DAWN - Features; August 4, 2002

Published August 4, 2002

Matric results: dream time: SOCIAL THEMES

By Nusrat Nasarullah


WITHOUT reflecting on the matric science group results announced earlier this week, there is very reason to first share the happiness and the sense of triumph and accomplishment that the successful students must have at having crossed this vital landmark in their academic and personal life. In Pakistan society the matric result is a signpost of sorts, and a barometer that is read for all times.

In a way, matric is where the dropouts begin to surface, and this is where for those who do go ahead in their academic lives, comes the factor that determines where they go for college admissions. That is another challenge.

Of course, we have now reached a stage, where an abnormal emphasis is placed on only the examination result, and not the actual merit of the student, and whether he or she has a developed a rounded personality. Whether he or she will become a good citizen, or a moral person in their life later on.

Once I asked two bright MBA students in the course of a casual first-time conversation, whether they would take a bribe if it came their way, they answered in the affirmative. They hedged the question for a while and then said (and not sheepishly), that they would. That it was part of life and the temper of times. Little wonder, then, that even in a country such as the United States there is big talk of corporate corruption. Our own levels and scale of corruption are of course so obvious.

But let the focus remain on the matric results even though there is, in a way, nothing very startling about them. Almost without any degree of surprise is the fact that girls have clinched top positions, reflecting the larger sociological change that is taking place in society. For all the unhappiness that women undergo in this society, and where male chauvinism makes them so awfully vulnerable, especially in tribal and feudal sectors, women continue to come forward for education. Even higher education. This is a significant indicator of the changing times. Good.

Symbolizing changing times, in a way, is a certain cynicism that goes with matric results, or any results, for that matter. Academic results is what one is referring to at this point. Even students themselves are sceptical about the students who do well. There is such distrust in Pakistan society now, that all results, (including election results) are doubted, and disbelieved.

Anyway the matric results this year, which have from the details shown that it was a neck and neck fight amongst the top position holders, have become a hotly contested affair, and that bright boys and girls score very high marks. This is an interesting situation in the face of the fact that academic standards are falling. Does that mean that while the best boys and girls that our schools and colleges produce are comparable to the best anywhere in the world, the average is poor.

Ask employers and managements and they will reveal and narrate depressing and shocking stories of how candidates for most jobs have had poor education. Even in professional colleges the story remains the same. How many times have you not heard the lament that doctors, engineers and lawyers, etc, that our professional institutions are producing are of a very low standard? How many times have you not heard that academic standards are declining rapidly and that no one is bothered about it? How many times have you not heard that government schools and colleges have sunk to still lower levels of pathos with time? And yet let me mention that any attempt to privatize these schools and colleges, as a matter of principle and remedial action, is opposed and resented by teachers. That teachers will lose jobs is the only fear. That we are losing our future generations to poor standards and becoming incapable of meeting the challenges of tomorrow is something that doesn’t bother them, or scare them.

Has anyone noticed with any concern that most, or all the boys and girls who have topped the matric examinations come from private schools? Is it not a commentary on the state of government schools?

But this is also a kind of dream time. The young always have their dreams and these boys and girls who have passed their matric examinations surely have their dreams, even though they may be very materialistic in nature. Their dreams and their visions are evident from the interviews that have appeared in newspapers. One boy has said something that needs to be taken notice of: that it is not enough to be restricted only to textbooks. This awareness is healthy and needs to be welcomed.

Also to be welcomed is the fact that the results have been announced in 28 days. But sadly enough there are numerous students whose results have not appeared, in the official gazette. The Board has argued that there is always a human error possibility, especially when a deadline was being pursued under pressure. Boards of Education don’t appear to be conscious of the need for good governance.

Troublemakers shall make the difference

THE city police attacked a teachers’ gathering last week, beating up and arresting hundreds of them.

The teachers coming to attend a convention against the government’s policy of denationalizing schools and colleges were arrested without discrimination. Some of those resisting arrest were dragged by the hair and had their clothes torn. Some passers-by, too, got picked. The police also entered the Islamia College for Women, Cooper Road, and arrested, besides others, a member of the admissions committee of the college.

The police later released first the women and the elderly and then the rest.

The action was universally condemned and led to a spate of protest demonstrations. A joint action committee comprising leaders of various organizations representing the teachers was set up quickly and made it a campaign. Students unions, too, followed their lead.

The district Nazim claimed the police action had been the result of some misunderstanding. He also invited JAC leaders to a meeting to discuss their demands. While agreeing to meet the Nazim, the JAC chief said meaningful discussions could only be held with the governor since the Nazim lacked authority to change the policy. The meeting, however, brought the assurance on the governor’s behalf that the notification would be withdrawn!

