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HAMEED BASHANI, A PROGRESSIVE JOURNALIST - KHALID SOHAIL

Ladies and Gentlemen,

          Today we have gathered here to celebrate the birth of a new book, the first literary

 baby of Hameed Bashani and we all know that the birth of the first child is always very special.

          I was introduced to Hameed Bashani by my dear friend, Syed Azeem, as a socialist leader, who had been involved in left wing politics for a number of years and had made many sacrifices for his ideals and dreams. The more I got to know Hameed Bashani, the more I realized that he was a democratic minded person who was not only a successful lawyer but also a social and political activist who fought for the human rights of immigrants.

          Recently when my other dear friend, Ameer Jaffri gave me his collection of columns, Shahrah-e-khayal, I realized that Hameed Bashani is also a progressive journalist. It is a great surprise for me as I rarely read Asian newspapers. When I read those columns, I became aware that Bashani knows the art of writing and is aware of the psychology of words. In each column, he focuses on one contemporary issue, theme or crisis, analyzes it and then articulates his point of view in a few words. In journalistic writing, economy of words is very crucial. It is more like writing a short story, rather than a novel, as the writer has limited time and space to express his opinion. Bashani uses words to reveal not conceal himself, and is not afraid to express his position even when it is not politically correct. He bravely challenged popular positions, which shows his confidence as a person, writer and an intellectual.

          Hameed Bashani is a successful journalist as he is also a good story teller which makes his columns interesting, engaging and thought provoking. Many of his columns focus on the dilemmas and dreams of Asian immigrants. He shares the stories of a wide range of immigrants. In his column, kamiabi ki kahani [The story of success] he quotes an angry, sad and disillusioned immigrant in these words, “Canada is a racist country where we, the immigrants, are considered third class citizens. They invite us here to do menial jobs that white Canadians do not want to do. The immigration policy is a big fraud. They invite us here as professionals but when we come here our university degrees are not accepted and respected. So we suffer and feel humiliated. Doctors become taxi drivers, engineers work in factories, bankers wash dishes, government officers sell fish and chips. We need to expose the hypocrisy of government immigration policies.”

          In his column, ghareeb nasl [Poor race], Hameed Bashani discusses the research findings of York University professor, Michael Arnstein that focuses on the relationship of race and poverty in Canada and shares the sad reality that immigrants and refugees from Third World Countries have higher rates of unemployment and poverty than immigrants from the First World Countries. The worst are the refugees and immigrants from Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan. The poverty rate in their communities is 52 to

70 %. It is as if they are living in the third world in the midst of the first world.

          Bashani also tells the stories of those immigrants who came to Canada with dreams of success but within a few years started planning to go back home as their dreams turned into painful nightmares.

          Alongside the sad stories, Bashani also narrates the inspiring stories of those immigrants who became very successful and turned their breakdowns into breakthroughs as they had the resilience and stamina of marathon runners. They did not give up easily. Now they are enjoying a happy and well respected life as doctors, lawyers, engineers and businessmen and are pleased that their children will have a bright future in Canada. One such immigrant states, “Canada is a great country of great people. It has unlimited potential. One Korean immigrant who came to Canada a few years ago has become a successful businessman and has provided jobs to 2500 Canadians. Canada is an amazing country of amazing people.” Bashani believes that ‘no system is perfect in this world”. It is the people that make it better or worse.

          Alongside focusing on the struggles of Asian immigrants in Canada, Bashani also discusses the struggles of Asians in their own homelands where poverty, lack of education and disrespect for human rights prevail. He highlights the plights of women and minorities. In one column, shadi ya burdafaroshi [marriage or prostitution], he discusses the marriages of eight or nine year old girls to men who are in their forties and fifties. It is tragic to see how one man, the father, sells his daughter to another man, the future husband for a few thousand rupees. It is sad that even in the 21st century women are not respected by their families and communities in many parts of the world. It is tragic that in the 21st century many communities in the East are living in the dark ages, unfortunately following inhumane tribal customs.

          Bashani not only discusses the causes but also the effects of human suffering. In one column, khudkushi [suicide], he focuses on those 7000 men in Pakistan who committed suicide because they could not feed their children. In a country where a small number of people are multi-millionares, there are millions who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep. Bashani believes that the time has come for these poor and suffering people to unite and confront their religious and political leaders and change the oppressive system rather than killing themselves.

          Bashani, in his columns, not only focuses on social and economic issues, he also shares his insights on contemporary political conflicts. Since he grew up in Kashmir and studied in Pakistan he has a special interest in those areas of the world. He is distressed by the cycle of violence that has been going in Kashmir for the last few decades. In his column, aitaraf [confession], he offers different interpretations of the war and bloodshed in Kashmir. He states, “Some consider it a war of independence of  the Kashmiri people. Some call it a jihad, a holy war, that Kashmiri Muslims are fighting against Hindu India. Some consider it the continuation of the war of independence of 1947. Some call it an act of terrorism and some call it a proxy war fought between Pakistani army and some secret agencies.”

Whatever name we give it, the sad reality is that thousands of innocent men, women and children have lost their lives and the history of Kashmir is soaked in blood.

          Bashani, being a secular and democratic writer, also discusses the role of those religious fundamentalist maulanas, the clerics, who promote violence in the name of a merciful God. Bashani believes that poor and uneducated masses are easily influenced by the sentimental speeches of their religious leaders. He thinks that when the masses become educated and enlightened, they develop a rational, logical and analytical approach to life. They develop tolerance for other people’s opinions and are able to have a meaningful dialogue to resolve conflicts peacefully. They learn to use ballots rather than bullets to solve their political problems.

          Through his columns, Bashani inspires us to take social responsibility and become part of a progressive change. He would like to raise social consciousness. Through his writings he is sharing his dreams of socialism, democracy and secularism so that we can create communities where all human beings, especially women and minorities, have equal rights and privileges. He would like all of us to join hands to create a just and peaceful world.

          I would like to congratulate Bashani on the birth of his first literary baby, his first book, shahrah-e-khayal [highway of ideas].  I hope he continues traveling on that highway and sharing his ideas and ideals, passions and dreams to enlighten and inspire his readers.

Thank you.