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How It Happened by Shazaf Fatima Haider: Book Review

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The upcoming and present generations harbor and behold different assumptions, aspirations, worldviews, lifestyles, and ideologies than previous generations. However, they both view life through altered and these altered ideologies are well presented in the novel How It Happened (2012) by Shazaf Fatima Haider. The story is narrated by, youngest of all the family members, a 15-year old Saleha. This story revolves around a Shia ‘’Bandian’’ family progeny of the village of Bhakuraj in the Indian sub-continent who now lives in Karachi, Pakistan. Shazaf many a time speak tongue in cheek for Pakistani society and traditions. It is a noticeable fact that values, traditions, ideologies, and lifestyles keep on changing over time due to the change in worldviews and currently adopted concepts and ideals.

How It Happened, Penguin books, India.

In the novel, the re-adjustment process of a completely new culture stands quite distinguishable through social change, economical force, evolution, and constant general pressure as the cultural transition takes place. As can be seen in the novel that cultural transition has influenced within the same family but the remarkable impact was observed on the post generation of family through any of the above-mentioned factors. In the novel, from time to time we witness minor disagreements and contradictory views among all the family members but constant distress and confusion occur between the two female protagonists of the Bhakuraj family. There is a constant tug of war between both of the women (Dadi and Zeba). When Haroon, the elder son, wants to go to New York for his studies as he is a new graduate of IBADadi opposes the idea of studying abroad. She starts crying she has certain insecurities about him. Firstly, She thinks that he would marry abroad to a non-Muslim girl and their Bhakhurajian tradition of arrange marriage will decay. It was taken as taboo to marry a girl or boy of their liking. They were not given the right to choose their life partner although they claim to be the religious and honored families in society. Secondly, she has also fear deep inside her heart because Qurat who is Dadi’s cousin, her son married abroad to a converted Muslim and black girl. As she has no much social exposure, she thinks that everyone who goes abroad returns with a wife. But eventually, she agrees that it can only be possible if he promises that he would marry a girl approved by Dadi and whenever she wants. Zeba, the elder daughter of the family, has a different notion about it. She argues with Dadi and says: Dadi, you’re being unfair! Zebabaji protested. Haroon Bhai should have the freedom to marry someone he likes.

Upon this Dadi retorted “You be quiet! Listen to you! He should marry someone he likes….. Hussain! Look at what your daughter is saying!’’ (Ibid 29)

On another occasion, the subject is again the marriage of Haroon. Dadi puts forward a list of qualities that should be possessed by a prospective girl. When Dadi says: ‘’Arey Bhai, the younger they are, the more malleable!’’ Zeba is not of the same view, she again says this thought of her and says: ‘Dadi ‘, Zebabaji inquired, are we talking about women or plasticine?

From the beginning, we encounter this argumentation between the two protagonists for Zeba has a different social background and she has a different literal and economic background. Zeba has been brought up in a different social circle. She has grown in the city of Karachi, a different and liberal environment from the village of Bhakuraj where Dadi had been brought up. There is a big difference in a city and a village. Social factors have a great impact on the mindset of a person. Zeba believes that a person should be entitled right to choose her life partner as she has been inclined to this view socially. She has acquired it from society and the environment that a person has the right to his life, he has the right of expression, and he has the right to live his life the way he likes. She is courageous enough to argue with the matriarch of the family. Though no one is allowed to argue with Dadi, Zeba’s grooming does not allow her to remain quiet on the matters they don’t think are right. On the contrary, Dadi has been brought up were talking or arguing is considered as an offensive act towards the embedded taboos. Though economically sound but socially isolated, Dadi has been brought up in isolation in such away. They had been taught that they had no right especially girls to express their thoughts when elders discuss any topic or decide a matter of importance because they are taken as unwise. They have been taught that girls from respected families do not speak, they just listen and obey what they are told. Dadi had no schooling and another social circle. What she learned at home was all regarding education. She has been traditionally trained at home. She has been taught that a girl has to raise children and to keep the house no more. The women who do this duty of housekeeping and raising children well are characterized as respectable and successful women. In the novel, Dadi frequently expresses her thoughts proudly that a girl should be seen and not heard, a girl should be able to cook well, a girl should like this and that. Zeba says that women should be treated as human and not any material thing. They are living human beings, they breathe, they are not dumb, they can speak then why they should not be heard and only seen. They can differentiate between right and wrong and from their childhood they have been taught these things at home as well as in society.

