‘Pink Rickshaw’ Service Launched in Lahore – To Promote Empowerment Or Strengthen Discrimination Against Women?

Ms.Zar Aslam - Owner Pink Rickshaw
Ms.Zar Aslam – Owner Pink Rickshaw

An environmentalist, fed up with being groped and harassed by male auto-rickshaw drivers, has launched her own service exclusively for women passengers and drivers in Lahore. Ms.Zar Aslam, president of non-profit Environment Protection Fund, once narrowly escaped kidnapping by a rickshaw driver when she was a student, which triggered the idea of launching her “Pink Rickshaw” service.

The “rickshaws” are covered three-wheel motorcycles and Aslam bought one to start with, added fans, doors and headlights and painted it pink and white.

The plan is to have at least 25 up and running by the end of the year, with the Aslam looking out for sponsors.

“One auto costs about $3,000, therefore it cannot be done without sponsorship from donors,” she said, adding that the government has not offered any assistance.

“We will lease out the rickshaws to deserving females on easy instalment,” Aslam said. “We will teach them driving and will also help them get the driving license.”

“I and my co-workers face harassment by male rickshaw drivers or by passersby while waiting for public transport.”

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“This is another step towards women’s financial and professional empowerment,” claimed Aslam.

The question is what really empowers Pakistani women passengers in general, having their own women exclusive public transport or getting accepted as having equal rights to public transport shared with men?

Source: http://tribune.com.pk/story/867544/pink-rickshaw-a-step-towards-women-empowerment-owner/

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Photographer Time Travels Using Digital Imagery – ‘Poor Image’ Is It?

In her article in “Defense of the Poor Image” Hito Steyerl says that the low-resolution image is regarded low in the hierarchy of images. The poor image mocks the very promise of digital technological revolution but at the same time only digital technology can make this (so called) degradation possible. However the poor image transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value and cult value.

On the other hand rich image can be a tool of control of the establishment and capitalistic control. Without low resolution reproduction it would be impossible for the experimental and artistic expression to find an audience, it stands the risk of being invisible. And it has revolutionized accessibility of original masterpieces manifold. The poor image has actually filled the void left by the lack of accessibility of the rich image.

The low-res image may lose content but gains speed of circulation. This easy circulation   creates a global network of sharing as it travels, creating newer audiences. She calls them visual bonds.

What Hito refers to as the ‘economy of the poor image’, is its properties of remixing and appropriation, also the possibility of participative production, where a number of producers take part in creating and recreating an image.

An example of digitally manipulated image can be found in this photo series by London-based Japanese photographer Chino Otsuka.  Otsuka took old photos from her childhood and adolescence and put pictures of her present self in them, creating interesting double self-portraits. I found it such a creative use of digital technology that it gives an eerie feeling to the viewer.

1977 + 2009, France
1977 + 2009, France
1980 + 2009, Japan
1980 + 2009, Japan
1981 + 2006, Japan
1981 + 2006, Japan

“The digital process becomes a tool, almost like a time machine, as I’m embarking on the journey to where I once belonged and at the same time becoming a tourist in my own history,”- Otsuka.

1975 + 2009, France
1975 + 2009, France
1976 + 2005, Japan
1976 + 2005, Japan
1982 + 2005, France
1982 + 2005, France

Hito says this empowers the users to take active participation in the creation and distribution of content. Users become creators, editors, critics, translators and co-authors of poor images.

Hito’s argument in defense of poor image reminds me of the criticism pop-art and even pop music received when it emerged as a new art form and faced similar resistance from advocates of classics.

Sources:

http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/

http://www.demilked.com/double-self-portraits-chino-otsuka/

Deweaponization, Arms Control, Prevention of Gun Culture – Some Powerful Images

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An Amnesty International Campaign to creates awareness for exploitation of minors as child soldiers.Creative/Art director Pius Walker, Amnesty International, Switzerland.

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A campaign against national indifference towards terrorism in Pakistan, specifically in the aftermath of Peshawar Attack. By the students of communication design, IVS.

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A campaign for creating awareness about the repercussions of a gun-culture in the US. Advertising Agency: Grey, Toronto, Canada.

Sources:

http://www.boredpanda.com/powerful-social-advertisements/

http://www.dawn.com/news/1167787/peshawar-attack-some-marks-stay-forever

Specters Of Post-colonial Karachi

Some specters spotted while on our class field trip. One of them being ‘Port’ Grand situated in the South of Karachi, which its a food and entertainment complex is a recreational area built in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan along the waterfront of the 19th century Native Jetty Bridge that connects the Karachi Port Trust  to Kaemari. The complex is a hub of shopping, dining, cultural and coastal recreational activities in the city. The one kilometer bridge has been transformed into an entertainment and food enclave housing numerous eateries totaling 40,000 sq. ft of climate-controlled area and space for kiosks and 40 outlets of exotic Pakistani and foreign food and a variety of beverages.

