RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S
Together for common good
Emergence of students' organisation in the Punjab University free from political party tag is a new thing
By Aoun Sahi
Imposition of emergency on November 3, 2007 in Pakistan was meant to curb the judiciary and basic human rights of people but its results were contrary to what was expected. In most parts of the country it provided people an opportunity to speak against the odds. Punjab University is one good example where after November 3, 2007 students who did not have affiliation with a political party started staging protests against the tyrannical steps of state on their own.
The students of different departments of the university started arranging protests separately. "The purpose of all those protests was the same and majority of the students were taking part in such activities for the first time because university administration and a religious student organisation did not allow students to participate in such activities," says Chaudhry Ahsan, a student of Institute of Administrative Sciences, Punjab University.
He with the help of his university friends arranged five such protests in the university premises. "We knew that many other like-minded students from different departments were also staging such protests. But we had not contacted each other until the day Imran Khan announced that he would appear in the Punjab University on November 14 and lead a rally of students against November 3 actions."
He sees Imran's announcement as a turning point for student politics in Punjab University. "Students were clearly divided into two groups -- one wanted to welcome Imran in a big way while the other (a religious student organisation which claims university its stronghold) was not ready to allow Imran to show his strength in Punjab University. All those students who were staging protests against emergency separately had decided to welcome Imran and for the first time they started staging collective protests of students from different departments. It was not acceptable for the religious student organisation which had been exploiting university students for three decades. They started threatening the students who wanted to welcome Imran, of dire consequences. That forced us to think about having an organisation to counter such pressure and what happened on November 14 with Imran Khan really triggered our thinking that without having an organisation we could not counter them," he says. After the disgracing incident of November 14 students really felt ashamed and started looking towards Imran Khan for next line of action "but his behaviour was disappointing for us. He forgave the students involved in thrashing him and did not realise the ground realities in the Punjab University. Now we could not back out because we had decided to fight against the inertia created in Punjab University by some student elements," he says.
On November 26, a meeting of around 30 like-minded students were called by Aamir Jalal, a PhD scholar in School of Biological Sciences, Punjab University, who played a very important role in activating students in the varsity against the imposition of emergency. "All the students wanted to have a platform of their own in which they would be decision makers. The meeting ended at the point that like-minded students of different departments will remain in close contact and will decide on every issue with consultation. The students in that meeting also took oath that they will remain united to fight all odds in the university," Aamir tells TNS that after that everybody got busy in elections.
After the elections the new prime minister lifted ban on student politics. On April 8, 2008 around 100 like-minded students met once again in University Law College and after a discussion of more than three hours they decided to form a new student organisation -- University Student Federation (USF). "We decided to remain non-partisan and non-violent. USF represents students, is led by students, for their betterment and liberty in Punjab University," Aamir tells TNS. "Formation of a non-partisan student organisation was a collective decision of all the students and it was based on our past experiences. Majority of the students believe that political parties use students for their interests and do not care for their issues and problems," he explains the reason for launching a non-partisan student organisation.
It was really a new idea to launch a non-partisan and non-violent organisation in a varsity where you will have to counter one of the most violent student organisations which also has a much organised political party at its back. "We know the ground realities but our sole purpose is to change the violent and anti-students culture of Punjab University. We know we will have to face and we are facing a lot of problems. Our members are being harassed and tortured, some of the active members of our organisation are being shifted from relatively peaceful hostels to the hostels strong hold of our opponent student organisation," Chaudhry Ahsan, who has been appointed as spokesperson of USF, tells TNS.
The manifesto of USF was made by a ten member committee in its first meeting. Each and every point of the manifesto was debated thoroughly by all the members and appropriate changes were made. "Funding was a real challenge for them. We decided not to ask for any assistance from outside and requested all our members for funds. On the very first meeting we succeeded to collect Rs 12,000," he says.
According to Ahsan, USF is the fastest growing political organisation in Punjab University. It participated actively in the long march in June. In May it organised a peace rally in the university in which more than 700 students took part. So far more than 1,000 university students have become members of this new party. The other students organisation has been operating solely in the university since three decades. "They should understand that students want to get rid of them. They want change that would help in their growth and grooming as university students."
According to Aamir Jalal, member central committee USF, the University of Punjab has been changed into a madrassa. "Our mission is to change 'Jamia Punjab' into 'University of the Punjab' and I hope we will do it. We are working on our constitution. USF has already done a thorough survey of all departments of the university. We have prepared primary report in this regard and final report will be ready by next year. The report will be a document of students' problems in different departments and their solution. We hope that university administration will take it seriously because the report is being prepared with the consolidated efforts of students of the university. We are providing girl students equal opportunity in USF and they are even more important than boys studying here because right now they make 60 per cent of regular Punjab University students. We have girl students in our central committee and they are invited to all meetings of USF," he says.
