Saturday, November 17, 2012

Should Marijuana be legalized in the USA?

“It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizens from falling intoerror; it is the function of the citizens to keep the Government from fallinginto error”.

The citizens may have relished the constitution’s amendment throughout the course of history, yet the state seems to forget the very element of the basis it frames to run the affairs. The citizens have tried again and again to unfold the blind that seems to be wrought around the eyes of the state runners but all to dismay. All the rules are to be followed by the citizens, yet if they try to keep the government from falling into error, they are revoked and ignored. What basis does this formulate for the all ‘liberal’ and all ‘democratic’ United States of America? The citizens have tried and failed, but the burning issue still remains undecided; “Should Marijuana be legalized in the USA?” Despite the words of the great George Washington, “Make the mostof the Hemp Seed and sow it everywhere," the sowing, use and possession remains subjected to arrest and federal punishment . In spite of the shocking latest results of the Gallup polling, where 55% of the population voted in favor of legalizing Marijuana, the democracy seems to have failed and so does the claim of the constitution’s amendment.

Marijuana, weed, pot and grass are all the names given to a recreational drug used throughout the world today. The drug is extracted from the ‘Cannabis Sativa’ plant which grows in almost all the inhibited parts of the world. The use of Marijuana has prevailed over countless centuries; records dating back almost 2737 B.C show its use as a Medicine in China. It gradually mobilized to all parts of the world, and later became incorporated as a ‘mild’ and ‘entertaining’ drug in the different cultures. The drug became an integral part of the America’s ‘hippie’ culture and ‘beat generation’ in the 1900s. However, a campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics sought to portray Marijuana as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction by using terms such as, ‘Marijuana: The assassin of youth’and ‘Marijuana: The devil's weed with roots in hell’ . As a result it became outlawed in 1937 Marijuana Act which led to an uproar amongst the users. The Act is still followed in the USA without much alteration and the protests by the citizens have continued to grow. The celebration of the ‘4:20 day’ every year by millions of people denotes the fervor among the population for legalization of Marijuana. Despite the illegalization, it is estimated that around 16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older use Marijuana at least once in a month according to the NationalSurvey on Drug Use and Health . Although, many people argue that Marijuana’s use is hazardous to health and highly addictive, however it should be legalized because it can lead to enormous tax revenue generation, growth of various industries and a reduction in the crime rate.

Many people fallaciously argue that the use of Marijuana can be harmful to health and lead to diseases such as lung cancer and brain impairment. The proponents of keeping Marijuana illegal base their arguments on the opinions of the medical researchers who backed the illegalizing of Marijuana in 1937. They argue that Marijuana stimulates the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and such artificial stimulant may cause damage to the brain in the long run. The opposition also believes that like cigarettes, Marijuana can also damage the lining of the lungs leading to lung cancer. However, it needs to be realized that the technology and awareness of the medical science lacked the precision and validity which it has achieved now. The world of science keeps changing with each advancement in technology rendering the previous ‘facts’ erroneous. Such has been the case with the examination of Marijuana’s effects on the human body. Latest researches by the different medical boards across the USA have revealed striking results which debunk the common misconceptions held about Marijuana. Earlier this month, the National Cancer Institute bowed to a burgeoning legion of studies suggesting that one of the chemical compounds in cannabis slows oreven stops the uncontrolled cell growth . In one study, tumors in lab mice shrank once they were exposed to the compound CBD found in Marijuana smoke. The National Cancer Institute updated its Web site accordingly, including a reference to a ‘possible direct antitumor effect’ from Marijuana . In addition to this, Harvard University released a study on April 17, 2007 which too showed that the active ingredient in Marijuana, THC, cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread . Furthermore, it has also been found that Marijuana can also prevent the growth of tumors in brain and breasts considerably. The therapeutic properties are also important when it comes to relieving cancerpatients of the nausea and pains that are caused by Chemotherapy. Even the Federal Drug Association (FDA) has approved the use of the main ingredient of Marijuana (THC) for the treatment of nausea and neuropathic pains. Moving on, the argument of the brain damage can also be debunked by the study conducted by University of Saskatchewan which suggests that Marijuana can in fact stimulate the growth of brain cells rather than damaging them. This study also revealed that Marijuana can stimulate the cell growth in brain regions concerning anxiety and depression and can lead to developments of cures for such illnesses. Therefore, the expression ‘pot-head’ may not hold as much significance as it had gained after the misconceptions became associated with Marijuana. Furthermore, a research byScripps Research Institute also showed that Marijuana can in fact stop the Alzheimer disease (a neurological disorder causing loss of memory and thinking ability) by obstructing the regions that cause the disease. It has also been associated with the treatment of Glaucoma by the Californian Medical board and several other researches also show that it does not have any effect on the body even by long term use. The illegalization on basis of medical discrepancies is completely fallacious and holds no truth in the modern world. James Burl in his book, The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics wrote, "There are no long lasting ill-effects from the acute use of Marijuana and no fatalities have ever been recorded ....’’ . Hence Marijuana does not damage the body or harm lungs and brain; instead it stops the growth of cancer and improves the condition of brain cells along with treating glaucoma and its related illnesses.

In addition to the previous point, the opposition also argues that Marijuana is highly addictive and can lead to physical dependency amongst its users. They base their argument on the large number of regular users which are present in the USA today; if the users regularly buy Marijuana so it means that it is addictive. The opposition maybe right to some extent, however the addiction which is being referred to needs to be analyzed in terms of its effect on the users. In fact ‘addiction’ may not even be a suitable word to be used with Marijuana use. It does not lead to craving for further intake and neither does it cause any physical addiction or dependence. ‘The Science of Marijuana’, written by Leslie L. Iverson, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Cambridge gives detailed analyses of the surveys and experiments conducted on the addiction levels of Marijuana. According to the statistics, only 9% of the regular users develop some kind of addiction on Marijuana. On the other hand, around 39% of smokers and 25% of the alcoholics develop serious addiction and it gets very difficult for them to stop smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol (Iversen). They may suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms and may require medical help to get out of the symptoms which may include nausea, sleeplessness, hunger deprivation and anxiety. However, researchers have found no physical withdrawal symptoms if a regular Marijuana smoker stops smoking. This is because the addiction is not as severe as it is in the case of smokers and alcoholics. Moreover, the mild addiction is just like how someone gets into a habit of drinking a soft drink like Coca Cola or Pepsi daily. It is not even logical to refer to such a ‘habit’ as addiction or physical dependency. Furthermore, around 91% of regular Marijuana smokers are reported to leave Marijuana once they are married without any withdrawal symptom. Keeping in mind all the statistics, it seems ironic that Marijuana which is relatively non-addictive is illegal whereas tobacco and alcohol are legal and easily available throughout the country. The reason which is presented by many public analysts is that the state had outlawed Marijuana just to protect the revenues of the alcohol and tobacco industry because it has been found by a research that Marijuana smokers tend to consume less cigarettes or alcohol. This political agenda behind the illegalization is farfetched and needs to be uprooted from its very source. As the Economic weekly reported that cannabis, like other medicines, has side effects; however these side effects are “not physical but political”. Therefore, Marijuana has the least relative rate of addiction compared to all the drugs, especially tobacco and alcohol, hence legalizing it would help the state to further its democratic image in the minds of the people.

