Writers have a responsibility to hold a mirror up to society and highlight its strengths and weaknesses, and one of the biggest problems in Pakistan is the failure to build a positive atmosphere for young people, said speakers at the National Convention of Writers and Artists here on Saturday.
The first session of the convention, which was organised by the Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), consisted of a discussion of ‘The problems of the youth and the responsibilities of writers’, moderated by playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed.
Writer Parvesh Shaheen from Quetta said that Pakistani society had failed because people had no sense of community. “We don’t even care about the litter on the roads. How can we talk about such big, sensitive issues?”
The writer said that if the Taliban, who had destroyed over 30,000 books and a museum when they took over Swat, get their way, future generations of Pakistan would be less and less literate.
Human rights activist IA Rehman said Pakistan faced many challenges at present. “The biggest challenge is the question of what we will leave behind for our children,” he added.
Columnist Munnoo Bhai, citing the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, said what society needed most was for people to love each other. He said that the government should try to promote interfaith harmony and religious tolerance. He noted that 68 years after independence, more than half the population lacked access to clean drinking water.
Gul Zaman, an author from Quetta, said Pakistan was at a critical point in a changing global scenario and writers had many responsibilities. He said that writers highlighted the miseries and injustices in society and good literature commented on the country’s socio-political situation.
He added that it was a writer’s duty to resist falseness in society. Pakistani writers were confusing people instead of working on how to make the country’s youth population an asset, he said.
Sheen Shaukat, a writer from Peshawar, said that while modern technology had its benefits, computers and the internet had killed the habit of reading books. The tradition of story-telling had been replaced by technology, he said.
Writer and critic Dr Saadat Saeed said many young Pakistanis wanted to leave the country and live in Europe or the US. These youths were being encouraged by NGOs to “dream of euros and dollars”, he added.
Aseer Abdul Qadir, a writer from Quetta, said that in the absence of facilities for sports and extra-curricular activities, youths turned to less healthy activities. He said that society as a whole needed to be more rational. He said that young people needed to be provided a more constructive and positive atmosphere.
Poet and writer Amar Sindhu from Sindh said youths had their own dreams and writers and artists celebrated these dreams.
Author and poet Ajmal Kamal spoke about how young people viewed the world.
Several speakers paid tribute to South African leader Nelson Mandela as a freedom fighter and a writer.
The second session of the conference, on film, art and theatre, was moderated by Professor Nazish Ataullah and the panellist included artist and critic Quddus Mirza, theatre director Madeeha Gauhar and filmmaker Shireen Pasha.
“Our culture today is facing a dilemma regarding tradition, which involves religion, ethics and politics. Artists are dealing with the same issue, but the problem is that they live in an isolated world, and they must reach out and speak to more people,” said Mirza.
Director Madeeha Gauhar said that in the past, dictators had banned theatre and film artists. Today, she said, while governments were not as repressive, society had become more radical. “They stop us from promoting interfaith harmony, love, peace and religious tolerance,” she said.
Gauhar added that she felt the ideology of the Taliban was spreading all over the country, which was quite dangerous.
A group of students involved with Beaconhouse National University publication The Maya Tree presented poetry in English. Singer Sara Zaman also put on a classical music concert.
The conference concluded with a mushaira. Riazullah, Afzal Sahir, Zahid Masood, Ijaz Kanwar Raja, Parveen Sajjad, Shahid Dilawar, Dr Kanwal Feroze, Ijaz Feroze, Ziaul Hussain, Hameeda Shaheen, Amar Sindhu, Ghafir Shehzad, Javed Aftab, Ashraf Saleem, Nasreen Anjum Sethi, Khalidul Haq, Hayat Muhammad Khan and Muhammad Jamil participated in the mushaira.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2013.