Ishrat Aziz, a university student pins her hope on USF for change. "It is the first ever student organisation where students have been given the authority to make decisions and that is why I have joined this organisation. I have been involved in all kinds of activities of USF. Many girl students are interested in becoming its members but they still have their reservations based on their past experience and are not ready to believe that USF will not play in the hands of some political party and work solely for students. We are working hard and I believe we will be able to make them realise our importance," she hopes.
Ishrat says another good thing about USF is that its top level leadership consists of students who are academically sound. "Our convener Nauman Aqil is also among the most brilliant students of his class and that is the case with almost all other people. It is the only student organisation which includes PhD scholars among its members who are working just like other students. We want to show students that politics does not mean no-education but politics means welfare of students," she concludes.
A nation's addiction
By Sidra Tufail
In Pakistan summers are ruthless, a true test of ones endurance characterized by the scorching heat, excessive humidity and the merciless sun. Yet there's one more thing without which summer is considered practically incomplete; the timeless emblem of summers, the king of fruit itself -- mangos.
Temperatures may be escalating yet people do not acknowledge that summer is finally here until the ripe golden fruit is finally seen on the many fruit stalls scattered on the sides of the roads.
It is a bit remarkable how an entire nation is united in its love for mangoes. We can't agree on politics, religion or anything in between, yet we all manage to concur on the indisputable verity that mangoes rule summers. Come summers and guests arrive bearing crates of mangoes or fancy fruit baskets filled with mangoes instead of the customary cakes and mithais. In recent years it has even become possible to send mangoes to any major city in the country as well as abroad through courier services. Due to this people are prepared to pay twice, sometimes thrice the usual amount just so they can have a crate delivered right at their doorstep.
Fruit is one of the few commodities that is amply available in our local markets, which is why it is priced cheaply. We are the fortunate lot as prices for mangoes in our country are peanuts compared to the rest of the world. Another astounding fact is the knowledge of this fruit that the common man possesses. Apparently the entire nation is full of self proclaimed experts on mangoes. The variety of mangoes grown in our country is amazing. Langra, Dussehri, Sindhri, Chaunsa, Anwar Ratol, and the list goes on and on. Our mangoes are among the best in the world in terms of quality as well as variety and are imported all across the world.
In this country it is considered virtually unacceptable that there might actually be someone who does not share their fondness for mangoes. I am one such outcast; I don't eat mangoes and I am and shall remain the small minority. I face a serious dilemma whenever I'm at someone's house. It is only after persistent urging to have just one slice that I confess I don't eat mangoes. I am met with stunned silence and frowning disapproval and am left sitting ashamed of myself amidst people greedily making their way into their third mango. Yet even my lack of love for this fruit cannot diminish my fascination for it. How can a single fruit capture the entire nation so entirely?
Over here the concept of eating mangoes is vastly divergent from other countries. No meal is considered complete without chilled mangoes being brought to the table and eaten with great relish, the meal eaten long forgotten. Mangoes are devoured in quantities that would shock a non local into speechlessness, whether it is in slices, cubes or simply sucking out the pulp from the small ones. And this continues for the entire summer until the spell of mangoes comes to an inopportune end.
In winters people mourn the mind numbing freezing temperatures, lack of sunlight and yes -- the absence of mangoes in our refrigerators. As winter approaches its end people are fervently waiting for summer to break through so that they can finally get their hands on their pet fruit. They seem to provide a minute respite; a brief refuge from the blistering heat in the never ending summers. Mangoes make summers in this country if not bearable then at least acceptable. After all if there was no summer there would be no mangoes. And god forbid if that ever happened! It would not be a gross exaggeration to declare that mangoes have become an integral facet of our culture; a strong icon representing the advent of summers for Pakistanis all over. Thus I can profess with no small amount of confidence that mangoes are and shall always remain our nation's addiction.
Miniature Group Show 'Four Sides' at Nairang Gallery till Tuesday, August 5. The gallery remains open from 11am-11pm. The artists are Fatima Gufran, Irfan Gull, Rabia Ahmed and Akbar Ali.
• International Seminar on 'Sustainable Building Design' on July 28-29. This seminar is organised to share experiences in sustainable building & environment design, construction & management to develop a knowledge base for education and technology exchange and to set up international network of all concerned. Organised by Sustainable Design Programme, National College of Arts, Lahore & Edge Hill University, Lancashire UK.