Port Grand, Karachi
Port Grand, Karachi

Port Grand is located on Napier Mole Bridge a site that is very significant to the history of Karachi and has played a crucial role in making it the city it is today. The project built with over 1 billion rupees investment by Grand Lesisure Corporation and stretches along 1,000 ft of Karachi’s ancient 19th century Native Jetty Bridge. Design  consultant were dubiously unnamed from Newyork, New Jersey, USA and Umer Munshi & Associates are the structural architects, while Woods Bagot are the landscape advisors of the project. The entry fee per person is PKR. 300/- out of which 200 are redeemable at any of its food outlets.

Views of Food street & Native Jetty Bridge
Views of Food street & Native Jetty Bridge
Hindu Temple behind Port Grand
Hindu Temple behind Port Grand

Ocean Mall & Tower

Ocean Tower is a 30-floor high skyscraper in Karachi. “Though it has not been fully completed, it has been topped out, making it in the country’s tallest building housing and shopping mall, a food court, corporate offices, a business club, car-parking area, four cinema screens and banquet and terrace on the top floor”. Located on ‘Khayaban-e-Roomi’ or ‘Do Talwar’ in Clifton. A private company, Siddiqson Group and Triple Tree Associates have ownership of the building and its  designed by Architect Yawar Jilani and Mahboob Khan [ARCOP Associates Pvt. Ltd.] with an investment of PKR.7 billion. Originally it was to be made into a hotel in partnership with Sofitel, which later backed out. As per claims it can withstand earthquakes up to 8.5 in magnitude.

Ocean Mall & Tower
Ocean Mall & Tower
Ocean Tower
Ocean Tower
View of Naval Housing Society from Ocean Tower 30th Floor
View of Naval Housing Society from Ocean Tower 30th Floor

Mohatta Palace

The Mohatta Palace is located in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. It was built by Shivratan Chandraratan Mohatta, a Hindu Marwari businessman from modern day Rajasthan in India, as his summer home in 1927. The architect of the palace was Agha Ahmed Hussain. “He built the Palace in the tradition of stone palaces in Rajhastan using pink Jhodpur stone in combination with the local yellow stone from Gizri. The amalgam gave the palace a distinctive presence and elegance, characterized by its Indo-Saracenic architecture”. Originally designed as a luxurious home for Mohatta who left Karachi for India after partition, it has now been converted into a museum and a place for high-profile events and exhibitions.

Mohatta Palace
Mohatta Palace
Mohatta Palace seen in backdrop of Harbor Front & the Karachi coastline
Mohatta Palace seen in backdrop of Harbor Front & the Karachi coastline

Harbor Front

“The Harbour Front is Pakistan’s premier corporate address, located at the sea front in the up market area of Clifton, Karachi. Soaring 19-storeys above the Arabian Sea, this modern triangular tower is home to some of leading local and multi-national corporations. With an area of over 246,000 square feet of office space spread over 17 levels, This tower is an essential part of the newly constructed Dolmen City project, a commercial /corporate complex located at the former site of a hotel and casino which were being built in the 1970s by the late Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto”. Having  a total covered area of 4.2 million square feet it is designed by a leading Pakistani architects Arshad Shahid Abdullah Associates. Harbor front houses offices of leading corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Phillip Morris, Byco, Engro Corp. It boasts of its prime location, unmatchable amenities, modern design and state-of-the-art security system.

Harbor Front
Harbor Front

Sources:

http://www.hamariweb.com/articles/article.aspx?id=14332  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_Towers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohatta_Palace  http://www.dolmengroup.com/our-projects/the-harbour-front/

Karachi Rising – The Utopian Lure Of The City

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In theory, individuals migrate from low income to high income areas to maximize their earnings. Migration is an approach adopted by rural populations to improve family livelihoods and benefit from better services in urban areas. And those migrants with education and skills are likely to do well in urban areas.

A migrant population is characterized by aspirations of a better affluent future, fitting-in issues, separation anxiety, and a strong desire to keep connected to one’s roots.  They may live in a Metropolis  to earn a living but home is still always their home town (‘watan’ in vernacular).

 “Belonging is a complex concept for those who struggle to survive amid daily injustices.” – Gyan Prakash.

