Monday, January 9, 2017
By Shahid Siddiqui
Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, painter, musician, and educationist who influenced a large number of people, generation after generation.
He was born in the post-1857 period when the Indians were pushed to the corner after the abortive attempt of a freedom war in 1857. The War of Independence was a result of the economic, social, cultural, and religious exploitation of India by the foreign rulers. Tagore, born in 1861 to an enlightened family, was aware of the effects of the colonisation of India, especially its impact on the cultural and social life of Indians. His resistance to the Raj was subtle and his tool of resistance was education. In British India, there was, on the one hand, a tradition of indigenous education which had a long history and was accessible to the masses and, on the other, English education in schools patronised by the British rulers. English education was expensive, limited to a few places and was removed from the local culture and values. A typical approach of imperialist powers is to glorify their own culture, language, and educational system and stigmatise the culture, languages, and educational systems of others. Education has always been used by the imperialist powers to influence and control the minds.
A prime objective of the discursive approach of hegemony is to make the marginalised groups believe that their culture, language, educational system, and way of life are inferior and, thus, of no worth. It was against this backdrop that Tagore thought about an innovative style of education which was different from the indigenous and English systems of education. It was based on a subtle attempt of decolonisation which embodied the spirit of freedom. It was a poet’s way of responding to the challenge of colonisation. Tagore was concerned about poor condition of the people living in villages. Their living conditions were further exacerbated by the repressive economic policies of the Raj. To empower the students – culturally, economically, and spiritually – Tagore established his school, Shantiniketan, in 1901. Tagore’s concept of education was associated with liberation and freedom. Freedom of thought, expression, and choice were the pillars of Shantiniketan. An important part of the process of decolonisation is to identify, recognise, and celebrate one’s own roots and the culture that constitute one’s identity. Shantiniketan aimed to bring students to a setting that was close to their cultural environment. Students were provided an innovative concept of education where they were given an opportunity to engage with the objects of nature and develop a sense of association with their motherland.
The focus of education was much more that just mundane literacy. It was a holistic educational approach that would encompass the educational, physical, spiritual, and aesthetic development of children. The curriculum was not fixed and combined theoretical and practical work. The emphasis was on blending interest with learning. Thus, in Shantiniketan, learning was fun. The teacher was not the only source of knowledge but students would learn by doing. As a result, experience and learning were intertwined. The students, besides the core subjects, were exposed to painting, reading stories, music, creative writing, dance and drama. They were encouraged and motivated to write, paint, and publish their works. Besides the routine teaching offered at schools, scholars and thinkers were invited to Shantiniketan where they would interact with students and share their experiences with them. Thus, the students’ horizon of thinking was broadened through regular interaction with external speakers.
Tagore was aware of the importance of language as not just a tool of communication but also as an important marker of identity. As a scholar and writer, he knew how language plays an important part in the construction of realities and how learning is enhanced if a student is taught in a language that is familiar to him. Bengali was chosen as a medium of instruction in Shantiniketan. This decision demonstrated that local languages are in no way inferior to English and Indians are proud of their culture and languages. The central theme of Shantiniketan was to develop a holistic personality of the child. Isolated ‘knowledge’ was not the objective at Shantiniketan. On the contrary, harmony with nature, sensitivity about people, and empathy with the cultural surroundings were emphasised. Tagore was conscious of the acute poverty of the villagers in Bengal. To address their needs, a rural education centre, Sriniketan, was established. This centre was important in providing basic literacy and skills to the learners. He also established a university, Visva-Bharati, which focused on bringing together the cultural diversity of different parts of India.
Tagore believed that creative writing, painting, dance, and drama played a vital role in the expression of national identity. Shantiniketan could therefore be seen as a hub of activities that revolved around celebrating the indigenous culture, local settings, cultural surroundings and local languages.
A subtle approach was employed through Shantiniketan to decolonise the minds of Indians and empower them to be proud of their own cultural heritage. Tagore’s involvement with education spanned over four decades. These efforts converged on one point: waking up the Indian nation from deep slumber by exposing the students to a brand of education that would lead to freedom and liberation. He was shocked by the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 where hundreds of Indians were killed on the order of a British officer. The whole nation protested against this killing. Tagore, as a sign of protest, returned his title.
