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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pak Sur Zameen Shad Baad... (2012)

I consider myself very fortunate that I was back home on what is one of the most important days of the year for myself. A few months ago I was under the impression that I would be sitting on a rain drenched Island some 3000 miles away from home,  and would be experiencing this moment as just another member of the diaspora. That day is the independence day of my beloved nation and Today is that day the 14th of August, 2012, Independence day in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is now 65 years since that midnight on the 14th of August in 1947 when Pakistan came into existence and the whole world witnessed the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr. Allama Iqbal and millions of Muslims of the Indian subcontinent coming to a reality.

For many of us Pakistani's, the birth of the nation came at a great price paid by ancestors when the Indian sub continent was partitioned by Great Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from through out the subcontinent left their homes and made the journey to the new promised land. Pakistan was to be the fruit of years of hard work and political struggle a sort of Utopian dream for millions. The barbaric violence and atrocities that followed the announcement of partition meant many could not make it to the promised land. There were also those that were sole survivors of the treacherous journey from their large house holds. A very large number of those migrants came from East Punjab, which saw itself get completely ethnically cleansed of Punjabi Muslims, while the Urdu speaking lot was a diverse bunch hailing from all over the Indian sub continent. The Urdu language became a natural choice as the national language of the new nation since apart from Islam, this language was the lingua franca for millions of Muslims in the sub continent from Khyber to the Bay of Bengal.

Minar-e-Pakistan is sparkling in Green colour against the dark background of night

I remember my time abroad, between 2004 and 2010 I have spent many independence days living on foreign shores. As an undergraduate student in Australia, there was little air of the Pakistani spirit and patriotism owing to the small size of the diaspora, none the less Pakistani students from universities across New South Wales used to get together and try and organize a get together. Such was the size of the Pakistani student community there back in the day that it required pooling together of Pakistani students from across multiple universities to make up a sizable lot. Now that I am back in the land of the pure the feeling of being surrounded by the white and green on the streets of my home town Karachi over whelming and I find myself facing a scarcity of words with which to describe my feelings of being home.

Even now, every time the national anthem I get some what emotional, be it right here in Pakistan or be it some where overseas. Not long ago in the British capital, I was at a Shakespearean play organized by a Pakistani theater company in the Urdu Language. Prior to the start of the play, the on stage musicians also from Pakistan played the national anthem. It was a really nice gesture on part of the audience as a whole which included many non Pakistanis to stand up in respect for the national anthem of a nation that was not there. It was touching moment, and one I will cherish for many years.

Though I have always been a patriot, my patriotism and my commitment to Pakistan has been questioned by many people over the years. The reason most commonly thrown at me growing up was that I am culturally too distant from Pakistani culture, there is nothing culturally or socially Pakistani about me. Upon reaching adulthood, I was witness to Pakistan's religious transformation, which added a religious element to accusations of my lack of patriotism where I got accused of cultural and national insensitivity due to my values differing from predefined societal norms and conventions. The latest addition to that has been my political support, some have accused of me being unpatriotic because I am not a supporter of a cult like personality who is trying to make inroads into mainstream politics. Not for a moment, did I let that push me away from feeling the way I do about my beloved home land, if anything such narrow minded accusations have made me value my unique individuality far more, and value my home land and my identity as a Pakistani. Even now when as the plane was making its descent into Jinnah International Airport after a long 7 hour journey from London, it felt that there was patriotic music playing in my ears. It could have been my iPod but all I could hear was Amanat Ali's 'Aye Watan Pyare Watan' followed by the relatively lighter 'Dil Dil Pakistan' by Vital Signs. I know very well who I am and who I am not, I was, I am and I always will be loyal and patriotic.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Tragedy in the UK & an unhealthy obsession with honor and kinship

Wikipedia describes the concept of kinship as the web of social relationships that forms an important part of lives of most humans in most societies. One can say that is very true and applicable to a society like Pakistan where the sense of kinship is very strong, in fact among the strongest in the world, this could be owing the assumed collective nature of our Asian culture and society. Even western writers and historians have been amazed by the amount of importance given to kinship in our society, how much people value social relationships, be it relationships with  people that they are related to by blood or simply those in the wider community. It is not uncommon to hear people around us very regularly make use of the word 'biradari' which is the Urdu word for community, and how important it is to maintain our position within that biradari.

