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DAWN - Features; 17 November, 2004

November 17, 2004

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Banning wedding meals may not end debate

By Aileen Qaiser

The latest Supreme Court ruling banning wedding meals is yet another reflection of the apparent tussle between those who favour serving meals at wedding functions and those who are against it. This ruling is a turnabout from a previous Supreme Court ruling given in November 2002 allowing one dish at valimas, a ruling which reportedly lapsed because the then chief justice apparently did not sign the judgment before he retired.

The promulgation of the federal Marriage (Prohibition of Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance in March 1997 by the then prime minister kicked off a see-saw between favouring the meals ban and lifting the meals ban, a vacillation which has lasted to this day. This ordinance was the first which banned the serving of meals - except hot and cold drinks - at all wedding functions held outside of the home.

The 1997 ordinance, which was supposed to last for only two years, was reinforced by the promulgation of the Federal Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance in January 2000 by the then President of Pakistan, which also banned meals at all marriage functions.

But then in November 2002, a Supreme Court ruling partially lifted the meals ban by allowing the serving of one dish meal at valima receptions only. The Supreme Court reportedly ruled that it was beyond the federal government's legal power or authority to enact a law banning the serving of food at valima receptions as this topic, according to the judgment, was neither covered by the federal or concurrent legislative list given in the 1973 Constitution. The Supreme Court had also apparently held that the provinces were at liberty to promulgate any law regarding the serving of food and fixing of the number of guests at wedding receptions.

Then in February 2003, the Punjab government passed the Punjab Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance, which in accordance with the November 2002 Supreme Court order, stayed the ban on serving meals at wedding-related functions except for valima in which one dish was allowed if the number of guests did not exceed 300.

Later, in October 2003, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan revealed its annual report in which it proposed relaxing the meals ban even further by extending the one-dish concept to Barat functions as well. In the Commission's proposed new Marriage Expenses, Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, it recommended that one dish meal should be allowed for both barat and valima receptions, provided the guests did not exceed 300.

But this recommendation of the Law and Justice Commission was brushed aside by the recent Supreme Court ruling on 5 November 2004, which contradicted the earlier ruling made by the same court two years ago on wedding meals but which apparently lapsed because the then chief justice apparently did not sign the judgment before he retired. The latest ruling has again banned all meals at wedding functions held outside the home. It also held that the federal law passed in 2000 regarding wedding meals holds supreme over the provincial law regarding wedding meals passed in 2003, and that the 2003 provincial law was passed in violation of the spirit of the Constitution, since a federal law on the subject already existed.

It is difficult to understand the confusing fuss that is being made over the serving of one dish or no meals at all. After all, the general spirit behind both concepts is basically the same, which is, to limit ostentation at marriage functions. If the argument against one dish vis-a-vis no meals is that allowing one dish would encourage more violations (by the serving of more dishes) than if there was a total ban on meals, then how are the authorities going to monitor violations of "wedding meals at residences only" when big house owners start renting out their homes for wedding functions?

Besides, since the hotel and wedding hall owners cannot earn from meals, they will impose or increase the hall charges for wedding functions, thus reducing the intended advantage of the ban on wedding meals. Moreover, any serious effort to reduce ostentation at marriages would also need to involve a widespread campaign through media, schools, offices, etc., to denounce the dowry practice and the wasteful expenditure at weddings.

There may be more to the wedding meals controversy than the mere desire to reduce ostentation and help the poor. Judging by the conflicting Supreme Court judgments on wedding meals in November 2002 and November 2004, as well as the 2003 recommendations of the Law and Justice Commission on wedding meals, which contradict the 2000 Marriage Ordinance, it would seem that the issue is a reflection of a wider tussle between the federal and provincial governments over provincial autonomy, particularly with regard to the distribution of legislative powers between the provinces and the federal government.

Like wedding meals, the issue of distribution of legislative powers has remained unresolved to this day since the first Constitution in 1956, as one or more federating units have always been dissatisfied with the distribution of powers and resources between the provinces and the federal government. The subject of marriage is apparently on the concurrent list of the 1973 Constitution (containing subjects in which both the federal government and the provinces can legislate).

Though it was agreed in 1973 that the concurrent list would be revised every now and then, with the federal government gradually doing away with shared authority on some 47 subjects in the concurrent list and giving these over to the provinces, this has not happened.

Wedding meals is not the only subject which the nation cannot seem to agree upon. Other policies which have been see- sawing over the years include the medium of instruction (whether it should be English or Urdu) and the weekly holiday (whether it should be Sunday or Friday). Even the holiday on the occasion of the birthday of Allama Iqbal has not been spared, it being only recently reinstated as a public holiday by the Supreme Court.

This shunting back and forth in policies appear to be due mainly to the fact that policies are being generally fashioned on the basis of emotions or vested interests of a particular group or groups rather than on the basis of pragmatism and the general good and the economic and social well-being of the nation. The main casualty has thus been continuity and stability in policies, which are otherwise necessary for building an entrenched and institutionalized system of governance.