Moving on, one of the major arguments to support the legalization of Marijuana is enormous tax revenue generation and furthering of economic condition of the country significantly. According to the latest statistics, the consumers in the USA spend around $45 billion dollars in theconsumption of Marijuana. If the average price is taken to be $10 per gram and levying the same tax rate which is prevalent on cigarettes, the revenue generation can be between $60 billion to $100 billion (BusinessPundit). This is a huge number compared to the fact that presently all the money goes into the pockets of underground dealers and gangs. The money, of course does not show up in the official records thereby reducing the potential Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the economy greatly. In order to combat this, the state could set up shops and sale Marijuana through them. The customers may be charged with variety of taxes; federal excise tax, a state excise tax and a sales tax (Legalize, Tax Marijuana to FillBudget Gap). The system would pretty much be like how liquor is distributed. Furthermore, it could also be sold in bars and nightclubs, which would be licensed of course. The legalization would in turn increase the job availability as more shops would be set up. Also, it will greatly increase the incomes of the farmers who will now grow Marijuana as a cash-crop. The benefit which could be gained from it is that the increased incomes could be taxed therefore further increasing the revenue generation. This presents a win-win scenario for the government and the society as a whole. Not only will the money, which forms a part of the black economy of USA, be curbed but the money will also be transferred to the hands of the state. The revenue could be spent to level the budget deficit and may also be used for the benefits of the economy by providing more public goods and services. Therefore, if Marijuana is legalized and taxed, it could generate huge amounts of tax revenue from the sale and incomes of the people who will get involved in the business thereby pulling the economy out of the economic downturn being faced presently.

Furthermore, humans have used parts of the Marijuana plant for textiles, fiber and paper for over thousands of years and today modern processing technologies have made it possible for it to be used as an alternative to plastic and other petroleum products. First of all, Marijuana has been used for making clothes as far back as the Greeks era. Even today, it is considered to be the strongest natural fiber available in the world. Thomas Jefferson and GeorgeWashington too were advocates of Marijuana fiber and recommended their fellowcountrymen to use the plant as fabric for uniforms and clothing. It is considered to be stronger than cotton and can be used in the production of rugs and carpets. In addition to being stronger, it can also yield 250% more fiber than cotton. Surprisingly, the first flag of America and the first pair of jeans by Levis were made with Marijuana plant because its durability . Furthermore, Marijuana can also be used to produce a fine quality paper. It is estimated that around 1 acre of Marijuana plant can produce as much paper as 4 acres of trees. The fact that it can regenerate in months without any use of fertilizers further enhances its significance. Thomas Jefferson’s journal entry reported that trees are scanty to produce and harm the land whereas Marijuana is “abundantly productive and grows forever on the same spot” (Hemp: AnAlternative Fiber for Making Paper). The current global ‘go green’ movement to save trees and protecting environment adds weight to the argument of growing Marijuana. Moreover, latest researches show that Marijuana can be effectively used as a substitute for natural oil in the production of plastics. In 1941, Henry Ford built a Marijuana fueled and fabricated automobile that weighed only two/thirds the amount of a steel car and could resist blows 10 times as great without denting. There is film footage of Henry Ford hitting this car with a sledge hammer, and the hammer just bounces right back without any noticeable damage at all. This depicts the durability of plastic made from Marijuana. Although plastic from Marijuana plant is currently being produced in China, however the benefits cannot be borne by the US industrial sector. If Marijuana is legalized and its cultivation encouraged, it may turn out to be the biggest cash crop for USA because of its numerous industrial uses.

Moreover, legalization of Marijuana would lead to a reduction in crime rate and curbing of the annual spending on law enforcement agencies which could prove socially beneficial. A billion dollar underground industry, sale and growth of Marijuana are in the hands of underground gangs and dealers. It has created a violent illicit market that is responsible for far too many lost lives and broken communities (Tax Dollars and Government Spending). Organized crime, gangs and drug cartels have the most to gain financially from prohibition, and these profits can easily be funneled into arms smuggling, violence and corruption . It is estimated that drug prohibition channels over $40 billion a year into the criminal underworld. This not only usurps the right of government to this huge financial gain but also induces and feeds into much crime related activities and crimes. If the state reverses its decision the underworld would lose billions of dollars as Marijuana would be sold in a legitimate open market environment. Also, the people currently in the Marijuana business instigate the development of crime subculture in the inner cities. Young and jobless individuals get easily incited by the money, cars and lavish lifestyle by the drug dealers and the individuals turn to Marijuana dealing because of the easy and lucrative business dealing. Moreover, people involved in the business cannot go to courts to settle their disputes and when black-market contracts are breached, the result is often some form of violent sanction, which usually leads to retaliation and then open warfare in the streets. The legalization would lead to curbing of the growing crime culture and will have a positive impact on the reduction of organized crime and gang violence throughout the country. In addition to that, it is estimated thataround 97.5 people are arrested every hour for the possession of Marijuana in the United States. The majority of the convicts are teenagers and who are found with very small amounts of Marijuana. In 2007 the Department of Justice reported that there were 1,841,182 drug arrests in the United States; the report alsostated that there were more drug abuse arrests than any other category of offenses. Marijuana arrests accounted for 47.4% of the drug abuse arrests. This allows us to estimate that about 872,720 persons were arrested for Marijuana offenses. This is the greatest number of people arrested in the world for any drug possession. This is not surprising compared to the fact that USA has the highest rate of incarceration with 2,266,800 adults incarcerated in U.S. prisons at year-end 2010 (United States of America. Bureau of Justice Statistics). What holds significance in these statistics is the fact that the jailing related expenses for holding such a large number of convicts come from the public purse in form of taxes. In 2010 the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second (Sheriff Mack's Constitutional Posse). This has significant repercussions not only on the public purse, which is being drained holding such juvenile ‘criminals’ but also on the lives of innocent individuals. Furthermore, not only billions of tax dollars are wasted, but drug war spending also results in the defunding of other important services. Money funneled into drug enforcement has meant less funding for more serious crimes and has left essential education, health, social service and public safety programs struggling to operate on meager funding (Wasted Tax Dollars). Also, the arresting of Marijuana possessors diverts the limited resources of law enforcement agencies from the prevalent heinous crimes such as murder, rape and robberies therefore failing to control these crimes. Dan Quayle, U.S. Representative and Vice president under President Bush said, "Congress should definitely consider decriminalizing possession of Marijuana; we should concentrate on prosecuting the rapists and burglars who are a menace to society". Therefore, decriminalizing Marijuana would not only reduce the crime rate of the country but will also save billions of tax dollars which could be diverted to other social institutions.

Hence, the time has come when United States of America should actually prove itself to be truly democratic and a country run by citizens. The time has come when USA needs to bow down to the wishes of its citizens before it destroys it respect. In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘the prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered by the prohibition law ; for nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced’. The state needs to hold on to its prestige and reap the benefits which this resource has to offer. It needs to realize the true potential behind this precious natural resource which has been forgone for years. It needs to realize that in the time of economic downturn, Marijuana, a harmless plant can not only provide enormous amount of taxes but can also boost the industrial sector along with reducing the crime rate of the country. Therefore, the state needs to expunge the erroneous myths associated with Marijuana and legalize it because this is what the people demand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Taliban’s Claim Against Sufi Shrines Justified or Not?

