Tag: south asia

Pakistani women on Tinder break dating taboos

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Causal dating for women is often frowned upon in Pakistan’s male-dominated society. However, dating apps like Tinder are challenging norms and allowing women to take more control over their sexuality.

Faiqa is a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Islamabad, and like many young, single women around the world, she uses dating apps to connect with men.

Although casual dating for women is still frowned upon in socially conservative and heavily patriarchal Pakistan, attitudes are rapidly changing in the country’s cities.

Faiqa has been using the dating app Tinder for two years, and she said although the experience has been “liberating,” many Pakistani men are not used to the idea of women taking control of their sexuality and dating lives. Pakistani women are often expected to preserve a family’s “honor.”

“I’ve met some men on Tinder who describe themselves as ‘open minded feminists,’ yet still ask me: ‘Why is a decent and educated girl like you on a dating app?’” Faiqa told DW.

Online dating grows in South Asia

India leads South Asia’s online dating market, and Pakistan is slowly catching on. A study by the Indonesian Journal of Communication Studies found that most of Pakistan’s Tinder users come from major cities including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and are usually between 18 and 40 years old.

Other dating apps are also growing in popularity. MuzMatch caters exclusively to Muslims looking for a date. Bumble, despite being relatively new to the online dating market, is a favorite among many Pakistani feminists, as women initiate the first conversation.

“There are fewer men on Bumble, therefore it somehow feels safer to use. Tinder is well-known and someone you know could see you, making it uncomfortable,” said Nimra, a student from Lahore.

However, many young women in Pakistan use apps because it makes dating more private.

“With a dating app, a woman can choose if she wants a discreet one night stand, a fling, a long-term relationship, etc. It is hard for women to do this openly in our culture, which is why dating apps give them an opportunity they won’t find elsewhere,” said Nabiha Meher Shaikh, a feminist activist from Lahore.

Exploring sexuality in a conservative society

Sophia, a 26-year old researcher from Lahore, told DW she uses Tinder to explore her “sexuality without constraints.”

“I don’t care if people judge me. Society will always judge you, so why bother trying to please them?” she said.

However, not all female Tinder users are as open as Sophia. Most Tinder profiles of Pakistani women do not disclose their full identity, with photographs showing only cropped faces, close-up shots of hands or feet, face covered with hair, or only painted fingernails.

“If we put up our real names or photographs, most men tend to stalk us. If we don’t respond, they find us on social media and send weird messages,” said 25-year-old Alishba from Lahore.

She also pointed out dating double standards, explaining that married men on Tinder often use their “broken” marriage as an excuse to date other women.

Fariha, a 28-year old blogger, used Tinder for one year. “I always chose to meet men in public places until I felt safe. But one guy kept inviting me to his place. Men often assume that women will engage sexually if they keep asking,” she told DW.

No more ‘shaming and labeling’

The introduction of dating apps in Pakistan has also challenged taboos sparked debates over women’s sexuality, consent, and safe sex.

For some, the rising popularity of dating apps reveals the extent of the state’s control over women’s bodies and people’s personal choices.

Secretary-General Ameer ul Azeem of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami told DW that “the girls and boys using these apps meet up secretly because they also have a realization that it’s wrong.”

Read more: Pakistan honor killings haunting young women

“In the West, strict laws protect women from harassment. Women can’t be protected during such secretive meetings in Pakistan if there is harassment because these laws are absent.”

Zarish, a Lahore-based artist, told DW women should “no longer be controlled by shaming and labeling.” She said Pakistan has much “bigger issues” that are in need of urgent attention and therefore should stop obsessing over “what regular people do in their private lives.”

“My individual choices and desires represent me as a person, not my family or society’s honor,” Zarish said.

