'We have to take care of our poor'

Globalisation is here to stay. I'm not trying to wish it away, but we have to take care of our poor who must get basic facilities such as health care and education, said distinguished Indian writer and social activist Dr Noor Zaheer at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation on Monday evening.

She was replying to a question after delivering her lecture on "Predicaments of the underprivileged in health and education in our region" at the SIUT.

Dr Noor, who is the daughter of the late Sajjad Zaheer, the founder of the Progressive Writers Movement, said it was decided in 1996 that the government should help unskilled people by providing them at least 100 days of wage employment. As the government was not ready to do it, she said she had to go on a yatra with her colleagues across the country to persuade the people that it was a worthwhile idea. After three years of struggle, she said, the bill was presented in the Indian parliament as a result of which the National Rural Employees Guarantee Act was enacted, which was later called the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employees Guaranteed Act. Initially, the Act was opposed but as time passed by things got better, she said.

The social activist said the Act did two things: the people who got employment put their children in schools, which tackled the issue of child labour, while those who fell sick began to see doctors rather than quacks. As men were usually skilled, the law helped women also to get these jobs, she said. It brought about a change in the mindset but the government was not happy with it, she said. In 2013, she added, plans were made to reject the Act (radd kerne ki koshish) with an excuse that it was making agriculture less beneficial, she said. Afterwards, the government started talking about giving loans to small farmers, she added.


Dr Noor said globalisation was not a contemporary phenomenon, otherwise Moenjodaro seals wouldn't have been found in Egypt. Globalisation, she said, had changed the meaning of many words, such as the meaning of the word 'reform'. She added that reforms were brought about to help the majority which were under pressure from the minority, and the minority felt that reforms must take place. It didn't mean trade, she said. In India, she said, multinational companies built factories over fertile fields in the name of reforms.

She said in our region the concentration of labour was very high, while governments were unwilling to talk to labours and the workforce because they didn't consider them important. They were only given importance at the time of elections, she said. If they attached importance to the workforce, they would have thought about giving them healthcare and education. She said no system had been devised to provide the underprivileged with health and education. She said in India below-the-poverty-line cards were issued to the needy families but when they would go to the ration shops they would often return empty-handed as rice and atta would invariably not be available there.

Referring to Dr Adib Rizvi's presentation that he gave before her talk about how the poor weren't able to afford kidney transplantation in India and Pakistan despite the fact that it's inexpensive, she said people were selling their kidneys to eat food.

Earlier, he welcomed Dr Noor and gave a little presentation on how the poor in India and Pakistan were unable to afford medical treatments.

Writer Zahida Hina formerly introduced Dr Noor.

When the floor was opened for a question-and-answer session, the first question put to Dr Noor was about the issue of globalisation. She said globalisation was always there and it was here to stay. She said she did not wish it away, but "we have to take care our poor". On the role of economists in the whole situation, she said Marxist economy was not taught at universities after the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. If it had been taught, she said, it would have allowed a better understanding of the subject.

Later, poet Zehra Nigah, who presided over the event, said she had known both parents of Dr Noor. She said the issues that Dr Noor had raised in her lecture were relevant to Pakistan as well (yeh dard har dil mein dhadakta hai). She then told a very touching story of a young girl from Sindh whom she met through Dr Rizvi. She said he took two earrings for the young girl because she wanted them. Later, Dr Rizvi told her (Nigah) that the girl didn't have much time to live.

In the end, the poet also recited a couple of her poems.