Mocking Mental Heath Disorders

Some days I fear for the future of a country where the most educated and liberal lack empathy for the disabled. Today someone tagged me on facebook alerting me to an article published in the express tribune today. Because they have removed the article, I am putting screen captures of it as well as the comments.

Headline says lock up the crazy, like we don’t deserve the right to live a life the way “normal” people do. I wonder if the writer knows about the history of mental health disorders and how, for most of human existence, people did just that: “lock up the crazy”. Because society chose not to understand us, they shunned us and put us away, as if we were invisible. And this still exists today in Pakistan. The way we treat mental health patients is appalling and inhumane. The last thing we need is for people to advocate that we deserve to be locked up, even as a “joke”. Some things are just not funny and one necessarily has to lack a sense of humanity to think they are, such as the suffering associated with mental illness.

The evidence provided by the author was the DSM IV, a google book, which was published in 2000. Surely a more current statistic could have been found? Furthermore, the figure seems inflated. I wonder if the author would be kind enough to direct me to the page number where she find this statistic for I can’t find it, nor do I have the time or patience to go through this whole thing to find it.

I also wonder where the author discovered that the above celebrities were sociopaths. Were they diagnosed or is she making a guess? If so, is she simply speculating or making a wild guess? What evidence can she provide other than her own analysis.

Also, please note the language. The author refers to those of us who have mental health issues as “the crazies”. I know I’m not alone in saying that it is offensive, demeaning and rather insensitive to choose this phrase to describe people suffering from illnesses that can be extremely distressing. There are so many people who would like to talk about their plight in public but they don’t because people get away with calling them “crazy” to their face and demeaning them. In the same paragraph, the author uses the words “loco” and “kookoo-ness” as well.

Where to begin with this one… let’s start with the fact that it seems like the writer is racist when she says that Angelina Jolie created “her own little army of coloured kids”. I feel like telling the writer: by kissing her brother, Jolie may have committed incest and you want to declare it offends you then please do so. However, do not assume that incest and bipolar disorder are related.

I am bipolar. I have written about it and come out with it publicly. There are so many celebrities who are actually diagnosed with bipolar disorder who could have been used an example such as Stephen Fry who has made a documentary on what it’s like to be bipolar. Jolie was a ridiculous example because she has never declared herself bipolar and speculating that she is without solid medical evidence is weak reporting.

I also find it offensive that Jolie, first declared bipolar, is then portrayed as a stereotypical “home wrecker”. There is no connection.

Isn’t Meera Jee’s twitter account fake? And weren’t tribune the first to tell us that?

I’m not letting this slide simply because it has been removed because it causes a lot of damage. It triggered me. After reading it, I was crying with rage and I was not alone. There were others with mental health problems who felt horrible, almost punched in the gut. Perhaps this is because we expect better from tribune, but that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this piece caused a lot of human suffering and no apologies can make up for the distress many of us felt. I would like to know why this was even allowed to go into print. What is tribune’s editorial policy regarding mental health issues? Does it even exist? If not, then perhaps now is the time to consider one.

I’m not advocating that the writer, Saba Khalid, be fired. But I would like to know if anyone has even reprimanded her or asked her to get some sensitivity training. I’m not going to be judgemental and declare her a racist or someone insensitive to mental health issues. To declare that she should be deprived of her job would make me as bad as the kind of people who advocate that mental health patients be locked up. I want to be better than them.

I want answers. I demand answers. Here is an email I sent to the author, the editors and the life & style desk:

Dear editors and Ms Khalid,

As a person who has bipolar disorder, I found this piece to be in extremely poor taste and I was very upset to read it. I am quite sure that none of you have any idea just how badly people with mental health disorders are treated. It took me 6 years to come out with mine in public, which I did as a blog post on dawn and it was the hardest thing I have ever written. You see, we, the “crazies” as Saba so kindly calls us, are treated quite horribly and mocking us makes things even worse for us.

After reading your piece, I was crying with rage and extremely angry that Pakistan has an educated and liberal class of people who think it’s ok to mock mental health disorders. I would never do so for I was raised by people who taught me that making fun of disabilities is inherently cruel. Picking on the weakest, the most disenfranchised and the disabled is bullying. Furthermore, it shows a severe lack of empathy for the plight of those who suffer from life long disabilities, like me.

I hesitate to tell you I was crying with rage for I fear that may have been your goal: to reduce those of us with mental health disorders to emotional wrecks so we stay away from society. You are, after all, advocating for us to be locked up.

I have a few questions that many people would like answered. I’m hoping you have the courage to reply to a bipolar person since, I’m assuming, you want to believe I’m a knife wielding lunatic who will come kill you. After all, you have asked people to have me locked me. The ignorance amazes me.

  1. Why was this approved? Is it because it’s funny to make fun of the “crazies” as you so sensitively call us? Because it’s ok to pick on the weak & disabled?
  2. Did you assume that people with mental health disabilities wouldn’t object because you know that most of us are too scared to publicly admit we have a disorder?
  3. What evidence does the writer have that these celebs have the mental health disorder she claims? Can I please be provided with the evidence that was used for this piece because it seems like speculation.
  4. Did you speak to any mental health specialists who confirmed you were right?
  5. Do you actually not realise that there is a big difference between drug/alcohol addiction & other mental health disorders?
  6. Are you qualified to write about mental health disorders? And do editors allow just anyone to write about mental health issues? Do you not realise why that is problematic?

