What are we
Winding way to passport
It’s time the government opened passport offices in other districts of the province as well, to facilitate the people there. Passport seekers share their ordeals with The News on Sunday
By Muhammad Imran
Despite change in the political environment people’s problems stay as such. They are facing the same administrative problems as they were in the tenure of the previous government. They have to get through a long process to prove their identity — being Pakistani. Whether they try to get their national identity card or passport to go abroad or to perform Umrah or Haj, they have to wait for hours on end outside the Nadra (National Data and Registration Authority) office or Passport building.
Sometimes they have to pay twice for this, even though they do not get their passport on time. Such delaying tactics make them angry. It has been happening in the passport office at Abbott Road since long. People tell us their problems while the administration negates these blames by giving a number of arguments.
The passport seekers criticise the lengthy process, role of agents, violation of deadline and refusal to issue passport on odd grounds, which creates hurdles in the way of the people to go abroad for any purpose. On the other hand, the passport and immigration authorities examine these allegations against the ground realities. They say people just want it but we have to follow the instructions of the Interior Ministry. After 9/11, we have to take more care while scrutinising passport data.
A person at the passport office says, “I am coming here for the last three days. On the first day, I only succeeded in submitting my fee and the people told me I was lucky to get the token the next day because tokens are issued till one O’Clock only. I have to travel 80 miles daily to reach here. It costs me a 1000 bucks daily,” says Atif Javid Virk, a resident of Narang Mandi.
“Before that, they rejected my National Identity Card on the basis of old photo which I have replaced with new one now .I had to wait for twenty days to get my modified National Identity Card. I have to travel to Dubai with my family and we have been delayed by at least a month,” he says.
Another person, Nasreen Bibi who had been to the passport office twice before this visit on which I happened to meet her, said: “I am here to get my passport which I had to receive seven days ago and this is my third visit only for this purpose. I come from Shiekhupura, leaving my other work. That has been ridiculous; they are saying my passport is still not ready for issuance,” 35 years old Nasreen BiBi tells me about the problem she is facing in getting her passport. “I have tried to contact the authorities on phone but they never responded to me properly. Either no one picks up the phone or they say they do not know what is going on with my passport,” she goes on to say.
Another passport seeker, baffled by the long queue at the counters, gave in to the offer of a person outside the passport building. He said he would help him get his passport much earlier than if he relied on the usual, routine proceedure. Tahir Ismail says, “I was told to pay just nine hundred rupees more than the usual fee. He told me I had to trust him or it will take two or three days to submit my passport data and he was absolutely right. Today, it is my 2nd day and only one and a hour has been left in the closure of token counter while more than 30 people are ahead of me in the queue.” Another person gave three thousand rupees to an agent and he submitted his data in an hour, Tahir tells me the sorry state of affairs at the passport office.
An agent tells the inside story at the passport office, that all the employees of the office are not involved in this malfunctioning “but we have contacts here. Sometimes the authorities do not cooperate, then we have alternative ways to it. In such cases, we make a place in the token counter row and give that place to our customers. We get almost seven to nine hundred rupees extra. Nowadays, the authorities have restricted our activities inside the passport building, still we can handle four-five cases daily”.
Muhammad Iqbal, Assistant Director Passport and Immigration, says, “We have our own administrative problems and people cannot understand it generally. They just criticise whenever they find a minute problem. On the other hand we cannot make all the people happy. Last month the delay in the delivery of passports was due to technical fault in our head system in Islamabad and that problem was solved amicably on priority basis. Now the people are getting passports on given dates. Actually, we give them twelve days for regular and five days for urgent passport but people count even off days in their twelve days deadline. So if people think that is violation of the deadline that is not true assessment.
While the issue of overburdening of the Abbott Road office has been sorted out by establishing its two new branches in Sahiwal and Garden Town, Lahore, this can be further facilitated by establishing district passport offices. “If the people come in large number daily it is difficult to treat all of them. We can only handle around four hundred people in a day except on Fridays,” he says.
“We cannot stop people from getting trapped in the net of agents. I take notice if I find any complaint in this regard but that is the responsibility of the people as well to follow the proper way than to give money to agents. I have noticed that the passport office is overcrowded only in the season of Umrah and Haj, otherwise it works smoothly,” he further substantiates his point.
It was the night between July 31 and Aug 1 when I had an unusual dream. I dreamt of Quaid-e-Azam who looked quite depressed. I asked him why he looked so sad. He said: “I have just been to a strange country where the most corrupt and dishonest people who have plundered the national assets are forgiven and poor people who have borrowed small amounts of money from the banks and cannot return due to some constraints are being harassed. Their houses are raided. Many are committing suicide because of financial problems.
