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“If you ask me who I am, I will say I am a storyteller” – Reza Aslan

Interview with Dr Reza Aslan

“If you ask me who I am, I will say I am a storyteller”

Dr Reza Aslan’s journey has been long and winding. From a young Shia Muslim migrant from Iran to USA, to a converted Christian at the age of 15, to again a Muslim a few years later, Aslan’s journey is the quintessential journey of discovering one’s self and one’s religion. Perhaps this is why he resonates with his audiences and readers. Faith, however, has remained a constant with him. Answering a question from the audience at a packed auditorium at Habib University Karachi where he delivered a Yohsin Lecture on the topic ‘Why Do We Believe’ on June 13, Aslan distinguished between faith and religion with the help of a metaphor. According to him, when we dig wells, the wells may be different but the water under the earth’s surface is all the same. Similarly, the water is faith and the wells are religions — they are all the different paths to faith, he says.

In this exclusive interview for The News on Sunday, Aslan begins by talking about how he gets away with presenting opposing and often offbeat points of view. “When you are talking about issues of religion and politics, you are talking about things that are very deeply embedded into people’s identities, and sometimes will react if they feel their identity is under attack. My relative success has been predicated on having respect for people who disagree with me, and taking faith and religion seriously even when I disagree with it. Recognising that my arguments are always going to be founded upon reason and history and fact has, for the most part, inoculated me a little bit, but I still get into trouble all the time, both personally and professionally.”

As a person of faith, and one with a keen and critical eye on world history and politics, Aslan’s take on the role of religion in public life is unique. “I always make a clear distinction between Secularism and Secularisation,” he says, further explaining the two concepts. “Secularism is a political ideology that says religion should have no place in public life. I understand where that argument comes from but it doesn’t make any sense in a modern constitutional democracy if the entire point of a democratic system is to allow people to find representatives who share their values, their ideas, and their worldview. Religion becomes a very easy shorthand for those complicated notions. So it’s ridiculous to say that religion should have no role in politics and in the public realm. Of course it should.”

Pakistan has an extraordinarily unique history. “This country defined itself from the very beginning in terms that are impossible to actually live out. When you call yourself an Islamic state, you need to figure out what that exactly means.”

He goes on to add that Secularisation is about making sure that religion doesn’t have political authority, and that religious institutions are distinct from the governing bodies and the political authorities — that authority itself over the state should rest not in the hands of religious leaders but in the hands of political leaders. “Secularisation is very important when it comes to modern constitutional state because, particularly in countries where vast majorities share a single religious tradition, religion can very easily become authoritarian where those who disagree with the religion, those who have no religion and those who have a different religion become second class citizens. That is not a democracy.

“That’s what I think is important. Secularism is not the key to a functioning democratic state. Secularisation is the key to that, because Secularisation is about pluralism, about rights of all citizens regardless of their religion,” he says. In Aslan’s opinion, Secularism is based on the forceful removal of religion from the public realm which is anti-democratic. “It’s anti-democratic when France does it. It’s anti-democratic when Turkey used to do it. It’s anti-democratic when Egypt does it.”

Commenting on Pakistan’s historical journey and the role of religion in it, Aslan says that it is important to recognise that Pakistan has an extraordinarily unique history. “This country defined itself from the very beginning in terms that are impossible to actually live out. When you call yourself an Islamic state, you need to figure out what that exactly means. Does that mean it’s a state for a majority Muslim population or does it mean that it’s a state founded upon Islamic ideology or does it mean that it’s a state that is run according to Islam? I think the problem is that it was never explicitly defined; it becomes difficult to have these kinds of ideological conversations about the nature of the state when you have no choice but to build the state. That of course had to do with the fact that it was created in the midst of the single largest mass migration in human history to this day.”

According to him, that more than anything explains the tumultuous history of Pakistan going from a secular democracy to a military dictatorship to being a religious-inspired state, then back to being a secular democracy and then a military dictatorship and then a religious-inspired state. “What the experience of Pakistan shows — and that is precisely why it is so unique — is the difficulty of trying to define a nation state in religious terms,” he says, mentioning Israel as a cautionary tale, “a country that is disintegrating from within”.