Tagore’s idea of life was incomplete without freedom. His vision of Shantiniketan was expressed in one of his poems where he prays to God for a school: “Where the mind is led forward/by thee into ever-widening thought and action–/into that heaven of freedom, my Father,/Let my country awake.” Tagore’s educational efforts paid off and Shantiniketan turned into a movement of alternative education and the expression of national identity.
By Faraz Talat
Notable theologians agree that the further we retreat into history, the more the lines between religion and secular matters begin to blur.
The modern Muslim world often struggles to differentiate between ‘Islam’ – as a timeless collection of religious laws and ideals – from the social-cultural model of 7th century Arabia. This difficulty, according to writers like Karen Armstrong, is the inescapable result of religion and politics being inseparable in history.
‘Deen’ does not mean ‘religion’, but rather ‘way of life’. Looking beyond Islamic history, the word ‘dharma’ does not mean ‘religion’ either, but simply signifies the right way of doing thing.
So what does ‘blasphemy’ truly imply in a system where the word ‘religion’ is a placeholder for both matters of spirit and politics?
Consider the etymology of the term ‘murtadd’ for example, or ‘apostate’ in English. It is derived from the word ‘irtidad’ which means ‘turning back’. In the distant past, turning back on Muslims, Christians, or pagans was not just a religious decision, but a matter of choosing political sides.
According to a report by the Digital Rights Foundation, a total of 7 people were accused of blasphemy in the presence of older blasphemy laws between 1927 to 1986. Following the amendment of the laws under Zia’s regime, the justice system has dealt with 1,335 accusations between 1986 and 2014.
Could it be that the public has became more insolent after 1986? There are other explanations which appear more probable:
The older blasphemy laws existed strictly in the interest of maintaining public order, by penalizing the deliberate incitement of clashes between religious parties. These were religion-neutral laws that were not designed to be employed by the dominant religious party for thought-control of any dissenting minority.
In the 80s, Zia-ul-Haq’s regime ushered in a new era of Islamonationalism. Since then, religion has been diffusing unchallenged into politics – and perhaps more disturbingly – vice versa. The newer laws exist foremost to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslim majority, as evidenced by non-Muslims and close allies being affected disproportionately by these laws.
I claim no expertise on Islamic affairs and do not intend to tutor readers on religious dicta. But the one thing is brutally obvious: in the spirit in which the blasphemy laws presently exist, what Islam says or doesn’t say about the fate of blasphemers has itself become moot. As we step back, we realize that these laws exist only secondarily to protect the religious feelings of ordinary Muslims, but foremost as a political statement on which religion – hence the political organization bearing its flag – rules this country.
Liberals – secular or religious – who aspire to work towards interfaith harmony, cannot do so with blasphemy laws at the fovea of their worldview. The center of attention must be the established political imperialism of one religion over others. Note that I’m only using the term ‘imperialism’ in a strict regional context of an Islamic Republic. This is not intended to validate the paranoia of a reader in Alabama, USA who hears shariah knocking at his door.
Religious debates occur entirely outside the domain of the mosque. They place in courthouses, government offices, and on political talk-shows.
Every time a liberal Muslim counters a conservative talking point of “This is Islam” with “This is not Islam”, he reinforces public opinion that it is ultimately our view of religion that unilaterally determines the fate of non-Muslims, and even minority sects. The liberal Muslim challenges a violent, orthodox manifestation of politico-religious imperialism with his own brand of benevolent politico-religious imperialism. That, in the larger scheme of things, does nothing to address the root of the problem.
The liberal Muslim who strives for kinder Pakistan, must refuse to play the game by General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule. For these rules assert that the question is not of equality among citizens or harmonious living, but a matter of the dominant religious group maintaining its privilege of deciding what happens to the minority. The voiceless minority must simply learn to wait outside our mosque, while we figure out what to do with them.
As long as Islam and nationalism remain unified in this country as one force, no religious law purports to be exclusively about religion. When in an accuser’s mind, ‘blasphemy’ is not just a matter of hurting religious sentiments, but also a betrayal of the national interests of an Islamic Republic or the political interests of some of its parties, the liberal Muslim gets nowhere in this discourse armed with religious argument alone.
