Tagged with " minorities"
Dec 13, 2012 - published work    1 Comment

All is fair — when there is money to be made

The lives of the minority groups have been under attack in Pakistan for quite some time. Whether they are ethnic minority groups or sectarian, linguistic minorities or religious ones, everyone lives in the Land of Pure at their own risk, as the state has refused to shoulder the responsibility of protecting its citizens. Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias and Hazaras have all been killed in the past and are still being killed. The latest is that now their properties are also under attack.

Last week, two such incidents have been reported. In Karachi, the Military Estate Office assisted a private builder in the demolition of a Hindu temple and adjacent houses in Soldier Bazaar on the pretext that the Hindu community has encroached upon land which does not belong to them. In Lahore, 15 gunmen attacked an Ahmadi graveyard in Model Town and desecrated more than 120 graves in the process. The community has been under attack for quite some time now but the mass desecration of graves with shattered tombstones and dug-up graves was a first. The watchman and caretakers were also tortured when they resisted this barbarity against the dead. According to the Asian Human Rights website, the attackers identified themselves as members of a banned religious organisation.

Let us examine the case of the Hindu temple in Karachi first. The temple predates independence and hence, it cannot be a case of encroachment. Secondly, under what law did the directorate of military land and cantonments act to demolish a property in an area that is not even under its jurisdiction? If anything, that piece of land belongs to the Evacuee Property Trust Board which has nothing to do with the directorate of military lands and cantonments. On top of it all, the Sindh High Court had issued a stay order against the demolition of the temple. The fact that no action has been taken against the directorate of military land and cantonments in the past one week points out that some of us are indeed more equal than the others.

It should also be noted that these incidents are slightly different from the regular run-of-the-mill attacks on minorities. Apart from the regular dose of hatred against a particular community, greed for land — which is a limited resource — is at the heart of these incidents. A 99-year lease is the longest possible term of a lease of real property under historic common law. In Karachi, a lot of land that was leased for the 99-year period is either up for renewal or will be soon. Those who deal in real estate have been eyeing the highly prized commercial plots in the densely-populated areas of old Karachi with anticipation. There is an insane amount of money to be made off these properties and if a few people, especially those belonging to minority communities are made homeless, they know that it will not amount to much other than a few headlines in the newspapers.

The desecration of the Ahmadi cemetery is a similar story. Had they been in a Muslim graveyard, desecration of those graves on the grounds that non-Muslims were buried in an area reserved for Muslims would have made some kind of perverse sense (not that I am condoning that behaviour) but to go on and attack a place reserved for the dead of a certain community reeks of plans to take over that property for financial gains.

