Monday, October 31, 2011

The 'Kandhar' Threat

The famous Sindhi sufi saint Watayo Fakir who lived in the 18th century wrote:

Jadein kadhein Sindhri
Tokhe Kandhar ma jokho

Roughly translated it means:

Sindh whenever you are in danger
It will emanate from Kandhar.

These words are considered one of the most commonly known sayings by Watayo Fakir and when war broke out in Afghanistan is the 70’s these lines suddenly jumped out of the dusty past and started resonating in the living rooms and ‘autaaks’ of every urban and rural Sindhi. As time progressed and Pakistan became more and more embroiled in the Afghan conflict and its fall out of refugees, Talibanization, terrorism and the US dictation on our internal and foreign affairs policies, these lines became more than a saying – they were considered to be prophetic.

But I believe this is not merely a prophecy made by a saint in a trance-like state, nor is it something which warned of a future event only – though it very well could be both. These lines are based on a historic analysis of the past leading to an informed projection of future events.

In order to analyse the historic context of this saying we have to move away from modern day geography which binds Sindh to a province in Pakistan and Kandhar in Afghanistan. In ancient times the term Sindhu originally meant “river people” and it was the term loosely given the inhabitants of people settled around the Indus and its tributaries. However in its broader sense it also encompassed people living around the banks of the now extinct Saraswati. Modern Kandhar derives its name from the ancient kingdom of Gandhar or Gandhara as its now known, of which it was a part.

Interestingly history records 2 incidences when the kingdom of Gandhar’s actions had catastrophic repercussions for everyone in the sub-continent. The epic tale of Mahabharata tells us that it was Shakuni the king of Gandhar who egged his nephews the Kauravas to entrap the Pandavas through cheating in a game of dice and it was due to his malicious council that the war of Mahabharata was finally fought at the battlefield of Kurukshetra on the East bank of the Saraswati river. Hence the king of Gandhar brought untold misery and bloodshed to the land.

As we come closer on the historic timeline, another king of Gandhar, Ambik comes to the forefront. In his greed to secure his own power, Ambik became the first known traitor of the sub-continent who gave safe passage to Alexander that Great to come into the sub-continent in return for his own sovereignty. This way ‘Sindh’ was once again placed in great danger through the actions of Gandhar.

Interestingly in present times the Gandhara region seems to be living up to its age old tradition, but this time we need to divide Gandhar into 3 distinct areas; the first being Kandhar or Afghanistan, the second is Peshawar and its surrounding areas or one can say Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the third being Taxilla and its nearby areas namely Islamabad.

Afghanistan seems to be the black hole which is hell bent on devouring everything that comes in its proximity. We crossed the event horizon when we jumped into the war with USSR and now it seems no matter how hard we try we can’t seem to extricate ourselves from resulting mess and most of our present day problems seem to have originated from that act. KP has become a breeding ground of militant radical thought which manifests itself as the harbinger of death and destruction whenever and wherever it strikes throughout the country.

But the most important player and the biggest culprit of this equation is what used to be the outer fringe of ancient Gandhara i.e. Islamabad. The headless chicken syndrome which seems to afflict all those who enter its corridors of power has through the years consistently put the entire nation in peril. Whether it be the age of dictatorship or the interludes of experimentation with democracy it seems that the throne of modern Gandhara demands that people be robbed of their integrity, vision, willingness to serve the nation and the spine to stand up for its protection, and only then does it give them the chance to sit on it. The legacy of Ambik lives on as the nation is sold out time and again to serve personal gains and Shakuni still seems to be whispering ill council to those who rule - I can’t say govern because we have yet to see that happening.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moses & Krishna – Different Religions, Different Stories, Same Elements

At first glance Moses and Krishna are names synonymous with religions at the opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. While one is at the heart of the monotheistic traditions the other is the corner stone of one of the oldest practiced polytheistic religions. One emanates from the banks of river Nile and ends in the Sinai desert while the other originates from the fertile plains around river Yamuna and finds its way to the Arabian Sea coast. Moses was a human chosen by God as his Prophet while Krishna is considered as an incarnation of God Himself. The followers of both have spent millennia trying to prove the other wrong. But go beyond the labels of the religions, and you will find startling similarities between the elements of both stories.

Moses was left adrift by his mother when he was 3 months old in a reed basket because the Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew male babies be killed. The uncle of Krishna, Kans too had ordered that all male babies born to his sister Devki be killed at birth and when Krishna was born his father Vasudev carried him across the Yamuna in a reed basket. Hence both babies were separated from their natural mothers due to an eminent threat on their lives and both babies undertook this journey on a river in a basket.