Source- dw.com
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US Immigration groups slam decision to suspend H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, and L-1 visas till December 31, 2020

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Photo=ACLU

By Peoples Dispatch

The decision of the US government to suspend a variety of immigration visas until the end of the year has been widely criticized by immigration rights organizations. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 22, Monday. The move effectively extends a previous 60-day visa ban imposed by the administration in April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order signed on Monday suspends any new applications for H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, and L-1 visas until December 31, 2020, with a few exceptions under H-2B for those working in agriculture and seafood processing industries. Representatives from the administration have told the media that close to 525,000 jobs in the US will be cleared up for US citizens with the move.

The US is currently facing its biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Over 15 million workers have suffered job loss or work loss since February, and the unemployment rate is estimated to be anywhere between 13% to 17%. Of these, 6.3 million are deemed to have exited the labor market.

Officials in the Trump administration have been pushing for a blanket ban on immigration, claiming that it will prevent foreign competition in the labor market, and have suggested this as a means to deal with the massive job losses.

The move has been strongly opposed by the tech industry bosses, who depend on a foreign pool of professionals for much of their postings. The order will also put thousands of researchers and foreign students in a lurch, especially those under the study-abroad and work-abroad programs.

The order allows those with valid visas to continue to be in the US. However, immigration lawyers have pointed out the lack of clarity in the order, with insufficient details provided for those workers who are stranded abroad and whose visas are set to expire.

The National Immigration Forum has decried the order as an attempt to divide communities. “Extending and expanding a ban on immigrants does not address the challenges our nation faces as we begin the long recovery from COVID-19,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the forum, in a statement released on Monday.

“Advancing the false narrative that immigrants are competitors only serves to undermine the trust and unity needed to recover quickly and effectively from the pandemic and its economic effects,” Noorani added.

BOOK REVIEW: 1971 – A People’s Perspective

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SOURCE: Penguin India

By Rajesh K.Jha

The year 1971 is perhaps the most important geopolitical event of the South Asian region since 1947 which saw the birth of two independent nations India and Pakistan. The year marked the emergence of the newest country in the region with Bangladesh attaining liberation.

The brutal violence that preceded the partition of India was repeated again. In less than 25 years after the partition of India, another partition took place. This time Pakistan got partitioned. The bond of religion proved inadequate to hold Pakistan together. The bond of language proved to be stronger. Indeed, the socio-economic disparity between East and West Pakistan was an important factor in the alienation of the people who had agreed to be part of Pakistan just about two and a half decades ago.

The birth of an independent Bangladesh was another bloody chapter in the history of the subcontinent. It was marked by an unprecedented level of violence unleashed by Pakistani forces on the Bangalees.

The violent birth of Bangladesh was preceded by ‘genocide’ in which, it is claimed, 3 million people of Bangladesh were killed, lakhs were raped and an unknown number of people faced the most brutal repression before Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangabandhu, gave his historic call on March 7, 1971. Subsequent to the historic speech in which he said Ebarer sangram amader muktirsangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangra, the country reverberated with the slogan of Bir Bangali Astra Dharo, Bangladesh Swadhin Karo. Within 9 months, Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation with India playing a stellar role.

The story above has been told many times. Countless books and articles, films and plays, folk stories, and textbooks have narrated the story in their own ways. But is it the whole story? What is the true story of the events that led to 1971?

Truth is the most slippery thing. Upanishads proclaim एको सत्यः विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति- the truth is one but sages tell it in different ways. Or perhaps more aptly, the truth is like the proverbial elephant whose various parts are touched by the blind people, each coming with his own conclusion about the reality as experienced by him.

1971 seeks to unravel the mystery. Navigating the psychological universe of people through intimate conversations, the book explores the complex reality of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan through various vantage points.

It is not an easy task as memory and imagination, the past and the present, are so irrevocably linked that it is often impossible to separate one from another. Both memory and history are dynamic. They evolve, they mutate and they are shaped by a multitude of factors including the textbooks we read in our formative years. This is the reason the governments are so keen on writing and rewriting the history of a nation. Indeed, the way one looks at the past provides the key to the way one wants to make his future. The memory must be molded if the imagination is to be steered in one direction or the other. Governments know it well.

