From garrison state to women empowerment

LAHORE - The day 2 of the Afkar-e-Taza Think Fest 2018 at Alhamra Arts Council had a good array of subjects and speakers and it was well attended by people not only from Lahore but outside also.

A discussion on Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book, “Pakistan: Still a Garrison State,” moderated by Najam Sethi of the Friday Times and the Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board was very well attended and the audience evinced great interest in the topic. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema from NDU was of the opinion that the word ‘still’ was disputable especially in view of the democratic regime for the past 12 years with hardly any intervention to give the impression of a “garrison state.”He quoted the efforts of Generel Pervaiz Musharraf to bring a semblance of normality to Pak-Indo relations which however did not meet the approval of some segments of civil society.

Ishtiaq Ahmed from Stockholm and GCU was of the opinion that tacit interference by the military had been there all the time which often undermined the efforts of the elected government to govern Pakistan with a free hand.

The audience during question answers was divided about the viability of the topic especiallyin view of what was alluded to as “policy statements”by the army chief on various fora, and the battle of Tweets on social media. On the whole it was an inconclusive debate;some people from the audience had a post session discussion with the presenters which at times were heated.

Another session was to discuss the book “Aye Pure De Wah,” (The East Wind Comes) by Nain Sukh an author and lawyer. The panel was moderated by journalist and publisher Aamir Riaz and comprised Iqbal Haider Butt, translator and columnist and Zubair Ahmed, author.

The session started with Nain Sukh reading excerpts from three stories in the book and elaboratingupon the efforts he made to collect the material to pen down the six stories in the book.

Iqbal Haider Butt spoke on his impression of the stories, his interaction with Nain Sukh, and how the stories although based on facts where presented in a semi fictional mannercovering a period of almost a hundred years.

ZubairAhmed said that books and authors should be studied and analyzed not based on our notions of the subject matter but keeping in view the way the author has gone about weaving the stories together. All the panelists said that similar stories written previously and which continue to be written use the actual names of the characters in the story. However, in view of the socio-cultural and other factors this is not the case in Aye Pure De Wah.

A segment of the crowd disturbed the proceedings by shouting and interrupting with their comments about the book which the panel and the organizers handled ably. However, two members of the audience had to be escorted out of the halls by the security staff due to their unwillingness to keep quite.

The commotion was about one of the stories in the book about a female personality which in the opinion this audience segment was misrepresented. However, Nain Sukh and the other panelists highlighted the fact that the subject person had in her writings and poetry talked about the matter which was being disputed by the audience and it was narrated in the story with quotes of her poetry and writings.

In a lighter mood Nain Sukh said someone had written against him and when asked about what was the actual issue in the story, the writer sheepishly told Nain Sukh that he had not read the book but his opinion was based on hear say.

On the whole, apart from the disruption, it was a good interactive session in which some new aspects of the six personalities were brought out. However due to the disruption and unforgiving attitude of a segment of the audience Nin Sukh tore out the disputed story from the book and said that he would withdraw it, upon which the audience said that this would set a wrong precedence for new writers and allow negative dissent.

The third session on “Sati, Honour Killing and Fate of Women in South Asia,”was canceled by the organizers as two of the panelists Farida Shaheed, from Shirkat Gah and Nafeesa Shah MPA, had not reached. The third panelist Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson Punjab Commission on the Status of Women asked the audience if she could conduct an interactive session on the issue of Gender discrimination and disparity which the majority agreed to.

Fauzia Viqar talked about her work and how her commission had created a data base about women related issues which was probably one of its kind in South Asia. She also spoke about the difficulties of data collection as the figures reported by the media and various government organizations and activities were usually did not tally. She also informed the audience about Amendments to the inheritance act and family laws made in the Punjab.

Other issues discussed included allowing women folk freedom of movement, access to education, exercising their voting rights and in a lighter but serious vain many girls became doctors not so that they could practice but for them to be able to get matched to a boy from a good family. The reserved seats in the legislature and the women’s quota in various departments was also discussed.

On the whole it was agreed that while in some areas disparity had lessened yet scope for improvement and the necessity of involving elders and parents in the process was highlighted.

R Umaima Ahmed

Umaima Ahmed is a member  of staff

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