Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Valentine for Dr Shazia of the ShaziaZenab Show

This Valentine's Day I would really like to recognize someone who has deeply influenced my thinking and outlook, indeed, also someone who actually inspired me to begin writing this blog: Dr. Shazia, of the ShaziaZenab show on youtube. Over the last few years, but particularly in the last few months, it has been my great pleasure and privilege to watch her shows. Her shows cover a number of issues relevant to both India and Pakistan - both the home and the diaspora communities, but a particular theme has been Peace and Development in South Asia, the subject of this blog.

Most well-meaning people regard peace in South Asia as a political problem, as something that could be achieved if only the countries of South Asia (India and Pakistan, in the main) could summon the political will, settle their politico-geographic boundaries, and just get on with the business of developing their societies. Yet clearly it is not so simple, and it is in analyzing this at a deeper level that Dr. Shazia, a practicing physician, has made a deep contribution - one that I at least have not seen done by anyone else. She diagnoses the problem of achieving peace in South Asia as involving the healing of a number of pathologies that occur at various levels: at the individual, familial, social, and finally national level, of which the political situation is merely a symptom, even if a conspicuous and rather pronounced symptom. In this view of the problem, addressing the political problems alone would be tantamount to treating the symptoms of an illness, and thus would be a classic error. Just as health is not merely the absence of disease, so also peace is not merely the absence of conflict, and must therefore be achieved by simultaneous resolution of a number of ills.

Dr. Shazia offers a complex diagnosis, which would need several blog posts to properly summarize. Indeed, I hope to do that myself in the course of writing this blog. The archive of videos from her show should certainly be viewed by all those with an interest in the subject. Among other things, that archive is also testimony to her phenomenal indefatigability, enormous dedication and sincerity, and total fearlessness. I offer only a bare-bones summary here.

Dr. Shazia suggests that among the many ills underlying the hair-trigger hostility that the two main nation-states of South Asia often find themselves expressing, is a rather aggressive macho culture, one that dominates and oppresses women, creates an artificial concept of female honor, in supposed defense of which no level of aggression and hostility would be too much (up to and including homicide). She then suggests that the male-dominated societies of South Asia are creating an analogous and equally artificial concept of 'national honor', in defence of which, again, no amount of aggressive action would be considered too much. Thus, delegitimizing the concept of 'female honor' (and by implication, the constructed concept of 'national honor') and thus also improving the status of women in South Asian society - in other words, bringing in female empowerment, is not only needed as a desirable end in itself, but would also have the effect of significantly moderating the tendency for recurrent hostility and conflict in South Asia, and would be a major step toward abiding peace.

She suggests similarly that the main religions of South Asia have departed significantly from their original tenets which empowered women, and have now become ideological tools for those who would wish to perpetuate female oppression. Justification for the 'female honor' principle is now often sought directly in religion. Therefore it is essential that religion itself be correctly interpreted, and furthermore, that it become a personal matter, so that it ceases to influence social and political matters as much as it now does. The articles of faith that underlie much religious belief (and distinguish it from what is often called merely 'spirituality') are just that: matters of blind faith, and they should be recognized as such. Religion should thus retreat into the personal sphere, and society should become secular, with no state religion, and no discrimination on account of religious belief.

Apart from her deep diagnosis of the problem and the enlightened steps she suggests for an all-encompassing solution, Dr. Shazia also has a charming sense of humor, an absolute delight for her viewers. Her incisive intellect, and her lucid, articulate and powerful speaking manner has very deeply influenced me, who have known her only through her videos on youtube. I can only imagine how deeply she must influence those she comes into contact with more directly.

The wonderful positive messages for all South Asians that come through on each of her shows are all Valentines in themselves. In fact, in the very first video of hers that I saw, which got me hooked she said out loud: I love Indians and I love Pakistanis!

What a wonderful and positive message, Shaziaji! And we, your viewers, love you too! In ending may I just say in the words of another shaayar:

Yeh ghazal mayri nahin, yeh ghazal hai aapki.

Main ne toh bas woh hi likhaa, jo kucch likhaayaa aapne.