Articles on this Page
- 01/30/16--21:00: _Karachi will, for t...
- 02/03/16--03:41: _Have all the partie...
- 02/05/16--03:09: _Kashmir Day does no...
- 02/22/16--02:02: _Why won’t you let N...
- 03/01/16--03:16: _Why do Karachiites ...
- 03/17/16--04:34: _In Pakistan, we hav...
- 03/20/16--01:00: _Stop killing our do...
- 03/31/16--07:04: _My neighbour was mu...
- 04/04/16--05:09: _It is better to arr...
- 04/07/16--04:07: _Will Sarfraz Ahmed ...
- 04/07/16--09:17: _My salon was ransac...
- 04/08/16--02:23: _I was raised as a boy
- 04/08/16--03:23: _Grease – The Musica...
- 04/13/16--05:22: _Do you qualify? The...
- 04/21/16--05:35: _Quetta: An outsider...
- 04/25/16--05:00: _It’s about time we ...
- 04/27/16--06:42: _To Sabeen with Love...
- 04/27/16--07:42: _Will WhatsApping th...
- 05/03/16--02:25: _9 reasons why you s...
- 05/19/16--06:32: _If I look like a bo...
- 02/03/16--03:41: Have all the parties concerned in the case for PIA really lost it?
- 02/05/16--03:09: Kashmir Day does not mean anything to the average Pakistani
- 02/22/16--02:02: Why won’t you let NAB do it’s job, Nawaz Sharif?
- 03/01/16--03:16: Why do Karachiites love to live in apartments?
- 03/17/16--04:34: In Pakistan, we have 13-year-old rape victims
- 03/20/16--01:00: Stop killing our dogs, CBC, please!
- 04/04/16--05:09: It is better to arrive late than dead
- 04/07/16--04:07: Will Sarfraz Ahmed prove to be Pakistan’s very own Batman?
- 04/07/16--09:17: My salon was ransacked on the orders of the wife of a NAB officer
- 04/08/16--02:23: I was raised as a boy
- 04/08/16--03:23: Grease – The Musical: You’re all I need, oh yes indeed!
- 04/21/16--05:35: Quetta: An outsider’s perspective
- 04/25/16--05:00: It’s about time we talk about suicide
- 04/27/16--06:42: To Sabeen with Love: A human platform for dreams and aspirations
- 04/27/16--07:42: Will WhatsApping the Rangers help restore security in Karachi?
- 05/19/16--06:32: If I look like a boy and walk like a boy, why can’t I be a girl?
I find it rather problematic to fashion a semblance of a concrete structure from the conundrum that is Karachi’s metropolis. The metropolis I speak of comprises not of sky-scrapers and high-rise buildings that brush against the clouds and billboards lit with neon lights. On the contrary, the metropolis that harbours the heart of Pakistan lives and breathes, just like you and I. She breathes with the quivering, ragged gasps of an invalid. She inhales mouthfuls of air contaminated by generations of ignorance and growing dissent, and punctuated by the overpowering stench of rotting human remains. The city that once stood as the jewel in the crown of a nascent country – a beacon of hope, of growth, of a united mass of young men and women dissolving the divisions of ethnicity, caste, and creed for the purpose of striving towards building the foundations of a nation – now gazes at the smog filled sky in despair, watches the blurry outlines of the setting sun sink into the blue sea and braces herself for showers of bullets and rivers of blood. This piece shall be based upon patterns of identity and discourse within Karachi, how these patterns have evolved over the course of the past few years with respect to Karachi’s rapidly burgeoning and vastly diverse demographic and why, amidst clouds of chaos and escalating civil strife, Karachiites find themselves struggling to identify themselves as citizens of a nation of 180 million individuals. For the sake of simplicity, I shall broadly divide this troubled city not along a geographical context but along the lines of the paths and rifts that have been erected betwixt the city’s burgeoning populace. Mohammad Waseem, in his working paper for the Saban Centre at Brookings titled Patterns of Conflict in Pakistan: Implications for Policy, states that,
“Every fifth household in Pakistan, every fourth in Punjab and Sindh provinces, and more than half in Karachi are ‘migrant’.”By ‘migrant’, Waseem is referring to the Urdu-speaking migrants or the mohajirs from North India that settled primarily in Karachi following Partition. The other half of Karachi’s demographic comprises of a lethal cocktail: a mixture of four different ethnicities, a rallying cry against suppression at the hands of a dominant majority, a far cry from the cosmopolitan melting-pot of cultures and faiths that Karachi once was. An article published by the New York Times in November 2010 for instance, very blatantly claimed that Karachi was Pakistan’s “most deadly place” after its actual war zones. But, the threat Karachi faces is starkly different from the Taliban insurgency being battled by the Pakistani army up north. On the contrary, the article claimed,
“Far more common [in Karachi] have been killing by gangs affiliated with ethnic-based political parties hunting for turf in a city undergoing seismic demographic change.”Three years forward, Karachi’s woes have not dissipated. In a recent press conference, the leader of a Pakhtun political party claimed that leaders of his party were receiving death threats and that “extremist elements” were still operative within Karachi’s Pakhtun-dominated areas. Karachi is a city that struggles to thrive and survive amidst barbed wires and makeshift battlefields littered with shoes and stones and streaks of blood. But, why do Karachiites seem acquiescent of the fact that Karachi will, for time and memoriam, be divided along the lines of cast and ethnicity? I answer this pressing matter of concern via research that I based upon the aim of unearthing the state of mind of the average citizen of Karachi in order to understand and comprehend the divisions that exist betwixt a sample size of eight Karachiites and how these divisions translate to ethno-political rivalries in a larger sphere. My sample size comprised of affluent members of society between the ages of eighteen and twenty one. The reasons behind choosing this particular sample size are two-fold: Karachi’s affluent civil society is a) devoid of the passionate class-based ethnic rivalry that exists amongst members of Karachi’s working classes and is more likely to look upon Karachi’s growing instability and political strife with an objective view and B) responsible for the mass political movement that sprung up before the 2013 General Elections and was geared towards alleviating Karachi from the stronghold demagogic influences. Karachiites struggle to identify themselves as citizens because the problems that plague them on a daily basis are several steps away from those that the rest of Pakistan faces. My sample size unanimously agreed upon a focal factor responsible for Karachi’s woe: Politicisation of the masses, from university based student unions to workers unions to politicised police and law enforcement agencies. The desire for self-fulfilment overpowers the need to recognise and work towards the greater good of society. But what makes Karachi significantly different? The overwhelming difference between the proportions of people involved directly into politics and the common citizenry that is influenced into pledging allegiance. In order to reinforce my claim, I spoke to Chambeli*, a Hindu resident of Karachi’s Shireen Jinnah Colony, who very vociferously claimed that political workers showed up during Diwali and Holi festivities close to elections in order to win hearts and minds and votes. And although every five years, members of predominant parties have promised and pledged to provide water and sanitation to members of the locality, their words are always in vain. Most of Chambelis’ family and friends have stopped exercising their right to vote because they claim that political workers “can speak but can’t act upon their words”. I shall close this article not with a fervent repetition of what has been said time and time again, but with a journey. Bus M4 travels from Hyderi to North Nazimabad to Gurumandir to Shahra-e-Faisal’s wide boulevard to Defence’s repertoire of bungalows and neat picket fences and perfectly manicured gardens. It stops at rickety excuses for bus stands, weaving through honking cars and bumper-to-bumper traffic, picks-up the maid that toils away in House 23/A each day, the factory worker, the clerk, the young student with the unkempt hair and the furrowed brow, the mochi with calloused fingers and clothes that smell faintly of leather, the mother whose laden with groceries bought from Sabzi Mandi and carries a young child in the crook of her arm, the poet lost in thoughts that float back to a time of idyll and peace and harmony. The bus stops at its final destination and the passengers disembark – the maid, the factory worker, the student, the mochi, the mother and her child, the poet – and turn their frenzied eyes towards the horizon. In the backdrop of the setting sun casting rays of gold across the clear sky, they assimilate with the masses. They let their feet sink into the soft sand as the roaring waves crash against their forms and they sway, only to be held firmly by those behind them. A binding, strengthening chain of humans. And in that moment, the disparities that threaten to overpower and separate Karachi into a million fragments fade away. *Names have been changed to protect the identity of people interviewed.
The business of the state is to run the state and to govern it for greater public good. There are no two opinions about this. That, in this day and age of corporatisation and decentralisation, means the state should not be running banks, airlines and factories. Rather it should focus on setting up regulatory authorities and let them run companies which provide these professional services. The jury is still out on the economics of privatisation of State assets. The previous examples of PTCL and UBL are being bandied about on how the imperatives of transparency and profitability were bypassed. But what about the human cost of such measures? The International Monetary Fund’s conditionality’s, and election promises made in the manifesto of PML-N state that, “PIA shall be transformed into a profitable and reputed airline of the region,” notwithstanding. The morphing of transformation into the PIA privatisation fiasco has now translated into a tragedy after the death of two of the protesting workers in Karachi. This will understandably overshadow the narrative of the colossal loss to the national exchequer because of years of accumulated mismanagement and inefficiencies, political meddling and downright corruption from all the parties who are now pointing fingers at others. All these factors had snowballed into the debate on privatisation. Not restructuring, not right-sizing, but privatisation, because the rot had set in too deep. Again, understandably, the employees are the ones making the loudest noise because they are the directly affected party. They are the first to feel insecure in the event of the change in status quo. The debate of whether they were employees on merit or otherwise has to be taken place on another level. But the employees also need to understand that the clamour did not generate too much public sympathy because of the abysmal level of services the travellers had been exposed to. https://twitter.com/ImageOfPakistan/status/686325371583774720/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw https://twitter.com/kyabukwaas/status/633620893235699716?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw https://twitter.com/LifeofSigh/status/339321263162023937/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw https://twitter.com/AzharAli_90/status/592799808324280320/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw https://twitter.com/siwelylla/status/682292931559043073/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw The slide down the slippery slope of deterioration had been steady and rapid. Everything an airline prides itself on, such as punctuality, aircraft maintenance, ground as well as on-board service, fare structure, the meals, customer care and handling became points of irritation and annoyance. The lack of responsiveness tipped the scales in favour of the argument on privatisation, not in an economic term, but in terms of getting it out of the hands of whoever was running its affairs into more competent and professional hands. [embed width="620"]https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x307ra9_no-ac-in-pia-airplane-and-some-passengers-lost-conscious-check-out-the-reaction-of-passengers_tv[/embed] The slide of the National Flag carrier, which had once monopolised the skies, became all the more stark when passengers were exposed to a greater choice with other private airlines. It was not just enough now to hark back to the good old days when it was not only this airline that clocked many firsts, especially regionally. Yes, we know that PIA was the surrogate mother for Air Malta, Singapore Airlines and Emirates. [embed width="620"]https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2vfkqt_lady-passengers-abusing-pia-staff-over-flight-delay_news[/embed] As a truly national institution, it flew aircrafts on routes not served by any other means of transport like the Balochistan coast, Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral on subsidised rates. But it also did the same on uneconomical routes such as Karachi-Hyderabad and Lahore-Islamabad too. It made great contributions to the field of sports through its teams, as well as culture through its Performing Arts Academy. But it also grew coconut and papayas and hatched chickens; too late to get into the good and bad of that now. Maybe these ancillary services, which also provided benefits to the work-force, were also counted to be on a PIA payroll. Eventually they started becoming a drain in an era when corporations needed to be lean and mean. Like I said, too many factors combined to form a snowball. https://twitter.com/imikhan1/status/681851659421659138?