Posted by Sabahat (iFaqeer) on January 12, 2009
The news has featured a piece on Nauman sb (Electrical Engineering) about 3/4 months ago. I apologize for posting it so late, but I thought fellow NEDians–both past and present–might want to see it. Not everyone might agree with what it says–or with Nauman Saahab–but then, that’s what this blog is about. Please comment on it–and send in your own thoughts on him and other personalities associated with NED. And, yes, do please send in your opinion even if, or especially if you think it is different from what other people might think.
‘Silent middle class hindering social change’
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
By Aroosa Masroor
Professor Mohammad Nauman is an associate professor with the NED University and has been serving as an academic for over 30 years. A true Karachiite at heart, Prof. Nauman has witnessed the rise and fall of different governments in Pakistan and its impact on Karachi – one of the largest and most important cities of the country.
Throughout his student life, Prof. Nauman was affiliated with student organisations such as the National Students Federation (NSF) and later, in 1972, went on to become one of the founding members of the Progressive Students Front (PSF), a progressive students movement that resisted General Zia’s Islamisation in the late 70s and early 80s.
Before joining NED University, the professor had served in the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). While at NED, he voluntarily worked with Edhi Foundation during the era of bomb blasts and ethnic violence of late 80s and developed a wireless network for it. He has also served as technical adviser to Fahim Zaman, former administrator Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (now CDGK). The News recently caught up with the educationist who has often received criticism for airing his views against the management and the government.
Q. Tell us about your early life and education.
A. I was born in Karachi, but spent my early childhood in Lahore where my father was teaching at the Aitchison College. Later, he joined the
Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan. The job required him to be posted in different districts across the Sindh and Punjab province so I have spent my life with people of almost all ethnicities in Pakistan. Growing up with different people from the rural as well as urban parts of the country taught me a lot about the existing challenges and contrasts within our society across the country. I later joined Cadet College Petaro from where I completed my Intermediate and then did my bachelors and Masters in electrical engineering from the NED Engineering College.
Q. The recent incidents of violence at public universities have raised questions on the administrative capability of educational institutes.
Considering the fact that you have remained an active member in student politics, how would you compare your life era with that of today?
A. When I was a student activist, idealism prevailed. Student parties participated in the Students’ Union elections that played an important role in political maturity and looked after vital academic, cultural and social interests of the students. Back in the 70s, when we founded the Progressive Front at NED College, students from different ethnic backgrounds were a part of it. There was no discrimination; we had the best debaters, progressive thinkers and students who were academically sound despite their political affiliations. Everyone had a collective objective – to protect the interests of the common student. There were differences among students parties even during our times, but no matter how aggressive, the respect for our teachers was such that we would lower our gaze. We were not fascists.
But the ban on student unions during General Zia’s era and state-sponsored sectarian and ethnic violence and the gun culture in the educational institutions destroyed the healthy student politics. The recent incidents are just the reminder that the fascist groups and authoritarian institutions are still well entrenched in Karachi and despite the public mandate for the democratic norms in the general elections, they are not weakened. The social commitment and political awareness among the lower middle class students has become alarmingly low. They seem to be suffering from some kind of an inferiority complex and have stopped questioning and challenging the
prevailing environment around them. Idealism has evaporated and they have been reduced to seeking short term goals.
Q. What, in your opinion, has led to this change in attitude?
A. The collapse of social, cultural and political institutions and lack of tolerance and democratic norms have affected the intellectual capabilities and vision of students. They do not read literature and history. They do not travel much and interact with other segments of society. Therefore they are unaware of social realities. On top of it, the neo-liberal economic policies and globalisation are increasing the gap between rich and poor and withering away the middle classes that used to produce the intelligentsia of our society. Unless this class rises and participates in bringing about a positive social and political change, things will remain the same.
Q. Does that mean the educated or affluent class is not capable of bringing about a change?
A. At the moment, the system is offering much to the really educated and affluent classes. They have opportunities of going abroad for higher education, job opportunities as professionals in multi-nationals and bureaucracy. Those having a social perspective, are able to get a job in the media or join NGOs and make themselves busy in service delivery and writing reports for the donors, thus unable to play a meaningful role in society except lip service.
For social change, they have to own this country and instead of seeking private solutions for collective problems, they must form an organic link with the distressed communities. The communities suffering from economic, civic and environmental problems need conscious educated people to assist them in understanding the roots of problems and organising their struggle. This requires social commitment, sparing time for keeping close contact and leaving aside our agenda for personal gains. The engineers have to shift their focus towards low cost solutions for drinking water, power, housing, irrigation, health and education.
Q. How was your experience at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation? Were you able to contribute to any development projects in the city?
A. Yes, when I was working with Fahim Zaman, we were able to introduce some new systems apart from delivering a number of long awaited projects like Clifton flyover, Liaquatabad bridge, widening of Lasbela bridge, completion of Mai Kolachi bypass and the bridge near Cantt Station, revival of old Kalapul, addition of 50 fire tenders and removal of huge encroachment to start developing Bagh-e-Ibne Qasim at Clifton. We also introduced Ashtro standards to build roads and established asphalt plants. Subsequently, all new roads have been built on the introduced standards. Moreover, we established two huge incinerators for hospital waste and installed sewage treatment plants in some parks.
We also launched a garbage dumping operation across the city through a ‘Garbage Train’ that ran from Wazir Mansion station to a 3,500 acre landfill site 35km away from Karachi at Dhabeji. The train had a capacity to carry 1,600 tons of garbage per trip and ran once a week. The system revived the Circular Railway and prevented fresh encroachments, but the train was stopped after we left KMC. Had it been operating, the Circular Railway System could have been revived that has become extremely difficult now owing to the massive encroachments around the railway track.
Q. Why do you think the government has not yet been able to provide solutions to basic problems of the masses? Do you think things will change for the better in future?
A. I’m afraid they will go worse. One does not see the political will and people-oriented sustainable development model on the agenda of the political parties or their leaders that is required to bring about a change in the system. For the past 20 years, all governments have been following donor imposed structural adjustment plans, poverty reduction programs and neo-liberal agenda. They have increased the foreign loans by at least three times, pushed nearly half of our population below poverty line and 80 per cent of tax burden is on the poor. The rich and powerful remain tax less and take all kinds of subsidies.
Governments have been and are planning to privatise utilities and other basic obligations of state such as provision of health and educational facilities. Privatisation of the KESC is another example. Our taxes have increased, while the government’s function has been reduced.
This attitude then trickles down to our masses as well. Today, one can see parents seeking admission in so-called English medium schools for their children, but they will not question the government authorities for not providing them with basics like a decent education.
What is needed is redistribution of resources (from the powerful classes to the poorer segments) and democratisation of the society at all levels, including political parties. Provinces must also have control over their resources and autonomy promised in the 1940 Pakistan Resolution. Aitzaz Ahsan was absolutely right when he said: “After the imposition of martial law in 1958, the status of welfare state was converted into national security state.” Perhaps, a larger democratic struggle waged by all political forces is needed for establishment of real democracy in Pakistan.
(Originally published at http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=134748)