Dear Mubasher Lucman, thanks for putting me and my people at risk

And by my people, I mean Shias and journalists, Pakistanis whose lives appear of little consequence to you.

Who are you kidding? Your beef with Geo TV has nothing to do with your “religious sentiments”, unless you consider ratings your religion. You are not interested in defending people’s religious faith. You are not going to be satisfied with the TV channel apologizing for what you alleged is “blasphemy”. You will only be satisfied, or at least I hope you will be, when the TV channel has paid a price for it in terms of losing lives business. But in the process, you have put at risk hundreds of lives of people who are doing nothing but earning honest livings as journalists.

Actually, why am I even expecting you to bother about the journalist community? It’s not like you’re a journalist. What would a self-styled anchor like you who has barely ever set a foot in a newsroom know about the daily challenges that real journalists feel? People who don’t make money by using shoddy YouTube videos as sources for their reporting and inciting hatred against others?

And why am I even expecting you to feel the fear that Shias in our country feel? Why should you, a Sunni male, feel any fear in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that puts you, your needs, and your religious sensitivities above mine – a Shia woman? If you empathized with this persecuted minority in Pakistan, which is battling with a virtual genocide, you would have thought at least twice before “dog-whistling” your way into the group that justifies the murder of Shias in our country.

Have you ever heard of the word “responsibility”? That’s what you should accept for pushing your viewers towards more hatred through your obscurantist rant.

Here’s some piece of advice from a person who’s a member of the communities you have directly threatened: Next time your piety bothers you, think about the show you did with Malik Riaz and how much “support” he provided you in that incredibly “honest” piece of reportage that you did. And maybe, if you have a heart, think about the production team of your own TV show – the people whose lives you just put in danger look, sound, and work hard just like them.


I finally got culture shock

Yes, finally. After living in the great and mighty United States of America for eight months, I am shocked by a cultural phenomenon in this country. I now have an answer for everyone back home who refuses to believe that the US is more similar to Pakistan than we think.

In November 2008, the monumental victory of Barack Obama as President of the United States moved me to tears because I believed it to be the triumph of justice and the human spirit. I heard his victory speech on YouTube, and thought, “wow, these people [Americans] have finally moved past the racism that plagued them until just 40 years ago!”.

Six years later, I land in Chicago, home to Obama and one of the largest African-American populations in the US. I am excited to be here, especially the South Side of Chicago that is largely populated by Black Americans, and see the interaction between the two races. Color-based racism isn’t really a part of political or intellectual debate in Pakistan. Borrowing from the Americans, most of us are generally “brown” and believe we descended from the same race, the Aryans. However, Pakistanis are not completely color-blind and there is definitely an obsession with white skin, for instance calling the West Indian cricket team kaali andhi (“Black Thunder”). But as far as active racial discrimination against dark-skinned people is concerned, that’s not really a problem in Pakistan the way it was/is in the United States.

As a student at one of the most elite universities in the US where racism really is a thing of the past, I continued to feel about America’s racist history the same way I did back home. In the land of opportunity, what color you are has stopped mattering, to the extent that even soaring income inequality impacts poor White families and Black families the same way. I was of the view that this kind of backward thinking about race now existed only in the minds of desis who seemed to believe that every Black man was out to rob them and every Black woman was having a child out of wedlock.

Then I came across this astonishing article in The Atlantic, which claimed that racial segregation seems to have returned to high schools in the US. According to the article, Black students across southern US – states that were made to end black slavery through the American Civil War – now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. This was a very uncomfortable thought for me. 

But what truly shocked me was when I started reading a fascinating book called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. The book asserts that to this day, when even the rich and the powerful have to pay the price for being racist, the US Justice System continues to discriminate against Black Americans. It shows how the practice mass incarceration disproportionately impacts Black Americans, effectively relegating them to “second-class” citizens by denying them the very rights that were supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

It was only then that I realized how complicated and pervasive the issue of race continues to be in the US. Although Barack Obama’s victory has been a sign of change and hope for Black Americans in the US, it appears to have done little for them in terms of acceptance. Obama, with all his “White privileges”, is easy for the White elite to consider as one of their own. For them, it is easy to forget that Barack Obama is a Black man because he is extremely intelligent, delightfully articulate, and a lawyer educated at Harvard University.

My view on race in the United States has completely changed. There is still racial friction, and it’s not just in the hearts and minds of people from states that were historically brutal to Black Americans but also in the American systems, particularly justice system. It’s hidden and covert, but very effective nonetheless. The “triumph over race” isn’t yet complete.

Population control in the world’s sixth most populous nation: Targetting men may be the key

In Pakistan, decisions regarding families and their destinies are made by men. But when it comes to taking responsibility, such as the decision to use family planning methods, the entire burden suddenly shifts on to women.

That trend may be changing, as a recent World Bank-funded study has found that Pakistani men appear ready to shoulder some responsibility. Worried about economic factors, men from middle and lower-middle social classes are eager to learn about family planning methods and want to limit family size.

This qualitative study, carried out by a New York-based nonprofit Population Council, was conducted in four districts of Punjab. The province is a good choice to conduct such a study as Punjab houses approximately 56% of Pakistan’s 180 million people, making it the country’s largest province by population. Furthermore, Punjabi men’s perception of contraception and the concept of family planning has been largely negative. Statistically, this makes Punjab a good representative sample of the general population of Pakistani men, allowing policymakers to use these findings as the basis of national population control initiatives.

The authors, Iram Kamran, Mumraiz Khan, and Zeba Tasneem, conducted one-on-one interviews with men and focus groups with families, and arrive at some fascinating conclusions. Two of the study’s findings have particularly important policy implications.

Firstly, they find that over the past two decades, there has been an increase in desire among men to gain more knowledge about fertility and birth control methods. Usually the sole breadwinners in the family, men have come to recognize that raising large families is financially unsustainable and thus having less children could be economically advantageous.

Secondly, the study found that it is not a lack of will but supply-side problems that are impeding men’s use of contraceptives. Subjects said that they were unable to find avenues for more information on these matters and expressed demand for male health workers, along the lines of the lady health workers program for women.

This second finding is particularly important from a policy perspective. Population control initiatives in Pakistan have largely focused on women, primarily due to the social belief that all things related to children are a woman’s domain. However due to deeply-entrenched patriarchy in our culture, when it comes to making a decision,the word is the man’s. This means that although women are more aware of the concept of contraceptives and family planning than men, the success of Pakistan’s population control initiatives remains low because their focus is on a group of people who, although should be, are in reality not in the position to make the decisions. Research conducted in 2013 among women in Punjab found that one of the main obstacles to contraceptive use among women is the perception that such behavior would conflict with their husbands’ fertility preferences.

The findings of this study could mean a reverse of that trend, even though the change in men’s attitudes towards family planning and contraception has not happened for social reasons.

It may seem overly optimistic but involving men in the process could not only lead to higher success rates in the use of family planning methods, but also an attitudinal change in men that is much needed in Pakistani society. I make that claim by combining two findings of the study: men are wary of contraceptives because of perceived side effects of modern methods, and fewer men than women believe that religious leaders should be involved in the debate on contraception. This means that one of the reasons that Pakistani men are currently not using contraception is a lack of information, not will to do so. Further, they feel that contraception is a scientific or cultural topic that does not require religious intervention for legitimacy. This could make them a ripe target group for future population control initiatives that may see more success than those in the past.

This blog first appeared at The Word Theatre here