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Now the privatisation genie is out of the bottle. Though even a lay person like me is confused by the SOP of how divesting only 26 per cent of the shares would mean a total revamp of an organisation bursting at the seams. Is there more than what meets the eye? If the majority shareholding will remain the same, how will the management and operational processes change to turn this sick organisation around? Another thing that perplexes me is while the employees in all other departments may be feeling insecure because of the fear for retrenchment, what’s up with the pilots? Yes, overall the aircraft to personnel ratio (780 per plane) is astronomical, but there has to be more than just a show of organisational solidarity for them to jump into the fray. PIA does not have a surplus of pilots. Why are they protesting attempts to make the airline run on professional lines? What are their fears, unless they stem from their existing grievances and are not related to privatisation? The total disruption in flight operations in the country which is going to hit passenger and cargo traffic is not going to garner them much sympathy either. Protest, strikes and industrial action are rights of the workers under any lawful and democratic set up. PIA workers have legitimate fears about their future. The plan of privitisation was not revealed out of the blue. The Aviation Division has been vetting and employing highly qualified consultants from across the world to assess its feasibility. However, the cloak and dagger manner in which this is being done is what has exacerbated the matter. Why weren’t the employees informed of any severance packages or any other financial settlement in the event of a new management or a new arrangement? Yes, we all know about the pressure tactics used by the Unions. It happens everywhere where the management sees the Union as an adversary rather than an ally to run the company. As far as the imposition of Essential Services that harkens back to the dictatorial days is concerned, the government also needs to know that it may just be painting itself in a corner with this hardened stance. Another question to be asked is whether in the presence of other options, such as other airlines, is PIA a fit case for Essential Services? Yes, there is no other agency which can provide Air Traffic Control Services or run railways but now passengers have been getting from point to A to B, albeit with difficulty, because PIA is not the only option available. Have all the parties concerned in the case for PIA really lost it? Literally as well as metaphorically? [poll id="418"]
Growing up during the turbulent 80s in Karachi, I was never fully aware of the Kashmir issue. As a matter of fact, Kashmir was just a faraway scenic land for most Karachiities. It was largely irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things and it barely evoked sympathy from within us. A certain event strengthened this notion back in 1989. After my matriculation exams, I was trying to brush up my general knowledge in order to apply for a course in the Pakistan Army. A certain piece of news caught my attention regarding rigging in the General Elections in Occupied Kashmir. This inevitably led to widespread protests in Srinagar and other cities leading to scores of innocent lives being lost at the hands of merciless Indian LEA’s. In the heat of the moment, I rushed out of my house and scribbled “Kashmir Surkh hay” (Kashmir is Red -a metaphor for the bloodshed in Occupied Kashmir) on a wall opposite my house. While I was passionately scribbling this graffiti, I was caught off guard by a passer-by on a motorcycle who turned out to be the area in-charge of a certain siyasi jamaat (political organisation). In a slithery tone he shouted,
“Kya kar raha hey bay?” (What are you doing?)I immediately panicked and before I could explain myself, he said something which I found difficult to interpret, but it went something like,
“Karachi’s mother is getting ravaged every day and you are worried about Kashmir!”He ordered me to come along with him to their political office, because I was too afraid to say no, I gave in. When we reached the office, I was asked to sit in the room where they used to carry out beatings. Just as I was about to get slapped, luckily a neighbour of mine, who happened to be one of the senior members of the political organisation showed up and stared them down and told them to let me off the hook. He did scold me for getting into trouble for a ‘non-issue’ like Kashmir. As the years passed by, Kashmir’s freedom or its accession to Pakistan appeared a distant dream for most who were fighting for the cause. The Kashmir dispute became an unfortunate mockery whereby various shopkeepers, tired of their defaulting customers, strategically pasted stickers around cash counters captioned “Kashmir ki azaadi tak udhaar bandh hay” (No credit until Kashmir is liberated). Kashmiri cries for freedom turned into our Schadenfraude. (German for feeling of enjoyment which emanates from seeing or hearing about the troubles of others. Intrigued by the entire issue, I continued reading about the challenges faced in the native struggle led by separatist movements such as the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and its almost forgotten co-founder Maqbool Bhatt, who was hanged in 1984. I ardently believed that Occupied Kashmiris wanted their part of Kashmir to accede to Pakistan – darn I was wrong. Fast forward to 1994. We had planned a trip to Muzaffarabad in college, with the intention of travelling to Murree or drive further up to Naran. A pleasant surprise was in store for us as well. Our bus, which was carrying about 30 students, would be driven to Neelum valley, till the Line of Control (LoC) separating India and Pakistan’s Kashmir). Even back then, I don’t think I truly understood the gravity of the Kashmir situation. Maybe because I too was young and naïve. Our courageous bus driver drove us up to the Athmuqaam sector, which is 100 km’s away from Muzaffarabad. It was a rollercoaster ride amidst serene mountains and we kept zigzagging alongside breath-taking rapids of the Jhelum River. We had Yeh haseen wadiyan from the movie Roja blaring on repeat. Coincidently, Roja was a Kashmir-themed movie. Our bus driver confessed that no college or family, other than natives were allowed so far up due to the on-going conflict between Pakistan and India. The LoC was swarming with trigger happy soldiers on both sides of the border who would not think twice before shooting at any moving objects. On our drive to the LoC, we saw mortar holes and bullet riddled houses and hutments on our side of the LoC. When we reached the Athmuqaam sector, we noticed an army picket. The sentries were dumbfounded when they found out we were visiting from Karachi. The sentries scolded our bus driver and ordered us to go back since it was too dangerous for us to be there. But since the sun was about to set, the journey back to Muzaffarabad would be riddled with peril and we had heard stories about gunners pulling the trigger under influence. Therefore, we had no choice, other than to stay the night there. Spending the night at Athmuqaam was no fun. We were surrounded by security officials who were inquisitive and suspicious about our real intentions. To be honest, all we wanted was to head back to Muzaffarabad as soon as the first ray of light hit the sky. Attending to the call of nature was a bigger challenge. We were supposed to descend into darkened hutments where icy streams of Jhelum rapids could be heard howling beneath two unsettled pieces of rock. I was instructed to plant my feet firmly and use the water from the stream to clean up, but without touching the water. How exactly does one surmount such a challenge? Angered at this impossible order, I remember shouting at the officer who calmly suggested I keep my voice low, since Indian soldiers were only about 300 metres across the river. A mortal fear ran up my spine. Thoughts of an embarrassing end to my life made my heart skip a beat. Upon returning to the room where we were to stay the night, I felt extremely claustrophobic – there were around 40 people in one room. No one slept that night. We were up exchanging views and answering questions about Karachi put forth by the curious soldiers. Amongst a multitude of stories shared that night, one particular story caught my attention, the story of a Kashmiri goat herder who died in a landslide nearby. Upon retrieving his corpse, rescuers recovered thick wads of Indian currency. They had termed him a double agent. I was baffled. Why would a Kashmiri, for whom Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail, betray our trust? But I could not make sense of his motives. There was a sense of melancholy in the air that night, despite the hoopla of Kashmir banega Pakistan (Kashmir will become part of Pakistan). The misery of the natives was palpable, perhaps they were exhausted yet resigned to their fate; a fate which to this day remains in the hands of two warring nations. Our support and understanding of the Kashmir issue and Kashmiris has become a ritual limited to February 5th. On this particular day, a few public figures hymn a chorus of Kashmir banega Pakistan like indifferent choir boys and Kashmir Day comes to an end. The real pain and angst of the Kashmiri nation is at best reflected in a song titled, Jhelum in the movie Haider (2014) which raised the issue of missing persons; most are wiped out or incarcerated by Indian security forces. Haider, which is a brilliant take on Kashmir’s plight, is based on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It was produced by Bollywood and not the lifetime patrons of the Kashmir cause, Pakistan.
Jhelum, Jhelum, dhoondhe kinara (Jhelum, Jhelum looks for the shore) Dooba sooraj, kin aankhon mein Sooraj dooba, kin aankhon mein Jehlum hua khaara (The sun (did) set, in which eyes, In which eyes did the sun set, The Jhelum has become salty (as if with someone’s tears) Jhelum, Jhelum dhoonde kinara Kis se poochhein kitni der se dard ko sehte jaana hai Andhi raat ka haath pakad kar kab tak chalte jaana hai (To whom should I ask for how long do I have to bear with this pain, and have to keep walking holding the hand of the blind night) Lahu lahu lahu waqt ka khoon hua re Lahu lahu lahu Lahu behta angaara, lahu behta angara (Blood-blood, there has been murder of time, blood, blood, blood, blood is flowing fireball.)[embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x27kvy0_haider-jhelum-video-song-music-vishal-bhardwaj-shahid-kapoor-shraddha-kapoor_music[/embed]
Dear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Until recently, you had nothing against NAB investigating and arresting those who did not belong to your party. But recently you lost your cool and came down hard upon this organisation for “harassing government officers” and you said that you would “clip its wings”. Apparently, you did not want any investigation of corruption in projects like the LNG, Metro Bus, Orange Train and LDA City. Why? You may be under the impression that being in government gives you the freedom to do whatever you want and violate all or most of the rules. You seem to believe that NAB, the police and other government institutions are there to do your bidding. It’s because of such an attitude that the country is in the mess it is today. Well, Mr Nawaz Sharif, you may want a weak, ineffective and subservient NAB, but we believe that an independent NAB is essential to save the country. We want corruption to be substantially reduced (if not eliminated entirely). Since you are out of the country most of the time, and since you obviously have your minions telling you that everything is hunky dory, and because you don’t read newspapers, you may think that corruption is not that big a problem, but just consider the following: - Because of corruption, you cannot impose the writ of the state on those who refuse to pay taxes. These law-breakers know that as long as there are corrupt officials and corrupt leaders, they can get away with anything. - Owing to corruption, you don’t have enough money to spend on security and the people of Karachi are afraid to venture out of their homes. - Corruption is the reason why children are dying in Thar and 50 per cent of Pakistanis do not have access to safe drinking water. - Due to corruption, Pakistanis have more than $200 billion stashed in Swiss bank accounts. This amount is almost equal to seven times our national budget. - The streets of our cities are filled with garbage because of corrupt officials, who know they will never be punished because the rulers are corrupt. - Do you know why terrorists are still able to strike wherever and whenever they want? Because of corrupt officials who are not doing their assigned jobs. - Because of corruption, you cannot spend on education. With literacy rate of 48 per cent (one of the lowest in the world), no wonder our younger people cannot earn enough to survive and some of them are being recruited by the terrorists. So, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to save the country, please do not interfere in the workings of NAB. If, however, you are concerned with the well-being of only those who are your relatives and friends, then there is no hope for the country. The choice is yours: what you do today could well change the destiny of Pakistan.
