She is the reason I love my life more than ever. She is the one who can stop me or inspire me to do anything. She is my motivation for having passion to change my world, my country, my neighborhood, and my home into a more peaceful place for her – and for every one of her age and time – to live and enjoy in. She is going to be sixteen next year. And we are finally going to have the party we have been planning since she was born. I’m sure most of you have someone like her in your lives. Daughters. They are the most beautiful thing to ever happen to us.
They are important. Rather, most important. Yet we have so little around us for them. Individuals of her age bracket, 13 to 16 years of age, can’t vote yet. They are still important. Look at books around us, the newspapers, TV shows, films. You find nothing for them. Just when her 16th birthday is approaching, Rwail, the love of my life, is upset that there is so little that she can engage in, except her textbooks and very limited ‘co-curricular’ activities available at school. Last year, a bonfire at her school was canceled because a nearby Madrassa objected.
A year prior to that, she and her friends were stopped from cricket practice in the park established by the CDA. Their teachers or parents did not stop them. Yes, you guessed it right. It was the Madrassa. And so they had to practice the sport in the small lawn of their school. Schools here do not have elaborate playgrounds. It is because they don’t have to abide by any annoying by-laws of a certain size of facility or certain specifications of the building.
But then, worrying about the school-building by-laws while sitting in Islamabad sounds so ‘first-worldish’. There are many ‘Rwails’ in those small towns deep down in Punjab and Sindh where ghost schools and ghost teachers ‘serve’ them 12/24. In Balochistan where the mothers don’t know if their sons will return or not. Where they won’t have even the ruins of a thing called a girls’ school. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, where so many Rwails lose schools to the militants. But that’s not the story worth worrying for. That’s everyday routine, unless it is an attack on a high value target like GHQ or a sit-in in front of the Parliament House or simply the display of laundry on the fence of the Supreme Court.
Pardon my urban-fixated discourse here. But then, isn’t our entire discourse so urban?Rather, metropolis-fixated? Even if it is, here’s something that I want us – the parents – to at least start talking about. The urban centers that we think are imparting education and have enough ‘facilities’ for our teenagers, still don’t have much to offer to these energetic and beautiful creatures.
Look at the national narratives around us and you will find nothing that could engage our teenagers. Books? When was the last time our authors wrote a novel for teens? What was the last film produced for them? Even our ad campaigns are devoid of enough ‘teen-material’. When we were growing up, there used to be the British Council and American Center in addition to Goethe Institute and French Center that would keep us – the urban teens – engaged in healthy activities and competitions. They are all either gone or have curtailed their activities.
Watch TV for ten minutes and you would not let your teen watch those unhealthy, rude, illogical and meaningless political duels. It has been more than a decade that we got private electronic media in our country. What was the last program that was produced for the teens? And as my friend and TV anchor Fareeha Idrees reminds, what is the content on our idiot box that we can use in classrooms for teaching concepts like critical thinking, analysis and synthesizing ideas?
They have no space even in our collective thinking on the concept of proverbial ‘change’ these days. There’s a proposal afloat during the daily harangues that every city would have a playground when ‘change’ finally arrives. It doesn’t quite serve me enough unless there is a talk about what status Rwail would enjoy. Is she going to be allowed to play in the community playground? Is the Madrassa going to be leashed? Say it aloud because so far I don’t hear it.
For the last many months, Rwail has been unable to understand what the ruckus is about. She has no idea why some guys ascend atop a thing called a ‘container’ and start shrieking every evening. She is unable to understand why these guys look and sound so angry while the people they talk to are happy and dancing and singing and waving and making victory signs. She asks me if everything is going to be all right if the Prime Minister resigns.
Back in my village thirty miles from Bahawalpur, I have many Rwails who do not have a school. You know why? Not because the Punjab government has not allocated enough money for education. It is because there is not enough monitoring on where and how the money is spent. The girls’ school in my village is full of cow dung because it is less of a school and more of a home for cattle. It is because the school has not seen the appointment of teachers and headmistress for ages. Education for girls there, only means rote learning the Quran.
Back in my maternal village near Mirpur Khas in Sindh, the Rwails have to undergo the pressures of saving themselves from being kidnapped, forcefully married and converted. Because most of them are Hindus from a scheduled caste, there is not much wastage of vocal cords by the politicians or of airtime by the media. Rwails there have to carry double the burden of being because they are born as Anjalis. Forget about those dozens of Malalas – Rwails for me – in Quetta, who were attacked and killed just because they were Hazara Shias. Many of them can’t go to schools and colleges because these institutions are no longer welcoming them.
Back in my aunt-in-law’s village near Dir, girls don’t go to school; not because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government hasn’t allocated enough funds for girls’ education. It’s just that they haven’t spent even 20% of the total allocated money as yet. If you don’t put your money where your mouth is, your idea of ‘change’ entails only change in the faces of the ruling elite.
Rwail wonders whether there will be a time when her country is calm, stable, composed, progressing and progressive. Her stronger worry is, is there anyone thinking about teens here? I now know of the smartly conceived Plans A, B, C etc. I know in our priority list, these teen girls & boys don’t exist on D, E and onwards. But really; is there any Plan X, Y, Z for our Rwails?
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