“I ran off and reached a place where some lawyers, protesting and demanding the rule of law and restoration of unlawfully-removed judges, were being hit with sticks and guns. I saw a group of people in police uniform pushing a man; some dragged him by his coat while others pulled at his hair. I found out he was the chief justice of that unfortunate country. All this baffled me so much that I ran away.
“I stopped at one place to catch my breath. An ambulance escorted by police vans crossed my way. I discovered that a scientist who had made this country an atomic power and was kept in solitary confinement was being taken to the hospital. I decided that I must leave this country as soon as possible.”
I could not help whispering to the Quaid, “But that was your dreamland, your own Pakistan.” Hearing this, he quietly turned back and disappeared.
I woke up a little disturbed. I switched on the TV and noticed the green logos of Pakistani channels, countdowns, milli naghmas (patriotic songs) as it was the 1st of August. I was reminded of my childhood, when I had performed a tableau ‘Suraj kare salam, Chanda kare salam, Pyare Pakistan, Sab Tujh Pe Qurban,’ on Aug 14. Though not exatly familiar with the meaning of the song, I had showed great devotion and love for my country through my performance.
Now, a lot of independence day activities do not make sense to me. What are the reasons behind raising flags on roofs, cars and cycles? Is it only entertainment starvation or something more? Why do our national channel shows us parades and addresses of leaders to the public on August 14? Why are they doing such mock activities when they do not value them from their hearts?
The patriotic songs and Independence Day programmes sound good but the reality is that many of us do not want to live in this country. We want to escape to Europe, America, Gulf, wherever. It is quite confusing as to what side reflects us more truly. Shall we look up to the persons who sing patriotic songs, who raise flags on Independence Day or should we consider those aspiring to go abroad to earn handsome money at all costs as the real Pakistanis?
I am not sure if those who come out in hordes on the 14th of Aug — to do stunts on motorbikes or just indulge in eveteasing — celebrate the country’s independence day or only their own freedom from any moral obligation, whatsoever? We are just trying to lie to ourselves by celebrating Independence Day in such a hypocritical way.
Will it not be a better idea to celebrate our independence by knowing our achievements of the last year and setting targets and goals for the coming year?
I don’t want to be labelled an ‘enemy of the state’ by talking against the celebrations, at this time of the year. We should just raise flags, send patriotic messages and listen to some national songs (many of us will be pushed to watch the Indian channels to escape the independence fever), a befitting way to spend this holiday. Only those who do this would be considered true Pakistanis. So come on! Let’s sing a song for Pakistan:
Suraj kare salaam
Chanda kare salaam
Sab tujh pe qurban
Allah baat banae rakhe
Tu hum sab ka man
• Pakistani film is shown at Alhamra, Hall III, The Mall every Thursday at 8pm.
• Puppet Show at Alhamra, The Mall every Sunday at 11am.
• Talent Hunt Show (singing) every Saturday at 7pm
at Alhamra, The Mall.
• Panjabi Sangat is a weekly gathering every Friday and Sunday at Najam Hussain Sayed’s house at 7pm where Punjabi classical poetry is read, interpreted and sung. The Sangat has been going on for the last 30-40 years. Any person who chooses to visit the Sangat can freely and actively participate in the above mentioned activities.
• Each Thursday there is a music and dance performance at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal. The music usually starts around 11 O’clock upstairs with Gonga and Mitou Saeen (picture) and “round midnight downstairs with the performance of Pappoo Saeen and Joora Saeen. The dancing usually takes place around 1:30 am.
• Sufi Night every Thursday at Peeru’s Cafe at 9pm.
• Ghazal Night every Friday at the theatre adjacent to the Peeru’s cafe
• Jazz Night with Jazz Moods every Saturday at Peeru’s Cafe at 9pm. Rock music sessions on alternative weekends where underground rock music band perform live.
• Qawwali Night every
Friday at Alhamra, The Mall at 7pm.
Looking at any one for long makes that
person feel uncomfortable but when men ogle at women on street it simply
amounts to harassment
By Amara Ahmed
On visiting the west one will notice that the person nearby will have absolutely no curiosity or interest in you but in Pakistan people take abundant interest in you on the street. Almost all the women in Pakistan are aware of the fact that men ogle or stare. We know instinctively that the act is sexual in nature.
Staring and its sexual connotation have a background in evolution. To raise a family, men have to find the prettiest one while the woman has to attract the most productive male. This would mean that men are instinctively on the watch-out, though evidence forces one to believe that staring has little to do with instinct because many million men in China, Europe and USA are not staring at women. They might notice a woman, but not stare, even if they have to pick their own wife. And in cultures like Pakistan, men on the street are not staring at women to pick a wife. It is usually their mother who will pick one for them i.e these cultures have arranged marriages. In the modern era, there is hardly any instinct that has not been diluted by civilisation. For example hunger is innate but the choice of McDonald’s and KFC isn’t.