Text Books
Looking at the chequered democratic history of Bangladesh, the author underlines the alternating political phases of the country between the rule of Awami League currently led by Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with its roots in the military government. She shows in great detail how it is reflected in the school textbooks of this period.

The textbooks reflect the fact that during the Awami League rule, the brutality of Pakistan, the role of Sheikh Mujib, and the Bangla language are the key factors to define the national identity. For the period of military rule and BNP governance, it is the Islamic character of Bangladesh which matters.

‘Textbooks in Bangladesh have undergone revisions depending on which regime is in power, with history often written along party lines.’ Anam Zakaria points out that the textbooks written during the military government in Bangladesh after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination in 1975 didn’t explicitly mention Pakistan as the enemy. The slogan of ‘Joy Bangla’ was banned and the role of freedom fighters erased from the books. The role of the Indian army in the liberation of Bangladesh was also omitted. BNP didn’t change it when it came to power in 1991 as the party’s origin lay in the military government headed by Gen. Zia Ur Rahman earlier. But when Awami League came back to power in 1996, the syllabus changed. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s role again became central. Murder of intellectuals and brutality of the Pakistani army found a central place in the textbooks.

Again in 2001 when BNP came back to power, references to Sheikh Mujib as Bangabandhu were excised from the textbooks. The role of Jamaat as collaborators was removed from the textbooks. The cycle turned back again when Awami League came back to power in 2008. Bangabandhu was reinstated in the textbook. India is portrayed as a friend, Pakistan as the enemy.

Genocide
Genocide is another concept which has diametrically opposed meanings in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Since its independence, Bangladesh has referred to the massacre of its citizens in 1971 by Pakistani’s as genocide. It has demanded Pakistan to tender an apology for perpetuating the genocide against Bangalees during that period. However, the Pakistani’s completely ignore the large scale killings and atrocities in the then East Pakistan and focus on the killings of ‘non-Bengalis’ and Pro-Pakistanis during the 1971 war. They call it ‘genocide’.

Anam Zakaria points out that the word ‘selective genocide’ was used by the US diplomat Archer Blood, who was based in Dhaka those days, in his telegrams to the US state department. Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, who was part of a team of journalists taken to Bangladesh on a ten-day tour to report on the war by the Pakistani army in 1971, also published his article named ‘Genocide’ in the Sunday Times of UK in June 1971. While giving details of the killings of a large number of Biharis and non-Bengalis in Bangladesh, he wrote that the West Pakistan army in East Bengal was doing genocide with ‘terrifying thoroughness’ and ‘amazing casualness’.

The academic debate about the exact definition of genocide may have continued but the difference in the perspectives between Pakistan and Bangladesh is stark. The author brings out this complexity in understanding the truth through her incisive analysis and interviews with people of both the countries without in any way diluting the gravity of the crime committed by the Pakistani army during the 1971 war.

Biharis of Bangladesh
A continuing dark chapter of the liberation war of Bangladesh is the plight of Biharis in Bangladesh. The Biharis are the non-Bangla speaking Muslim settlers mostly coming to Bangladesh from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the pre-independence days. During the liberation war of Bangladesh, this community, in general, supported the Pakistani army often collaborating with their militia force ‘Al Badr’ and ‘Al-Shams’ to help in their atrocities against the native Bangla speaking Bangalees. This has marked them as permanent traitors.

Later, after Bangladesh became independent in December 1971, the Biharis became stateless people. Bangladesh treated them as Pakistanis and Pakistan too backed out from its promise of taking these people back and give citizenship. A whole new generation of Biharis born after 1971 is now almost 50 years of age and yet they are still alienated and bear the cross of history in their lives in Bangladesh. Anam Zakaria brings out the psychological knot of this community, its identity crisis in the face of this complexity. On the other hand, the disillusionment of the Bangladeshi’s who went over to Pakistan in 1971 brings out the stark reality of betrayed hopes and continued statelessness of Bangladeshi Pakistanis.

It also unravels the complex and often unresolved reality of ‘truth neatly packaged into Pakistani and Bangladeshi categories of acceptable truth’. While the Pakistanis would only look at the killing of Biharis and West Pakistanis, a Bangladeshi only sees the genocide heaped by the Pakistani army.