Karachi is certainly the financial engine of Pakistan’s recovering economy. When the city of lights falters, as it did over the past few years owing to security challenges, economic effects reached deep into other parts of the country as well. But thanks to the intervention by security forces over the last two years, Karachi appears to be getting back on its growth trajectory. The sentiment among the business community is witnessing a positive trend, jobs are coming at a greater pace and the real estate and housing sectors have seen heightened activity. According to the property web portal Zameen.com, average prices of 125 square yards plots in Karachi increased by 35.53% during the 12 months in between November 2014-2015, while 500 square yards and 1,000 square yards plots registered impressive increases of 26.07% and 23.61%, respectively. But as impressive as these increases might be, there remains a housing anomaly that is not apparent in any other part of the country. Karachiites love to live in apartments. Or do they? First impressions Karachi’s innumerable apartment complexes were the first thing I noticed when I moved to the city from Lahore in order to pursue my degree. They were everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. They appeared to be silent giants, looking down on us mortals running about our daily chores. The skyline was a canvas of architectural contrasts and I wondered how life would be inside these apartments. I even imagined myself living in one, but found the idea hard to come to terms with. For someone from Lahore, or other parts of the country, high rises indicate offices, retail therapies, rooftop restaurants and on other occasions, vacant spaces. People here haven’t really opened up to the idea of living in efficiently utilised urban spaces. People here like to live in detached houses; they like to own their own piece of land and build a personalised structure on it. In most cases, an independent house provides them with the confidence (and bragging rights) to claim that they have finally made it, financially at least. Living independently has its perks, but one also misses out on some remarkable social experiences. Karachi’s apartment complexes are teeming with life, the air has a peculiar murmur of liveliness, possess unique living dynamics and a distinctive culture in the larger scheme of things. Raisons d'être Cost has a lot to do with the housing trend in Karachi as compared to other parts of the country. Karachi is a magnet for job seekers and businessmen, as well as large and small companies, so housing has always been in demand and a problem for housing policy makers. Even though Karachi’s perimeters have been pushed to the limits time and time again, a massive demand for accommodations has kept prices mostly up. According to Zameen.com, a 500 square yard house in Karachi’s DHA costs close to Rs68,000,000 on average. Comparatively in Lahore, a 500 square yard house in DHA Lahore will only cost around Rs42,000,000. That sometimes becomes too much to ask for from younger individuals looking for a place of their own, so the obvious refuge is found in apartments. A three bedroom apartment in Karachi costs around Rs13,000,000 on average (in 2015), while two bedroom apartments sold for an average of Rs6,300,000. In Lahore, one could easily find a decent small house in that price range with some luck. In Karachi, it becomes much harder. Another reason for living in communal spaces has to be Karachi’s volatile security. The city has remained a hotbed of political, ethnic and religious strife and apartment complexes have provided residents of Karachi a relative safety in numbers. In many cases, such apartment communities in Karachi have developed their own security protocols that keep the premises under a watchful eye, ensuring safety of all. Other parts of the country have been relatively stable and the need for living closer together has not emerged. Tomorrow talk The rising cost of living and rapidly climbing land prices across Pakistan are now forcing home buyers and builders to consider other means of extracting the most out of an investment. People in Lahore and Islamabad are now resorting to apartments since land is becoming scarcer and houses are becoming pricier. Ambitious projects like DHA’s Penta Square in Lahore and Bahria’s The Galleria in Islamabad aim to offer alternative housing solutions to people in both cities without compromising on space, comfort or facilities. Apartments offer a resident numerous perks that house owners cannot avail. One of them includes the ease of maintenance, which is proving to be a prime motivational factor. Also, considering both spouses are engaged in some form of external employment in most households in Pakistan, this factor stands out even further. Karachi is a large city and the rising popularity of living in apartments is all but natural for cosmopolitan capitals like it. As the economic sectors in Lahore and Islamabad grow and the cities find their populations rising, we will likely see their skylines dotted with high-rises of various designs competing for the spotlight – teeming with life and abuzz with bustle, of course. I am still not sure I could do it, but kudos to those who are. Perhaps, a few years from now, I might own an apartment too.
Karachi creek vista
The terrible news of a 13-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her teacher in Larkana, Sindh, breaks the heart over and over again. The only good thing about this is that the teacher has been arrested, and has confessed to the crime (now that the child is four months pregnant). A powerful essay talks about how nobody in the government has taken notice of this case. Worse, the community blames the victim’s family for not protecting her “honour”. Supposedly they should have protected her “honour” by either never letting her go to school in the first place, or by killing her as soon as they realised what had happened to her. (I saw this same kind of victim-blaming in a recent blog written by a domestic violence victim in the US. From a Pakistani family, she writes about how she was mentally and emotionally tortured by her husband and his family. The comment section is full of people blaming her family for getting her married to him in the first place -- as if they knew he would be like this, when most families hide their sons’ anger management problems and tendencies to violence.) On the other hand, there was good news in this case, where a man in Karachi was convicted and sent to jail for ten years because he raped and impregnated his niece. He denied all the accusations by the victim, but a DNA test proved him to be the father of her baby. This is good news because it shows that the Pakistan Penal Code is fully equipped to deal with rape cases. Previously, they were dealt with under the Hudood Ordinance, but reforms made the rape clauses in the Ordinances defunct, shifting their ambit to the PPC instead. Sections 376 (punishment for rape) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code were applied in this case. It also shows the absolute necessity of DNA testing in cases of rape, a move that the Sindh government instituted last year. The Council of Islamic Ideology, which is trying to fight the Women’s Protection Bill tooth and nail in KPK, opposed the use of DNA testing in rape cases. It’s great to know that they were not successful and that the DNA testing is helping rape victims. The CII and many conservative minds think that the threat of “Islam” is enough to stop rape from happening altogether, but it’s more the case that rapists don’t really think about “Islam” when they’re committing their crimes. Religion is meant to deal with the spiritual consequences of these crimes, but it is man-made laws that deal with the legal consequences on this earth. Still, laws like the Women’s Protection Act and the Domestic Violence bills can be seen as complimenting and supplementing divine law rather than working against it – IF your intention is to actually protect women and girls, not rapists. But the sum of this is that the Pakistani state must continue to make improvements in its prosecution and conviction of rapists. Rape must be considered a crime against the state, not the individual, so that the entire state machinery can be effectively used to bring these criminals to court and then jail. Women victims of rape like the ones in these cases (and Kainat Soomro and Mukhtaran Mai) who have been brave enough to speak out about their ordeals and see them through to their legal conclusion must be supported in their communities and by the state as well. It is very difficult to buck tradition which says girls and women who are raped must remain silent, or worse, pay the price for having been raped. Individual courage and state responsibility can work miracles even in a country like ours.
rape - AFP
I’ve been a quiet spectator of the brutal killings of stray dogs in Karachi for a very long time and despite the fact that it has enraged me time and time again, I’ve kept quiet only to realise that it is in times like these when you acknowledge the wrongdoing happening before you. You either become a silent observer boiling with rage on the inside or you try to make a difference despite the possibility that your efforts may prove to be futile. I have recently come across several Facebook posts talking about stray dogs being shot point-blank by Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC). I kept quiet even though my insides hurt by the graphic details given on the internet. Right after that, I came across yet another case which completely repulsed me. I knew some measure of work had to be done to spread awareness, at the very least. I got in touch with the person whose post I had come across to enquire for further details. Emaan Mahmud, a Liberal Arts teacher at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, was extremely cooperative and supportive, and told me the entire story. Around nine o’clock she heard several gunshots followed by heart wrenching howls. As she walked out of her house to find out what was going on, she was informed by her domestic help that CBC had gone off on their shooting spree again. One dog was found dead while another was thoroughly injured, hiding under the thorns writhing in pain. Without wasting any time she called the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation (ACF) for help and, along with the assistance of the foundation and her workers, she managed to get the dog into safe hands. The dog is currently under the care of the ACF recovering from the three bullet wounds on his right shoulder. This is just one case amongst the hundreds that happen every single day. We’ve heard of several other forms of tortures that these strays go through. They’re often picked up, sedated and taken to remote places like Doh Darya and left there. Furthermore, time and time again they’re also castrated and left in utter pain. When complaints are lodged, CBC completely refuses to take blame. Because of their lack of assuming responsibility, many stray puppies are found every day because their mothers are killed. Not to mention the kind of trauma the dogs have to suffer even if they’re mere spectators of such incidents. The lack of empathy our officials have enrages me. While the rest of the populace preaches progress, equality and humanity we can’t even teach ourselves the basics of living a moral and ethical life? This is a classic example of reversal of roles which is irony at its best. Human beings acting like animals. The reason for killing these strays is that they’ve drastically increased in number; they’re spreading diseases and have become excessively violent. To begin with, if the government has enough funds to build a Disneyland in Lahore, how about investing in something that’s actually worthwhile? Like nurturing these strays? Fine, take them down if they’re seriously unwell but instead of shooting them point-blank, why isn’t medication use to reduce their pain? Bury them after in a respectable way instead of shooting them in front of their pups and then leaving them there to die? Why not help fund the very few initiatives we have for these helpless animals like the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that these acts are, in reality, completely heinous. The conductors of these acts will never understand how it feels to be this vulnerable and to be taken advantage of that vulnerability. This is a plea to stop this. There is a way to do everything. We’ve never fully understood that. It’s humiliating, to say the least.
Imagine your child asks for permission to go out to play in the street in the morning. You kiss him on the forehead and leave for work, content thinking he’ll be safe right outside the house, surrounded by neighbours, away from any real threat. You’re driving to work when your phone rings and you’re being told your child was held at gunpoint, and that too right outside the gate of your house. The natural reaction to such an incident would be fear, dread and helplessness. Today I saw something similar on Facebook and the video has left me terrified. It is a CCTV footage of my neighbour’s tenant’s friends. The friends were waiting outside my neighbour’s gate, when two young boys, who seemed to be around 14 or 15-years-old, arrived on a motorcycle and attempted to mug the friends. This happened in Block 3 of Gulshan-e-Iqbal. This didn’t happen at night, no. It happened today, in broad daylight, between 8:00am – 8:30am. What’s worse is that the boy riding pillion had a gun on him. Luckily nobody was injured, but this video raises various questions. It’s a given that over the years street crimes have increased in Karachi, but seeing a mere child with a weapon was profoundly disturbing. Why was this child carrying a weapon when he should have clearly been sitting in class, studying? Moreover, where did he get the weapon from and how? Was he even remotely aware of what he was doing or the consequences of his actions? Somebody could have died in the process. After watching the video, I called my neighbour, Hassan Shaikh, who had posted the video and he was equally shaken. He told me that he thought the boy was carrying a toy-gun, but when he heard the gun shot, he knew for sure it was a real gun. The unfortunate part is that we only came to know of the incident because my friend had personally gotten CCTV cameras installed outside his house gate. This is obviously a necessity considering there is no such thing as government installed CCTV cameras, at least not in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Does the government expect each and every neighbourhood and household to install a CCTV camera themselves to record such unprovoked attacks? Do we have to prove to the government that miscreants exist in our society and we do not appreciate being left feeling scared about the security of our families? Especially in a country already fighting terrorism? Would it not be a smarter move for the government to install such cameras on every street in the country to help them fight the bigger threat of terrorism? Would it not be helpful in finding out exactly who the culprits of these attacks are, in order to prevent them from happening again? Would this not help in taking them into custody? This was a child for God’s sake. You can just imagine how far the influence of petty crimes goes if there are children stealing and carrying guns. I don’t think it’s our job to patrol the streets and watch out for criminals – I remember paying my taxes for this purpose. I remember electing a government for this purpose. I remember paying, through my taxes, for a competent police force to protect me. If you can’t do the job, give me my money back so at least I can manage the safety of my own neighbourhood. You know what is the saddest part? That we fear taking something like this to the police, for fear of either being ridiculed or somehow being framed. We are afraid of the police turning on us. What kind of security is this?! Remember, a child lost is a child lost, whether he is holding the gun or being held at the gun point. This isn’t just another issue; this is a serious issue which our government needs to look into. The way street crime is tackled has become a joke. We appreciate the operation taking place in Karachi, but this happened today. How effective was the operation then? What is sad that our reaction to a friend’s mugging has become a joke too,
“Oh you got mugged as well?”It’s just another Facebok status. Why are we treating this as a rite of passage for each and every citizen? Are all of us going to be as brave as the men in the video working on the house being constructed opposite the street? Will we also have the courage to come out and throw stones at the miscreant to shoo him away temporarily? I doubt it. Karachi has become so desensitised that if there is a man being mugged right in front of us, we will turn our backs to him and mind our own business. This desensitisation is a plague. It is not resilience – please do not confuse it. It is hopelessness. So, this is an earnest appeal to our government, please take this issue in your hands and treat it with utmost importance. This was only one incident recorded today, I am quite certain if you ask around you will be surprised by how many people have been through the same thing today. And I will also appeal to the citizens of Karachi – don’t let them mug people right in front of you – unite for the right cause and fight them. We are much much much bigger in number when we stand together. Let’s protect each other. Don’t let the streets of Karachi turn into a hell-hole. [poll id="490"]
It was over a year ago when a terrible tragedy befell a good family. While driving home at night, close to their house in DHA Phase 4 on main Khayaban-e-Badar in Karachi, a middle aged couple was blind sighted by a speeding vehicle. The fierce impact of metal gnashing on metal lasted several seconds, dragging their car sideways for what felt like an eternity. Both occupants were left hurt. The husband, a tall and kind-hearted man, usually armed with a ready smile that I automatically recall when I think of him today, suffered a head injury. Here, he performed one last act of heroism. Seeing his wife dazed, he used all of his remaining strength to drive her to the safety of their home. Upon arrival, as if he had been waiting to complete this final deed, he lost consciousness. Their assailant was the exact opposite of this man. Their assailant was a coward. Rather than check to see if the occupants of the car were in need of aid, the assailant drove off. Perhaps if the assailant had not fled, a life could have been saved. If this person is reading right now, then they should know that the husband did not survive the car crash. After battling for weeks at a hospital, he moved on from this world, leaving behind those who loved him. Unfortunately, anyone who drives in Karachi, especially in DHA, knows how the streets turn into carmageddon at night. Motorists break every traffic law in the book, putting not only their lives at risk, but the lives of others. On any given evening, any innocent person in a car in Karachi can die horribly, be it adult or child. Usually, the culprits are young men racing through the streets in their family’s new cars, or VIP SUVs with tinted windows that crush anything in their paths, or simply intoxicated people. If these irresponsible drivers were only putting their lives at risk, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, but in their wake many blameless are either left hurt or crippled for life. Let’s also not forget the families of both the culprits and the victims, who often pay a lifetime’s bounty in grief. Alarmingly, the accidents are only growing more devastating and more frequent. Not too long ago I saw a car smash into a motorcyclist, resulting in carnage best not described. Evidence of the regularity of these accidents can be found on the Facebook page ‘Halaat Updates’, where a terrifying accident is reported every other post. Here are some pictures I’d like to share, not for shock value, but to drive home the value of driving carefully. Remember, it is better to arrive late than dead: Not surprisingly, the authorities haven’t been moved by these horrible crashes. At the very least the government should run awareness campaigns across television and newspapers to educate drivers. At the same time, our police needs to be more vigilant. Then again, what can we expect from an organisation that hands out driving licenses to anyone with a few thousand rupees in their pocket? Drive safe. For yourself. For your family. For those around you. All photos are screenshots from Halaat Updates Facebook page.