One perplexing question is, why do men stare? One common theory is that there is a lot of sexual frustration in Pakistan. But many of the gaping men are married. And in this age of cable TV, Bollywood and Internet, one cannot conclude that men are not getting sufficient contact with, or coverage of women. Most higher education institutes, offices and public places have women now. They might not get to interact with them, but this still doesn’t mean they start staring. Plus with the divorce rates and bachelor population soaring high, west should have more staring men than Pakistan.
Another theory is that women display themselves by fashion and ornamentation, technically seeking attention. Women might desire attention from men but not every time and unwanted attention is harassment, just like forced sex is rape. Even the least dressed-up woman like a housemaid or labourer is stared at. Women are much more fashionable in the west and not ogled at. Thirdly, why would a man stalk women exhibited on the streets when he has all the TV models on earth to watch?
One of the sources is the sheer lack of entertainment in Pakistan. There are very few sports, books, cinemas and leisure time activities for men, as compared to the west. The lack of employment forces idle men to the streets. A common slang for this activity is ‘poondi’.
Even if there is ample entertainment and employment, staring might still persist but the occurrence will decrease. It requires some social reform.
Staring might simply be a bad habit that men in our society have. There is not much negative reinforcement to change it. No legal repercussions or even reproach from the society.
My ideal solution would be to legally prohibit staring, as a form of sexual harassment and privacy invasion. Yet in a country like Pakistan, with its complicated, overwhelmed and protracted legal system, this solution is far-fetched.
A deeper concern is that men don’t perceive women as sensitive and essential beings. Not many forums speak on women’s behalf, few mothers and sisters inform their sons and brothers about their womanly problems. How many women can confide it to their family when sexually harassed? Very little empathy is required to cut down such a habit, yet so few men possess it. Not many mothers include the simple notion in their careful training that staring is uncouth and avoiding it is not fatal. Every staring boy is the failure of a mother to inscribe a three dimensional woman on his mind.
The irony lies in the fact that almost no man in Pakistan wants his family women to be stared at. There can be brawls and fights over this. They can refuse to take their sisters out on Chaand Raat because of the risk. Yet many of them would do the same to other women, someone else’s family, probably because there are no ties of honour with a strange woman.
Women are complete entities and our men need to learn that. Mothers can discuss the issues they face on the street and ensure that their sons know the difference between a glance and a painfully lengthy gape. Friends, teachers, and aunts — everyone can contribute. Simply inform the men on the dinner table, how excruciating it is, inquire frankly if they stare on the streets. And they might be sensitised over time.
A sad reality is that women have been conditioned to overlook this sort of thing. One day while shopping with friends, one of my friends reprimanded a gawking man. Shockingly, on returning home, many of her friends made fun of her, saying it wasn’t that big a deal after all. Perhaps they prefer the convenience of silence, rather then the reward of a struggle. Also it might be a stereotypical role, men staring and women avoiding or shying away, a more ‘feminine’ reaction than anger.
Women endorse staring by their indifference, probably thinking that there are too many staring men for them to handle. Most think taking an action, showing anger, verbally stopping or even creating a scene impractical, though it isn’t. Each time a man gets away after harassing a woman on the street, it is positive reinforcement. If reproached even once, trust me he will be taken off guard. Next time he will think twice before going on a staring venture. No man can afford to attack you in a public place. The moment a woman shouts, people know the business and are likelier to support women. By ignoring, you virtually approve the action. Don’t be a party to it.
Staring is common knowledge but it’s not talked about, frequently. Why can’t we put up posters at public places disapproving it? And teach our boys at schools about the negativity surrounding staring? Why not politely tell strangers to look away?
Ironically Muslim men are not allowed to look at women intentionally. There are no religious sanctions for such behaviour, and almost all such forums actually discourage men from staring. Yet, when we listen to almost all of our religious experts and ulema, on TV, or any other media, we will only hear them discuss issues such as obscenity and the ‘bad effects’ of modernity, no one seems to ever have anything to say about men in our supposedly ‘traditional’ society staring at women; or even going one step further, to indulge in what is called ‘Eve teasing’ in Pakistan.
In the modern age when the men in the west are discovering the space and exploring the DNA, men in Pakistan are, sadly enough, still eyeing the women passing by.
Staring as an issue has its roots in the society, which needs to find extra entertainment, employment and remove its duality so that men and women can live and walk on the streets in peace, towards a more productive and enlightened future. Certainly, this problem needs to be confronted and studied and discussed in much more detail by the enlightened sections of society.