Tuesday, August 6, 2013

#Malaladay or #Malaladrama: What's your take?

A few weeks ago, when #Malaladay and #Malala were doing rounds on Internet, hashtag #Malaladrama was trending in the Twitter feed of the teenage heroine’s home country, Pakistan. As the name suggests, social media updates from Pakistan, denounced Malala's struggles in the coldest way_by declaring her a fraud. While  rest of the world was busy applauding the Malala cause-education for all-with moist eyes, EDUCATED  Pakistani youth were busy creating a momentous backlash against Malala on their smart phones. This backlash didn't go unnoticed in the wider world as major news outlets, including Toronto Star, soon picked it up, as Hamida Ghafour writes, "On social media the 16-year-old, who last week made a passionate plea to world leaders at the UN to fund universal primary education, has been described as a western stooge, a CIA spy and even a prostitute." Bear with me but, to me, this backlash was not really surprising.

Malala Yousafzai addresses UN on Malala day.
 When Malala was brutally shot in 2012, I saw millions of  men,  women, youth and children out on the streets of Pakistan, protesting against the Taliban brutality. I saw thousands of Pakistani youth changing their covers on Facebook in her support. I witnessed all major TV channels giving her countless hours of coverage. I noticed  mainstream Muslim scholars, releasing fatwas (religious decrees) against the people who had shot her  Yet , DESPITE all that,  International media kept on beating the same drum of "Islam, terrorism, Pakistan, barbaric bearded men, Taliban, women rights,". Jeez! Pakistanis were frustrated and had enough of this racist and stereotyped rhetoric.

According to the Pakistani youth, Western media and politicians have hijacked the Malala cause, which they(the youth) so rigorously supported, yet were conveniently ignored and were never given credit for. They think that UN, which religiously practices gender inequality in its own ranks; and people like Gordon Brown, are just plain hypocrites who have cherry picked Malala Yousafzai to sustain their own Western saviour complex. 

So which side are you on? Did you know about the hashtag #Malaladrama?  Is Pakistani youth right in denouncing Malala,  to vent out their own frustrations? Has the west really hijacked Malala cause? Do you want me to write more about this issue? Leave your valuable comments, suggestions and opinions below.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Geographies of Breast Cancer: Awareness and Advocacy in South Asia

 A recent op-ed written by famous actress Angeline Jolie about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy to prevent a future likelihood of breast cancer has generated discussion about all aspects of Breast cancer.  At one hand, it celebrates another milestone that science has achieved while at the other, it showcases the amount of resources a rich Western woman has at her disposal, to be proactive about the prevention of a deadly disease even before the diagnosis. Through this blogpost, I would like to throw some light on the increasing rates of Breast cancer in South Asia and the constraints of civil society in battling with it.

South Asia includes countries like Pakistan, India and SriLanka. A bird’s eye view of the Breast cancer situation in these countries paints a very deplorable picture. Pakistan has the highest rate of Breast cancer in all of Asia and 40,000 women die each year due to this disease. India, on the other hand, also has almost the same number of casualties  and is a place where 50% of the women diagnosed with Breast cancer have already reached final stage. Breast cancer is the highest cause of death in women aged 24 and above in SriLanka.
In these countries, the rich always have the monetary resources to pursue treatment in expensive healthcare facilities in developed countries.  It is the poor women who suffer the most and ironically are the most likely victims of the disease.  Often times, they only seek help when it is too late due to economic reasons.  The social stigma attached to the reproductive body parts of a female makes it even harder to bring this topic out in the public for any intelligent dialogue. 
An Urdu Advertisment from Pakistan urging women under 40 to get regular check-ups and women for 40 to get screened once a year.

One of the reasons why it is such a big issue is lack of information and stigmas surrounding the disease. Poverty, language barriers and the social taboos are also some issues which hinder the discussion. Mostly the diagnosis takes place too late and when it is past any chances to save the patient. Moreover, women are shunned by households and many die in poverty, being destitute and helpless since the treatment is so expensive. This causes further disturbances in the socio-economic fabric by displacing families, disturbing kids and upsetting budgets. Things are made further deplorable by the fact that there are not many specialized hospitals to treat cancer in South Asia. For example, Pakistan, a country of 180 million, where over 52 percent of population are women, has only one cancer hospital. 
Local school girls raise awareness about Breast Cancer
in Pakistan.

Government and civil society are working hand in hand to curb this disease. Pink Ribbon Pakistan is a fortunate NGO to be funded from various government and international organizations. They offer self diagnosis and treatment options, but on their website it clearly states, that they need greater advocacy in the sector and want a dialogue initiated. Roko Cancer is a similar NGO working in India which provides free ultrasounds and mammograms and is creating meaningful change in behaviors and perception of people. 

The civil society in these countries is striving hard to generate greater voice through advocacy and by stimulating social movement towards the Breast cancer cause. However, the mammoth size challenges they face must not be underestimated. Often times they are dealing with complex religious, cultural and social myths associated with the disease which are very hard to dispel. Considering all these elements, in my opinion, further empowerment of civil society in these countries may help increase local people’s knowledge about the disease and improve the longevity of the patients. 