Last night, whilst watching The Dark Knight Rises, yet again, I realised the city of Gotham has a lot in common with the Pakistan cricket structure. Batman ends up saving Gotham city. Even when he was completely down and out, he did not surrender; and if the Dark Knight didn’t give up, why should Pakistani cricket fans? In the movie, the mayor of the city was as powerless as the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Shahryar Khan, whereas the bureaucratic structure was as inefficient and incompetent as Intikhab Alam. It was natural, therefore, for every Pakistani cricket fan to look for their superhero, their Batman in order to address this downward spiral. On the eve of March 25, 2016, things began to look bleaker for Pakistani cricket after yet another poor performance during an International Cricket Council (ICC) event. This was the third time the men in green failed to qualify for semi-finals over the past three years at an ICC event. It almost felt like the collapse of Gotham; and just like its desperate residents, there was an increasing sense of frustration amongst the fans. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: AP[/caption] However, as the sun rose 10 days later, so did a new feeling of hope amongst most cricket lovers in the country, as PCB named Sarfraz Ahmed the T20 captain. As a cricket fan, I feel like I can identify Sarfraz as the superhero we were desperately searching for. As much as hope and excitement this news may have brought, there is also a need for a reality check. The harsh reality is that the sport remains to be in terrible condition in Pakistan and that cannot change overnight. But the real question is; what can we actually expect from Sarfraz as a captain in the near future? To begin with, the best thing about the Karachi-born wicketkeeper cum batsman is, just like any other superhero, he seems to be absolutely clear in his approach towards the game, which is an ideal and welcome factor in a clueless team like ours. This is one of the reasons why so many pundits were calling for the 28-year-old to be named captain. He emerged on to the scene after rising to an occasion (just like Batman did nearly every time) when he played a tournament-winning innings of 46, not-out, against Bangladesh during the Asia Cup 2012 final. At a time when the men in green were facing immense trouble with a shoddy score of 133-6 in the 35th over, Sarfraz showed immense maturity in an innings where he hit just four boundaries in 52 balls. He then showed his mettle at Test level, with breath-taking 100’s against Australia and then New Zealand in a home series in the UAE. Through these feats, he managed to rescue his team just like Batman rescued his city. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: AP[/caption] After seeing him perform with the bat, the then head coach, Waqar Younis, tried him as an opener against the mighty Aussies in an ODI series, where he scored an impressive 65 runs off 72 balls against a strong bowling attack. His performance at the top forced the team management to use him as an opener in the ICC World Cup as well, where he once again showed that he is the right choice during a period of crisis. He won back-to-back man-of-the-match awards against South Africa and Ireland to help Misbahul Haq’s men qualify for the quarter-final. He then showed his leadership skills as he took the dark-horses, the Quetta Gladiators, to the final of the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). This 28-year-old has a knack for making bold calls under pressure. He brought the experienced Zulfiqar Babar in during the first few overs of the innings; he then backed Mohammad Nawaz to take wickets and used Aizaz Cheema ahead of the experienced Umar Gul. He utilised Afghanistan’s Mohammad Nabi and New Zealand’s Grant Elliott to good effect and made sure the aggressive nature of the team remained regardless of what happened in the game. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Photo: PSL[/caption] All in all, there is a lot to be excited about when thinking about the prospect of this little fellow leading our team green in the shortest format of the game. But, is he the superhero we are looking for? Only time will tell. There are various reasons as to why people will expect bigger and better things from him, which may be unfair to him as well, but isn’t that how heroes write their story — by thriving under-pressure? By the looks of it, this story line has all the characters in order for him to emerge as our very own Batman. But just like any other superhero story, he will also have to fight against the prevailing injustice and evil. Unfortunately, the evil here is none other than the cricket board itself. [poll id="503"]
Sarfraz Ahmed (Twitter)
It all started on Tuesday April 5, 2016, around 1 pm, when a client at my salon started to create an issue about a chain – a chain which she had taken off in order to get her services done. She claimed it was valuable, which it must have been, considering she returned to my salon the next day to look for it. At first, she kicked up a fuss over her calls not being answered at 11 pm the night before; please do keep in mind that our closing time is 9 pm. I politely told her that our phones, whether mobile or landlines, only operate during business hours, just like every other business in the world. Next, she completely refused to acknowledge her own irresponsibility. When I told her that I, along with my staff, would do our best to look for it but could not make any promises of finding it, she became infuriated. I happen to have a giant sign at the reception which clearly states that the salon will not be held responsible for any loss whatsoever, and every client must look after their own personal belongings. This is why, might I add, we have brides bring attendants along with them in order to look after their personal belongings. Despite this, the lady became hyper and her behaviour started getting out of hand. I politely asked her to calm down and assured her that my staff and I would do our very best to help her find her chain. Keep in mind, this entire conversation was taking place over the phone. And I kept my word. My staff helped her look everywhere, even in the trashcan. When all our search efforts went in vain, I told her that there was nothing more that we could do to help. At this point, she lost her temper completely and started screaming, insinuating that my staff had stolen the chain. Maintaining a calm voice, I explained that, just as the sign at the reception stated, my employees and I could not be held responsible for her loss as it was her responsibility to keep check on her own personal belongings. This, unfortunately, did not deter the lady from blaming my employees. I assured her, firmly, that all my employees have good morals and have been working with me for many years without a single complaint of this nature; they are like family to me. By now, she herself exclaimed that it wasn’t about the chain anymore, because it was valuable but not that valuable. She demanded I show up at the salon to address all her concerns in person as soon as possible and then she shut the phone. I rushed to the salon to find her sitting at the main reception, still yelling at my staff. I tried talking to her and politely asked her to calm down several times, but she refused. There were two other clients of the salon present in the reception area, one of whom was an elderly lady who tried to douse the situation by giving the enraged client a glass of water to calm her down. At this point, this lady started yelling even louder and almost assaulted the elderly lady. I told her that behaviour like that would not be tolerated under any circumstances and she was crossing the line when she started harassing the other people present. I asked the elderly lady to take her seat and apologised to her on behalf of the lady. She proved to be such a sweetheart, held my hand and told me to take it easy and not be bothered by such people. Coming back to the woman, Hina Khan (who I refuse to refer to as a client any longer) had gotten up by this time and was making her way past the reception in order to scare my employees and impose her alleged ‘authority’ over them. They were trying their best to ignore her. This further angered Mrs Khan. While it would be very easy for my staff and I to lose our tempers too, and people who know me can vouch for my temper, we maintained a calm and composed demeanour throughout the time Mrs Khan repeatedly threw threats our way. To calm her down, I even tried to apologise for any offence that she claimed I caused her. Unfortunately, no amount of politeness made her calm down. I requested her, repeatedly, to come outside the salon with me so we could talk without disturbing any of the other clients present. I even told her that once we were out, she could yell at me to her hearts content. But adamant to make a public spectacle of herself and my salon, she accused me of trying to kick her out. God knows how much I wanted to kick her out, but it took all of my willpower not to do exactly that. She said she wouldn’t leave and would continue yelling until her husband got to the salon. I eventually had no choice but to call security for help, and that’s where things took a turn for the worst. [fbvideo link="https://www.facebook.com/haiya.ally/videos/vb.100006134251743/1733164490231343/?type=3&theater"][/fbvideo] She started verbally abusing the entire staff. Two of my employees (one is pregnant and the other has a fractured arm) went to calm her down yet again and she had the gall to harshly push both of them away. By this time I had had enough. There was nothing more we could do to help her, we had exhausted all our options, and ourselves, and so I asked for my staff’s help to firmly escort her out. It seemed to be working until she looked me dead in the eye for two seconds and then punched my face with full force. Astonished by the sudden impact, my staff quickly led me out the salon through the back gate, so I could compose myself. Despite having physically assaulted my person, Mrs Hina Khan refused to leave the premises of my salon. She did, however, go sit in her car – but she made sure she parked right in front of the salon door and insisted that she would continue to wait until the police mobile arrived. She continued to threaten us and say that we didn’t know we were dealing with. And that she would make us pay. Eventually the police mobile did arrive, and that is when things got really ugly. Thank God for CCTV cameras. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x42q37w[/embed] A point that I left out earlier was that Mrs Hina Khan is the wife of an assistant deputy director at our very own National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The police mobile unloaded four men, one of whom included the director himself, a police officer (stationed at the Shahrah-e-Faisal police station) and two of the director’s employees. None of these men, including the police officer, were in uniform, but they were all armed. They emerged from the police mobile and started beating my guard (who was also armed). They snatched his gun and almost broke his leg. Next they beat up a 14-year-old boy once they found out that he, too, worked at the salon. They made their way up the stairs whilst my girls quickly locked all the doors and immediately called ADT security. Upon their arrival we learnt that they, too, were helpless if the police were involved. Those men trespassed without a warrant and vandalised my establishment. They forcefully entered a place full of women, scared my staff and clients, and ransacked my salon. They went door-to-door, trying purposely to kick every room door open and scare the people around. My staff remained as cooperative as possible during this entire fiasco. Upon nearing the massage area, however, a room with booths and curtains to maintain the client’s privacy, the manager informed them they could not proceed further. Instead, these men barged through the door and opened all the curtains and even broke one of the curtain rods. They stumbled upon one of my clients who lay bare-backed on one of the massage beds. Once they realised that many of my clients were now infuriated and could charge them for assaulting them or breaching their privacy, the men left the massage area. The bare-backed client was so scared and humiliated, she gathered her things, and despite having left money at the counter of the salon, immediately left the premises. (She did return the next day to take back her money and refused to enter my establishment ever again. To this we constantly apologised and helped ease her concerns. What she went through was unfair and violating, and we understood that. But we apologised incessantly for having her exposed to such a fiasco, and promised she would never have to be put through something like that again. She thanked us for our support and returned a satisfied customer). I honestly could not even believe this had happened until I saw it with my own eyes on the CCTV. These men searched and broke my staff’s phones in order to erase the videos they had recorded at my request (there is no audio in the CCTV footage). One of my staff members was pregnant and she was manhandled by one of the officers because he refused to let her leave when her husband came to take her home, upon hearing what had commenced. What’s worse? Mrs Hina Khan then had the audacity to walk back into my salon with the four men she had called, and verbally assault my staff. She pointed fingers and called out the names of the employees who she had problems with. Now please imagine, a woman enters the premises with armed men and then points finger at an already petrified staff. What was she trying prove? That she could have them kidnapped? Jailed? Or worse, killed? Outraged at the audacity of this woman, we made our way to the police station to file an FIR. Mrs Hina Khan, too, made her way to the Shahrah-e-Faisal station. This time, however, she appeared in a dishevelled look, with rumpled hair and scratches all over her face. My mother and sister were completely shocked at her shameless acting. She limped into the station as if she had just fought an entire war all on her own. We decided not to comment on her attention-seeking disposition and instead went ahead with trying to seek justice. We had full faith in the authorities. Boy, were we mistaken. We should’ve known better. The next minute we found her wailing in front of the officer exclaiming things like, “maar kha ke aee hoon main” (I have just come here after being beaten up) amongst many other fabricated stories about the incident at the salon. Ironically, I was the one who had been punched in the face by her. She had not been touched by me or any of my staff members, other than when they tried to escort her out of the building (when she punched me) or when the staff tried consoling her. When we started narrating our story, she began to threaten us. She told us that she had ‘connection’ through her husband and would not hesitate using them against us, and warned us of all she was capable of. At this point, when we noticed the authorities backing away as well, we had no choice but to respond to her threats by surrendering. I am so terribly and deeply saddened by the misuse of authority in this country. Despite taking extraordinary measures, my girls and I felt unsafe because of four men, one of whom was a policeman and the other a director at NAB! How ironic! Aren’t these people meant to protect us? Then why were they trying to antagonise us further? Isn’t the director of NAB supposed to be busy putting all his resources to use in managing the affairs of the country? How then did he have the power to terrorise me, my staff or my family? When the authorities turn on you, where do you go for justice? This woman had my guard beaten up, trespassed on my property and scared my staff, over a chain that she was responsible for in the first place. My staffers are hard-working girls who are trying to make a living, just like the rest of us. These women choose to work despite all odds. The least we can do is provide them with the choice to do so and a safe environment. Do you really think my pregnant staffer’s husband will allow her to come back to work after all of this? Probably not! And whose fault is that? Is this the level of protection our government affords us? If those who are supposed to hold criminals accountable are criminals themselves, then where do we go? How can this absurd misuse of authority be permitted? And when can we tether genuine law and safety? What happened was unforgivable and I will make it my duty to not allow such an event to take place again. I will approach every media house I possibly can to make sure that justice is served, and this abuse of authority is stamped down upon. Please help me spread the word. Justice needs to be served and these people must realise that they cannot get away with misusing authority. I have jeopardised my mother’s entire business by publishing this article here and on Facebook, but if this is the sacrifice we have to make then so be it, as long as it protects others from suffering the way we did. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x42q2fj[/embed]
Hina Khan screenshot copy
Shamim Akhtar has a small but mighty presence. All of five feet, she holds herself with a self-possessed reserve, wearing a bold red, tie-dyed hijab with lipstick to match. She speaks fast but deliberately, commanding attention. She has always been confident. This confidence, she says, comes from being raised as a boy. The eldest of eight children, Shamim was born in 1983 in Molvi Abdullah Mari, a rural village in the Sindh province of Pakistan. Her family belongs to a Baloch caste, a conservative and patriarchal sector of society where men traditionally take precedence over women.
