Plagiarism at Aitchison College by Naila Burney Chugtai

My first teaching job was at Aitchison College. Ms Burney Chugtai was my department head. The purpose of this blog is to discuss teachers and ethics or lack thereof in some cases.

Ms Burney Chugtai apparently wrote a teaching guide for the English department and I clearly remember that we had a long meeting where she gave us said guide. She told us she authored it.

As I said above, I was a new teacher with very little experience. I read the guide and put it away. I recently found it in an old folder. As I read it again, this time with the experience of a teacher who checks for plagiarism, I realised that it was mostly plagiarised.

What’s most shocking is that Ms Burney Chugtai did not acknowledge any sources and had pawned off the work as her own. This is seriously unethical and as every teacher knows, plagiarism is a serious offence. We don’t allow it in our classrooms but if we teachers are plagiarists ourselves, we cannot expect our students to be held to higher standards. It is imperative that we practise what we preach.

The guide can be downloaded here: NBC plagiarism

Let’s start with page 1.

The first two paragraphs are verbatim from a book called “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School” by The National Academies Press. Click the link here to see for yourself and compare the two. Ms Burney Chugtai has copy pasted it verbatim without acknowleding a source.

From the source:

As discussed in Chapter 1, educational goals for the twenty-first century are very different from the goals of earlier times. This shift is important to keep in mind when considering claims that schools are “getting worse.” In many cases, schools seem to be functioning as well as ever, but the challenges and expectations have changed quite dramatically (e.g., Bruer, 1993; Resnick, 1987).

Consider the goals of schooling in the early 1800s. Instruction in writing focused on the mechanics of making notation as dictated by the teacher, transforming oral messages into written ones. It was not until the mid to late 1800s that writing began to be taught on a mass level in most European countries, and school children began to be asked to compose their own written texts. Even then, writing instruction was largely aimed at giving children the capacity to closely imitate very simple text forms. It was not until the 1930s that the idea emerged of primary school students expressing themselves in writing (Alcorta, 1994; Schneuwly, 1994). As in writing, it was not until relatively recently that analysis and interpretation of what is read became an expectation of skilled reading by all school children. Overall, the definition of functional literacy changed from being able to sign one’s name to word decoding to reading for new information (Resnick and Resnick, 1977); see Box 6.1

Paragraph 3 from Ms Burney Chugtai’s guide is also from the same source verbatim:

Society envisions graduates of school systems who can identify and solve problems and make contributions to society throughout their lifetime—who display the qualities of “adaptive expertise” discussed in Chapter 3. To achieve this vision requires rethinking what is taught, how teachers teach, and how what students learn is assessed.

The underlined part of paragraph 4 is also verbatim from the same source:

… knowledgeable individuals are more likely to be able to use what they have learned to solve novel problems—to show evidence of transfer (page 9)

The last paragraph and source:

More than ever, the sheer magnitude of human knowledge renders its coverage by education an impossibility; rather, the goal of education is better conceived as helping students develop the intellectual tools and learning strategies needed to acquire the knowledge that allows people to think productively about history, science and technology, social phenom- ena, mathematics, and the arts. (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2003: 5)

Moving onto page 2, the first paragraph is verbatim again from the first source.

Learning research suggests that there are new ways to introduce students to traditional subjects, such as mathematics, science, history and literature, and that these new approaches make it possible for the majority of individuals to develop a deep understanding of important subject matter. This committee is especially interested in theories and data that are relevant to the development of new ways to introduce students to such traditional subjects as mathematics, science, history, and literature. There is hope that new approaches can make it possible for a majority of individuals to develop a moderate to deep understanding of important subjects.

Page 3, paragraph 3 (the underlined section) is again from the first source:

Overall, the new science of learning is beginning to provide knowledge to improve significantly people’s abilities to become active learners who seek to understand complex subject matter and are better prepared to transfer what they have learned to new problems and settings. Making this happen is a major challenge (e.g., Elmore et al., 1996), but it is not impossible. The emerging science of learning underscores the importance of rethinking what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning is assessed. These ideas are developed throughout this volume.

Paragraph 4 is again from the first source:

Overall, learner-centered environments include teachers who are aware that learners construct their own meanings, beginning with the beliefs, understandings, and cultural practices they bring to the classroom. If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learner-centered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge. The teachers attempt to get a sense of what students know and can do as well as their interests and passions—what each student knows, cares about, is able to do, and wants to do. Accomplished teachers “give learners reason,” by respecting and understanding learners’ prior experiences and understandings, assuming that these can serve as a foundation on which to build bridges to new understandings (Duckworth, 1987).

Page 5, paragraph 1 is again almost verbatim from “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School“. What I find even more unethical than the blatant plagiarism itself is the fact that Ms Burney Chugtai removed references and citations.

