A forced tax
Entry fee on all commercial vehicles overburdens the rickshaw drivers the most as if Model Town is the only society that maintains roads
By Waqar Gillani
Entering Model Town Society is not easy these days. A bunch of young clumsily-dressed boys signal rickshaws, buses and other commercial vehicles to stop by waving red flags… Some vehicles manage to escape, others fall prey to these young attackers. Their plea: pay the price to enter into the society.
The Model Town Society (MTS) Management Committee recently imposed an entry fee to collect revenue for the upkeep of the MTS roads. "We have the power to impose any tax or fee; if approved by the Management Committee," MTS President Colonel (retd) Tahir Kardar tells TNS. "The newly-imposed fee is only for commercial vehicles."
MTS is the oldest cooperative housing society in Lahore and has maintained a track record of imposing such fees off and on. This time around, MTS is charging rickshaws Rs5 per entry and trucks and heavy trolleys Rs100.
This has irked MTS residents who rely on public transport for commuting. Sonia, a private company employee, used to commute between Model Town and Gulberg daily in a rickshaw. But now, since the rickshaw walas are trying to avoid the Rs 5 tax, her travel to and from work has become a nuisance.
"In desperation I often suggest to the rickshaw walas to take the alternate route," she says.
Forty-eight-year-old rickshaw driver Allah Ditta has been carrying passengers to and from Model Town for "the last decade at least," he recalls. "I enter and exit MTS 10 or more times every day. When added, I end up paying Rs50-60 daily. Now that's not a small amount for a poor man like me." He informs that some of the rickshaw drivers rent the rickshaws from companies providing the service. "For them this amount is even more unaffordable."
Thirty-seven-year old Saifuallah says, "When this tax was imposed we resisted and protested for first two days. But now we are losing strength and unity." Kardar claims that the rickshaw walas are issued a monthly pass worth Rs150 "which comes to Rs 5 a day, not more."
However, the square white receipt issued by the contractors at the checkposts states clearly that the rickshaws and other commercial vehicles must pay the required amount at every entry and exit. "We have paid MTS Rs 12.1m for a year-long contract, after proper procedure and tender notice, and we do not want to go in loss," Shakeel Ahmed, the contractor of this road maintenance fee tells TNS. "The tax is meant for commercial vehicles and for every entry. However, the decision to charge the rickshaw walas operating within the society is yet to be taken."
Roughly, more than 250 rickshaws are operating in the society. A large number of rickshaws enter and exit the society from other parts of the city. The Model Town Society has 26 entry points; out of which 22 entry/exit points are closed at night for security purposes. The population of MTS, the oldest housing society of the city, "has gone up to more than 100,000 and the number of members is 4,500 while the total number of houses is around 6,500," informs Kardar. The society has two big and central commercial markets and one small market in each block.
"Basically, we want to discourage rickshaws, especially non-CNG rickshaws from entering MTS. We want to protect the environment," he says, adding, "Two-stroke rickshaws have been banned in DHA, Cantt, The Mall and Jail Road. So why not MTS?" he questions, adding "We do not get government aid."
The president promises to look into the complaints of the MTS residents.
By Minahil Zafar
I'm majoring in Economics at my university and have mostly taken courses from the development stream to complete my requirements. One aspect of it that has been discussed, argued and researched is the branch of welfare economics.
What actually constitutes development? While most economists referred to economic growth as development initially, this definition has drastically changed. Amartya Sen, for instance, in his Capabilities Approach defines development in simplest terms as emancipation from enforced necessity to live less and be less i.e. to have the freedom to choose to be able to lead different types of lives according to ones capabilities. This presupposes that certain core needs are fulfilled.
When talking about development, in such a broad sense, it becomes evident that mere aggregation of national income does not give a holistic picture of the standards of living in a country. There are issues of rights, freedom, equality etc which need to be incorporated in the definition of development.
But what makes me write about it today?
