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Current Affairs ( 11 Aug 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Gaping Lifestyle Divide between Madrasa Students and Outsiders: New Age Islam’s Selection from Pakistan Press, 12 August 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

12 August 2015

Gaping Lifestyle Divide between Madrasa Students and Outsiders

By Syed Moazzam Hai

As A Minority, It Is the Everyday Discrimination That Hurts Me the Most

By Marylou Andrew

Pakistani Society Lacks the Moral Vocabulary to Talk About the Issue of Child Sexual Abuse

By Rafia Zakaria


Gaping Lifestyle Divide between Madrasa Students and Outsiders

By Syed Moazzam Hai

August 12, 2015

Bringing madrasas into the mainstream of our national life remains an elusive proposition as is the fabled dream of madrasa reforms. Our deficiency of madrasa knowledge adds to the growing socio-economic ideological gap between madrasas and the rest of Pakistan, especially urban Pakistan.

We know a few tangible facts about madrasas – like half of the 12,000 madrasas in Punjab are unregistered as was disclosed by Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada on February 13 this year. Out of these 12,000 in Punjab around 1,000 are foreign funded as was revealed by the special branch of Punjab police in a secret document submitted to Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges on 16th February this year.

Reportedly some 17 Muslim and non-Muslim countries have been contributing hundreds of millions of rupees to these seminaries. The federal government, on its part, admitted for the first time in January this year that about 80 madrasas in Pakistan received financial assistance around Rs300 million from a dozen countries during 2013-14.

Under the very nose of the federal government the majority of madrasas in Islamabad are reportedly operating illegally, having not registered with any of the government authorities.

Our ignorance cannot belie and belittle the fact that a large portion of our population is attached to madrasas. Around 1.8 million children, nearly a tenth of all enrolled students in Pakistan study in religious seminaries, according to a report launched by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training on April 21 this year.

There is a gaping lifestyle divide between madrasa students and outsiders, especially urban outsiders. The contemptuous rage with which stick-wielding madrasa students act during road protests gives us a glimpse of the ostensible grudge many of them seem to carry against the world outside their madrasas. Limited interaction between the madrasa students and the ‘outsiders’ further widens the gap. The absence of an economic dream in the lives of madrasa students further adds to the sense of indignation against the world outside.

Madrasa students are too large a human resource to ignore. The divide between the Pakistani society and its madrasas is lethal for the stability of the state. This huge human resource of young energy should be building themselves, their families and this country a strong economic future rather than pursuing a life dependent on donations.

We ought to ask ourselves what the economic future of these two million children and those have already ‘graduated’ from madrasas is. Providing a mosque or madrasa to every graduating madrasa student or a group of them is neither possible nor sensible.

The state of Pakistan needs to chalk out a long-term economic plan for madrasa students. As madrasa reforms remain an elusive dream and the idea of introducing regular school education along with religious education in madrasas remains just an idea we would have to devise a practical way to enable madrasa students earn themselves a financially stable life and position in the society.

We need to have a countrywide region specific programme of professional diplomas in technical education for madrasa students.

We would need a large reservoir of technically trained personnel for the CPEC’s development and the industrial and trade opportunities that would originate with it. Technically trained madrasa students can play an active role in such economic activities across the country.

The federal government should launch the programme in harmony with provincial governments and madrasa representative organisations. We would need groups of experts in technical education to prepare a programme consisting of different technical training courses. We may get valuable knowledge and help from Australia which runs a vast and successful programme of technical diploma training courses.

There’s an acute shortage of efficient technical institutes in the country so we would have to be innovative and flexible in developing venues for imparting technical education. Technical courses could be held from within the premises of larger madrasas to second shifts in existing educational institutes to hands-on training in different professional fields.

Bringing madrasas into the economy is essential for the socio-economic stability of the country but is the government interested?


As A Minority, It Is the Everyday Discrimination That Hurts Me the Most

By Marylou Andrew

August 12th, 2015

It’s National Minorities Day again and the government will undoubtedly cite its 'achievements' in this area. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of minority rights but I do have the experience of living as a member of a religious minority in this country, which I think can count for something.