Environments that are solely learner centered would not necessarily help students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to function effectively in society. As noted in Chapter 2, the ability of experts to think and solve problems is not simply due to a generic set of “thinking skills” or strategies but, instead, requires well-organized bodies of knowledge that support planning and strategic thinking. Knowledge-centered environments take seriously the need to help students become knowledgeable (Bruner, 1981) by learning in ways that lead to understanding and subsequent transfer. Current knowledge on learning and transfer (Chapter 3) and development (Chapter 4) provide important guidelines for achieving these goals

Paragraph 2 is again from the same source verbatim:

An alternative to simply progressing through a series of exercises that derive from a scope and sequence chart is to expose students to the major features of a subject domain as they arise naturally in problem situations. Activities can be structured so that students are able to explore, explain, extend, and evaluate their progress. Ideas are best introduced when students see a need or a reason for their use—this helps them see relevant uses of knowledge to make sense of what they are learning.

Paragraph 3 is from the same book and again, it is shamelessly verbatim:

An alternative to simply progressing through a series of exercises that derive from a scope and sequence chart is to expose students to the major features of a subject domain as they arise naturally in problem situations. Activities can be structured so that students are able to explore, explain, extend, and evaluate their progress. Ideas are best introduced when students see a need or a reason for their use—this helps them see relevant uses of knowledge to make sense of what they are learning.

Paragraph 4 is from the book that most of this plagiarised text is from.

It is important to distinguish between two major uses of assessment. The first, formative assessment, involves the use of assessments (usually administered in the context of the classroom) as sources of feedback to improve teaching and learning. The second, summative assessment, measures what students have learned at the end of some set of learning activities. Examples of formative assessments include teachers’ comments on work in progress, such as drafts of papers or preparations for presentations. Examples of summative assessments include teacher-made tests given at the end of a unit of study and state and national achievement tests that students take at the end of a year (page 140).

Paragraph 5 is from the same source and references have been removed again:

New developments in the science of learning suggest that the degree to which environments are community centered is also important for learning. Especially important are norms for people learning from one another and continually attempting to improve. We use the term community centered to refer to several aspects of community, including the classroom as a community, the school as a community, and the degree to which students, teachers, and administers feel connected to the larger community of homes, businesses, states, the nation, and even the world.

At the level of classrooms and schools, learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn (e.g., Brown and Campione, 1994; Cobb et al., 1992).

The last paragraph is slightly adapted from the same source. Citations removed:

In the beginning of this chapter we noted that the four perspectives on learning environments (the degree to which they are learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered) would be discussed separately but ultimately needed to be aligned in ways that mutually support one another. Alignment is as important for schools as for organizations in general (e.g., Covey, 1990). A key aspect of task analysis (see Chapter 2) is the idea of aligning goals for learning with what is taught, how it is taught, and how it is assessed (both formatively and summatively). Without this alignment, it is difficult to know what is being learned. Students may be learning valuable information, but one cannot tell unless there is alignment between what they are learning and the assessment of that learning. Similarly, students may be learning things that others don’t value unless curricula and assessments are aligned with the broad learning goals of communities (Lehrer and Shumow, 1997).

Moving on to page 5, the first paragraph is again plagiarised verbatim from the book “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School” and citations have again been removed:

Activities within a particular classroom may be aligned yet fail to fit with the rest of the school. And a school as a whole needs to have a consistent alignment. Some schools communicate a consistent policy about norms and expectations for conduct and achievement. Others send mixed messages. For example, teachers may send behavior problems to the principal, who may inadvertently undermine the teacher by making light of the students’ behavior. Similarly, schedules may or may not be made flexible in order to accommodate in-depth inquiry, and schools may or may not be adjusted to minimize disruptions, including nonacademic “pullout” programs and even the number of classroom interruptions made by a principal’s overzealous use of the classroom intercom. Overall, different activities within a school may or may not compete with one another and impede overall progress. When principals and teachers work together to define a common vision for their entire school, learning can improve (e.g., Barth, 1988, 1991; Peterson et al., 1995).

The next paragraph is from the same source again:

Activities within schools must also be aligned with the goals and assessment practices of the community. Ideally, teachers’ goals for learning fit with the curriculum they teach and the school’s goals, which in turn fit the goals implicit in the tests of accountability used by the school system. Often these factors are out of alignment. Effective change requires a simultaneous consideration of all these factors (e.g., Bransford et al., 1998). The new scientific findings about learning provide a framework for guiding systemic change.

The conclusion starts on page 5. Note that Ms Burney Chugtai uses the word I to take credit for words and theories that were never her own. She writes, “I hope I have sufficiently highlighted…”

The last paragraph on this page is again verbatim from the same book:

Outstanding teaching requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the subject matter and its structure, as well as an equally thorough understanding of the kinds of teaching activities that help students understand the subject matter in order to be capable of asking probing questions.

