RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: May 2014

My love affair with Sindhri mangoes

 Published: May 29, 2014

It doesn’t have irritating fibres that get stuck between the teeth, and allows itself to be eaten in so many forms. PHOTO: FILE

It doesn’t have irritating fibres that get stuck between the teeth, and allows itself to be eaten in so many forms.  PHOTO: FILEIt doesn’t have irritating fibres that get stuck between the teeth, and allows itself to be eaten in so many forms. PHOTO: FILE

Yesterday, I tasted my first mango of the season. It was like falling in love all over again. I was sitting on an elaborate dastarkhwan on a 10th floor apartment’s spacious balcony in inner Karachi.

“Saroli is the most amazing mango, is it not?” asked the elderly host.

I sheepishly begged to differ. I am a biased Sindhri lover.

Every year, the sweltering May heat that becomes unbearable as June comes closer, is a blessing for Mango lovers.

“Ramazan will be unbearably hot this year. But chalo, at least there will be mangoes in the fruit chaat.”

This sentiment resonates inside so many of us.

And of all varieties of this fruit of paradise, there are mangoes and then there is the Sindhri.

Sindhris are a generous size; sweet but not sickeningly so, therefore you can easily have more than one – unlike its more sugary counterparts. Other mangoes may be sweeter but none beats the Sindhri for me. Or maybe, it is just the Sindh running through my veins that gives me my biased taste buds.

“How can you have mangoes with rice?”

I have heard that one a lot. I have been taught to eat the Sindhri in every way possible by my parents. Hard-core mango lovers have it with rice (a very Sindhi tradition) and with parathas, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, at teatime and even for sehri.

It doesn’t have irritating fibres that get stuck between the teeth and allows itself to be eaten in so many forms; you can slice it, cube it or blend it. It is such a cooperative variety.

But then, can we really blame it for being so amiable?

It is from the valley of Mehran, and so the Sindhri is a reflection of the people that sow it and care for it, and pluck it off trees and keep it wrapped in hay shreds till the green becomes a vibrant yellow, bit by bit.

Sure, it has its shortcomings, like its people, and it’s not perfect; too fattening, too addictive, a bit overly sensitive but very pluralistic, congenial and adjusting. That’s what’s beautiful about it; it maintains its own but mingles with other flavours too.

Lower Sindh is the largest mango-producing belt in the country. This year, estimations show that around 40% of the crop has been damaged because of heavy rains. Sindh’s production is expected to go down to 0.55 million tons from 0.64 million tons. But hopefully, there will be enough Sindhris to go around.

The export season of Pakistan’s mangoes starts from May 25. Experts expect that the country will earn $65 million at the end of the season. The Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchant Association (PFVA) have kept this season’s mango export target at 175,000 tons. However, this year, the focus will be on quality rather than quantity after neighbouring India’s mangoes were banned by EU-wide countries due to an incidence of non-European pests in India’s export. Pakistan’s largest export market in mangoes is Europe, where it exports about 24,000 mangoes annually.

Why are Pakistan’s Sindhri mangoes so sweet?

“The hotter the summer, the sweeter the Sindhri,” my father used to say, every time he returned home from orchards he caringly looked after.

Standing for hours at stretch in the sizzling 45 degrees plus heat of interior Sindh in summers had him many shades darker every time.

“You’ll get sick, abba. The workers can do it! Why must you stand in that heat?” we’d say to him.

“Sons of the soil don’t fear the heat. It makes the mangoes only sweeter,” he’d say with a smile.

The real secret of the Sindhri is, and it is no surprise there, that it bears so much heat.

Garmi garmi ko kaat deti hai. Aam apni zaat mein garam hai. Uss ko garmi hee meetha banaa sakti hai.

(Heat cuts through heat. The mango has an inherent heat-producing effect. Therefore, only heat can bring out its sweetness).

These words, which classical singing maestro Ustaad Naseer Saami said to me recently, have much wisdom in them.

Calcium carbide powder and other ripening agents used to ripen mangoes and other fruits are almost deceitful. They are harmful to human health and the sweetness tastes forced, almost like fake smiles. One must, therefore, wait patiently for the actual mango season to arrive.