The differential memory of events relating to 1971 is also reflected in the way it is remembered in Pakistan and India. For Pakistan, the liberation war of Bangladesh and its eventual independence get only fleeting references. ‘The fall of Dacca’ is projected as an outcome of India’s role in fomenting uprising in Bangladesh and not so much a direct result of Pakistan’s flawed policy and subsequent repression of Bangladesh. In the words of Anam Zakaria, ‘there are two versions of 1971. The one before March 25 is the one Pakistan has chosen to remember. History seems to end on this date when it comes to 1971. In contrast, for Bangladesh, official history begins on 25 March. These different histories have their own victims and perpetrators, neither state willing to blur these binary lines to reach a more holistic truth.’

An interesting chapter of the book relates to the people in Pakistan who stood up against the rulers of those times to support the liberation war of Bangladesh. Nationalism being the dominant and hegemonic ideology of modern times, this was an act of courage no doubt just as it was for the American students to oppose their own government during the Vietnam war. Pakistani Punjabi poet Ahmad Salim wrote a poem ‘Long live Bangladesh’ in March 1971 which landed him in jail for six months and flogging. Awami Awaz which published the poem was also forced to stop publication for giving space to the voices against the military government of Pakistan. People like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Sahar Ansari, Fahmida Riaz, Ajmal Khattak, and many other poets and literary people opposed the military operation in Bangladesh. Indeed, people like Ahmad Salim and Faiz defied the forgetting of the atrocities through their act of resistance in writing.

Anam Zakaria points out that this act of memory rebelling against forgetfulness has continued in more recent times in literature through novels like Kamila Shamshie’s Kartography, Sorayya Khan’s Noor and many others. Apart from writers and poets, other sections of Pakistani society like the lawyers, politicians, and even some military officers opposed Pakistan’s action in Bangladesh in 1971. The entire point of this detail is to add shades of grey in otherwise black and white narrative people carry in their heads about an event like 1971 where we assume that a Pakistani would be supporting its government and oppose the liberation of Bangladesh.

The book ’1971-A people’s History from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India’ is an important contribution in understanding the momentous events of 1971 from the perspective of people of the three countries. At one level, the book is an attempt to present history through peoples’ voices. On another level, it presents a compelling human story of suffering and longing, hope and betrayal going beyond the mundane world of politics and geo-strategic calculations of countries in conflict with each other.

It also provides a fresh approach in nudging people out of their soap-bubble universe of perception to recognize the multiplicity of ways in which reality is perceived by various people which may perhaps be as valid or wrong as the person looking at the leg of an elephant and shouting that he has found the pillar of a building.

1971- A People’s History of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India by Anam Zakaria

Vintage, an imprint of Penguin Random House India, 2019

Source: The Citizen, May 2020

The global shift to the Right

No matter how successful the right may be in the short-run in mobilizing people around a divisive agenda, it is incapable of leading them out of the current economic crisis. It is only the left that can provide a way out.

By Prabhat Patnaik

We often miss this aspect in our discussions, but Narendra Modi’s re-election is part of a global right-ward shift that is taking place. Benjamin Netanyahu got re-elected in Israel (but fell short in forming a government, leading to re-election in September). Erdogan got massively re-elected in Turkey. The Conservative government came back to power in Australia against all predictions to the contrary.

In country after country in Latin America, where the left ruled until recently, igniting hopes for a left resurgence elsewhere as well, we now have right-wing governments; the most significant and the most notorious of these is in Brazil, where the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, is on record defending the earlier military regime and even saying that it should have killed some more people! And to cap it all, in last Sunday’s European Union elections, which just followed the counting of votes in India on Thursday, there has been a palpable shift to the right.