Well, I am passionate about discovering this branch of my major but more realistically, I write about it because I feel our country/society is a prototype study in this field of economics. Most textbooks, journal articles, empirical literature use Pakistan as a developing nation for comparison purposes, bringing forth the stark realities of life here. And when I see the elements talked about in books actually put into practice around me, I cannot, but empathize with the situation here.
I attended a wedding last week, and it has to be one of the most lavish and meticulously organised weddings I have ever seen and it would be unfair to say that I did not have a good time. Both the families were extremely well-off. Perhaps spending millions of rupees wasn't as big a deal for them as it would be for my family. But my only objection to such a spending pattern is that it exacerbates the divide between the rich and the poor I have been talking about.
When I saw people throwing money at the bride and the groom when they entered the wedding hall and the way all the maids and drivers who were accompanying the guests jumped to get hold of the money that was being thrown, it only made me pity our society.
It's a shame we don't realise the effect of our spending on our social environment. It causes resentment in the hearts of the poor for whom lavish spending is a far-fetched dream. It puts pressure on the middle class whose expectations rise as they aspire to follow the elite. They may be disgruntled if they fail, or resort to unfair means of achieving that standard of living. It might just disgust people like me, or make me guiltier for being a part of such a materialistic culture. Essentially, it aggravates the material divide between the rich and the poor and reduces the positive freedom of the majority of the people in our society i.e. autonomy to live a fulfilling life.
The wealthy have better and diverse opportunities to succeed in life; the ones with more opportunities end up accumulating more wealth. This reverse causality leads to a vicious cycle of underdevelopment. With 20 million people suffering from floods in the country, displaying wealth at weddings doesn't seem like the wisest thing to do!
All I can say is if our people are not empowered to lead fulfilling lives and if we continue to raise their expectations and continuously fail to meet them, Pakistan will never be able to join the ranks of developed nations.
Miniatures: An exhibition of paintings at Vogue Art Gallery, 8-A,C.II,Main M.M.Alam Road, Gulberg III, (Opposite Village Restaurant) till Thu, Oct 28.
*Exhibition of paintings by Ali Abbas at Ejaz Art Gallery at 79-B-I, M.M. Alam Road, Gulberg III, till Oct 30.
*The Verve: 'Wild gig night' at White Dining Lounge, 43 L/A, M.M Alam Road today from 7-11:30pm.
*Lecture on 'Obama, Change, and US Power in the 21st Century' at Cafe Bol in Main Market, Gulberg on Sat, Oct 23 at 5pm.
* 'Bullha' at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall, Hall#1 on Oct 20 at 7pm.
*Raja Rasalu at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall, Hall#2 on Oct 21 at 7pm.
*Dukh Darya at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall, Hall#2 on Oct 22 at 7pm.
*Dara at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall, Hall#2 on Oct 23 at 7pm.
*FAIR: IGATEX Pakistan 2010 at Expo Centre Lahore from Wed, Oct 20-23.
Looking back at what happened when the news of the desecration of the Babri Mosque reached Lahore
By Haroon Khalid
Finally, the High Court of Allahabad passed a judgment regarding the ownership of the place where the Babri Mosque stood. There has been a mixed response to the decision. Some have hailed it as an end to communal violence, for now at least, whereas others deem it fit to herald the downfall of the secular credentials of the Indian state.
There is no denying the fact that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was a horrible incident in the Indian history, where a group of extremists showed disdain for the culture, heritage and religious sensibilities of a nation.
But the question is, are the Hindu extremists the only ones to be blamed for such an atrocious act?
Following the destruction of the mosque, there were hundreds of non-Muslim buildings, not just Hindu, that were destroyed in Pakistan. Thousands of angry people took axes and other such weapons, climbed these structures and wrought permanent damage to them. Gunmen entered the Nila Gumbad Valmiki temple, according to a testimony, assisted by local traders. Fortunately, there were no casualties.