Fiercely and openly critical of Modi, Netanyahu, and Trump, Aslan says that it has been a very long time that Pakistan has had a Modi or a Trump. “We cannot say that there can never be the rise of a demagogue in Pakistan. But for the most part, I think the (political) trends are moving in a positive direction,” he says. Commenting further on the kind of political leadership he is wary of, he says that a global-wide identity crisis has created the vacuum for authoritarian demagogues to step in and provide an easy way for citizens of these states to define themselves according to religion or race or ethnicity etc.

“There’s nothing about India or about Hinduism that explains Modi, for example. What is happening in India and Israel and USA is a global phenomenon; it is not just about these individual countries.”

To Aslan, while religion is a potential tool for social stability, and collective identity, he feels that like any tool, it can be wielded in positive and negative ways. “It’s all about the person wielding it. I cannot say religion is a force for good or force for evil, or that it causes peace or causes violence. Religion doesn’t do any of those things. People do those things. Religion is a means for them to achieve those ends.”

When asked what he enjoys most — teaching, public speaking or writing books, his answer is simple. “It’s all storytelling. Stories are how we define ourselves and communicate our ideas to the world. The platform doesn’t matter. If you ask me who I am, I will say I am a storyteller.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/ask-will-say-storyteller/#.XRMmmugzbIU

Different strokes for different rozaydaars

Times have changed and so have the food choices of those observing the fast

Different strokes for different rozaydaars

The idea, back then, was that you need to stuff yourself with such food at sehri that will help you not feel hungry, nor thirsty till Iftar. While that never actually happened, nutritious and filling foods like khajlapheni, and qeema  or aloo parathas kept one full enough at least till mid-day. And then we topped it off with jugs of water, and lay there on a couch later, panting with over-eating, filling up our bellies in the hope that the holy month would suddenly give us the capacity of a camel to store food and fluids.

That was the era where we didn’t care about good cholesterol or bad cholesterol, and it didn’t really matter if, instead of losing weight, Ramzan meant gaining a few pounds. Ramzan is about self-control, starting with food. It actually has been interpreted by a foodie nation as being just the opposite — about indulgence in food. But with awareness about healthier food choices, all of this may have begun to change, at least in urban Pakistan.

One thing is for sure: the health-conscious fasting person now focuses more on sehri than on iftar, particularly, if the said person also wants to pray peacefully at night, at home or at the masjid. For such people, they have a completely altered routine in Ramzan. Heavy, oily food, and an overload of beans and chickpeas can cause bloating and digestive issues, even though the latter two are very good sources of nutrition and should be taken in moderation.

The one change that we see is that unlike earlier when people used to first have iftar, then dinner a few hours later, and then sehri, the more conscientious eater is eating just two meals a day, with in-between healthy snacking if needed.

For many of us, the parathas and khajlas made of white flour and laden with fats have been replaced by porridge, oatmeal, brown bread, chapatis made of whole-wheat flour, and even brown rice. However, some things still remain indispensable for sehri, like eggs. Eggs have earned that spot as a favourite for good reason. Eggs provide 13 essential vitamins and minerals (vitamin D, riboflavin, selenium), antioxidants Lutein and zeaxanthin, and high-quality protein, all needed for one who is fasting.

The new entrants are the health-benefit items that once were seen as medicinal, but are now seen as “snacks”.

Dates, traditionally seen as the thing to open one’s fast with, have now made their way to the sehri meal as well. They are not just high in antioxidants, fiber, and potassium, but also provide essential nutrients, such as vitamin B-6 and iron. Bananas, an essential component of the fruit chaat, is now being eaten by the health-conscious rozaydaar as part of the morning pre-fast meal as well, as they provide fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and various antioxidants and phytonutrients.

One of the things a person fasting in summers goes through is possible dehydration, or an electrolyte imbalance. Bananas, known as the leader among fruits and vegetables containing potassium, help control muscles and blood pressure. Thus bananas replenish electrolytes.

While restaurants offer attractive deals, the regular and more cautious people who observe fasting are being seen avoiding the eating out experience. “Unless it is unavoidable, me and my family have stopped eating out to eat at iftar,” says a regular fast-keeper. “The food in restaurants, no matter how tasty, will be always more oily, more rich in spices, and probably less hygienically prepared compared to home-cooked food.”

“When the fast is broken after almost 15 hours, it takes the body time to adjust to eating and drinking. It’s not a good idea to suddenly overload your system after a break from eating for a long time. The food’s not going anywhere! Why not have it in breaks, going gentle on your system?”

