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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Is it fair to blame Imran Khan for the Peshawar Church Blast?


By Farahnaz Zahidi 8 minutes ago


After all, something needs to come up on Google when in the possible near future the average American asks, who is the man that's shooting down our drones? PHOTO: REUTERS

The church blast in Peshawer took away more than 80 innocent lives. People had gone there to pray, not knowing their funeral prayers would follow soon.

As always, the shock had subsided the day after the blast, but there was sadness – a constant dull ache that refused to recede. A recurring realisation existed that so many had lost their lives just because they prayed differently. Nothing seemed to help. Tweeting and facebooking allowed people to vent and rave temporarily, but frankly, social media acts as temporary anaesthesia. It numbs the pain for a bit, but the pain and anger returns. Always.

Then there was a call to attend a vigil for the victims and it turned out to be just what I needed. I needed a forum to express my solidarity with Christian Pakistanis – stand by them and join them in prayer. I needed some semblance of peace in that time of turmoil. As a mother, I needed to teach my daughter that this matters to us.

Thankfully, the vigil offered all this.

Like most vigils, a handful of people gathered at 8:00 pm. outside the Karachi Press Club. There were representatives of the Christian community, activists, a few Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters, and some student activists of other parties – all with candles amid eerie peace that is always present on candlelight vigils.

While some people took the microphone to share their feelings, others quietly donated blood at the makeshift blood camp. They knew that their blood might never make it to Peshawer to the injured of the blast, but it would reach someone somewhere and someone would benefit.

That was the only thought on everyone’s mind – to help, to do something.

However, slowly the mood began to change. As the crowd spotted PTI supporters showing their respect peacefully, the quiet whispers became loud insults.  One person questioned,

“So you kill people in the day by being apologists for extremists, but you attend a vigil for those whom you murdered in the night?”

Another continued,

“You all have your political agenda.”

As the insults became louder and more direct, the anger escalated and the blame game started. Abuses and loud slogans of “Shame Imran Shame” became louder. The poor organizer apologised for the unpleasant allegations being hurled and the ‘peace’ that we had all come looking for, was replaced by the scapegoat syndrome.

As the pastor eventually began to recite a beautiful prayer for tolerance and harmony in Pakistan, the irony became all the more jarring. I realised that the lack of tolerance first rears its ugly head when people can no longer hear each other out. We all know that as a nation, whenever anything happens, we are quick to jump the gun almost as if our only way of trying to find sanity amidst the mayhem is by looking for a scapegoat.

For this incident, the scapegoat happens to be Imran Khan and PTI’s pro-negotiation policy. I saw this not just at the vigil; but on social media, talk shows and heard it in conversations. According to Twitter, he was even pelted with insults and tomatoes. His supporters were made to feel guilty as if they and their party were the reason for killing the slain.

As a nation, we are too angry, too bitter, too mistrusting and too awkward in the art of dialogue. We accuse, we abuse, we vent, we blame and we move on. Until the next tragedy and then the chain begins again.

However, this attitude is hardly surprising and our history shows this more than once. I recall clearly the Karsaz blast of October 18, 2007 that killed some 200 people. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had returned to Pakistan with utmost sincerity to lead her people to democracy once again and her welcome procession was attacked. Although she survived that blast, just hours after the blast, I remember these words being uttered:

“She must have gotten the blasts done herself to gain sympathy and support”.

These voices were silenced but only once she was assassinated. However, the inherent psyche still remains.

This blog is not about Imran Khan or the efficacy and legitimacy of proposed negotiations. This is not about the fact that Pakistan has lost 35,000 civilians and 3,500 security personnel to acts of terrorism between 2006 and 2011 only according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2010-2011 – years in which we had a strictly no-negotiation policy. This is not about whether extremists should be offered an office or not, though that move actually may help give them a face and make it more feasible to deal with them. After all, whatever the scapegoat says or does, even if it makes sense, people will oppose it on a reflex.

This is about the realisation that if we differ in opinion, we must first learn how to disagree with a certain decorum. We can’t hurl a shoe at Musharraf and insult Imran Khan, and then expect tolerance in society. If we do so, we will claim our sincerity as much as we like, but we will end up causing more dissension, which is not what this country needs at all. By playing blame-games, are we doing a service or a disservice to those who lost their lives last Sunday?

It is time we gave practical solutions rather than blame scapegoats with allegations of unholy alliances.