The youngsters of the family have their style of living. Zeba, being a student of literature, keeps different views about everything. In the novel, she is depicted as a sharp-minded and disobedient girl of the family. Zeba is treated as the rebel of the family because she has set her principles for leading an ideal life. She is never inclined to follow the embedded customs, principles and traditions set by the Bhakurajian family. She seems to be interested to listen to the folks told by Dadi but she has no convictions to spend her own life as old-fashioned as Dadi`s. She is driven by the social norms of modern-day and by the conflicting differences between both traditions and viewpoints as she progresses in her educational life. 

In the novel changing roles of women have been portrayed greatly. Saima(Haroon’s wife) represents the ability of women to work in the man’s world. Fattiphups is playing the role of a liberal woman, who’s is leading a life in accord with her mindset. 

Based on given arguments and analysis it is found that as change is permanent in human life, a shift in culture is certain in this mobile society and Shazaf has justified the that with her wit. As Dadi had to agree with new trends, everyone has to accept the fact. Sooner or later culture has to decay and a new culture has to emerge according to social, political and economic changes that take place with the time. This novel proves this fact by presenting three generations in the same family. The shift of culture takes the gap of a generation but at last, it happens, the way old traditions of the Bakhuraj family come to its end by the marriage of Zeba ( a Shia girl) to a Sunni boy. So How It Happened can be taken as comic satire on the Pakistani society.

The writer has graduated in English Literature from NUML, Islamabad and is currently teaching at IBA-PUBLIC school Sukkur, Sindh.

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New Social Compact

COVID-19: More than a Biological Weapon

Sabah Aslam

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While the biological virus is a common enemy of humankind, the political virus born out of certain American politicians is equally detestable, for it has damaged the global anti-epidemic cooperation and impeded the long-term development and progress of human society. The virus in the political world has done even more damages than the virus from the natural world.

What are the sources of this political virus then? It is rooted in the selfish interests of a handful of American politicians. Not long ago, the American media revealed that senior US officials had handed down documents to a number of federal agencies requesting all federal employees to speak consistently about the pandemic and blame China for everything. The document was practically a confession of the US government on how it implemented the buck-passing. As 2020 is America’s election year, some American politicians are so crazily intent on fabricating all kinds of fallacies about “holding China accountable,” attacking the WHO for being too “China-centric,” and even criticizing some state governors for poor epidemic response, all to keep the epidemic from affecting the election. Such unscrupulous “political shows” reflect how desperate these politicians are to cover up their misconduct both in the decision and execution of their response, with a purpose of deflecting the public grumble.

The political virus is a tumor stemming from racism. After the WHO and the scientific circle named the novel coronavirus COVID-19, some American politicians deliberately ignored the new nomenclature and insisted on calling it the “Chinese virus”. It is an international consensus not to label a virus with a region, state, or nation, which is also a universal principle that the international community should uphold. Yet these American politicians are determined to defy the world by intentionally steering public opinions in the direction of racism and xenophobia, and practicing racial discrimination. The use of the term “Chinese virus” for coronavirus laid bare the absolute absence of common sense, conscience, cooperative spirit, and morality in those politicians infected with the “political virus”.

The political virus derives from the Cold War mentality. A small group of American politicians have been obsessed with political maneuver and slandering China, especially the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been busy fanning flames and spreading rumors. The “political virus” ingrained in their mind is the hotbed of all their vicious intentions. They have the wishful thinking that accusing China of the so-called “mask diplomacy” would offset its influence; vilifying China’s aid to help build the African Center for Disease Prevention and Control as an attempt to “steal genome data” would drive a wedge between China and Africa; and egging other countries to claim reparations from China would pin the “original sin” of the virus on the country…. These whimsical whoppers are nothing but Washington’s attempts to curb China’s development.

