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Category Archives: Culture and Society

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

Millenials vs Us – How weddings in Pakistan have changed

Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding

Millenials and us

There is always a level of naivety at a young age. The stars in our eyes cloud our vision. Yet today’s generation is smarter in some ways, if not all, than us. For starters, they know that after the “wedding” there is something called “marriage”. Back then, we had one single word for both very different concepts — shaadi.

For us, shaadi meant the rasoomaat (traditional wedding rituals), the dresses, the jahez and bari (yes, we come from that stone age era where jahez was not a bad word and was politically correct, and bari was a given). Our focus was the wedding and not so much the marriage as we set off on our, perhaps, most important journey that was to change the course of our lives.

So here are the pros and cons — on a comparative level — between the age of innocence (or stupidity) and the age of the so-called Generation Y (our smarter counterparts).

The Net Generation knows, for the most part, what it wants out of life. They have definitive goals, and marriage is, for most if not all of them, ONE of their many goals. For us, it was THE most important goal. This is why the wedding hype in our over-dramatic times was emotionally exaggerated. The crying at the time of rukhsati was a given. It’s not that brides today won’t miss their folks but the make-up is a result of either parents or the by-now-earning bride working hard to pay the make-up artist loads of money. Loads are always relative, of course. Today’s bride cannot afford to faint in sadness at rukhsati time. She knows that some 20k went just into her dupatta fixing and jewellery setting. She got the appointment a year in advance. It’s not worth it to get the mascara to flow. Besides, crying can be done on another day.

The millenials are also very clear in terms of who they want present on the wedding. Their “friends” are key. It’s ok upto phuphichachimaami and khala. And cousins are always good fun. But they don’t want distant relatives or neighbours of an area the parents left 20 years ago. They want smaller but “classier” weddings. They’d rather spend on the flowers than on people who don’t mean much.

The brides today are also smarter in that they are not big on gold jewellery because prices of gold have skyrocketed. So they are smart enough to use silver that is gold-plated. They also wear one carefully selected set. ONE. As opposed to brides of my generation wearing like 5 necklaces on any given shaadi.

The brides today are decidedly more elegant. The groom is more well-groomed, really. The couple portraits are more picturesque at smartly chosen locations. Their invitees are more select. They know that weddings lead to marriage. They are simply smarter. Or are they?

While the weddings of millenials are smarter, the old world charm has been lost in some aspects. Just take the excessively choreographed mehndis for one that seem more for Instagram and snapchat and less for the simple joy of unrehearsed celebration that came out of spontaneous luddi and singing tappay. The dholkis have everything but a dholak.

While smaller weddings are a great idea, they would truly be great only if they are less ostentatious and lighter on the pocket. We invite less people but end up spending more money. The event management, flowers and elaborate menus from upper tier caterers are a huge burden on the families. Even if one can afford it all, is it a must that we spend not lacs but millions? Also, there was a certain warmth in inviting relatives and old neighbours. One can and may limit the number of people, but why leave out those who have been a part of the lives of these families? The rasoomaat are debatable for many reasons — religious, cultural or due to social evolution. But the joy of sharing this momentous occasion is a pre-requisite.

While we laud the weddings of today on account of some smarter choices, are these choices really pragmatic, or has our extravagance simply changed forms? The jewellery may now be gold-plated silver, and it may be a single set the bride wears, but what about the wedding dress that takes years to plan and order, and costs a fortune, and is so heavily full of work that it provides no visual relief, yet is something we don’t seem to mind.

Earlier it was jahez. Now it is expensive wedding dresses by designers and elaborate wedding events. Have we actually had a paradigm shift socially? Look closely and nothing has really changed. Weddings are a pricier affair than ever.

And while the millenials are smarter in their life choices, they are sometimes so smart that leave alone wedding, they doubt if even marriage is a good idea, because it has simply too many strings attached, and is too much commitment.

The wedding is a special occasion. It opens the door to a new and special journey. But our society is sitting on the crux of change. As families and as a country, can we afford such extravagance? Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding. The money one saves can help so many others. If no one else, it can help the couple settle in life.

Time to re-think weddings.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/millenials-us/#.XKW3p5gzbIU

Pakistan’s fast changing kitchen-scape

Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession

The fast changing kitchen-scape

Once upon a time I used to cook up things like a mean deg of nihari, loads of bihari kabab, and the genuinely ghutta hua haleem for a dinner for 30 people quite frequently and without panicking. If I had a helper to cut up the onions and vegetables and wash the meat and do the dishes, I was good to go, taking smugly all the compliments that came my way.