Girl-child rape: How she came to Heera Mandi

Published: September 25, 2013

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One of the many buildings in Lahore’s red light district. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

LAHORE: Thirty-one-year-old *Kulsoom just got free entertaining her first “client” of the day, and is ready to speak to us. “Paani piyavan thanda?” (Should I serve you some cold water?), she offers, alluding to the tiny refrigerator in the corner with pride, as we feel sweat trickling down our backs, thanks to Lahore’s merciless load-shedding.

“The clients have shrunk drastically in number, due to load-shedding jee. Nobody bothers coming due to the heat. Business is down,” she says, making small talk. This cramped-up eight by 12 feet room in Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red light district, is what she now calls home. The culprit behind this very real story of how a girl-child from rural Punjab ended up as a commercial sex worker is the man who raped her at age 10.

As she starts narrating her life’s story, it is almost 2 pm. The Lahore sun glares down, making her garish make-up and overly bright clothes look even more loud. The layers of cheap face-powder are unable to hide the greyish tinge her skin has developed due to years of substance abuse.

Kulsoom shares that she ran away from her home in a village in Vehari district, and never went back. “I was raped at age ten. I still have clear memories of being violated. I remember my body being very small. He was a distant relative, aged 40 plus,” she recalls. “I never told anyone, not even my parents.”

Even at age ten, she had that sense of shame that surrounds rape survivors in our society. “I kept worrying that everyone would think it was my fault!” she says. Two years later, she was married off to her maternal uncle’s son. The fear that he would find out that she had been raped resulted in her warding off her husband’s attempts at consummating the marriage. “My fear was exposure of the fact that I was not pure,” she says.

When she realised that she could not hold off the inevitable forever, she one day got on a bus to Lahore. She was 12. She landed at the Minar-e-Pakistan, and spent time out in the open, hungry and scared. Two women, domestic helpers, showed empathy. Kulsoom requested them to get her some work. They obliged.

The story that follows is expected. Kulsoom’s face has resigned acceptance as she narrates. “Once raped, whatever follows doesn’t matter, does it? The sahibs in the houses where I worked violated me, more than once,” she says, sharing that every such incident chipped away a bit of her. Kulsoom has also been raped by ex-“clients” in drunken states. “May be this is what I was destined to suffer.”All roads eventually led her to Lahore’s infamous red-light district.

Psychological trauma

Kulsoom knows that she is in one of the most dangerous professions. “I know I can get beaten or harmed. I know I can acquire sexually transmitted diseases. But I don’t think I can do anything else,” she confesses. While circumstances led her here, could the trauma of rape have anything to do with this? “When a child is sexually abused or raped, they may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because they see this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done,” says Sarah Jafry, counsellor at War Against Rape (WAR). “For victims, it is a lifetime sentence. They are damaged at every level. They need serious and deep therapy to heal.”

While not all child-rape survivors end up where she is, a misplaced sense of shame and sin may accompany. “I pray for myself and for the whole world. But I don’t say my namaz since I left home,” she says, feeling undeserving of the right to pray regularly.

Post-rape isolation

She craves to go back home but she dares not “because my parents are shareef people; if they find out what I have been doing, I will be killed. They don’t even know whether I am alive or dead.”

“I am better off alone,” she convinces herself, but later confesses it is a life of misery without a family. “I cook for myself and eat alone. I cook qeema once a week to treat myself,” she says.

Childhood interrupted

According to data provided by WAR, the average age of rape survivors is 14 years. “In alarming zones like the jurisdiction of the Mobina Town police station in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi, repeated cases of children aged 4 to 7 years being raped and even murdered have surfaced. But nothing is done about it,” shared Sheraz Ahmed, Survivor Support Officer at WAR.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2013

Of three Thari women, revenge and a cell phone

Published: September 12, 2013

“This is a story of revenge. It was revenge which disgraced one woman after another,” reveals a saddened Ali Akbar, Executive Director, AWARE. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Pictures of a Thari woman lying on the desert sand, her face in obvious agony, surface for anyone who has recently searched the internet with the keywords ‘Tharparkar gang rape’. But the pictures tell an incomplete story, as do the headlines. This story is of not one but three women. Behind the crimes are a cell phone and men using women for revenge.

M*, a mother of two, who was allegedly raped by eight in Pabrayion near the Chacharo taluka in Tharparkar district. The alleged crime becomes uglier as it happened with M’s husband and children looking on, helpless. M and her family were commuting to Umerkot. This is when five men intercepted them, took them to another location, and eight men allegedly raped her for five hours.