This is true for not just the Sindhri but all mangoes of Pakistan. Just like its people.

The heat of difficulties eventually makes us more seasoned. Without having been through tough times, humans are unripe. Given time, may be one day Pakistanis will be the best in the world, just like the country’s mangoes, because only the heat can bring out the best in the Sindhri.

International day to end obstetric fistula: ‘Help me stay dry’

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I can’t do anything but this.”

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are
trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this
field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I
can’t do anything but this.”


She wept inconsolably, and the doctors at Koohi Goth Hospital Karachi could not understand why. They had treated this young woman in her 20s already, and they were ready to discharge her so that she could go back to her family near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

A translator was brought in who told them the real problem. “My first born is with the money-lenders as girwi (mortgage). I developed the fistula during his birth. But I was so desperate to be healed of this constant leaking that I took the chance. I needed money to reach here to get treatment.” Doctors at the hospital raised the money and sent her home. One life saved out of the nearly 5,000 women that develop the fistula every year in Pakistan. But thousands await treatment.

For fistulas, precaution is the best cure. And the cure is simple: Women of Pakistan need to deliver babies into trained hands and with basic health care facilities. This cure is still a distant dream.

Snuggled away in the outskirts of busy Karachi, Koohi Goth Hospital is Pakistan’s only hospital exclusively built to end the scourge of this preventable disease. Only, there should be not even one fistula hospital in Pakistan, because fistulas should no longer exist. “The last fistula case in England was in the 1920s. Here we are with 5,000 new cases every year,” says Dr Shershah Syed, founder of this hospital.

“If the labour is prolonged, the baby’s head can get stuck in the birth canal. If it keeps pushing against the thin wall between the bladder or rectum and the wall of the birth canal, thereby causing strain,” says Dr Suboohi Mehdi, one of the surgeons at Koohi Goth Hospital.

Another way a fistula may be formed is if, by mistake of an unskilled surgeon, a cut is caused in the bladder or rectum during surgery. “We are able to treat just 500—600 every year. Lack of awareness and no accessibility to treatment facilities is the reason,” says Dr Sajjad Ahmed, project manager Fistula Project. The project, run by Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) and UNFPA, has treated some 3,400 women since it started off in 2006.

Women suffering from fistulas leak urine or stool uncontrollably. Because of this, they are socially ostracised and lead isolated lives. The fear of leaking leads to them starving themselves, which in turn leads to malnourishment-related problems. They miss basic joys like socializing and traveling by public transport.

“I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four lives is wash clothes,” says 40-year-old Rihana from interior Sindh. Rihana cries easily; she knows her case is a complicated one. “I don’t know how I will fix her. Sometimes, the cases are so messed up by the time they come to us that there is little we can do,” says Dr Mehdi.

“The first thing we do when a lot of them reach here is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital. Gul is now a trainer, helping train young girls who come to the Koohi Goth Midwifery School and Hostel. Once trained, these girls will go back to their communities and be able to help deliver babies safely, so that more women do not develop this disease.

In a message on this day, the President Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan (SOGP), Dr Tasneem Ashraf correctly points out that doctors must identify high risk patients for fistula development, especially pregnant women below the age of 20 years or above the age of 40 years, women who have given birth to many children, those suffering from obesity or Anemia, or having larger than normal babies.

Husbands on Board

Naz Bibi is tiny in stature but gives a resolute smile. Suffering from a fistula since the last nine years, this woman in her 40s has come to Karachi all the way from Goth Dera Bugti. She lies on a plastic sheet spread out under her, and can’t wait for the day when she will be dry once more. “Every one left me. Family, friends. I smelled all the time. I leaked non-stop. Yet, my husband was the only one in my life. He brought me here,” she says.

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from
the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way
to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers
were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

“We are seeing a definite positive change in the trend. More and more husbands now support their wives through the ordeal,” says Dr Ahmed.

“My husband brought me here all the way from Sialkot,” says Fozia, who developed a fistula during the birth of her first child. “I am so excited! Once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray for the last seven years”.

Facts in numbers

Fistula is a poor women’s disease, and the patients are 99 per cent poor women who cannot afford to get their child delivered under proper medical care.