Also read: Oh, this makes sense

The new entrants are the health-benefit items that once were seen as medicinal items, but are now seen as “snacks”. You might see a particularly health-aware friend munching on iceberg lettuce with pine nuts topped with chia seeds as a post-iftar snack. Another relative might be having a combo of flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and prunes with yogurt at sehri. And yet another one might be seen sprinkling moringa leaves powder on top of a sugar-free fruit chaat.

Different strokes for different rozaydaars.

Yes, times have changed and so have the food choices of those observing fast. Many of these changes are positive. Perhaps people have begun to realise that Ramzan and fasting do not remind us of stuffing our mouths with food on tables laden with 20 items, but in fact this month is a reminder of the joys of simple, wholesome, healthy food that is a blessing from the Creator. Abundance is, then, perhaps, in our attitude towards food, not in the quantity. It is the month of gratitude. Good health calls for gratitude, and practical gratitude demands taking care of your health.

Happy fasting and healthy feasting.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/different-strokes-different-rozaydaars/#.XRMjE-gzbIU

Political Conspiracy Theories – Are they true?

Who is adding fuel to the gossip fire by leaking out snippets of news…

Conspiracy theories keep surfacing

“Tabdeeli” till now connoted “change” – change from corruption to transparency, from failure of governance to success of governance, from the rule of chosen ones in power to rule of law. But in the recent past, the word has begun implying major changes that may potentially change the very face of how the Islamic Republic of Pakistan functions.

Search for the hashtag #PresidentialSystem and thousands of social media shares will pop up. Try and google “18th Amendment” and impending volte-face seems to be the hottest topic, online and off. There are theories, and then there are conspiracy theories. Pakistan, meanwhile, seems to be sitting on a ticking time bomb, waiting for “Change”, all owing to political hearsay.

Everyone seems so sure of what is going to happen, but no one knows where these whispers are originating from. Perhaps from Pakistan’s sugar daddies belonging to echelons of power talking in upper tier clubs over rounds of hors d’oeuvres and Cuban cigars. The words uttered by them may have been taken as the gospel truth by overhearers, or over-zealous political analysts and media persons may have taken on the mantle of “sources” and begun tweeting about it or taking polls on it. Trust Pakistan’s penchant for fake news.

The news has spread. And everyone seems sure that Islamic Presidential System is deemed to happen, whether they are for it or against it. But is Imran Khan ready to go through the grueling processes that would be required to actually become the President? The legislation, the referendum, getting a two-thirds majority – is this all even doable?

Overlapping with the issue of the Presidential System is the question of the 18th Amendment which would have to be rolled back if, and that is a big if, the Presidential System is to move past tweets and table talk and become a reality.

Since 2010, with the advent of the 18th Amendment, Pakistan’s Parliamentary System is showing, if nothing else, the benefit that elected governments have been able to complete their term. Getting rid of the 18th Amendment may ensure more power to the President and more transparency with the federal government at the helm of decision-making, but it will have the side-effect of perpetuating a sense of victimhood and being wronged, particularly in Sindh, where the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership will use it for political traction to the maximum.

Search for the hashtag #PresidentialSystem and thousands of social media shares will pop up. Google “18th Amendment” and impending volte-face seems to be the hottest topic.

But are all conspiracy theories just conspiracy theories? Does the political grapevine actually have some substance as the fuel of the rumours it is churning out? The stepping down of one of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) key figures, Asad Umar, from the position of Finance Minister on April 18th, has rattled the political equilibrium. More so because the tittle-tattle seems to have some truth to it. With more reshuffling expected in Khan’s cabinet, one cannot any more ignore political speculations, even if one does not believe them all.

Whoever is adding fuel to the gossip fire by leaking out snippets of news that are meant to stay under cover is achieving the possible purpose — that an air of uncertainty and a feeling of political instability should linger in the air. What will happen next, and how shall it affect the average Pakistani? The questions are pertinent. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories keep surfacing. And Pakistan waits with baited breath.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/conspiracy-theories-keep-surfacing/#.XMAsQ-gzbIU

Civic sense of Pakistanis – It’s a 360 degrees circle

What you do WILL come back to you. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference?

