Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Organ trade and poor laborers in Pakistan

I did this story back in 2006 for BBC. Given the apathy of rulers, situation has not changed much. Thought you might like to read and even relate it to the situation on ground.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cotton Picker -- a profile


Cotton is the main cash crop of Pakistan but poor laborer women earning their livelihood as seasonal field workers in cotton fields are becoming poorer because of ignorance, haplessness, systematic exploitation and absence of political will to protect them.

Profile of a cotton picker

Sharifan Mai, 70, who works as housemaid in a village on the outskirts of Punjab’s cotton district Multan, looks back at her life indifferently.
Draped in sweat-soaked and fade-coloured clothes, Mai started picking cotton in her childhood. "I started going for cotton picking with my mother and other women of the village when I was a child."
Mai used to pick cotton (phutti) on different terms. She laboured in cotton fields for one-fifth part of her work as wage. "When I was young they (farmers) paid us one-twentieth of our picking."
However, Mai says phutti was never weighed. "Mostly some senior woman of farmer's family made 20 equal divisions on the phutti merely on her own assessment. We got one of those divisions as our labour."
Presently cotton pickers work for 60 to 80 rupees a day of picking cotton from dawn to dusk. "Present wage system is better," says Mai.
Born in Shujaabad, a tehsil headquarter in Multan district, she now lives in a village of tehsil Jahanian after marriage. Mother of five daughters and two sons, Mai's husband died eleven years ago. Or that is what she guesses. Time seems to be standing still for her.
"He died about 10 years ago. Or perhaps eleven. But I still feel as if he died yesterday. After he left, I had to double efforts to help my children grow."
Mai gets Rs500 a month for almost four hours of daily work in her master's house. She does dusting, floor washing, and bringing grocery from the market. She also kneads flour, bakes rotis in tanoor (traditional bread oven) and washes clothes of the family.
There is no weekly day off. She comes for work three times a day, which is for preparing three meals. She also performs other chores when she comes for preparing breakfast. "Zameendar (landlord) and his wife are kind. They let me go to doctor when I am sick," says Mai.
Mai's sons are married but they cannot help their mother. They are too poor to think of it. They do not live with their mother. "How they can help me? They hardly meet their families' needs."
It seems Mai has forgotten laughing. Even smiling. Her only interest left in life is her youngest daughter. "I wish my kaki (little girl) is married to some gentleman before I die," says Mai in a tired tone.
Mai and her daughter go for cotton picking, but she thinks it is less lucrative than working in houses as maids. For Mai working as housemaid assures her bread through out the year.
"At least it is permanent. We are sure that after a month we will get some thing. Besides, picking is not an easy job after all.
"One has to stand and work the whole day in cotton field. I am not strong enough now for this working."
With age, Mai has started feeling insecure. She fears sending her young daughter alone to the fields. "I am satisfied with her being at home."
On her life as a field labourer, Mai takes a deep sigh that expresses less relief and more remorse. "Listen son, this is our destination. Our fate. We had to do this; our children will have to do this."
Mai's wrinkled face speaks of hardships of life, but she thinks sufferings are inevitable. "This is part of life."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fighting terrorism the “Islamians’ way”