It now appears that Marine Le Pen’s far-right party will be the biggest party in France in these elections, nosing ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance. And Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right party will not only be the largest in Italy but could even be the biggest party in the European parliament, just beating Angela Merkel’s party to this position. Merkel’s party lost 9% votes compared with five years ago; and within Germany itself, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany, increased its vote share to 10.5%. In Hungary, Victor Orban’s party is also set to romp home to victory.

While Modi’s victory obviously owes much to domestic developments, we must not forget the global context where there is a massive right-ward shift. When there is such a concerted move to the right, we must ask the question: why is this so? Liberal bourgeois analysts, instead of seeing the commonality between these various parties and movements, tend to take a fragmented picture of reality: they divide European parties into pro-EU and anti-EU, or pro-immigration and anti-immigration; likewise, they see Modi’s victory as an Indian phenomenon, linked to Hindutva [an aggressively nationalistic and racist interpretation of Hinduism which sees Hindus as the original inhabitants of India] but unconnected to what is happening in Europe. Even the strengthening prospect of Donald Trump’s re-election in the US is seen in isolation from these developments. But such liberal fragmentation will not do for Marxist analysis, which seeks out common patterns, and identifies unfolding class configurations. What can we say as Marxists to this right-ward lurch across the world?

It is clearly the manifestation of the economic crisis which has been gripping the world economy since 2008. There have been occasional signs of a mild recovery from it, but no sooner than these signs appear, than the world economy once more gets plunged into a crisis. In fact, the analogy of a ball bouncing along the floor describes the world economy very well: every time the ball bounces up there are cries of recovery, which disappear when the ball drops back to the floor.

This claim may be disputed by the fact that the US unemployment rate today is apparently lower than it has been for decades; but the work participation rate, too, has dropped compared with 2008. If we assume the same work participation rate today as in early 2008, then the US unemployment rate today would be 8% and not 4%, which is the official figure.

It is in this context of crisis and unemployment that there is a shift to the right all across the world. The liberal bourgeois parties have generally been in denial mode when it comes to the crisis and the consequent unemployment. The right at least recognizes the distress caused by unemployment, though it blames not the system but the immigrants for it, and wants to put curbs on immigration. Since within the EU, there has to be free migration of workers across countries, many on the right are also anti-EU.

In a situation where the liberal bourgeois parties deny the existence of the crisis, and the left is slow to put an alternative agenda before the people, the right has seized the initiative and has moved in with its anti-immigration agenda. Its worldwide growth is thus attributable to its taking cognizance of crisis and unemployment, which the pro-establishment political parties have not.

But then where does the Indian case fit into this? Even in India, Modi came to power in 2014 on a “development” agenda. The fact is that the growth rate had come down during UPA-II [the previous United Progressive Alliance government led by the centrist Indian National Congress], so that the promise of neoliberalism improving everyone’s lot was beginning to fade. When in power, the Modi government did literally nothing to redeem its promise of “development”, which is why in the just-concluded elections it did not utter a word on the subject. But it changed the discourse to “fighting terrorism”, “ensuring the nation’s security”, “teaching Pakistan a lesson”, and “instituting Hindutva”, which conveniently by-passed awkward questions like what it had done to bring about “development” during its years of power, and yet served it well.

The point remains, however, that the shift from a neoliberal party like the Congress to a right-wing party like the BJP, became possible because of the crisis of neoliberalism. The Congress could no longer pretend that neoliberalism would bring about “development”. The BJP did not talk about “development” at all after an initial period, but changed the discourse completely, much to the satisfaction of the corporate-financial oligarchy (so much so that the Sensex rose sharply when the exit polls predicted a BJP victory).

This change in discourse, however, will have only a transitory effect. Neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party has any clues about how to overcome the crisis of neoliberalism and provide employment to the millions of unemployed. In fact, a section of the Congress can see the difficulty of going along the old neoliberal track, which is why in its election manifesto there was the talk of NYAY [an income scheme for the poor], a scheme of transfers to the bottom quintile of the population. But this scheme, which, in the normal course would have generated much enthusiasm, and could even have been a game-changer for the Congress, proved to be a damp squib because no credible estimates of how the money was going to be raised were provided. The people instinctively felt that this was just an election promise which would be broken on the morning after the elections.