Judging by the vacillation in policies on wedding meals during the last seven years, it will be safe to predict that the latest Supreme Court ruling reinforcing the total ban on wedding meals will not end the debate. Given the recognized need to limit ostentation at marriages on the one hand, and the desire of many people in favour of serving food at wedding functions - not least of all the people in the hotel, catering and poultry industry - on the other, the concept of one-dish seems a realistic and practical compromise.

Film fare

By Karachian

Disappointment awaits those who look forward to the release of new films over the Eid holidays. Only one Urdu-language film is being released this time: Hum eik hain. Directed by well-known film-maker Syed Noor, the movie was previously called Qaidi 786, but its rather queer title was subsequently dropped.

A Punjabi-language film is also being released. The poster of the movie shows teenage heartthrob Sana dressed in a shocking pink outfit with a plunging neckline. The movie is inappropriately titled Wehshi hasina. There will also be releases of two Pushto-language films.

While the fare at our cinema halls may largely be unpalatable, film buffs can see some new releases at the Goethe-Institut which is running a film festival from Nov 18 at its new premises. The cultural centre will screen seven feature films on Thursdays and Mondays.

Before the Goethe-Institut film festival is over, the Fourth KaraFilm Festival will have kicked off. Last year over 80 films, including features, documentaries and shorts, were screened during the festival. This year too some promising titles are expected.

Accidents and education

Is there a relationship between traffic accidents and a society's level of education?

Since January, according to police statistics, 983 people had been killed in accidents in Karachi by Oct 31. The majority of those killed were crushed or hit by trucks.

Oct 30 was a particularly bad day for the city when angry crowds set fire to five vehicles following three accidents in which trucks and minibuses killed three people. The most gruesome death was that of a woman, Burhana, who came under the rear wheels of a bus after she lost balance and fell in Buffer Zone. Also killed the same day were a pedestrian near Nagan Chowrangi and a motorcyclist in North Nazimabad.

The tragedy is that the drivers of our trucks, buses and minibuses are mostly illiterates. The need for increasing literacy and prescribing minimum educational standards for the drivers of public vehicles is obvious.

Traffic police are hardly the lot that can check this problem. Perhaps some NGO could devote itself exclusively to the city's traffic problems and take up the issue with the owners of trucks, buses and minibuses.

Shabby output

A friend complained the other day of the dearth of quality handmade products in the city. The good ones, he observed, were only to be found in upscale stores where prices were exorbitant. Even then, many items on display lacked finesse. Bits of thread stuck out from embroidered bags or scratches could be found on the surface of metallic candleholders. This, the friend observed, was most distressing, especially as the quality of handicrafts in other countries in the region like India and Bangladesh was of a very high standard.

Certainly, it is sad that Karachi, with all its fierce entrepreneurial spirit, has not been able to make much headway in this area. While it is true that there are many organizations that hold periodic exhibitions of handmade goods, made mostly by poor women, there is little attempt at design coordination or at ensuring that their products meet export standards.

This is not to say that there is no interest in the subject. Classes held at different community and other centres in the city teach students profitable skills like embroidery, fabric and glass painting, even papier mache. Individual instructors, too, impart their skills at private classes, though at higher rates, to interested students who go on to exhibit their own creations.One gets the feeling that talent is not missing, and if directed properly, could be employed in the making of beautiful items that could even find a market abroad. Meanwhile, a little more financial encouragement to artisans who are forced to find other means of livelihood as their handiwork receives little patronage in the country, would not be a bad idea. At least let us hold on to and promote the crafts that are already a part of our heritage, instead of letting them slip away forever.

Saving trees

One wonders why the widening of a road in Karachi invariably leads to the felling of trees and why no effort is made to replant some of the trees that have been uprooted. Considering the exercise of replanting palm trees in different parts of Karachi, the city government has shown that such an exercise can be done if there is a will to do it.

The most recent exercise at chopping trees took place at the Mai Kolachi bypass where the road is being widened as well as recarpeted as part of the Tameer-i-Karachi programme. The contractors have uprooted about 30 trees that could easily have been replanted since these were still not fully matured. Amidst calls that any development project in the city should only take place after a proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been carried out, the government should be more mindful of such things when it embarks on one of its drives to widen roads or undertake other infrastructure projects. Given that the city government plans to build 11 flyovers and eight underpasses at different intersections of the city in the next two years, a lot of planning has to be done to save trees as well as ensuring that the environment is not adversely affected.

Incidentally, some contractors have approached the city government with the proposal to commercialize the area below and surrounding the city's flyovers. There is much interest in the Sharae Faisal flyovers as well as those located in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. One enterprising contractor has also asked for rights to commercialize those flyovers that are still to be constructed in the city. At present, the land surrounding all these flyovers lies unattended while the government has promised that it will develop this as a green area for the people of Karachi.