Every year, Pakistan has 4,500—5,000 new cases of fistula. Out of these, only 500—600 reach doctors for treatment.

Pakistan has an estimated 38 surgeons who can perform fistula repair surgeries, but because this is not a lucrative line of medicine, only an estimated 15 are regularly working in this field.

Life saving info:

For information, call 0800-76200

Pakistan National Forum on Women Health

PMA House, Sir Aga Khan III Road, Karachi.

Office number: 021-32231534


Dr Sher Shah Syed

Koohi Goth Hospital




Maternal and Child Care Centre (Professor Dr Ghazala Mehmood, Dr Kausar Tasneem Bangash)

Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS)

Phone: 051-9260450   Mobile: 0300-5510525


Professor Yasmeen Rashid, Dr Tayyaba Majeed

Gynecology ward, Lady Willingdon Hospital

Mobile: 0300-9487305


Dr Rafeeq Anjum

Urology Ward

Mobile: 0300-6303574


Professor Nasreen Ruby and Dr Tanveer Shafqat

Gynecology ward, Lady Reading Hospital

Phone: 091-5810779  Mobile: 0300-6303574


Dr Sadrak Jalal

Christian Hospital, Mission Road.

Mobile: 0300-8381724

Professor Saadat Khan, Dr Haq Nawaz, Dr Masha Khan

Sandeman Civil Hospital.

Mobile: 0321-8198024


Professor Rafi Baloch, Dr Shaista Abro

Gynecology ward, Shaikh Zayed Women Hospital

Chandka Medical College

Mobile: 0300-3415322

Fistula relief centres


Professor Dr Nargis Soomro, Civil Hospital

Dr Azra Jameel, Sindh Government Qatar Hospital

Orangi Town, Karachi.


Professor Dr Pushpa Sri Chand

Isra University Hospital

Dr Nabeela Hassan

Liaquat University of Medical Health Sciences


Dr Rahat Ansa

Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Women and Children Health Centre


Dr Razia Bahadur

Peoples Medical College, Civil Hospital

0345-2750470; 0300-2162392

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2014.

Slide show:

Help me stay dry – Stories of hope in pictures (Photo credits: Faisal Sayani)

Boko Haram: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan”

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim / 13 May, 2014

More than three weeks after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram (BH), an Islamist militant group, the world is finally awake to the tragedy.

While Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself displaying the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, Angelina Jolie said she was “sickened” by the “unthinkable cruelty” and has expressed her anger.

“I heard about it just a few days back when a friend posted an article on Facebook. I was stunned beyond words,” said 19-year old college student Iqra Moazzam, in Karachi, who cannot get over the fact that the girls may have already been sold.

Last week, BH’s leader Abubakar Shekau, threatened to “sell [the girls] in the market” into slavery.

“Not only was the Muslim community slow to respond but the West was also slow to respond,” pointed out Aurangzeb Haneef, who teaches Islamic Studies at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He said there was also some discussion on whether the response would have been quicker had the girls been white.

Boko Haram came about in 2009 in an attempt to impose Islamic law in all 36 Nigerian states. It has been behind killing of thousands of people in Nigeria in recent years and known to have links with other radical Islamist groups in North Africa and Sahel.

“I think they have defiled the name of Islam and added one more stain on the Muslim Ummah. I’m infuriated they are calling themselves Muslims; there is not a shred of Islam in their evil deed,” Moazzam said.

And yet surprisingly, there has been no word of condemnation from any religious institution, no indignation from the pulpit by imams during the weekly Friday sermons and no remonstration from the people in the Islamic world.

In September 2012, video-sharing website YouTube put up a 14-minute clip of Innocence of Muslims, produced by an American that was disrespectful of Islam, Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad, which sent a wave of protests throughout the Muslim world. In Pakistan, complete mayhem broke out: 30 people were killed and over 300 were injured.

The 12 cartoons published on 30 September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of Prophet Muhammad, and which the Muslims found extremely and deliberately offensive, led to attempts on the life of the cartoonist and arson attempt made on the newspaper office.

Khalid Zaheer, an eminent religious scholar and vice-president of Al-Mawrid, a foundation for Islamic research and education, explained: “People come to the streets for issues about which they are sensitised by their scholars. Blasphemy is a topic that concerns the ulema (scholars) more because they have literature speaking against it.”