“Life was not easy for me,” she said. “When I was born, the girls weren’t allowed to go outside.”In her caste, it’s commonplace for the firstborn to be male so, when Shamim arrived, her family was faced with a dilemma. Her father and her taya, or uncle, knew it was customary to keep females inside, but they wanted to give her the opportunity to see the world and become part of society. Knowing Shamim is a unisex name in Pakistan, her taya saw a chance to change the course of her life. They decided to raise her as male so, at three-months-old, Shamim went from being a baby girl to a baby boy.
“My taya was not going to let me stay inside,” Shamim said. “He had attended university and wanted to be able to take me out, to show me things, to get an education and the only way he could do that was to dress me as a boy.”At first, the transition was seemingly easy. Her family would buy her boys’ clothes and keep her hair short. Shamim enjoyed the freedom of shorts and trousers rather than being covered up in a traditional shalwar kameez. Up until the age of 10, she embraced the life that came with being a boy. She went to school and was a happy child. While Shamim attended school with both boys and girls, which in itself was uncommon in Sindh, many families were uncomfortable with their daughters pursuing an education. Although the government had recently begun to allow girls to continue their education beyond the fifth grade, Shamim realised that many of her female classmates would not have the opportunity to move forward to the eight grade with her and started to become frustrated. At the end of her fifth grade year, her school held a celebration for students and their families. Her taya showed up and asked her class to demonstrate what they had learned after five years in school. None of the students stood up to speak, except for Shamim. She wanted to make him proud and show everyone what was possible when a girl had access to an education — even if only her family and a handful of people from her immediate village knew her true gender.
“Being raised as a boy gave me a certain kind of confidence that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Shamim said. “As I got older, I became frustrated seeing that these boys had the same hands and feet as I did, but they were treated differently. Why were they given priority over girls? It didn’t make any sense.”She began to notice the small, everyday injustices faced by the girls and women in her village. For instance, when the newspaper arrived at home, it would pass from the eldest male to the youngest, eventually reaching the women once the men were done. By the time the women got hold of the paper, it was the next day and old news. Rather than let herself get angry, Shamim only got savvier, finding ways to keep learning and stay ahead of the boys in her class. She would plant herself in front of the radio to listen to the BBC World Service and, when her father’s friends came over to talk politics, she would stay home instead of playing with friends to eavesdrop on the conversation. Her extra efforts paid off. Shamim excelled at school; her curiosity was insatiable. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Her extra efforts paid off. Shamim excelled at school; her curiosity was insatiable.[/caption] Once she completed eighth grade, however, she became despondent, knowing this would be the end of her education. The local high school was five kilometres away and while it wasn’t a problem for boys because they had bicycles and other means of transportation, her father wasn’t about to allow his daughter to make the trek on her own. Even if she were posing as a boy.
“He told me ‘I can’t let you do that,” she said. ‘“I don’t have the time to walk you there and back. I’m sorry, but it’s impossible.’”Shamim was devastated but, by some miracle, a distant relative who happened to be a teacher learned of her plight. He offered to teach her the curriculum for ninth and tenth grades over the next two summers while school was out. Summers in Sindh are especially brutal, reaching up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, but Shamim was happy to tolerate the heat if it meant she could continue her education. By the time she had finished the tenth grade, Shamim was becoming a woman and could no longer pass as a boy. Everyone in her village was aware of her secret, and it had become a contentious issue among some of the influential men.
“They didn’t like that there was a girl doing better than their sons,” she said. “I had done well in school and, if someone messed with me, I would fight back. I had become really confident, and they didn’t approve. They would call me out: ‘It’s time you stop acting like a boy. Aren’t you ashamed?’ Because they were my elders, I had to show my respect and would agree to switch back. But as soon as I was a safe distance, I changed back.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Everyone in her village was aware of her secret, and it had become a contentious issue among some of the influential men. “They didn’t like that there was a girl doing better than their sons,” she said.[/caption] The only reason Shamim was interested in changing back into a woman was to attend college in the nearby city of Mirpur Khas. The school had a hostel for girls and she could finish 11th and 12th grades there if she could get her father’s permission. She asked, but he said no. Shamim didn’t give up easily. Instead, she went on strike for three days and convinced her father to let her go. Two years later, when the time came to go to university, she knew getting his consent would be a tougher sell. Her father had turned his attention to her younger brothers, who could go to school, secure jobs and help support the family, while, as a woman, her place was ultimately at home. Shamim didn’t press her luck, but she also didn’t plan to return home. Instead she signed up for a two-year program to become a female health visitor. It wasn’t university, but she could keep learning and get paid. While she was working in the city’s different hospitals, she came to learn about the Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP), a nonprofit that works to empower rural communities in Tharparkar, Dadu and other neighbouring districts of Sindh. Shamim had never heard of the word ‘nonprofit,’ but she was intrigued by the work. Without anyone knowing, she snuck away and travelled five hours, the farthest she had ever been from home, to interview for a position. She landed the job but that, in her mind, was the easy part. The hard part was facing her father. He had already got wind of the news from relatives, who teased him about his defiant daughter wandering off and scared him with talk of her crossing the border. Shamim wanted nothing more than to accept the role at TRDP, but she knew she disobeyed her father.
“That night, I packed all of my things into a little bag and walked into my father’s room,” Shamim said. “I told him ‘Tomorrow morning, the bus is going to come. If you believe in me, you can wake me up and drop me off at the station. If you don’t wake me up, I’ll understand. I went to sleep, and the next morning, my father was there at my bedside to take me to the bus.”At TRDP, Shamim began to see there was a Pakistan she didn’t know, a country much more complex than she had realised.
“I had thought I had a difficult life, but then I saw what the women in these districts were experiencing and it really opened my eyes,” she said. “Some of the women had 11 children and nothing to feed them. To get water, the women would have to walk three hours every day to wells six, maybe seven, kilometres away. There were no schools, and the nearest hospital was 32 kilometres away. If a woman was in labour, she would travel by camel to get to the hospital but the distance was so great, it was likely she would die on the way.” “It became more than just a job for me, it became my passion,” Shamim said.She would work to midnight every night and take on whatever task came her way. Her team dug wells closer to the villages, created a basic healthcare unit and tried opening a school, but they were only temporary solutions to a larger problem. Shamim started to recognise the shortcomings of the state and the limitations of her contributions.
“We didn’t have the capacity to provide permanent solutions, but we could at least give them some sort of relief. Even today, this part of Sindh is still very bleak.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] “It became more than just a job for me, it became my passion,” Shamim said.[/caption] After a few years, Shamim felt bounded by what she could accomplish at TRDP, but back home she was beginning to have a real impact. As friends and neighbours saw her flourishing and sending money home to her parents, they started to understand the importance of education and Shamim soon became a role model. Over time, parents began sending their daughters to school, a road was built to Mirpur Khas, making access easier and acceptable for young women to attend college and her father’s friends would call on Shamim to help their sons find work at non-profits. Her parents were proud, but they were still not completely comfortable with her being on her own so far away. Around 2014, they wanted her to find a government job closer to home so, when they heard about an opening for a teacher in a nearby school, they applied on her behalf. She wasn’t happy, but they made a deal. She would take the test and if she passed, the decision would be up to her. She got the job, but she was torn. She was happy at TRDP, but also knew change was needed in nearby villages. In that same year, Shamim had applied and been selected as a 2015 Acumen Fellow and was meeting other young change-makers throughout Pakistan.
“I saw that a lot of the Fellows had taken risks throughout their lives, and I started thinking about what leadership really means,” she said. “I asked myself ‘Should I take this risk?’”She decided to accept the teacher position on a trial basis but, after the first day, there was no turning back.
“When I walked in to class that first day, I saw all of these little Shamims staring back at me. They were eager to learn, but the school was terribly understaffed. There were no teachers for ninth and tenth grades. Girls would sit there, not learning anything and then leave. I couldn’t bear to see that happening.”Shamim accepted the role in 2015 and enlisted some of her old friends to help her teach. Already they are seeing enrollment increase and more teachers join the school in the last year. She is also campaigning to build a library and science lab for the school. “I want to give them exposure to the outside world and open their minds,” she said. But Shamim being Shamim, she isn’t content on stopping there. Now 33, she is pursuing her PhD, so she can move into a higher position within the district’s education system. She wants the authority to make larger decisions and influence change. Through the Acumen fellowship, she has seen more of the disparity throughout Pakistan and is determined to make sure Sindh doesn’t fall through the cracks.
“When I compared Punjab to Sindh, there is a world of difference,” she said. “Even just in terms of education, I realised Sindh is being held back. Forget a global level; these girls can’t even compete within Pakistan. Boys grow up, go to their private schools, become politicians and don’t care what’s happening in the villages. Sindh gives off a façade of being strong but, if you threw a pebble, it would crumble because there’s nothing inside. If nothing changes, we will be completely left behind.”But Shamim is up for the task. Tiny but tenacious, she has lived the first 33 years of her life unafraid — and she isn’t about to stop now.
