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This is an interesting interview with Farman, a journalist and political activist. Although now living in Islamabad, he is originally from Shimshal. Much of the testimony is about his political activism. He explains that his father was active in the struggle against the Mir’s (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) rule in the 1960s and 70s and Farman himself became politically active after going to Karachi to study and witnessing the inequality that existed there. He joined a group fighting for the rights of the Northern Areas, explaining “The people of Northern Areas have been denied their democratic rights so we, a few youngsters, started to write for these things.” He gives a detailed account of the history of this struggle including the time of President Zia when student political organisations were banned.

As well as discussing political struggles, he talks about his personal struggle to marry his wife despite the opposition of her more orthodox family. He feels he was influential in helping to break the social taboo of marrying for love and says proudly that now “the youngsters are meeting, and they are selecting their own choice and they are getting married.”

Farman expresses his concern at the increasing influence of religion and religious institutions in Shimshal. He feels they have not only resulted in a loss of cultural traditions and have increased conservatism, but have also caused a loss of unity. He says that despite their different religious affiliations, the people of the Northern Areas used to be united, joined together by their common problems and close relationship with the land. He feels passionately that this unity must be regained and expresses optimism that young people are now opposing religious dominance and defending their cultural identity: “they want to revive the cultural traditions and interact with other communities.” Farman has a lot of faith in the younger generation and would like to see a secular, united and independent Northern Areas in the future.