But he said: “Killing in the name of Islam is either considered an exaggerated propaganda, justified jihad, or atrocities done by some enemies who have conspired to malign Islam.” He said the narrow view of the world that is taught in madrassas and promoted in mosques causes non-issues to be made a matter of life and death and real issues to be ignored as if they don’t exist.

Haneef also attributed the inaction on the street to lack of response to the episode by the religious parties. He added: “Since the victims in this case are not Muslims (although some reports suggested that a few of them were Muslims) and since the accused here claim some kind of Islam, therefore, there has been understandable inertia on the part of Islamic parties to criticise BH.”

Unfortunately, pointed out Haneef: “Common Muslims are reluctant to take up issues involving atrocities against non-Muslims. Few people understand that these atrocities are in the name of Islam — Islam is being hurt here — yet they don’t feel compelled enough to raise their voice against BH.”

The same sentiment was endorsed by peace activist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is also an academic. “I am sure that most Muslims do not approve of Muslims killing non-Muslims or other Muslims, but this does not raise passions in the same way.”

He also said: “Most Muslims today do disapprove of the mass abduction and sale of the Nigerian girls, but they prefer silence. There is vague discomfort that being too loud might cause Islamic fundamentals to come under scrutiny, something that is best avoided in these dangerous times.”

Hoodbhoy explained that with BH at war with those they consider infidels: “Women captured during tribal wars were part of the war booty and the Holy Quran is completely explicit on the distribution of every kind of booty, including women. Of course, as with slavery, most Muslims regard these verses as meant for those times only.” He said that was the takfiri (a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy) philosophy of the BH.

Khadeja Ebrahim 12, studying in Class 7, at a British school in Karachi likened the Nigerian militant group to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “They seem like the Taliban we have in Pakistan, who attacked Malala and believe those seeking western-style education are committing a sin,” she told Index. Asked if she felt scared she nodded saying: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan and in Karachi too.”

Still, Hoodbhoy, finds the Taliban quite gentle when compared to the BH. “While the TTP does mount suicide attacks, and makes video tapes football matches played with the heads of decapitated Pakistan soldiers, the techniques employed by BH are brutal beyond description.”

This article was updated at 11:46 on 13 May, 2014.

This article was posted on May 13, 2014 at

Visiting cemeteries: The living dead

By Farahnaz Zahidi / Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi / Creative: Sanobar Ahmed
Published: May 11, 2014

The Jewish section of the Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills
—William Shakespeare, Richard II

Why do some of us want to go through a whole lot of trouble to visit the remains of people who died long ago? There is this thing about cemeteries. Visiting them is an understated joy, and a neglected part of most touristic and sight-seeing escapades. But once you acquire a taste for listening to the sounds of silence, few wanderings are as rewarding.

Most people who visit cemeteries have one of two common-most responses: they either feel what they call “a sense of peace” or a feeling of morbidity, darkness, depression and melancholy.

The gravestones in the Jewish part of Montparnasse Cemetery emphasise the family name. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

But for serious cemetery enthusiasts, it is not much of either. Cemeteries are places resplendent with art, history, symbolism, culture and most importantly spirituality. You can know more about a people by visiting a cemetery then you ever will by going shopping in the same area.

As I became a tombstone tourist as they call it, I learnt terms I never knew earlier. I found out that tomb is a commonly used word, but mausoleum is a building specifically constructed for people considered important. The empty tombs are cenotaphs. A coffin is the (usually) wooden case for keeping a dead body and sarcophagus is a similar case made of stone. A chest or case box or well with remains of the human skeleton is an ossuary. Catacombs are interesting underground cemeteries, interconnected by tunnels. And then there is the necropolis, a place where large numbers have been buried and traces from olden burials still remain.

The Chowkandi Tombs are a hidden necropolis located 30 kilometres outside of Karachi. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Technology has made life easier for gravers as well as geneaology enthusiasts. Websites like ‘Find A Grave’ and other mapping sites tell us exactly what we are looking for. Yet, you don’t always get personalised experiences on the internet. For that, one must chat with people who share similar interests.