• 20km Cycle Race will start at 7am today on ordinary cycles at Model Town Circuit from gate of Divisional Public School and will terminate at the same spot. The race cyclists who intend to take part in the race should register their names or their clubs with secretary Lahore District Cycling Association on the day of the race. The winners will be awarded prizes.
• 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 participate in the above mentioned activities.
Towards greener pastures
Lack of opportunities, terror and inflation is driving the best of talent away from the country
By Haniya Ali
A few years ago Dr. Abbas Mustapha packed his bags and decided to go back home. Home was Pakistan. "A good job, worthy of my qualification was what I was asking for?" recalls Mustapha. Instead, what he received was a not-so-pleasant welcome from the medical community in his hometown. "There was and probably still is this hegemony of sorts. It's impossible for budding specialists to climb their way up." This is what Mustapha remembers of his brief stay. He is now a successful cardiologist in London. Back in the past many of us would have shrugged our shoulders thinking the man's luck didn't work. But we see cases like this more often now and have a name for them. We call them the growing phenomenon of brain drain.
This cause for concern may well be defined as the rapid exit of talent and potential from our country. Trying to explore reasons for this drain doesn't take Einstein's powers. People in Pakistan maybe divided into two categories; those who choose to leave and those who are forced to leave. According to Mrs. Ali, an educationist, "with disturbing law and order situation, a crumbling economy and an ill-patched domestic framework the youth of Pakistan has all arrows pointing towards the exit door."
Dr. Nosheen Khan, head of the English Literature department at Government College University felt there is immense talent in Pakistan but many students and professionals are going abroad because of lack of opportunities. Dr Khan, a graduate from England, however, chose to come back. "I have family here and a job that keeps me happy." Encouraging though the comment was, unfortunately, not many are as lucky.
"I don't want to leave but I don't have any other choice. I can't watch my family waste away," explains engineer Ismail Ghani as he waits for his Canadian immigration. Ghani is an electrical engineer forced to work as a low grade technician at a government office. He is one of those who feel that technical education has not been nurtured in Pakistan. "There is gross lack of concern when it comes to building engineering universities and the research sector has suffered immensely," he says. According to Khurram Ihsan, an architect moving to Australia, "It is not easy to pack up my life and leave. But with the bombs going off, I worry about my children's safety."
If not security, graduates worry about the lack of job opportunities available to them. While many private companies have established themselves in Pakistan many more have been 'infected with nepotism', says Adnan Yawar. "It doesn't matter if I have a professional degree. I don't have the 'right contacts' to get a job," explains Amarah Khalid, a fresh graduate from FAST. With education becoming increasingly competitive it is no surprise that the graduates find the employment market frustrating and discouraging. Both Adnan and Amarah have applied abroad hoping that their knowledge of telecommunications will get them its due worth. "I want to help my country but I'm not being given the chance," asserts Adnan.
A few years ago it would have been easy to criticise people for leaving their country. It would have been easy to ignore the situation by passing a judgment on their patriotism and nationalism, not anymore. "It's about survival," says Abid Taqi, father of two girls studying in America. "How do I placate my children if the system does not cater to their needs?" If the drain is blocked we need to deal with the problem upfront.
The state must provide its citizens with opportunities to explore their talents; and if opportunities are to be given then 'incentives' need to be provided on all levels. Saira Malik, a mother of two and a teacher herself, feels that huge investment needs to be made in the education sector. "There are only six credible universities in Pakistan which cannot cater to the growing percentage of deserving students." Those who are unable to get admissions despite talent, choose to study elsewhere.
"It is easy for those who have money to study abroad but many of us need huge funding which our parents cannot provide," says Mehreen Sattar as she fills out a scholarship form.
In these times it should not come as a surprise when people like Ihsan, Ghani and Dr. Mustapha choose to permanently settle aboard. However, there are those who feel they can never adjust to life elsewhere. "I can't even imagine going away," says Zahra Barlas. Working with a private NGO she considers life abroad as an escape. "Those who have the ability to make a difference and change the system choose to run away form it." Though there were not many who shared Zahra's zest, there were many who agreed with her. Saira Malik desperately wants to leave but it is her daughter Maheen who holds her back. "She's an idealist. She says she'll never leave her country," laughs Saira.
Pakistan is holding onto these idealists but for long term solutions we need pragmatic policy makers at the helm of affairs. Countries are not recognised on the world map as mere geographical boundaries. They are known by the human potential that propels them forward. Right to life is the fundamental entitlement of every human being. When dearth of opportunities, terror and inflation shackle this basic right then nothing can stop our future from draining through our fingers.
RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S
Ways to get out of depression
1. listen to peppy music
2. talk to friends
5. seek company
6. watch funny movie
7. go on long drive
8. eat a lot
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