The political virus is rooted in the obsession with “great-power competition.” The US government labeled China and Russia as the biggest challenges to US national security in its latest National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, and declared the reemergence of great-power competition. During this global crisis of COVID-19, certain American politicians, going out of their way to make “ammunition to win the great-power competition,” have gone all out to oppose China in every possible way and tried hard to cover up America’s embarrassment of ineffective epidemic control measures by smearing China, rather than focus on preventing the virus spread. As we can never wake up someone pretending to be asleep, perhaps the best way is to leave him alone and “not even turn our eyes in his direction,” as the famous Chinese writer Lu Xun once said.

The disease has seeped down into the skin and should be treated before it gets worse. The world is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and all countries need to join hands in defeating it. We advise the American politicians with ulterior motives to stop the misdeed and change course before its too late. We also call on the international community to stay on high alert and take strong measures to prevent the American political virus from spreading to do more harm to the global anti-epidemic efforts and the normal international order.

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New Social Compact

Spanish Flu and COVID-19 – are there lessons for the world of work?

Dorothea Hoehtker

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many look to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19, which killed an estimated 50 million people, or 2,5 per cent of the global population. Are there lessons to be learned from the world of work perspective?

The Spanish flu did not start in Spain but was called that because Spanish newspapers were the first to report about it. From its presumed origins in a World War I military camp in the state of Kansas, United States, it washed over the world in three waves. The first, mild one in spring 1918, was followed by a second, more deadly outbreak between September and December 1918 and a third one at the beginning of 1919.

All countries were hit, although unequally. Samoa lost 22 per cent of its population, Spain 12,3 per cent and the US 6,5 per cent. In colonial India, the flu killed 6 per cent of the population, amounting to 18 million, roughly the number of victims of the First World War.

Similar patterns, similar measures

COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu both have struck a highly globalized and interconnected world where viruses easily travel on ships, carriers and trains, or – today – on airplanes. As 1918 was the last year of the First World War, the movement of troops and refugees was a significant factor in spreading the virus. In 2019/20, business and leisure travellers have been the main carriers.

The only measures to control the spread of the disease back in 1918 just as in 2020 were better hygiene, quarantine of the infected, “social distancing” and shutting down much of public life. This implied massive restrictions of civil liberties and paralysis and disruption of the economy.

In 1918/19 as well as today, the poorest and most vulnerable, who often lived in crowded conditions, with low paid work and little or no access to health care, were much more exposed to infection. They also suffered most immediately from drastic lock down measures, and were at a particularly high risk of losing their lives and their livelihoods.

Different impacts

The Spanish Flu happened at the tail end of the First World War, in a context of widespread chaos. The response to the crisis was uncoordinated, mostly local, with a high mobilization of civil society groups.

In industrialized nations, the economic impact was rather short lived. Eventually, the economic boom of the “Roaring Twenties” got many people back to work.

In other parts of the world, such as India and sub-Saharan Africa, the consequences were deeper and longer lasting. A shortfall in labour affected harvest and sowing. Food prices spiked, causing widespread famine and an increased flow of migrants into urban centres. This led to social unrest, strikes and rebellion against colonial powers.

What we can learn

Although the world is very different today, we can learn from the events in 1918/19 that a pandemic increases poverty and inequalities; this carries a social and human cost, which can have long term destabilizing effects.

Today, states have more possibilities to react, including through fiscal and labour market policies and tools, and the opportunity for international cooperation through the United Nations and their international partners.

Policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis need to address inequalities and ensure that poor, rural and marginalized communities are not forgotten. ILO’s labour standards such as Recommendation No. 205, on employment and decent work for peace and resilience, provide the necessary framework.