I realise the piece has been removed but I still expect an answer and there are many who are demanding answers. I’m asking because I subscribe to tribune and read it daily. One of the main reasons I do so is because it has less triggers for me than most other papers. (Don’t know what trigger is? In that case you shouldn’t have been allowed to comment on mental health issues!) In order to live a “normal” life, I need to avoid triggers and if tribune is going to become a trigger, I need to unsubscribe. Unless tribune can assure those of us with mental health issues that we will not be mocked, we would not like to read it.

I realise that your ideal solution would be to lock me away from the world but that’s not an option. That’s not an option because my doctors and family believe that I can live a full, “normal” life if they support me. And guess what? They are right!

I also wonder where your moral center lies. In a country where rapists are running around free, where murders roam the street without fear, where men subject women to the worse form of violence, you are advocating that, instead, we lock up people with mental health issues. It greatly upsets me.

Looking forward to hearing from you but greatly fearing that no one will bother replying to a “crazy” who should be “locked up” since I assume that means I should be denied all internet access so that I can’t distress the “normal” world.

Regards,

Nabiha Meher

I am well aware that my email is strongly worded and may even come across as emotional. So be it. This is an emotional issue, one that lead to this status update on facebook by my friend Adnan Ahmad: “Dear Express Tribune, When writing *anything* that references mental health, please try to research and vet what you’ve been handed. This is not the 19th century, nor is this the early 20th Century. Malicious mockery of health conditions of which you obviously have no clue about is not funny, nor has it *ever* been. It is mean-spirited, uneducated, and I look forward to the shit-storm that this, and other articles of an equally tabloid nature, will hopefully bring about.”

These are questions that need to be asked and I wrote this email with input from other people with mental health disorders. If the authorities at tribune really do not want to alienate readers with mental health disorders, then we deserve answers.

UPDATE: Express Tribune has issued an apology BUT I honestly believe it is not enough. Is it really too much for me to ask what happened to the writer? I am especially irked that no one is answering this question and I know they will answer IF enough people ask them to.

I’ve also been tweeting Bilal Lakhani, the owner of the publication who, from what I can tell, seems to be very open to ideas. I must add here that I personally find Tribune’s prompt responses quite amazing, especially in a country where most media owners only care for ratings. Kudos to them.

Tribune also seems to be open to training their staff regarding mental health issues. I am incredibly happy to hear such a positive response. This speaks volumes: it says we care about mental health issues. They are not trivial.

Because of this whole fiasco, I have decided that this is something I need to consider doing on a regular basis. My doctor’s words ring in my ear: “you are a success story”. As a success story, I have the power to make a difference. As a person who is willing to speak up in public about what it is like to be bipolar, I feel like I should try and reach out to as many people as I can so that others lives are made better. If there’s anything I learn on an almost daily basis, it is this: this country desperately needs mental health awareness.

We live in trying times. We live in a war torn land, at war with itself, at war with everyone else, never at ease, always craving for a peace that never comes. Depression rates are off the charts and thanks to our love for inbreeding, mental health problems exist in numbers higher than we want to believe. There is no one I know who hasn’t been effected.

There are so many people out there who are unwilling to speak up and “educate” others about our illnesses and I do not blame them. I do not blame them because of the incredibly horrible judgement that comes along with admitting one has a mental illness. One necessarily has to develop very thick skin in order to deal with it and not everyone can, nor should everyone have to.

So I’m now brainstorming ideas on what to do and how to go about this. Because of my disability, I cannot have a full time job. As a result, I cannot do this as volunteer, or any unpaid work on a regular basis. The goal is to be able to speak to all sorts of people, in all sorts of fields, and clear up misconceptions about mental health issues. I would personally be very interested in media training and speaking to students. Anyway, watch this space. Something pretty amazing may just come out of all this.

Emails to the UK Visa Office

I applied for my British visa in the beginning of May and have, like many others, yet to receive it. What’s most frustrating and worse is the lack of cooperation from the British US visa office. First of all, it defies the senses that the visas are sent to Abu Dhabi to be processed. It feels racist really. Although Gerry’s, the courier office, happily responds to phone calls etc, they are thoroughly useless and politely say “we don’t know” to anything and everything anyone asks. Eventually, hoping to find out something, anything, I emailed Abu Dhabi only to get a reply saying they’ll get back to me “soon” but never replied. Irritated and desperate, I sent many sarcastic emails, which I cannot reproduce here just in case they decide to sue me or something. As a Pakistani citizen, I have no legal recourse as we are all well aware. I shall just reveal the delicious tit bits that got their attention.

I received my first positive response from Abu Dhabi (since “soon” had come and gone) after sending them the following email: I would REALLY APPRECIATE and love a reply to my query. I’m willing to even donate you an ovary and piece of my soul for this precious information.

They asked me for additional information which I sent them instantly. And then again, I waited in vain. Finally, I sent this: Really would be most grateful and appreciate a reply. Would mean a lot. PLEASE.