A Taliban suicide bomber explodes, killing forty-two and what was once a refuge from temporal chaos has now been reduced to mere debris and rubble. How often do the media report such acts of brutality upon the shrines of Sufi saints? Though the people might have become oblivious to all such aforementioned incidences but the Pakistani society is experiencing far reaching consequences because of the religious and sectarian mayhem. The Taliban’s strategic shift towards attacking Sufi shrines came after the Lal Masjid operation conducted by the state in 2007 (Haider, “Attacking shrines and the other Islam”). Initially they asked the authorities to shut down the Sufi shrines in the FATA and adjoining areas but as the state did not comply they opted towards forceful measures. The first attack on a Sufi shrine was conducted in December 2007 when Abdul Shakoor blew himself up near Malang Baba’s shrine on GT Road (Haider, “Attacking shrines and the other Islam”). As the Taliban got more influential and potent in the frontier their cruelty increased simultaneously. An onslaught was unleashed on the shrines all over Pakistan. They attacked the 400-year-old shrine of Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba in the tehsil Bara in March 2008, Rehman Baba’s Shrine near Peshawar in March 2009 and Data Darbar in Lahore, Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi and Farid Ganjshakar’s shrine in Pakpattan in 2010 and various other shrines all across the country (Rehman, “Attack on Sufi Shrines”).

The institution of the mystic saints’ shrines has been prevalent in the subcontinent for centuries. In Pakistan, a large number of people revere the saints and pay homage to them. It is a fundamental right of an individual to visit the place of worship of his or her choice. On the contrary, the religious extremist mindset wants to stifle this basic tenet of the believers’ faith and implement their own religious dogma. Therefore, the Pakistani society has been hijacked by the continuous barbarism of the religious extremist and militant groups. The Taliban have directly challenged the Pakistani style of living and overtly attacked its norms and values with the recent attack on Data Darbar (Imtiaz, “Targeting symbols of spirituality – II”). Although the religious extremists justify their claim of closing or bombing Dargahs of Sufi saints by reasoning that they foster un-Islamic and illegal activities, however these claims are unjustified and this vital institution should continue to thrive because the believers explain their reverence of the saint logically, and Dargahs have a religious and emotional significance for the believers and cultural, social and economic importance for the society, and the issue of the occurrence of ill practices taking place in these Dargahs lies with the state.

First of all, in the Islamic extremist viewpoint the believers of the mystic saints perform shirk (defying the oneness of God) by visiting the shrines and prostrating in front of the graves, asking for mannat (wish), give nazar (donations) and perform dhamaal (dance), therefore the shrines should be razed and leveled to the ground. In the Wahabi and Sallafi interpretation it is un-Islamic to construct shrine and mausoleums. Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid says:

Islam forbids erecting structures over graves, and commands that any such structures should be knocked down. But it is permitted to put a marker on the grave so that the family and friends of the deceased will know where it is (and nothing more than this). However, this marker should not be a structure or anything else that is not allowed in sharee’a. Making a grave higher than the amount that is permitted is Haram…The making graves high that is mentioned in the Hadith especially includes the domes and shrines that are built over graves, and the taking of graves as places of worship. The Prophet cursed those who do that (Nayl al-Awtaar, 4:130).

This doctrine of Islamic thought traces its roots back to Saudi Arabia where it is practiced by the majority of the Muslims, therefore when King Saud came to power he demolished the cemetery of Jannat ul Baqi on the April 25 1925 (Haider, “History of the Baqi”). He cited his responsibility to culminate the practice of shirk by the construction of mausoleums there. Futhermore, in the Wahabi interpretation, or the extremist interpretation of the Deobandi scholars, it is against the Islamic ethos to prostrate in front of the graves or ask any dead person for help by supplication (Ibn Kullaab 890). In addition to this, the Wahabis also view the presentation of ‘nazar’ to dargahs as against the Islamic teachings (Al-Shawkani). Music and dance are also strictly prohibited by the fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic laws according to the Wahabi ideology (ibn Rushd). Thus the practice of ‘dhamaal’ is therefore unacceptable to the extremists who view it as ‘bidaah’ (invention) and claim that it is contrary to the true essence of Islam. In the Taliban’s’ view, the believers of Sufi saints perform shirk and pollute the true beliefs and practices of Islam by their ‘bidaah’, therefore to preclude such activities the shrines should either be shut down or blown off.

On the other hand the believers justify and legitimate their principles and practices from the Sufi teachings. Most believers of the Sufi saints hail from the ‘Barelvi’ or ‘Shia’ school of thought. Both of these sects generally acquiesce on the rituals performed at the shrines. The believer’s logic is that they do not worship the saint rather they make him a form of ‘wasila’ (intercession) between God and themselves. The devotees justify their belief by quoting a verse of the Holy Quran “Who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission?” (2:255). They opine that God can give anybody the right of intercession whom He wishes to and these revered saints are those blessed people. In the believers’ interpretation it is permissible to construct mausoleums (as-Samhudi in his book Wafa'ul-Wafa' vol. 4 p. 394-403). Furthermore, the believers reason by saying that if the construction of shrines was un-Islamic then Holy Prophet’s shrine in Medina should also be demolished. Thus it is proven that it is permissible to construct mausoleums for the pious people. Music is allowed in Hanafi and Shia interpretation (al Hanooti, “Fatwa: is Music Halal”). Therefore the drum beating in the shrines is legitimized. On the other hand the ritual of ‘dhamaal’ has never been associated to Islamic practices, by the believers; rather it is only a form of venting the worldly and temporal nuisances. When a person dances he achieves a state of trance which enriches him spiritually and helps him live a more satiated life despite all the ruthlessness of society (Najeeb, “Sufism and Pakistan”). The concept of ‘nazar’ is justified by stating that the money donated by pilgrims is actually distributed amongst the needy and therefore does not benefit the saint or the authorities in any way (Najeeb, “Sufism and Pakistan”).

Moreover, the proponents of this extremist ideology justify attacking the shrines by stating that illegal businesses such as drug trade, black market operations, kidnapping, prostitution and extortion take place in the vicinities of the shrines. The Talibans claim that since the initial act of constructing a shrine itself was evil therefore the aforementioned malevolent practices have crept in these shrines. This Taliban view is vindicated by a study conducted by the website ‘’ which clearly shows that the illegal activities taking place in the shrines has amplified over the years (Visiting Holy Shrines). News reports also confirm the presence of drugs, contraband, kidnapping and prostitution mafia in the shrines. Thousands of homeless people turn to the shrines in order to seek refuge but they fall into the wrong hands and get entangled into the web of sinful activities (Abbas, “Shrines become centre of illegal activities”). The business of prostitutes is quite extant in the shrines and the adjoining areas (Saeed, “Why Shrines?”). Furthermore it is also a fact that kidnappers take refuge in the shrines by camouflaging with the pilgrims “(Shahid, Rites and Rituals of Shrines in Lahore”).Thus the Taliban justify their claim of blowing up such places which in their view; breed nothing but evil and sins for the society.

