Three-Way Dialogue

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.

Continue reading

Social Protection

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?

Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Days of Café Leila

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.

Continue reading

Knowledge Workers

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?

Continue reading

Misogyny and Work

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?

Continue reading

Workers’ Ordeal

Published in Dawn on August 22, 2017

Surrealism runs through the streets…
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

GARCIA Marquez’s description of the reality of Latin America fits snugly into scenarios here. Or so it seems. How else would you convey the reality of several worldviews that are bizarre but that actually exist? What strange stories are hidden in the harsh realm of workers and the multilayered reality of, say, a public-sector enterprise that shut down its operations in June 2015 and still has on its payroll 12,000 employees?

When I rang up Mirza sahib, an employee at the Pakistan Steel Mills since the 1980s, and asked if we could meet, he said, “I am stationed in Dalbandin”. It was eerie to hear the melodious name of that faraway town in Balochistan. How come he ended up there? A punishment for activism, a case of enforced transfer, I am told. The PSM has a small iron ore project, now closed, in Chagai district. “The machines are lying on a hill and there is nothing to do.”

Continue reading

Media and Labour

Published in Dawn on August 13, 2017

NOAM Chomsky pins his propaganda model on “inequality of wealth and power and its multi-level effects on mass media interests and choices”. The media’s structure and its five basic filters, as pointed out by Chomsky, are the same the world over, although there are variations in cultural and political filters specific to each country. Hence, it came as no surprise when I saw the news of the death of five coal miners on page six of a national newspaper a few days ago. Generally speaking, the deaths of workers are deemed fit for page two or three and if the number of dead is higher, the news is taken on the front page. I wondered about the filters in this case: was it the location of the event (a village east of Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir — and not in the provinces) or lack of representation (no trade union mediation).

Continue reading