But somewhere along the road, priorities changed. It was not just the fact that I became more invested in my profession. It was also not just me. The emergence of “cooks” came to the fore.

No, these were not the live-in Khan-e-Samaan breed of cooks that our mothers and grandmothers had who used to manage the entire kitchen and cater to all food-based needs of big families. These are part-timers. A few hours a day or a week. Neatly stacked storage boxes of salan and kabab split into portions in the fridge and freezer, also labelled for convenience. This is what the modern-day cooks on urban Pakistan are like.

Often one doesn’t have one but actually many. I have one in my list of contacts in my phone that is for usual day-to-day cooking — the chawal, daal, sabzi, qeema type of stuff. Then there’s the one you call when there is a dinner at home — biryani, kabab, qorma and the likes of these. But then there’s the super fancy one — the CV or intro says, “can make Chinese, Thai and oriental food”. I have not utilised services of all but there is a comfort in knowing they are there.

In a fast-changing social landscape, the larger joint families have been replaced by nuclear families. In these urban families crunching under inflation, the woman no longer has time to deliberate about the daily menu, then cook it, and then serve it. She is as much an earning member of the household as her husband. Many a times, even the children, once they are young adults, are working part-time.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life. However, full-time cooks are expensive in more ways than one. Not only is it the salary, but it is also the unsaid pressure to get food cooked daily in order to justify why you have that full-time cook.

It is an expensive proposition to house domestic staff. Thus, part-time cooks seem like a great option — both for the employer and the employee. For the employee as being able to work in more than one house allows him or her more flexibility of timings, and is mostly a more lucrative option.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life.

A faster-paced lifestyle also means we are less discerning about many things — we don’t get our masalas pounded at home; we are ready to buy ‘heat and eat’ items, and we use a lot of easy-to-cook meat options, mainly poultry. Fried onion packets have found a way in our homes, as have frozen chopped vegetables. Plus we eat out way more than our counterparts a few generations ago.

Pakistanis are serious about their food so it is not that cooking has taken a back seat. However, other more pressing things have taken precedence. We still cook, but now it is more sporadic, and limited to certain specialties to remind our families and ourselves that we still have not forgotten how to make food. Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/fast-changing-kitchen-scape/?fbclid=IwAR164tl3DjPcZGwjGbfv9XCe6Cp6k8fkmpwmFfbRDZZ9CCDSbphQ1zCj-BA#.XAJZic1oQ1l

Comfort zone – Mall Culture in Pakistan

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/comfort/#.WqJnXOhubIU

For women leading hurried and over-worked urban lives, malls are perhaps more of sanctuaries than merely a collection of shops

Comfort zone

The roads leading to malls are choked with activity and traffic. Dolmen, Packages, Centaurus — these are household names and second home to Pakistani urban families.

When experts look at the demographics of those who frequent malls in Pakistani cities, the number of women is much larger than men, an easy double figure apparent even to the common observer. Mall culture has definitely arrived with a bang in Pakistan, and women are the reason why malls are the hub of hustle and bustle.

For people like Mehek Masood, it is simply more convenient to go to a mall as one can find all the brands under one roof. “Malls give us a totally different shopping experience. Not only are they facilitating us in the form of parking but food courts are also a big reason.”

For people like Mehek Masood, it is simply more convenient to go to a mall as one can find all the brands under one roof. “Not only are malls facilitating us in the form of parking but food courts are also a big reason.”

For young working women like her, shopping at a mall is preferable “because I can just hop from one shop to another. Whereas if I visit Zamzama or any other place, not only is it difficult to find parking in all that clutter, but I also feel that I am somehow rushing my buying decision,” says Masood who calls shopping at a mall a “recreational activity”.

Most women would agree that a mall is more than just shopping — it serves as a public space for families and friends in a country where safe and comfortable places are simply not enough. Malls also happen to be air-conditioned, and women, along with children, throng to malls for the comfort of lowered temperatures when mercury rises.

For Rushna Shamsi, a mother of four, it is the place of preference when she thinks of an outing with her children. It’s safer, more convenient, and provides one stop shopping. As a mother of young children it is an ideal choice. “My teenage boy enjoys the food court. My pre-teen girl loves shops with accessories. The toddler fits herself at the play area for kids. I love the food, the shopping, the ambience — all of it. But with kids it does get heavy on the pocket if visits are frequent,” she says, adding that for her the fact that malls provide a hygienic public space is also a factor that ropes her in.