It’s a 360 degrees circle

Poetic much? Borderline Rumi-esque? No, this is not Rumi. This is the scribe of this write-up who is frustrated every day at the gross violations of social ethics, but unknowingly might have many a time committed the same violations in less aware days of her life. She may have driven ahead on a red traffic signal, and may have thrown a plastic wrapper on the street, and may have not gone to exercise her right to vote, and may have not closed the unnecessarily running water tap, and may have gone ahead of her place in a queue. The writer of this write-up is a tad bit more “civil” now, because she is more aware about what entails civic sense.

This is why such write-ups are important. This is why we must speak up about these things. But kindly so, because all of us have at some stage in our lives been less civil.

The concept of having civic sense is both simple and ancient. The biblical Golden Rule and the well-known Prophetic tradition in Islam say, in essence, the same thing: do as you would be done by, and do not wish for others what you would not wish for yourself.

So here goes — I’m going to use a list of strong words I don’t usually use, like hate, loathe, detest, etc. I hate the polythene bags that drift in the breeze and gather in front of my gate every evening. I detest the sound of the water suction pump from neighbouring homes that suck away the little water that comes in the waterline for Karachiites, and I hate that we have to keep replacing the no-return valve in the underground water tank to ensure this little water stays in my tank.

I loathe the squirts of reddish brown saliva mixed with paan ka katha which I have to endure on streets, or when climbing up a flight of stairs on government offices. I feel revolted by the carelessness with which young boys on motorcycles crisscross through traffic jams without helmets, and I feel even more revolted when I see a man wearing a helmet on a motorbike, but his family — the pillion riders — sitting behind him with no protection for their skulls. I am unable to stomach the attitude of entitlement that the rich and famous have when they break queues at the bank or at the airport. I feel annoyed when people come too close in public spaces and do not respect proximity. And I despise the fact that people try to justify systemic corruption in governance, and feel it is okay to have political apathy and not exercise their right of casting a vote at the ballot.

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society.

Yet, again, I wonder how many times I have been the one others may have hated, loathed, detested or despised. How many times I may have instantaneously become an emblem of civility the moment I landed at a country other than Pakistan where the rule of law, especially laws pertaining to shared spaces and existences, are respected more.

Also read: If everybody is doing it, why can’t we?

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society. What you do WILL come back to you. So it may not be enough to just look down at those who are abusing out loud or leaving offal on the road after ritual animal slaughter on Eid-ul-Azha or urinating near the wall. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference? I think we all know the answer. And in that answer lies the solution.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/360-degrees-circle/#.XMArcugzbIU

Not enough daycare facilities

The need is real but compared with population increase and urbanisation, there are not enough daycare centres

Not enough daycare facilities

A half of Pakistan’s population is female. An increasing number of females, especially in urban Pakistan, are working professionally as the second earner, and even sometimes the first, whether it is in the formal or informal sector.

Women also are the ones who bear children breastfeed them, and wean them off to solid food. The initial years in particular are the years in which children need constant monitoring and vigilant care. This is where the need for daycare centres comes in.

By law, all organisations across the board in Pakistan are supposed to have daycare arrangements to enable working mothers, and even fathers, to join work after maternity and paternity leave, but very few abide by the laws.

Farhat Parveen, Executive Director at National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWCommunities), explains how the provision for a nursery or daycare for children in law has been there since long in the Factories Act 1934 (now the Act of 2018).

This provision should be there for children as young as infants to the age of six years. “While things are getting better and some public educational institutes like Karachi University and some private organisations like Aga Khan University (AKU), PILER, HANDS, and many corporate organisations have some facilities in this regard, it is not enough,” says Parveen.

With not enough daycare facilities available in-house in organisations, the centres in the private sector are most sought after. Ayesha Amin, a working mother of a four-year-old, has had a good experience with them and has utilised these facilities, especially for summer camps, but regrets that in Pakistan there aren’t enough daycare facilities, especially in urban areas. “There are not enough options for lower income groups from what I know; but then there may be more family support in joint family systems. The more affluent the grandparents and family are, the busier and more social they are too.”

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours who can keep an eye on the children till they come back from work, and pay them agreed upon sums as remuneration. Others bring back teenage siblings or cousins from villages for a few months, giving them food, lodging and some pocket money to see over their children.

In Amin’s opinion, there is a greater need for in-house daycares which Pakistani organisations lack. “If they really want women to work, then it is pretty inconvenient for a parent to first drop a child to a school and go to their own workplace, pick the child from school and then drop to daycare and collect again in the evening, especially in a city like Karachi where commute and traffic is a huge factor in planning anything,” she says, speaking for many working parents.