Followed by this a few days later: Do you require anything else? If no, A REPLY WOULD BE REALLY NICE AND APPRECIATED. It’s been 2 months. Thank you very much for inconveniencing my life sooooo much. I’m very grateful. Your instant replies must be lauded. And I sincerely thank you from the BOTTOM OF MY HEART for making us Pakistanis look polite and super efficient.

I’ve asked before: do you need an ovary for this precious information? If so, I’ll make arrangements to send it if it will get me a response. I have plenty to spare since I’m not even 30 yet.

Much regards and appreciation for the constant anxiety and migraine.

They replied the next day, on July 15th, confirming that my documents have been processed and will be sent “soon.” Of course, this rather cryptic message wasn’t good enough for me, now fully frustrated at the fact that terrorists are issued visas and us, the secular people who are constantly getting threats for standing up against religious extremism are being denied. Are they trying to push me into the arms of those who happily create ludicrous conspiracy theories? Because, at the moment, they seem comforting.

Then I sent this: Does that mean that I’ve been granted and blessed with a visa or have I been rejected? Would love a reply again since the rejection rate from Abu Dhabi for Pakistani citizens is an astounding 47%. Secondly, could you please define “soon” and please let me know if they have been sent. Because sometimes it can take a very long time. The acceptable definition would be 3 or four days, but please let me know soon so I can book my ticket.

Abu Dhabi replied saying they couldn’t tell me anything due to the Data Protection Act. My reply: So you guys can’t even define what soon is? Because, according to many experts in the language who I have consulted regarding this matter, they say that your use of the word isn’t right. Soon would have meant I should have received it today really. It’s not like Abu Dhabi and Lahore are that far really. I’m not asking you to send me my documents to Mars. So I feel rather deceived. This isn’t soon. I feel lied to. Not nice… Do you perhaps put our documents on a ship, send it to Antarctica and then send them to Pakistan? That’s what it seems like. Again, thank you very much for this distress and the constant headache. I may be Pakistani, but I’m a human being.

And since this was a few days ago, I just sent them the following email:

Dear nameless, faceless visa officers,

Again, my kindest regards for making us Pakistani look efficient. It continues to defy my senses what your definition of “soon” is. I shall have to start teaching my students that they must learn a different definition of soon from now on if they ever apply for a British visa. But they’ll probably give me the standard reply: “but ma’am visas are issued by people playing eeni-meeni-minie-mo with our passports!” I’m afraid, at this point, this joke doesn’t seem like a joke, but a bitter reality.

According to many conspiracy theorists, you do indeed ship our documents to Antarctica before sending them back to Pakistan. They believe that since we are constantly denied visas and our passports are often hijacked for month on end, a few sympathetic White people decided that our passports should at least be allowed to travel. Now, since it is going to make a stop over in a land full of penguins, I was wondering if you could please send me a pair along with my passport. However, since penguins also have homosexual members, could you please ensure that one is male and the other is female? I only say this because it would be nice to have a family of penguins as a souvenir for my passport’s holiday since I doubt I’ll get my passport in time to go on mine. I have absolutely nothing against homosexuals; in fact my biggest desire is to produce a gay son one day.

Again, thanks for the wonderful treatment and the delay has just been the most wonderful thing ever. I missed my 10 year high school reunion. I cry every day when I see the pictures. I’m desperate to go see my friends, but why am I telling you this? You obviously don’t care…

How Fruit Trees Perpetuate Patriarchy

Marriage

My name is marriage
I am daughter of this earth
Was born free to surf
I was abducted by the tradition of dowry
Who raped my dreams without any mercy
I kept yelling to free me from the handcuffs of dowry
I was left alone in the dark alley
I was poisoned, I was tortured I was burned
But no one came to save me from this commination
Today, I lay in my grave
Cursing all those who were gay
Murmuring, turning their back and closing their eyes
As the daughters of earth were being burned and disgraced
I pity the callousness of my society
Where they own this tradition of dowry

By Naurin Ramay

A few days ago, a friend forwarded me this BBC story about a village in Bihar, India, where a tree is planted whenever a girl child is born in order to pay for her wedding and dowry. This has lead to a huge decrease in female infanticide. The story is written in a very positive manner and I’m quite sure the uninformed reader will easily go along with this “feel good” twist. But digging deeper reveals, at least to me as a Pakistani woman, something darker and horrifying.

I object. This story reports something so sinister as if it’s a good thing that, frankly, I’m disgusted. Of course a decrease in female infanticide is a good thing, but not at the cost of the perpetuation of the very same patriarchal system that has oppressed these women for centuries. And, despite the fact that this is a morbid thing to say, it needs to be said: gendercide will lead to a demand for females, giving the sex an upper hand albeit at a huge cost. I don’t agree with it at all, as I doubt any sane person would. I’ve written that statement in order to prove that it’s very easy to give anything sinister a positive twist; after all, the world is NOT black and white, despite our best efforts to make it so. Good can easily come out of bad. I often have to remind my students, who are well trained in the fine art of linear thinking, that not everything can be divided into pure evil or good. What did I say in order to prove it: I lauded Zardari for passing the sexual harassment bill because I KNOW that no other party would have even considered it, and despite my personal opinion of him, I will thank him for it.