However, looking at it from the perspective of the entrepreneurs and retailers that have shops in malls, women coming to malls might form the largest body of visitors, but are not the most serious buyers.

Ayesha Mansoor, the driving force behind popular brands for women’s clothing — Mausummery and Origins — says that women go to malls for the overall entertainment experience. “They are not serious shoppers. The visitors to shops in malls that come in are usually there for an outing or an eating spree. Malls are becoming popular as entertainment spots. Eating, grocery or even just window shopping are the main attractions,” she says, adding that retail sales are not doing well in malls due to high overheads. When asked why all brands still have shops in malls, her answer is simple: “to have brand presence”.

Not all women are fans of the trending mall culture. One such woman is Beena Imran. “In my opinion, with the busy lives that we lead nowadays, going to a mall is nothing but a waste of time unless you have nothing better to do. If I know what I want, and have jotted it down, I’d rather go to an individual shop than going through the hassle of reaching a mall, spending a good 15-20 minutes in reaching my desired shop and mostly not getting what I went for in the first place,” she says.

Yet, even women like her who are not big on malls acknowledge the reasons why malls are becoming popular. “They provide a recreational place for people from all walks of life. Some of them just go to the mall to sit and kill time. It may be a source of happiness for them and could help them forget their worries or problems in a lively atmosphere.”

For women leading hurried and over-worked urban lives, then, malls are perhaps more of sanctuaries than merely a collection of shops.

The lifafa culture and the materialistic desire to ‘earn’ more Eidee

Published: June 26, 2017

There has to be more to Eid than that stash of money the child tucks away.

Anybody who has grown up in Pakistan recognises that pretty lifafa (envelope) in pastel colours or in whites, embellished or plain, sometimes with just a name, at other times with loads of prayers written carefully. Inside, the coveted crisp notes and the smell of the currency printing press chemicals.

These notes give many a banker sleepless nights during the last two weeks of Ramazan, as clients are ready to both beg and intimidate bank officials for fresh notes. Fifty ya 100 walay (ones). Five hundred walay. 1,000 walay. Even 5,000 walay if the family is upper tier.

Getting eidi is the one time when we all enjoy feeling young because every one of us is younger than someone for the most part of our lives. When all those hands that used to give us eidi, the khala, nani and phupha are long gone, it starts to get lonely at the top.

While gifts are a part of Islamic culture and the exchange of gifts is encouraged in Prophetic traditions, eidi is a very specifically cultural manifestation of that in our region. It is that time of the year which children look forward to. As an expression of love and blessings from elders, it is a beautiful gesture.

But over time, something about eidi has changed. As purely money is involved, we see a certain materialism tainting this cultural tradition. The children of today are smarter than their yesteryear counterparts. They are not as interested in the wishes written on the lifafa. What they are interested in is the ceremonial adaab (salutation), and then running in a corner and quietly opening a bit of the envelope to peak in and see whether the currency is red, blue, or reddish-orange.

But then again, children are a reflection of what they observe their parents doing. Many parents, if not all, also take their child in the corner, ask what a certain relative gave, and return the money accordingly. The gesture has become more of a barter system.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the money we collect from elders, and it is in fact endearing to see children counting the money they get as eidi as an extended form of spending money, it is not in good spirit if that is all that the children are looking at.

The lifafa culture and this desire to ‘earn’ more has entered many a religious ceremonies. The Aameen ceremony (completion of the Holy Quran) and the Roza kushai (the first time a child fasts) have also become similar occasions where the focus has shifted from prayers and duas to money. The fault does not only lie with parents and children expecting eidi, as those at the giving end are too busy to go and buy gifts. Also, the eidi or lifafa usually cost less than the gift itself.

While money is a reality of life, such customs and attitudes of parents subliminally condition children to gauge people by monetary standards too soon. It is important to keep reminding the child that the one who could afford to give Rs100 only gave it with as much affection as someone who gave Rs1,000. There has to be more to Eid than that stash of money the child tucks away.

Instilling the right values on Eid may prove to be a challenge for parents. It is doable. But for that, attitudes of the parents would have to be up to the mark as well. Because when it comes to children, it is the parents that set the tone.