Fariduddin Siddique, an engineer by training, established “Bright Minds Learning Hub and Daycare,” along with his wife, some two years ago in the upscale Clifton locality of Karachi. They accept children from ages four months to six years. “Me and my wife were both working parents, and we realised the need for centres that provide quality daycare facilities,” he says. In Siddique’s experience, couples in Pakistan usually have support from their families, but that is not always the case.

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours.

He adds that for a mother to leave her career for an extended period of time creates a gap in her work trajectory which is not good for her career prospects. “The key priorities at daycare centres for children are giving them a hygienic environment, a healthy routine, extreme care and love, as well as opportunities for learning and development according to the child’s age.”.

For Siddiqui and his team, it has been a journey of learning. At this centre, parents have to send food from home. The fee structure is the same for all age groups, and parents have to pay based on whether they leave the child for half a day or full day.

For summer camps, upscale daycare centres charge anywhere between Rs12-18000 a month. A well-known daycare centre (name withheld) charges Rs19000 per month, and this includes a lunch meal, while their hourly rates are Rs350 for the first hour and Rs300 for each subsequent hour.

For parents working in the corporate or business sector, with both husband and wife working, this might be affordable. But for lower income or lower middle income groups, this might be too steep. Prices get steeper depending on the area where the daycare centre is based.

Running since 2007 with three successful branches, Dr Sofia’s Daycare & Learning School charges between rupees eight to ten thousand for a full day and four to six thousand for half day. “Dr Sofia Rahman, the founder, felt an urgent need of a daycare when she herself faced difficulty in raising her kids while doing a job. Her main idea was to help working women so that they could pursue their dreams,” says Hina Fahd from the daycare management. They accept children from age brackets three months to ten years. “The older children usually come to us after having attended school in the morning,” she says, adding that daycares are a better option than leaving children with grandparents as with grandparents children may not be as disciplined in terms of routine and learning reinforcement.

The need for daycare centres is real, and is on its way up, but when compared with population increase and urbanisation, they are simply not enough. Parveen shares that the very government departments in Sindh that are responsible for making sure these facilities exist, like the Labour Department, do not generally have nurseries or facilities for children of employees, and are also ineffective in terms of fulfilling duties of inspection. “The laws are all there, but there is no implementation.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/enough-daycare-facilities/#.XKW9EJgzbIU

#MeToo, #JahezKhoriBandKaro, #NotFunny: Lifting the curtain of sexism in Pakistan

 Published: March 8, 2019
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Jokes that demean women, perpetuate stereotypes about women, and degrade women, are just not funny.

Hashtags make a difference, and for campaigns regarding the rights of women, the last one year has seen some important hashtags that made us sit up straight. The most recent one is #NotFunny, an awareness campaign launched on National Women’s Day by the Uks Research Centre, pointing out aptly that enough is enough – that jokes that demean women, perpetuate stereotypes about women and degrade women, are just not funny.

S☆S 🇵🇰🇹🇷@jiyyah_shaah

Yes Absolutely 🖒

See S☆S 🇵🇰🇹🇷‘s other Tweets

For those who consider themselves more ‘evolved’ or ‘aware’, the litmus test can be something as seemingly small as the jokes men keep forwarding on chat groups – ‘guy jokes’ that talk of women as objects of desire and reek of in-built sexism and misogyny. This would importantly also include women rejecting the idea that such jokes are ‘normal’.

Another hashtag emerged towards the tail end of 2018 – #JahezKhoriBandKaro, shedding light on the issue of jahez/dowry, a menace that may have reduced slightly or may have changed forms and names, but still very much exists in society.  

The most popular hashtag globally has been #MeToo, of course. It took women like me almost a year to understand what a big deal the #MeToo movement is. Women like myself comprise of relatively educated, aware, self-proclaimed and empowered women and even journalists who have been writing on gender issues, ensuring that the voices of women are heard.

As the #MeToo movement started trending globally, journalists in Pakistan also took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the movement:

Reham Khan

@RehamKhan1

Sexual harassment is not understood. Both men & women need to be educated about what constitutes harassment based on gender.