Speculation is focused more on whether the rape actually happened or not, but the motive has been ignored. “This is a story of revenge. It was revenge which disgraced one woman after another,” reveals a saddened Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE).

People of Tharparkar are shaken up, Akbar said, by this incident, as generally despite poverty, Tharparkar is known to be peaceful with non-existent crime rates.

According to Akbar, the backdrop of this story was set four months back, when a man named Kaloo entered the home of Khano with a bad intention. “The family woke up and the intruder was identified. Footsteps do not go untraced on Thari sand. But the matter was hushed up in the village panchayat,” narrates Akbar.

But villagers kept teasing Khano, alluding that it was the lure of his wife that had brought Kaloo to his house. Thus the first woman in the story is wife of Khano, who suffered humiliation and got sucked into this whirlpool-like situation for no fault of her own.

Enraged inwardly, Khano thought the best way of taking revenge was to dishonour a woman from the intruder’s family, who is the second woman who was shamed and sucked into this game of revenge being played by men. “He raped a close female relative of Kaloo and recorded an objectionable video of the girl on his cell phone with the help of his accomplices. Somehow that video found its way into the village. Her family then started thinking of revenge upon revenge,” says Akbar.

They got that opportunity on September 4 when they allegedly gang raped a helpless woman for the felony M’s husband’s brother, Khano, had committed.

“Thari woman are tough. They can survive starvation and live without even the most of basic of needs but they cannot bear indignity,” says Akbar.

Writer and activist Amar Sindhu, who was part of the protest the victim and her family staged, confirms that she has heard the same sequence of events from concurrent accounts of locals she met. Sindhu, who represents the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and is currently a member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, Government of Pakistan, believes that M is telling the truth.

“I have met the victim. Not just her condition was terrible but also her husband’s. Testimonies of locals and the victim point in the direction that the allegation is true. I personally believe that M was, indeed, raped,” says Sindhu.

“M offered to show me her bruises and marks when I met her at the protest but that was a not a feasible setting. Also, in a gang rape, there is less resistance as many control a single woman. Therefore, physical marks are always lesser,” said Sindhu.

According to locals, M, her husband and children kept frequenting the police station of Chachro for three days and on the fourth day they staged a protest in front of the Chachro press club.

Pakistan Peoples Party’s minorities representative of the area, Mahesh Malani, said he had no way of confirming or denying the incidents. Malani, when contacted by The Express Tribune,was aware that two women were allegedly raped, but did not know about the night-time intrusion in the third woman’s house, which is where apparently the whole saga started. Locals feel that Malani has not played his role to support the wronged and make sure the perpetrators are punished.

“Suspects of the second case have been arrested. Lab tests are underway. There is no FIR of the first case. The suspects confess to intimidating and rough-handling the victims but are saying they never raped her,” said Malani, adding that he condemns the act in the strongest sense.

“But just taking notice and condemnation is not enough. On our advice, M and her husband have met the session judge,” said Sindhu. She also said that the while the media has played a positive part in drawing attention to the issue, care should be exercised not to vulgarize the issue. “Now the victims have to be helped to follow the legal process to punish the criminals.” *Name has been changed to protect the victim’s identity.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2013.

Stuck in the middle – Anywhere between 35 & 55? Midlife Crisis Warning!

If you are anywhere between 35 to 55 years old and suddenly you find yourself looking back at years gone by, recalling obsessively your youth, doubt yourself and the person you have become, have this burning desire to feel or look younger, feel you haven’t achieved your life’s goals, find yourself doing things you haven’t done in years, making impulsive and irrational choices, then this article is precisely what you need to be reading.


How often have you come across someone who suddenly does something completely out of character? Like unpredictably deciding to embark on an affair while happily married. Like suddenly starting to dress in a flashy manner which is not their usual style.

Like impulsively making wrong financial decisions. Faced with the sudden desire to live life to the fullest, a man may decide that a new BMW makes perfect sense (despite it being well outside the family’s finances). He may decide that he absolutely must leave the job he was quite satisfied with just a few months before.

Everyone changes in life but during a midlife crisis these changes can be extreme and seemingly come out of nowhere. The Midlife Crisis is more common than we like to think……it happens all around us, to us, but we fail to recognize, accept and deal with it. Which is why what could be simply a time of reflection and growth becomes a traumatic phase that can have disastrous consequences.

The concept of Midlife Crisis was first presented by Carl Jung who says that it is a Time of crisis, of self doubt and inner questioning;

•           What exactly have I achieved with my life?

•           What am I to do with the rest of it?