Spaces and moments of leisure

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/spaces-moments-leisure/#.WPMZEsZRU1k

 

The project used a rickshaw powered projector to show cell phone videos in diverse neighbourhoods where the videos were made. Basheer was the community coordinator for the screenings at Seaview. For Basheer who makes a living by photographing tourists along the Seaview beach, being part of a video project was something that left not just fond memories but a sense of ownership about his city. These outdoor screenings were free of cost and were held in various parts of Karachi, thereby creating an archive of cell phone videos about everyday life of Karachiites.

“This project was not a political reportage. We were not trying to be native informants. This project gathered Karachiite’s spaces and moments of leisure in the city,” says Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, the key person behind MKMC. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema was a way of engaging with different publics, explains Chaudhri. “We wanted to change the relationship of people to media. Normally the people we met and worked with were consumers of the media, but did not get to produce it themselves. In MKMC, they had a chance to make media and if they wanted to, to represent themselves.” The approach was participatory.

The MKMC team would teach basic video making and editing techniques using cell phones. Members of the community became collaborators and a part of the creative process. They could, for example, express their choice for music or particular scenes they liked in the videos they made, and want the MKMC team to fine tune that. “We would work on it together. It was a very important aspect of the project to create a sense of ownership and agency over the images we put out in the world,” says Chaudhri.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?” A Mobile Cinema Rickshaw carried around the projector that projected these videos on walls of houses, railway bogies and buildings, added another dimension to it that is typical to life in Karachi.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?”

The project celebrated the life and times of Karachiites, and created a new use of public spaces. This was a use of art that was not a luxury for the elite – it was by the people and for the people.

The MKMC team was headed by Yaminay Chaudhri. Other team members included Cyrus Viccaji, Sadia Khatri, Mohammad Saddique Khan, Khadija Abdul Lateef, Krishna Raju and Farhad Mirza.

Areas that were covered included Ibrahim Haidery, Lyari, Cantt Station and Seaview. Karachi’s migrant communities were also focused upon. Some of them have been living in the city since decades but still do not have legal status here. The videos, simple at a glance, were conceptually layered, tapping into complex themes like identity and ownership. Both regular and irregular settlements were tapped into.

Vernacular aesthetics and tools were used in this project. The rhythm of the city was important. These videos were not made for an international audience, which helped deliver a more fluid and organic narrative. “Often when films or documentaries are made for a global audience, producers end up orientalising, objectifying and exoticising Pakistan, resorting to stereotypes about terrorism, and over simplification of people based on ethnicities,” explains Chaudhri.

“MKMC is an incredibly diverse and inclusive project. It’s so beautiful how it’s rooted deeply in Karachi and its inhabitants, building a poignant and personal archive of all the vulnerable and aspirational relationships we have with the city, its public spaces and communities,” says Abeera Kamran, a graphic designer and web developer who worked on the website of Tentative Collective. She adds that it’s so rare to find artists that are committed to such collaborative intersectional work.

The screening of videos in MKMC created an alternative narrative in public spaces. The screenings fostered new kinds of conviviality in these neighbourhoods and leftover spaces of the city. In Lyari, in one screening, some 300 people, mostly women and children, came together on an empty parking lot and street in the middle of Baghdadi. “Our gatherings never used security apparatus and we never had any problems. The feeling of community and desire to be in a public space together doing something fun was a kind of organiser in itself,” says Chaudhri.

MKMC made an effort to hire a few people from each neighbourhood they engaged with as community leaders. They offered salaries to the ones who wanted salaries and support in other ways to those who were insulted by the offer of money. The project took one year to plan and ran for three years. It involved applying for grants, crowd sourcing, personal savings and getting funding from friends.

The second phase of the project, still underway, involves the showing of previously unshared parts of MKMC, a documentation of the process, and analysing what the team learnt from it. According to Chaudhri, the MKMC team wants to look at what gets deleted, what is deemed screen worthy and what is not. As artists working with new collaborators, they also want to decipher what it was that they saw in these engagements with unlikely friends.

As often happens, lack of funds eventually became a reason why the project had to be discontinued. “We got offers to turn this project into a brand, and were offered funding from dubious sources, but we turned it down. It was important to us that the agendas of funding bodies were not reflected in the outcomes of our project. That would defeat the purpose of making a project like this with its open-ended outcomes and flexibility of programming,” says Chaudhri, adding that by the end of the project, the structure of the videos had changed dramatically based on the groups they met and their desire to make media a certain way. “The project went in all of those directions happily. With big funding, branding, and foreign agendas, none of that would have been possible.”