To be fair, I am one of the lucky ones. I have had all the opportunities, and faced very few of the challenges that shape the lives and experiences of people of other faiths living in Pakistan.

I went to a school where my beliefs were rarely challenged and I was not forced to study Islamiat; to a college and university where, despite being different from about 98 per cent of the students, I was not treated very differently; and into a job market where employers did not discriminate against me on the basis of my faith.

Sure, there were odd incidents every now and then, like the time I called Osama bin Laden an evil man after the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa only to be firmly told by one of the girls in my college circle that he was a very good Muslim, and how would I know?

Or all the times I had to dispute the generalisations people made about Christians (they cannot read or write Urdu, they are usually dark, etc), or that time when someone I met through work very casually called me ‘curranti’ and thought nothing of it.

But I think these are all examples of ignorance rather than persecution or discrimination – an ignorance that has been encouraged by the state, the clergy and the education system, but ignorance nonetheless.

I wish I could say that the same was true for all my brothers and sisters of other faiths living in Pakistan. We have all seen and read the stories that make the headlines: the Joseph Town incident, the burning of Shama and Shehzad in the brick kiln, and countless others.

Nothing can mask the ugliness of these travesties, but it is the petty instances of discrimination that we encounter in our day-to-day lives that make my heart even sadder; that keep reminding me how deeply intolerance has become entrenched in our society.

There are hundreds of stories to be told, but I would like to share two of them here.

My mother used to work in a private bank a few years ago. She told me about how Muslim cleaners at the bank would refuse to do clean the bathrooms or sweep the floors, because they believed that only Christians and Hindus were fit for these tasks. Their supervisor apparently agreed with the view, because Muslim cleaners did the dusting while the Christians and Hindus were told to do the 'dirty' work.

Then there is an incident that took place in an apartment building; a place where Muslims, Christians, Bohris, Parsis and Hindus have peacefully co-existed for years. A Hindu family wanted to buy a vacant apartment, but this was not to be.

In a campaign led by a few other residents, the Hindu family was refused their basic right of acquiring the property. It was claimed that instructions to prevent Hindus from acquiring apartments had come from an army office located near the building, based on the so-called belief that all Hindus are Indian spies. That claim was later found out to be false.

Personal conversations revealed that the bigoted residents were actually really concerned about the family setting up idols in their home as part of their religious rites. There were some other, more rational residents, who suggested that what the Hindu family did in their home was their private business, but the voices of sanity were silenced.

With discrimination happening at every level of society, from the allotment of government jobs where the so-called five per cent job quota for minorities is often totally ignored and manipulated, to the petty incidences of hatred and intolerance that we see all around us, it is difficult to celebrate National Minorities Day.

Perhaps, it would make more sense if the government took on the task of creating a more tolerant society (cracking down on hate literature is one good initiative, but it requires implementation and follow-ups). We, as individuals, could do the same by re-examining our attitude towards others and create examples of love, justice and fair play.

We could then institute a National Equality Day. I could live with that.

Marylou Andrew works at the Dawn Media Group and is passionate about people, books and coffee.


Pakistani Society Lacks the Moral Vocabulary to Talk About the Issue of Child Sexual Abuse

By Rafia Zakaria

August 12th, 2015

IT was news of the most grotesque kind. In villages around the city of Kasur in Punjab, a ring of paedophiles was busted upon the complaint of some aggrieved parents. There are reportedly hundreds of videos of children, by some accounts over 280 of them, forced to have sexual relations. Some arrests have been made, with news reports quoting villagers as saying that the criminals had blackmailed their victims as a means of continuing their exploitation, counting on coercion and fear to ensure compliance. In a society that lacks the tools to grapple with such problems, ensnaring the weakest and more vulnerable could not have been very difficult.