But just as the centrist, liberal-bourgeois, Congress party has no idea how to take the economy forward, the BJP is equally clueless. Its brand of “nationalism” will soon wear thin. You cannot keep people hooked to a daily dose of anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric when they are unemployed and hungry. Besides, the economic situation does not remain at a standstill. Even if the Modi government does nothing in the realm of the economy, the economy will not leave Modi alone. The crisis will get aggravated, with recession and balance of payments difficulties becoming more acute over time. And when that happens, the Modi government will have no answers for it (though, of course, by then rescuing the economy would have become that much more difficult).

With neither of the neoliberal formations being able to provide an answer to the burning material problems of the people, it is only the left, which can go beyond neoliberal capitalism, that can provide a way out of the crisis, though this way out would take us eventually beyond capitalism itself. This is true not only in India but in the rest of the world as well.

We are, in short, looking at a historical conjuncture where, no matter how successful the right may be in the short-run in mobilizing the people around a false or divisive agenda, it is basically incapable of leading them out of their current state of unemployment and desperation.

There are moments in the history of a nation when the existing system appears stable and capable of a long life, but all these changes quickly and new moments appear when the system simply cannot go on as before. For capitalism, now is such a moment, not just in India but all over the world. No matter how successful the right may be electorally here and elsewhere, it cannot alter this basic fact.

InstaReM’s digital money-transfer push focuses on South Asia/India market

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A photo after the media interaction.

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 22 March: India and Philippines are the countries which get the largest amount of remittances from Australia. Running into millions of dollars, no doubt, it’s a massively big and lucrative money transfer industry which has attracted many big and small companies. InstaReM, Singapore-headquartered, is one of them operating here since 2015 with 15,000 customers. It’s different because of its pure digital cross-border payment system operating successfully in the Australia-to-South Asia/India corridor. Its operations cover 55+ countries.

In a briefing to select South Asian media and community leaders, Vinoth Manoharan, Country Manager of InstaReM, said, “The South Asia/ India corridor is very exciting for InstaReM, and we strive to deliver the best quality experience to our Indian and other South Asian customers. This audience often tells us that convenience is important to them when conducting remittances. We have heard their message loud and clear and are pleased that our focus on customer experience and convenience has resulted in a strong 24 percent volume growth in the Australia-to-South Asia corridor, led by Australia-India traffic last year.”

“My father regularly remits money back home to South Asia and used to be hesitant about
transferring money online. After experiencing great convenience in his first digital
transaction with InstaReM, the notion of taking time to visit a physical branch or an agent
does not make sense to him anymore!”

“His situation is not unique – many of the South Asian diaspora living, working, and studying
in Australia need to conveniently send and receive money and we know how important it is
to make the process as smooth as possible,” continued Mr Manoharan.

A lively Q-A session was revealing with company officials including Vinoth, Karan and Taylor answering to issues facing customers. On a question by SAT, Karan said, people who transfer money via the outlets end up giving bigger commissions. So, he feels, customers need to be educated tro take the digital route.

Unlike other money transfer companies, InstaReM money can only be transferred overseas through their App or website. The company possessed $ 250 million transactions in 2018.

India is the second largest global remittance market for Australia, with AUD$2.74 billion
transferred from Australia to India in 2017. World Bank statistics show migrants in Australia
sent close to AUD$23.816 billion overseas in 2017.

During the briefing session, InstaReM laid out the firm’s focus on understanding and
delivering on the unique needs of the South Asian/Indian diaspora in Australia through the unique positioning of five core benefits:
1. Zero-Margins on Foreign Exchange rates
2. Low Transaction Fees
3. Absolute Transparency in Costs
4. Speed of Settlement
5. Convenience

A Finder.com.au study found 12 percent of people in Australia provide financial assistance
for relatives overseas and 32 percent have sent money abroad at least once; around half of
those as a gift and just over one third to support relatives, says an InstaReM media release.

For more information, visit https://www.instarem.com/