“Something as simple as a piece of clothing was able to completely change my life,” she said. “Without that, I would have never developed the confidence to pursue my education and be where I am today. I would be in a very different position had I been brought up a woman. As a teacher, I now have exposure to more than 50 girls every year. Imagine what can happen if I teach for 10 years. I might be a small change agent, but I’m creating all of these other change agents. I can only hope they go out into the world and create something big together.”This post originally appeared here. [poll id="504"]
Last Saturday, I got to know what it feels like to be truly mesmerised. Sitting there, in that comfortably familiar hall, I couldn’t help but feel awed by the sheer sight that beheld me. It was a performance of Grease – The Musical, a play being presented at the Arts Council Theatre, and I was smitten by the near-perfect artistry that was taking place on stage. While I wouldn’t call myself a theatre aficionado, I have been an avid follower of the on-stage performances and, therefore, it was a treat watching Grease because it was a musical I experienced like never before. While the likes of Moulin Rouge and Haaf Playt did manage to entice my senses, Grease was able to take that experience to a whole new level. And why was that? Because while the former two plays (and their kind) usually have a humble stage setting and little to no live-singing, Grease gave me entertainment in various tiers. The multiple stage backgrounds (which were swiftly changed in seconds for each scene); the brilliant soundtracks (played by a formidable band) complemented by the spine-tingling live-songs (performed by the actors themselves); the amazing choreography and spot-on acting, everything worked together to create a wholesome and gratifying experience for the audience. Being an adaptation of its namesake movie, Grease follows the lives of a few high school students in the 60s who are trying to make sense of their world – one which is garlanded with Elvis Presley’s hits, convertible cars and puffy dresses. This coming-of-age story is filled with some of the most iconic songs ever and they are a treat to listen to every time. And the theatre adaptation in Karachi did immense justice to it. Some notable performances which were applauded by everyone include Rizzo (played by Natasha Humera Ejaz), Jan (Amtul Baweja), Danny (Ahmed Ali) and Roger (Hamza Tariq Jamil). Their delivery, singing and performances were impeccable and uncannily similar to the finesse of John Travolta and Co in the original movie. Along with this, the lighting and panache that accompanied each character, switching aptly with the mood of the story, made the performance better tenfold. There were some downsides to the performance as well, though. The character of Vince Fontane, for example, did not appeal to me as such and I felt like it could have been performed better. The same goes for the character of Ms Lynch (which, though short, was a performance that left the audience wanting more). Some of the more upbeat, fast-paced songs (such as You’re The One That I Want) had a slower stride to it, which felt a bit off-beat, at least to those who like the original version of the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oKPYe53h78 However, these glitches did not do much to hinder the performance or render it unsuccessful. The flamboyance and blast of music and art that this play offers is paralleled to none other. Grease – The Musical is a sure treat for anyone who is even remotely interested in the performing arts. For me, Nida Butt – the director – has proven herself as a timeless theatre guru in Pakistan yet again and she (along with her team) deserve to be appreciated for bringing such an amazing production to this entertainment-deprived city. The play is going through its last week of performances, so if you are a fan of the performing arts, you better get your hands on its passes soon. All photos: Made for Stage Productions Facebook Page [poll id="506"]
Like many Karachiites who get very good results in their ‘O’ levels, I decided that my grades were my ticket to the prestigious Karachi Grammar School (KGS). KGS, you see, practises a vague semblance of meritocracy (and maintains its college admission rate records) by allowing a handful of high-achievers into their hallowed gates at the A-level stage. People nod impressively if you tell them you went to KGS, and in a city obsessed with class and nepotism, the doors of KGS mean opportunity and exclusivity. In short, the school represented to me an elusive and exclusive glamour that I wanted to experience, first hand. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in a middle-class school in Karachi; my friends were children of businessmen and dentists, but also drivers and office clerks. My best friend worked in a shop on weekends and the vast majority of us had not been outside Pakistan. It wasn’t a great school – some of the teachers were lax and the discipline severe – but I had a firm group of friends with whom I grew up, sharing the usual secrets and fantasies, angst and concerns. I read constantly, and liked to write stories. I had a special bond with my English teacher and a safe, supportive home environment. Maybe that all contributed to why everyone was proud but nobody particularly surprised that I did well at school. Somewhat surprisingly, my parents didn’t love the idea of my going to KGS. Or at least my mother didn’t. She thought I would become spoiled and start speaking in that distinctive American-twanged Grammarian accent and that my academic talents would perish. She felt, very strongly, that I should follow my older siblings into a good A-level institution that didn’t reek of elitism and ostentation. But I fought back tooth and nail until she gave in. She flipped, as many good parents do when they realise that their children’s minds are made up, from fervent opposition to unconditional support and accompanied me when I went to hand in the application form. Any ‘New G’ (someone who starts at KGS at A-level stage) knows that the OG (old Grammarian)/New G divide is a vast abyss. ‘You’re not the same,’ the OG’s inform you pretty much from day one, in those overt words and also in deed. The New G’s, mired in shame at this rejection, try desperately to fit in. The girls’ uniforms get tighter and shorter until they look like their OG peers’. Accents change subtly and anyone going on a trip abroad is desperately propositioned to bring schoolbags, sweaters and shoes from London or New York. I was not immune, not even a little bit. I quickly abandoned my old friends, the middle-class, unfashionable girls that I had grown up with. I cautioned my parents to speak in English whenever my new ‘friends’ were around. I scrutinised my whole life differently – why did my mother not wear glamorous clothes and jewellery like my class-mates’ mums? Why did we not have expensive paintings in our house? And why didn’t we ‘holiday’ in Spain or Italy like other people did? I grew shameful of things I had no need to be shameful of, and prided in other things that were pure form over substance. I suppose you could say I lost myself, a little bit. I remember a school fellow saying to us jokingly on day one,
‘You must be so excited to be here. People bow down, you know, when you tell them you go to KGS.’It seemed to me a toxic way to conceive of yourself as a child and also, an unwarm welcome that asserts hierarchy. On some level, I had it easier than others – my light skin and slim body conformed to the standards of beauty at my new school, which followed an imperialist, white supremacist aesthetic so strongly that I’m sure, if a time-traveller were to land inside the high-walled campus one day, it wouldn’t take much to convince them that they were still in colonial times. Value was based, without a doubt, on proximity to westernisation. If you were fair skinned (ideally, with a white or non-desi parent), you were automatically more desirable. An accent that signified frequent visits abroad added further value. The lighter the hair, the less dark the eyes, the more attractive you were considered. Speaking Urdu well was undesirable – this was a language reserved for speaking to servants in. The teachers spoke in clipped anglicised accents and made clear that the epitome of progress would be if one went on to Harvard or Yale, Oxford or Cambridge. Urdu was taught only as a second language and the admissions process, with the exception of the A-level loophole, involved requests for proof that parents or siblings went there in the past. There were headboys and headgirls, and school houses called things like Napier and Papworth, named after the colonial masters who founded the school – KGS, established in the mid 1800s, was the first school in the city for ‘non-natives’. It could be argued that the Karachi Grammar School has much to be proud of – its alumni include renowned political figures, Oscar-winning film-makers and some very good journalists. The fact that these people had access to resources (including each other) that made their position possible in the first place probably has more to do with their success than the school’s actual influence, but, like most elite institutions, this access to networks and resources is a large part of where the school’s appeal lies. KGS went through massive changes in its pre-colonial days including name changes from ‘The Anglo-Indian School’ in 1847 to ‘The Kurrachee European and Indo-European School’ in 1854 to the Karachi Grammar School in 1879. It has remained more or less in this state since, moving from serving the children of European colonisers to their neo-colonial inheritors, retaining the strict class barriers and ridiculously anachronistic and elitist traditions, producing achievements celebrated by Western establishment figures and local elite alike. However, room for difference or radicalism, innovation and activism, is left closed. Any generosity stems from ego, patronisation and pity, not real empathy or compassion. The output of this school may have polish and confidence, but it is also somewhat cookie-cutter, establishment, conservative, and out-of-touch. The bubble of KGS can stretch only so wide – many of its alumni end up marrying each other, sending their children to KGS, and finding solace in an ethos that is fervently anti-‘fundo’ and pro-capitalist, one that involves lavish parties and frequent travel – this is the KGS ethos to dealing with the chaos that is Karachi. And perhaps there is also great profundity or happiness inside this bubble. The truth is, I wouldn’t know for sure. But I feel that a massive decolonisation is needed within those gated campuses, one that questions the cliquish imperialist assumptions on which its foundation stands. And more importantly still, a decolonisation must take place within us that allows us to see those imperialistic standards for what they are and that allows us to question the worth of this over-esteemed institution. Do I wish I had never gone to that school? Saved myself two years of snobbery and condescension, and feelings of low self-worth that can be very harmful when you’re in your teens? That I’d seen my mother as a source of wisdom, not antagonism and old-fashionedness and listened to her more carefully? Not really. That struggle probably helped me develop the critical skills that allow me to see the world in the way I do now. Still, I believe that snobbery and elitism and the enforcement of strict class difference create wounds that run so deep that we can barely look at them. And that’s why we must. There was no question of solidarity amongst the New G’s. On the contrary, we tried our hardest to distance ourselves from each other, as this increased the chances of being absorbed into the OG networks. But this also left people on the side-lines, isolated and confused. To acknowledge that the problem was to do with class or background was almost more embarrassing than just believing that there was something in your character that didn’t quite fit. To be confronted with hostility or exclusion, whatever the reason, is always painful. But it is also usually unwarranted. And it is strengthening. [poll id="521"]
The city of Quetta has been in turmoil for years, and with that comes many misconceptions about the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan.
One such mistaken belief is that while visiting Quetta one must dress in the local attire and avoid any western clothing, such as jeans, so as to not stand out as a non-resident. For someone who has heard these remarks repeatedly, I was extremely curious, to say the least, ahead of my visit to Quetta for the first time, even more so because it is believed that the people of Balochistan do not like the people of Punjab, where I am from.
This couldn’t be more far from the truth. The hospitality of the people of Quetta is incomparable; they were extremely welcoming towards us, which I was not expecting at all.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Aerial View of Balochistan
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] The vast majority of Quetta’s population comprises of Pakhtuns. Women are not seen outside their homes, unlike other big cities, such as Karachi and Lahore. Surrounded by sandy mountains and barely any greenery, the city presents a very ‘brownish’ look. According to one of my friends, Quetta looks like a dry fruit. I agree. The entire city goes dark after sunset. Business activities come to a halt and markets close down as soon as the call for Maghrib prayers is heard. Hence, there is no nightlife as such – partly due to its closed environment and the vulnerable security situation which stems from the city’s close proximity to the Afghan border. For this reason, various check posts can be seen across the city. Religious parties, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam in particular, seem to have a large following in Quetta, which quite apparent from the fluttering party flags and frequent wall chalking in favour of such parties at various places around the city. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] "Quetta is like a dry fruit"
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] One of the most interesting parts of my visit was being able to interact with the Hazara community. Members of the peaceful community mainly reside in confined areas due to repeated targeted attacks on them. They have their schools, markets, and mosques inside the confined areas, where they live isolated from the rest of the city. It is rather unfortunate that they cannot move around in their own city because of constant threats. Hazaras are easily recognised due to their features, making it much harder for them to keep their identity hidden. According to one of the residents of the city, religion is just one of the many causes of unrest in Quetta. He fears that there are some “hidden forces” involved in creating a divide between the Baloch and Pakhtuns of Balochistan, which only adds to the conflict and chaos in the region. He also claims that the results of this divide are gradually becoming more apparent. I asked one of the locals about his thoughts on the claims of ‘India’s backing’ of militants disguised as Baloch separatists and his response was,
“Of course India is supporting them! Who else is providing them with funds and weapons while they hide inside faraway mountains?”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Inside a classroom, Pakistan’s map & people of all four provinces drawn by students
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] While still not at par with the big cities of Pakistan, Quetta is steadily progressing in the field of education for girls; there is a growing determination amongst young girls to seek education and succeed in their respective fields of interest. The girls, along with holding on to their religious values, want their own independence and space in the outside world – a level of freedom where they can pursue their dreams through education and by exploring new horizons. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Jinnah painted on the wall of a school in Quetta.