Ever since this hashtag started trending on Twitter in 2017, thanks to the American actress Alyssa Milano, many of us began to rethink and question our understanding of so many concepts. Some of us, for instance, began to wonder what exactly constitutes as sexual harassment, if we experienced it, should we say it out loud, and if yes, then why?

As female journalists, many of us have come across instances, not necessarily as subjects but even as bystanders, where we may have felt uncomfortable by a gesture, a sentence or a physical nuance of a man. We were encouraged, even less than a decade ago, to not “overthink” because “that’s just how men are”.

For women who chose to work in professional spheres, the situation was far worse  a compliment that was not welcome, a handshake that bordered on being forced, an insistence for company over coffee, a stare across the room in a meeting or an unsolicited text message or phone call, were all a part of our daily work routine.

Back then, we did not consider any of these things to be harassment, and even if this thought did occur to us, these were just other things to be brushed under the carpet.

But this carpet has now been lifted.

For far too long women have been bearing with this, speaking out only if something crossed the ‘upper limits’ of their threshold, and then living with the consequences in both their work and private lives.

While laws and hashtags are important, they are not enough, and can only take us so far. Sensitising both men and women is perhaps the first step, and this process has to start early. Young girls must be taught to say ‘no’, and young boys must be taught to accept ‘no’ instead of considering it their right as part of  ‘male entitlement ’. Parents, schools, and even society will have to play a role in teaching these things.

Jokes about women being money-hungry bimbos, dependent drama queens, or simply even sexual objects, will have to be especially discouraged.

#MeToo has become a space for women to air their grievances, and for catharsis of unpleasant experiences they have remained silent about. A woman may choose not to use the hashtag #MeToo, and has the right to not disclose anything.

However, this movement allowed those who want to say it out loud/speak out against their harassers, to go ahead and say it/do it and this in itself is progress. Acknowledgment and validation of the fact that sexual harassment or sexist jokes and misogyny exist is definitely a step in the right direction.

A narrative is steadily building around it, and the most unexpected of people now at least know what this means. In spite of the debate and controversy that the movement has generated-added, the conversation has at least begun, and the debate has at least started to gain momentum.

Consent has been central to our understanding of women, yet it has not been delved into enough. The idea of consent needs to be dissected and understood, and in this context, ‘touch’ is very important.

Should men be careful before extending their hand for a handshake? Does close proximity make the other person uncomfortable? Do male doctors or medical technicians need to ask the female patient before they touch her for medical reasons?

Is casual flirtation okay? Can we get away with telling our colleague “I was just giving you a compliment” or “I was just kidding”, when we have in fact made her visibly uncomfortable?

Are there boundaries and limits that can co-exist alongside the ideal of a comfortable workplace environment for both sexes? Questions are being raised. Answers may not have been established yet but the conversation has begun.

That being said, many people still don’t agree with the stance of these movements. On social media, insensitive attitudes can be seen in comments and tweets from both males and females. Often these tweets reek of a lack of understanding of the issue.

Those who are generally more conservative in terms of thinking look at it as ‘an issue being made out of nothing’ and raise the insensitive question of: “why did she complain now after all these years?”

What needs to be understood is that the idea behind saying it out loud is not just to punish men. It is in fact a means of providing catharsis and healing, and setting precedents for women faced with similar situations.

Much remains to be done, especially in terms of social attitudes. Seemingly small reactions from society discourage women to voice that they have felt harassed at some point in their lives.

I remember a colleague talking to me once about how she had been harassed, and what was shocking for me was that she was almost apologetic while saying,

“I don’t know why he would harass me, I am not even good looking”.

Others are too afraid to talk about it or do not want to talk about it because of the common responses: “It is never one-sided”, “she must have done something to provoke him” or “she seems like modern woman”. Sadly, the onus is placed mostly on the woman to ensure that the man keeps himself in check.

Awareness does make a difference, and we may be inching towards better times, but we still have a long way to go.

Happy Women’s Day!

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/79435/metoo-jahezkhoribandkaro-notfunny-lifting-the-curtain-of-sexism-in-pakistan/

Cost for consumers – Inflation in Pakistan effects wants or needs?

