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Life’s great lottery

Updated Aug 31, 2013 07:06am


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IF you are reading this column, you can consider yourself very lucky, for you have won life’s biggest lottery.

Let me hasten to add that your good fortune does not lie in reading this particular article, but because you are able to buy this newspaper, and read it in English. Both facts place you in a very small, privileged minority in Pakistan.

Out of a population of nearly 200 million, only six million or so buy daily newspapers; out of this, English dailies account for just over 10pc. So you are clearly in a very tiny minority. Your reading habits also reveal more about you: chances are that you were privately educated, and this places you in Pakistan’s small upper middle-class. And you probably own a car and a house.

Your relative affluence suggests your children, too, attend private schools and colleges. If they have graduated, their education makes them eligible to get good jobs, and marry well. In short, privilege and affluence are passed on from one generation to the next smoothly and seamlessly.

While these are generalisations, being able to buy and read English newspapers does place you in an exclusive niche.

Some would say that to really hit the jackpot, you should have a green card, a penthouse in Manhattan and a yacht. But let’s not get greedy here: the fact that you are among the top 0.1pc in Pakistan is something to be grateful for. However, where you are today is largely due to an accident of birth: most of us were born to parents who could afford to send us to good schools.

Imagine, for a moment, that you had been born in, say, the rural areas of Sindh, and your father was a tenant farmer. If, as a male child, you could leave work on the tiny family land holding and go to school, you would find that 55pc of schools in rural Sindh are without water connections and toilet facilities.

This is despite the fact that the province produces 72pc of Pakistan’s oil and gas. Oil companies are supposed to spend 1pc of their revenues on improving local infrastructure, but routinely fail to do so.

Most people in rural Sindh receive an average of 1,700 calories in their daily diet, well below the body’s requirement. So while the hinterland has 50pc of the province’s population, it only accounts for 30pc of its GDP.

This translates into an average monthly family income of around Rs15,000 or under $150. Try and even imagine raising a family on that.

There was a time when the quality of education in state schools, while uneven, was not as poor as it is today. Many of our successful public figures were educated there. My first year of schooling was in a very basic classroom where we learned the Urdu alphabet on wooden takhtis or slates, and with reed pens which we dipped in ink.

But as with so much else in the public sector, institutions have got worse instead of improving. Now, if a child is condemned to state school education, he has very little chance of clawing his way out of the poverty trap.

A handful of NGOs like The Citizens Foundation are running excellent free schools for the needy, but given our rapidly growing population, this is a drop in the ocean. Unless the state plays its role in a meaningful way, generations of children are doomed to poverty.

Given the malnourishment that afflicts around a third of Pakistani children under five, it should not surprise us that over half in this age bracket are stunted.

This perpetual hunger not only affects their physique, but their mental development as well. Even in recession-hit Britain, thousands of kids arrive in school without having eaten breakfast. Their teachers report a lack of concentration, and an inability to remember their lessons. One can only imagine what it must be like to sit in a hot classroom in rural Pakistan, suffering from hunger pangs.

In other developing countries, the state tries to even out some of these inequalities. In Sri Lanka and in many Indian states, a daily meal is provided to students free of charge.

But in Pakistan, despite the promises of universal education made by successive governments, millions of kids are deprived of this basic right. Small wonder that parents elect to send their boys to madressahs that usually feed them.

Indoctrination in extremism is all too often part of the curriculum. And of course, children graduating from these seminaries are ill-qualified to get jobs, so who can blame them for joining jihadi groups?

If things are bad for boys, think how much worse they are for girls. Many parents do not send them to local schools just because they lack working toilets. In many parts of Pakistan, girls simply aren’t allowed out of their homes. And in several places where they do try and get an education, extremists bomb their schools.

For all the lofty talk in TV studios and newspaper editorials about national honour and sovereignty, we have failed millions of our fellow citizens by our lack of concern for their plight. Most of us are quite happy with the status quo, and because we have won life’s lottery, we have fallen into complacency.

However, by consigning millions to poverty, illiteracy and disease, we have also condemned Pakistan to permanent backwardness.

Those reading this newspaper are complicit with the state in its callous negligence. While we all have our excuses, the fact is that we simply don’t put any pressure on the government of the day to focus on the poor.

Shamelessly, begging bowl in hand, we plead for aid, but after billions of dollars collected over the years, our children still lack the most basic educational facilities. Sadly, they are forever losers in life’s great lottery.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

raw is war Aug 31, 2013 07:25am

dear sir. an eye-opener of an article.