Finally, page 6. Starting with the first paragraph which is from the same source, references removed:

Numerous studies demonstrate that the curriculum and its tools, including textbooks, need to be dissected and discussed in the larger contexts and framework of a discipline. In order to be able to provide such guidance, teachers themselves need a thorough understanding of the subject domain and the epistemology that guides the discipline (for history, see Wineburg and Wilson, 1988; for math and English, see Ball, 1993; Grossman et al., 1989; for science, see Rosebery et al., 1992).

The second paragraph is also from the same source:

The examples in this chapter illustrate the principles for the design of learning environments that were discussed in Chapter 6: they are learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered. They are learner centered in the sense that teachers build on the knowledge students bring to the learning situation. They are knowledge centered in the sense that the teachers attempt to help students develop an organized understanding of important concepts in each discipline. They are assessment centered in the sense that the teachers attempt to make students’ thinking visible so that ideas can be discussed and clarified, such as having students (1) present their arguments in debates, (2) discuss their solutions to problems at a qualitative level, and (3) make predictions about various phenomena. They are community centered in the sense that the teachers establish classroom norms that learning with understanding is valued and students feel free to explore what they do not understand.

The next and final paragraph is from the same book:

These examples illustrate the importance of pedagogical content knowledge to guide teachers. Expert teachers have a firm understanding of their respective disciplines, knowledge of the conceptual barriers that students face in learning about the discipline, and knowledge of effective strategies for working with students. Teachers’ knowledge of their disciplines provides a cognitive roadmap to guide their assignments to students, to gauge student progress, and to support the questions students ask. The teachers focus on understanding rather than memorization and routine procedures to follow, and they engage students in activities that help students reflect on their own learning and understanding.

The document ends with the name Naila Burney Chugtai.

I will reiterate that the purpose of this blog post is to raise awareness about an issue that is unfortunately common and tolerated in Pakistan. Plagiarism is, to me, a serious offence. It is something we teachers should not be doing nor should we be encouraging it. I certainly don’t allow it on my watch. All my students are well aware that plagiarism is wrong, unethical, theft and a serious ethical offence. They are also aware that handing in plagiarised work will necessarily lead to failure.

Yet here we have an example of someone who was once head of the English department at Aitchison College. This kind of blatant plagiarism will flourish in schools where teachers themselves find it acceptable. This culture needs to end and if calling it out is a solution, I am ready to do so.

Recircle Menstrual Cup

Last month, I received a free Recircle menstrual cup. Although the company didn’t ask for a review on my blog, I do think this is a product worth reviewing and sharing.

IMG_4060.jpg

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard of silicon menstrual cups. I’ve heard about them for years yet never bought one. It seemed like a great idea in theory, but the reasons why I didn’t get one earlier include not being able to purchase it in Pakistan and not knowing a menstrual cup user who I could speak to openly.

I was also scared because of a few blogs and videos mentioning bad experiences. I was unable to overcome irrational fear despite knowing it was irrational. Finally, I was comfortable using tampons although I did worry about toxins leaching into my body. I absolutely hate pads because they give me something similar to a nappy rash but had to use them when my period was light, usually on the last day, so I’ve lived with a rash on my inner thighs for one week per month pretty much my whole life.

I have used this cup for a total of four menstrual cycles now including on my lightest day. I now have a lot more insight into my period. For example, my heaviest day is not so heavy at all actually.

However, there is a learning curve involved here. I did a lot of research before I used the cup. The recircle website provides great tips on how to insert and remove the cup. This YoutTube channel (which was linked by recircle) was especially helpful. Inserting it the first time wasn’t as easy as inserting a tampon because tampons are simply inserted and left alone. With a menstrual cup, you’ll have to check if it has opened up and formed a suction so that it doesn’t leak. I will admit I found this slightly confusing at first, which is why researching various tips helped such as rinsing it with cold water before inserting because that helps it pop open. The cold water rinse did indeed work. It popped open easily after insertion. Over the course of my four day period, I figured out what works best for me. I now know I prefer using a punch down fold because I find it easiest to open upon insertion. Inserting and removing the cup now take only a few seconds.

I did have a moment of panic after insertion because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to remove it easily. I messaged the company and they allayed my fears. I watched some videos and did some deep breathing to make sure I was relaxed before I removed it. It really does form a tough seal which is necessary to make it leak proof. What I found hardest was breaking the seal and having tiny fingers didn’t help me at all. Those of you with longer fingers will definitely find this easier since mine are child sized. Breaking the seal is messy, and blood tricked out onto my hands indicating it was broken. Once it was broken, removing it was not hard. The first removal attempt me a good five minutes, but by day four, it took me less than a minute to remove it. I can confidently say it now only takes less than 30 seconds.

Cleaning it is easy. I simply washed it in hot water with a mild unscented soap every time I removed it. At the end  of my period, I simply boiled it for a good five minutes and then put it back in the little cloth bag it came in.