Due to the advances in technology, a Breast cancer is thankfully not incurable. In fact, it is promising to see that in developed countries, such as the US, there has been a phenomenal 20% increase in 5 year survival rate, in three decades. This is a huge increase made possible due to increase in advocacy, dialogue, literacy and cheaper heath care options. Perhaps, with greater care and empathy, one day not only privileged women in the West but also the common women in developing world will be able to defeat this deadly disease. 

Indian Actress Sonam Kapoor as a spokesperson for Elle Breast Cancer Campaign India.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Even Devil Is Afraid Of His/Her Advocates.

 Famous Indian Marxist revolutionary Bhagat Singh Shaheed said once, “After the British elite leave India, she will be ruled by a Brown elite.” His predictions manifest itself in each and every part of everyday dealings and operations of countries now known as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, the biggest joke is the legal systems of these countries which entirely run upon the whims of the wealthy minority. There are special built-in provisions for elite in the constitutions of these countries and the discrimination runs so deep that it has been made nearly impossible for a poor person to obtain justice. When it comes to poor people, “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” maxim is taken in literal terms and applied with full rigor. But when it comes to the rich, no matter how big the crime is, justice is swift and often time not justice but, injustice.
I was inspired to write this blog post after watching a Bollywood movie called Jolly LLB, which was an excellent social satire of Indian legal system. It is based on the true story of Sanjeev Nanda case, when a rich and powerful businessman killed 5 poor laborers sleeping on a sidewalk and then walked scot-free thanks to the loopholes in the law fully exploited by the defense and conveniently ignored by the prosecution. This movie resonated to me because the situations, characters, places, urban fabric, apathy and class struggles of modern India (similar to almost all other development countries) were portrayed without any sugar coating or emotional melodrama.

 Jolly LLB., also showcases the frustrations within the Indian penal courts, the way lawyers nickel and dime it and the way rich clients can always go free by manipulating/removing evidence of their crimes by bribing police officials and hiring expensive defense attorneys. Although a good laugh, this movie was a very crucial reality check of the decaying justice system in subcontinent that keeps getting worse. I chose to blog about this movie because cinema and theatre are two very important tools to portray the underlying development themes in any country and Jolly LLB., is a well-done example of that. I recommend this movie to everyone. Watching it won’t be the proverbial life changing experience but it will definitely teach you a bit or two about the value of justice and how it’s miscarried in fact not provided at all to the most needy in the darkest quarters of the world.

In Pakistan, I have seen lawyers acting as thugs and operating as a deranged fraternity on multiple occasions who will do anything to protect their interests even if it comes at the cost of making a joke of the very institution that they are representing.

So what do you think? Will you watch this movie? Have you ever had an interesting experience with police/ any form of law in any developing or developed country? Please leave your valuable comments in the section below.


From Best Friend to Favorite Author: Honoring Maria Malik

My friendship with Maria Malik goes back ten years . In these ten years I have seen the introvert Maria turn into a remarkable young lady with a profile that keeps getting better. Maria is a keen researcher and an astute political observer. At the tender age of 25, Maria is already serving as a Political Science lecturer at Kinnaird College (one of the most prestigious Liberal Arts colleges of Pakistan )and her first book called  Balochistan Conundrum- The Real Perspective is already out in the market. I am testament to the fact that she has worked really hard on this book, being fortunate enough to be the one who was asked by Maria to read the manuscript long before it was published. This blog will not discuss the multitudes of talents that Maria Malik the Person possesses (although the temptation is huge). Rather, this blog post is a minor attempt to recognize Maria Malik the Author’s efforts in the field of development and internal politics of Pakistan.

Balochistan is the largest and least developed province of Pakistan. It is gifted with multiple reserves  of natural resources such as copper, coal, natural gas and even gold. However, when it comes to benefiting from these resources, Baloch people  are the last ones to have a piece of the pie. They are the least educated, least skilled and least employed in all of Pakistan. This ongoing discrimination  have made Baloch people resentful towards the federal government of Pakistan and there are many who want separation.
  Balochistan is home to various political unrests stemming from the demands of separatist elements called BLF or Baloch Liberation Front. Due to the great number of natural resources, various foreign elements are also interested in the stakes involved.  In her book Maria outlines the importance of Balochistan for Pakistan, the reasons for the grievances of people and urges that it is not too late to reconcile with the common man in the province.

 Maria also describes the important positions that various tribal leaders enjoy in the grand scheme of provincial and federal politics.  Any form of reconciliation with the Balochi people cannot occur without taking these tribes into confidence. In her extremely objective approach, Maria meticulously articulates the reasons of Balochistan insurgency and examines the issue with a post colonial, neutral, socioeconomic, and politically subtle lens. In her book, the positive correlation between armed insurgency and the military operations that were carried out in the region in last 60 years, has  been backed up careful statistics. 
 However, her main focus is the present wave of insurgency which engulfed Balochistan from 2004 onwards. 
Balochistan Conundrum- The Real Perspective is about the present political turmoil and violent uprisings in Balochistan. It is fast paced, interesting and a must read. She also proposes some really smart and empathetic solutions to start the peace building process to alleviate the pathetic situation in Balochistan. I will conclude this post on only one note:

This blog post is to pay homage to one of my legendary friends of whose accomplishments I am greatly proud of and am eagerly waiting for more!