The testimony concludes with a discussion of Farman’s work as a journalist in Islamabad. He feels he is able to use his writing to influence the government and thereby improve the facilities provided to his community. He talks of the power of the media: “It is the only… effective tool through which we can influence the government. There is no other institution, parliament or any other institutions which can influence or which can force the government to provide basic amenities to the people.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  His family is considered wealthy in Shimshal. His father “is a social worker and one of the noble persons of Shimshal”. His father constructed the first girls’ school in Shimshal and was active politically in the 1960s and 70s fighting the Mir’s system.
Section 3-4  His father was educated by a teacher from Hunza – “But when the local people felt that if these people became educated they will not obey the orders of the Mir…they conspired against the teacher and…got him transferred from the village to Hunza.” Inspiration for the girls’ school in 1971 came from “our spiritual leader, Prince Karim Aga Khan”. He spent some of his childhood at his maternal grandfather’s house in Passu because there was nowhere for education in Shimshal. His grandfather was “a great visionary man” who educated his daughters. Farman got typhoid after primary education in Passu and returned to Shimshal for three years, then continued education in Gulmit. The abolition of the Mir and Hunza and Nagar states: “That was a transitionary period and the people who were used to living in the old Miri system, they were considering the ruler as a superhuman being.”
Section 5  Explains how the young people revolted against the Mir: “when the youngsters went to Karachi and they saw a new society, an open society, where there were a lot of facilities of health and education and other things then they thought that they should do something against the ruler.” Describes demonstrations in Karachi, demands for the abolition of the Hunza state. Many in the area opposed this movement: “the people didn’t know the benefits of it…they were used to a system which was exploiting them, which was humiliating them, which had created classes.”
Section 6-7  He moved to Gilgit to continue his education when he was 15-16, and then to Karachi where he met those involved in the struggle against the Mir. Arrival in Karachi. Before 1985 Karachi was “a very beautiful, very liberal city” but now it has problems, especially for ethnic groups not from the city. Recalls enjoying the cinema and other facilities, and realising that “in Shimshal it’s very backward and it needs a lot of attention from the government.” But “after two and three years I badly missed my native town…The calmness, the sincerity of the people…” Yet he admits: “I spent the best years of my life in Karachi…I achieved a lot of things, education, awareness and above all this profession…”
Section 7  Became a political activist after seeing the contrast between the rich and the poor in Karachi: “I...affiliated with some left progressive youngsters and worked with them for the rights of Northern Areas.” They set up an organisation and Farman started editing their newsletter. In the 1980s Zia’s regime banned political activities by student organisations. In 1984 they set up another political platform. The government were worried that the students would be influenced by Russia’s socialist ideals and would cause trouble in the Northern Areas.
Section 8-9  Farman claims that in 1988 the government organised a trained guerrilla force that killed 200-300 people in Gilgit. Discusses the Afghan peace accord. Says “there was a lot of fighting in Gilgit …Still the people have this very alive in their minds… After that carnage the people divided on sectarian lines and now it is very difficult to unite them.” Maintenance of regional identity in Karachi: “The people who come from Northern Areas to Karachi they have a strong affiliation with their land, with their community, with their people… Another thing, which made them remain intact and fight for their areas, was their grievances and problems – those were common.” Claims that before 1988 people were united despite belonging to different Islamic sects. Sectarian strife was introduced after Zia’s period. Identity - he is not religious: “I have one strong belief that is humanity” Says “I am proud to be a Shimshali, but I would prefer to be called a Gilgiti and a Hunzai.”
Section 10  His father-in-law to be opposed their marriage, but “my wife stood with me, she took a stand and said that this is my personal matter.His wife has an MSc in Zoology. “I broke the taboos of my society and introduced a very respectable tradition of loving each other” Even today the majority of marriages are arranged. Story of how he met his wife on the journey home from Karachi.
Section 11-12  Finally after completion of her MSc her parents agreed to their marriage. She was appointed as a lecturer in the Northern Areas education department. Farman remained in Karachi and they only saw each other two or three times in a year. Increasingly young people able to choose partners. Believes Shimshali culture has changed: “it has been distorted especially by and dominated by the religious organisations… Before…there was a natural, an indigenous and original cultural tradition and way of interaction in our society. Since the introduction of these organisations, like Ismaili council, Ismaili volunteers, and they have just taken the models of an urban society and western society and they are just copying those things, this is very regrettable I think.” Advocates that “we should develop, we should evolve our own system of things, of cultural activities”.
Section 13  There used to be a tradition of folksongs and poetry, but “ after becoming religious that process has stopped.” He is against outdated traditions such as gender discrimination: “On the one hand we are crying that we have achieved a literacy rate of 60-70% and we have progressed, we have developed our society, but in our attitudes and our other things we have become so orthodox and we are becoming so conservative.” Again regrets that their culture is dominated by religion.
Section 14-16  Blames those who ruled during the Mir system for the dominance of religious institutions. Younger people are starting to oppose this – describes how a group recently confronted the Ismaili Regional council. The Gilgit Baltistan Association: “this will be a good development and also reduce the sectarian feelings and create common, national feelings …they will be able to defend their indigenous culture…” Tourism is the only source of income but problems arise as there is no fair system to divide up jobs such as portering. The road is “a basic necessity for our life development” but people must prepare “to control their area and their resources”. Fears that when “the road comes in Shimshal then they will scatter and everyone will try to get money”.
Section 16-17  Feels that some are using the Shimshal Nature Trust for their own benefit. In Shimshal there is a difference between rich and poor – some people are becoming “very influential”. Need to care for widows and orphans. There are about 10 female-headed households in Shimshal. There used to be a system to provide help to such people. This should be revised: “our youngsters and especially our SNT people should work on the issues and save something, some commodities, some goats and some other things for harder times and for needy people. They should create a fund to help the needy students, the orphans”
Section 18  He will move back to Shimshal when he retires. In Islamabad he is working for Shimshal through his journalism: “ I can write, I can influence the government to do and to provide the facilities to the people” Sees the media as a powerful tool but says ordinary people are presented with distorted facts by the Urdu newspapers.
Section 19  Belief that the Northern Areas will create their own state. Romantic memories of meeting his wife in Islamabad. Comments on the value of testimony collection: “This is the effective tool to reach people and rejuvenate their nationalist and humanity spirit, so it’s good it will go a long way.”