Whenever you visit such a site, observe how visitors quietly exchange glances, trying to assess how the others are reacting. We feel pressured to react in expected ways. But if we let go of that strain and breathe in the experience, cemeteries have a lot to offer.

Sites like the underrated Chowkandi Tombs near Karachi and Makli near Thatta are often neglected. I have been lucky enough to discover the wonders of Pakistan’s culture by delving into them. It is almost like going through an album of photographs of a people or reading biographies. Just look out for the nuances.

The people buried there are inarguably dead, yet their lives are being celebrated. In that sense, cemeteries are very futuristic places. They are an extension of life as it slides into another realm, no matter what belief system you belong to. But few, apart from connoisseurs with a taste for the macabre, have an appreciation of how humans honour their dead. There is an unsaid paranoia when it comes to homes of the deceased. It’s almost as if talking about it will kill us before time. Like a bad omen. We miss out, thus, on so much beauty and a deep study of culture.
And so when you visit a cemetery, tread a little lightly, move a little cautiously. You may be stepping on an entire lifetime if memories, wrapped up and resting underneath your feet.

Each cemetery has its own story to tell and is uniquely beautiful. Out of the ones I visited other than within Pakistan, these three impacted me the most.

Montparnasse cemetery, Paris
The temperature is below freezing. It is my last day in Paris. I am taking a city walk. In my broken French I ask passersby about any nearby cimetière, trying to roll the “r” correctly, making it as guttural as I could.
I’m led to the Montparnasse Cemetery.

For months, I had been planning to visit cemeteries in Paris.
“Hey Florent. I will be traveling to Paris soon. Can you tell me about cemeteries I must visit? I am willing to travel anywhere for that,” I wrote a few months back to a French friend who was guiding me about how to make the most of a visit to Paris.
Paris — of the Eiffel and the Moulin Rouge and the River Seine and the Louvre. I was travelling to a dream destination. Yet, what I wanted to visit most were the repositories of the best of France, now dead, yet alive.

Florent Condé told me about clandestine tours of the Catacombs through hidden entrances into tunnels that through the city. “That’s technically forbidden. I haven’t had the chance yet to do that,” he wrote back, adding tempting names and details of Parisian cemeteries. The fellow taphophile had given me just the info I needed.
Standing in front of the Montparnasse Cemetery, a dream had come true. Shaded by around 1,200 trees such as lime trees, conifers, maple and ash, it is one of the most peaceful parts of Paris. Home to 35,000 plus tombs, some 300,000 people have visited it since it opened its gates in 1824.

Montparnasse is often called the Cemetery of the Intelligentsia and there is a certain energy and vibrance in the quiet there. Understandable, with residents like Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Sosan Sontag, and a cenotaph of Charles Baudelaire. The Jewish side of the cemetery was a new and impactful experience, with families and clans making up an important part of the design. I brushed the cobwebs off medals of World War I veterans carved onto graves, and saw Brancusi’s statue called ‘El Beso’ or The Kiss, sitting on top of the tomb of Tania Rachevskaia, a Russian anarchist who had committed suicide for love.

Montjuïc Cemetery , Barcelona

It was honestly something I was not prepared for and had not researched in advance. On the drive from the airport to the far-end Poblenou district of Barcelona, there it was, sprawling on the hills, unlike any cemetery I have ever seen. Mediterranean graveyards are different as the dead can be buried in walls many storeys high. The cemetery is like a miniature city, lined by cypress trees and plants and full of architectural and artistic delights.

Opened in 1883, this cemetery has more than one million burials and cremation ashes in 150,000 mausolea, plots and niches.

There are fascinating stories going around about how the cemetery was originally divided into four sections — one each for Catholics, Protestants, non-Christians, and the fourth for aborted feotuses.
Also known as Cementiri del Sud-oest, it is picturesque, with a view of the sea from top of the rocky hills. Interesting residents include Joan Gamper, founder of FC Barcelona, and surrealist maestro Joan Miró, who is buried in a plain, small family vault. Along with renowned personalities, 4,000 victims of the Civil War are also buried here.
montjuic view

The Pyramids, Cairo

For the longest time, I did not know that the pyramids were a kind of graveyard. I visited them when young, but the images and even smell and feel have not left me. Inside, there are passages that are narrow, damp and almost claustrophobic, with warnings for people with lung and heart diseases.

