art of peeling the eyelids
The erstwhile dominant student group has apparently tightened its hold on the affairs of the Punjab University again
By Waqar Gillani
A dominant student group in University of the Punjab, has reportedly held a meeting with the shopkeepers, canteen and fruit shop owners in recent weeks and given them a rate list of things being sold in the campus. There are also instructions to close shops during prayers timings. The notification prominently bears the insignia of the group. (see photograph)
"You can do nothing without Islami Jamiat Talaba's (IJT) consent," says a shopkeeper Ahmed. "The administration is helpless."
The situation was different a year ago but the IJT has apparently tightened its hold on the affairs of the university. "A number of protests, rallies, agitations and incidents showing their forceful presence on the campus in the last couple of months are a proof. Now, they have literally taken over the book fair, sidelining the administration," says Rizwan, a student of Masters of Business Administration.
IJT also stopped a sports day event being held in the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) a couple of weeks back. "Some girls were playing cricket and boys of the department were watching the match. IJT, which stands for segregation of gender, announced that boys could not watch girls' sports because it was 'un-Islamic'," recalls Shoaib, a student.
"It is disappointing that IJT continues its hold on the book fair," says a senior faculty member of the university, requesting not to be named. "No other representative student group joined the VC and IJT nazim at the inaugural ribbon-cutting ceremony of the book fair."
Nazim PU chapter of IJT, Qaisar Sharif, tells TNS: "IJT has a history of more than five decades in this university and it cannot be stopped with artificial measures." He says IJT increased its activities with the hopes that students unions would be restored after prime Minister's maiden speech in the National Assembly in March 2008 but that has not happened so far. "Now our gatherings attract up to 3,000 students and this is enough to open the eyes of the university administration."
"There is no patch-up possible with the university administration until our 91 expelled and rusticated students are restored." He says even in the book fair 70 percent IJT members were selected on merit from their departments, so the varsity was left with no option but to join hands with IJT.
On the issue of controlling hostels, canteens and shops, IJT nazim says there is a need for a code of conduct. "Students had been complaining about the high rates and substandard eatables. This forced IJT to have a meeting with the shopkeepers and canteen contractors and ask them to improve their standard and reduce prices."
On the question of forced closure of shops during prayer time like Taliban, IJT nazim says, "We are not Taliban. We are different. There is no use of force. However, there is no harm in motivating and inviting people to offer prayers or advise them to act according to Islam. If they want to keep them open, they can as some of them do. The solution is to announce the election of student union and let the students' elected body exercise its right to work for the betterment and rights of students. To restore union will be in the larger interest of students."
PU registrar Prof Dr Muhammad Naeem Khan says, "We enforce our writ whenever we want. We want to be inclusive and welcome other organisations. However, nobody is permitted to impose their views."
The PU spokesperson and Public Relations Officer (PRO) Shabbir Sarwar, says, "IJT announced its own book fair from April 21 this year. The administration established its writ by giving equal opportunity to all groups of students in such activities by managing the book fair itself from April 22-25.
"The vice chancellor constituted eight different committees consisting of deans and senior teachers to nominate students on merit for these committees to assist the teachers. This way, students belonging to all groups have been provided equal opportunity in the management of PU Book Fair 2009. Only university administration's banners and posters were on display in the campus.
"The IJT is striving hard for restoration of its expelled activists and the administration has strictly refused to compromise on the issue. These students have to show good conduct and provide written assurance that they will keep away from illegal activities."
Sarwar says the PU has already done a lot to depoliticise the university environment and establish its writ. "It has taken many steps to wipe out politics from the campus like closing IJT offices, arranging the book fair itself and expelling troublemakers. The administration cannot wipe out students from the campus only for having affiliation with certain political parties."
Hasan Askari Rizvi, political analyst and former professor of Political Science of the Punjab University, says there are two major reasons for their stronghold in the varsity. "First, the people belonging to the dominant group are very much entrenched in faculty and administration, therefore there is no secrecy possible in decision-making. Secondly, the strongest weapon in the hands of students is their ability to disrupt civic life by staging protests and blocking roads etc.
"By doing so, they undermine the credibility of the university administration which needs to show its effective control under these circumstances but it compromises because it wants to deal with these things peacefully. Long term solution lies outside the university, with political will."