MKMC was a project of the “Tentative Collective” — a collective of people who share resources to create critical works of art in public places. The Tentative Collective is currently working on a project exploring some of the outcomes of modernity and development, working with literal and metaphorical notions of waste and wasted lives.

Karachi Literature Festival: Will the real liberal please stand up?

Published: February 13, 2017

KLF serves as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. PHOTO: KARACHI LITERATURE FESTIVAL.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/46117/karachi-literature-festival-will-the-real-liberal-please-stand-up/

The recently held Karachi Literature Festival 2017 was a hub alright. But a hub of what? What it stands for, ideally, is not just celebrating books and authors, but also to serve as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. Literature and the arts, on such forums, are designed to allow an open inflow and outflow of thoughts and ideas, and an exchange of not just narrative but also counter narrative.

One counterfoil session of the KLF 2017 was introduced as a discussion on conflict-resolution through art and enterprise. One of Pakistan’s well known musicians dared to play a short video as a tribute to the late Pakistani pop icon-turned-evangelist Junaid Jamshed, and went on to talk about how he and Junaid, despite ideological differences, managed to remain lifelong friends, and worked in collaboration on projects pertaining to peace-building. The reaction of a renowned “liberal and progressive” scholar on the panel was perhaps not unexpected but certainly unwarranted. He ridiculed Junaid Jamshed’s long beard and dressing style, and then went on to comment on his alleged misogyny. The comments were not just out of context. They were a giveaway of something that we don’t talk about often enough, which is that when it comes to “liberalism”, Pakistanis seem to have lost the plot.

Most dictionaries define a “liberal” in words as these: Someone who is open to new behaviour or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; lacking moral restraint; tolerant to change; a moderate person or viewpoint that favours a society or social code less restrictive than the current one, and welcomes constructive change in approaches to solving economic, social, and other problems.

The irony of ironies is that the very things liberalism stands against – being judgmental, being inflexible and being rigid – are the very traps we see liberals falling into. Liberal thought is, in essence, the anti-thesis of extremism and fundamentalism. It is the willingness to burst bubbles, push boundaries, and think out of boxes. True liberalism is having the heart to listen open-mindedly to an opposing view point, even though you may disagree vehemently.

Pakistan, today, is in desperate need of truly liberal people who may have their own set of beliefs, yet are willing to hear the other side out, and engage in dialogue. The intelligentsia, as it consists of more evolved people, has on it the responsibility of building bridges. Instead, what we are seeing on both sides is deep intolerance. The religious are seen indulging in feel-good extremism, and write off those who don’t follow religion in exactly the way they interpret it. For that, they get the flack which is perhaps justified. But it is less painful because the right-wingers never really claim to be open-minded. It hits worse when those who claim to be progressive and liberal follow the same patterns. Ironically, many of them, if not all, end up being equally intolerant of dissenting viewpoints, if not more.

Puritanical thinking makes one feel holier-than-thou (and this holds true for both the left and the right, for both the religious and the secular), plugs our ears to voices of those we see as “the others”, and perpetuates a binary world view, leading to the “it is either my way or the high way” attitude.

For cases in point, one should skim through social media websites. The easiest and laziest thing to do is put blanket generalisations on groups of people – something we are becoming very good at. Common assumptions are that a bearded man or a hijabi woman cannot be a human rights activist, a peace-builder or one raising their voice against domestic violence. Equally common are counterpart assumptions that a woman donning a sleeveless shirt or a man who is in the music or showbiz industry lack in faith.

Sneering at the opposite camps might get one some additional readers and followers, or a few guffaws from a chisel-headed audience that wants to enjoy the comfort of collaborative mockery. But what many of our brightest minds end up looking like is eternal teenagers and wandering Peter Pans who imagine the world as a virtual university town where everyone must conform to thinking in a certain way.

This is not to undermine the contributions KLF and similar forums are making. It is just that by default, events that act as magnets to the urban elite seem less welcoming to those who differ socially or ideologically.

We are all living in our ideological silos, comfortable in our respective bubbles with our own sets of designated cheerleaders. No one wants to try understanding another point of view. We sing praises of a word called “empathy” when we have not even arrived at the station of “tolerance”. We spare neither the living, nor the dead. And through it all, we see ourselves as the problem-solvers when we, ourselves, are part of the problem of polarisation. How, then, can any of us claim to be liberal?

If Pakistan truly wants to get rid of extremism, there will have to be more open-minded listening, especially listening to those who are not on the same page as you, without jesting about or being dismissive of the other point of view.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/