Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017
IN a society where the culture of dialogue is on the retreat and forces of intolerance ascendant at every level and in all relations, be it social, industrial, political or personal, you tend to hold on to small blessings such as the first Sindh Tripartite Labour Conference held seven years after the devolution of labour.
Aside from the pomp, its resemblance to a PPP jalsa and the two-page advertisement in newspapers, a couple of creditable aspects of the conference organised by the Sindh government need to be noted: it did have representation of the three partners in equal strength (state officials, labour activists and industrialists) and the organisers first gave the mike to labour and employers who blasted the state for its inefficiency and lack of political will and put forth a number of recommendations.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017
WHEN I entered the job market in the late 1970s, income security in old age was an idea from another planet for women in Pakistan. Not because they weren’t working then or 10 decades earlier: they were toiling at home, in the field and in offices, schools, hospitals and other public domains. It was just that money was a male matter and what was drilled into women was to secure a husband and not income security in old age. Are young women money-smart nowadays and do they think about income security?
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 26th, 2017
“Exile is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” — Edward Said
Whether pushed by political turmoil, war, conflict or repression, or driven by economic compulsions, an exilic position invariably poses a multitude of challenges. The migrant — or the exile — negotiates a strange territory, substitutes the settled routine with new rhythms and rituals, confronts different realities, values and perspectives. And all the while the ‘homeland’ holds a deep affinity, almost a primordial attraction. Although with the passage of time the exile comes to terms with the new space, the new life, perhaps a pining and a ‘crippling sorrow of estrangement’, as articulated by Said, remains buried deep within the heart.
In her debut novel The Last Days of Café Leila, Persian-American author Donia Bijan tells an engaging story encompassing three generations of a family, woven around their life’s trials and tribulations in shifting spaces, times and cultures. The curtain opens in Tehran 2014, on Behzod — or Zod — an aging father who is waiting for the letter from his daughter Noor, now a woman of 40, residing in the United States since her teens, that will bring him the longed-for news of her homecoming.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2017
BE it science and technology, art and literature, philosophy and history, politics and international affairs, it is the translators who are opening the doors and windows to the world for us. Yet, in Pakistan, they remain the most invisible of knowledge workers.
Working in practically every field, these workers translate texts — containing ideas, concepts, information — making an important contribution towards society’s development, using their specialised skills. Who are these people and what are their concerns?
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017
‘He’s stabbing women because he wants us to stay at home. He’s instilling fear in us. But we will continue to come out and work’. — Gulzar, 27, domestic worker
SO says my domestic help (maasi) after visiting Humaira, a 16-year-old girl from her community, in a hospital after she was stabbed near Liaquatabad while returning home to Moach Goth, a low-income settlement in Baldia Town, Karachi. Gulzar, divorced and a single parent, tells of another stabbing, this one of a 45-year-old maasi in the area where I live near PECHS. “She was stabbed in street number 10. She makes chapattis in bungalows and lives in Korangi,” I am told.
How would city officials have reacted if the lunatic was stabbing powerful, rich, influential men? Would they have shrugged it off saying it is impossible to find the lone knife-wielding man in a city of almost 20 million?
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016
AS you drive down the Super Highway, past Sohrab Goth in Karachi, your eyes fall on mammoth excavators — huge truck cranes, bulldozers, loaders and cement-mixers parked left and right in the open katcha land. Around the dangerous-looking machinery you spot drivers and cleaners in faded shalwar kameez squatting and chatting, or resting on charpoys.
In between are patches of dust and bushes, raiti-bajri adda with mounds of gravel, stand-by trucks and junkyards full of rusted vehicles. The first thought that springs to your mind: ‘Construction business is booming is Pakistan!’ Indeed, the machinery, high-rises, upcoming residential schemes, underpasses and flyovers — all highly visible — are indicative of the 7pc growth rate of the construction industry and its 2.4pc contribution to the country’s GDP.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016
The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. — Antonio Gramsci
THE old world of the labour movement started unravelling in the 1990s when finance and production went global, kicked up by unbridled capitalism. In the new system of production, traditional labour relations — characterised by long-term employment, job security and workers’ representation — fell apart. In developing countries, union density plummeted. Was it the end of organised labour? Or, have new forms of labour solidarity started filling the vacuum?
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016
“…Every acquisition that is disproportionate to the labour spent on it is dishonest.”
— Leo Tolstoy
BRONZED-FACED, wearing faded red shirts with a number stitched in white, soaked in sweat, coolies old and young sit astride a pavement under the scorching sun, waiting for passengers to arrive at the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station. A few balance loads of luggage on their red turbans as they walk briskly towards the platform. A precarious livelihood, you might say. Indeed it is, and worse: coolies have to pay a 30pc commission to their contractor from their meagre daily earnings, plus a monthly fee of Rs750 — sans any workplace facilities.
Yet the contractor is not satisfied: he wants his cut raised to 40pc. Sounds outrageous?
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2016
ONE of the many contradictions of our society is between its loud avowal of its love of the ‘family’ institution and its devaluation of woman, the pivotal figure in the family. Not only do we look down on women inside the family, we give two hoots about women who commit themselves to door-to-door healthcare services for the women and children of the family. No wonder the issues being faced by lady health workers — job security, timely payment of wages and supplies of kits and medicines —remain to be addressed fully by the state.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016
IT was an early March morning in 2009 and I was cruising along one of the primary roads in the central business district area of Dhaka city where many of the ready-made garments (RGM) factories are housed in old buildings.
Young girls in droves, dressed in shalwar-kameez, were emerging from the side lanes, stepping down from the buses, crossing the road, chatting on the footpath, bending over street vendors’ wares now and then and heading towards their factories for the morning shift.
I was in Dhaka to get a sense of what makes Bangladeshi RGM women workers organise for their rights. I climbed a narrow staircase of a building where many girls had gone. The factory was on the first floor. From the small landing I looked through the iron grille padlocked from outside: women bending over sewing machines in rows. A surly young man guarded the door: “outsiders are not allowed”, he told me.