisite attention through social media. It is reaching out to a lot more people.”

5. Linkin Park

“We encourage our fans to be more vocal about these things.”

Photo: United Nations Facebook page

Humble, sober and focused, Linkin Park singers Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda are very serious about making the world a better place, and they mean it. At the Climate Summit, they renewed their continued support for sustainable energy.

“Our message is very clear. Be bold and strong. We are counting on you guys to make the change. A fan is not someone who just thinks you are hot. It is someone whose trust you have won,” said Bennigton and Shinoda.

Their organisation Music for Relief does miscellaneous work for disaster relief and renewable energy causes.

World Alzheimer’s Day: A life without a memory

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published: September 21, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/765050/world-alzheimers-day-a-life-without-a-memory/

 

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It is important to remember both the patient and the caregiver of the disease of forgetfulness. STOCK PHOTO
KARACHI:
“She started showing the signs as soon as I got married. In my mother’s case, as she was a widow, loneliness was the trigger. Within months, she had full-blown Alzheimer’s disease,” shares Zarqa Qureshi, who lost her mother almost seven years ago.
The most painful thing for Qureshi is the memory of days when her mother could not remember who her daughter was. “At times, she would call me ammi jaan, thinking I was her mother, as I was the person looking after her,” she recalled.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that results in loss of short term memory. It is common ailment amongst those above the age of 60. This leaves spouses or children as the primary caregivers in most cases. A majority of caregivers say it is emotionally taxing to see their parents or loved ones rendered helpless, almost as though they are entering a phase of second childhood.
Yet, social empathy remains a challenge regarding the disease which is often mistaken for insanity. “I have heard insensitive questions like kya aap ke waalid pagal ho gaye hain? (Has your father gone mad?). And people say this in front of my father. He has Alzheimer’s disease but he is not deaf!” says Zara*, whose father has been suffering from the illness for the last 11 years.
According to Dr Ajmal Kazmi, Pakistan is actually one of the better places for Alzheimer’s patients, thanks to the social customs of looking after the elderly in the family. Kazmi, a neurophysician and psychiatrist at Karwan-e-Hayat, is an expert in psychiatric treatment for the elderly.
“Family support and care is the best thing for a patient of Alzheimer’s and that is something our families are luckily good at. I have seen children who are willing to give up everything and serve their old parents. However, sometimes the disease reaches such an intense stage that the family does not know how to handle it. At such a stage, it is a good idea to give the caregiver a break and seek professional help or admit the patient to a facility,” says Kazmi.
At an advanced stage, patients of Alzheimer’s do not just forget names and have cognisance issues but forget basic functions like chewing, walking or passing stool and urine. Paranoia is part of the early signs of the disease where the patient starts suspecting even very close people of foul play. “My mother used to keep the tablets in her mouth for hours and would spit them out when no one was looking,” said Qureshi.
While the disease has no treatment as such, its progress can be arrested with medication, explains Dr Samia Zafar, Coordinator at Alzheimer’s Pakistan. Zafar says the disease is linked to factors like the general health and well-being of the patient, and people from lower income groups suffer comparatively more. “By 2050, 70% of all Alzheimer’s patients globally will be from middle-income and lower-income countries,” says Zafar. Factors such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic diseases make it worse, and any turning point or trauma in life can trigger the illness.
Pakistan Society of Neurology president Professor Wasay Shakir says there are not enough neurologists dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “Pakistan has just 180 neurologists. That means one neurologist for every one million Pakistanis,” he said.
While doctors advise that patients be given company, the norm is to keep such patients mostly at home. “People would give me sympathetic stares and ask why I bother to bring my mother to family occasions and outings. Society needs to understand that isolation is not good for them,” said Qureshi.
“A common mistake is that if the patient has more than one child, they all take turns caring for their patient in their own homes. That is not a good idea. The patient should be allowed to stay in their own environment as displacement makes the symptoms worse,” says Kazmi. When asked who in his experience serves patients most, his immediate reply is, “Daughters. It is mostly the daughters.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2014.

Flight PK-370: Opposing VIP culture costs man his job

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: October 1, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/769523/flight-pk-370-opposing-vip-culture-costs-man-his-job/

769523-arjumandhussain-1412144760-164-640x480

Gerry’s official who filmed video of Rehman Malik dismissed from job. PHOTO: ARJUMAND HUSSAIN FACEBOOK PROFILE

KARACHI: That day, he went to work as usual. What he didn’t know was that by the end of the day, he would be without a job or a car, contemplating taking a rickshaw home.
“I packed everything up in my office and a colleague offered to drop me home,” says Arjumand Azhar, a man who calls himself an ‘ordinary citizen of Pakistan’. On September 16, a video Azhar filmed on his smartphone of irate Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passengers forcing Senator Rehman Malik off the Islamabad-bound flight after his late arrival reportedly delayed it went viral.

While he was praised widely for ‘standing up to VIP culture’, Azhar was fired from his job at Gerry’s International (Pvt) Ltd, where he was employed as vice president.
“I was requested to resign, so I wasn’t really fired,” says Azhar calmly. He says he was not given a reason for the request, nor was he offered a compensation package or a notice period.
Gerry’s issued a statement early on Tuesday saying Azhar was terminated ‘purely based on merit’ and not for his involvement in the PIA incident. A message posted on the company’s Facebook page said the decision had been in the pipeline for some time.
“I have no regrets,” Azhar says, referring to the video he shot. “I was very polite, but I had to tell Mr Rehman Malik to leave PK-370. He is a very pleasant gentleman and I have nothing personal against him. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Staff at airports across the country have reported that many ‘VIP’ passengers, particularly lawmakers, have been extra cautious about arriving for flights on time and not cutting queues. “This is such a refreshing change,” an official at Karachi airport said.
Azhar reiterates that he is not affiliated with any political party. “I am not a political worker. I am a follower of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. My worry, right now, is my next salary, as Eid is coming up. I have a family to look after,” he says. He adds that his family has been very supportive of his decision.
On Monday, members of civil society in Karachi gathered in protest of ‘VIP culture’. PTI MPA Samar Ali Khan commented on Azhar’s video, saying, “Even though he has no political affiliation, we stand by him and all those fighting such injustices.”
Within hours of his dismissal, Azhar found a surge in support on online platforms and hashtags such as #ShameOnGerrys went viral on social media sites. Rehman Malik commented on Azhar’s dismissal, saying on Twitter, “I am upset to know that Arjumand has been fired by his employer. I strongly protest and appeal to his employer to restore him.”
Gerry’s is owned by another senator, Akram Wali Muhammad. However, Azhar said, “I will never go back to Gerry’s. .”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.