(Names of students and teachers have been withheld or changed)
We don't do hope here…
By Sarah Sikandar
Picture this. On my Facebook account the status lists of my friends abroad in the past few weeks were: "…is participating in Europe's sexiest vegetarian", "…is eating strawberry trifle at this", "…is going away for a weekend", "…is looking forward to the new semester." Now picture this: the status lists of my Pakistani friends were: "….is frustrated", "…is thinking, why us?", "...is wishing the situation gets better", "…is ashamed to look at ourselves", "…at least my facebook is up in arms against the Taliban."
As I was growing up I was told we are a great nation because we sacrificed a lot for our independence. The myth broke when I realised we aren't that great a nation for we lost half of it only 25 years later. Worse still, we are nothing close to being great because we couldn't even handle the part we were left with. I was told India is my only enemy, China my only friend and Sir Syed our only role model and martyrdom for Pakistan the only virtue left in the world. In real life, however, none of this worked.
My school and college days were spent convincing myself this country has immense potential and we, the "backbone of the country", can bring about a tornado of change. Nothing changed. I kept looking for the potential that I was convinced existed but found it only in the text books. I decided to wait a little more and started working, thinking I could only claim to have tried if I became a part of the system. The corruption, the disillusionment, the hypocrisy and the indifference broke the last of the myths.
Here I am. Two years after leaving college, convinced I am cursed and so are the millions of young people of this largest Muslim country in the world. I am convinced. If you ask me for arguments, I have none, for my experience speaks for itself. The past ten years, supposedly the 'best years' of my life, were lost to consistent security threats, disgustingly stale education and frustration under the guise of hope that things were changing for good. All that was happening while I was losing my friends to better education, better life and the prospects of a far better future abroad. They, in the meanwhile, were losing their connection with the place their parents called 'home'. As it comes now, they weren't the losers I thought they were.
My friends tell me I am a cynic. If we leave, they say, nothing would be left of this half-dead country. If we abandon it, we deprive ourselves of any future claims on it. Are you willing to give up this claim, they ask me. They ask me to nourish this half-dead body so that when it takes its last breath I say "I did my part, I tried!" But what happens after that? There will be more desperation, more anger and utter helplessness.
I can still hear myself asking my cousin only a few years ago why, after becoming a doctor, he is looking for a future in America and not Pakistan. "Because, unlike you, I am not eighteen." He is an American citizen now, working hard and making money and giving everything to his children that a child can dream of. The only difference is, while his children are promised safety and good life, our children are wondering if their schools would be where they left it yesterday or blown up by masked zombies. More than anything I feel sorry for them. As I sit here, blaming my parents for forcing me into this crippled system I ask myself, "Who would they blame?" No prizes for guessing.
The Taliban are heading towards Punjab, I am told. Pakistan will soon be declared a failed state; it will possibly be divided into various parts; we are on the verge of a civil war; the Americans will come and control our nukes.
Hope is not my concern, escape is.
Call me a coward, label me a traitor, convince me I am thankless but please don't expect me to live on like this. Let the khakis have it, let the turbans rule it, let the black coats defend it. It is their mess; let them clean it if they want to. Let them be.
My president goes to them for something to run his country for a few years. Let me go to them to run my life for a few years. Let those who say "Death to liberals" and "Death to secularists" celebrate their last victory. Let us not pretend things will change for good. Let us, for once, respect the word 'change', for it will not succumb to those who believe in only one way of life, those who will not take no for an answer, those who will insist they are right. Let them believe they are, for now.
- Exhibition at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall titled 'Current Artists'. The exhibition is on till April 30, Thursday.
- Celebrating A Year of Initiatives by Iqbal Academy Pakistan today at Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex at 7:30pm. It is the formal launch of Iqbal Academy Pakistan's exclusive media products.
- Seminar on Developing Gems & Jewellery Sector of Pakistan on Monday, April 27 at Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 10am to 5pm. The seminar is organised by LCCI.
- Conference: Energy Asia 2009 on Apr 28-29 at Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex. Issues to be discussed are energy technologies, products and services, investment and development of fast track energy - review of practices.
- Open Workshop on 'Theatrical Movement' at NCA on Wed, Apr 29 from 4:30-6:30pm in celebration of World Dance Day.
- 19th Pakistan International Education Exhibition today and tomorrow at Avari Hotel. The exhibition will open at 11am.