It is reported by the witnesses of the event that not even iron from the fans and the ceilings were spared. This is one day after the demolition of Babri Mosque. Similar was the fate of the Jain Mandir, which used to greet people from far away coming towards the Jain Mandir chowk, standing tall above the rest of the buildings. Now the structure lies destroyed in the very vicinity it once stood proud.
Even though the demolition of all of these temples is a severe loss to the entire nation and, in particular, the Hindu community, there is one temple, the lamentation of which is the loudest from the Hindu community in Lahore. This is the Sitla Mandir, part of which is still standing in between the Lohari and the Shah Alami Gates. This was the most famous temple in the pre-partition setting, after which it was occupied by the Evacuee Trust Board and rented out to the people pouring in from the other side of the border. After the mosque was attacked, the very next day, people which included the new inhabitants of the temple and others, destroyed the smadhs and the temples (there are a few others in the vicinity) by climbing on top of it. At the entrance of the Shivala, before the Sitla Mandar, if one is entering from the Hospital road, there is a picture of a young boy called "Shaheed". He is said to have climbed to the top of the temple to bring damage to it, whereas the rest of the people were busy destroying it from the base. When the top eventually broke off, this boy was still on it and became a "Shaheed". At the cone of the temple there is a plate which reads "Ya Allah". There is an operative Madrasa inside the temple. The Qari of this place is said to have led the procession to destroy the temple, which served as his sanctuary. He later sold the ownership of the roof of the temple to another family for Rs 60,000, as narrated to us by an old lady from the family. He no longer serves at the temple, Madrasa.
While protesting against the demolition of a sacred shrine in India, these people didn't see the irony in doing the same action in their own locality. Secondly, these temples became the people's home when they migrated from India.
When the Hindu community was approached as to why they didn't take the issue to the court, they said that they were in such a small number and the general attitude of the authorities was of such bigotry that there was no point in making a fuss about it. An old member from the community remarked how the situation of 1947 was recreated after the Babri Mosque incident. Many Hindus, he recalled, didn't leave their abodes for days.
Now after the verdict, he said, they felt the same kind of fears. Fortunately, no untoward incident has happened so far but they are not sure about the future.
One only wishes that such a process is initiated in this country against the people, who were responsible for destroying temples like Jain Mandir and the Sitla Mandir. Even the secular smadh of Ganga Ram, the man who changed the outlook of Lahore was not forgiven. Amongst the other temples that were desecrated are the Moti Mandar (named after the father of Jawaharlal Nehru) at Shah Alami, Shivala Pandit Radha Krishan at Gumti Bazaar, Bheru ka Sthan at Ichhra and Bhadrakali at Niaz Baig.
An interactive play raises women rights issues
By Naila Inayat
Back in 2006 it was Loona, a play, from the Indian Punjab staged at the Rafi Peer Festival that moved the audiences for its critique on the state of women in our society. "Iss duniya wich roti mehngi, nari sasti aey" (woman is cheaper than bread here) -- a dialogue that brought many to their feet…
Here at Ali Institute auditorium four years later we are again faced with this unending debate of women's rights though in a different manner -- women's inheritance and the customary practice of depriving their due share in property.
Based on the research findings on inheritance by the Simorgh team, 'Kholo Surt Mat Di Baari' is written by Huma Safdar and performed by her team. The play was part of Simorgh's awareness raising campaign for women's rights and equal members of the family and state.
Versed in Punjabi the play revolves around five sisters who have conflict of views over the issue of inheritance. Deriving the narrative from the real life stories seen in the research findings, Kholo Surt Mat Di Baari, intelligently exploits the double standards of the brothers using religion and customary practice in their own interests. The sisters complain about their brothers denying them right to inheritance and property. They argue as to how their brothers forged them into signing documents which relinquished them of their properties.