The writer reports, “Sneha, four, is aware that her father has planted trees in her name; the child says she regularly waters the saplings. As yet she doesn’t know what dowry is, and says the trees will bear fruits for her “to eat”.” What a joke! The fruit isn’t for her from any angle: it is for her husband, yet another man. Her life has not been spared because her family was happy at the birth of a girl child- it has been spared because the man who will take her off her family’s hands can be paid to do so.

I have an idea; a much, much better idea: BAN DOWRY; instead, educate the girls and empower them so they can earn and not be a “burden.” Educate and empower the women so that they can walk out of abusive and bad marriages. All of us, the women of the subcontinent, are well aware of how prevalent domestic violence is in this area of the world. The ONLY reason why the women cannot walk out the door, more so than societal reasons, is because they lack the ability to fend for themselves. Therefore, planting a tree for a wedding is most certainly not going to benefit the girl in the long run despite the author’s suggestions to the contrary. Furthermore, this is counter-productive and any suggestions to the contrary are absurd to me.

As a woman who has seen just how much the burden of dowry carries, I strongly believe it is a deep and gross violation of human rights. Too many women’s education and independence has been sacrificed because of dowry, just like my own mother’s. To me, it is a phallic symbol, a symbol of oppression, a symbol to be eliminated and eradicated- not something to EVER be lauded and encouraged. Too many of my gender has been deprived of their basic human rights because of this dowry, this payment to the man to take us off our families’ hands. It’s time to speak up against this evil- and I say evil because, for me, as a woman, this is pure evil.  I realise and acknowledge that there are many women as well who will not agree with me and will insist that their dowry is their right. These are the women who know they will be deprived for yet another human right: their inheritance, just like my mother. But perpetuating the culture of dowry is, again, not a solution to this problem. Dowry, a concept that is anti-woman and patriarchal, is NEVER the solution. And please let’s stop deluding ourselves that it can be positive: it’s like putting out a fire with a fire.

How is sacrificing women at the altars of tradition going to change anything? And how many women are we willing to sacrifice before we say “STOP!”? I’ve borne the chains of being a woman and have fought to be where I am. I have seen how despicable dowry is and thankfully, I have sane enough parents who didn’t ever bother collecting a dowry for me. Instead, they educated and empowered me to stand up for myself and gave me my basic human right to choose an equal partner who will love me for who I am- not for my dowry.

The Ostrich Syndrome: A Teacher’s Perspective

As someone constantly exposed to the so-called “youth” of this country, I do believe I have some insight and some valid criticism of the recent ban on facebook, which, ostensibly, has to do with blasphemous content.

Firstly, what is the “youth” of this country? And why are they lumped into a monolithic entity? Why is it assumed that they are all one and the same when their realities are different in many ways. To assume that our “youth” is living air-conditioned lives, constantly logged on to the internet, chatting away etc. is purely delusional. The truth is, the vast majority of the “youth” are very poor and cannot access websites. The “youth” is actually the majority of our population. And we are constantly trying to box them into holes on what they should be, what they should do, how they should think, how they should behave, killing off any diversity that exists… this has lead to an increase in intolerance which I have noticed in my less than three decades of existence, despite the fact that sensitivity towards women’s issues has increased as compared to my generation (I’m only talking about educated people here though. I do acknowledge that the ground realities for women have become even more horrific). Sounds contradictory? It’s not. Read on. It’s all connected to religion and wanting to desperately prove that their religion is not barbaric towards women, a criticism that has very valid roots since, let’s face it, the status of women in the Muslim world is far from decent. So even though I see an increase in gender sensitivity, I also see an increase in linear thinking, mostly intolerant, reeking of a severe persecution complex (“the world is out to get us and destabilise Islam!”), which is very, very dangerous.

The “youth” have grown up in a post 9/11 world so they have little or no living memory of a time when the world wasn’t obsessed with us. I remember people scratching their heads, perplexed about where this Pakistani I speak of was. India was all they knew. And now… well… we’re everywhere, one of the most recognisable countries in the world, a hub of terrorism, a country on the forefront of the oxymoronic “war on terror”, perhaps on the verge of self-destruction, “the most dangerous country in the world”. Our grief has become the world’s entertainment. The world watches as we are bombed, killed, destroyed, humiliated and demonised. And sadly, it truly feels like no one cares. We all know, for sure, that our lives are worth less than any other lives, truly worthless. These kids have always known that. What’s worse is that as more and more innocent people die in their own country, these beliefs get strengthened. As the privileged ones travel the world, and are tortured at airports thanks to the colour of their skins and passports, they face humiliation which angers them for good reason. Why wouldn’t being called a “rag-head who will pray to his sand nigger god to destroy us” enrage someone? They have grown up in a country full of unrest and at war with itself. They have grown up in a world that constantly reminds them they are the “other” in every sense. They have grown up in a world where “Muslim” has become a synonym for “terrorist.” Imagine what it does to their psyche. Imagine growing up like that. It saddens me immensely because, as a teacher who is close to her students, I see the toll it takes on them. I see their anger and I sympathise with it. I don’t agree that this is a war on Islam per se since that is just too simplistic an explanation, but I do understand why they would feel this way.