There has since been much joy and rejoicing. Also, a lot of credit grabbing. But who can grudge that once there is really good news.

While welcoming the policy revision, the Punjab president of the Pakistan Medical Association called for a similar withdrawal of the notifications for privatization of medical colleges and health institutions.

Of course, the good doctor is right. Autonomy has already raised the cost of healthcare. As grants dry up and pressure mounts on the new managements for commercial viability, the charges can only rise ever more steeply.

Of course, the good doctor is wrong. Why should the government undo a policy that not only promises to cost less but also has the endorsement of powerful allies? Of course, the PMA has been pointing out the implications of the policy, not only for the profession, but also for the patients. But has it made any trouble for the government? Has it not neglected its duty to make a loud enough noise? Has it not acquiesced like the political parties to whatever rules the government has been churning out? Why is it so shy of agitation? Because the governor says the time is not right? Why are the doctors so reluctant, even as they are faced with evidence that good old agitation is the only way to convince the government of its folly?

Why were the consumers granted the big power tariff relief after Wapda’s army-led management had prevailed upon the toothless regulators to allow the hike? While there is no law against believing that it was because the president felt it would be hard on the citizen, it would be just as well to remember the man who might have thought he had risked his neck by calling in a PTV talk show to request that the president be advised not to force people on to the streets.

To quote a 19th century anti-slavery campaigner, “Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

* * * * * *

FROM Multan came the news that 12 organizations had observed a day of cursing the rulers for their apathy. Sounds ridiculous? It is. But must rulers always test people’s endurance.

* * * * * *

JUST as the naive among us had started believing that the Meerwala cause — as distinct from the Meerwala case — had been adequately highlighted and taken up by a sufficiently large number of institutions and individuals to make a recurrence impossible, there comes the sad report of a similar outrage in Vehari.

While ministers have not been rushed to the scene and the media flurry is not comparable, in its essentials it’s the same story all over. A woman has allegedly been raped with the abetment of a ‘jury’ to teach a lesson to the family of a man whose conduct was regarded unacceptable. Some details are inevitably different — an attempt has reportedly been made to fake a nikah — but the crux of the matter is unchanged. There is no realization that while panchayats might determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect, they must not take it upon themselves to hand out sentences to the ‘convicts’ and execute them through ‘volunteers.’ More disturbing perhaps is the apparent confusion about ‘natural justice’ and the tendency to punish somebody by hurting others. Finally, their still seems to be no realization that rape is not, never was and cannot be a punishment. It is another horrendous crime for which there can be no justification and no mitigating circumstances.

The lessons are clear. Their must be no let up and there can be no alternate to education.

* * * * * *

SOME interesting points have been made at the Meerwala trial. First, defence counsel argued that the incident was an outcome of personal enmity and cited a Supreme Court ruling that personal enmity did not fall under the definition of terrorism.

Next, the prosecution admitted that the anti-terrorism court lacked jurisdiction to hear a rape case. The judge declared, however, that the case was fit for trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act. He relied on a Supreme Court verdict providing that the requirement of (anti-terrorism) law was adequately satisfied if the incident involved tended to create terror or feelings of insecurity, irrespective of whether it actually did.

Of course, all rape is terrorism. What about the PCO?

* * * * *

A JUDGE awarded death penalty last week to Wajihul Hasan, 26, for blasphemy. The conviction was based on an ‘extra-judicial confession.’

The convict had pleaded not guilty, denied the confession and alleged that he was tortured and told to implicate rights activist Asma Jahangir. He had been declared a proclaimed offender by the police after they failed to question him following a complaint by advocate Muhammad Ismail Qureshi who said the convict had been writing him letters containing sacrilegious remarks and making obnoxious phone calls. The witnesses said he had requested them to arrange a pardon.

The court relied on the witnesses observing that they appeared to be disinterested people. The failure of the accused to cross-examine them was taken as ‘admission’ of guilt.

According to the witnesses, however, the accused had also told them during his ‘confession’ it had been his idea of a prank on the complainant. He had meant to nettle Mr Qureshi, not insult the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). By his own admission, Mr Qureshi, too, had destroyed a string of letters. Had he concluded then, rightly it would seem, that they represented no serious crime and were worth ignoring? If not, was he not guilty of suppressing evidence of a capital offence? Should he then be tried for being an accessory? Why did the police and the judge spare him?

The entire story reads like a mediaeval witch trial.

