Kamila Shamsie’s moment of pride
Literature is a symbol of resistance and harbinger of change. Pakistan has a history of producing quality literature resisting violence, occupation, human rights violations, gags on expression and intolerance. The latest case in point is cancellation of a prize in acknowledgment of literary works of acclaimed novelist Kamila Shamsie. German city of Dortmund has withdrawn the Nelly Sachs Prize which was announced for Shamsie earlier this month. The award is named after a Jewish poet. The eight-member jury voted for her on September 6 on the basis of her fiction writings. In a strange, if not bizarre move, the same jury on Wednesday issued a statement retracting its own decision declaring her winner for this award in 2019.
Apart from the manner, the reason the jury cited is also quite strange. The jury thinks that since the writer supports the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), she does not deserve this prize. Shamsie, however, has been supporting BDS over the years and her support was not a secret. “Despite prior research, the members of the jury were not aware that the author has been participating in the boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014,” the jury said in its statement.
This is an eye-opener for those who keep pointing fingers on the quality of juries for our literary competitions. Juries here are at least better and more aware of the people whose work they evaluate. Shamsie minced no words saying that the decision is a “matter of outrage”. Every international forum from the UN to OIC has condemned the inhuman treatment of Palestinians by the state of Israel. The UN has passed resolutions repeatedly against the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel. The question is: what is the job of a writer if she does not question the worst case of human rights abuses on earth. “It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression,” Shamsie said in her statement in reaction to the jury’s decision.
It was in 2005 when some conscious souls launched the BDS movement. Most of them were Palestinians. It aimed to mobilise the international community on the issue of violation of human rights in Palestine by Israel. Against this background, cancellation of this prize has added to credentials of Shamsie and it is an honour for her that her stance against an oppressor has been registered. *
Nimrita’s death – concerns and consolation
Suicide or murder? The case related to the death of Nimrita Chandani, a final-year student at the Bibi Aseefa Dental College in Larkana, needs to be probed thoroughly by investigators. Instead, people have taken to the streets in Karachi, Larkana, Mirpur Mathelo and other areas, dubbing her death a murder case and calling for justice. They are quite justified to do so, given the culture and work ethics of police in Pakistan, which is good at burying cases instead of concluding them. In such circumstances the media, civil society and the executive’s intervention have kept the case alive. The Sindh government has requested the formation of a judicial commission to dig out the truth. The family and friends of the deceased Nirmita should help the commission in finding the truth by extending their cooperation. Similarly, other quarters should also refrain from speculating upon the matter so that the commission can work without any pressure.
The case of Nimrita, however, sheds light on the condition of girl hostels of higher education institutions. Earlier, the death of Naila Rind, student of the Sindh University, rocked the country. The final year student of a masters programme was found dead in her hostel room. The ensuing probe declared her death a result of suicide and shut the case. The death of Naila Rind should have invoked a debate among the policymakers to make higher education institutions safe for all students, especially women. It appears that counseling – emotional, career, academic and so on – is not a Pakistan university word.
Though little is yet known about Nimrita’s death, it is unfortunate that some elements are linking her death with violence against Hindus, especially in the backdrop of recent incidents in Ghotki and Mirpurkhas where mobsters struck their places of worship over an alleged blasphemy issue. Thankfully, the government sprang into timely action and took stern action against the mob. The public also stood by the Hindu community across the country. It is good to see normalcy prevailing over violence in Ghotki. Hopefully, the government will take appropriate punitive measures against those who vandalised temples and ensure a fair trial for the blasphemy suspect. *