As a teacher of critical thinking, I have a frustrating job. I love it because it is very rewarding, but teaching critical thinking to kids who have been taught NOT to think is quite challenging. They come to me with blinkers on. And, obviously, there is much resistance to thinking about multiple perspectives at first. The majority don’t want their worldview shaken. Most don’t want to hear that there is another valid perspective at first. It’s hard to digest and I know that because I remember the IB TOK classes which I model some of my classes on. It wasn’t easy. But then again, critical thinking is never easy, nor should it be. It should be constant tool used for one’s personal growth, and it is absolutely necessary in order to evolve and become tolerant. This is why I feel the recent ban on facebook is dangerous and promotes a culture of intolerance.

As a teacher who often jokes that her class should be called “How to Grow a Brain” I strongly believe that banning facebook sends out a counter-productive and frightening message. And no, this is not a slippery slope. This country suffers “The Ostrich Syndrome” and this ban is proof. We like to stick our heads in the sand, like kids sticking their fingers in their ears screaming “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” I’d like to ask all those constantly wanting to censor this that or the other what kind of message they think they are sending out. Because this is how I see it: if you don’t like it, ban it. If you don’t agree, pretend it doesn’t exist. Everyone else is wrong anyway, since they’re all out to get us. There is no need for productive dialogue, there is no need to have a healthy discourse; heck there’s no need to turn the other cheek and ignore it. This is the message: stick your head in the sand until it’s over. Oh, but it’ll never be over since the world is out to get us.

And I ask you: why do I HAVE to be offended? Is our faith so weak that a cartoon will destroy it? And even if I am offended, why am I not being given the option to boycott facebook voluntarily? A voluntary ban would have been much, much more effective in order to send a message out. A blanket ban has only lead to exactly what we like to cry about so much: negative publicity in the world press and many outraged Pakistanis protesting the ban such as me. How conveniently we pick and choose from religion! Lest we forget, I would like to remind the Muslims reading this of the incident of the woman who used to throw garbage at our prophet. The prophet, in whose name we claim we are protesting, was a peaceful, cooperative man who forgave people who pelted him with garbage and rocks. Responding with an intelligent dialogue, responding with patience is, in my opinion, the best way to protest one’s concern. Think about it: why is this competition going on? Why are we responding in exactly the manner the world expects us to? Why are so hell bent on proving that we are not tolerant? Responding with anger, with outrage, will only strengthen Islamophobic beliefs, which will, by the way, make these Islamophobes happy since we are playing right into their hands and giving them the reaction they expect and probably want.

As for me, I am going to go change my “Restore Judiciary” shirt to “Restrain the Judiciary” adding the neglected article who absence has so peeved me since I first bought it during the lawyer’s movement. The fact that the courts are acting like tyrannical parents is something I strongly object to. The fact that they are entertaining demands by catering to the religious parties is abhorrent, especially since these religious parties are incapable of winning in democratic elections. I protest this ban on facebook and my objection to the competition doesn’t count since it’s not voluntary. Without the freedom to offend, free speech ceases to exist. And as someone who grew up in Zia’s oppressive regime, I know how dangerous it is to censor and ban things based on religious sentiments. Intolerant religious interpretations should not be immune to religion, nor should we allow religion to be used to promote intolerance. For those who have witnessed it, we do not wish to see it again.

I may not agree with the venom being spewed through the media, but I’d rather get multiple perspectives than just one, leaving me no choice but to think only the way I am apparently supposed to. And the fact that we let our media go ahead and spew this venom in the first place reeks of hypocrisy. While we think it’s perfectly all right to demonise the world, promoting intolerance and hatred for the West, creating Hindu-Zionism conspiracy theories, we strongly object when the world responds in kind. Again, I ask, why is it ok for us and not anyone else? Are we all meek little innocents? And again, what kind of message is this sending the “youth” we are oh so very concerned about? I’ll tell you what it leads to because I battle with it constantly. It leads to essays that are rants on how evil the world is, full of hate speech, and with absolutely no sensitivity to the other perspective. It has, like I said, lead to a persecution complex so strong that it’s very hard to break. It has lead to people like Faisal Shahzad. Now you tell me. Do we want more of him? Or more of those who are willing to debate peacefully instead of resorting to violence?Because at the rate we’re going, no one will need to bomb us into the stone ages. We’re going there ourselves.

Hum Logge 9 February, 2008

The Hum Logge protest rally was by far the most incredible rally we’ve had so far. The response and turn out was astounding. Over 1000 people came together from all over Pakistan to demand the restoration of the judiciary. What was most incredible for me was the fact that people were united under one flag: our flag. Of course, there were a few bad eggs like people who insisted on carrying a black flag; the communists and Tehreek-e-insaaf also should have carried the Pakistani flag in solidarity.

We started at Nehar Ghar in Zaman Park at 7 am. Before leaving, we issued media statements etc. Then, a procession of about 20 cars and 2 buses left for Islamabad via the Grand Trunk road. Every car had stickers of the Pakistani flag, as well as a small flag. On the way we stopped at Gujranwala where many lawyers joined us. The reception we received was very warm and tons of people gathered on the streets to hear Bushra Aitzaz speak. Everyone was shouting “Go Musharraf go!” There was a lot of energy and solidarity. We were off to a great start.