Photo: Kiran WaliBesides,[/caption] Another interesting aspect was that every school I visited had pictures of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah either hanging or painted on the walls. Further, all the schools had Pakistani flags hoisted on their buildings. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pakistan flag on a rooftop in Quetta
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] In fact, one can see a great number of Pakistani flags fluttering over rooftops in Quetta, which is amazing because flags are usually displayed on national days only in other cities. Upon seeing a Pakistani flag on a rooftop of a friend’s home, I said to her mother,
“It’s nice to see the flag fluttering on your rooftop.”She replied,
“This flag has been there for the past 20 years. Some militants had been trying to threaten us saying that we will have to face consequences if we didn’t take it off, but we never gave in to their demands. After some time, other people in our neighbourhood also got over the fear and hoisted flags on their rooftops as a gesture of their love for Pakistan.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dry fruit shops in one of the famous markets of Quetta
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] Another thing Quetta is known for is apples and anyone visiting the city always takes apples back with them. Dry fruits are another popular specialty. Varieties of blankets from across the world are available for sale during the harsh winters, which also make good tokens to take home for visitors/tourists. Development is severely lacking in the city but the federal government cannot be entirely blamed for this. One of the residents shared that Balochistan’s politicians and ministers have been returning development funds back to the federal government simply because they do not want to develop the province. They then exploit the lack of development as a propaganda tool against the state and cry about unjust treatment by the central governments, the local said. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Eerily beautiful
Photo: Kiran Wali[/caption] The general public is misguided and their sentiments are turned against the state through false propaganda by these overly influential people. This can also be validated by the fact when militants willingly surrender before the state, they also reiterate the same thing,
“We have been misguided by the people on top. This azaad Balochistan thing is a hoax.”My first trip to the city was an eye opener and debunked many myths about the province. Even though Quetta may not be considered the best representative of the entire province, it holds importance as it is the provincial capital. There are definite (and maybe even deliberate) flaws in what the media – especially the international media – portrays about the province; the same media that hardly sheds light on how several ‘foreign forces’ are actively involved in the destabilisation of Balochistan. Despite that, there is no denying that the province which is of utmost importance needs immediate attention. The situation on ground is far more complex than what keeps surfacing in the media. Hence, generalising things based on selectively highlighted issues would be extremely unfair.
A few months ago, I received a frantic phone call from a friend. He told me his 11-year-old son tried to hang himself. This was not the first time; he had made similar attempts in the past, and also had a history of harming himself. Luckily, the parents had intervened just in time and saved him before it was too late. The father consulted me over the phone – he was broken, and was desperately in search of an answer. He wanted to devise a plan of action that could save his child from further attempts. After many possible interventions, we drafted a detailed safety plan. His son sought treatment from a local psychiatrist and was prescribed medications which thankfully resulted in a favourable outcome. We’ve come across an abundance of stories regarding teenage suicide in Pakistan. These include traumatic instances such as, a nursing student at Agha Khan University, who hung himself to death, a student who shot himself with a gun that belonged to his school’s security guard. Another tragedy took place in Quetta where a student committed suicide because her college principal refused to send her examination forms to the board. Clinically, this age group is usually considered low risk for suicide and this is a concerning issue for public health outcome. Suicide is a preventable death and measures should be taken now to curb the self-inflicted deaths. Despite the constant recurrence of these events, it has created a level of disconnect, so much so, that we are unable to fully grasp how serious this matter is. Suicide is a scarring problem; it leaves families and friends devastated, more so because they somehow feel they could have stopped them if they had known. Dr Murad Khan, a professor of psychiatry at Agha Khan University, indicated that although suicide rates vary between major cities in Pakistan, it doesn’t deviate from the astonishingly high figures that have accumulated over time. 5,800 suicidal deaths were reported in 2006 alone, within a span of nine months. The method employed has mostly been intentional poisoning and hanging. There’s no data available in Pakistan to determine the fraction of teen suicide cases. But in the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for five to 14-year-olds. Let’s not turn a blind eye towards this glaring issue only because we don’t have recent figures supporting it. These stories are real. Their suffering is real. It’s heart-breaking to note that there are a growing number of children that feel so immovably troubled that their only mode of relief is to be put out of their misery, indefinitely. Who is most prone to suicide? As a psychiatrist, I see suicidal patients on a daily basis that belong to various age groups. The majority of these suicidal patients suffer from psychiatric illnesses, the most common being mood disorder, psychosis or alcohol and substance use disorder. There are also many environmental factors that can contribute a significant amount of stress, leading to unshakable thoughts of ending one’s life. Teenagers are sensitive towards the growing pressure and/or are victims of trauma; they can experience a strong reaction towards rejection, failure in academics, break-up in a relationship, family conflict, financial troubles and could fall prey to verbal, physical or sexual abuse. The overwhelming aversion to stress and distress ignites the possibility of suicide. As a result, youngsters commit suicide impulsively. Only a few of these attempts are actually contemplated and planned. Is suicide punishable? Suicide is a punishable crime in the Pakistan Penal Code under Section 325. This proves to be problematic as the fear of imprisonment disables anyone from revealing their suicidal history, especially for those that need medical and psychiatric help. These high-risk patients also fear encountering society’s insensitivity as suicide is considered to be a moral illness. It is assumed that a person that attempts suicide is weak in character and lacks faith in God. These judgments cause major road-blocks for those patients who actually want to be treated. The overburdening of such societal and personal stress triggers stronger suicidal tendencies. How can it be prevented? Suicide is the leading cause of preventable death. For this reason it’s crucial that clinical and social measures become available and, more importantly, socially acceptable. Scarily enough, many unsuccessful suicide attempts go unreported and untreated, resulting in the risk of reoccurrence. Therefore it’s crucial for individuals who suffer suicidal thoughts, or have self-harmed receive a psychiatric evaluation. First and foremost, the underlying psychiatric illness should be treated aggressively using medications and non-pharmacological therapies. Inpatient hospitalisation is sometimes necessary to ensure the safety of the patient. Such children should then be urged to take up recreational activities such as sports. Perhaps joining a social group can help teenagers reduce their stress and get social support through solidarity. Most importantly, family support is a must when it comes to dealing with this cause. A healthy relationship with your children will allow them to express certain emotions, instead of keeping them bottled in. However, if a family finds themselves blindsided by a child’s troubled frame of mind, then they should be prepared to face the problem head on. They should engage in a healthy yet serious conversation with them about suicide, using words that are masked by tenderness and packed with warmth, to ensure their child that they are loved and cared for. Being able to talk about this topic in a comfortable setting will help the child communicate his feelings, paving the way towards resolving them. Limiting access to lethal means such as guns and highly toxic poisons at home can save lives as well. There is a need to educate the society on a massive scale regarding suicide, so social and psychiatric support can be provided to vulnerable individuals. The law on suicide should also be changed so people can learn to express their true experiences and feelings. Suicide should not be treated as a light cause, because at the end of the day, it costs us a life.
In 2013, only a few people knew me other than my friends and family. Like almost every other young person, I wanted to do something for Pakistan but had no platform to do it from. So, without telling my parents, I submitted nomination papers to run for the 2013 general elections. When my parents did find out, they weren’t particularly happy or supportive. There were two reasons for this. First: I was risking a stable job at a top law firm. Also, given Karachi’s volatile and security environment in 2013, I was most likely risking my life as well. Second: Perhaps my own parents had little confidence that I could achieve anything significant politically given that I had no political background and very little means to support me. When there was no support forthcoming from anywhere, I wrote a blog on Express Tribune addressing Pakistan, saying that as a common man I am running for elections to bring about better policies and want to see how far I can go with limited resources. I wanted to bear witness to how much this country’s political and social system would accept an ordinary man like me. In response to this blog, in all of Pakistan, the first reply I got was from you, Sabeen. You invited me to come over to your office. This was our first meeting. You looked at me with surprise, smiled and asked,
“Kiddo, what’s going on in life? Why are you contesting the elections?”You were sure that I was tired of life and embarking upon a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, I shared with you, as seriously and sincerely as I could, my idealism, and told you that, like so many Pakistanis, I too want to change the system and am trying to stay true to this desire. You then asked,
“And how much money do you have to change the system?”I replied,
“Rs50,000.”The look of astonishment and amusement grew on your face. Your smile broadened. I still don’t know if you were happy to meet me that day, whether you believed my words or took pity on my naiveté. You began to call your friends to introduce me to them, and requested that they hear me out at least once. When you were invited to a TV show, you refused to attend and instead asked that I be invited, and be given a chance to present my views as a young and independent contestant in the elections. That was my very first TV interview. You hosted my first corner meeting at T2F and provided me with a platform that hundreds and thousands of young people yearn for but never get. You wore my campaign T-Shirt and campaigned on the streets for me. You supported me publically. It still amazes me that we had only met two or three weeks ago, and yet you did so much for me. How does a stranger do so much for another person? In those 15 or 20 days, you did whatever you could do to support my cause, which perhaps had become your cause as well; the struggle to introduce independent and young candidates with a pluralistic manifesto into our legislative assemblies. The courage and comfort which my family, and most of my old friends failed to offer, was given to me by you. By showing confidence in me, you allowed me to instill confidence in myself. I could have been just another young Pakistani set to be overcome by our disillusioned system and society, someone on his way to becoming a cynic devoid of any hope in this country. But you anchored my hopes in Pakistan and its people. You gave me belief that when one enters a race with good intentions, even strangers will turn up to help. Since then, I have taken many such leaps of faith and you were always there to support me. Your actions preached that one should always be willing to help with whatever resources they have at hand. At times, we may not be the change, but we may still be the catalysts for that change. You had nothing to gain from this. You only believed in the cause, its objective and narratives. You had the power to unite others by teaching them these principles. We did not meet much socially, but you were always there to offer me advice and support during campaigns. Hence, I will always consider you a mentor. It didn’t matter if we had or hadn’t spoken in months, because when it came to sharing values and principles, I immediately found you standing beside me. Today, when I meet friends, family, people in Pakistan and those outside of Pakistan, and when they say,
“We have a lot of hope and confidence in you,”One memory always comes back to me; when my own family didn’t have confidence in me, only you had confidence in me, Sabeen. And the truth is, the world I know today is the world you introduced me to. It’s not just me; I am amongst a myriad of youth for whom you were a catalyst of change. The day you were killed, I spoke at Columbia University to a room full of Pakistanis. One by one, members of the audience stood up to pay their own tribute to you. People sitting thousands of miles away from you shared their stories of how you helped, supported and inspired them. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The day you passed away, I spoke at a room full of Pakistanis in America at Columbia University. Photo: Jibran Nasir[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] One by one, members of the audience stood to pay tribute to you. Photo: Jibran Nasir[/caption] And this is the calamity, our collective misfortune and wretchedness. Little is expected from those who took you away. But many of those who mourn you are also not aware of what we lost when we lost you. Your life contributions and vision got less media coverage than the conspiracies surrounding your death. We didn’t lose an individual that day; we lost a complete institution, a university of life. A university where we learnt that we may not have to personally agree with every cause; but every cause and voice deserves to be heard. A university where we learnt what it means to be tolerant; for instance, those who doubted or abused you online, you invited them over for chai at T2F to encourage conversation and dialogue. A university, where we were encouraged to dream and to aspire for the better and where we were provided the platform to make those dreams come true.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------PS: Friends of Sabeen have started an online petition to rename 5th Sunset Lane, DHA Phase 2, where T2F is located to “Sabeen Mahmud Street” to honour her memory and her numerous contributions to Karachi. I request you all to sign, support and share this petition. Support T2F, Sabeen’s vision, so it continues to provide a platform to the youth of Karachi. Local Wire Transfer
Account Title: PEACENICHE
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The Pakistan Army has been carrying out much needed action against terrorists in a coordinated and systematic manner since General Raheel Sharif took charge. Instead of going for an all-out clean-up operation against criminal elements, the Army higher-ups have taken a cautious approach (keeping the aftermath of the 1992 military operation in mind), taking every step with great care. This time around, there seems to be a genuine effort by the Sindh Rangers in order to establish a connection between the armed forces and the citizens of Karachi. Karachiites can now send a text or audio/video message to the Rangers via WhatsApp to the ‘Rangers Madadgar’ number and have the law enforcers arrive at their doorstep. And all this can be done within the safe confines of their homes. Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, have asked citizens to inform them about any unlawful activity, especially extortion, on their WhatsApp number 0316-2369996 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This reflects the willingness of the federally controlled law enforcement agency to eliminate crimes from the port city. It is obvious they are employing various methods to identify all individuals/groups involved in crime. Previously, it was an uphill task to get a complaint registered with the concerned police station, but this initiative should fill the vacuum that existed due to a lack of public trust in the Sindh Police and its reluctance in reporting crime for various reasons. WhatsApp is a chat client being used by people all over the world and is not restricted to the privileged class. With the advent of cheap Chinese phones and data packages offered by cellular companies, the reach has expanded all the way to the common man on the street. Within a matter of few seconds, a picture can be captured or a video can be recorded and sent to a number via WhatsApp. Citizens, who were sceptical about this initiative earlier, will now be able to alert the authorities in time without disclosing their identity or without having to visit a police station. The recent achievements of Sindh Rangers in restoring peace in the metropolis and the overall progress in the on-going operation Zarb-e-Azb at a national level has strengthened public confidence in the armed forces. It’s safe to say the common man would feel safer approaching an army officer rather than visiting a department of the Sindh government. This speaks volumes of the distrust that exists due to corrupt practices and the glaring incompetence of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led Sindh government. The DG Rangers (Sindh) recently announced a fund to assist victims of terror, which again is a commendable step towards the restoration of public confidence in the abilities of the law enforcement agencies. Fortunately, the armed forces of Pakistan have successfully tapped into the long neglected “community involvement” aspect and are now moving ahead in a coordinated manner. For the first time, paramilitary forces are illustrating a humane approach towards carrying out a cleansing drive in a heavily urbanised setup. What’s left now is the outcome of this initiative. Extortion, kidnappings and similar organised crimes have decreased over a period of time, but scattered incidences are reported from time to time. Street crime is another sector that is awaiting attention of Sindh Rangers. In the past, public complains were barely paid heed to, even when reported to 1101. For this initiative to be successful, Karachiites will have to play an active role as well. Equipped with smart phones, there will be a massive force of informers ready to contribute towards eliminating crime by reporting crime via WhatsApp – only if they witness quick action against criminals on their reported incidence. Citizens will have to avoid any misuse/exploitation of the service and report only authentic and genuine cases for this Public-Rangers partnership to succeed and help Karachi regain her lost glory.