Ahmed Aug 31, 2013 08:42am

As usual a great write up. The privileged people in our society must rise and confront authorities in power to do the needful for the under priveleged school going children. MNAs & MPAs must pass a bill & enforce it within three months or resign.

Tariq K Sami Aug 31, 2013 09:48am

My observation is just the opposite. Most of us are doing better than our parents. Most people have electricity now than we did growing up. There are more roads and many more vehicles. Hardly any one had a telephone at home and few had black&white TV. I remember food cooked on a saw-dust stove and we had to iron clothes with a charcoal containing iron. In my time ball point pen and sponge chappals had just arrived. Maybe then life was simpler and we needed less material things.

ahmed41 Aug 31, 2013 10:02am

All that is being talked about in this article is KISMAT .

Life , without asking us , deals out cards , over which we have no say and hardly any control.

Sound pessimestic ???? !!!

Editor at Trango Aug 31, 2013 11:43am

The article lifted my spirits and crashed them down in a 2 minute interval

ss Aug 31, 2013 12:51pm

Very well written and sadly, so true. The great tragedy of the sub continent has been the venal and selfish nature of the ruling elites. In our lack of sensitivity to our fellow beings, we remain unsurpassed. Compassion for the less fortunate is entirely lacking in our mental make up and the only motivation that propels us to action is the possiblity of self aggrandisement. It may have somethign to do with the fact that in the subcontinent, we are non christian societies. Consequently our cultural consciousness is not imbued with compassion as is the case in western nations where the Christian notions ( what ever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me) constitute the bedrock of social philosophy.

Asif Aug 31, 2013 01:08pm

I agree, very inspiring article well written. It motivated me to do my bit :)

gopal pathak Aug 31, 2013 01:18pm

A hot mid day meal is the only proper meal most poor children have in India. This also attracts children to go, and for their parents to send them, to schools.

Indians, read middle class people, do not treat their fellow citizens, less lucky ones, as humans. Indian poor, according to these middle class people, do not need egg and milk in their diet, their children can sleep on the floor and they do not need proper education. I do not understand why English medium education should be the privilege of the rich only, as it costs a bomb for the government to run those hindi and other vernacular medium schools also. And in many cases, even those English medium schools get government fund.

Western people treat the fellow human beings as human, while the Indians do not. But their religious addiction reaches the sky every day. Hypocrites.

gopal pathak Aug 31, 2013 01:24pm

In other developing countries, the state tries to even out some of these inequalities. In Sri Lanka and in many Indian states, a daily meal is provided to students free of charge..............

While most Pakistanis are desperate to reach parity with Indians in the defence sector, including Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul, they should try to be at par what the Indians are doing in education and healthcare. Agree, they are not in the first world standard, but they are getting better. A lot of Pakistanis are regularly visiting India when they cannot be treated in Pakistan.

I never hear Pakistani channels discussing the poor.

Solitar Aug 31, 2013 01:27pm

The writer's hitting the nail on the head, keen and objective observation must open the eyes of the corrupt leaders; be ashamed of what the poor masses are suffering from by means of YOUR never-filled pockets. Shame!

Furzanah Aug 31, 2013 01:26pm

How about couples on this land of the pure make a concerted effort to limit the number of their progenies to 2 or less. Enjoy the (plentiful) assets that they have acquired through hardwork, through good luck or from their ancestors; and pass those assets on to their few descendents if and when they decide to leave this world.

Remember, human longevity is on the rise throughout the world. Soon one child per couple will suffice. For those who are vexed about losing their scarce offsprings in an accident and then unable to produce more surname carriers, get some embryos frozen.

gopal pathak Aug 31, 2013 01:30pm

But in Pakistan, despite the promises of universal education made by successive governments, millions of kids are deprived of this basic right. Small wonder that parents elect to send their boys to madressahs that usually feed them...............................

In India we have no such problem. Muslim parents send their children to Madrassah even where there are good schools, and you cannot convince them these children have no future in the emerging job market. No wonder most Muslims in India remain poor.

There are orthodox people in all religions, but in Islam, the number is maximum. And Zakir Naik does the maximum damage to the Muslims, along with more than a dozen Islam channels. These channels motivate people about the after life than the present life they have. Little do they understand that GOD who created the heaven, has also created this earth. Why one should be less desirable than the other?

Ali Aug 31, 2013 01:37pm

Unfortunately... A superb Writeup.

Babu Aug 31, 2013 02:55pm

Mr.Jinnah,the founder of pakistan with a vision of giving muslims of british India a better life,failed.

