Religion

Farzana Parveen and the death of the state

1 June 2014

Farzana’s brutal murder represents all that is wrong with us.

It has become a useless routine to condemn the most ghastly acts of violence and injustice in Pakistan. For many, these are daily occurrences and thus the levels of desensitisation have grown. So has the brutalisation of society, when it adapts to some bare facts and upholds and sometimes celebrates the worst of what constitutes custom, tradition or ‘culture’. What else would explain the fact that there were dozens of passerby near the Lahore High Court — known for its imposing architecture and not the delivery of justice now — who silently witnessed the death of a woman scorned for choosing her partner? Worse, the police did not intervene either. This has become the norm with what we know as the ‘state’ in Pakistan. It chooses to remain indolent, indifferent and even complicit at times. This has left the citizen vulnerable. The weaker you are, the more chance there is of your life meaning absolutely nothing.

A few weeks ago, I underwent the worst of nightmares. Seeking help on a roadside with two wounded men: one almost dead and the other struggling to stay conscious. My romanticism for my own country was shattered on that fateful night of March 28. I am privileged and lucky that I escaped a brutal, unsung death but a life was lost. A large crowd had gathered to ogle at the blood sport but none of them was willing to help in taking a near-dead body out of the car. On a busy street, no car was willing to stop to take my injured driver to the hospital. Farzana’s death and her calls for help have only reopened my wounds — far from healed and as painful as before. This state of our society, drunk on honour, pride, ghairat and other medieval notions of self-worth, has crossed all tolerable levels of dysfunction. Yes, two girls were also hanged, allegedly gang-raped in India, and crimes against women are prevalent in other societies as well. But, at least, there is collective uproar, pressure on the governments and results. (more…)

Pakistan: At the edge of the abyss?

25 May 2014

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used to fuel violence and death.

 

 

The recent murder of a brave human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman reminds us of the society we have shaped. It is now an unregulated space where even defending the rights of an accused is a crime. Rehman had made all the threats, including those in the courtroom, public. The local state authorities did next to nothing to protect him or rein in the individuals and groups preaching violence. It seems when it comes to religiously motivated violence the might of the state disappears. Victims of blasphemy law are no longer fit for due process. They need to be punished directly. A few days after the murder of Rehman, another accused of blasphemy was shot dead by a teenager in a police station near Lahore.

Since the brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, debates on the colonial blasphemy law have disappeared from the public domain. Those who advocated against its misuse were also silenced through litigation in courts by the right-wing lobbies that no longer constitute the lunatic fringe. In fact, the idea of blasphemy as a threat to Pakistan’s carefully constructed “Islamic” identity mixes passion, politics and power. A state that quietly smiles at the success of its project is now complicit in mob justice and even brutal killings such as the one that took Rashid Rehman’s life. (more…)

Pakistani journalist shares why his work led to an attempt on his life

20 May 2014

I was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera TV – here is a video clip:

Raza Rumi describes the state of the media in Pakistan, where 34 journalists were reportedly killed since 2008

http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201405062237-0023704

Journalist Raza Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban network in Pakistan on March 28, 2014.
He joins Aljazeera host Antonio Mora to discuss why journalists in Pakistan often put their lives in danger.

Pakistan is not afraid of Modi’s win

19 May 2014

Finally, the verdict is out. The Indian electorate has given a clear message by electing Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) precisely in this order. The 16th general election in the neighbouring state was contested around the issues of governance, corruption and development. The dismal performance of the Congress’s second term was compounded by a leadership crisis, the diarchic model of governance and highly mediatised incidence of corruption scandals. Mr Manmohan Singh, despite his personal reputation, seemed helpless and at times, directionless. Modi seems to have fully benefited from the public disenchantment with coalition politics and a decade of Congress rule. India is now ruled by a right-wing party with a thumping majority. Unlike the earlier terms, the BJP is in a position to form the government on its own and the opposition has been virtually reduced to naught. (more…)

Indus Valley School of Learning: The school which teaches Humanism

23 March 2014

On Pakistan Day, I was invited by the Indus Valley School of Learning in Rawalpindi. I tweeted about my visit and the pleasant experience. There is so much about Pakistan that remains invisible – many people who are working hard to make it a plural and tolerant place. Whilst I complain about our curricula all the time, here is a school which is striving within formidable constraints to provide quality education.

Paradise lost

21 March 2014

Raza Rumi narrates two tales of radicalization

 

Paradise lost

 

Writing about domestic help is distasteful as it means Pakistan’s obsession with ‘servants’ crosses the comfort zones of living rooms and travels into the printed lines. With much trepidation I plan to tell the readers about my own experience with a young helper who arrived from Pakistan’s Hazara area into my home a few years ago. Jabbar, a school dropout, had ambitions from day one and I spent the first few months convincing him that to liberate himself from a life-long career of domestic drudgery he would need to complete his education.

In my great moment of overcoming the middle class guilt, I found Jabbar a tutor and his formal education was resumed. He completed his Matriculation and Intermediate diplomas as a private school and did reasonably well given his circumstances and initial schooling. These days, he is enrolled as a graduate student and hopefully will find a better job than servicing my household needs. (more…)

Zia’s unfinished business

7 April 2013

My latest for Express Tribune

The ghost of General Ziaul Haq and his drive to turn Pakistan into a theocracy continues to haunt us. Under immense pressure from the courts and clerics, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is seemingly undertaking a purge of politicians who may not be ‘righteous’ under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

These articles emanated from the desire to create an Islamic legislature where only the “sagacious”, “righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen” could hold public offices. How can we define these vague terms, which are open to interpretation and abuse?

Articles 62 and 63 also suggest disqualification if a candidate is deemed to be against the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Sadly, that very term was coined under the influence of Jamaat e Islami and General Yahya Khan’s comrade Gen Sher Ali contributed to its adoption for cynical reasons. History is a witness to Gen Yahya’s own conduct and the utter disdain he had for his Bengali subjects. The genesis of this term therefore is self-serving and purely hypocritical. Soon, the same junta trumpeting the ideology of Pakistan led an army action against Pakistanis and the events of 1971 remain a blot on our collective conscience. (more…)

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