The merciless metropolis, the drudgery of routine, and the loneliness of separation from loved ones invoke  a desire to return to their ‘watan’ and while they have to be away to earn a living they devise interesting strategies to connect to their hometown, when they have to be away.

Karachi  ‘city of light’ the light of  hope and aspirations attracting migrants from rural areas across the  country. Karachi continues unabated to date. Karachi in past 67 years saw three major waves of migration from various parts of the region. According to notes sociologist Arif Hassan, all three had a definite social and political effects and played their respective roles in making the city it is now.  Between 1972 and 1978, some 350,000 refugees from what is now Bangladesh moved to Karachi. Though they spread to low and middle income settlements, they significantly increased the size of one of the largest ‘katchi abadis’ of Asia, namely Orangi Town, Unlike opther regular in-migrants to the city, mostly from KP (former NWFP) and Punjab, who find their job market in transport, shoe-shinning and milk businesses, these migrants from Bangladesh were urbanized and educated.

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Between 1978 and 1998, 600,000 Afghan refugees were registered in Karachi by the National Alien Registeration Authoruty (NARA). Unlike the earlier two groups, intercity mobility was also observed in the case of Afghan migrants, as they first settled in refugee camps or with some relatives in Balochistan and KP (former NWFP), and then came to Karachi, due to a combinations of various push and pull factors.  It is claimed that their arrival strengthened religious factions and promoted the gun culture. Corrupt administrative practices helped them acquire valid NICs and passports. Before NADRA was established they could easily get those made unofficially. For the Pashto-speaking Afghan refugees it was relatively easier as compared to Tajiks and Uzbeks due to the difference in features. Unlike the two groups mentioned, the Pashtuns maintain economic relations with their families back home and remit substantial amounts of money to family members and relatives.

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While they stay in Karachi they create imagery around  their workplaces, homes and colonies decorating them with scenery (for e.g wilderness, peacocks, lions, swans), typical patterns and objects  (for e,g ‘parandas’) from their hometown placing them as stickers, paintings and adornments all around them. Pashtun immigrants have their trucks/buses decorated in a customized manner as per their liking.

“Through these methods the immigrant lives his reality in the city by assembling an imaginary home with objects around him, putting together a world with irreconcilable things”– Gyan Prakash

After 9/11, a substantial number was added to the already existing number was added to the already existing numbers. After the Waziristan operation ‘Zarb-i-Azab’ more Pashtuns started coming to Karachi. New and Naïve to a metropolis, these die-hard entrepreneurs earn their livelihoods driving rickshaws, digging roads and performing other labor-intensive tasks. Rich ones from Waziristan are in the real estate  business as well.

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According to a report Afghans in Karachi: Migration, Settlements and Social Network by a research institute “Collective for Social Science debut in March 2015, the number of Afghan refugees in three major trades (construction, whole and retail trade and transport) is approximately 10 percent of the estimated labor force in those trades.  Their capacity to do hard work makes them suited for laborious jobs. It is often alleged that they’re into illegal trade but they usually do it by selling stuff on the streets or acquired shops in major markets such Kurshid cloth market, Rabi Center, Ashiyana or Plaza in upscale areas of Karachi.

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Afghans show a strong desire to settle with families, friends and the Pashto-speaking population, since these provide a network of social contacts and assist them in coping with life in new surroundings. This in turn results in an increased density in some areas and puts extra pressure on infrastructure .

Its infrastructure creaks under the growing population pressure. A megacity of 23 million inhabitants, Karachi grows unabated covering the landscape with apartment towers and utopian community living, residential complexes. Its troubles continue to mount since continues to draw migrants by its promise of an affluent life.

The Migration Research Group (MRG) Islamabad held a seminar in collaboration with ‘Karachi Institute of Technology and entrepreneurship’ (KITE) to share their research and expertise in the field of migration and its impact on socio-economic development. Mr. Arif Hasan provided evidence and analysis of internal migration and urbanization in Sindh. “Looking at Karachi’s 9.8 million population in 1998 that grew to 21.5 million in 2011, it can be safely said that Karachi is the fastest growing city in the world. But it has issues of density, lack of facilities, etc., due to lack of planning,” he said.

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The construction boom of 90s  aggressively sold people the dream of owning a home. People were bombarded with adverts of residential complexes playing on features like fool-proof security, easy installments, a definite possession date and a bunch of civic amenities that are associated with luxurious living standards. Selling a fantasy of luxurious living crashed by a reality of cage-like tenements. Eighty percent of Karachi’ites live in plots of 120 square yards or less. Houses on plots of between 400 and 2,000 square yards account for only 2 percent of the total housing stock. Yet, they occupy about 20 percent of Karachi’s residential area.