Our next stop was Gujrat where we had lunch. More lawyers joined us and we went straight to Islamabad. On the way, people were waving and flashing victory signs. The Islamabad organiser, Kamil Hamid, was calling me frantically since we were pretty late! We had aimed to reach there by 2:30, but we got there at 4 instead. On the way to Aitzaz Ahsan’s house, we noticed that the police had set up barricades all over the Supreme Court. We were originally supposed to go there, but we had to change our venue and decided to go to the Chief Justice’s house instead. When we got to the gathering point, I was stunned by the amount people who kept pouring out from all over- from inside the house, from the street. I only realised just how many people there were once we started the rally. Again, the energy and solidarity was incredible and I salute all the brave people who came to this event.

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As soon as we got close, they started spraying us with water. We all thought it was tear gas, so I started taking videos before running. Then we discovered it was water. They were hosing us down. The fire department- I repeat- the fire department was not attending to actual and real fires; they were being used to fend off protestors. This in a country where water is scarce- very scarce. Because it was just water, people kept going. They kept marching. One man stood right in front of the water with his arms extended. That’s when they started pelting us with stones. But people kept going.

Water

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Within a few minutes, they gassed us with some poison. It definitely wasn’t tear gas. I was retching and couldn’t breathe. My skin was stinging for a whole day afterwards. My mouth still feels like someone has scraped it with a knife.

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The gas didn’t deter many people though. Some people were picking it up and throwing it right back at the police. People just kept going. They urged everyone to keep going, but I was just not ready to face that poison again.

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And the police were brutal. After watering us, throwing stones at us, and gassing us with poison, they started firing rubber bullets. They baton charged and beat the crap out of people. They arrested people who were receiving treatment in hospitals. Details of an eye witness account are available here and here.

And lastly, the blog is now white. I can finally put pictures up here so it’s here to stay!

Violence against teachers

No matter what one feels about a teacher, pushing one is totally unacceptable. Sure I had teachers I wanted to hit, throw shoes at and push off cliffs. But I didn’t because that would just be heinous, despicable…

Today one of my students shoved me more than once. Actually he’s no longer my student. My class had seven bad eggs who were pulling the rest of the class down. At first, the school wasn’t too bothered until one day when I just lost it. I was ready to quit. When I gave detention, they pet the kids and told them to behave. When I insisted, they told me not to because it would make me unpopular. Like I’m there to make friends. When I issued pink cards, they would, again, give the kids a warning (pink cards are complaints that go on their permanent records). Once I insisted upon issuing the pink card and it was given to the kid who in turn went home and wept. He created this whole fuss about how I was targeting him. So his mother refused to sign it and sent it back. The result? He was free to do as he pleased again.

Actually this student is quite a conniving little fellow and his parents let him get away with murder. At the parent teacher meeting, I expressed my concern and told them that he had a behaviour problem. They refused to believe me. They kept implying that I was lying and kept defending him. “You’re the ONLY teacher that has a problem with him!” they declared. I was left stupefied. If my teachers had said something like that about me, my mother would have hung me upside down from a fan and then switched it on full blast. In fact, they were so clueless and delusional about their child that they kept telling me how all the other teachers loved him and how he was the best thing that could ever happen. They told me to adjust my behaviour and they implied that I deserved what I got. What really pissed me off was the fact that I had heard three other teachers complain to them in front of me. I have severe issues with parents like that and I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore.

So, at the beginning of this term, I kicked out 7 boys. I was more than happy to be rid of them. It’s one thing to have a bad student, but it’s quite another to have a bad person as a student. They’re still royal pains in the behind though. They make a huge effort to disrupt the class and take ages to leave when I walk in. But today just took the cake…

I walked into class. The sports teacher gave the kids permission forms for something or the other. I don’t really care. The offender- the one who pushed me- grabbed all the forms and started pretending to distribute them. In reality, he was causing a ruckus and deliberately stalling. His teacher, for reasons unknown to me, doesn’t care if they show up late, so they feel free to wander around at will. That’s why they deliberately cause havoc and make a huge show out of leaving. They take ages to pack their bags. The kid with the delusional parents always yells and makes one hell of a lot of noise. Today, when I complained about that, he lied with such a straight face that I was left amazed. And I completely blame his parents.

Anyway, the violent child who was pretending to distribute the papers, had to be told off. He absolutely refused to leave. I took his bag and was going to put it outside so that he wouldn’t make a big fuss about the bag. He often takes about two whole minutes to hoist it on his back. He saw me take the bag and he grabbed it. Knowing that I had a firm grip on it, he grabbed it and started shoving me. I managed to hold on to the bag and I put it outside. Once outside, he started shoving the door into me. He knew I was standing behind it since it is mostly glass. He could see me quite clearly. He repeatedly shoved the door into me. Then he left.

I was livid. I couldn’t believe that a student would ever resort to physically abusing the teacher. Never did I think it would happen to me and I truly hope it doesn’t happen to another teacher. The Principal was very understanding. She gave him a tight slap, which was really quite satisfying to watch. Then she suspended him for 2 days.

The people who know me are as livid as I am about this. In fact, a few have suggested that this punishment isn’t enough. I don’t know what to think anymore. Private schools are equally to blame for this terrible attitude. They cater to the parents and the result- not to the actual development of the child. I don’t think they educate in the true sense. Yes, they are a far better option than our local government schools, but that’s not enough. It’s not enough to get good grades. A good education should teach you respect for humanity and the environment. I feel damn lucky to have been part of UWC for I truly got a wonderful overall education there. We need schools like UWC here desperately. I aim to open one as soon as I can save enough money. It’s a long way off, but I am adamant about making it happen some day. I certainly don’t ever want to see my siblings’ kids in any school that doesn’t provide them with a comprehensive education. The O level system is ridiculous. It’s based on gimmicks and points. I have personally taught kids who can hardly speak English, yet they got A’s. The system has been cracked and the leaks are soon going to burst. Anyone with me?

