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Do human rights activists hate Imran Khan because he is not a leftist?

Published: November 26, 2014

Imran may not be your typical human rights activist, but he is one all right. One of the best. PHOTO: AFP

The young girl who works as domestic help for me said,

Baji, do you know why our men don’t want Imran Khan to come into power? It is because they are scared that women in the villages will gain strength if he becomes our prime minister. Already, he supports women standing up for their rights. The jalsas are a proof of this. But we will make sure he wins. We are by his side.”

This was the morning after Imran gave an inspiring and honest talk from his container as PTI celebrated “Justice for Women Day”. I had heard that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would be celebrating this day a few weeks earlier from a friend who is active in PTI, and a close aid of Imran. I had asked her if the date, November 25th, had been chosen to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

“Really? It’s the same day? I’m not sure. You know how PTI works. We do what feels right, for the rights of the downtrodden. Doesn’t matter if it’s a special day or not.”

My default setting had taken over, and I had asked her if they had invited any known human rights’ activists for the occasion. She smiled and said,

“They don’t like us very much you know.”

As a human rights activist and a journalist who reports passionately on human rights and has friends from the field, I also support PTI’s stances on most things, if not all, and look up to Imran as a real hope for Pakistan, as a sincere leader, a philanthropist and humanist. The two things seem like opposites, which is why for a while I procrastinated writing this blog because it would mean choosing sides. Only, the traction is interesting, because I am clearly on both sides.

As for Imran, I see him as a proponent of human rights. He may not be the stereotypical human rights activist of Pakistan, and may not fit the niche group. But he stands up for the underdog, always. And that is what human rights work essentially is – to stand up for the marginalised and vulnerable communities – women, children, minorities, people in conflict zones, people suffering from injustice, people who don’t have money to pay hospital bills and send their children to good schools. The man stands up for social equality. His humanitarian work is a reflection of his belief in equal rights for all.

What then is the problem? Why won’t the human rights activists accept him and his work? They love Shaukat Khanum Hospital and Namal College, but certain things he said and did seem to have ruffled just the right (or left) feathers.

Being the advocate of both the devil and the angel (and I do not know who is who in this case), there are certain things at play here. For starters, while people like Edhi and Chiipa, and organisations like Alamgir Welfare Trust and even Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) social welfare wing’s efforts are lauded, they are seen as ‘humanitarian’ efforts. Human rights and their advocacy are seen as a different animal in Pakistani society, and over its history of more than six decades, a certain niche group of people have started being associated with this in the country. They are, in fact, seen as the stake holders of human rights. And with the package come certain pre-requisites. You have to be leftist, or left-off-centre, or at least completely secular, and be someone who does not bring religion into any talk of human rights.

I recall at a recent moot about women-friendly legislation where I was a panellist, a suggestion was floated that following the example of Indonesia, local Imams and clergy members be sensitised to women’s rights, and this be made a part of primary education. At this point, a very known and respected human rights activist who has contributed much to the country stood up in rage,

“What has religion got to do with this? Why must we bring God into everything?”

As much as we tried to explain that this could be done for all religious sects and leaders of minority communities could also be brought on board to fight evils like domestic violence, her reaction remained angry, till the organisers promised that the idea would be dropped.

Imran, in comparison, is clearly centrist in his approach. He cites examples from the life of the second righteous Caliph, Hazrat Umar (RA) and is clear that his dream is that “Pakistan should be an Islamic welfare state with equal rights for all”. In October this year, he dared to question the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) regarding where their funding comes from. Imran’s take is that anyone and everyone should be open to being questioned. But the reaction, not surprisingly, was “how dare he”, given the truly amazing work that has come out of HRCP for the people of Pakistan. This came as a retort to the HRCP saying that Imran and his party’s sit-ins are distracting from more important human rights issues. Add to it the very open issues between the Imran Khan camp and the Asma Jahangir camp. There is a history here, which I wish to leave aside. But the fact remains that this situation has added yet another dimension to the polarisation in Pakistani society.