Thirty six point seven percent of Karachi’s land is currently utilized for residential purposes: 27% of which has been developed formally and 8.1 percent informally. The development process for the rest (which is 1.6 percent) is unclear. Sixty two percent of Karachi’s population lives on the 8.1 percent informally developed land referred to as ‘kachi abadis’.

The new low income settlements are far away from employment zones which makes it very difficult for women to work. Surveys show that people living in these settlements spend three to four hours travelling from home to work and back. Due to time spent in travelling, men cannot give time to their families and are tired and ill because of travelling in environmentally degraded and uncomfortable conditions.

Although land for housing is available in informal or semi-formal settlements, expanding families cannot access it easily as they did before this decade. The reason is that the cost of land in a newly developed katchi abadi in 1992 for one square meter was 1.7 times the cost of daily wage for unskilled labor at that time. Today it is 40 times the cost for unskilled labor.

As a result of these factors, the only affordable and secure option for an increasing number of families is to build upwards, densifying their settlements. Areas, such as Nawalane in Lyari, which in 1992 had a density of 620 persons per hectare, has a density of over 3,250 persons per hectare today. Similar conditions are emerging in most of the older informal settlements and in many formal settlements as well. Apartment complexes which had an average of 5 to 6 persons per apartment living in them a decade ago, now often have 12 to 15 persons. The abnormally high and unplanned densities emerging in the older settlements of Karachi are creating immense social and physical problems. These include family quarrels, rebellion among children and adolescents, promiscuity, inconvenience for married couples, breakdown of community cohesion, problems in use of toilets and kitchens which increasingly have to be shared, and an increasing gap in water demand and supply, communal tensions, high rate of unchecked crime and politics of economic control over Karachi’s resources and land. Breaking the dream of ‘Utopian’ living.

Sources:

(Hasan, Arif, “Residential Density Issues: The Case of Karachi”, 2011)

(Prakash, Gyan, “Mumbai Fables”, 2010)

‘Dhobi Ghat’ by Kiran Rao – Narration of A Layered City

Anita Dogra as Shai
Anita Dogra as Shai

Two types of subaltern constructions were very visible in Dhobi Ghat: Munna, the Dhobi-migratory worker, and Yasmin, the oppressed Muslim housewife. Munna’s character is a migrant worker but different to the Tapori stereotype found in mainstream Indian films. In the opening titles of the movie, we see a worker on a construction site, and in one shot he is juxtaposed to the image of the sun rising across Mumbai. Constructed through the eyes of of the director Kiran, visually the film captures the architectural contrast of a postcolonial colossal concrete structures and creek views lived by the elite, in contrast with old Mumbai middle class ‘chawl’ living , the dhobi ghat and the Dharvi slums.  The binaries of class drawn by the director are unmistakable. These binaries are well presented by the inter-class interaction between the characters of Munna (migrant dhobi by day- rat killer by night), Shai (US returned investment banker) and Arun (loner artist).

The film opens beautifully with Mumbai in the Monsoons shown through Yasmin’s taxi ride with she saying “aae hue to sirf  5 mahinay ho gaye hain phir bhi sab naya sa lagta hai” to the taxi driver who is a migrant worker from her home state Utter Pardesh.

Pratiek Babbar as Munna
Pratiek Babbar as Munna

Generally migrant life is characterized by conditions of loneliness and a desire to return home is often connected with migratory workers but Munna aspires to be an actor who dreams to break through the class barrier by making it big in Bollywood (as Mumbai film industry is fondly called). Munna is represented as a hybrid of subaltern and Tapori. Attempts to mask a subaltern identity with the veil of stardom presents Munna as a vulnerable migrant easily susceptible to middle class exploitation. The embarrassment Munna feels about his impoverishment makes him try to hide his subaltern identity.

Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin
Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin

The representation of Yasmin in Dhobi Ghat is  articulated in the most innovative way. Her treasure discovered by Arun contains her video letters to her brother Iqbal, some silver jewelry. In some ways, Yasmin records her experiences as video diaries, addressing the camera and also the audience, thus actively making herself visible (although only through Arun). The video camera is technology of  liberation in this, empowering the subaltern with a voice then a further interpretation through Arun and the audience for authentic subaltern self-representation. In many ways, it is the act and not the experience that is of significance since the gaze in the context of a video diary is controlled and determined by the subaltern, not a mediator. The gaze of the artist that results in subaltern objectification.  Hence Munna is also merely a source of ‘fascination’ for Shai. Arun refers to Mumbai: “To Mumbai my muse, my whore, my beloved” ironically all three male perspectives of the female subaltern.