Shazia Shaheen's opening dialogue, 'Main Apnay Dukh Da Haal Kenu Sunawa' touched the people but one has to say that it was Huma Safdar's heroics who was the showstopper of the day! In the last part of the play the showdown between Huma and the other four sisters, where she is trying to convince her sisters to layoff the demand of inheritance, are the highlights of the play.
Huma Safdar's performance on a Punjabi tappa, where she splits her act between a brother and a sister and skilfully dances on the tune -- brings alive male chauvinism on the stage. She recalls those emotional blackmails and threats of cutting off family ties to deny women their right to inheritance.
The second half of the play was interactive which gave a refreshing look to the entire argument. The audiences brought up new issues which weren't raised in the play such as the demand of inheritance on universal principles rather than grounding it on Shariah or religious norms. Though there were some who disagreed with the idea that Islamic rules must be followed.
Interactive theatre is an effective technique for awareness raising and highlighting issues that need to be redressed. The participants comprised of women from Bhaati and Yakki Darwazas, Kot Lakhpat, Dastak Women's Shelter and Gulberg areas where the research was conducted. One saw students from Kinnaird College, FC College, Lahore Grammar School and other educational institutions.
A new initiative that invites intellectuals at Punjab Cafe
By Sarah Sikandar
Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAC) is one of those few 'official' programmes for the promotion of art and culture that are virtually invisible for someone who doesn't read the newspaper closely. Despite the complaints regarding dearth of funds or official support, the organisers do manage to keep the show running with a number of cultural activities including a Punjabi FM and channel.
Under the patronage of the chief minister the institute organises events for the promotion on Punjabi language and culture. The latest offering is Punjab Café opened inside the PILAC headquarters in Qadaffi Stadium.
Punjab Café was inaugurated past month and promises a corner for writers and intellectuals. It is located inside the institute building and belies the idea of cafés all over the city. It is rather low profile with an air of Punjabiat being forced on its ambiance. According to the PILAC officials the café is open to intellectuals and writers who are either amateur or have a name in the literary circle. The tea and snacks, with a limited menu, is on the house most of the time.
For one, the name of the café doesn't sound very welcoming. The obvious reason being an initiative of PILAC, the café sounds like a place where Punjab and Punjabi seem to be the focus. Not everyone in Lahore is a Punjabi and not all writers and poets are interested in the promotion of Punjabi language or culture. Those behind the idea assert it is not. In that case what better than a nook where both reclusive and 'corporate' poets can come and converse without worrying about paying the numbers on the menu. Although we have literary sittings regularly taking place at Chopaal, Alhamra among others, not a collective form which doesn't require invites or impressive guest speakers.
Punjab Café also raised a few eyebrows when the name of Sharif Brothers was associated with it terming it another cosmetic initiative by the government to 'promote' free thinking, last thing they desire. Secretary information Shoaib Bin Aziz says the cynics are impossible to please. "Why not be positive and welcome it for a change. The Café is just an initiative for not only the promotion of one language but free thinking. It caters to the idea that healthy discussion is an imperative for intellectual growth. We need to wait and see how it is welcomed by people who matter."
If you are thinking Pak Tea House you probably need to think again. Pak Tea House was not an 'initiative' for one. It wasn't under any official or unofficial patronage. It was not contrived but grew up out of poets and writers from one of the cultural cities in the world, sitting together and talking about politics, literature, art from every possible perspective.
Pak Tea House took years and ultimately became a tradition itself. It didn't cater to any particular language or creed of writers who represented any particular ideology.
Masudullah Khan, a notable literary figure from Lahore, thinks it is not an easy job reinventing what Pak Tea House did for writers. "For one, we don't need a substitute for Pak Tea House because people have only dispersed in places like Chopal or Alhamra. The building itself had a culture. Just a café serving tea isn't enough. In Pak Tea House there were meetings held by Halqa and Punjabi Sangat so you need individual and collective initiative s well."
Khan thinks that a place to squeeze in the literati, especially those who have dispersed here and there is a welcome effort. At the end of the day it should be all about free thinking and speaking one's mind.