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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Identity crisis: For lack of a surname

Published: August 25, 2013
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Thousands of children can’t go to school because they do not know their father’s name.

LAHORE: A few rays of sunlight creep into in a small, dark room hit earlier by a spell of load-shedding. In this room, one of two that form part of a makeshift school, 9-year-old *Akmal sits on a rickety desk with a second-hand Urdu qaaida.

This is perhaps his first encounter with a book. One of the many vulnerable children born to commercial sex workers in Shahi Mohalla Lahore, his reason for never having been to school is not just poverty. The reason is darker and more complicated. Akmal does not know his father’s name and so does not have a B form.

Thousands of Akmals are unknown, unregistered and invisible. Registration laws are a tightened noose not just for the children of sex workers but also orphaned or abandoned children, making options of a better life limited for them.

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” says the naive boy. In absence of a legal identity, the probability is less that he will be able to go beyond the initial Jugnu Literacy Program taught at this small centre in the infamous Heera Mandi. “We have been trying to sensitize nearby public schools to admit these children so that they have a chance at a better life. But in absence of a B form and with the stigma attached, they are not readily accepted,” says Lubna Tayyab, founder of the NGO called SHEED running the small program, herself born and bred in Shahi Mohalla.

“Since generations, women of my family have been in the flesh trade. I don’t want my daughter to have the same life. If she doesn’t get an education, how will she get out of here?” says *Samina, a sex worker and mother of three.

Of identity and crisis

“Unregistered children, whether of commercial sex workers or otherwise, can be at a highly disadvantageous position in several ways, especially those belonging to socially excluded communities.

They don’t figure in government planning. For all developmental purposes such as education, health and social welfare services, without birth registration and due to the inordinate delays in census, most government planners are unaware of certain population groups and demographic changes, thus, they are more likely to miss out on social services,” says Sohail Abbasi, Child Protection Specialist, Unicef.

As Abbasi rightly points out, without birth registration, these children lack credible identity and age determination.

The children who come into conflict with law, or are trafficked internally or externally, or are married at an early age, or are exposed to hazardous labour will all face difficulties as they cannot legally prove their identity and/or age. A similar fate awaits unregistered children claiming their rightful inheritance or facing custody determination by a court of law.

“The government links certain services, such as, admission in schools, issuance of domiciles, proof of citizenship and later CNICs, with birth registration. Therefore, children without legal identity and determination of age are in a highly disadvantageous position,” points out Abbasi.

NADRA’s version and the way forward

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) says that it has facilitated registration of such children at a policy level and eased the condition of providing a guardianship certificate.

On a Rs20 affidavit, NADRA says, any supposed name of parentage can be given by the orphanage/guardian so that the same may be entered in the father/mother field. For this NADRA acquired  fatwas from Saudi Arabia and Iran which support the idea of giving any supposed name (which cannot be called a fake name), giving the benefit of doubt that the names cited are indeed of the father/mother or guardian of the child. No birth certificate is required from abandoned or fatherless children for registration with NADRA.

NADRA encourages orphanages to register themselves with the authority. They have so far 31 orphanages that are registered with them, and as per their given record there are 6,045 children residing in these orphanages.

Through these orphanages these children can apply for issuance of CNIC/NICOP/CRC. Recently, NADRA chairman has also ordered the issuance of SMART cards (free of charge) to these children.

The answer, then, may very well lie with policymakers to not just facilitate registration of every Pakistani citizen but also work on sensitisation of masses so that they realise the importance of becoming registered citizens and not unnumbered just shadows lurking in the dark.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/594930/identity-crisis-for-lack-of-a-surname/

The danger of being a journalist in Pakistan

Published: August 17, 2013

Express Media employees and security personnel gather at the entrance of the office after the attack. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

My biggest high as a journalist is my byline. Having been a journalist for a fairly long time, the excitement has not lessened.

The day I know a story of mine will be published there is a wave of anticipation from the night before. With half-open eyes, I snap off the rubber band holding the rolled up newspaper in the morning, search for my story, and revisit it many times a day.

It is not simply narcissism, though every journo and writer is a bit of a self-centred narcissist inside. George Orwell got it right when he laid down the four motives to write in his essay “Why I write” and placed sheer egoism at the top because as he said “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

I will not digress into a debate about the difference between a journalist and a writer here. Somewhere, the lines are diffused and they tend to overlap.

But in a country like Pakistan and the times we live in, the joy of seeing one’s name in print becomes even more profound. Journalists of both print media and broadcast risk their lives, literally, and get not much money in return.