To get a good idea and understanding of this very kinship concept from an outsider's perspective, I would recommend reading 'Pakistan: A Hard Country'. This book by professor of History at King's College London, Anatol Levien in a way serves as a biography for the great nation of Pakistan. In a lot of those chapters, especially those covering the provinces he has significantly highlighted how important community ties are for Pakistani's especially those with some rural connection. Considering the majority of the population of Pakistan still lives in the country side, and a significant chunk of the urban population having some recent or distant roots in the agrarian backdrop, it is entirely possible that this strong sense of kinship and the issue of honor associated with it has become a reality for not only Pakistani's in urban centers such as Karachi and Lahore, but also in the diaspora.

This is off particular relevance to the United Kingdom, where today more than a million of its citizens are off Pakistani heritage with the number continuously on the rise. Some members of this community have done exceptionally well to prove themselves integrated and worthy parts of a free British society, however at the same time Pakistani's in the United Kingdom also feature in the news for a lot of very wrong reasons.

Very recently British Pakistani's were in the news again. The murder of the 17 year old British Pakistani girl Shefilia Ahmad dating back to 2002-3 has been in thee news all over again, with significant coverage given to it by both the British as well as the Pakistani media. A murder that happened almost a decade ago was brought back to light because this past week, a British court just handed out prison sentences to the parents who had murdered their own child. Based on evidence, testimonials and investigations that had been on going for the last several years, Shefilia was murdered by her parents on account on honor. They believed that she had dishonored the family by refusing to marry a cousin back in Pakistan and for developing a westernized life style while growing up. Her younger sister who is now 23 had testified to the court that she had witnessed the abuse that her sister experienced growing up. It must have certainly taken a great amount of courage for that 23 year old to come out and testify against her parents knowing that by doing so she puts herself at significant risk if the court decides that the parents are found not guilty.

Let us assume for a moment,  that both Shefilia's refusal to marry her cousin as well as her westernized life style was what dishonored her family and brought shame on them. Let us analyse this for a few minutes. Suppose it is the former, her refusal to marry her cousin, what her parents tried to do was force her hand in marriage to a relative back in Pakistan. Not uncommon among Pakistani circles, as there is an unhealthy obsession among Pakistani's to  treat their children like commodities especially with respect to the issue of marriage. Shefilia's refusal or resistance must have upset her parents who were probably deeply concerned about upsetting their relatives back in Pakistan who had asked for their daughter's hand in marriage. The fear of damaged social ties and inability to look at blood relatives in the eye created feelings of being dishonored. The need to maintain such ties are given so much importance by Pakistani adults that they end up treating their children like objects or tools for personal public relations, easily illustrated by the case of Shefilia, where her parents first offered their hand in marriage to a relative, then murdered her in cold blood as if she was an invaluable human life. Take for example the social dilemma in Pakistani societies related to the marriage scenario.  For example you are a Pakistani couple with children, boys and girls of marriage age, and one of your siblings or first cousin approaches you and asks for your children in marriage for their own children, what are you supposed to do? It might seem easy on the surface to say No or to say the option will be considered, but here is how our Pakistani psyche works, even the hint  of refusal in such matters can be taken as a matter of personal insult which carries enough weight to damage the original social relationship, i.e. between the parents and their siblings or cousins. In a way you could say it would create disruption of a social relationship network.

 Assuming it was the latter that brought them shame i.e. Shefilia's westernized lifestyle, let us see why it would be a source of dishonor for her parents considering the family lived in a free western society in the United Kingdom.? Well this also comes down to the whole scenario of kinship, in this case it would be about kinship closer to home i.e. within the Pakistani community in the UK. It is possible that Shefilia's liberal westernized lifestyle attracted too much unwanted attention among other Pakistani parents who were probably concerned that seeing Shefilia their daughters and sons might start demanding similar freedoms and liberty. This would particular be a cause of concern if their trying to raise their children according to the picture perfect that they have off them and one which might be very divergent from what an organic up bringing for them might be. Let us not forget it is also a Pakistani obsession to ensure that our children grow up and develop in their lives according to the picture perfect image that many parents have.