The human rights camp remains unforgiving of Imran’s earlier stances on many issues, for example his earlier take on certain women-friendly legislations, or his openness to the idea of talking with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). His present softer stances are seemingly not enough for them to give him a chance and work hand in hand for a better future for Pakistanis.

This leaves people like me in a predicament, people who see sincerity on both sides; people who feel bridges should be built between both sides.

It is ironic that I am writing this a day after my paper published a report by human rights group Reprieve, stating that the CIA killed a whopping 221 people, including 103 children, in Pakistan in the hunt for just four men, and that 24 men were reported killed or targeted multiple times; missed strikes on these men killed 874 other people, and account for the 35% of all confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistani drone strikes. The humanist in me cannot write-off Imran as a humanitarian as well as a human rights activist, knowing that he took the strongest stance against “collateral damage” in drone attacks, which is a gross violation of human rights, and his work in the field of public health, education and his stand against injustice.

We live in times where things are neither simplistic nor black and white. If Pakistan has any hopes of uplifting the downtrodden in our society, the thing to do is to appreciate whatever good is being done by any one, whether from the left, the right or the centre. Imran has and is doing a lot of good for our people and stands up for their rights. He may not be your typical human rights activist, but he is one all right. One of the best.

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Nation jolted: Rape of minors a rising trend

By Farhnaz Zahidi / Sumaira Khan
Published: April 29, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/701607/nation-jolted-rape-of-minors-a-rising-trend/

child rape

A positive change is that more victims report the crime but experts fear number of minors being raped is rising. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: The sexual assault of five-year-old “S” who was then dumped outside a Lahore hospital jolted the nation. The story made headlines for several days. In her, each saw their own child. Much was written and promised, but some seven months later the rapists remain at large and the government continues to chase shadows.

In this particular case, there were some lessons to be learnt. The most shocking is that the rape of minors is a growing trend in the country. “The average age of the rape victim in Karachi, according to data collected, is now nine years,” discloses Shiraz Ahmed, who works for the Karachi-based NGO, War Against Rape (WAR). “Child-rape is definitely on the rise. Many more cases are now being reported, but we can safely estimate that these are only 5 per cent of the actual number of cases.”
Ahmed says that influential perpetrators or their allies intimidate or bribe victims and their families into silence. “And society encourages the issue to be brushed under the carpet,” he adds.

In Punjab alone, there were 2,576 cases reported, according to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released recently.

The father of “S” continues to fight for justice. “Due to weak laws and punishment, these beasts continue to destroy the lives of women. I demand action that would set an example,” says Shafqat Mahmud. So far Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government has been helpless. Possibly this inaction encourages rapists.

Experts say that the more accessible a child is, the more at risk he or she is. Street children top the list. No official numbers are available regarding their exact number, but it is estimated that there are 1.5 million street children in Pakistan, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). To add to this, according to the HRCP’s 2013 report, 1,400 juveniles are in jail and the country has some 12 million child workers, half of them below 10. They all fall under the high risk category.

The role of police and the media

WAR’s Shiraz Ahmed says that on one level, more cases are being reported which shows a social change. At the same time he laments the fact that the trend of child rape is growing.
The media and the police also need to play a more positive role, he adds. The media has to be sensitized on how to handle such cases. “The media crosses lines. It shows the faces of the victims, their names and the images of the family,” laments Ahmed, concerned on issues of privacy and safety. “More sensitive reporting of such cases, especially of minors, is what will help in the long run.”

He also feels that the police need to be made more aware and more answerable. Sometimes corruption is the reason why they record complaints under sections that have loopholes.
Shiraz feels that the correct sections should be applied for the concerned crime.

Cycle of abuse

The cycle is never ending. Sarah Jafry, counsellor at WAR, comments, “a sexually abused child may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because the child sees this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done.”

Once abused, most victims almost never recover. Dr Rizwan Taj, head of Psychiatry department at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) says that the younger the victim, the longer lasting the impact. “Young victims lose trust and confidence they had in relationships.” The victim chooses isolation rather than trying to stabilize relationships with people.
Experts say that the government should arrange for free medical treatment and long-term counselling. This remains a dream for most, however. Many say that the government should wake up to what is becoming a crisis situation. So far, the government has only been sleeping, experts say.