* * * * *

A HOLY relic, a pair of slippers attributed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was reported stolen last week. An unfortunate incident by all accounts. One hopes the pair is found soon and restored to its place where devotees can benefit from its presence.

Meanwhile, the mature way the community has reacted to the incident is heartening. Congratulations everybody. —- ONLOOKER

Musical instruments makers

LAHORE, which is known for the musical sensitivities of its people, had a large number of musical instrument makers before independence. In Langay Mandi area near the municipal water works, there used to be a cluster of shops owned by Sikh craftsmen, who won fame for their skill to make the harmonium. All of them migrated to India in August, 1947. A couple of shops were also located in the Anarkali Bazaar, which, in addition to selling musical instruments of local variety, also sold gramophone records by popular singers of the era.

By the same token, several families from Amritsar and other parts of east Punjab and beyond came to settle in Lahore after independence. The exchange of population resulted in filling the void created by the exodus of non-Muslim musical instrument makers to India.

For a few years, a slump in the music market was noticeable as all film studios of the city were either burnt or damaged during the communal riots. It took several years for the local film industry to come to its own and by the mid-1950s, Lahore witnessed a spurt in the production of films, which created a demanded for such indigenous musical devices as the sitar, the sarod, tablas, dholaks and several other instruments which became essential components of Pakistani film orchestra. From the standpoint of demand, the musical instrument makers of Lahore were inundated with orders for sitars, tablas and the dholaks.

The pioneering families of musical instrument makers, which settled in Lahore, came from Amritsar. Among them was Ustad Sher Muhammad, who set up his small manufacturing unit in Baansanwala Bazaar (Rattan Chand Road) near Mayo Hospital. He was followed by Muhammad Azam Khan, who opened his shop on Railway Road, only a short distance from Sher Muhammad’s shop. However, a large concentration of artisans making musical instrument was near the Paniwala Talab and Hira Mandi, which catered to the needs of musicians, who provided melodic accompaniments to scores of singing girls in Hira Mandi. Craftsmen in that area specialized in making sarangis, harmoniums, dholaks and tablas. Even now, the largest cluster of shops purveying these instruments is located in various lanes of Hira Mandi or the areas in its proximity.

“Manufacturing musical instruments,” claimed Ziauddin, whose great grandfather stumbled into this profession some 140 years ago, “is both an art and a craft.” He also asserted that the skill was transferable from generation to generation.

Along with his father, Sher Muhammad, a master craftsman and a specialist in the art of sitar marking, Ziauddin was engaged in making a variety of musical devices, especially the sitar. His brother, Ramazan, won the hearts of countless musicians in Lahore and other cities in Pakistan for his craftsmanship in manufacturing the sitar with improvised wooden gourds in place of the natural ones.

“My great grandfather first opened a shop in Katra Jaimal Singh in Amritsar over 140 years ago,” he claimed. “After his death, my grandfather took to sitar making. He paid special attention to grooming of his son (my father, late Ustad Sher Muhammad), who later specialized in this art.”

Other prominent instrument makers of Lahore, who have contributed to the musical culture of Pakistan included Muhammad Azam Khan, (sitar) Ishaq Chishti (sitar and harmonium), Master Ramazan (harmonium), Dilawar Husain (tablas) and Muhammad Ramazan (sitar) a winner of the Pride of Performance award, Ustad Sher Muhammad also exported the sitars to the United States.

A musical instrument is a mechanism, which is pressed into service to create pleasing sounds. Each instrument, according to its capacity, enables the performer to control the four properties of musical sound — pitch, duration, volume and colour (timbre). Availability of instruments greatly influences the musical output of any culture. The composer relies on the performer, who in turn, relies on the instrument maker. All three functions used to be performed by the same individual not too long ago. As technology advanced, the art of instrument making, especially in Western countries, was commercialized. Large factories turned out more responsive musical devices, which stimulated the performers to greater virtuosity, allowing the composers to make greater demands on both the performers and the instruments. In Pakistan, Sialkot is the city where musical instruments of Western specifications are manufactured on a large scale.

Musical instruments that make up an orchestra are used the same way an artist uses colours to paint a picture. Each instrument, no matter how large or small, has a sound of its own.