It is an underpaid profession at the end of the day. Only people with an insatiable desire to speak out are good reporters.

In a nutshell, the byline or the name of the journalists means everything to them.

Only yesterday, at work, I was talking to a colleague who just wrote a daring piece. “I was told I shouldn’t put in my name in this write-up,” she said. “But of course you did,” I said. We smiled at each other. We all have been there.

But today’s (Friday’s) attack on the office of Express Media is more than 24 bullets, two injured people and an act of cowardice. It is something, I fear, which will lessen the number of bylines even further.

It will not just be the attackers who will be unnamed persons. Very soon, the people who dig out the stories that tell you what’s happening in the world around us will be veiled, shrouded and stacked up under umbrella terms like “media” and “correspondent”.

I fear, very soon, the perilous nature of the Pakistani journalism will rob us of the one satisfaction we have.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/591368/when-journalists-become-unknown-people/

 

I would have given my life for Quaid-e-Azam: My mother’s Pakistan

“He was a weak, frail man. But when he spoke, his voice was like a lion’s. He stressed each word. Strong, determined voice.”

Dementia is ruthless. It doesn’t give you a choice about what you want to forget and what you don’t. But while the words may disappear at the cruel hands of memory loss, the feelings often don’t. My mother may at times confuse the names of her children, but she never forgets that she is ammi and we are her children. She also never forgets what Pakistan means to her, and to us. Her eyes still light up when she hears the name “Quaid-e-Azam”.

She hasn’t forgotten the most important things in her life – the good ones and the bad. Milestones are etched in her mind. Her days as a young girl in her teens who volunteered in the partition movement are a milestone for sure.

And so, for me and my siblings, Independence Day can’t be just another day. Every year, we sat around her, and in later years my nieces and nephews as well, listening to those anecdotes, stories and patriotic songs till they became a part of our own memories. The tradition of telling stories verbally is sadly fading. Thankfully, my mother kept it alive for us. Those sessions have been an inspiration for the activism in my life, I suspect, though at that time they were nothing but stories we enjoyed listening to because ammi –  a poetry lover and a literature buff – told them so beautifully.

On August 14, my mind is filled with random excerpts of those sessions with my mother… oral history from the lens of a teenager who saw Pakistan being formed and got a chance to contribute. Through the glimpses from her memories we were acquainted with a revolution that changed the lives of millions; a revolution, the essence of which is now being doubted.

“He was a weak, frail man. But when he spoke, his voice was like a lion’s. He stressed each word. Strong, determined voice. As a child, I stuck close to the radio, waiting to hear his voice; hanging on to each word. My elder sisters were part of the Women’s Guard and although I was young, I would tag along.

Thousands of us. One cause. I don’t even remember any of us asking each other who was a Punjabi, a Pathan, a Balochi or a Sindhi or any ethnicity for that matter. We hadone leader, and we trusted him. I would have literally given my life for him as would have all the young people of the time.”

Ammi would then sing in her lovely voice:

“Millat ke liye kya hee ghaneemat hai tera dam

Ae Quaid-e-Azam

(What a blessing you are for this nation, Quaid-e-Azam)

Maana ke hai purpaich buhut zaada-e-manzil

Darpaish hai mushkil

(Agreed, the path to destiny is winding and we are faced with challenges)

Tu qaafila salaar humara hai to kya gham

Ae Quaid-e-Azam”

(When you are our leader, why should we worry, O Quaid-e-Azam)

My mother, a Punjabi by descent, lost her father at a very early age. My nani (grandmother) widowed with five young children faced a tough challenge.

“But when we heard that trains full of our muhajir (those who migrated to Pakistan) brothers and sisters are coming to us, the doors of our hearts opened! We saved every penny and with that cooked loads of food and took it to the Lahore train station, waiting for them, trying to make sure they don’t go hungry or thirsty when they arrive. Sometimes, the coming of the train was not a very happy occasion. Many had already embraced martyrdom,” she’d say.

Through it all, my mother’s narrative never reeked of hatred. She talked of her Hindu friends, whom she missed because they migrated to India. These were not memoirs based on anger and hatred. These were actually memoirs based on unity, faith and discipline.

Today, we are in a different world altogether. Some of us even doubt if Pakistan should have come into being in the first place but thanks to my mother, I never do. I know the purpose behind this country; it was a nation’s way of asserting their right to their identity and to practice their faith. That never meant denying that right to followers of other faiths or those who differed in opinion. It was taking everyone in the fold of Pakistan.