On the other hand, apologists for the shrines claim that the existence of such evils in these shrines, or their adjoining areas, is contrary to teachings of the saints and is an upshot of the state’s negligence to implement law and keep a check on criminal elements. Firstly, the shrine in itself does not propagate such unethical acts or practices for it is a diversion from the essence of Sufism (Abbas, “Shrines become centre of illegal activities”). Sufism only teaches spirituality and love for the mankind. Moreover, they believe that criminal elements cloak as pilgrims and take refuge in the shrines and then operate their businesses from within. Thus the market for drugs and prostitutes has developed due to the abundant presence of unemployed and idle men (Mir, “Who is not Kafir”). The supporters of shrines blame the state and its ineffective law enforcement which leads to ill practices within the premises of the Dargah. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that no criminal activity takes place in the shrines. On the other hand, to counter the criminal elements the state should work in harmony with the social groups, NGOS, and local community. Therefore the onus of the illegal activities lies on the state’s shoulder, not the Sufi saints, thus the call to close the shrines is unjustified.

Moving on, followers of Sufism initially attributed the spread of Islam in subcontinent to the Sufi saints, but now believe that it is their shrines that help in spreading the word of Islam and supporting the poverty stricken these days. Historical data shows that the Sufis made relentless efforts for the spread of Islam. From early on they left their houses in search of truth and spirituality, lived a life of asceticism and then spread their message upon gaining maturity. Before they started preaching, they set a noble example through their actions and conduct (Freitag, “Sufi Shrines”) Contrary to the ‘Ulemas’ practices, the Sufis preached Islam in a more flexible, pragmatic, subtle and spiritual vein. Instead of threatening people of Allah’s wrath, they kindled love for the Almighty by accentuating on His kindness and benevolence. Their ‘khanqahs’ (sanctuaries) were all-embracing (Haider, “Attacking shrines and the other Islam”). The Sufis did not discriminate amongst the masses on the basis of religion, caste or creed. Instead they assisted every needy and poor person. This show of magnanimity attracted people to Sufism especially from the lower strata of society. People who were oppressed or vagrant took refuge in the ‘khanqahs’. (Najeeb, “Sufism and Pakistan”). Those who were in thirst, hunger or pain were given shelter and assistance. Thus the Sufis could disseminate their message to a wide range of audience through this act of social cohesion. Today the shrines continue to impart Islam’s message to all those who visit.

The descendants of the Sufi saints are now fulfilling this duty. Those in need of food or thirst for knowledge visit the shrines today and fulfill their worldly as well as spiritual needs. People visit the shrines in times of distress or bliss and perform ‘mannat’ or give ‘nazar’ in order to feel peaceful (Imtiaz, “Targeting symbols of spirituality – II”). This relation with the saint helps one achieve emotional and spiritual healing by feeling the divine blessings being bestowed upon him. Furthermore, this act of the believers has a lot of significance for the society. When they give alms in this form it directly affects the needy and impoverished. Those who cannot afford meals can easily access a shrine and benefit from the ‘langar’ (free communal meal). The shelter less can take refuge in these shrines. Thus the society sustains itself through these acts of generosity by the affluent (Imtiaz, “Targeting symbols of spirituality – II”). The level of crime and frustration in the society is kept in check through these provisions. Thus, the followers believe that the shrines constructed to commemorate these revered people are justified because they perform the same functions for the society as the ‘khanqahs’ did in lifetime of the saints.

In addition to this there are numerous other social functions that a Sufi Shrine fulfills. Firstly, the shrines create cohesion and harmony amongst social classes through the interaction of people belonging to different tiers of society. They form a social bond with this interaction which helps in unifying the society. The affluent in this way can help the poor directly or indirectly, which leads to the solution of their domestic constraints and problems. Moreover, women are provided for a means of social interaction. In the Islamic culture the mosque has made itself exclusive for the males only. There are very little avenues for the women to socialize or learn. Thus the dargah has successfully filled in the void for years by providing an alternate medium of enculturation for the suppressed gender. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the women are generally not allowed to leave their house, the shrine of Rehman Baba provides to them an outlet to learn different skills, knowledge and ideas (Rehman, “Attack on Sufi Shrines”).. However it has been blown off by the Taliban. Lastly, the shrines are distinct in characteristic in that they provide a unifying force for a polarized religion such as Islam which is divided into more than 70 sects. According to Amir Mir, 20 percent of the Muslims living in Pakistan are against these shrines (Wahabis and Deobandis) and the rest revere the saints or at least do not resent against them (Mir, “Just Who Is Not A Kafir”). The Muslims have even segregated their mosques with each sect adhering to their own mosques. Thus, in such stratified milieu the shrines provide a platform for the different sects to come together and form an inter-Islamic harmony and cohesion. Therefore, the shrines should thrive because they fulfill several functions for the society.

Another key characteristic of the Sufi shrine is the all-inclusiveness which leads to interreligious harmony in the society. Religious syncreticism has always been associated with the dargahs as the saints are not only revered by Muslims alone but Sikhs, Hindus, Christians etc. as well (Mir, “Who is not Kafir”). As people belonging to different religions, they converge on a common ground i.e. the Sufi saint, this then helps in achieving social harmony and cohesion across religious lines as well. For example in Sehwan Shareef, Udero Lal, and Abdullah Shah Ghazi Karachi, pilgrims belonging to Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam flock the shrines every year on the ‘Urs’ (annual gathering and rituals) of the saint (Mir, “Who is not Kafir”). All of the devotees, irrespective of religion, perform the rituals with the same zeal and fervor. Therefore the shrines hold immense value of harmonizing the religious differences that exist in the society.

Furthermore, the Sufi shrines hold immense historical, cultural and economic significance. Historical and cultural importance of the shrines is intrinsic not only in the rituals and customs inherent to them but the artifacts and structure of the shrine speak volumes regarding the past. First of all, Sufi Shrines gave rise to practices which exhibit the intangible cultural and historical tradition of the communities. For example, a range of devotional songs coupled with music which mostly are sung in the genre of Qawwali, Sufinaya Kalam and the ecstatic Dhamal (mystical dance) (Vandal et al. 17). Mehfil-e-Samma(devotional gathering) is a permanent feature of the shrines which take place every Thursday, where the believers attend to renew their love and devotion for the luminaries(Sajid, “The essence of shrines in Punab”). Most importantly, an annual commemoration event takes place (urs) at the death anniversary of the saint. Similarly, at the Shiite shrines the event of Thursday is marked by commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, however the intensity of the rituals is witnessed in the Moharram. Moreover, the competition of oral tradition such as ‘heer ranjha’ and ‘sassi punno’ also used to be a vital part of the shrine culture. In addition to this, the palpable artifacts exhibit the culture of the area(Sajid, “The essence of shrines in Punab”).. For example the Shrine of Shah Yusuf Gardez in Multan has been built in a different style of architecture with its distinct “naqaashi” (fresco, fresco secco, wall paintings), sheesha kari (mirror work), kashikari (tile work) and lacquered naqaashi wooden ceilings, intricate wooden jallis” (Vandal et al. 17). On the other hand the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and others in Multan are epitome of the amalgamation of Central Asian influences with the local vernaculars of the region. They are built in two distinct styles of funerary buildings; the octagonal domed and the flat roofed style of architecture. Lastly the shrines unify different cultures as pilgrims from all over Pakistan visit the shrines even if they are far off(Sajid, “The essence of shrines in Punab”).. For example every year hundreds of thousands of Punjabis go to Sehwan Shareef to attend the ‘urs’ on 18th Shabaan. All these activities have a positive impact upon country’s economy as employment is generated through various ways because of the shrine. Hence, it is proven that shrines have had great impact on the culture of the believers and masses in general.