•           What is there to look forward to but old age, infirmity, and death?

Instead of looking forward one looks backwards… begins to take stock, to see how one’s life has developed up to this point.”

Is Midlife Crisis a Western concept, or is it as prevalent in Pakistan, but is simply taboo? Asma Pal, Counselor and MD HRI and Guidance Counseling Centre, says,

”Midlife crisis has always been around Pakistan, but our culture has locked people in an ‘expectation grid’, they are tied to the roles they must play and are unable to fully discover their own identity or assert it. This brings about a state of ‘lockdown’ where one can’t express how one feels or be who they are.”

Asma feels that, “Midlife crisis is not gender or culture specific. It is more of a change in behavior brought about by Biological and Hormonal changes.  A midlife crisis is directly related to ageing, Menopause in women and Andropause in men, a time when libido goes down and irritability goes up. It is a period of raised rates of depression, divorce, suicide and extreme behaviours. Many symptoms are an effort to delay or indeed deny the aging process. This behavior not only has a negative effect on a person’s life but also that of his/her family. Intensity, however, differs in individuals.”

This experience is a combination of feelings, events and body changes that indicate a transformation is at hand. A person experiencing this could have a few or most of these symptoms: Unexplained bouts of depression when doing tasks that used to make you happy, changing or investigating new religious ideology, unable to concentrate or complete tasks, a sudden desire to get into physical shape, irritability, unexpected anger, excessive reminiscing about youth and previous loves, desire for physical –Free Flowing– movement (Running, Biking, Dance, Fast red sports cars, Sky diving, etc), exploring new musical tastes, obsessively listening to music you listened to in your youth and sudden interest in new hobbies.

People going through this phase may start questioning everything in one’s life, feeling trapped or tied down by economic or family responsibilities. Changes in tastes and habits are common. So is taking more time to look good, paying unusual attention to your hair or clothes, and hanging out with a different generation as their energy and ideas stimulate you.

Physical changes could include a change in allergies, shifting sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and general malaise.

People who are emotionally unstable are more prone to Midlife Transformation. Most of us go through it but those who cannot mitigate it have extreme reactions. Stress can trigger it, like Changing Jobs, Divorce, Death of someone close and experiencing a major illness.

One hears clichéd comments like how after a man hits the big 40, it is time to watch out, as he may indulge in erratic behaviour and romantic escapades. Do men experience Midlife Crisis more commonly than women do? Arguable, as Asma opines.” Men react more strongly to it. The reason for that is that men don’t experience any major changes in their physical or hormonal state as compared to women. Men only experience Puberty and Andropause, whereas women after puberty go through PMS (premenstrual syndrome), Child birth, post natal depression and Menopause.” Therefore, debatably, women handle change better.

The worthwhile question would be how can one handle this traumatic phase in ones life? “Recognition, understanding and acceptance,” answers Asma.

As Carl Jung said, “Midlife crisis, though traumatic, is also an opportunity to become more conscious and to grow. The crisis of mid-life can serve to wake up an undiscovered self and the rest of the life can provide the opportunity for its development.”

One needs to put more energy into the marital relationship, focus on strengths instead of regrets, look forward instead of backwards, get fit (Sleep, rest, exercise and eat right), and get counseling if things get out of hand.

A midlife crisis is a natural biological and psychological process of a person maturing. While some of the symptoms might indicate a process opposite of maturing, at times a person needs to step backwards in order to move forward. Everyone changes to evolve within their life as they get older. The truest resolution is learning to embrace the change.

This article was originally published in Dawn’s Sunday Magazine

Identity Crisis: Should a woman change her surname after marriage?

My earliest memories of when I started identifying with my name go way back to whenever somebody asked me my name as a kid. I’d say the whole excruciatingly long name that I have, surname and all, “Farahnaz Badruddin Zahidi”. That name told me who I was! I adored labeling my school books. Once I became a journalist, I took pride, and still do, in seeing my name as a byline with my articles.

Though the man I married gave me my space and was not threatened by me preserving my identity, it was my own choice to include his name with my name.

But years later, I wonder why I decided to change my surname in the first place when there was no coercion. Simply because I was conditioned to do so as in our society, a woman’s surname changes! As a writer, very consciously,  my paternal family name remains my identity. This is who I am, and I cannot pull the plug on that.

I never gave it much thought. I may never have thought about this carefully if, during a casual chit chat, a young, educated man wouldn’t have flown off the handle when his wife merely suggested that she would have loved to retain her father’s name as her surname.