That silent old lady in Arun’s neighborhood, she says nothing throughout the movie, though saying a lot through her eyes. She’s a silent spectator, just like the city of Mumbai. Mumbai is the fifth character of Dhobi Ghat. The cinematographer of  the film has captured the essence of both ‘Purani’ Mumbai and the world class city its envisioned to be. I have been to Mumbai a few years back. Dhobi Ghat invokes a feeling in you to go back and explore it again. Mumbai the city of dreams and desires, the city of indifference, the city of so many layers. Dhobi Ghat is a fitting tribute to the fascinating city of Mumbai.

Karachi and Mumbai have far too many similarities to go unnoticed.  Some of them being unabated exponential growth , owing to an exodus of immigrant population, crippling infrastructure, growing nativism and communalism, high population density, vertical growth, splintering of kachi abadis and being a magnet to aspirations. And to quote from ‘Mumbai Fables’ both are “cities of excesses, of profiteering and exploitation, of aspirations for justice and equality in the face of terrible injustices and inequality” – Gyan Prakash. Karachi continues to be a silent spectator to the crime, communal and mafia warfare, rioting, politics of manipulation, class rift, corruption, target killings and the forced shutdowns it is subjected to day in day out. Karachi continues to silently go through it all.

Both cities representing dystopic images of dysfunctional urban living.

Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao
Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/movies/21roundup-DHOBIGHATMUM_RVW.html?_r=0

http://moviemahal.net/2014/09/26/subalternity-indian-cinema/

http://dichotomy-of-irony.blogspot.com/2011/01/to-my-muse-to-my-whore-to-my.html

That Awkward Moment When A Rapist Tells Women How to Behave in Public – Response to Why Loiter… by Shilpa Phadke

In 2012 an Indian student Nirbhaya was violently raped on a moving bus in Delhi and died of horrific internal injuries. The award winning British film producer, Leslee Udwin spoke to one of the rapists on death row while spending two years making a film about the case. Udwin says she expected deranged monsters to be involved in a crime so heinous but to her surprise these were ordinary, apparently normal Indian men.

Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, described every detail of what happened during and after the incident. Though he’s accused of participating in the crime but he maintains to be throughout on the wheel while the rape was being committed in the bus. In 16 hours of interviews, Singh showed no remorse and kept expressing bewilderment that such fuss was being made about this rape.

The shocking aspect of this interview is not only that Mukesh showed no remorse for the crime, but he went on to blame women who “roam around in the city after 9 pm with no purpose”, branding them ‘indecent’, and for that reason they were to be held more responsible for a rape and other such crimes committed against them. Also in his words  “Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”. He stated that it as people’s right to teach such women a lesson.

Udwin says it would be easier to process this heinous crime if the perpetrators were monsters but these men represent lot of others in the Indian society who think like this. They are the visible symptoms of deep rooted disease of patriarchal mindset whereby a woman and her will (to do anything) is accorded no value unless approved by rigid societal attitudes.

According to the NGO Partners for Urban Knowledge & Research (Pukar) in Mumbai women’s right to loiter in public spaces ain’t free of prejudices and social attitudes and at times leads to harrassment and crimes against them. They are questioned and looked at suspiciously for moving about without an apparent purpose, even though loitering around the streets of the city is considered a leisure activity and Mumbai takes pride in being a world class metropolis.

As Shilpa Ranade, a PUKAR architect puts it, “Only when men and women have the freedom to move about in public spaces without purpose, only then the boundaries/ binaries of gender within a society can be removed.”

Just like Mumbai, in Karachi as well women have access but do not enjoy the same rights to a public space as men. For example its not a common sight to see women driving public transport or even cycle or motorcycle here. Neither can they play cricket or football on the streets, like boys do. Some places are considered in appropriate for girls to even visit and if they’re seen there they are most likely to be judged as shady, with them receiving unwanted male attention at times. This discourages women presence at ‘inappropriate’ public spaces even further. Its not like just women men need a justification to be at a certain public place while men don’t. Its now common at a lot of public places in Pakistan where stags are not allowed entry without an accompanying female.

PUKAR talks about the right of both men and women to roam aimlessly in a public place without disruption and judgement.

Sources:

(Phadke, Shilpa, Ranade, Shilpa, Khan, Sameera, “Why Loiter, Radical Possibilities For Gendered Dissent, 2009)

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