I cannot recommend this product enough. I have used it for four menstrual cycles so far and have not even considered going back to tampons or pads. Order through this link for a 10% discount. You’ll be doing yourself and the environment a favour.

 

 

On Patriarchy and Privacy

On 14th November 2014 Pakistan Feminist Watch had the honour of attending Pakistan’s first national conference on data and privacy rights. Organised by DigitalRights Foundation, the event was a great means of initiating public discourse on an issue that has become prevalent internationally, but is oft neglected in the Pakistani context. Nighat and her team did a fantastic job in setting the ball rolling on an issue that is not taken seriously.

Nabiha was on the first panel, Right To Privacy in The Digital Age, moderated by Amber Rahim Shamshi. She was joined by Adnan Rehmat (International Media Support), Naveed ul Haq (Internet Society) and Fouad Bajwa (Open Internet Activist). As PFW’s work focuses upon the complicity in perpetuating misogynistic and problematic norms and trends online, Nabiha focussed on the connection between patriarchy and privacy. She argued that women are not permitted bodily autonomy but rather are rather treated as public property – something which has manifested itself in cyberspace. Their digital presence, as in the real world, is heavily controlled and privacy for women is not tolerated. In societies with strong patriarchal family setups and social infrastructure, ‘honour’ lies in the body of a woman. Thus, the concept of privacy for women is regarded as a threat to the patriarchy, as it denies said patriarchy the right to police and control women’s bodies and social movement.

To identify as female and to be online is to encounter the same patriarchal policing and controlling of women’s bodies, and to face hostility for supposedly transgressing ‘acceptable’ online spaces. Nabiha has been called “ugly” and “fat” on her own personal blog, for instance – recurring body-centric hate-speech that is generally directed at women, and never at male bloggers. By pursuing hurtful ad hominem attacks, it is generally hoped that Nabiha and others will leave the public sphere, because of sustained attacks on self-esteem. What Nabiha has experienced and continues to experience is not a rarity. Rather, it is something reluctantly accepted by women as being something to put up with if one identifies as female online.

With hostility against women online, complete with triggering threats, one would be disturbed at the level of victim blaming that is prevalent. The Federal Investigation Agency – which is the Pakistani government’s only body that has a cybercrime wing – in regards, to the accounts of young women being hacked, inferred that they should “not let them be easily hacked”, rather than focussing on the hackers themselves. What happens to those young women that are hacked, and thus themselves in danger of being physically attacked, is considered to be irrelevant and unfortunate.

Nabiha was asked by the moderator if “revenge porn” was an issue in Pakistan, which she strongly confirmed. It exists in Pakistan, but it is not talked about, less so than rape. Whenever “revenge porn” (or RP) manifests in the real world or on social media, the victim is blamed for being “stupid enough to send photos/videos”, while the person who leaks the RP (usually an ex-boyfriend or former spouse) is not condemned at all. Public hysteria and ad hominem attacks on the woman will continue, even by individuals that would condemn rape. There is a distressing connection between RP and suicide, and if a women does end her life, those that would rake her over the coals will pity her as a victim, albeit briefly, and with slightly muted victim blaming (“it’s sad, but…”). The “Pindi Net Cafe” case, which took place a decade go, led to the suicides of women who were exposed on camera, once they were tracked down by people that bought CDs that had the videos on them. No charges were filed, however, and news coverage died down. Since then, there have been several instances of women and young girls being filmed, whether consensually or in most cases being sexually assaulted, with no support provided to the women and young girls involved. By not ending this culture of sexual violence, and instead trivialising and blaming victims, Nabiha noted, we are all complicit and have blood on our hands.

Interestingly, privacy as a concept was only recognised as a human right shortly after World War 2, and never regarded as a natural right, according to Waqqas Mir, who presented an excellent white paper on digital surveillance and security at the conference, Surveillance Laws and Practices in Pakistan.Thus, what we may personally consider to constitute “privacy” actually is fairly recent and not yet part of the total collective consciousness. This is quite the case in Pakistan, where requesting privacy, or choosing to not hand over passwords or other personal information to friends and family, is considered “rude”. This does in part go back to patriarchal controlling mechanisms, where women are not generally “supposed” to lock the doors to their rooms, and are lectured for doing so.

Strong women asserting their rights and encouraging others to do so are a threat to the patriarchal state set up. Tech tools used to control privacy are new tools for patriarchal infrastructure. The liberty and freedom of speech that we celebrate the internet for, and that people rightly defend, is also abused without serious repercussions or consequences. Men, Pakistani and otherwise, have total impunity online or at least behave so, making dangerous threats and vicious rape jokes that they would not utter in polite company in the “real world”.

