Democracy/Governance, Education, Governance, South Asia / 18.08.2008

It is often argued that illiteracy is the biggest problem in South Asia and also that illiteracy is the reason for poverty. What is the evidence for such assertions? Let us start with a couple of concrete examples: Over the past fifteen years, the proportion of the population living under extreme poverty in Pakistan has risen from 13 to 33 percent but illiteracy has declined during this period. Therefore, the explanation for the increase in poverty in Pakistan cannot be attributed to illiteracy. India has a considerably higher literacy rate than Pakistan but the incidence of poverty in India was comparable to that in Pakistan for many years.  The recent trend in poverty reduction in India cannot be attributed to a sudden increase in literacy. This is not to argue that illiteracy does not matter. Clearly a literate work force can be much more productive than an illiterate one...

Education / 11.08.2008

This post addresses four questions: 1. What is diversity? 2. Is diversity important? 3. How can diversity be promoted? 4. How can an individual deal with diversity? What is diversity? At the simplest level diversity pertains to difference. If we restrict the discussion to cultural diversity we are referring to people who differ along any of the following dimensions: language, religion, moral code, social values, custom, tradition, dress, etc. Thus we can make the statement that before 1947 Lahore was a much more culturally diverse city than it is today. The presence of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Zoroastrians made it multi-lingual and multi-religious city. After 1947 it was transformed into a uni-lingual and uni-religious one. Is diversity important? This is not a simple question to answer. We can take a contemporary perspective to address it. In the globalizing economy it is increasingly believed that innovation and creativity are critical to success. Economies and...

Education, Religion / 04.08.2008

By Anjum Altaf Is there a need to search for truth? Most people would say ‘Yes’ but with different perspectives in mind. There is one perspective that the truth about any proposition is already available, pre-packaged in words of wisdom, written down somewhere, or known to some sage. Our task is to find the source and we shall be informed. The other perspective is that we ourselves have to reason our way to the truth, finding a bit here and a bit there, separating the truth from the untruth when they come packaged together, and questioning it when it goes against our common sense. This is a personal choice of which the second one is intellectually more interesting. Take a simple proposition as an example: ‘Economic interest has a major influence on what we do; culture, nationality and religion are just impediments in the way.’ What is the truth...

Education, Ghalib / 30.07.2008

In our collaborative blogoshpere project with Mehr-e-Niimroz on Ghalib, we have selected the following she’r this week: baske dushvaar hai har kaam ka aasaaN hona aadmii ko bhii muyassar nahiiN insaaN hona 1a) it's difficult to such an extent for every task to be easy 1b) although it's difficult for every task to be easy 2) even/also for a descendant of Adam, it's not attainable/attained/easy to become human/humane The detailed interpretation is presented on Mehr-e-Niimroz. The straightforward meaning is that just as it is difficult for every task to be easy, it is difficult for a descendant of Adam to reach the status of a human being. Let us first address the gender issue raised in the commentary pertaining to the interpretation of aadmi as man. Phyllis Trible, a Professor of Scared Literature, became prominent in the 1970s for her analyses of the stories of the Creation. In Trible’s view it...

Education, Fundamentalism, Ghalib, Politics, Religion / 19.07.2008

Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you. The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God. In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about...

Education / 15.07.2008

It should be obvious by now that one of our objectives at The South Asian Idea is to encourage engagement with ideas. If we do not learn to look at different sides of an issue and debate the merits of alternative positions we would be contributing to the rise of intolerance and jeopardizing the future that has begun to look promising, at least for some, in economic terms. It is in this context that we were delighted to chance upon a column by Professor Stanley Fish in which he discusses how Milton is used in the West to foster critical thinking. More than anyone else, Milton captures the disjunction between the way things are and the way they should be. It’s the combination of amazing poetry and an insistence on principle. Rather than being employed for its own sake, the poetry is always in the service of...