Bus terminal

The inauguration of an intercity bus terminal at Yusuf Goth on the Hub River Road is good news for Karachi. The terminal will serve buses bound for Quetta and Balochistan. The city government has also planned similar bus terminals on the Super Highway and the National Highway for buses going upcountry as well as to other parts of Sindh.

These proposed bus terminals will serve to eliminate over 250 unauthorized bus stands located in different parts of the city. If the bus terminals are made operational within 120 days as promised by the city government, it will reduce traffic congestion in the city as many of the large intercity buses that run on main city thoroughfares will then not enter Karachi beyond the bus terminals. It will also free space in different parts of the city where illegal bus stands are located. Rickshaw and taxi drivers can also rejoice as the location of a bus terminal on the outskirts of the city means more people wanting to use their services. Finally, the city's streets will become much safer as many of these big intercity buses have been involved in a number of accidents, in some cases leading to casualties, due to the rash manner in which they are driven.

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com

Iqbal's life and poetry discussed

By Hasan Abidi

Allama Iqbal's life and poetry were the only prominent theme during last week's cultural activities. Literary sittings were held at various places, one jointly organized by the Academy Adbiat Pakistan and the Iranian Cultural Centre and the other by the Bazm-i-Kahkashan in collaboration with Daira Adab-o-Saqafat and the Dhaka Group of Institutions.

The city nazim presided over the academy's meeting, which was addressed, among others, by Dr Mohammad Yaqoob Mughal and Prof Abdullah Jazib Qureshi. A common theme was Iqbal's universal message for a Muslim renaissance and his emphasis on the philosophy of 'khudi' (pride in one's self). The discourses were academic in nature, voiding any reference to the present crisis faced by Muslims the world over.

Jamiluddin Aali presided over the meeting at the Bazm-i- Kahkashan. He and other speakers covered a wide range of topics, ranging from the great poet's verses to his academic discourse, the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Talat Farooq, the poet, was the chief guest and other speakers included Prof Saher Ansari, Prof Afaq Siddiqui and writer-editor Masood Ahmad Barkati.

Poet and Satirist Amirul Islam Hashmi stole the show with his long poem critically examining the social conditions in society, and Ms Talat Farooq dwelt on the identity crisis faced by the people and explained the 'real meaning' of 'khudi' - to regain, according to her, our freedom of action, re-establish our moral values and acquire knowledge as the real source of strength.

Jamiluddin Aali's discourse was more relevant for the conditions in Pakistan - the unjust and oppressive feudal system, the feudal role in law-making to serve their own interests, and the imposition of the jirga system. All this militated against the message and ideology of Iqbal and yet the feudals hypocritically called him the 'Hakimul Ummat'.

The most inspiring aspect of Iqbal's person and poetry was his dynamism and optimism, as pointed out by Prof Afaq Siddiqui. He inspired the Muslims by his message of enlightenment, hope and courage. To him action and looking toward the future and a brave new world were close to Iqbal's heart, and he narrated the poet's view as expressed to men like Shamsul Ulema Mir Hasan, his teacher and mentor, Allama Shibli and Sulaiman Nadvi.

Prof Saher Ansari said it was Iqbal's dynamic message that was guiding the Muslim nation into the 21st century and would continue to do so for the centuries to come. Iqbal's panoramic vision went beyond the present and encompassed the future.

A feeble voice was raised from the audience that selected works of Allama Iqbal should be published at an affordable price. The Majlis-i-Iqbal in Lahore and some other bodies working to promote Iqbal's message should take up this task in earnest.

* * * * *

A biography of the Sindhi nationalist leader Ghulam Murtaza Syed - G.M. Syed - was launched last Wednesday. The biographer, Khadim Hussain Soomro, well known for his publications on other noted personalities of Sindh, drew many notables to attend the launch. Present were Elahi Bux Soomro, MNA Makhdoom Khaliquzzaman and MNA Syed Ghulam Shah.

The title of the book isThe Path Not Taken: G.M. Syed, Vision and Valour in Politics. It is supported by documents as affirmed by Elahi Bux Soomro, who said the Syed fought for the rights of Sindhis throughout his life. He was a thinker and a sufi and believed in humanism, tolerance and coexistence. Makhdoom Khaliquzzaman explained the reason for the differences that had cropped up with the leaders of the Pakistan Movement. Like all great men who commit mistakes, the MNA believed, the Syed had also erred.

The biographer introduced the book as his "life-long achievement" and underlined the difficulty he had faced in trying to find documents to write the book.

Advocate Rochiram gave an overview of Syed's political life and thought in a detailed paper saying he had lived for Sindh and died for Sindh.

Mr Soomro's other publications are Sufis of the Indus Valley and Freedom at Gallows: the Life and Time of Syed Sibghatullah Shah Pir Pagara, with a brief survey of the political history of the subcontinent in the pre-partition era.