Despite the almost baffling advances in technology in recent decades, which have spawned the invention of a variety of polyphonic devices, the human voice and hand-made instruments have retained their popularity. Increasing demands for indigenous musical devices from professional and amateur musicians are being met by scions of the pioneer instrument makers scattered all over the city, botably in the Baansawala Bazaar, Railway Road and side-lanes of Hira Mandi. Modern technology has yet to create an instrument that can match the bewitching sounds produced by delicate hand-made sitars, rubabs, and sarods, which are marked by beauty of designs and coherence of form. The delicate hand-made instruments appeal to our mind, fire our imagination and enchant our senses. — Saeed Malik

Data Darbar, where there is something for everyone

WHEN anyone talks of Lahore, at some point there has to be a mention of Data Ganj Bakhsh. He died in the year 465 AH and today it is 1,423 Hijri, almost 958 lunar years, or over 900 Gregorian years. That is a very long time and life around his shrine has been the same. But what is life really like around his shrine?

We all know about him and most of us, at some stage, out of sheer curiosity or out of reverence, have visited the place. For the last 32 years as a journalist who lived just round the corner from the shrine, one has seen kings, presidents, prime ministers, governors, ministers and various other luminaries come and go.

But then beggars and pickpockets also are present in exceedingly large numbers, not to speak of the hungry or the lost. The pious are there and so are the crooks, probably more of the latter than the former. What goes on around this shrine is also part of the history of this city, and in days gone by Data Ganj Bakhsh was known as Ali Makhdoom Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri Lahori, for this is the way people in other lands know him. Who was he, after all, and why is he so respected almost a thousand years after his death?

Data Ganj Bakhsh came to Lahore in AH 431 from Ghazni in Afghanistan and he came with Sultan Masood, the son of Sultan Mahmood Ghanzi. He originally belonged to Hajver, and because of this, it became part of his name. Interestingly enough, the earlier accounts call him Sheikh Ali Makhdoom Ghaznavi Lahori, and not Hajveri, surely because he came with Mahmood Ghaznavi’s son. The first wave of Muslim conquerors from the west saw the riches of the sub-continent being looted by the Afghani hordes. After the death of Mahmood Ghaznavi, came his son and the second wave of conquests. But with them also came many a saint whose sole objective was to spread the word of God, and among the first to come was Data Ganj Bakhsh. It would interest even an avid Lahori who claims the man as his own, to know that his ancestors are well marked on his grave. It reads: Here lies Sheikh Ali, son of Syed Usman, son of Syed Ali, son of Syed Abdur Rahman, son of Syed Abdullah, son of Syed Abul Hasan Ali, son of Syed Hasan, son of Syed Zaid Shaheed, son of Imam Hasan, son of Ali Murtaza, which is to say that Sheikh Ali Makhdoom Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri Lahori was just eight generations down the line from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).

But in matters of religious apprenticeship, he was a student (mureed) of Khwaja Abul Fazl, who was a student of Sheikh Ali Jafri, who learnt from Sheikh Shibli, who was a student of Junaid Baghdadi, who was a student of Syed Saqti, who was a student of Maroof Karkhi, who learnt from Dawood Tai, who learnt from Habib Ajmi, who was a student of Hasan of Basra, who was a student of Ali Murtaza. Complicated as this lineage is, it led to the birth of Sheikh Ali Makhdoom, now known all over the world as Data Ganj Bakhsh.

So there he came to Lahore and planted himself in a small mud house just outside Bhati Gate in AH 431. In those days, so the legend goes, a powerful Hindu magician was the religious leader of the population of Lahore, who were almost all Hindus or Jains. This ‘magician’ challenged the young scholar and it is claimed, though I would tend to disbelieve any such assertion, that the magician actually flew in the air over the hut of Ali Hajveri. The saint dismissed such displays as “showing off” and after reciting the last two ‘quls,’ he blew towards the magician who fell to the ground and ran away. Word to this effect spread through the city, which was then enclosed in mud walls, and soon people, almost all Hindus, came to seek his blessings. It was then that he decided to stay on and serve the people with his knowledge and deep understanding of the human psyche. In a way, Lahore came to him, and he adopted it, and it was then that it was said that, “kings and beggars are alike before the saint.” Almost 900 years later, it is still true.

The best thing is that people of every religion came here. Imagine that great scholars and saints like Khwaja Moeenuddin Chisthi of Ajmer and Khwaja Fareed of Pakpattan spent considerable time at this shrine in meditation and prayer. It was only during the time of Maharajah Ranjit Singh that the outer madressah was vandalized for its exquisite marble and engravings. But then the Sikhs did this to almost every shrine or tomb in Lahore. A day after the marble was removed, the Maharajah began to vomit, as one account puts it. He was advised to appease the saint for the damage done to the outer building. So the maharajah set an annual income for the shrine and from then onwards always paid his respects when he passed that way. During the time of ZA Bhutto a grand outer building came up, and the Shah of Iran sent an exquisite door of gold and turquoise, which one can see even today. Nawaz Sharif went the full distance by rebuilding an entire mosque, and a beautiful one at that.