As the news spreads, there is outrage. The moral depravity of the case is making people cringe and shudder, weep for the children, rage against the monsters who precipitated such terror. Recently, villagers from Husain Khanwala village and others nearby clashed with the police for their alleged failure to nab all the perpetrators. The official response was, per the script of political agendas, varied. The chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, ordered a probe. Law minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters that a high-level inquiry into the matter had concluded that no instance of child sex abuse had occurred; adding that reports to this effect surfaced after two parties involved in a land dispute registered fake cases against each other. The events occurred over eight years ago, he said, and the perpetrators apprehended.

Half-truths and subterfuge are a mainstay of politics in Pakistan, the murky halos they attach to truths obscuring clarity in all sorts of instances. The same mechanisms seem to be operating here. The presence of the most incontrovertible sort of evidence has still not prevented those who would deny rather than face an ugly and caustic truth. Indeed, this technique of denying what is most reprehensible is not in this case simply the consequence of run-of-the-mill political intrigue. Instead, in Pakistani society, it represents the consequence of an unfortunate coalition between the morally good as the publicly visible. The pious man is the one who is seen praying five times at a mosque; the virtuous woman is one who commits herself to the domesticity imposed by orthodoxy. The good businessman is the one seen handing out alms to the hapless; a venerable leader is one who builds mosques and amasses piles of holy pilgrimages. All of it says that you are good when you are seen to be good.

Pakistani society lacks the moral vocabulary to talk about the issue of child sexual abuse.

The unseen has no moral cost in Pakistan, and the abusers of children — the deviant consumers of filth — can take advantage of that. When moral regulation is allotted to the state or the tribe or the family, then what is unknown to them does not in practical terms count as a crime or a sin.  The loophole in between, one that suggests that the real is only the one that is publicly acknowledged and openly seen, is one that becomes the basis for devious rationalisations. If no one knows that a paedophile exploits children, forces them to commit the vilest acts and then blackmails them into silence, then, morally speaking, the act does not exist. In a society that operates on shame, the individual conscience becomes weak from disuse. The recipe of being a good person becomes not one that does good acts but one whose bad acts are not found out, are covered up by visible acts of piety and virtue. Not everyone in Pakistan has lost the capacity to feel guilt but many fear only shame and are geared singularly toward avoiding being found out rather than actually being good.

Pakistan’s devolution into a guilt-free society, where only shame matters, is easily visible: public displays of piety dominate holy months and punctuate celebrations. Immorality, secret and invisible, is hence invested with unreality. The profusion and proliferation of virtual worlds, which better connect exploiters with consumers, have become adept at making money from this. Child pornography feasts on these dynamics, festers in the unseen cracks and crevices of a world consumed only with appearances.

The existence of such demons within Pakistani society is not novel; hardly a week passes without numerous reports of children, on occasion even babies, being sexually assaulted. Pakistani society does not simply lack the criminal investigation capabilities to apprehend and punish the perpetrators, or the psychological services to rehabilitate the victims; it lacks the moral vocabulary to talk about the issue, to render the unseen as reprehensible. The children, those hundreds of victims, have no safe space to go, no instance where they would not face the cruelty of being called complicit in their victimisation. Their treatment ensures that others — and there are surely thousands of others whose exploitation takes place behind closed doors, in the midst of nights, by abusers who are known and unknown but always cruel — will never once raise their voice.

Child sexual abuse is a worldwide reality. The Catholic Church has long been plagued by scandals about priests abusing the children of their parishioners. Similarly, countries like Thailand, Cambodia and others are plagued with sex tourists who come for the explicit purpose of exploiting children. The unique dimension of Pakistan’s problem is the lack of a moral vocabulary to even admit that such a problem exists. As with the Kasur case, exposition of the depravity that lurks in small villages, that is sold and disseminated in markets and on websites, requires not victim-blaming and obfuscation but an embrace of the victims and a commitment to saving others. That, however, would require going beyond shame, and embracing the guilt of belonging to a society where the most innocent are subjected to such terror and cruelty.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.