First published in The Express Tribune

Jun 11, 2012 - published work, Sindh, women    11 Comments

The real Qaum ki Betiyan

Courage is not confined to people with college education living in fancy houses, it resides within every person but very few are brave enough call upon that reserve and make a difference – to their lives and to the communities they live in. Shabana and Nazira are those who not only have oodles of courage but they challenge others to call upon their reserves as well.
Shabana is a social mobilizer working with rural communities in Mirpur Khas (For Takhleeq Foundation) and give them basic training on a number of issues ranging from health, hygiene to start up businesses and gender rights. Once she was holding a meeting in the house of a Muslim woman and a few Hindu women also came in to attend it. One came with her toddler who was thirsty and asked for water. The host initially tried to ignore the child’s request for water because she did not want a low caste Hindu boy to drink from her glass but when the child repeatedly asked for it and other people also asked her to get him water, she brought him some in a dirty broken cup. The child refused to drink from the dirty broken cup and started crying. The mother of the crying child was frustrated and slapped her child to discipline him while crying herself at the humiliation.
Shabana was quietly viewing the whole incident but did not say anything. She asked the hostess to get her some water and when she brought it – in a fancy glass – both Shabana and the child drank water from it. Some women were scandalized but most just watched Shabana sharing the glass with a Hindu boy and then cradling him in her arms during the discussion with the group. After working for 16 months in the community Shabana’s perseverance, patience and courage has made such differences that the women eat and drink from the same plates and glass and some have even saved up enough to start their collective businesses.
Nazira – another woman of courage – is a low caste Hindu from a village in Southern Sindh; married off at 15,  and like all women from poor disadvantaged families, she too grew up malnourished and without education. Her husband was another poor man who has never been to school and had no ambition in life. He would only work when he feels like it and would expect Nazira to provide food for the two of them by earning wages as a farm worker. By the time she turned 16, Nazira has had her first child, a boy, and she was bewildered with the ever increasing responsibility that she had to shoulder – as a wife, a mother and the sole bread earner of the family. She has had two more children – another boy and a girl – in next five years while working full time as a daily wage worker in farms and other people’s home. When she has had her daughter, she told her husband that she is not going to have any more children. Her husband, a lazy man who worked sporadically and that too to just support his personal whims,  refused to agree to it and tried everything – from coaxing her to beating her black and blue but she remained steadfast in her determination and sought medical measures to ensure that she does not procreate any more. The husband just upped and left afterwards, leaving her to fend for herself and her three children.
Nazira is 27 today and is working as a labuorer for a community infrastructure development programme run by an NGO (Care International) with regular income, medical insurance and a saving plan which helps her save money for future investment. She has lost her home in rains last year but she is happy and content. Her oldest son goes to school and the second one will start it later this year. She has some livestock and looked up by the women in her community as a courageous woman who has worked hard in changing her life. Many other women – both Hindu and Muslim – adopted family planning measures emulating Nazira.
Shabana and Nazira may not be called heroes by many but what they are doing is amazing at many levels because it not only challenges unhealthy practices in our society but also give the communities much needed role models. They are the real quam ki betiyan, who are quietly working, contributing to the GDP, contributing to the society and bringing about the real and much desired change.
Nazira and her two younger children in front of her shack, the eldest was in school when we met

Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version

Apr 15, 2012 - published work, Society, women    1 Comment

The problems with Jamat-i-Islami

The war of the words between Jamat-i-Islami (JI) and Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) is neither new nor shocking. The residents of Karachi and newspaper readers all over the country are well aware of it. However, the latestround of spat where JI head asked the government to deal with their coalition partners – the MQM – in a high handed manner ostensibly to bring peace to Karachi borders on ridiculous, even for a party that boycotts elections and has not had any noticeable presence in the national and provincial legislative assemblies for quite some time.
For starters, MQM is the single biggest representative of the people in Karachi in the parliament and has been consistently getting the votes since ’88, kicking them out of the government and dealing with them in a “high handed” manner will not yield any lasting – or temporary – results. JI has been so long out of the parliament that its leaders have forgotten that popular politics is about taking care of the wishes of the electorate, not dealing with their mandate in a high handed manner.
By constantly targeting MQM, a party with a decent enough mandate in the province of Sindh, JI is indirectly proposing the political isolation and disenfranchisement of a large group of people. In a country where sense of victim hood is high among so many marginalized sections of the society, adding one more to it is tantamount to internal security hara-kiri, but JI is vigorously following this policy. Instead of working to bring in more groups into the political arena, they are trying to push away those who are part of it.
JI is supposedly a national party but they are only concerned with safety and security of Karachi – an issue that gets enough coverage in the media and is never out of the discussion. However, one is yet to hear a single word of condemnation from their leadership on the premeditated targeted killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta, probably because the ‘banned’ organisations that have taken responsibility for most of the attacks are ideologically identical to the JI vision of a Pan Islamic Sunni hegemony.
While they are quiet on the Hazara genocide, JI decide to speak against the sectarian violence in Gilgit – Baltistan and are supporting the protests by Majlis Wehdat Muslemeen in front of the parliament. However their denial about the causes of the violence continues and they are blaming the ‘foreign enemies’ for the latest spat of violence in Gilgit-Balitistan. To add injury to the insult, they are seeking council from the right wing militant Sunni outfits – the very perpetrators of the violence – seeking to bring about the peace in the region.
JI also opposes the bill on the domestic violence which was presented again the national assembly recently after being lapsed. What JI should realize is that they have lost their right to protest legislative amendments when they boycotted elections. Only the parties with presence in the assemblies get to discuss and amend the constitution.
If Jamat wants to be taken as a serious political contender they need to focus on the issues that are relevant to the people of Pakistan instead of blaming MQM for violence in Karachi and USA for everything else that is wrong with the country. But if their previous record is anything to go by, it is pretty obvious that Jamat does not want to be a serious game player and is happy to play the rebel rouser with a nuisance value and not much else. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 
Mar 2, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