Recently, at the urging of a close friend, I took a course at CPPD in Karachi. For the uninitiated, CPPD stands for Centre for Personal and Professional Development. It’s a leading counselling training school in the UK. Since 2002, they have had an outpost in Karachi with regular classes and programs leading to certificates and qualifications on par with those received in the UK – so the quality standard is top notch, trainers fly-in from the UK ignoring all their country’s travel warnings and that coupled with the boundary-breaking nature of the course itself lends the place a feeling that something special is taking place. I took the course for two reasons. 1. To give me a taste of what pursuing a much more time-taking intensive course in counselling would entail. 2. Because my friend told me that doing this course changed her life. Now that I’ve taken the course, I am grateful to my friend for her advice, and I am writing to encourage more people to take the course. It’s not cheap (you can get full details on course fees and dates here) but it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. Below I’ve outlined nine reasons why as many people as possible should take this course even if you have no interest in becoming a counsellor. 1. The instructor is amazing Lynne K has been coming to Pakistan teaching this course for 15 plus years and she gets our culture and background and she helps us help each other make sense of it all. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="513"] Lynne K has been coming to Pakistan teaching this course for 15 plus years. Photo: CPPD[/caption] 2. Your group The first day I was surrounded by 15 strangers in all shapes and sizes. Divorced working women, mothers, closet-artists running a family business and a barely graduated high-school student. This diverse mix of people is rarely found together. You haven’t seen anyone before (but if you have, it’s okay, no need to panic). By the time the last day arrived, I felt as if I had known them, and had them know me, in a way that some of my closest friends and family haven’t. 3. Learning to open up without fear of being judged In our culture we all maintain a ‘everything is fine/okay’ attitude’ to the outside world. But things aren’t okay in reality. Not always. Spending a week with people learning to open up about how we really feel felt like taking off a shell and letting the light in. It feels indescribably wonderful to say what you feel to a group of people with no fear of being judged or shamed. 4.The learning I thought I knew a thing or two about counselling but I had never heard of Transactional Analysis – a theory and counselling practice that is easy to learn but extremely powerful to use. It has caused a profound shift in the way I think about my own behaviour as well as how I understand and interpret others. There’s a long way to go, but this course has laid a firm foundation on which to begin a deeper, personal journey to help me be a more understanding, useful, and an ultimately happier person. 5. Understanding my issues and changing patterns that just don’t work I know I have issues. You probably have issues too. Some of these don’t bother me too much (I have a fear of heights) while others are debilitating and lead to a lot of anxiety and fear. I took this course to deal with the fear that’s stopping me from doing the things I want to do in my life versus the things that I think I should be doing in my life. There’s a big difference between the two in my eyes. 6. The instructor This is point one again but bears repeating. Lynne is a fantastic teacher and guide who is patient, kind and facilitates an intimate and sacred space. She understands our joint-family systems, saas-bahu politics, and the aspects of our culture that are unique and different. And by beginning the session by chiding us not to give her any respect due to her ‘gori-ness’ it was clear that in this group, in this room, we were all equal and that no one was more or less worthy than anyone else. 7. The fact that your environment is Pakistani I’ve gotten both my degrees from Ivy League universities in the US. Excellent academics and reputation no doubt. However, local applicability was limited. Learning a course of study here I’ve found to be totally different. The examples that came up in the group sessions resonated deeply and as a result are less likely to be forgotten and more likely to be implemented. I feel like I’ve become a better listener, less judgmental and more ‘aware’ of my own behaviour and others. 8. The investment in time and money is worth it no matter how busy you are The week flies by with intensity and excitement and at the end of it I feel like there’s a big gaping hole in my day. I’ve been in a lot of workshops and meetings and never have I been left feeling like this. So many of my friends claim they have no time between work and family to devote to something as seemingly self-centred as a course in ‘self-development’. My reply to them and to you is not only that you can make the time – no matter how busy you are – but that a course in self-development you’ll find is a great investment in making you a less selfish and more giving person to those around you. 9. Connecting the dots [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Reuters[/caption] No less a figure than Steve Jobs said,
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”[poll id="527"]
While I found private buses very easy on my pocket, I hadn’t travelled in one for over a year, even though I would travel in it all the time while I was in university. I had started noticing something strange. We all know what goes on in buses; but this was different. I realised that people were talking about my gender; they weren’t sure if I was a woman or a man. For instance, once when I was going back home from work and had to take a bus, the female compartment was almost empty so I availed the opportunity and hopped on the seat on the left to the driver, feeling excited to have the whole seat to myself. A guy sitting with the driver asked him,
“Yeh larka yahaan kia kar raha hai?” (What is this boy doing here?)It was extremely uncomfortable for me considering I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen. At that time, the only way I could deal with these things was to give back an intense stare to anyone staring at me or passing a stupid comment. But it kept happening. And it wasn’t limited to the times I was travelling in a bus. On the roads, people kept staring; children started making fun of me behind my back, and a few times I even got into arguments with men for passing comments. I clearly remember the time when I literally had to control myself from flinging a hot cup of tea at this one guy who passed some silly comment regarding my gender while I was walking from Tehrik-e-Niswan’s office to the shops opposite Hyperstar to get my cigarettes. He stood there alongside his bike with his friends. When I heard him saying something about me, I turned around, walked back to him and asked with aggression,
“Koi masla hai kia?” (Is there a problem?) With a smirk on his face he said, “Nahi koi masla nahi” (No, there is no problem)I spoke in an incredibly threatening voice,
“Koi masla hai tou bata doh takay main hal kar dun tumhare liye” (Tell me if there is a problem so I can solve it for you).The guy was about to respond when his friend, sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, grabbed his arm to stop him and said that there was no problem at all. Things like these would constantly happen, and they happen now more than ever. My hair is very short now but it was almost shoulder length when the aforementioned incidents happened. I usually wear a kurta or t-shirt with jeans or trousers, depending on the weather. No dupatta. I am a girl, but I just don’t sit or walk the way prescribed to ‘a girl’ in our society. I’m also incredibly protective of the women around me. There is just something different about my overall personality. Whatever it is about me that gives me a masculine aura, it’s something I can’t help being, which makes it harder for people to decide whether I am a woman or a man. I usually take a bus when I am travelling to another city and the last time was no exception. As I stood there, waiting for my turn to get on the bus, despite this being a recurring experience, I didn’t feel any less uncomfortable at the thought of having to explain, yet again, that I was a woman to the guard doing body checks on all the men. Every single time. The most interesting part of that particular experience though was when, before the bus departed from Karachi, the Daewoo hostess got off and asked the guard,
“Yeh larki hai ke larka?” (Is this a girl or a boy?)The guard responded in a very condescending tone saying,
“Yeh na larki hai, na larka.” (This is neither a girl nor a boy)Her seat was next to mine and she refused to sit with me. I watched as she created a scene out of it. She started fighting and said,
“Maine iss k saath nahi bethna. Is ko kahin aur bithaye” (I do not want to sit with this person. Make this person sit somewhere else)Then the guy came up to me, asked for my ticket, checked my name and told the hostess,
“Koi masla nahi. Yeh larki hai,” (There is no problem. She is a girl).And no one seemed to have a problem putting me on the spot like that. Something similar happened on my way back to Karachi. A girl who was travelling alone went up to the hostess and told her that she couldn’t sit next to me because I’m a boy. I found this out when the hostess approached me and said,
“Aap kahi aur beth jayein,” (You should sit somewhere else).Even the hostess was convinced. This incredibly awkward situation dissipated when I, for the umpteenth time in my life, kept my calm and reassured the hostess that there should be no problem because I am, in fact, a girl. Funny stories, huh? I’ve learned to laugh at these small incidents because I know how much more difficult it would be for me to deal with if I don’t. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? I told my friend everything once I reached Lahore. She was furious with me when I told her that I contained my temper and fought off the urge of reacting impulsively with the hostess and the guards and all those other people who kept staring and discussing my gender with one other. To be honest, I don’t blame them, and neither the kids who make fun of me. I don’t have a reason to blame them; they have lived with the idea of binary gender all their lives. And the media keeps reinforcing these gender norms and roles and regulates its influences on the masses. So how can I blame them?! I don’t expect them to understand that I can be a woman and be masculine at the same time. I cannot scold the kid, who lives in my building, every time he sees me and asks,
“Aap larki hai yah larka?” (Are you a girl or a guy?),Or,
“Agar aap larki hai tou larko walay kapray kiu pehenti hain?” (If you are a girl, then why do you wear boy’s clothes?)The idea of binary gender is very much embedded in our consciousness and we are used to seeing people that way. An ethnic group in Indonesia, called Bugis, has five different genders. They are used to seeing gender that way. I understand that it’s difficult for people to accept the way I look and it’s okay because I know it’s going to take time for people to be open to those who identify themselves in ways they are not used to. It’s even difficult for my mother sometimes to accept it because for her this not how I am ‘supposed’ to look. What continues to disturb me, however, is the self-righteousness of people and the prejudice towards the ‘other’ and the ‘different’. This outright rejection of the minorities who are different in any way from the majority doesn’t leave any space for a healthy discussion at all, which makes the ‘different’, the unacceptable. I can’t explain to all those people that I grew up in a family with no men and the women of my family have always been very scared of men. And this situation prevails in many households. There are places where women shouldn’t go, things women shouldn’t do, attitudes not suitable for women. But I grew up subconsciously emulating men – I like to dress in a manner that resembles a man, walk like a man, behave like a man so I can protect myself from the world. Because, according to this world, you can only be strong, independent and fearless if you are a man. I feel ashamed to admit it but there was a time at which it infuriated and embarrassed me if someone called me a girl. It took me years to become comfortable with myself. Now I am a woman who is masculine. The need to define myself in certain terms doesn’t seem necessary anymore. I am a woman, a man, a transgender, an androgynous person, and any other gender people like to identify themselves with. One thing I learnt during my travels is that when people finally break the ice and get to know one another, they realise that we are all the same in so many ways that, in the bigger scheme of things, our differences don’t matter that much. The hostess, who didn’t want to sit next to me, started talking to me herself and told me what she has to go through in her job. Once she saw that I am a person, an ordinary person, just like her, it didn’t matter how I looked. And that is when true humanity shines.