Thus, it is established that the Sufism is deeply rooted in the land that constitutes Pakistan. The cultural norms and rituals overtly exhibit the impact of the Sufi beliefs and practices on the people. Not only do the believers revere the saints but most of them have a very deep emotional bonding and spiritual relationship with the saint. They pay homage by visiting the shrines. The rituals associated with Moharram and Azadari are also closely knitted with the shrines. On the other hand it has been established that the shrines have innumerable benefits for the society. Even though there must be illegal or unIslamic activities taking place in the shrines but decimating a place so dear to millions is totally unjustified and uncalled for.

Outline of district administration introduced by the British Raj in the Province of Punjab.

The British annexed the province of Punjab in 1849 after a series of battles with the then incumbent Sikh regime. Punjab always held a strategic, economic, political and militaristic significance for the established empires in Delhi. It was due to the key location, arable lands and populace of the area that every empire wanted to subdue the Punjabis and have control over them. Punjab was “a province covering 133,741 sq miles and carrying a population of 20 million” (Roseberry 115) held enormous importance for the colonial government. Therefore, the primary concern and interest of the British was to substantiate their control over it. Thus, for this purpose they formulated an effective system of governance keeping in mind the distinct ground realities and characteristics of the province. They introduced the paternalistic idea of governance coupled with an intricate system of bureaucratic, judicial and administrative structure with an overlying emphasis on the patronage of the elite and construction of communications and irrigation mechanism.

Firstly, the idea of paternalistic governance was introduced by the Henry Lawrence who was made in charge of the establishment of administration in Punjab by the Governor General of the East India Company, with a board of administrators, in 1849. Henry’s younger brother John Lawrence was made the chief revenue officer and was given the task of implementing the Governor General Dalhousie’s vision and policies on land surveys and land revenue collection mechanism. The third member of the board of administrator was Charles G. Mansel. The two brothers agreed “that a district officer could and should be omniscient and omnipresent” (Roseberry 111). The Lawrence brothers were always accessible, even in their bedrooms. They believed in getting acquainted with their surroundings and environment. Riding on a horse back and surveying the areas, under their control, was their routine. They did not rely on secondary information about their subjects but instead they kept themselves in the picture by interacting with the locals.

Governor General Dalhousie’s vision regarding Punjab was “to establish a non- Regulation commissioner based system of administration that would ensure rapid, energetic and financially sound development consistent with his utilitarian ideals” (Lee 254). On the contrary Henry Lawrence was yesterday’s man, in Dalhousie’s view, “who was an impediment in the implementation of his ideals” (Lee 254). Henry was an exponent of a paternalistic rule that Dalhousie wished to eliminate from Punjab (Lee 254). Henry started to have differences with John Lawrence on the matters such as division of labor in the board. Secondly, Henry propagated a paternalistic style of spending on his subjects but John differed as he believed that he was being too profligate in his approach. The two brothers also differed on the issue of local administrators at the sub district and district level. Lastly there was also a conflict between Dalhousie and Henry on the issue of Henry’s continuous absenteeism from Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Thus this rivalry culminated with the resignation of Henry Lawrence in 1853. Consequently, John Lawrence was made the Chief Commissioner in February 1853. Then, on 1st January, 1858 he was appointed as Lieutenant Governor after the territories of North Western Province including Delhi were amalgamated in the province of Punjab.

Punjab’s administration evolved from being administered by a board of governors to being ruled by a Lieutenant General in a time span of ten years. Initially, The British divided Punjab into 27 districts, which were then further grouped into 7 divisions. Then after the inclusion of Delhi and exclusion of NWFP in 1901 the number of districts was increased to 29 but the number of divisions were reduced to five namely, Ambala, Jullundur, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Lahore. In addition to these there were 43 Native States (Imperial Gazetteer 2 of India). The most able of the officers were screened to serve in the province that was soon to become the most prestigious place, to serve in As described by Ian Talbot, in his book ‘Punjab under Colonialism’, Lieutenant General controlled the province directly by a secretariat which comprised of a chief secretary, a secretary, and two under-secretaries, which hailed from the Indian Civil Service. Other principal heads of various departments included the Financial Commissioner, the Director of Public Instruction, and three Inspectors General for Prisons, Police and Hospitals, respectively. Other heads were the Sanitary Commissioner, the conservator of Forests, the Accountant General, and the Postmaster-General. Two other ex-officio secretaries to the state were the heads of Irrigation and Roads and Buildings. The heads of Police and Education were officers of the rank of undersecretary in their respective fields. The Financial department had most number of officers with a Commissioner as head and a senior, a junior and an assistant secretary, he also controlled the Commissioner of Excise, the Director of Agriculture, the Director of Land Records and the Conservator of Forests, and he was also the court of Wards for the Province. The administration was carried by a body of officers known as the Punjab Commission; the officers were recruited from the Indian Civil Service exclusively. This Commission was supplemented by Provincial Civil Service. It was a body of officers belonging to the Punjabi origin only and they were recruited either by an examination or nomination (Talbot). The higher appointments were usually held by the Punjab Commission whereas the secondary posts were given to the members belonging to Provincial Civil Service.

The civilian bureaucratic hierarchy then narrowed down to the Divisional tier. The five divisions of Punjab were administered by Commissioners. The districts were presided over by Deputy Commissioners. The District Commissioner (D.C.) was the lynchpin of the entire steel structure of civilian bureaucracy, and even had the privilege of bearing the Union Jack on his vehicle. He was the most important officer who enjoyed autonomous powers for the functions of “Revenue Collector, Magistrate (Chief of Police), and Civil and Criminal Judge” (Roseberry 148). All such powers were divested in one officer because it was believed that Western style of division of power was unsuitable for Punjab because of its unique culture, norms requirements. It was believed by the state that the head revenue authority in any district was responsible for the prosperity and development of the area and the security of life and property plus the maintenance of law and order in the area. Therefore the D.C. needed physical force to coerce and chasten the deviants to check law and order and collect revenue. “The D.C. office staff comprised of superintendents, readers, a record keeper, revenue accountant and departmental clerks” (Roseberry 115). The D.C. trespassed in the daily lives of the people quite deeply, every activity of the people was monitored and intelligence reports were formulated in bulk to ensure that no dissent disseminated from his district.

The districts were further divided into sub-collectorates called tehsils. Each district comprised of 3 to 7 tehsils, each of which was administered by a tehsildar with a naib (deputy) tehsildar. Subordinate district officials were divided into two broad categories of gazetted (appoint able and removable by the provincial governments) and non- gazetted officers (appoint able and removable by Commissioners or Deputy Commissioners). The tehsildars were given the powers of revenue, criminal and revenue collection. The naib tehsildars were given the criminal and revenue powers. “The tehsildars had three to five kanungos, each of whom supervised twenty to thirty patwaris or revenue accountants who were in charge of the revenue collection records of group of villages. Each village then had a headman (lambardar) who was responsible to collect the revenue and then deposit in the state’s coffers. Villages were grouped into circles or zails, in many districts. Each zail was placed under a zaildar whose job was to provide general assistance to the government officials” (Imperial Gazetteer 2 of India). Thus, by introducing such an effective bureaucratic structure the British ensured a smooth and transparent administration of the province which helped them strengthen their rule and fulfill the purpose of revenue generation with establishing political and social harmony.