With extreme prejudice?

On two consecutive days, 1st and 2nd February, the staff (security personnel as well as faculty members) of Punjab College, Muslim Town have tried to deny the rights of free speech and of free association of pro-democracy activists, and members of the Student Action Committee (SAC) Lahore – even going to the extent of brutal, un-restrained physical assault. In the face of this practical demonstration of the fascist attitudes nurtured in the so-called institutes of higher education that constitute the Punjab Group of Colleges, owned and run by the Nazim (Mayor) of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood, the activists have shown a remarkable degree of calm and fortitude, refusing to be provoked, and yet refusing to bow down to the dictates of the civilian collaborators of Army rule.

As already reported in some newspapers (e.g. Dawn), on Friday 1st February, Raheem-ul-Haque (adjunct faculty at Punjab University, former Project Manager at Techlogix) and Saeeda Diep (a veteran political, and not merely social, activist) were distributing flyers on the public side-lane in front of the two sections of the segregated Punjab College. The flyers, published by the Students Action Committee, laid out the basic demands of the Committee and also urged students to join hands with other sections of the public in a protest demonstration in Nasser Bagh on Saturday, the 2nd. The two activists were handing out flyers to all the students, boys and girls, consistent with their belief that information and debate are as much the right of women as of men. While Raheem was distributing some flyers outside the girls’ section of the college, he leaned over the chain at the exit and handed a few to some students standing there. He then continued distributing the pamphlets to other students as they left for home or arrived for class. It is important to note two things here: at no point did either Raheem or Diep trespass on the private property of the college, unless, of course, in his extraordinary legislative zeal, the President decides to declare into existence a new law against aerial trespassing, “Thou shalt not lean into, or otherwise violate the airspace of, another’s property”; not a single student had actually complained against the actions of the pro-democracy campaigners.

Soon thereafter, one of the security guards employed by the College told Raheem to stop handing out the flyers. Raheem defended his acts, saying that he was well within his rights to do as he pleased in a public space and that he was distributing flyers to the girls in the same way that he was distributing them to the boys. The guard slapped Raheem. Instead of hitting back, Raheem asked him why he’d hit him. He got two more punches for his trouble – this time the guard broke his spectacles. Again Raheem tried to reason with the guard, protesting that he was not doing anything wrong. He then walked over to consult with Diep. The guard followed, and the ensuing discussion quickly heated up with the guard pushing Diep and insulting both activists in abusive language. People gathered around them, which prevented the guard from following up his verbal threats with further physical aggression. Realizing that the situation could spiral out of control, some staff members from the College extricated the guard from the crowd.

Incensed and humiliated, the two activists decided to bring this action to the notice of the larger public. Some friends and one reporter arrived on the spot in short order. At this point, the group decided to report the matter to the police. At the nearby Muslim Town police station, which is also the office of the Superintendant Police Saddar Division, the police hummed and hawed for two hours before finally announcing that they needed a medico-legal report from the nearest government hospital. The physician at Jinnah Hospital diagnosed a perforated left ear drum and prescribed some antibiotics. Armed with the report, the group headed back to the police station, where they were informed that such an injury, not visible to the naked eye, was not serious enough to be the subject of their hallowed “First Investigation Report” (FIR)!

That evening, members of the Students Action Committee gathered outside Aitezaz Ahsan’s house to celebrate his release, prepared a press release and vowed to go back the following day to the same college to concretely demonstrate the strength of their resolve.

The next day, Hassan Rehman (FAST-NU graduate student) and Umayr Hassan (FAST-NU faculty member) accompanied Raheem-ul-Haque and Saeeda Diep to Punjab College. They arrived at 11.30 AM and started handing out the flyers urging students to attend the protest demonstration that would start in a few hours time. It seemed that they had proven their point and were about to disperse (in fact, Hassan Rehman had already left) when the Principal of the College arrived in his black Mercedes. Some of the security guards (there were at least ten of them in total) called Raheem to meet the Principal. Raheem and Diep – infuriated – argued with him that their guards had no right to tell them what to do on public property and that, in fact, they (the College) was illegally encroaching upon public property (the green belt between the service lane and the main road serves as a parking lot for the College). Raheem mentioned that he had taken several photographs of the encroachment. Another SAC member, Shehryar (software engineer by profession) arrived while the argument was going on.

At some point, as he leaned either to say or after having said something to the Principal, the Principal grabbed Shehryar by his collar and then told the guards to thrash him. All of the guards fell upon Shehryar, punching, slapping, and then picking him up to be taken inside the College premises. Diep and Raheem went to save Shehryar and were similarly assaulted. Diep was dragged along with Shehryar while Raheem and Umayr were slapped and pushed into the premises through another gate.