Terrorism has badly hit Pakistan in recent months; nevertheless, the educational institutions became a target of this frenzy, evoking fear and uncertainty among students, teachers and their families, quite recently. Moreover, though the troublemakers’ strategy of targeting educational institutions and sending fear signals is tantamount to targeting the ‘future’ and ‘hope’ of this nation of over 160 millions, the youth, despite fearing about ‘what can happen next’, have largely refused to give in.
Different educational institutions in Pakistan were closed for indefinite period in the mid of October following terrorism threats, especially to the schools run by defense-related organizations. Armed forces run various chains of educational institutions for the wards of their employees, from nursery to university level, which also admit children of civilian parents.
The worst fears however proved true on 20 October when two suicide bombers hit International Islamic University in the capital city Islamabad, killing over a dozen including 10 students. IIU ranks among largest national universities with around 20000 students from over 40 countries pursuing their studies.
“I thought the doomsday has approached,” Sidra, a seventh semester student of a graduate study program at the IIU told while recollecting her memories of the nightmarish day. All what Sidra can recall and tell about what happened on that fateful day in her alma mater includes stories of fear, anxiety and worries about the future. “Some girls thought perhaps they won’t ever be able to come back and finish their studies”.
The attack sent shivers down the spine of students, teachers and parents across the country. More schools were closed, security beefed up, and uncertainty widespread. All this proved to be a fertile ground for rumors’ growth. Discussions at homes, through text messages on cell phones, on social networking sites, and blogs and in person had varying colors, ranging from the condemnation of Taliban for the shameful act to the alleged connivance of spy agencies of India, Israel and the USA for sponsoring and staging disruptive activities to destabilize Pakistan.
A distinguished facet of this phase, however, was ‘keeping the hope alive’ by the youth who deluged their friends and acquaintances with text messages, a very popular means of communication in Pakistan, requesting prayers, expressing hope and pledging to defeat terrorism. Students also expressed their resolve through participating in talk shows on FM radio channels and conducting seminars.
Now when educational activities have resumed in different institutions after reopening under security checks, CCTV cameras’ vigilance, and through concrete barricades, rumors and hope are flourishing again – the latter better than the former, though.
Islamians, the way the IIU students like to be called, sound determined to ‘fight back’ and bring normalcy to their university. “No one should think that we have become frightened, IIU is our second home and we shall protect it like the brave Pervez Masih did”, said one Asadullah, an undergraduate student at IIU.
Pervez, a Christian by faith, has become the hero of Islamians. Pervez who got a sweeper’s job hardly a month before the attack saved the lives of dozens of girls by intercepting the suicide bomber near the entrance of the packed cafeteria. He died to give life to many. “Every student is putting share in a donation fund for sweeper uncle’, said Sidra. Gratefulness reflected her words and voice when she talked about the martyred hero.
Parents of the students, however, do complain about the ineptness of the government in handling the recent challenge to the educational community of the nation. ‘The government is not doing as much as it should have been’, said Ahsan, an IT professional and father of three. He thinks closing up the schools and confining the children to homes would only serve the purpose of troublemakers who want to spread fear and uncertainty.
Now that is something which Ms Robina Mahmood, a senior clinical psychologist at Mayo Hospital in Punjab’s Capital Lahore, is also concerned about. “Terrorism threats to schools cause uncertainty and induce anxiety and depression which may develop into phobias and compromise on children’s performance”. Ms Mahmood says we would be “total losers” if this continues and advocates serious intervention by the government to provide security and keep the educational institutions open.
Asima Khan, another psychotherapist at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Islamabad who has got specialized training in treating psychological problems of children and adolescents and Trauma Psychotherapy also thinks, “confinement is no solution”. Ms Khan stresses for serious efforts to tackle the problem that can “affect our youth, and future”.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Common Grounds?

While the humanity is suffering due to various conflicts in different parts of the world, parallel efforts are also underway to find 'common grounds' among confronting civilizations and communities. And while the idea of jumping on the bandwagon of conflict resolution has become quite popular, I am afraid this newfound love is not as much deep in hearts as widespread it is. I hold this not-much-optimistic opinion for certain reasons, most important of which I put here.

Foremost of all is the approach that is being employed while finding resolutions for the conflicts. Without paying due (and inevitable) attention to the roots of the conflicts, I fear, these efforts are just aimed at creating an impression that 'things are moving in the right direction. These efforts may or may not result in halting the ongoing conflicts temporarily or 'bringing down the temperatures' but are not likely to end the conflicts and find the real common grounds among the conflicting parties. These efforts, putting this debate concisely, suffer from being subjective instead of being objective.

Journalism Training

With increasing demand for information on the Internet, in print and/or on TV Screens, the aspect of journalists' training has come to limelight more than ever before. Quality of the content being published hugely, regardless the volume of the information or 'substance', has varying standards.

While it is eventually the readers who form a 'sifting mechanism' that decides as what is going to 'survive' the competition, journalists, for their own sake, need to focus more on enhancing their skills to survive this toughest competition out in the virtual world.