Another distinct key feature of British administration in Punjab was the patronage of the elite by the state. The feudal lords (Jagirdars) or local chieftains (Waderas or Nawabs) were considered a natural ally as they were to perform the vital link of indigenous intermediaries between the state and the local population. They had the key importance of controlling the masses by deriving their authority from the British state. Although Governor General Dalhousie suspected the utility of patronizing the local Jagirdars, initially, however after the mutiny of 1857 the entire colonial state structure was unanimous in supporting these local elites. The change in his view came after the events of 1857 which vindicated Henry Lawrence’s policy of supporting the local elite. The elites were given remuneration for their military services in the Revolt of 1857. This helped in keeping the province of Punjab quiescent whereas the rest of India was up in arms against the Raj. The jagirdars and waderas on the other hand assisted the British government in tackling the mutineers in rest of the provinces by supplying them with soldiers. They also suppressed any signs of mutiny in their own Jagirs and fiefdoms. In the book ‘Khizer Tiwana’, Ian Talbot writes that “Malik Sahib Khan's forces defeated the sepoys of the Bengal Army in battles at Jhelum and Ajnala during the course of July. In one episode they captured 200 'rebels' without firing a shot” (Talbot 88). Therefore, such loyalty from the Jagirdars convinced the British to form a local aristocracy as a bulwark against any future uprisings. Jagirdars on the other hand benefitted a lot with their cooperation with the British. They were even given the magistrate powers in some districts to do away with the magistrate courts, in the latter half of the 19th century.

Thus the Jagirdars were bestowed upon with cash, land and honorary grants. For instance, “ Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi received Rs1750 , Ghulam Mustafa Khan Khakwani received Rs 1000 and Sadiq Mohammad Khan Badokzai received Rs 1036, per annum” (Roseberry 193). They were also granted Jagirs in rendering their services to the crown. Furthermore, the British created Jagirdars in places where none had existed, to perpetuate their hold over the local population. Lastly, to augment the grandeur and aura of the local aristocracy they were bestowed with honorary titles such as ‘Sir’, ‘Khan’, ‘Sardar’, ‘Nawab’, ‘wadera’, etc. Local rulers on the other hand gained a lot from their partnership with the British. They not only gained prestige and honor but mustered huge fortunes for themselves. In addition to this, they were able to cultivate their land with more resources and stability of control thus yielding great profits from their lands.

Punjab on the basis of its loyalty was believed to be a reliable recruitment base for the colonial army. The inhabitants of Punjab were thus both physically and morally fit for the military service. They were labeled as the “Martial Races” of India (Bose, Jalal 79). Eventually, the Muslims of West Punjab and Northern Punjab, the Jat Sikhs of Central Punjab and Hindu Jats of the Ambala Division and East Punjab formed the lion’s share of the colonial army. At one point in time half of the colonial army was comprised of Punjabis. “In August 1918 the governor of Punjab reported proudly that in one district, Gujranwala, the ratio of soldiers to the adult male population had risen from 1:150 to 1:44 over the course of just one year” (Bose, Jalal 102). On the other hand, the locals felt pride in joining the army because of high pay allowances and social status that came with the service.

The British government also paid special attention to the needs and requirements of the farmers of the Punjab. The state formed a policy which amalgamated the economic and political prospects of agro development. Thus the term “canal colony was coined” (Ali 8). The process of “agricultural colonization started off in the West Punjab in 1885” (Ali 8), with the construction of an intricate irrigation system in the area. Not only huge tracts of barren land were thus converted into cultivable lands by the help of irrigation but the existing rain fed (barani) areas could now cultivate a variety of crops with enhanced reliability. The benefits of canal irrigation were mutual, as Imran Ali writes that “canal colonization enabled the state to make viable and profitable land grants for which the capital outlay was made not by those rewarded but by the public treasury… The transfer of resources to those aligned with the state structure made the canal colonies of immense political benefit to imperialism” (Ali 17).

The British establishment in Punjab was benevolent, albeit less exploitative as compared to other provinces. Furthermore, the state also disseminated the notion that whoever joined the British would benefit hugely. Punjabis also realized that their prosperity hinged upon their cooperation with the British government, as those who joined the British cause got succored both politically and economically. Thus instead of resisting the British rule, the Punjabis joined in the lucrative business. In addition to this, the policy of building up of a powerful and potent state bureaucracy coupled with elite patronage was pertinent to the ground realities of Punjab as Punjabis had an inherent psychology of being ruled by a master. It was not only quite successful in fulfilling the desired purposes. The Punjabis were subdued by strong arm of the state, i.e. civilian bureaucracy and police. Another success of the system was that there were not as many revolts and resistance movements in Punjab, as is other provinces of Colonial India, till the mid 20th century. This was due to the fact that both the state structure and feudal lords worked in harmony and assisted each other in stifling any such movements. However, the rise of communalism was a consequence of the implementation of the above mentioned policies; nonetheless it was the most suitable and befitting system of governance by Punjab could be ruled over.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sufi thoughts and practices in Pakistan; A divergence or convergence to the pristine beliefs?

Thirty two bodies lay strewn across the parched earth, speckled with drops of blood. Such is the collateral damage left after a young boy branded by the Taliban chooses to blow himself up. All around, what used to be a religious safe haven has succumbed and perished to the tempting mistress we call, chaos. Moreover there are scores of less extremist religious scholars, who belong to the Wahhabi or Deobandi interpretations of Islam that fulminate against the Sufi practices and rituals associated to the Sufi shrines. They claim that the pilgrims who pay visits to these shrines commit acts of Shirk (polytheism or idolatry). On the other hand there are is a sizeable majority in our region that reveres these Sufi saints, visit these shrines and perform various rituals associated with them.. These people usually belong to the Barelvi or Shia sects of the religion. They accuse the critics of Sufi practices as blasphemous and infidels. One sect of Islam accuses the other of being a ‘kafir’ (infidel) and on these bases sectarian wars are unleashed. Another facet of the debate is that of the repressive institution of ‘sijjada nasheen’ (one who sits on the sacred carpet). These ‘sijjada nasheen’ are accused by the critics as being quasi sacred. On the other hand local population worships them.

How often do we listen to the aforementioned narratives and incidences in our society or through media? The people might have become oblivious to all such aforementioned incidences, which take place in our society, but are being directly affected by these incidents I cannot relinquish the thoughts of dwelling into the complex world of Islamic theology or theosophy. Hailing from a rural background where the folk practices of Peeri-Muridi (owing allegiance to a Sufi saint who can be either living or dead), pilgrimage to various shrines, supplicating the saints for intercession, paying them for amulets or ‘spiritual healing’ and the endless veneration to anybody who claims to be a Syed (progeny of the Prophet) are quite prevalent, force one to ruminate over these affairs. A little research on the matter led to the realization that Sufism is not just about saint worship or folk rituals; it encompasses a wide range of philosophical, intellectual metaphysical and mystical realms and is filed that one must study.