The tragedy of Shefilia's untimely death has brought to highlight a very important issue that is deeply prevalent in our society, one that is damaging and destroying a lot of lives, in some cases prematurely ending it. Shefilia did not deserve to die at the hands of the two people on earth who are supposed to unconditionally love their children till death does them part. Courtesy of British and Pakistani media, we still came to learn about the story of Shefilia and her tragic death, how many more Pakistani youngsters are out there who we never hear about? How many more Pakistani boys and girls living in the diaspora as well as Pakistan's major urban centers have been forcibly married off against their own will all in the name of honor, all the name of maintaining these social relationships, and how many have just ended up as a statistic in the name of honor killings?

We as a society should be truly ashamed of ourselves. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Role of Publications and Merchandise in Public Relations

We live in a day and age where the use of public relations tools and initiatives are gaining prominence because of their ability to engage the desired audiences. At the same time Public Relations initiatives allow two way communications between the company and its audiences, this not only generates important feedback that can be used for business intelligence, but it also generates stakeholder loyalty. It is important to remember always that there are always two types of stakeholders associated with the company, firstly the internal stakeholders which comprises of employees and shareholders, and external stakeholders which includes customers, as well as the wider community in which the company is operating.
Marketing material in the form of the publications and merchandise plays a significant role in public relations initiatives for organizations with respect to both their internal and external audiences. Publications usually come in the form of company profiles, magazines and newsletters. In today’s digital internet based world, a lot of such publications have moved online to keep up with changes to our everyday environment. The company newsletter or the e-newsletter in particular plays an important role in engagement with both internal and external stakeholders.
The role of company newsletters is to provide important information and news alerts to their relevant audiences both internal and external. The information contained them includes news regarding company events, achievements, new product launches and even information about the role that the company is playing in the wider community. For example, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that the company might have in place would be something that they would like their stakeholders to know about. This is more than just publicity, since through this channel the organization not directly communicating messages with respect to their products and services, rather with respect to wider role as an organization that they are playing. Information about such organizational initiatives can play an important role in generating good public relations and improving corporate brand equity. The newsletters are also far more economical to run as opposed to conventional publications such as magazines, since they are shorter, providing specific and relevant information that can be easily compiled and distributed by the relevant department. With magazines it becomes important to also provide the audiences with content that is at least mildly interesting and entertaining in nature. With a diverse set of stakeholders both internal and external, this might prove to be a rather daunting task. What also makes newsletters economical is that they can easily be digitised and distributed, for magazines not only does the content need to be rich, but also to go digital, they would require a proper web portal as per current popular trends in industry.
Company merchandise also plays an important role in engagement and motivation of external and internal audiences. This however would be dependent on the nature of the company and the type of products and services they offer. With the respect to external audiences, it might be more appropriate for companies to have a brand focused as opposed to a company focused approach when engaging with external audiences through merchandise. A good example of a brand which has successfully managed to engage both internal and external audiences is Coca Cola. Coca Cola is not just the world’s largest brand; it is also a beverage which is part of everyday life for the hundreds of millions of its users around the world. Fans of Coca Cola, whether they are internal stakeholders or the consumers of their soft drinks proudly use ‘Coca Cola’ branded merchandise. Coca Cola in particular is a very good example of a ‘Star’ company that has always leads the way in how to engage with their audiences. Not only have they been an important part of major global events, but they were also among the first companies to adopt online technology and other internet based tools. They were among the first brands to have a smartphone application which revolved around the theme of the Coca Cola user experience.
For employees among internal stakeholders, it also reinforces a sense of commitment and motivation for being part of that company or the brand as an everyday experience. It contributes also a great deal towards employer branding through word of mouth, making such organizations also a popular destination for the bright talent seeking out careers of choice. By being able to attract the best talent out there, companies and brands can successfully shape their future in the manner they seek and achieve their objectives.