And if you look at the edges of all this grandeur, you will see extreme poverty. It is a haven for pickpockets and kidnappers. During my days as a young crime reporter, our team unearthed a “school of pickpockets” that had an elementary textbook on ways to pick pockets and the language used by them. We had then alleged that it was run by the police, but that was almost 25 years ago. Nothing came of the story. I learn that even today the area is auctioned out to such rascals, to use a Victorian phrase. And then there are the cookery houses. You can buy a whole ‘deg’ of sweet rice, or meat or pilau to distribute among the poor, who roam around the area in large numbers. For the hungry, it is a guaranteed meal. For everyone there is something there. So it has been for over 900 years. The shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh is something to everyone... and that is the way it will always be. — Majid Sheikh

Rohri Canal breach could have been avoided: SITUATIONER

By Shaikh Aziz


A LARGE breach in Rohri Canal, the largest canal off-taking from Indus river, which occurred near Bhit Shah on July 28, followed by another in Mirwah near Khairpur, have caused huge loss to standing crops and have rendered thousands of farmers homeless, besides damaging their property worth millions of rupees. The Rohri Canal breach was plugged on Saturday, after six days restoring water supply to almost three million acres.

The report that a 300-feet breach has occurred was a bad news for all those who live on the banks of the canal and its network, because it is always difficult to plug such a breach in a short time. Rohri Canal is over 300 kilometres long, with its designed command area of 2,837,000 acres (now extending over three million acres and 35,000 kilometre long water courses, being the largest in the Sukkur barrage waterworks. To plug a breach of this nature is always a difficult task and the canal has to be closed from its source at the barrage. This was done in this case and the plugging work started when the water receded, six days later, having already caused enough damage.

Breaches in the canal irrigation system is not a new phenomenon, specially where the canal banks rise overground. Before the introduction of canal irrigation through barrages, Sindh had natural canals and floods occurred only when the river overspilled its banks. But that was scant. The experts who executed the first Sukkur waterworks in 1932, made it clear to the people concerned that they should be prepared for such accidents. Therefore a special department in the irrigation department was created. The staff of the irrigation department was made responsible that constant vigil would have to be kept on the banks. A special subject was introduced in the civil engineering education to know the methods of preventing and coping with breaches.

From that day, a special amount is allocated every year by the irrigation department for strengthening such points on banks which could be vulnerable to breaches, the purchase of equipment needed to meet breaches, hiring of boats for transporting people to safer places and offering immediate relief to the marooned people in case of a breach.

As a routine, the staff is bound to keep constant watch on the entire distribution system — from canals to channels and headworks. Permanent checkposts are established at possible vulnerable points on bankments, inspection paths and protective banks. This is done even in low water level season because dryness of the banks attracts rodents and reptiles to damage the banks of canals and when full water supply is made, these holes cause a breach. It is the duty of the inspection staff to detect such growing damage and report it to authorities concerned for appropriate action. In the absence of prior action, these holes cause breach.

Ironically, in practice the course is just the reverse. The staff meant for keeping vigil over canals, is there, drawing salary. But nobody knows where does it work. Every year an allocation for the purchase of inundation material is made, but who knows where does it go.

The other curse is water theft of which a number of modes such as vanjhi, siphon, etc., prevail. This is undertaken in collusion with irrigations staff, which also weaken the canal banks leading to breaches.

More important is the use of inspection paths along all major canals, which are meant for carrying out inspection of the banks by technical staff. Rest houses are built at suitable places to make room for such staff and give an easy access to them in the hour of need. In contrast, the paths are there but have become thoroughfares for landlords, politicians and influential people to get easy access to their lands and villages. The rest houses have turned into picnic spots.

Every year, desilting is done and anti-flood measures are taken before summer water takes the course to canals in full force. Stone pitching, wherever necessary, is undertaken and before water is released experts in the irrigation ministry examine all works. But this is no secret that who undertakes desilting in the name of Chherr and Wangar or in other words, forced labour provided by landlords.

The Rahori Canal breach was avoidable, had precautionary measures been taken and the staff responsible performed its duty. The breaches in such canals are not easy to handle specially when Sindh has undergone near-drought for three long years, special care should have been taken before water level had touched its optimum.

This is not the last breach. This has been happening in the past and would continue so. The suspension of an engineer or a low-grade irrigation staff is not the solution. The solution lies in revitalising the system, more so when we need every drop of water.

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