Annemarie Schimmel’s Mystical Dimensions of Islam is viewed as one the most pertinent and immaculate guide towards Islamic mysticism by the scholars around the world. Another book which caught my eye was K.K. Aziz’s Religion, Land and Politics in Pakistan: A Study of Piri-Muridi. K.K. Aziz is a renowned Pakistani historian. These two books when read in tandem disabused a lot of misconceptions, queries and qualms that I had about Sufis and the extant form of folk religion in our region.

Mystical Dimensions of Islam not only delineates the salient features of Islamic mysticism but descants deeply into the beliefs and understanding of the mystics. This book helped me built my insight about Sufism and the saints in the ‘right’ perspective based upon rationality and reasoning rather than plain encomiums. A lot of misnomers attributed to the saints are rescinded in the book by the erudite presentation of logical explanation for every act, deed or practice. The book explains all the stages of development, consolidation and institutionalization of mysticism in Islam. One gets acquainted with the lesser known of the early Sufis such as Rabia Al-Adawiyah, Ibn’Arabi, Ibn’Arabi, Hasan Al-Basri, Mansur al-Hallaj, Bayazid Bastami, Attār, Sanā'ī, Shibli, Junayd Baghdadi and many others. These people are credited with the foundation of Islamic mysticism which later travelled to all the corners of the globe, from the rose gardens of the mellifluous Persian, Sindhi, Siraiki and Punjabi poetry to the icy peaks of theosophical debate, from the calm and quiescent Shiraz to the scorching heat of Thal desert, and from the gallows of Hallaj to the feudal lordship of the later sufis. The writer also expounds meticulously on almost all the terminologies of the mystic lexicon. She writes scrupulously on the concepts ranging from the complex issues of marfat, Wahdat al-wajud and wahdat al-shahud, fanaa and baqa, all types of dhikr, wajd, dhamaal etc. All types of Sufi ‘silsilaas’ are described in great detail, by the writer. The section which held my interest greatly was about the saints of the Sub-Continent, their role, character, political and religious ideology and import.

This impartial and dispassionate analysis of the Sufis made me realize that why their esoteric beliefs and practices were opposed and castigated by the clergy. A simple answer to the question would be that the clerics had codified the Islamic jurisprudence and theology in a stringent manner. It was not convenient for the illiterate and rustic folks to practice such a stern interpretation of the religion thus the need for a ‘convenient’ version of Islam arose. Thus the fundamentalist scholars belittled Sufis as heretics and innovators. They claimed that Islam had no room for mysticism and it was a strict religion which forbids any sort of innovation or diversion from the tenets of Islam. On the other hand Sufis adhered to their beliefs vehemently and continued the dissemination of their message. Some of them had to face dire consequences for their unconventional preaching. The epic of Mansur al-Hallaj is the acme of sacrifice for one’s beliefs. The orthodox khilaafat government executed Hallaj for his daring words that ‘I am truth’. Due to his extraordinary display of courage on the passage to the gallows Hallaj is still revered in the region as a martyr and a God loving personality by the sufi followers. Thus the book helped me understand the reasons for the opposition of Sufism today by the extremists.

K.K. Aziz’s book Religion, Land and Politics in Pakistan: A Study of Piri-Muridi highlights the egregious diversion from the mighty ideals of the Sufis to the present day practices of these believers. The prevalent form of Sufi practices is a stark contradiction to the preaching of the great Sufi saints. Today the believers have lost the message and essence of the deep esoteric mysticism. The Sufi saints toiled in asceticism and worshiped their Allah to attain a degree of nearness to Him, by forsaking all temporal needs and relations. On the contrary today the impressive ideals have been reduced to mere saint worship and pilgrimage to the shrines and performance of some rituals. The descendants of these saints have institutionalized Peeri-Muridi and have exploited people over the decades on the name of their pious ascendants. The descendants of the saints claim that they are ‘sijjada nasheen’ of the saint and have a constant link with him through which he gathers blessings of God by the intercession of the dead saint. In addition to this the ‘sijjada nasheen’ sells dreams to the people of eternal bliss in the hereafter if they perform ‘bait’ (swear allegiance) to him. He does not allow the innocent people to question his authority or legitimacy by blackmailing them on the name of religion; he suppresses their access to both worldly and religious education so that they do not emancipate themselves out of his clenches. Contrary to the ascetic life style of the sufi saints the present day ‘sijjada nasheen’ live a lavish life, marry several times, abuse the women and exploit the resources of the common man. The question is how is he able to achieve all this? He does this quite shrewdly. On one hand he maintains his grip over the people by citing Islam and disseminating the view that he is sacred and above accountability because he carries the legacy of a Holy Saint. On the other hand the ‘sijjada nasheen’ maintains a cordial relation with the feudal lords, state officials, emperors and rulers. The rulers also invest in him for two reasons. Firstly they can demonstrate their pious side to the public by supporting a saint so sacred to them. In addition to this they can sway their hold over the public through the ‘sijjada nasheen’. Although most of the Sufi saints, especially of the Chisti order (most prevalent in Sub Continent), remained aloof of the imperial court, in fact they did not accept a single penny from the state. But their descendants have been obsequious servants of every imperial establishment.

Thus, it is established that the Sufism is deeply entrenched in the Sub Continent. These two books have helped me differentiate between the original Islamic mysticism and the modern day practice of this very profound metaphysics. The cultural norms and rituals overtly exhibit the impact of the Sufi beliefs and practices on the folk culture and people. People not only revere the saints but have a very deep emotional and spiritual relationship with the saint. There is nothing wrong in this but when the believers do not believe logically then all sorts of people can blackmail and exploit them. This is what is happening today. The people only believe they do not think. Even though there must be some illegal or unIslamic activities taking place in the shrines but decimating a place so dear to millions is totally unjustified and uncalled for. The only solution to make the people believe logically is through the spreading of education and awareness.

The Dire Chains Engulfing the Pakistani Education System?

Diogenes Laertius once said that “the foundation of every state is the education of its youth”; a statement that perhaps greatly reflects the dire straits Pakistan’s educational institutions are currently in the throes of. The following paper summarizes the findings of Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) and highlights the conditions prevalent in the private and public sectors as well as hopes of finding a viable solution to the pitfalls.

The challenges facing schools are innumerable, with the major one being of a very low rate of enrollment compared to other countries. However if one focuses on Pakistan itself, then the future looks optimistic as enrollments have started to increase primarily due to a higher number of schools available, better teachers, constant modernization of rural areas and an increase in awareness. A way to guarantee higher levels of enrollment is to locate schools closer to residential areas, as distance is they key factor, especially amongst girls, which discourages children from attending schools. Another tragedy is that kids deemed to have “lower intelligence” are less likely to be enrolled in schools by their parents. The LEAPS survey signifies that the focus should now be on what the children are being taught, as it shows that children are constantly performing at lower levels than what is expected of their ages (By the end of class 3 only 50% of children can perform class 1 math). It is shown that in public schools, the educational qualifications of teachers are higher as compared to private schools, however the effort they put into teaching is significantly lower. Hence, a solution to improving the performance levels of children in public schools could be the regulation of the output of teachers, by ensuring a high level of consistent hard work and effort.