A country for bigotry

It has been a year since Shahbaz Bhatti passed away. No, strike that, he did not pass away; his life was brutally cut short when he was murdered. Everyone from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan has been suspected with his murder either by the police officials or by home ministry yet no decent progress has been made. 
In a way, it all makes sense as only angry groups of men who mean death and destruction carry any weight around here. Bhatti was NOT that man. He believed in fighting for his rights the democratic way and had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature against all. He was campaigning for official holidays for minorities’ religious festivals and wanted Blasphemy Law to be repealed which turned out to be a crime worthy of death.
Bhatti’s death is not a lone incidence of brutal violence. Planned acts of aggression and cruelty against minorities – be them ethnic, religious, sectarian or communal– are becoming a norm in the land of pure. Intolerance has reached such levels that people with names that revealed their sectarian or religious beliefs are afraid to use them when they feel unsafe. Slain journalist Mukarram Khan Atif narrated one such incident which depicted the extent of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism in the country. Mukarram Khan and another Shia reporter were traveling south from Mohmand and in Khyber Agency – a Sunni dominant area – the Shia journalist took Abbas off his name and added a Khan and when they passed through Kurram Agency, the Shia journalist resumed his identity, but Mukarram Khan had to become Mukarram Shah to stay safe. In the end, even that was not enough and Mukarram Khan was murdered by TTP.
The minority communities – no matter who they are and where they are living – are constantly under threat. We have cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls – mostly minors – in Sindh who are forcefully abducted and married to Muslim men and then presented to the court as religious converts. According to a treasurymember of Sindh Assembly, around 20 to 25 forced conversions take place every month in the province. 
Acts of mob violence against Ahmadis are routine. Any random Ahmadi family can be threatenedwith blasphemy ordinance and it is business as usual for the law enforcement bodies. Their places of worship are gunned and/or ransacked because good God fearing Muslims of the land feel threatened by the security cameras there that are installed by the police, yet the government just silently looks on.
The perpetuators of the Gojra incident where a whole Christian colony was burned down still roam free and Hazaras in Balochistan are regularly targeted for their sectarian and ethnic identity. Go to any bookshop and you can find books written by religious fanatics denouncing Ismaili Shias as the degenerates out to destroy the faith, but what happened in Kohistanwhere Shia men were mercilessly killed after checking their Shia identity with their id cards takes it to another level of premeditated prejudice  and bigotry. Such was the desire of the killers to defend their faith that they even killed a Sunni man who made a mistake when asked a question about Fajr prayers.
It would be not wrong to say that intolerance rules our society and no one is safe in this country other than the men who perpetuate biases, bigotry and hatred.
First published in The Express Tribune
Nov 22, 2010 - religion    19 Comments