'Students are most welcome from Pakistan'
By Aoun Sahi
The News on Sunday: Recently, students from Pakistan were held on suspicion of possible terrorism. Will this affect prospective students from this region?
Tim Butchard: I think it's very important for British universities to have good flow of Pakistani students and of course we absolutely welcome Pakistani students. But there are people trying to get into Britain by enrolling in completely fake, bogus institutions. I blame the British for that. How is it possible that the institutions which are not recognised are bringing in people to the UK. The colleges don't exist, they don't offer classes, they just have an address. It is very important for the British to not issue visas to anyone applying for unrecognised institutions.
The British Council does a lot of work in recognising English Language teaching institutions. But it does not have a role across the board to recognise and accredit other institutions - the British government must do that. If people are with accredited institutions, there is no problem at all. But if they enrol in a university and they don't turn up for classes then the university has a responsibility to inform the authorities and the police. It's quite a reasonable thing to do.
TNS: What are the challenges for Pakistani students in the UK? Where do you think they lack or have to make major adjustments?
TB: These are cultural questions, not educational ones. As far as the Charles Wallace fellows are concerned they have to create their programmes in the UK, they must build their contact, find a host institution, it might be a university, a hospital or research institute. They have to make contact and then organise their programme. We just fund them for a specific period of time for their studies in the UK. Success of the visit to the UK depends very much on their personality. Some people are very proactive, they go out, make phone calls and see people while others sit in a library and are quite passive and reflective - and I think that the most successful people are those who have sufficient self-confidence and personality to really get out and meet people.
The challenge is having enough self-confidence to make contacts with people, to be clear about what they want to do. And of course these students are not about Pakistanis coming to Britain to learn. It's also about Pakistanis coming to Britain to teach as well and to build connections and hopefully to lead to further interchange, may be with a university, may be with an art school. We have many visiting artists coming under this programme.
TNS: From which disciplines do you receive the most applicants?
TB: I don't do all the short listing. This is done by the British Council who are our partners in Pakistan. We receive a large number of fellowship requests for sciences, business studies and public services. We do not give fellowships in the physical sciences.
TNS: Why not in the sciences?
TB: I think because there are more connections and scholarships in the physical sciences, compared to social sciences. We are trying to fill the gap. I am keen to get more artists, musicians and writers including journalists to go to the UK. The problem is creating a programme for them which is affordable.
Some of the fellowships are actually hosted by British institutions on a recurrent basis. SOAS and the University of London have one of our fellowships, so do Queen Elizabeth University and Oxford University. Oxford, for instance, offers one fellowship every year and they invite Pakistanis who are senior in the field of international relations, politics, strategic studies, defence studies and such areas. At a different level we have a fellowship offered by the Prince's School of Traditional Arts, set up by Prince Charles in London. They have a link with the National College of Arts. Every year somebody from NCA goes to London under Charles Wallace fellowship to spend two or three months at the Prince's school.
TNS: What do the artists do there?
TB: They try to diversify their field. If they are very skilled in ceramics they might learn some allied field, maybe other forms of design or technical drawing to help them in their traditional work. We have link with Vasl, a contemporary art organisation in Karachi and Lahore. One contemporary artist goes to Gatwick Art Centre in London every year.
TNS: Does everybody take the same school certificate exam in the UK?
TB: Yes, we do but we have a different problem in the UK. We have a lot of private schools, lot of fee-paying schools and these schools are generally of a higher quality than the state schools.
TNS: But they do take the same exam?
TB: Yes, they all take the same exam. But an interesting thing is happening now. Across the board there is much higher performance by the teenagers trying to get to universities. The result is, it becomes very hard for the universities to make their choices. This is raising their entrance qualifications higher and higher. A large number of the universities receive the very best A level results. It's very difficult for the universities and they can't interview everyone and if they do interview each and every student, the ones in private schools do better - because they come from more sophisticated backgrounds. That's not a fair way of doing it. This is a big issue in Britain at the moment.
The British government targets that 50 pc of its students should be able to go to universities. In my view it's too high.
TNS: What is the importance of uniform education system?
TB: The advantage is equal opportunity. If that is missing the education system is a disgrace. It's easy to talk about the quality of education, less easy to deliver. In free society you have rich people who can buy high quality education. There are schools which can pay higher salaries and get the best teachers and the students have an unfair advantage.