In some ways, it’s nice that ammi is not as awake to the bitter realities of today’s Pakistan.The killings of the Hazaras in Quetta and the Punjabis in Mach, the children in Lyari and the innocent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – my mother’s peaceful soul would not have not taken all this well.

Thanks to ammi and her memoirs, I refuse to give up hope in better tomorrows for Pakistan. I refuse to be jaded and refuse to stop trying. Things may look bleak, but hope is all we have.

So today, on August 14, I am going to sit with her and remind her of those chants and slogans and show her the green and white flag fluttering away; just the way she did for all her children.

The slogans are not all obsolete. Specially “Hum Pakistan banayein ge” (we will make Pakistan).

It is time once more to re-build parts of Pakistan that are hurt and damaged; maybe this Independence Day we can all get the wheels of transformation to start moving.

Pakistan Zindabad!

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18504/i-would-have-given-my-life-for-quaid-e-azam-my-mothers-pakistan/

Are Pakistani women ready to go for Eid namaz?

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 8, 2013

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

Once upon a time, Ammi used to have a list of exciting chores ready for her girls when Eid day arrived. This was the drill: Abba and brothers go for Eid namaz, and while they are gone, we, the women, had to make taaza (fresh) sheer khorma, change bed linen and table cloths (it was some family ritual, I think), get ready, pray the short Eid namaz at home, and be happily ready for the guys to return and give us Eidi.

On Bari Eid (Eidul Azha), a slight modification would be to get ready after the meat was distributed and done with; however, the rest remained the same.

It was all lovely. I am thankful that my mother made sure Eid was splendidly exciting for our family, and that we didn’t spend Eid morning catching up on sleep.

Just one thing was sorely missing in these otherwise lovely, fun family mornings of this most important festival. Like a majority of Pakistani women, we never went for Eid namaz.

We, culturally, do not think about traditions; we just follow them. Often, we don’t even know why we are doing a certain thing. We just do it because everyone else does. And so for the longest time, I never really questioned why we celebrated Eid. The emphasis was on the festivity and celebration, not on why it was such a big deal, just like we prepare for months and years for the wedding, not the marriage. Somewhere, the essence dwindles away.

That’s what my Eid was like for a long time.

Years later, a friend randomly invited me to come along with her on Eid namaz.

I could not say no because I knew by then through authentic prophetic traditions that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had in fact strongly advised women to go for Eid namaz and join in the collective prayers of the festival.

And so I went.

It wasn’t easy the first time, in all honesty. My daughter was still young and it was winter time. Dragging a little child out of bed, getting her and myself ready early on Eid morning when your body is already sleep-deprived after a month of interrupted sleep – it wasn’t easy. Also, till then my family wasn’t so convinced this was something very important, which meant I had to drive down myself and find a parking outside a crowded mosque. However, am I glad I went. Since that day, I have never missed the opportunity unless there’s been a serious reason.

I found out what men enjoy there and women miss out on. Raising your hands multiple times till your ears and saying “Allahu Akbar” reminds one of why we are celebrating Eid in the first place. It is a celebration of the fact that this past month, we may have inched closer to our Creator. We may have become better human beings; we may have been forgiven this Ramadan; we may be starting with a clean slate and for that, we thank God and rejoice.

Women who go for Eid namaz regularly know that it is not just a spiritual but also a wonderful social experience. The feeling of togetherness and of a community that is swiftly fading in our fast-paced lives is revived. We greet those we know and we greet those we don’t know, and we don’t really care who makes the first move. We congratulate each other and set out with our families after that to eat, meet, greet and enjoy the blessings God has showered on us.

If you take away the Eid namaz from Eid, there is honestly a sense of disconnect between Ramadan and the rest of the year, starting on Chand Raat. We have this 30-day crash course in connection with the Divine, in charity, in prayers and in goodness, and suddenly, we switch all of that off on Eid morning.

Interestingly, many Pakistani women who have been going for taraweeh throughout Ramadan do not go for Eid namaz. More intriguing is how the same women who regularly go for Eid prayers when abroad do not do so when back home in Pakistan.

While a small but increasing number of Pakistani women are going for Eid namaz to mosques, a majority still don’t. The reasons are predictable; for one, not many mosques have that arrangement. Organisers of mosques will be more open to women’s wings in mosques if more women want to go.

