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Archive for July 28th, 2006

A tribute to Ranjha Zahid and Aqil Sajjad

Posted by Taimur Rahman on July 28, 2006

I recently had the opportunity of meeting two extremely inspiring individuals.
Their courage, determination, and will-power in the face of adverse
circumstances leave me humbled.

Aqil Sajjad, a regular contributor to the CMKP list, is currently working on a
Phd at Harvard University in theoretical physics. Many on this list will
remember him as the individual who defends Musharraf, privatization, capitalism
vociferously. We might not, however, remember that he also has taken a firm
stand against Israeli aggression in Lebanon. And we certainly will not know
that when Aqil was in his Fsc, approximately 16 years of age, he lost his
eyesight.

Doctors call it a “retinal detachment” and believe that there may be genetic
reasons for this condition. As difficult as losing one’s eyesight can be, Aqil
thought he had also lost the one thing he loved the most; the opportunity to
study physics. Although Aqil is from a relatively prosperous family, Pakistani
colleges and universities simply don’t have the support system necessary to help
people like Aqil. He dropped out of college.

But instead of falling into the world of despair, this young boy took it upon
himself to relearn everything and plow his way back into life. Through brail
and software designed for visually disabled people he struggled against the
darkness that had enveloped him. Through the world of the internet, he
discovered a Professor of Physics in Oregon State University who was also blind.
Under the able supervision of Professor John Gardner, Aqil became a straight A’
student and is now enrolled for doctorate at Harvard University in theoretical
physics. That is what I call determination.

When I met him a few weeks ago, Aqil opened my eyes to a world I had never
seen before. We live in a country that destroys the spirit and sucks the life
out of those who are completely healthy. What do the poor have but lives of
humiliation, anguish, and desolation? Like rats on a tread mill they must work
day and night to justify their lives. And still they die in the millions from
want and hunger. An impairment of any sort condemns them either to a life of
begging or to a lonely despairing death. What can we offer such people in the
way of health care, support, and love, when our entire system is based on greed,
individualism, and avarice?

It was in a world enveloped by such poverty that Ranjha Zahid grew up. At an
early age it was clear that he would gradually lose his vision because of a
condition called “tunnel visioning”. His family was of the view that the boy
should be given to a madrassah. But his mother believed in him. She herself
was illiterate but she had heard somewhere of a degree called Masters in
English. Despite the fact that she herself did not really know what such a
degree entailed exactly, it nonetheless became her dream for her son. She would
send him off to school everyday and never let him feel sorry for himself.
Slowly and surely, taking courage from his mother, Ranjha Zahid went through
school, college, and finally university. During his journey through university
life, he learnt of “the left” and interaction with these radical ideas led to
his ideological transformation. To overcome his disability he researched and
found software that could help visually disabled people.
But he could not afford to pay for it so he got in touch with people who had
hacked into the demo version of the software. For several years he worked with
that demo version (which had to be reloaded after a certain number of uses)
until he finally managed to obtain a hacked full version. Given his socialist
leanings, he did not keep this secret to himself but immediately made the
software available for all disabled people. Today Ranjha Zahid is married with
children and works in an NGO writing reports for the organization. When I went
to his house two weeks ago, I was greeted by a portrait of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and a
discussion that had me riveted for hours. With him I delved deeper into the
world of the disabled. He told me that according to some estimates nearly 10%
of people in Pakistan were, in one form or another, disabled. But the stigma
attached to it, justified by religion, ensures that it remains hidden from view.
According to the traditional maulvis,
disability is a punishment for our sins but he explained to me that the roots
of disability also lie partly in our social system. It is because of the
incidence of inner family and cousin marriages—a custom that is linked to the
maintenance of property, especially landed property—that the gene pool is
weakened giving rise to a high incidence of disability. This information was
shocking for me.

The semi-feudal semi-capitalist system in which we live, not only destroys the
freedom to love and marry as one wishes, it eats away at our very existence.
Those who are born into privilege live as kings and those born into poverty are
no better than slaves. Those born with disabilities will be lucky if they have
a supportive family, or the means to overcome their condition. Those born in
poverty will suffer silently without a glimmer of hope. In society where health
care and education serve the purpose of increasing the profit of the few, it is
only steely determination of people like Aqil Sajjad and Ranjha Zahid that can
save one from a life of despair. All others are condemned before the so-called
“invisible hand”, or should one call it “the invisible executioner”, of the
market.

Dear Aqil and Ranjha Zahid, you are more than welcome on our list. Come let
us disagree, argue, discuss and debate. Together let us find a way towards real
freedom and emancipation for and together with those who were called by Frantz
Fanon the “Wretched of the Earth”. I extend my hand of friendship to you
comrades. And if the day comes when our dreams for a world free of poverty and
want are fulfilled, when the mighty fall and the meek inherit the Earth, then we
might discover a new laughter, a new joy; only one that is shared by billions.

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