TNS: Doesn't that lead to an unjust society?
TB: It does lead to an unjust society. But the way to remedy that is to raise the quality of state schools, not to abolish high quality private schools.
TNS: What is the most important element of primary education?
TB: The early years of a child's life are incredibly important so primary school teachers above all need special skills. I think that's an absolute key to developing an education system having good, well-trained primary school teachers.
TNS: You said you were heading British Volunteer Programme. What is that?
TB: That's an organisation in Britain called VSO which is voluntary service overseas. In fact there are some people from VSO here in Lahore at the moment with the British Council. VSO is a British volunteer programme around the world. In the early days people were not fully trained. They had only first degree and they went out to India and Africa to teach in primary schools. Now the British volunteers are all qualified and experienced. They might be much older, in their 30s, sometimes in 40s or 50s and some are retired people and they take their skills around the world, they are not paid, they get a basic local salary and are given basic accommodation and they serve for two years. It's a very successful programme and the point about it is that it helps British people to sink internationally. We don't deceive ourselves that we are developed in the world, its important that the people who go, get the experience of the world and take that back to Britain so you can say it is helping Britain as much as it is helping the other countries. And that is one of the purposes of the British Council. It's not just to present Britain to the world, it's as much to present the world to Britain.
TNS: What do you think about Pakistan?
TB: Pakistan in the British news is just problems and our perception is that Tabilans are poised to invade even the biggest cities in Pakistan. That the country is melting down and there is great fear. I see this is not true. I can see a huge, quite successful middle class in Pakistan. I am sure they are never going to allow that to happen.
The first exhibition of a photographer shows the arrival of a major talent and augurs many such future events
By Saeed Ur Rehman
You enter the exhibition hall of Ejaz Gallery to see "First Light" and the first impression is of profound silence and awe. The pictures are huge, some as big as five feet by four, and all are depicting sombre early morning scenes. The hawkers, peddlers, donkey-cart and tonga drivers, people selling animals for their butcher shops, milkmen leaving to distribute their merchandise, and women and children huddled around a stove made of clay bricks are all captured in that liminal moment before the horizon breaks open with the intense orange glow.
Azhar Sheikh has been photographing the early morning scenes for last twenty-five years and this is his first exhibition at 46. And "First Light" is also the first photographic exhibition at Ejaz Gallery. I ask him when and why he started photographing the early morning eeriness. He says he grew up in Lahore and there were always a lot of things to do before going to school, such as fetching milk for the entire family from the milkman's shop and doing the daily errands. Walking in the streets of Lahore in those silent hours stayed with him. In 1984 or 1985, he started walking around with a camera in the ethereal fog of the winter mornings. It began with black and white scenes of the life waking up and beginning its daily trudge and slowly went through the trajectory of colour, and digital imaging.
He first thought of exhibiting his photos, he says, when he put them up on his facebook profile and people started commenting. He observed a strange phenomenon. People were not commenting the way they usually do on any social networking site but were writing descriptive and narrative sketches inspired by the pictures. Under some pictures, there were collaborative stories being developed by total strangers from all over the world. One man, from Canada, looked at one picture, of an old man pushing a cart in the early morning dusty light, and he started comparing with the images of the homeless in Canada, especially of a footpath-dwelling, old man pushing his own oxygen cylinder and mask on a trolley. All the stories and comments on facebook were enough to encourage him to exhibit. As the exhibition opened, people started pouring in. Soon the virtual reality was a social reality. The gallery was jam-packed.
Despite the grim depictions of the urban underbelly, there is something life-affirming about the pictures. The daily grind of the most vulnerable people of the society shows no mercy, no sentimentality and no relief. That is it. Life must be lived. No solace guaranteed. There are no satori moments for the man pushing a pile of second-hand clothes on a cart in a shuttered-down bazaar. And that is what Azhar Skeikh has shown. No exoticisation of the subaltern will do. No patronising smarminess. Nothing. These are unsentimental, unflinching and in-your-face pictures. Take them or leave them. Your choice. And many people have bought them for the glistening walls of their drawing rooms. The charade goes on. Perhaps Azhar Sheikh will also, one day, turn his camera on those who consume the scenes of misery in chic lounges, sipping their bloody maries and pina coladas. That is the comment I want to leave on his facebook to suggest a topic for his next exhibition.