SyedAqeel Aug 31, 2013 04:23pm

The author has skilfully woven his way from reading an English newspaper to deprivation and extremism. However, he has left a distinct mark of biases which are not necessarily interrelated to economic conditions. Nor do are we doomed to a bleak future. Let us be more positive and help mould a better future.

Vikram Aug 31, 2013 05:18pm

Moving article..... to say the least!

JackpotWinner Aug 31, 2013 06:34pm

Irfan bhai, Great article...very well written. The state of the public schools in Pakistan has really deteriorated over the last couple of decades. I can give you my example. I am a graduate of a public school ....graduated around 20 years ago...have american citizenship (got it thru my employer not thru marriage or lottery)...own an apartment in Manhattan (well..the bank owns it for now but i am hoping to pay it off one day :))...alas..dont have a yacht ..but i am working towards that too ;o)... and I would like to stress that I know lot of people who graduated from public schools around the same time as I and doing very well in their careers all over the world.

C.M.Sarwar Aug 31, 2013 08:06pm

There is a good news for everyone,lottery winners and 180 millions who missed the jackpot.Karachi-Lahore motorway is being launched very soon and it will be one of the major initiatives to tackle the irritants highlighted by the writer.

C.M.Sarwar Aug 31, 2013 08:11pm

Please read 194 instead of 180 milions

Furqan Ahmed Aug 31, 2013 08:41pm

A well composed article indeed. Its sad but true.

Furqan Ahmed Aug 31, 2013 08:44pm

A well composed article indeed.

Heslthby Aug 31, 2013 09:26pm

Are 1700 calories below requirement? At 5' 8" and 71 kg, my daily requirement to maintain weight is 1900 kcal, 1500 kcal to lose 0.5 kg per week and 1200 kcal to lose 1 kg per week. To get to 65 kg, I have to eat 1500 kcal for about 2 months and then 1700-1800 each week. Yes, I agree with rest of the facts in the article.

Dr. D. Prithipaul Aug 31, 2013 09:32pm

But what are the elevated sentiments of this elevated elite anglicised educated class? What morally, or culturally, or politically, elevated actions does it claim to its credit for the benefit of the entire nation?

Zeeshan Aug 31, 2013 09:36pm

I must say, a really superb piece of writing.

Malang Aug 31, 2013 09:45pm

Certainly, the article is well written and points out obvious different classes in society. But the author, miss one significant point in his articulation on class differences, and that is self reliance.

Being first generation college educated, I can tell you that no one can help you in changing your class, but only you.

jacky sharma Aug 31, 2013 11:25pm

really a best article, for we type of poeple who can read and understand the international language and are known to be most educated and well matured....despite of all this we are still sitting calm on our places where we are... we dont want to place those poors on that place where we are...this is really a motivating article and the author of this article really realises the pain of poors and we wants to realise us too...

jacky sharma Aug 31, 2013 11:28pm

a best ever article .... really motivates me to do something for those who really needs our help...we all should raise voice to place those poeple where we are....

imran Sep 01, 2013 12:25am

I liked the article. concise and based on facts.

vinod k Sep 01, 2013 12:34am

spritual and inspiring....its bitter reality

Maulik Sep 01, 2013 01:52am

It is time some, if not all, of the military aid from USA and others is used for the education and other social needs. Nobody is going to attack Pakistan or take it over! Who in his right mind would want to have to go there? Do you think India or Afghanistan has nothing better to do?

Hanif Quazi Sep 01, 2013 05:00am

An eye wetter! Spot on. For too many are not fortunate like us arising from the taut schools and becoming part of the 0.1% minority. Many of us have tried to pay back but not enough.

indus Sep 01, 2013 08:13am

Yourself, Nadeem Paracha and Ayaz Amir are the best. Keep up the good work. The memory of Saleem Shahzad always haunts me. I am distressed to see what happened to him and sad part is there is no accountability

Mahrukh Azhar Khan Sep 01, 2013 01:12pm

Very well written article. Keep it up! :)

Naseer Ahmed Sep 01, 2013 01:27pm

Yes of course we have fallen in complacency and quite callous about others. we have a failed society as well as failed state

Rao Sep 01, 2013 06:12pm

Very insightful and plainly said! That me puzzled! The prime minister recently said that he wants to turn Pakistan into an Asian Tiger. What do you say to that Irfan ?

G.A. Sep 01, 2013 07:12pm

Us readers here are a remnant of the 'Brown Sahibs' from the colonial days. We worry about the plight of Palestinians or Syrians but won't bat an eyelid for the oppressed right under our noses. Even for the 10 year old domestic servant.