6th Annual Karachi Conference

November 9, 2018: The Sixth Karachi Conference kick started at the JS Auditorium, IBA, Karachi city campus. The conference started with a session discussing the sacred geographies of Las Bela through the eyes of students who had visited the Bela region and did their research on the myth and reality of these sacred sites.

Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari later summed up in his presiding speech, folklore is an oversimplification of history. He also praised the students' efforts of understanding this relationship between the two.

He also pointed out that the Bela region - like the regions of Dadu and Thatta surrounding Karachi - had ensured that Karachi remained safe from the powerful kingdoms surrounding it.

The students, Novaira Khan, Amal Hashim, Mowwiz Shaheen, Fatima Siraaj, Safina Shilwani, Ali Arshad and Anam Imran, in their presentations covered various aspects of the sacred sites in the Bela region. Khan's presentation focused on the Nanakpanthi community of the area. This community was first called by the name in the 17th century by Shaikh Mohsin Fani, a Persian writer, because of their faith in Guru Nanak, the 13th century founder of Sikhism. Khan also pointed out that today, the two communities live in peace and harmony, respecting each other's beliefs.

Hashim explored the myth of the seven sisters and compared this folklore with the similar myth that existed in Rohri in northern Sindh. She pointed out that the tombs of these "sisters" are quite close to the site of another temple, Hanglaj Mata, an important Shakti site.

Shaheen made a comparison between the tombs of Muhammad Ibna Haroon and Colonel Robert Groves Sandeman. While Ibne Haroon was a contemporary of Muhammad Bin Qasim who was believed to have been sent to the Mekran before the Bin Qasim's Sindh campaign, Col Sandeman was a British officer from the 19th century. Shaheen pointed out that some people believe both these people were sacred and revere them just the same.

Siraj's presentation focused on the shrines of love legends such as Shireen and Farhad and Sassui and Punhu, as well as graves that are believed to belong to the people who were with prophet Noah. "Folklore and history make a pair," Siraaj said.

Shilwani spoke on the architecture of these sacred sites and pointed out that the designs and the colors of these buildings were very much related to the belief systems of the people of those times. She also pointed out that the sacred art of Bela was manifested through a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit, invisibly presented itself in the universe and "dwelled" in a direct and "personal" sense. "Perhaps, this is a dream. A dream concealed, unfinished and work in progress," she added.

In their joint presentation, Arshad and Imran spoke on the intermingling of nature and the religious sites in the Bela region.

The participants applauded the presentations and participated wholeheartedly in the question and answer session that followed.

'Language should be taught but not through medium of instruction'

November 11, 2018: Speakers on the first session of the third day of the Sixth International Karachi Conference held at the JS Auditorium, IBA, city campus focused on how teachers should be improve their teaching methods.

Educationist and public policy expert Dr. Baela Raza Jamil spoke of her experience with children in Korangi where a different method of teaching was applied and was found to be very successful because a large number of these children have parents and grandparents who came from elsewhere. She had used the migratory history of Karachi to teach these children. She said this made the children understand each other better. The children in her method were made to draw the imagined homes of their past homelands. They were also asked to take photographs of their present homes and what they would want to change there. The children were also asked to draw maps of the region. The dependence on visual teaching helped the children unleash their imagination as well as creativity.

She concluded that children were not only the preservers of cultural practice but also mediators of cultural difference. She said migration should be acknowledged as a collective social experience in the lives of this generation and should form part of pedagogical methods and understanding.

Science educationist Dr. Nelofer Halai pointed out that according to a study, Karachi ranked 43rd among the districts of the country, though she admitted that there was a need to make distinctions between the six districts of Karachi as well. She said schools here showed very poor ranking in the education of science and mathematics. She also pointed out that the standard of teachers of science and maths in the city was also poor. Speaking on this problem, she said there was a need for more imaginative methods of teaching science at the primary level. She said dedicated science teachers should be appointed or assigned for the primary level.

She also made suggestions on how teachers can improve their teaching methods. They should teach by raising questions, thus igniting the curiosity of children. She also emphasized the need for mentoring method, not only in teaching science but also in teaching educational methods. She concluded that every child has the right to be taught by qualified teachers.

Journalist Zubeida Mustafa spoke on the distinction between teaching a language and medium of instructions. She said teaching English or for that matter any other language was desirable but using English as a medium of instruction so that children would become well versed in the language was a failure as it succeeded in teaching neither the language nor the subjects that were being taught in English. She favored teaching at the primary level in the mother tongues.

Well-known theater actor and theater teacher Atif Badar also presented a skit written by Mustafa on the topic of English-medium education.

A healthy discussion followed the paper presentations in which members of the audience offered opinions and asked various questions on the issue of medium of instruction. It was also highlighted during this discussion that using education for job acquiring mechanism also destroyed the purpose of education itself.

'Having fun is a way of resistance'

November 11, 2018: The concluding session of the Sixth International Karachi Conference's second day on Saturday focused on Lyari where activist and researcher Nida Kirmani is conducting her research work for the past four years and so far is convinced that the women in Karachi's oldest neighborhood use having fun as a mean to resist mostly gender-based oppression against them.

In her paper presented at the conference, the LUMS scholar said the women she has interviewed say that their resistance also comes in forms of their taking selfies. But the most organized form of their having fun, she noticed, was the various activities these women, mostly young girls, have organized. One such activity was running a bicycling club for girls that is exclusive to Lyari only with no precedence even in posh areas of Karachi. She also brought the two girls who had started this club.

Another fun activity that was liberating for the women of Lyari was photography, and she said a number of photographic clubs have also come up. Two boxing clubs and a football team, exclusively for girls, also add to such a revolution in process, she said.

Her paper was preceded by three talks from Lyari activists who said their biggest complaint was that Karachi citizens did not accord them equal status. They said Lyari was a peaceful neighborhood and the media should refrain from using terms like terrorist-infested for their area.