Author Archives: MariemAsif
In the midst of the sectarianism, murder and mayhem besieging our land, the charred remains of a burnt-out story rose up and whispered to me above all the din. That of 13 year old Kamran Khan, who committed suicide last week by pouring petrol on his body and setting himself on fire.
It wasn’t because of America’s war against terror, or India’s covert operations, that a boy as young as 13 felt compelled to end his own life. It was because of his poverty-stricken family’s inability to buy the child a new uniform when his old pair became tattered enough to start causing him embarrassment in front of his peers. Even as I pen these words, I’m struck afresh by the magnitude of this tragedy.
After Kamran’s father moved to Saudia Arabia in search of a livelihood that he ultimately couldn’t secure, the financial stress faced by his mother was enough to make him drop out of school and start selling scrap. When his principal found out, he offered to re-enrol Kamran at his school for free. That wasn’t to prove enough of a lifeline for the child, however, and in the desire for a new uniform, he burnt himself to death.
Pakistan, these are your real problems, these are your real tragedies, and these are the people you need to focus your energies on. America, India, or even the entire list of our ‘sworn enemies’ added together are not the culprit here. Rather, it’s the failure to provide our citizens with the very basic of necessities that has led to Kamran’s suicide. You need to have surpassed your threshold of endurance and resilience to do that. And for a 13 year old boy to have surpassed his, is a matter of immense shame for our entire nation. Read the rest of this entry
As an applicant for a Creative Writing MA degree at two renowned London universities, my Pakistani nationality wasn’t an issue at any point. In fact, diversity and versatility were encouraged as valued attributes. I went through the screening process all applicants go through, which includes a submission of their portfolio to date, followed by a one-on-one interview with the course co-ordinator himself. Having been through that process at not one, but two UK universities, and having been granted admission to both, it was then the simple matter of choice. I wasn’t just proud of myself for having secured a place, but was profoundly thrilled at having had the opportunity to fulfil my life’s ambition of becoming a qualified writer. Time hurled by amidst a kaleidoscope of criticisms, workshops and tutorials. During the initial assessment, I was informed by my tutor that I could expect somewhere in the region of a…
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The dehumanising treatment of minorities in Pakistan is not hidden from anyone. What’s worse is that this discrimination doesn’t just hold true for the uneducated living in far-flung villages, but also the genteel in cities, where many a posh begum will never pollute her polished pucker with a Christian maid’s utensils, quarantined off from the rest of the household cutlery. What to talk of Christians, even mainstream ‘Muslim’ sects practice such derogatory customs against each other. The view most people subscribe to is one of utter rigidity – ‘because you don’t agree with me, that automatically makes you wrong.’
Where does this extreme religious arrogance come from? From schools, through an exclusivist religious education, a.k.a Islamiyat. By focussing wholly on Islam, (the ‘acceptable’ Sunni version) at the cost of all other world religions, we essentially lead our children on a journey of self-righteousness that makes them highly partial to their religion and discriminated against every other, while breeding within them the vanity to assume that solely what they know is correct while the rest of the world is erroneous at best and evil at worst. Of course, children should believe in their own faith with complete conviction, but does it have to be done in a manner that makes them spurn those who hold to a different belief?
As a society where every religion is not just openly preached but unreservedly practiced, Britain is second to none. There are an estimated 2.8 million Muslims (4.6% of the population) living in the UK, who are full, equal members of society in every way. There are roughly the same numbers of Christians living in Pakistan, that is, 2.8 Million (1.6% of the population). But how are these minorities treated? Christians are shunned, Hindus detested, Sikhs ridiculed, Ahmadis loathed, and Shias mocked. Read the rest of this entry
On this Pakistan Day, let’s look back to what the vision was, what the man who created the state wanted it to represent, and then let’s talk about where we are in terms of the attainment of that vision.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s broadcast talk to the people of the United States of America on Pakistan recorded February, 1948.
“The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistanis not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims –Hindus, Christians, and Parsis –but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Read the rest of this entry
I’m sure many of you shared the horror I experienced when confronted with the shocking images of Waheeda Shah slapping away at all and sundry, that too, in the presence of both the police and the media. While we all agree that Waheeda Shah committed an overt violation of Human Rights, are we missing something here? Maybe the countless slaps being bestowed on the soft cheeks of hardened children as they fail to serve the mistress bed-tea on time? Or the punch on the face of the overworked maid as she accidentally stumbles and shatters an expensive piece of china? Or even the nightly kick in the leg of the tormented housewife as she says something to offend her husband and in-laws?