Moses was raised in the household of the Pharaoh (according to Islam it was the Pharaoh’s wife who adopted him while according to the Judaic version it was the Pharaoh’s daughter). Regardless of who raised him the fact remains that he was raised as the family member of the very person against whom he would eventually revolt and from whom he would later liberate his people the Israelites. Krishna too was related to the very person whom he was destined to kill i.e. Kans the King of Mathura and liberate the oppressed people of that land. Both of them ended up having 2 mothers, one who gave them birth and the other who raised them with love.

Moses and Krishna both left the land where they spent their childhood in order to rescue their people from cruelty of their rulers. Moses led his people to the Sinai from where his people crossed the River Jordan and Krishna left Gokul where he was raised to Mathura where he vanquished his uncle.

The most famous scene of the Exodus is where the waters part for Moses and his people as they are chased by the Pharaoh and his army. Interestingly there is a similar incident with Krishna as well. After Kans was killed his wife swore revenge on Krishna and her brother waged endless wars against the kingdom of Mathura. Tired of years of conflict, Krishna took all his people and came to the coast of the Arabian sea near the delta of the Godavari. Here he asked the sea to give his people shelter and tradition says that the sea receded and the land revealed is what we know today as Dwarka. Here Krishna spent his last days as the King of Dwarka.

Whether we are talking about 2 different stories or if we are actually looking at the same myth being adapted across cultures separated by thousands of miles and several millennia, we do not know, nor do I want to venture there. However there is one thing which we can be certain of and that is when people look below the surface, when we keep our sentiments on the side, when we control our knee jerk reactions to other religions and are able to study things objectively, we can find similarities even between opposites. And therein lies our hope for peace, tolerance and coexistence.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Please Stop 'Honouring' Women

Sexual crimes are on the rise. Rape, gang rape, acid throwing and child molestation are making news each day. Punjab has a higher rate of reported sexual crimes than other provinces. I’m not sure whether it is because these cases are not being reported in other provinces or if there are actually a lesser number of these happening elsewhere, but one thing is for certain – women in Pakistan live in constant fear. It does not matter if she is a helpless poor woman in a village or if she is an educated urban woman, she is insecure. Men know that the ultimate weapon they have against her is rape. Rape scars the soul so deeply that she can never function normally again even if she has all the love and support of her family, even if the culprits are punished, she never heals.

An unfortunate trend has started over the past few years and that is the media involvement in such cases. Yes the involvement ensures that the police does its job and the culprits are caught but that also means that unless a woman is prepared to discard the few remaining shreds of her tattered dignity justice will not prevail. The news channels turn her nightmare into a circus and the politicians grab the photo opportunity. This trend also ensures that if an educated middle class woman is raped, she would not report it because she is afraid the media might get hold of her story. I have no answer as to how the media should handle such a situation, it’s a catch 22 situation – no justice without publicity but the price of justice is letting 180 million people witness her indignity.

There is a lot of debate on the Hudood Ordinance and the feebleness of the legal system, but one question we are not asking is ‘WHY?’ We start waiving the banner of Islam on the most trivial issues, we tell the world how Islam honours women and protects their rights, and yet our women are increasingly insecure. I have yet to see a religious party take out a rally or call for strike when a woman is gang raped which in itself is an indication of how thin is this veneer of ‘honouring women’.

The hypocrisy of our society is sickening. It spouts rhetoric about their mothers, daughter and sisters being their honour and then turns around and uses them as weapons to destroy the honour of their ‘enemies’. One can argue that crime is on the rise every where and hence we are seeing more rape cases, but when a village panchayat sanctions rape as a means of punishment then this is not merely criminal behaviour. It goes much deeper and is much darker than mere crime. It is an indication of how weak we are as a nation. We take the easy way out of every situation, and to rape is the easiest way to show how strong the man is.

We have an epidemic of low self-esteem and it is not limited to a certain strata of our society. Those who are in power take illegitimate short-cuts to get what they want and those whom they lead follow suit. To raise one’s self-esteem one has to take challenges head-on and not run away from life’s problems, but we turn to the nearest scapegoat to blame. It is never our fault, it is the society, the government, the US, the boss, the neighbour …. the list is endless. When we are empty on the inside we look for external markers to validate our existence, to give us a sense of power. This could be the 32 vehicle motorcade, or showing off our latest purchase, scratching the side of a brand new car or raping a woman. The root of the problem is the same, the manifestations endless.

The honour of a man in our country is linked to his possessions. His house, his land, his cars, his clothes, his cattle and of course the women in his family. Even the poorest man who has nothing else will have women. Women are mere objects in our country. They are brainwashed to think that they are the honour of their family because they are loved and respected – but the truth is that their status is no more than being one of the trappings of the man’s honour.

My earnest request is to please stop ‘honouring’ us. We are individuals, human beings with our own dreams, hopes and desires. We are not the object on which you cathect your honour. Perhaps the day men stop honouring us we will be free to live as human beings.