Pakistan Twitter users, for example, exploded with venomous hatred towards the teenage activist for female rights Malala Yousafzai, when she spoke at the UN general assembly in 2013, and again when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Though there were some positive tweets from Pakistanis, an overwhelming number of tweets wanted her to be shot again, some included rape threats, among other things. The vitriol did not go unnoticed, with the BBC, Guardian, New York Times and other international media commenting on the hatred from her fellow Pakistani. Had she been a man, it is unlikely that she would have been given such horrific treatment online, as a successful and effective change maker who “happens” to be female will usually lead to the patriarchy, and its feral conscious/subconscious defenders, lashing out leads to patriarchy lashing out.

Mir asked if we “are living in an age of the death of privacy”, and perhaps the digitally native generation raised on social media, and who believe in sharing everything, could find our generation’s views on privacy to be archaic and perhaps obsolete. As Nabiha said at the conference, our conception of our rights is necessarily connected to shifts in our consciousness regarding rights.

As with Mir, however, we caution against advocacy that appears to infer surveillance is a recent phenomenon. For those of us raised by activists and journalists in repressive states, the concept of bugged phones and the authorities reading your mail existed long before the internet. “National security” has long been used to justify government surveillance, with no clear definition as to what exactly constitutes “national security”. In the absence of any concrete definitions, feminist activists can and have been declared enemies of the Pakistani state, as they were during the lawyer’s movement, which itself is barely ten years old. Strong women that assert their rights and encourage others to assert theirs are regarded as threats to patriarchal state institutions.

Mir also noted that an argument used to defend surveillance and anti-privacy arguments is that when we are online, we generally share information in public ourselves, by choice. However, this argument leaves out any concept of consent, with consent presumed simply because we are on the internet. This logic seems as sinister as the ingrained patriarchy that exists within women which leads to us seemingly consenting to our oppression at times.

Privacy for us is not just a right but essential for human dignity. Surveillance hurts the vulnerable, especially females, more than it does the powerful. The patriarchy has absolutely no interest in ending any violence against women online – rather, it needs it to flourish in order to maintain its power in the world whether offline or online.

Cross posted from Pakistan Feminist Watch. Written and blogged by editors Nabiha Meher Shaikh and Adnan Ahmad (which is why I seem to be referring to myself in third person).

I’m not going to let my disorder define me

We live in a land where no one’s life is free of trauma. When I first came out of the bipolar closet, I was overwhelmed by the support I received. I woke up to messages of solidarity every day.

The response made me hopeful about our future as a country.

So many reached out to me; family members, who I’d least expect to be proud of me for what I did, called me to tell me that they were.

The world became a better place.

Many could truly empathise, not just sympathise. Yet, there were those who lashed out at me, mocked me, or suggested I get locked up. I became an easy target to deflect on, worthy only of mockery.

When I discovered that the writer of an anonymous blog who suggested that I be locked up was actually someone who outwardly supported mental health awareness, I was upset not by what people had to say about me, but about the hypocrisy and hate that flourished.

The tweets calling me a lunatic or a psycho, speculating on everything I’ve ever said by connecting it to my disorder, stereotyping me, reducing me to a statistic, etc. were not as upsetting as the silence around them.

Ableism is no joke. It cripples those who are subjected to it. Being called crazy, psychotic, etc. leaves long term negative effects and certainly silences anyone who fears that label.

Many young people contact me and ask if they should tell others about their disorder. They always receive a firm no.

Not everyone is strong enough.

A handful supported me, tirelessly replying to my attackers about their misconceptions, sending me messages of love and support and I will always be grateful to them. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority are happy to condemn ableism in theory, but not in practice.

It’s not enough to just say that making jokes about mental health isn’t acceptable. It’s important to not do the same if you wish to be an ally.

Living in Pakistan, I wouldn’t have written about my mental health issues had I not been ready for the hate that I knew was inevitably coming my way. It was very easy to dismiss it when it came from strangers. But, perhaps I wasn’t ready for the pain of it coming from the ones I love.

Over the years, I’ve had to cut out family members who have used my disability as an excuse to demean, mock or silence me.

One family member is heavily addicted to multiple substances and uses me to deflect from her own issues. Another didn’t like my feminist perspective and that alone was reason to declare me “mad”.

I have not just been verbally and psychologically bullied, I am often seen as a liability if I apply for a job for example, or a scholarship. It feels cruel to be labelled a statistic but I’ve also been very lucky in finding people to work with who don’t stereotype, who aren’t ableists and who don’t see me as my disability.

The vast majority who attack people brave enough to publicly speak about mental health issues are simply deflecting because they don’t want to deal with their own mental health issues. They deeply resent me for not letting my disorder define me.

Hence, I have come to realise that my mockers too, are wounded. Stuck in a rut, they are unable to move past their own pain. How can I feel anything but sympathy for them? I know them intimately. I was one of them.

I have an excellent support system, a very large and loving family who will always be there when I need them, fantastic doctors and therapists, as well as the resources to be able to obtain any help or medication I need. I also have a most precious gift, one that so-called “normal” people often lack: rationality. No one can take that away from me.