Aminah Suhail Qureshi
Why does a person with hands bruised while sharpening twines for kites demand same attention which is compulsorily required by the one wounded on neck by those very kite strings?
1996. This year marks the formal inauguration of Punjab’s second largest teaching hospital and the last tertiary care hospital of Lahore to date, that is Jinnah Hospital. With a population increase from 5.4 million in 1998 to 10.4 million in 2016, only 300 beds in two increments have been added to the initial count, making a total of 1250 beds in this hospital. With three patients resting on each bed, should a person lying on floor be a lurid and appalling sight? With only 20 beds available in each emergency ward, would it be fine to admit only 20 patients, 1 for each bed? Would this practice of doctors not be proclaimed as inhumane by flag-bearers of human rights? With three patients lying on one bed and one on the floor, would the death of a patient on bed be less deplorable than the patient who died on cold floor on January 2, 2017? Had the same patient died on a not-so-cosy and actually dirty bed in the hospital, would the chief minister have taken notice of the incident? Against whom has he taken the notice? The doctors who are themselves underpaid employees of the government who just happened to be the front men dealing with the patients? The former governments that failed to add to the system tertiary hospitals in proportion with the increasing population? Or the currently ruling government itself that has been unable to do the aforementioned despite being in power in Punjab since 2008?
Taking notices, dismissing medical superintendents, blaming doctors, blocking roads, and protesting in front of the provincial assembly have been habitually practised in routine on the occurrence of any such incident. Out of all these, damning doctors and paramedical staff is the easiest because they can be easily identified in white coats and uniforms, walking here and there with stethoscopes hung around their necks or trays held in their hands, respectively. I am not denying that several incidents have been reported where patients died or suffered grave losses owing to uncalled for negligence shown by doctors, but the fact that there exists a blind trust between a patient and his doctor is equally undeniable. Regardless of the consequence, the patient there and then does show undaunted faith in the doctor that is allotted to him or he chooses himself. This is obviously realised and acknowledged by both the patient and the doctor. So why would any doctor show any scale of heedlessness and neglect towards his patient despite knowing the dire results he might have to face, including blaming and shaming? No one, exactly no one, on this planet can challenge a doctor if he resolves to harm his patients. What keeps him from doing so is his morality which is now on the verge of being quelled due to unreasonable and unmindful allegations that they have to face every single time. Our media showed a 60-year-old woman dying on the floor, but no cameraman and reporter dared enter one of the wards to show the true picture of the only beds and facilities available in the hospital for the general public.
One general misconception that public has about doctors is factually based on widespread mistrust that exists in our society. Being a part of a nepotistic society, patients widely suspect doctors of giving undue favours to their relatives who come for treatment. They think that these relatives are sent for check-up as well as surgeries before those who come without a reference. The state of mind in which such accusations are made is totally understandable, but all what needs to be done is to roam around the emergency of the hospital and discover the realities. The unfortunate harsh verity is that there exist only two operation theatres for general surgery in the very Jinnah Hospital we are talking about. Yes, only two operation theatres for thousands of patients that daily visit this hospital in pursuit of treatment. What favouritism can possible operate under such circumstances? And why are only the doctors blamed for alleged cold-blooded behaviour? Why patients are not held liable for the height of incorporation they show towards their fellow countrymen? Not a single person willingly shares the bed with others. Why do they forget it is not their personal property but a limited facility that has been provided by the government? Why does a person with hands bruised while sharpening twines for kites demand same attention which is compulsorily required by the one wounded on neck by those very kite strings? Upon witnessing the latter being treated first due to seriousness of injury, why can the former not simply wait for his turn?
Every camera showed the female patient taking her last breaths on the cold floor, but no one dared show the state of patients lying on beds. Instead of highlighting this issue as a failure to provide adequate number of beds and medical facilities resulting from inattention of government since ever, our media portrayed it as a mistake committed by doctors owing to dereliction of duty. Before inculpating doctors one should understand that their sole responsibility is to diagnose and prescribe treatment. Both of these aspects are in turn dependent on the infrastructure and equipment provided by government. If not rendered available, doctors cannot do anything to treat and save lives. This is what we all need to realise; doctors are as much humans as we are. If this incident has moved us, it also has equally, in fact more intensely, affected the doctors. However, they are as helpless as we are. They are as much part of the system as we are. When we cannot assign fault to ourselves, we should not put it on the shoulders of doctors. They are bound to work in the system that has been provided to them. Therefore, if notice has to be taken, it is definitely not against the hospital administration.