Alarm: Rapid rise in child-rape

• 2,788 child sexual abuse cases were reported in 2012, as compared to 2,303 in 2011.
• On an average, eight children a day were abused during 2012.
• 71 per cent of minors who suffered abuse were girls.
• The age group most vulnerable to sexual abuse among girls and boys was 11 to 15 years.
• Some 5,689 abusers were involved in nearly 3,000 abuse cases, out of which 47 per cent were acquaintances
• 1,214 cases took place either at the acquaintances’ or the victims’ houses, according to the report.
Source: The annual “Cruel Numbers” report by NGO Sahil.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2014.

Minority report: 1000 Christian & Hindu girls forcefully converted in 1 year

A matter of faith

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: April 9, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/693164/minority-report-a-matter-of-faith/

minority
Alarming statistics released by a report highlight forced conversions of women. ILLUSTRATION: FAIZAAN DAWOOD

KARACHI:
As he cites the example of that case that happened in 2008 when two young Christian girls were abducted, the voice of Nadeem Anthony breaks with emotion. “During the last ten years, the Christian community has seen an increasing number of abductions of young girls and they being forcefully converted.
A big number of these girls are poor child labourers who work in brick kilns or as domestic help. Abductions from schools have also happened,” said Anthony, a lawyer, a Christian rights’ activist and council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The case mentioned by Anthony was of the abduction of ten year old A and 13 year old S from Muzaffargarh district in Punjab. Both were converted forcefully, and one of them was forcefully married. Despite the case being highlighted, Anthony says only the younger girl could be recovered.
The issue of forced conversions is once again in the spotlight due to the findings of a report released on Monday by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP). The report titled “Forced marriages and forced conversions in the Christian community of Pakistan” states that an estimated 1,000 women from Christian and Hindu communities are forcibly converted and made to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. The report estimates that up to 700 of these women are Christian and 300 Hindu.
As 42 per cent of Pakistan’s minority population, the Christian community stands at over two million in number, mostly settled in Punjab. The report mentions that according to the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP), 80 per cent of the minority community is poor while 40 per cent lives below the poverty line. Poverty, as always, makes them more vulnerable.

The pattern

The report describes a predictable pattern of what happens to these women. “Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or a third party. The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity. Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted,” states the report.
By the time they come to the court, if at all, intimidation has taken its toll. “We have followed up a lot of cases. By the time the girls are produced in court, they say under pressure that they have converted of their own free will, because in a lot of cases they are living with the abductor during court proceedings. Survival becomes tough under pressure,” says Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the HRCP.
The report raises valid concerns about the future of these women. “Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse,” states the report.

Willful conversions

Providing recommendations that can help solve the problems, the report also touches upon the societal attitudes that end up granting immunity to the perpetrators of crimes.
“If the girl is an adult and converts out of her own will, then it is her choice. Then that is not forced. However in most cases even if the husband accepts her wholeheartedly, the family of the boy never accepts her. They taunt her with titles like choori (sweeper) for life. In many cases they send the girl back to her parents,” says Anthony.
The entire social context has to be seen when analysing the issue, and the MSP report does that. Touching upon the historical and social contexts, the report discusses the grievances of Pakistan’s Christian community.
Yusuf is of the opinion that “even if the girl is willfully converting, the issue is actually connected to the broader issue of tolerance for minorities in Pakistani society. We have to give minorities the space to practise their faith.”
Anthony appreciates the efforts of voices like that of Maulana Abdul Khabeer Azad, the Khateeb of Badshahi Masjid, among others, who support what is just and fair. In the opinion of Anthony, one of the reasons for the recent spike in migrations of the Christian community members to countries like Thailand and Malaysia is that they feel scared for their girls.
“What is happening is unacceptable. The findings of the report should be taken seriously and the government should take notice of this,” says Anthony.
Along with the report, an appeal was issued by the MSP. An inclusive coalition is being mobilised by the MSP to sensitise people about this important issue.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2014.