To my bullies and haters, to the intolerant, to the bigots:

I have nothing but pity for you because I know history won’t be kind to you. How can I then possibly hold a grudge against ignorance?

In trying to constantly break me, you have unknowingly given me a precious gift and I thank you for it. You have shown me who my true friends are.

I forgive you and I sincerely hope you can heal like I have, free from all your demons.

Written for Dawn.

Review: My chacha is gay

Despite growing up and living in a country where a third gender has been recognised for centuries, I grew up fearful of anyone who was different even though I’m from a progressive family with an LGBT family member. Despite belonging to a culture that has a third gender cemented in its collective consciousness, I, like my ancestors before me, am a product of a post colonial society. Before the British colonised us, third genders were recognised and treated with respect. Our cultural understanding of gender changed. We acknowledged it was fluid, but the Western views of gender as a binary were imposed on us and we subconsciously adopted them. We still haven’t rid ourselves of them.

Similarly, many argue homophobia also is a colonial legacy. Before the British colonised us, homosexuality was not a crime. There were societal taboos and judgment, but one could not be persecuted legally.

The Mughal emperor Babur, in his autobiography the Baburnama candidly discusses his passion for a young man. Every spring, Shah Hussain’s love for his male companion is still celebrated in Lahore at mela chiraghaan. His love for his male companion was so intense that he was known as Madhu Lal Husain.

Perhaps it was their male privilege which allowed them from meeting the fate transgressive females like Heer, Sassi and Sohni faced in folklore. What is clear is that we culturally acknowledged that true love crossed socially prescribed boundaries like caste and gender. Gender, after all, existed more in spirit than body.

This is precisely why I was overjoyed when I came across my friend Eiynah Nicemango’s children’s book “My Chacha is Gay“. Beautifully written, subversive and a celebration of love, this heartwarming book gives children a message of tolerance and understanding. Written through the eyes of a child, Ahmed, who lives with his gay chacha, it reveals the confusion a child feels at the societal scorn his uncle faces simply for loving a man.

The story is a simple one, easy for children to relate to with eye catching illustrations and the characters resemble us Pakistanis unlike most children’s books which have stereotypically white characters. Chacha’s moustache is a cultural moustache, one generally associated with masculinity.

The book starts with a simple description of Ahmed’s family, which resembles many urban Pakistani families, a family many children will easily relate to. However, the author explains that there are many types of families so that her readers do not stigmatise non-traditional families.

Ahmed is acutely aware that his chacha is different from the norm and doesn’t understand why people sometimes verbally abuse him. For Ahmed, there is no difference between a gay chacha and a heterosexual one. The story delves into their loving bond, a bond any child reader will instantly recognise.

Ahmed also shares a bond with chacha’s partner, Uncle Faheem, and appreciates the love they share: “Ahmad doesn’t understand when people say that only men and women can love each other. Because everyone can see how much Chacha and Uncle Faheem love each other”.

The story ends with questioning how anyone can control love anyway. Love should be free of boundaries is the message that is being delivered to the readers. The book ends with this sentence: “Love belongs to everyone.”

We live in a culture where homophobia is abundant and false statements such as “homosexuals are diseased” are a part of casual conversation. People also seem to be under the impression that homosexuality is a psychological disorder, which, according to Dr Nusrat Rana who is the head of the Punjab Institute of Mental Health, ”is not true. It is simply a moral issue for our society which is falsely labelled as a disease.”

In other words, there is no cure for love, an emotion we need to express more of in our country. Imagine living in a country where love, instead of violence, was encouraged. I yearn to see that day and as a pro LGBT feminist teacher, I agree with this message from the author on her fundraising appeal page:

“With all the terrorism, religious intolerance and extremism I believe it’s important to push back with the arts and with education. The best way to do this in my humble opinion is to start early and teach our children tolerance and diversity from a young age. I would also like to show the rest of the world that *all* Pakistanis cannot be defined by the terrorism and intolerance you see in the media. We are a varied people, amongst us there are many kind, gentle and diversity loving souls. But sadly, those voices are drowned out or silenced by terrorists.”

Her words struck me and made me think: if we don’t reclaim Pakistan, who will?

Written for The Friday Times where the comments prove my point as usual.

Bipolar Manifesto

I’ve been active in bipolar forums and we are too often let down by those who are meant to provide us support and care. We’ve also wondered if our suicidal thoughts are related to our caregivers and often, they are. Here is some advice for support providers and caregivers.

Realise that people don’t kill themselves simply because they were programmed to. Understand that when someone is ready to kill themselves, it is because they feel they have no other option left. They often feel abandoned or alienated or simply tired of being vilified because they make easy targets. People deflect on us too much and it’s easy to repeat cycles of abuse with us.

Also realise that if a family member is mentally unwell, then the chances of others having psychological issues is very high. Bipolar disorder is often genetic and if one family member has been diagnosed with it, the chances of most other family members lying somewhere on the bipolar spectrum is high. Nothing is worse for us than declaring us THE PROBLEM without finding out if you may have a problem.