Inside their offices, the four were forced to sit on the sofa and not allowed to go out. Raheem, infuriated, railed against the teachers present, who either remained silent spectators or told the activists to shut up or taunted their professionalism or called them Indian agents/NGO people. They claimed they were puncturing car tires and instigating students inside the campus. A female teacher suggested that Diep (being a female) could accompany her elsewhere – Diep angrily refused. Shehryar struggled against the goon squad and was beaten again. The other three tried to protect him as Raheem was punched and his nose started bleeding profusely. Diep tried calling Usman Gill (SAC activist and recent graduate from FAST-NU) and while she was talking to him, the guards tried to confiscate her cell phone – Diep refused but could not complete the call. This and more went on for more than an hour, with the College personnel alternating between beating up the activists and apologizing to them. There were twenty or thirty of them in all, some staff, some faculty and some who looked like hired thugs in plain clothes, who attacked and tormented the trapped pro-democracy campaigners.

Suddenly, Shehryar fell on all fours, gasping and indicating that he had difficulty breathing. It was a clever hoax, but no one including friends realised it then and started to panic. They clamoured for an ambulance to be called, warning the administration of the trouble they would bring upon themselves were one of them to die on the premises. As Shehryar lay limp on the floor, Umayr went outside to tell someone to call an ambulance. Usman Gill was outside and Umayr shouted to him telling him to call the ambulance. As he came nearer to the College boundary wall, someone behind Umayr told the guards outside to bring Usman inside. A guard grabbed Usman by the collar and tried to push him toward the gate – Usman resisted and was released just outside the gate as the police had arrived by that time. Usman, Umayr, Raheem and Diep’s driver carried Sheryar outside and laid him in Umayr’s car as Shehryar and Diep were driven away to safety.

The rest of the SAC members waited for the senior police officer (already aware of the incident the previous day) to arrive while the activist and College administration argued the case with the officer present. In particular, the activists demanded that the College return Shehryar’s cell phone and Raheem’s camera (used to photograph the College façade as well as the encroachment – hence the reason the guards to grab it from Raheem’s car, as witnessed by Umayr’s driver. The camera cost approx. $1000.) When the senior police officer arrived, the same argument persisted: the students demanded the retrieval of their property while the college personnel complained that the SAC members had been interfering inside their College. They now also claimed that the activists had damaged their property – a door glass was broken when the guards were scuffling inside with Shehryar. It was not clear who broke it. All parties now went inside the offices and the officer then had a word in private with the Principal. Outside, Umayr narrated their tale to a plainclothes Special Branch (police intelligence) representative. Outside, again, the officer had managed to recover the cell phone and asked the administrators to look for the missing camera asked the activists to come to the police station to lodge a complaint while his junior stayed back to look for the camera. Raheem and Usman went with him in the police mobile car.

By this time, Diep had managed to inform the SAC members attending the big rally at Nasser Bagh. However, once the activists had managed to free themselves, they sent messages to the SAC members to attend the rally which was the more important event, and to come over to the Muslim Town police station afterwards.

Shehryar and Raheem got medical treatment. Shehryar had a broken finger and Raheem had a bloody nose swollen as after a boxing match.

Around 20 – 25 SAC members had gathered at the Muslim Town police station by 4:30 PM. The SP allowed some SAC members to enter his office to take part in the discussion as the SAC lawyers presented their case and pressed for an FIR to be lodged against the staff of Punjab College. After much prevarication, during which he must have realised that SAC had a solid case and that he would have to file a report, he invited the group to go over to the College with him to talk to the College administration. Here a comic twist presented itself: the SP never showed up. He climbed into his official brand new 2.4D Toyota Hilux and disappeared. While the SAC members waited outside the College, they started raising slogans against the military dictatorship, against the Nazim and against oppression. About the same time, students started leaving for home and were quite surprised to encounter the SAC group in full cry. Some of them stopped to ask what had happened – they either knew nothing at all, or had been fed lies by the administration to the effect that the people beaten up earlier that day had been teasing female students. The SAC members disabused them of this fiction and even handed them their new flyers.

Eventually a DSP arrived and started negotiations with the SAC lawyers. At first, it seemed that he merely wanted SAC to leave the College and move to a less “disturbing” location, such as the police station. But the SAC members flatly refused and demanded that some resolution be arrived at, otherwise they were willing to stake out the premises for as long as it took. Eventually, the DSP asked that Diep and Raheem tell him exactly what happened. At this point, Diep started narrating how they were dragged into the premises and beaten by College personnel. As she was showing him the path, the College personnel got infuriated. Banking on the fact that they were employed by Mian Amir Mehmood, they took an aggressive attitude towards the DSP and virtually ordered him off the premises, daring him to challenge their authority. Humbled and humiliated,, the officer left the premises. Some SAC members were enraged at this concrete proof of the adage “he who has the stick, has the buffalo”. After a brief verbal altercation with the College personnel, other SAC members intervened and defused the situation. At this point, the SAC and the lawyers conferred and it was decided that while the lawyers negotiated with the police, the SAC members would head to the Lahore Press Club.

At the Press Club, the Students Action Committee staged a small demonstration, prepared a new press release, and informed various media channels (newspapers and television) of the events of the day.

The SAC held a protest demonstration at the Press Club in support of their injured colleagues on Sunday, 3rd February.

(Written by Amanullah Kariapper , based on narratives by Raheem, Diep and Umayr)