The discussions that ensued revealed interesting results.

Zofeen T. Ebrahim, renowned journalist, says, “I never gave it a thought at the time I was getting married. But today, practically I think it is a better idea to retain your father’s name as your surname as what if a woman’s marriage does not work out? There is increasing awareness about this as well as many other issues; women are re-thinking. Personally, as long as I am given respect as a wife, and space as an individual, it does not matter to me.”

The sense of personal identity and uniqueness that a name gives us is at the heart of why names interest us and why they are important to us as individuals. Freud recognized that the relationship between name and identity is so strong that the misrepresentation of a name amounts to a misrepresentation of the person. Freud saw psychological meaning in the accidental distortion of a person’s name. While the sudden change in surname is not the distortion of a name, many women confess that it initially takes years to get used to a new surname.

When asked why women changed their surnames on getting married, the common answers were:

  • Cultural norms
  • Never thought about it
  • Fear of upsetting husband or in-laws
  • Never thought there was another way around
  • Romantic ideas. Some women felt they “had been waiting all their lives to get married and change their surname”
  • Legal reasons, as it can be complicated if your kids bear their dad’s (and in many cases, their grand dad’s name!) as their surname on their passport and you don’t have the same surname
  • If In-laws are a more socially elite family, it lends pride to the woman to link that name with her name
  • The name simply “sounded better” with the husband’s name

A study conducted by the University of Florida reveals that, “Adopting a husband’s last name remains an entrenched tradition that is on the upswing, despite a temporary blip in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s where many young women tended to want to hold on to their birth names.” This was said by UF linguistics professor Diana Boxer, who led a series of studies. “I think it reflects how men’s power continues to influence American society despite the fact that women have made great advances economically and socially. People say ‘It’s only a name, what’s in a name?’ Well, we think there’s a lot in a name,” she said. “Linguistic symbols tell us how people are treated in society.”

The practice of women automatically taking their husband’s surnames was first challenged in the West in mid-19th century by abolitionist Lucy Stone. From then on, women who retained their birth names after marriage came to be called “Lucy Stoners,” with negative connotations. “In a 1997 study of more than 10,000 Midwesterners, men thought women who kept their surnames were more likely to work outside the home, less likely to enjoy cooking, less likely to attend church and – this is the clincher – less likely to make good wives,” Boxer said.

Many cultures are more accepting. In rural Pakistan, women retain their birth names unless they need to request a government document, while in Norway children automatically receive the mother’s name unless a couple tells authorities otherwise.

Cross cultural perspectives differ on this issue. But what about religious viewpoints? Historically, it is a proven fact that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) as well as his daughters, retained their father’s names. According to many Islamic scholars, in Islamic sharee’ah it is not permissible for a woman to change her surname because it is forbidden for anyone to claim to belong to anyone other than his or her father. (Ref: Islam Q&A, Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid). Chapter 33, verse 5 of the Quran points in this direction too.

Ayesha Amin Usman is one of the growing number of women who have “2” surnames, says, “I feel the surname is important regardless of gender. The husband is never asked to change his surname upon marriage and neither should the girl, particularly since our religion does not oblige us to do so. I am fortunate that Usman left the decision to me. Retaining one’s surname is a way of honoring one’s own lineage. Adding my husband’s name as a suffix was my way of accepting a new person, a new family and a new home. For me it is about a sense of belonging to both the new and old. Retaining my family name also helped in avoiding confusions across professional and social networks.”

Trying to get an opinion from both the Yin and the Yang, we asked Ayesha’s husband Usman, who says, “I left it totally up to my wife to continue with whatever name she chose. Unlike many men in our society I don’t feel the need to impose a sense of belonging or dominance upon the wife by forcing her to adopt the husband’s name. She is the one whose life changes drastically and it should be up to her to figure out the name equation – add, subtract or multiply.”

However not everyone felt that way. Khurram Ahmed Amin, 40, felt that, “till she gets married, a girl has enjoyed her father’s name as her surname. After that, it’s the husband’s turn.”

Moving across this age board, we questioned Iqra Moazzam, a teenager and my daughter, who has obvious clarity about the issue. “You should retain your own name, and that’s what I would do. At the most, add your husband’s name as a suffix, but retain your original surname too.”

Certain questions remain so pivotal that we need to, at times, take a step back and think beyond the done thing. Once we re-think, any decision we take about the “self” without pressure will be the correct one, and our surname is one of those decisions.

This was originally published in Dawn Sunday magazine.