This should also make you realise that it’s easy to deflect on us instead of looking inward. It is easy to demand only one person makes changes without making changes in your life as well. It is easy to see a problem in others and live in denial of the issues you may have. You are not perfect and you have no right to demand perfection from someone who is already struggling unless you can show them how. Rest assured you won’t be able to because you are human.

Bear in mind that having a genetic history of bipolar disorder does not necessarily translate into eventually getting it. The genetics rely on triggers and families are often the biggest trigger. If you left your child alone with someone who raped or molested them, you created a trigger, not the genes.

Do not hold onto one issue and grudge us for it forever. We make mistakes and are often the first to acknowledge them because we’re taught to do so in therapy. If we are made to feel bad about mistakes in the past that were rectified, then take responsibility for vilifying us. Do not focus on the only the negatives simply because it’s easy to do so. Appreciate the positives repeatedly. Let go of something that may have happened in the past if the behaviour has never repeated itself. If you don’t do so, you will will become a negative reinforcer who will impede progress greatly. You will become an impediment to the path towards healing. You may kill off the motivation to get better.

Understand how you may be repeating cycles of abuse with us. Understand that we are as human as you. You lash out at us, we lash out at someone else if we can’t say anything to you, they complain and you immediately only hold us accountable. This isn’t acceptable to us. We are well aware when you are creating cycles of abuse and to grudge us alone without taking any accountability to yourself isn’t fair. Understand that being treated unfairly can make us unwell. We have as much of a right to dignity as anyone else, diagnosis or not.

If you drink alcohol, think about the many hurtful things you may have said to us while drunk. If you don’t remember them, don’t dismiss us as liars if we express we were hurt by them. Do not make us your targets when you’re drunk. If you are unable to control your abuse and drink, then do not grudge us for wanting to stay away from you.

If you apologise, mean it. Don’t give us an empty apology. Don’t ever apologise and then repeat your mistake. Empty apologies make us feel worse, as if we are not worthy of being apologised to after being wounded.

Make an effort to treat us as equal humans who are as worthy of love, respect and dignity as any others. Do not give us special treatment by being too stern, too enabling, too mean or too negative. We are as human as anyone else. We respond to compassion and kindness more than force just like anyone else. We also need to develop insight and understanding. Healing isn’t possible without it. Do not impede this process; aid it instead.

Do not expect us to do this alone and without support. To do so would display your ignorance towards our condition. Read about it. Go to therapy but don’t ever call our doctors without our consent unless we are suicidal. Do not call our doctors and ask for confidential information. Do not call our doctors and ask for an appointment without getting our consent. Some of us struggle to find good doctors and therapists. It takes a while to build trust. If we feel the trust could possibly be breached, we may stop wanting to go to that particular therapist or doctor. Make sure we are comfortable with it first. Those of us who trust you will not hesitate but if you’ve made too many empty promises or violated our trust too many times, do not grudge us for wanting to protect ourselves. If we hesitate, do not taunt or vilify us for it. Allow us to think it through and respect our decision. Find your own therapist. If we can do it, why can’t you?

Do not judge us for our choice in medication or wanting to manage without them. Some may not want to risk an early death because of liver failure due to taking medications long term. They may want to learn to cope without medications. Do not bully them into taking them unless they want to.

Similarly, do not judge us if we do take medications or pontificate about which ones to take or not. Do not tell us how to feel about the medications we take. We get to decide. You cannot understand the side effects our bodies are enduring. Sometimes the side effects are distressing and horrific such as temporary blindness, perpetual nausea, drowsiness etc. Don’t tell us what to eat, how much to sleep etc. We get to decide because we have to learn to cope. Do not give us your non expert advice and leave that to the doctors.

Do not tell us to explore alternative therapies if we don’t want to. Also, do not impose your coping mechanisms or views on us. Some may take comfort in religion and prayer, some may not. Do not keep telling us prayer will solve our problems. It may comfort us, but it can’t eliminate a disability that has no cure.

Do not obsessively monitor our medications or make judgements on them. Medications are awful, with many side effects. Allow us to choose which ones suit us. Do not tell us which side effects are bearable and which ones we should or shouldn’t endure. We need to learn how to take them ourselves, how to manage on our own just like any other human adults. By monitoring or wanting control, you are creating a dependency which also have negative long term repercussions. One day you won’t be around and we’ll have to cope on our own.

Always remember dependency on medications alone is detrimental to our well being. Never forget that the amount of medications we need to take is necessarily related to stress levels. The more stress we have around us, the more medications we need. This is why most of us can only work part time and many of us may need breaks from work. We value our sleep more than others because sleeping well helps us immensely.