The global economic and labour market problems arising out of the COVID-19 crisis suggest looking also at the economic crisis of the 1930s and reconstruction policies after World War II.

As a response to massive unemployment and destruction, the ILO promoted comprehensive social protection, including health care, and a variety of employment promotion policies based on the conviction that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.

These past responses can be an inspiration for recovery policies which have to be fair and – compared to the past – much more sustainable.

ILO

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New Social Compact

COVID-19 crisis: Older persons are the pillars of our society – we cannot leave them behind

Kaveh Zahedi

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Authors: Kaveh Zahedi and Eduardo Klien*

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down, especially for those at the end of the age spectrum. The virus and its rapid spread are challenging science, economy and society—as well as how we care for older persons.  

We know that the risk of dying from COVID-19 increases significantly with age. Evidence from Asia and the Pacific shows that case fatality rates rise markedly by decade for persons between the ages of 50 to 80.  Due to public health measures, many older persons will die alone, without family and friends. COVID-19 has stripped them of their fundamental human rights – including the right to live and die with dignity. 

In Asia and the Pacific, there are 630 million older persons aged 60 years or over. However, it is not only age that poses a higher risk. Older persons tend to be more affected by chronic and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. Those with disabilities are at a particularly high risk since they are often poor, in vulnerable employment without adequate social protection and dependent on others. 

Personal distancing has also had a heavy impact on older persons. Those living alone, particularly older women, may become lonelier and more vulnerable to abuse. Persons with disabilities will be unable to receive assistance. Gatherings of older persons’ associations – an effective tool for their empowerment – are no longer possible. Those confined in care homes remain without the safeguards afforded by regular contact with the outside world. These factors can undermine an older person’s mental and physical health and exacerbate social exclusion. 

Weak social protection and limited access to affordable health care in the region make it less likely for older persons to seek care when showing symptoms of COVID-19.  Informal workers without social protection –which includes most working older persons- cannot afford to self-isolate as it threatens their sources of income. ESCAP and HelpAge International have promoted social protection through universal schemes, including social pensions, as well as access to Universal Health Care. 

Early detection and testing of COVID-19 has led to effective and timely policy interventions. We must ensure immediately that all older persons with symptoms get tested and treated. For those who cannot afford testing, we must provide adequate health care and social protection.   

Although many cases require us to avoid personal contact with older persons, we must reach out to our parents, grandparents, older neighbors and friends to ensure that their basic needs are met. We must engage with them socially, show our respect and assure them how much they matter to all of us, especially in times of crisis. In our interactions with older persons we must be more risk-averse, but not discriminatory.

The post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as before. We know that times ahead will be difficult, unemployment will be high and poverty widespread. While governments in many countries, including in Asia and the Pacific, have announced cash transfers and support to small and medium enterprises (SME) to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, it is imperative that they reach everyone.
 
We must also reduce the digital divide. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) can play a crucial mitigating role during crises, and it must be made available to older persons. ICT can help them manage aspects of their chronic diseases independently, which saves costs and reduces exposure to diseases from visiting hospitals and clinics. Using ICT to diagnose diseases can also help with early detection of disease and in turn early treatment and warning of developing disease hotspots. ESCAP is implementing a project exploring the feasibility of using ICT to support older persons in coping with chronic diseases. HelpAge is also integrating ICT in home and community care projects in the region. 

Timely, reliable and age-disaggregated data are crucial to supporting targeted interventions among older persons. As they face unique challenges, tailored data can help devise more effective responses and longer-term solutions. 

Older persons are crucial pillars of our societies, and their voice must be heard. They are the pioneers who have made the region prosper. It is our responsibility to reduce their vulnerabilities and ensure that older persons live without discrimination.

COVID-19 is challenging our commitment and capacity to leave no one behind. ESCAP and HelpAge work together and stand ready to support member States in responding to challenges, while aiming at policies for ageing societies based on the fundamentals of human rights: equality and dignity for all.

*Eduardo Klien. Regional Director for Asia – HelpAge International

UN ESCAP

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