But they lead to huge halls that have the feel of being a nexus between life and after-life which is what the ancient Egyptians believed in. They said goodbye to the deceased making sure he or she had enough provisions to lead them through. The mummies, decorated multi-layered coffins, representational art-like individual portraits of the deceased, canopic jars with the organs, aesthetic objects like jewellery and clothes and even incense was made available. The tombs were constructed as places that would be conducive to the re-birth.

The head of the Sphinx with the pyramid of Menkaure in the background. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a weird way, thus, the pyramids symbolise continuity and hope. They tell you that this is not it. From the outside, the grandeur is legend. Even the chipped off nose of the majestic Sphinx does not make it less royal.

all pyramids
There are three main Pyramids in Giza, which draw attention to the Giza necropolis, reserved for the royalty and elite, as long ago as the end of third millennium BCE. Three pharaohs rested here, turn by turn — Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. In adjacent smaller pyramids and cemetery were the Queens and members of royalty. The pyramid of Khufu is the largest, and is one of the last remaining of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
But where are the men who built the pyramids buried? I may never have an answer to that.

Farahnaz Zahidi heads the Features desk at The Express Tribune.
She tweets @FarahnazZahidi
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 11th, 2014.

Unable to rest in peace: Peace-loving Swamis of Thar forced out of own graveyard

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: May 11, 2014

protest thar
Members of the Swami community held a protest in Chachro, Tharparkar, on May 5 to reclaim the alleged encroachment on their graveyard and demand better governance in the area.

Ninety-year-old Satram Das has been participating in the protests every day. PHOTO: COURTESY AWARE

The peace-loving Swamis of Tharparkar’s Chachro district are being forced out of their own graveyard, where they have been burying their dead for the past 250 years.

A group of encroachers are standing on the doors of the graveyard, threatening the locals. “This graveyard is 250 years old,” pointed out 90-year-old Satram Das, a retired school teacher. “It is part of our faith to come here.”

Swamis believe in harming no one, even in death
Unlike most people of the Hindu faith who cremate their dead, the Swamis in Tharparkar follow a unique ritual when a person in the community dies. “We make the body sit in the grave and cover it with salt,” explained a local Utam Gur. “We are a peaceful people and we do not want to harm the environment, the underground water, the soil or even the insects. So we feel it is best to allow the body to decompose in a way that harms no one.”
Some ‘saints’ of the community who attained a higher spiritual status have even opted to be buried alive in salt. “It is a stage when they do not want anything to do with the mortal world anymore,” Gur said. Ever since the encroachment on this cemetery started, the community is facing a tough time visiting the graveyard to pay respects to their deceased. Gur’s wife, Dheli, had been visiting the graveyard frequently to pay respects to their 13-year-old grandson, who died nearly a month ago of a congenital heart defect.

Dheli used to pay regular visits to the shrine of a local religious leader for as long as she can remember – sometimes every week on the days assigned by their religious leaders, and at other times, according to sighting of the moon.


Their peaceful rituals came, however, to an end around 10 days ago when she was stopped by armed men from entering the graveyard. “There are armed men there now,” complained Gur, adding that the encroachers have placed those men there with pistols and axes. “But I will go as it is a holy place and I am afraid of no one.”

Apart from demands to reclaim the land, the community wants the authorities to address issues such as mismanaged wheat distribution, poor governance and lack of educational facilities in the area. They gather outside Chachro Press Club every day and are supported by a local civil society organisation, the Association for Water Applied Education and Renewable Energy (Aware). The local Muslim residents also stand alongside their Hindu neighbours.

The community members have approached the courts and submitted an application to the district and sessions judge of Tharparkar. “The court issued orders in our favour,” said Utam Gur, a resident. “The encroachers were told to evacuate the graveyard but they are still there.”

The residents named the alleged encroachers as Daim Rahimoo and Hashim Rahimoo, who apparently enjoy the support of a political party. The two men have issued several threats to the community.