Because some of us can’t work full time or work consistently, do not judge us for not making a lot of money. Many of us have already decided that peace of mind is worth more than wealth. If there’s any group that knows money cannot buy happiness, it is us. It can help pay bills etc, but it can’t bring anyone peace of mind. When we’re commodified and told we’re not worth much financially repeatedly, we may end up connecting it to self worth. We value the self esteem it often takes us years to build. Don’t kill it.

Create a relationship of trust which must be mutual. Your bipolar loved one must feel and believe they can trust you blindly. To ensure this, make sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t create expectations you know you can’t live up to, and don’t betray our trust. If you do, don’t grudge us for not being able to trust you. It’s only natural.

If you have a negative behaviour such as a nasty tone or are loud, and then tell us off for the same behaviour, then realise you are responsible for the resentment we may feel. It feels hurtful and hypocritical. People who live in a loud house are loud. Soft spoken parents have soft spoken children. We all model behaviour based on our loved ones. If you want to see a change, change it in yourself as well.

Do not provoke or bait us when we’re down simply because taking advantage of our vulnerability is not only downright evil, it has severe long term repercussions. Instead of wanting to reach out when upset, we will end up actively avoiding you if we fear you will not provide support. Don’t ever forget we’re very high risk for suicide and sometimes the slightest trigger may create ideation. If we can’t trust you to treat us with compassion, we will not be able to reach out to you. We will feel hopeless and abandoned. Suffering in silence is as suffocating for us as any other person.

If you’ve helped us during a suicide attempt, always remember your reaction impacts if we’ll reach out to you again or not. If you mocked us or ask us the wrong questions such as why, then realise we would rather allow the attempt to succeed instead of asking for help for fear that being kept alive will mean being subjected to the same behaviour. Too many of us have contemplated suicide because we feel we failed you, let you down, made you miserable. Instead of wanting to live for you, we yearned to die for you to end your pain.

Understand this and apply it because if you don’t, one day, you may find someone you love hanging by their fan or wake up to find a corpse in their bed. You will have no one else to blame but yourself, you will have blood on your hands.

A perfect victim

On 13th September, a 5 year old girl was discovered outside Ganga Ram hospital in Lahore. She had been raped and dumped on the street, a victim of a callous man who probably felt he could get away with what he did.

And sadly, he is right. Most men who rape or commit sexualised violence in Pakistan do so with complete impunity. The only difference here is that this little girl is the perfect victim worthy of our pity.

When a child is raped, societal outrage is far greater than when an adult is raped. Children are innocent and we, as adults, realise we have a responsibility to our children collectively. We realise they are worthy of pity if wrong and we acknowledge that sexual crimes against children are criminal. As I write this, the police are actively looking for this rapist, who, if caught, will certainly face the collective wrath of society as he rightfully should. The chances of him being declared guilty are high, certainly much higher than when an adult woman is raped.

There are many reasons why he’ll be seen as guilty by most and many are reductive without a proper understanding why rape occurs. We, as a society, believe rape is about sex and not power despite evidence to the contrary daily. Rape in our culture is largely about honour. Mukhtaran Mai, who despite her brave fight, was the victim of a sexualised honour crime which had nothing to do with sexual lust. Mai’s rapists were let off despite the collective outrage, despite the evidence and despite the fact that she had excellent legal counsel.

When a female child, whose body hasn’t experienced any pubertal changes, is raped, we instantly see the victim differently and automatically say she’s innocent. But that’s not the case with females whose bodies have matured. Once a female looks womanly enough to seduce, we blame the victim. Was she really innocent? What was she wearing? Did she have makeup on? If so, didn’t she realise she was tempting men? Why was she out alone? Why wasn’t she with her father, brother or husband? Did she not know that she was asking for it by daring to enter male territory alone?

So while child rapists and paedophiles are seen as evil, rapists of adult women are often seen as the innocent victims of women’s feminine wiles. They are seen as men who were left with no option but to ravage a woman and she is the one who is held responsible for it. This then translates into the victim not being believed by the police who hesitate to register FIRs and then by the courts.

In a patriarchal country, the existence of patriarchal attitudes in court is no surprise. Judges, too blame the victims. Judgements include speculations asking why the victim didn’t scream, completely neglecting the fact that many freeze when they are in danger. Judgements also state that there wasn’t enough physical injury so if a woman is raped, but not left beaten, she is often accused of framing a man for rape.

We also assign degrees of blame on victims not just based on their age, but based on sexual experience. A non virgin who has been raped is often called a “woman of easy virtue” and her rapist is seen as the victim of a seductress.

While I sincerely hope this case opens the floodgates of outrage and leads to a demand that we need to reform our rape laws, we must not leave out the many victims other than female children. This includes boys, transgendered individuals, men, sex workers, and all women, including wives. We don’t recognise marital rape. Wives are property of their husbands who need to submit to them sexually and if they don’t, we feel no pity if force is applied. Our conversation has hopefully begun and this time, we must make it more inclusive than it has been in the past.

Written for The Express Tribune