This slap-culture is what has bred a generation of Waheedas, impatient and invincible. In a society where a child grows up seeing his father slapping his mother every now and again without any consequences, the lesson learnt by the child is a dangerous one; that it’s acceptable to vent in this manner. And more so, that nobody’s going to object. We can’t, of course, entirely blame the woman for enduring such abuse, for her options are very limited and hardly attractive. But surely some amount of responsibility lies with those women who are in a position to retaliate against such brutal treatment. Thus, while the poor maid can’t do much about her plight, the educated housewife surely can. Similarly, although one can’t expect a child worker to stand up for his rights, we must expect, and encourage, political workers like the ones targeted by Waheeda to stand up and be counted. Read the rest of this entry
I see the walks being held, the ceremonies being organised and the countless Facebook updates honouring the International Women’s day. But somehow, in spite of all this optimism, in the deepest corner of my Pakistani mind, I’m simply not convinced. I was appalled, as I believe were all of you, on reading about the woman who was not only beaten and stripped but also denied justice, in a village in Hazara, making this the second reported incident of its kind in about a year. However, as shocking as these incidents are, they’re nothing compared to those acts of inhumanity that women bestow on each other. You see, in a basically unequal society like Pakistan, the inequality isn’t just between men and women, but also between powerful women and weak women. So, although we raise a hue and cry about women being equal to men in all respects, perhaps we should first take a look at the horrendous way in which women treat their own gender. Women like Waheeda Shah who go around slapping other women, much below them on the power and social ladder. And while we’re at it, we should also take a peek at the mistress continually beating and torturing her 8 year old maid in Karachi. Read the rest of this entry
Young Pakistani female students have recently joined the throng of their male counterparts who come to the UK in search of better lives. Away from home and family, they brave isolation, financial stress, joblessness, even racism, in search of their dream. Most of them are from rural backgrounds who don’t have as much freedom as the elite enjoy back home. That freedom pulls them in, and keeps them stringed, till the very thought of returning to their country becomes akin to a nightmare. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with several such young women. A long-lost friend would call up from Pakistan, and inform me that such and such’s daughter had landed in the UK, and was having trouble finding a job, so could I help?
These women leave friends and family and step into a world so different from their own that they can’t help but be overwhelmed by the contrast. What most shocks me is that they refuse, outright, to go back once they’ve finished their courses! The trend is to stay on, by hook or by crook, and to gain the ever-alluring British Passport, as one young lady patiently explained to me over the telephone.
‘But what about your family?’ a shocked me enquired. ‘They keep asking me to return, but I’m not going without a passport!’
‘Are you comfortable here?’ ‘Yes, although there are rats in the room I’m renting, but I’ve managed to kill a few.’
Pakistani girls are that reluctant to return to their homeland? Why? Read the rest of this entry
As an applicant for a Creative Writing MA degree at two renowned London universities, my Pakistani nationality wasn’t an issue at any point. In fact, diversity and versatility were encouraged as valued attributes. I went through the screening process all applicants go through, which includes a submission of their portfolio to date, followed by a one-on-one interview with the course co-ordinator himself. Having been through that process at not one, but two UK universities, and having been granted admission to both, it was then the simple matter of choice. I wasn’t just proud of myself for having secured a place, but was profoundly thrilled at having had the opportunity to fulfil my life’s ambition of becoming a qualified writer. Time hurled by amidst a kaleidoscope of criticisms, workshops and tutorials. During the initial assessment, I was informed by my tutor that I could expect somewhere in the region of a C+ to a B-, and that I should be happy about that, because a B grade for me would be the same as an A for a native speaker. Although the use of the word ‘native’ did strike me as odd at the time, I was nevertheless happy about the assessment, as I was told I should be. Could I really get a B? Could I really be as adept at my skill as a native speaker? As it was, I couldn’t. The lowest grade I got was a B+, with the rest all being A grades, including for my dissertation. Well, well, what was I to do? Could I now consider my writing ability to have surpassed that of my English-speaking peers? Of course not, I couldn’t dare; but wait, isn’t that what I’d been told during my assessment? No, no, that assessment was obviously meant to help me feel better if I didn’t get good results. Not to land me on Cloud 9 if I did.
I was up for a distinction, and couldn’t wait to jump into my career as a writer! I started applying for jobs over the Internet. As it happened, I came across an ad for an internee copywriter. Perfect, I thought to myself. That’s just what I need. I skimmed the page in excitement, until a phrase jumped out and held me paralysed for a few insignificant ticks of the clock. It was a phrase I hadn’t expected to come across in my wildest dreams. In retrospect, that was my naivety, for I was to come across it quite frequently during the next few weeks of my job search: Only native speakers may apply!
Do you see what I was up against? I mean, I could gain a distinction, my thesis could be recommended for publication by my tutors, I could graduate top of my class, but heck, I couldn’t become a native speaker, not in this life, at least. I wasn’t up against my skill and my craft; I wasn’t even up against my nationality (as if that makes it any better). I was up against my ethnicity, the very ethnicity that had given me a voice in the first place. Read the rest of this entry
Community cohesion, particularly amongst youngsters, is a much needed tool to strengthen today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies. Harmony is a word that is thrown about everywhere, yet very few people actually look to do something to bring communities together by allowing youngsters to interact with each other via healthy and creative outlets. Aik Saath – Together as One, is a charity that has been working to promote harmony between communities in an area like Slough, that is rich in its ethnic diversity.
The power of the written word is such that it can reach the hearts of readers irrespective of their ethnicity, working as a tool to bridge gaps and promote cohesion. With this goal in mind, I have hooked up with Aik Saath to design a Creative Writing Workshop for youngsters of the ethnic Diaspora, that will allow them to express themselves and their unique views in a positive and constructive manner, while at the same time opening them up to the views of others, to arrive at a mutual understanding and acceptance of various cultures and ethnicities.
Diversity in no way means discord, rather its like a spray of different colours, each as radiant as the other, that when splashed on a monotone wall, can create a painting that is mesmerising in its beauty.
I will post updates about the Workshop as soon as things have been finalised. Meanwhile, a big thanks to Aik Saath for their role of promoting harmony in the community, which has no doubt positively impacted the lives of many youngsters!