A social activist in Chachro, Ali Akbar Rahimoo, claimed the encroachment has to do with urbanisation in Tharparkar that has picked up in the last 15 years. “Chachro now has a road leading to it, electricity and more water supply,” he said, adding that more and more people are moving here now. “The encroachers actually are like a qabza group [land mafia]. They take over plots of land by force and want to build houses on them.”

Another social activist, Gotam Rathi, has also joined the protesters. “The destruction of graves is despicable and we demand the culprits be punished,” he said. Also at the protest, Anwer Ali Bajeer appealed to the Tharparkar SSP to set up a police picket near the graveyard to drive the encroachers away.

‘Not Hindu land’
For the local police, the protests do not pose a major threat. “I don’t think it is such a big deal,” claimed the SHO of the area, Hamid Mari, while talking to The Express Tribune. “The land does not even belong to the Hindu community to begin with. It is government property,” he said.

“The graveyard is so old that it has almost became flat land where the animals graze,” he pointed out, adding later that he was unaware of the court orders. “I don’t think there are any encroachers there anymore,” he added.
When The Express Tribune tried to ask one of the respondents, Daim Rahimoo, for his side of the story, he cut the call as soon as he heard the word ‘graveyard’.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

World Press Freedom Day: Where journalists fear to tread

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: May 3, 2014

Between Jan 2013 and Apr 2014, 7 journalists and 3 media workers were killed in Pakistan, says report. PHOTO: FILE

Every day when 29-year-old Zaheer Ali* leaves his house on his motorcycle to go for a reporting assignment, he has a nagging fear that this may be the last time he is seeing his family. “While I am on my bike, my eyes are darting in every direction.
Whenever anyone passes by slowly, I am afraid that this may be someone whose target is me. Knowing details of how fickle and cheap life is here, especially of a journalist who reports on sensitive issues, I live in constant fear,” he says. Yet, Ali sheepishly agrees that much as he has considered giving up the profession, the incentive of uncovering the truth stops him from leaving this line of work. “I cannot give up what I do. All I can do is get a life insurance so that my family has some support if I am killed. My siblings and family will take care of my wife and children if anything happens to me. I have no hope from anyone else.”

Such is the life of journalists in Pakistan.

And the fear has only grown stronger. Ali, for one, thinks that in the last few years it has become harder for journalists to do their work.

Between January 2013 and April 2014, seven journalists and three media workers were killed in Pakistan, said the “Press Freedom Report – 2014” issued by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) here on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.
The report also said that 14 journalists were injured from January 2013 to April 2014. Many of the injured were either beaten by policemen or injured by violent people while covering processions and rallies. Other journalists mentioned in the report are living under the dangling swords of life threats.

Frustration for journalists like Ali is as bad as the fear. “If you don’t know something, it is different. But knowing realities that we do, it is not easy to sit tight and not reveal a piece of information due to fear of being killed. We have been silenced.”

Ali echoes the feelings of many reporters and media persons who keep hearing stereotypical comments. “People say media makes up stories. We risk our lives to get you the facts, and this is what we get in return.”

The World Press Freedom Index 2014, issued by the international non-governmental organisation “Reporters without Borders” earlier this year, termed Pakistan “long the world’s deadliest country for media personnel”, adding that for the second year running, the Indian sub-continent is the Asian region with the biggest rise in violence for journalists. The index calls the targeted nature of the violence “the most disturbing development”. The report ranked Pakistan at the 158th position out of 180 countries.

Just three days prior to World Press Freedom Day, a report, titled ‘A bullet has been chosen for you: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan’, was released by Amnesty International. This report revealed a startling statistic: an estimated 34 journalists may have paid the price for being journalists, killed because of their work since March 2008.

The 3rd of May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993. This year’s theme for this day, as declared by the UN, is “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda”.

“Every report expressing the threat to members of the press is based on facts. The situation is worrisome. Pakistan’s press should be allowed to speak. On behalf of human rights we think that commissions should be set up to train the media to be more responsible, but journalists cannot be choked into silence due to fear of death,” says Amarnath Motumal, ex-vice chairperson Sindh, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Motumal praised the media as being increasingly aware about human rights issues. “Pakistani media is showing remarkable courage at this difficult time.” (*Name changed to protect privacy)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2014.