The current scenario portrays that parents are now actively involved in the schooling of their children with illiterate as well as literate parents now being able to accurately decipher between “good” and “bad” schools, the percentage of private schools have significantly increased primarily due to the education of girls in public secondary in the 1980s (however public schools still remain the leading providers of education), the fees of rural private schools have gone down and even poor parents are now investing more on their children’s education. While the situation looks positive, many issues remain. Despite going to schools, children are not acquiring the knowledge that is expected of them at their academic levels. Children in private schools perform significantly better than in public schools and parental satisfaction is much higher, the reasons for which are the low student-teacher ratio, more sound infrastructure, provision of better facilities, lower fees (due to lower profit margin) and greater levels of output (effort) by teachers as evident from the lower rates of absenteeism.

The aforementioned points imply that private schools are a better option – but is that so? No. This is primarily because private schools are not available everywhere as they tend to be found in clustered richer, more urban villages and even within a village there is a critical problem of access whilst public schools tend to be more geographically widespread thereby providing easier access for people from all strata’s of society. However, NEC data (2005) shows that private schools are now gradually opening up in poorer, less dense areas.

How should the educational policy be formulated in order to tackle the various issues facing the public and private sectors of education? It has been suggested, firstly, that the minimum qualification levels of government teachers should be raised. However research indicates that an increase in the efforts put in by teachers has far greater benefits than increasing their educational qualifications. Plus, the labor market for educated teachers is already dire and bringing in teachers from other areas would just lead to higher levels of absenteeism. Secondly, it has been suggested that regulation of private schools should take place. Alas, if the aim of the regulation is to raise standards, then this should be focused towards government schools as it’s these institutions that rank amongst the worst performing. Since private schools operate in clustered areas, they have increasing competition with other private schools, thereby discouraging them from acting as monopolies and charging higher fees thus making regulation even more redundant. Also, if regulation is to take place, it is again the government schools which should be focused on as parents are now capable of deciphering between good and bad schools and if price is an indicator of quality, how can one distinguish between free public schools? Perhaps the solution lies in informing parents about the school, its curriculum etc. as this leads to higher levels of competition amongst schools, an improvement in quality and better performance of previously poorly performing children.

The topic of regulation is strongly correlated with governmental intervention and it is argued that the government should solve the distance issues arising from the locations of private schools and act to help make parents better, more informed decisions. It should provide information regarding both the public and private sector, improve the method of hiring and compensation government teachers and innovate by coming up with new ideas such as collaborations between the public and private sectors and providing financial assistance to the needy such as giving money to students to attend schools of their own choosing. A flexible approach which takes into account the differences inherent in different areas, teachers, students etc. needs to be implemented.

In conclusion, it is the public sector that is more in need of reforms regarding the quality of education provided, the compensations given to teachers, the lack of accountability and facilities, and the need of twice the resources as compared to private schools. Since children from poorer households with less attention given to them tend to enroll more in public schools, apt reforms in the public sector could guarantee a more uniform, overall improvement specially by bridging the gaps between public and private sectors of education.

United state of Pakistan (Shia-Sunni synchronicity). A dream worth imagining

I am a firm believer of privacy within the realms of one’s faith – I do not owe it to anyone to lay bare beliefs that I hold as close to me as the throbbing pulse within my jugular vein. This conviction was more staunchly embedded within each crevice of my developing mind as I entered the forays of the red-bricked campus we find ourselves meandering within. This was because I hailed from an extremely cocooned lifestyle, a lot of which was spent either travelling or living abroad – which meant that I was not aware of the deeply stratified society we exist within until I entered LUMS and brushed shoulders with people from all walks of life within the Pakistani society. But that cocoon did not confer immunity within my conscience with respect to the Pakistani community itself, especially given my background which meant frequent drawing-room incursions with various heavyweights of our society. So, inklings towards the murky realities of my society were embedded yet did not resurface till this aforementioned cocoon slowly started to unravel as my time spent in LUMS grew. But today I’ve mustered the strength to gather my courage and pen an article – my only true voice – regarding my personal beliefs, pertaining to the society we live in.

Socialization is the process whereby almost all of our most deeply rooted beliefs, shared values and cultural norms stem from. For most of us living within Pakistan, the majority of our socialization takes place within the confines of our home and from what our parents inculcate within us. We may strive to assert our individuality and break commonly held norms yet little do we realize that it is now considered mainstream to do just that – so that even when we’re busy carving niches for ourselves, so is everybody else in the same manner – by trying to be distinct, we’re all acting the same. I talk about socialization not to give a lecture pertaining to sociology but to make us aware that most of our religiosity, beliefs and values are not our own but those of our inner circle’s – our parents, relatives and the microcosmic bubble we dwell within. To be able to break free from the shackles of our socialization and figure out what it is that we ourselves believe in is something one can spend their whole lives embarking on. And that is exactly what my goal here at LUMS is – a goal I have yet to achieve.

Born into a family that, to this day, does not believe in hardcore sectarianism or divisions, I was brought up completely unaware of the Shia-Sunni conflict rampant within our society. What was I? A Muslim – a right even my grandfather fought to have written on his official documents, when asked which sect he belonged to. But adhering to this belief has become next to impossible given the society my generation finds itself in – in this year alone, approximately 300 of my Shia brothers and sisters have been killed, mostly by the Sunni Muslim extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani Taliban . I lay emphasis to the words “brothers and sisters” because, according to me, the Pakistani society all around me forgets that they too are connected to us by the vein of Islam that throbs within us all. Why do we forget that they are part of the same constitution of being as all of us and that their blood spilt is our blood spilt? This is not to forget all those Sunni Muslims who also have been killed either in retaliation or alongside the Shias – but it is pertinent to remember that given the current status quo, the scale is tilted towards one side and the weight continues to get heavier, more than what this society can sustain.

We as Pakistanis live in a society that is infected with the gravest injustices that can be done against humans, which infringe upon the very basic fundamentals tenets of what it constitutes to be a human being. This brings with it a certain level of immunity to the pain and sufferings of others – an immunity that breeds like a virus and spreads within the very fibers of our consciousness till we are more concerned with the new opening of the Mango store then we are at the atrocities committed against our fellow Muslim, Pakistani brethren on a daily basis. Empathy is what this society needs – a lesson that even Tolstoy realized shortly before reaching the perimeters of his deathbed. A more attuned compassion towards both sects that thrive in our country and constitute the very essence of this society would do wonders – for we truly are the next movers and shakers of this machine.

I hope to one day raise my children with the freedom to adhere to the teachings of both sects just like my own parents did. But that seems increasingly impossible given the society that is breeding all around us – where one of the first questions I’m mostly asked from strangers, covertly or blatantly, is which particular sect I hail from. However, hope breeds hope and that is perhaps the only rope I, and my generation, have left to hold onto. Hope that empathy, compassion and understanding will build between both sects, that the barriers which pave way for mistrust and violence will be broken down and that the society of tomorrow will be a harmonious one. Let us become compassionate Muslims who can comprehend the basic fact that no matter which sect you belong to, you are at the end of the day tributaries of the same river that flows with similar currents.

United we shall stand, and divided we shall fall.

Contributed by: Shanza Faiq- Sophomore at LUMS. A liberal and progressive writer.