Veneration of bigotry

Most of the print media – at least the papers I read – are covering the story of Aasia Bibi who is the first Pakistani woman facing death sentence under the draconian Blasphemy law of the country. Aasia Bibi was reported to have committed blasphemy against the prophet and the religion, but according to her she never said anything about either. She offered water (a kind act) to some of her co workers who refused to take it from her because she was an ‘unclean’ Christian. She was not too happy about it and had an altercation with her colleagues. A few days later, she was accused of blasphemy and a local mullah took a frenzied mob to her house to teach her a lesson; she was later taken by police in ‘protective custody’. Instead of providing her with protection and holding those leading the mob accountable, the local Police charged her with Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the much maligned – and rightly so – blasphemy law. After a year and half, she was awarded death sentence by Judge Naveed Iqbal of the Sheikhupura district and sessions court – perhaps the most glaring case of bigotry at lower level judiciary. 
To say that this case is particular to either Aasia or rural Pakistan is incorrect. Such attitude is pervasive all over. Just a couple of months, our maid asked me if I can help her son find a job. I asked if he has had any education and what kind of work he is interested in. He has passed his matriculation (tenth grade) and was interested in working a peon (a combination of mail boy/tea boy). I asked someone I know to give him job in his fairly large firm, he agreed and I thought that was the end of it. A couple of days later, I got a rather indignant call from the same gentleman (an Ivy League graduate) who asked me if I knew the boy I was suggesting for employment was Christian. I told him that I knew to which he quite openly expressed his discomfort and said that he cannot hire him because his employees would not be too happy taking water and tea from a choora (a derogatory term for Christian sanitary workers). I argued that he is the boss and if he hires someone, no one in his employment would have issues with it but he decided that he cannot disturb the ‘peace’ of his office. I was extremely sad at this blatant display of injustice but did not push the matter for the fear of any crazy guy going after that boy accusing him of blasphemy because he dared to refuse to become a sanitary worker like his father and grandfather and actually contemplated upward social mobility. That boy is now working in a bank as a sanitary worker.

Aasia perhaps is much braver than I am. She raised her voice against this bigotry and discrimination and learned it the hard way that such valor and bravery is not valued much in this society. Her story is the story of centuries old intolerance that is deeply embedded in our society and no amount of education or interaction with the outside world has made much of a difference. In my opinion, Aasia Bibi was first lynched by a mob and was later taken into police custody because she raised her voice against the treatment meted out to her, something peasant women do not do in Pakistan and a Christian peasant should not even think about.  

Jun 15, 2010 - published work, religion    19 Comments

A country only for fanatic men


Back in 2002 when I was a rookie journalist, I met Jeewanti, a teenager who was doused with acid to avenge a property dispute with her family. She was the first person I met who has faced an act of violence against her. Unfortunately, I have met various people since then who have faced violence and brutality, be it Munno Bheel who is fighting to release his bonded family for over a decade or the peon in my former office who fled his home in Chitral because he was a Shia living in a Sunni village fearing persecution for his faith. One of my friends has lost her uncle, a surgeon, during the period when sectarian groups were targeting and killing Shia doctors in Karachi.

Every minority, be it ethnic, religious or sectarian, and weaker groups have faced violence and persecution in this country. If you are a religious minority in the land of pure, you have about as much of an opportunity of growth as a one-legged man in a kicking competition. Constitution bars you from holding the highest offices in the country. Your temples and churches are vandalized and you are not allowed to propagate your religion. You are lucky if you are a Christian or a Hindu, at least you can call your places of worship by their real names; if you happen to be an Ahmadi, you cannot even do that.

If you are a child, you probably are one of too many children in the family; your parents do not give you enough food and attention. There are not enough schools and even if they are, you parents cannot afford to send you and you are working to contribute to family income. At workplace you are probably abused. If you leave home, you will definitely be sexually abused and will probably end up using drugs. If you happen to end up in a radical madrassah, there is a great likelihood that you will end up as a suicide bomber, perpetuating violence and terror to others.

If you are a sectarian minority, then you are on the hit list of all sectarian outfits. They can burn your houses and places of business if you are in Chitral or can shoot you from a distance of 2 meters in Karachi and get away with it. If you are an Ismaili Muslim, chances are the religious parties will try to get you declared a non Muslims when they can’t think of any other political issue to hijack.

If you are woman, you will be malnourished and uneducated to begin with. When you are a little older, you will probably be doused with acid, burned, tortured, married off to men of inappropriate age and character to pay off debts (vani), killed (karo kari) to either implicate or secure money from opponents of your family. You will be raped, at times even by the police and other security forces, to settle dispute and at times because men think they can get away with it. Your testimony in the court of law is that of half of a man, and your citizenships rights are limited.

The way things are in this country of ours; soon it will turn into a place where only rich right wing fanatic Sunni men would have any citizenship rights. If you are a religious Sunni man who is spewing venom against the minorities and women from the pulpits, you have an unassailable immunity. The way things are, the future migrations from the country would not be for economic reasons, they would be for liberty and freedom.

Originally written for Express Tribune. This is the unedited version.