Another reason is simple laziness and time management skills that need improvement. Women who don’t want to miss Eid namaz still make the sheer khorma and still change the linen in a ritualistic manner, but they do it a day before. It also boils down to a lack of awareness about the fact that yes, women are supposed to say their Eid namaz too, just like the men.

Talking of the men – they are often not used to the idea. They don’t mind if their lady was outshopping on Chand Raat till midnight, but will raise their brows quizzically if she says “I want to go for Eid namaz”.

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan.

If you are a woman and do decide to go for Eid namaz this time, here are some of the places it will be held at:

  • Faisal Mosque, Islamabad
  • Jamia Masjid DHA, Sector J, Masjid Chowk, Lahore
  • Khalid masjid, Cavalry grounds, Lahore
  • Imambargah Yathrab, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi (For Fiqh-e-Jafria)
  • Ayesha Masjid, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Karachi
  • Masjid Saad bin Abi Waqqas, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi
  • Quran Academy masjid, Seaview, Karachi
  • Gulistan-e-Anis, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Sada bahaar lawn, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Masjid Bait-us-Salam, Commercial Avenue, phase 4, DHA, Karach

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18465/are-pakistani-women-ready-to-go-for-eid-namaz/

Waiting for the moon to shine

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 1, 2011

 

Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee.

People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him.

“Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha.”

(He is the one because of whom the Eid moon is sighted at eleven in the night.)

“Inn ka jab dil chahta hai Eid kar dete hain, aur jub dil chahta hai tees rozay karwa dete hain”

(Whenever he wants, it’s Eid and whenever he wants, there are 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan).

And these were some of the more polite comments.

It seemed strange to me that the gentleman was being blamed for something he had no control over – and for a decision that is not unilaterally made by him. The decision is made by respected and renowned Islamic scholars, media personnel, meteorologists and telescopes on board.

But this happens every year, doesn’t it?

We dispute on dinner tables and we argue at work places over this issue.  It’s ironic how, Ramazan, the month of peace and tolerance and serenity,  begins with relentless bickering over the issue of whether the entire Muslim Ummah should “unite” by celebrating the advent of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and then Zul-Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha on the same days as Saudi Arabia or not.

Then there is the issue of whether scientific equipment should be relied upon, and the question of whether moon sighting should totally be done away with or not. And then follows the mockery of how the moon’s been sighted in Peshawar and that discussions on how a nation can ever progress if they don’t even celebrate Eid on the same day.

This issue (or non-issue) is a classic example of how the gulf between extremes is widening.

Fundamentalism and liberalism, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin and are coming from the same place. This widening  gulf results in polarization where no single group or party is willing to listen, understand and tolerate the opinion of the other.

Those who follow the moon sighting ritual are upset at the “modern” citizens who have given it up. The other side is forever squabbling about how this ritual is  responsible for pushing back the Muslims in time by about 1400 years.

Why, simply, can both views not co-exist in harmony?

Opening Facebook at the advent of Ramazan is interesting to say the least. An assortment of sarcastic retorts awaits in the form of status updates.

While they start with Ramazan Mubarak wishes, they inevitably end up commenting on this issue. I am concerned about the motive behind these comments.

What leads to the derision of each other’s viewpoint?

Is it a simple difference of opinion, which would be completely understandable? Or the inconvenience of not knowing it is Eid till the last moment?

Or is it peer pressure from the rest of the world which makes Muslims a tad bit apologetic (as usual) and wonder why their religious festivals are devoid of a semblance of discipline and is celebrated on not one but different days?

The latter two, to me, are not good reasons.

As a boring pacifist, my take on the issue is pretty simple. I am happy for both groups so long as they don’t disrespect the other’s viewpoint and don’t display a lack of tolerance. That does not mean I don’t have a very clear viewpoint of my own.

I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.

I would not give up for anything the joy of rushing to the roof with my daughter, in anticipation and excitement, and reciting the supplication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite when he saw the moon. The sliver-like crescent that flashes a smile, informs us that it’s time to gear up for the spiritual detox month, and vanishes.

To me, this is actually a ritual that unites followers of a single faith beyond political boundaries. When a Muslim in Indian Punjab and a Muslim in Pakistan’s Punjab fast and celebrate Eid on the same day. But if some of my friends subscribe to another viewpoint, I will wish them a blessed Ramazan sans sarcasm and judgment. A Ramazan of worship, connection with Allah, forgiveness, mercy, sharing, charity and joy.

Enjoy Ramazan. Peace be upon you.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/7290/waiting-for-the-moon-to-the-shine/