Illiteracy rates in Pakistan are staggering. Official statistics brag that the country is closing the edge on illiteracy where 46% of our children are now literate, and girls now are at a whopping 26%. Critics of those figures say that the percentage would be closer to 26% and 12% respectively. This may be closer to the truth when we consider that Pakistan has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Furthermore to that, Pakistan stands as having the second largest population of out of school children in the world; the record holder being held by Nigeria.
If you ask a young person in Pakistan what it would mean to be educated, the quick response is a good job. If you ask someone who is fortunate enough to go to a good school in Pakistan, or who has been brought up in a developed nation, a glib response will be again a better job, more money or you might even get the answer that the now literate will know their rights and no one will be able to take advantage of them. Although lack of employment opportunities and ignorance of rights are bedfellows with illiteracy, there are more dire repercussions to illiteracy than these casual answers.
A literate person is an informed person who can now understand and analysis the situation or facts before him or her. This is especially true once it comes to the medical services provided to the poor and disenfranchised of Pakistan. The uneducated look up to the medical profession; assuming that they will get quality service, because they are dealing with an educated man. Perhaps nothing is further from the truth.
Imagine if you will; an uneducated young man enters the doctor’s office with severe stomach pain, perhaps a little further towards the kidney area. An X-ray is done, a surgical procedure is scheduled and the young man’s kidney is removed. Assuming that he is in the hands of a respected educated man who knows what he is doing, no questions are asked. And he doesn’t even know what questions he should ask; for he does not have the knowledge it takes to ask anything. He is simply at the mercy of this exalted figure. Mercy is what this young man really needed, for this respected pillar of the community removed the only kidney this young man had and sold it on the black market. When questions did rise (by an educated man) the records were no were to be found. Needless to say, the young man died leaving a grieving family.
Not all doctors are preying on the vulnerable poor and uneducated and engaging in the criminal activity of selling healthy organs extracted from unsuspecting illiterate peasants. No, one would never accuse the medical profession of crimes, but perhaps we can indulge in the word malpractice. There are some good doctors around who uphold the Hippocratic Oath to provide quality service to all, regardless of creed or economic position in life. I have met a number of these special doctors. But there are a sufficiently high number of doctors who Guinea pig with the lives of those who are voiceless against the educated elite.
Illiteracy’s ignorance leaves way for practices unquestioned. And again, how can you ask a question if you don’t know what question to ask? Why would the uneducated question the educated? Unthinkable! How dare him! To be scorned, I am sure! And so malpractice continues unchecked with no one the wiser. Let me give you an example. A father is informed that his son needs blood; again. “Why does he need blood?” The father’s answer is that he has white spots under his eyes. When asked if the doctor had done any tests to determine the need for blood, the answer was no. “What type of blood does your son have”, the father was further questioned. Type A was his response. And “what type of blood is the donor?” Type O is the response. Okay you say; O is a universal donor. Ah, but only if you are an adult, not for a small child under one year.
“Did the doctor do a cross match,” the father was further inquisitioned. No, was his response. So, the educated man phoned the doctor only to be told that he asked too many question. The doctor was not comfortable with the questions.
So, in this case, the small child was taken to a doctor where proper medical treatment was administered, for a financial sum of course. The blood tests showed severe malnutrition and an extremely low haemoglobin count. Yes, he needs blood, but Type A please. Today the baby is doing well and on a nutritional based diet.
These two examples are only the faintest cries of how the illiterate are daily being disembowelled. The millions that remain voiceless, if their cries were heard should ricochet around the world; but who will hear their cries? Will you? Will I?
Of course we cannot leave all the work to malpractice because every day the illiterate are stripped of dignity when the lords of this country tread on their emotions, their personage; reducing them to the sub-humans they think them to be. They are criminalised because of their ignorance and poverty. When an elite official can charge a young girl of abuse simply when she herself was the abuser, witnessed by over 50 people, where is the justice for the poor? Where is the voice she needs? What advocacy does she have when illiteracy and poverty is her state? Not only are they being disembowelled of their vital life givers, but they are being disembowelled emotionally, mentally and financially. The ugly head of injustice and inequality; the disparity between rich and poor cannot be ignored.
So, what can we do? Those who care enough must take action, giving voice where none currently exists. The severity of the situation cannot be undermined; this is ugly business. It is not just about better jobs and knowing rights, as important as they are. Yes, an educated person’s better job means a better standard of living, an ability to rise above the sub-meagre existence and to be able to pay for services once denied or skewed.
When we strip another human being of every emotion, every dignity, even their body and leave them a dismembered skeleton, then we need to do something now, urgently.
There is no place for complacency, no place for passing the task of education on to others – we all need to rise and take part. Someone has said each one, teach one. Others are advocates pushing authorities to take their responsibilities seriously. Others fund NGOS that are making inroads into educating the neediest members of our society. Whatever way we do it, it must be done. We can no longer stand by and watch the one next to us perish emotionally, mentally, physically. The disembowelment of our poor must stop with us.