It is not the least bit surprising that the National Child Protection Policy, despite being enacted as law through the Child Protection Protection System Bill 2014, still lies unimplemented.
An estimated 2.5 million children (the actual number could be much higher) are currently part of the country’s workforce, which goes against the country’s own laws, not counting that it is also against various international conventions on human rights signed by Pakistan.
Children as young as six enter the workforce as undocumented labour, and are doomed to stay there for the rest of their lives. Education, an unalienable right of children everywhere, is denied to a big portion of Pakistan’s adolescent population, which means that the principle of equal opportunity in the job market is an unachievable dream for many.
And although many children working will tell you that this is through their own preference, the internationally established age of maturity is centred on certain principles.
In the case of Pakistan, the age of 18, when one gets their National Identity Card made, is when a child is seen to have grown up enough to make their own decisions. Any point before that, their parents and guardians are supposed to make choices with the child’s best interests at heart. In Pakistani society, not only are parents not always looking to protect their children, but there is also the concept of letting a child believe that they have grown up and can think for themselves long before that is actually the case.
The sad fact is that Tayyaba – the girl that employed by Sessions Judge Raja Khurram’s household – is one case out of countless others where children employed in various fields have been abused at the hands of their employers. The law against employing children has acted more as an impediment than anything else, considering the government has not tried stopping children becoming a part of the workforce.
What this means is that many are driven to work at an early age, and do not even have the legal cover that an adult member of the workforce is to have, which would ideally be concerned with protecting workers’ rights and would protect them from harm due to their employment.
The world sees children as equal to adults in terms of granting rights and liberties, but special conventions include extra protection and care for them alongside these rights for obvious reasons. The Pakistani state is denying its children both, and must rectify this immediately.
A Pakistani university professor, poet and rights activist who has been critical of the Taliban and also of the government's efforts against militants, has been missing since last week, his family said Monday.
Salman Haider disappeared on Friday, his brother Faraz Haider said. He said Salman's wife got a text message on her phone to go and collect his car from a roadside on Islamabad's outskirts.
Pakistan's ministry of interior on Monday ordered police to step up efforts to find the missing activist. No militant group has so far claimed that it abducted the activist and no government department or intelligence agency has said it detained or arrested him.
Local media have reported that a number of other activists like Salman Haider — who ran popular social media accounts known for liberal and leftist views — have also gone missing. These social media accounts — some of which are no longer accessible — often highlight what they describe as Pakistan's dual policy of fighting some militants but supporting others.
Pakistan's telecommunication department responsible for blocking social media and controlling the internet in Pakistan did not respond to a request for comment.
Salman Haider has also been participating in rallies and protests against disappearances of nationalists and separatists from Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province who are usually detained by intelligence agencies on charges of anti-state activities. The fate of many of these "missing persons" remains unknown.
Left-leaning Pakistan's People's Party submitted Monday a request in parliament, seeking an answer from the Interior Ministry on the disappearances, calling them a planned and coordinated crackdown to silence voices critical of state policies.
PPP Human Rights Cell Central Coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah has expressed concern on the increasing disappearances of political activists, scholars and bloggers in the last few days in the country. In addition to Salman Haider there are reports of at least 3 other bloggers and activists who are missing besides a number of political activists in Sindh and Balochistan. “The Minister Interior must come clean on this matter and take urgent steps towards recovery of these activists.
The Minister for information technology should also give us answers as it is apparent that their blogs have been removed,” Says PPP Human Rights Coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah. “Unfortunately PMLN government has miserably failed in implementing the National Action Plan or in punishing the terrorists and ironically social activists and intellectuals who are the main challengers of extremism in Pakistan are being kidnapped, tortured and victimised and government is either clueless or unable to protect them,” she added. The ppp human rights cell also voiced concern on the disappearances in Sindh and Balochistan of political activists and nationalist voices. They called upon the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly to respond to the growing rights violations in the country.