For the bourgeois and the patricians of Pakistan, their reaction to inflation is as different as is their lifestyle

The cost for consumer

“What has hit me and my family most is the price of milk and sugar going up in the last two years,” says Zainab Bibi who hails from Mailsi district in South of Punjab. She and her husband moved to Karachi a few years ago in search of a better standard of living. But for Zainab, an avid tea drinker whose staple diet continues to be chaai paratha, it is not easy surviving in Karachi as items that make up her sticky sweet tea are pricier than in her village. “One reason I came here is that I want to save enough to build two rooms in my village, my own home. But the price per 1000 red bricks has risen from Rs5000 to Rs8000 within two years.”

In contrast to Zainab’s economic challenges, the challenge of Samiya Khan (name changed), a resident of the uptown Defence area in Karachi is different. “You are asking the wrong person. I honestly have not felt the pinch as my husband just gives me his card; I go to the supermarket and swipe it to pay without even checking the prices minutely. But if at all, I would say the prices of imported food items have gone up. The chocolate spread my children love eating and I use for baking cupcakes has gone up from Rs280 to Rs450. However, I don’t think prices have gone up that much. Have they?” she says.

Prices of consumer goods, utilities and luxury items going up is never taken lightly. But which prices affect which strata of society is the key to understanding how closely linked income inequality and inflation are.

Pakistan’s annual inflation rate rose to 7.2 percent in January of 2019 from 6.17 percent in the previous month. It was the highest inflation rate since September of 2014, as shared by Trading Economics. According to the State Bank of Pakistan’s website, Headline CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflation (2007-08=100) was recorded at a level of 6.2 percent on year-on-year basis in December 2018 as compared to 4.6 percent during corresponding month of last year.

According to data shared by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), January 2019 saw an increase in prices of items like sugar, fresh fruits, pulses and tomatoes, but also saw a decrease in the prices of chicken (by 18.06 percent), eggs, onions and potatoes.

But for Zainab Bibi, all this does not translate into a major change, and the one underlying take home message she has in her mind is simple — A good life in Naya Pakistan is as unaffordable as purana Pakistan, even though fuel prices have gone down although electricity prices have gone up if compared between December 2018 and January 2019.

For the bourgeois and the patricians of Pakistan, their reaction to inflation is as different as is their lifestyle when compared to the struggling lower middle class or the yet lower strata on the economic ladder. When asked which household needs had taken a dent due to inflation in Pakistan, the elite is often found themselves confused between needs and wants, and often complain of how luxury spending has been affected.

It is not that the well-off people do not get impacted by inflation. The price of fuel affects the prices of water tankers for the upper tier. When this happens, their lush lawns become parched, they stop washing their car porches frequently.

Over lavish high-teas, the conversations often include how the price of air travel has gone up, and vacations are becoming pricier. Delve deeper and the falling rate of the Pak rupee has affected how they will pay the fee of their children studying abroad in dollars and pounds. “I am very happy actually; my children’s school fee has been considerably reduced since the new government came in,” says a young mother whose two children are students at an upper tier school in Karachi.

What varies is the pinch someone feels when prices go up, depending on affordability. The theory of relativity may then not be applicable only to laws of physics, neutrons and black holes. How every Pakistani experiences inflation is in relation with how much they can afford, their spending habits, and their bank statement, if they have a bank account, that is.

Yet one strata feeling the hit of inflation does spill over to the other strata as well. When a darzi (tailor) increases the rate of a female shalwar kameez, the pinch is felt by all, but few join the dots that the cost of commute of the tailor and his assistants has gone up because petrol is pricey. The ticket for a bus traveller, the fare for a rikshaw commuter, or the cost of fuel for someone who goes on a motorbike — all go up. Consequently, so do the prices of general household items.

It is not that the well-off people do not get impacted by inflation. The price of fuel affects the prices of water tankers for the upper tier. When this happens, their lush lawns become comparatively parched, they stop washing their car porches frequently, and they opt for ‘made in Pakistan’ semi-automatic washing machines to save water. If fuel is pricier, one thinks twice before opting for the generator during long sultry hours of load shedding, and opts for the UPS. And if electricity rates climb up, the use of air conditioners has to be well thought-out. Last if not the least, climbing rates of gas means affluent Pakistanis are actually considering opting for smaller water-heater geysers that can be easily put on and off as and when needed.

But for those who have to start worrying about the prices of potatoes and ghee, and have far too many mouths to feed but way too less earning hands, inflation is a bad word. It is time those on top of the food chain let some resources trickle down to make life easier for all. We may not be able to reduce inflation, but maybe we can somewhat reduce the widening economic inequality.

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