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Why Lahore is the best get away for a Karachiite

an hour ago

Karachi, for me, is perfect despite its imperfections. Yet, Lahore is not lagging far behind Karachi when I think of my choicest places in Pakistan.

I am a Karachiite to the core. I love my city’s hustle bustle. I adore the variety of culture Karachi offers, especially as it is not a unilingual city. I know its sights and sounds by heart.

Karachi, for me, is perfect despite its imperfections. Yet, Lahore is not lagging far behind Karachi when I think of my choicest places in Pakistan. In fact, in some ways, it even has an edge over Karachi.

Here are five reasons why:

Safety

The traffic at Kalma Chowk is sluggish and heavy. As we get off the Daewoo coach that got us there from Islamabad and head towards the city, Lahore is crowded as ever. I am looking around suspiciously at passers-by on motor bikes from the car’s windows as I take out my phone to text my friend that we have reached. At once Saleem, the driver, friendly in a Lahori way, sees my nervousness and says,

“O baji jee kuch naheen hota. Karo karo aap phone karo,” he reassures.

(Don’t worry, nothing will happen. You can make your call)

For someone who has suffered from attempted mugging twice in that last one month alone, this Karachiite felt relieved. I simultaneously felt a little envious seeing children riding bikes when I visited a friend in the newly populated Defence locality of Lahore. The friend, a diehard Karachiite, has recently moved to Lahore unexpectedly with his entire family. They seemed very at home in Lahore.

“You all have become total Lahoris, haan?” I said.

And they confessed that this was true. Karachiites are flocking towards Islamabad, and more towards Lahore, in search of safer pastures. It’s a better place to bring up your children who will have a less chance of growing up with safety-related phobias. Isolated incidences happen here too, but overall it is definitely a safer bet. Literally.

Trees

It’s a semi-chilly February afternoon. My friend Ayesha, who is one reason why I wish to frequent Lahore, honours my wish to take photographs, and takes me to Aitchison College.

A gurdwara in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

The gurdwara, mandir (temples) and masjid, all are charming beyond words, due to both the red bricks and the feel of pluralism they lend. But perhaps the prettiest thing about Aitchison, and Lahore generally, is the trees.

A mosque in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Red bricks in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Lawrence Garden (now Bagh-e-Jinah), alone, has some 150 varieties of trees. Islamabad has more trees and plantation, and the air is crisper and purer. But Lahore’s trees are mostly aged and huggable; they have a certain character. They have seen the world. They are wise. They are the backdrop of the historic buildings that make Lahore what it is.

The tennis courts at Lawrence garden (Bagh-e-Jinah) are a hub for aspiring tennis stars. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

In the stables of Aitchison College: Beautiful horse Shehbaz being bathed by his keeper Labba. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Food

The Lebanese food at the renovated Faletti’s Hotel at Lahore reaffirmed this: While Karachi offers everything a foodie can ask for, Lahore is in no way lesser in terms of being a food haven. From the authentic experiences of the Lahori masala fish of Daarul Maahi to themithai (dessert) of Laal Khooh, and from the fancy eateries at M M Alam road to the variousfood streets (the one near Badshahi Masjid is not the only one), it is a foodie’s paradise.

Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. More than 400-years-old- history crumbling away. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

A mihraab at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

A carpet at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

A tile motif at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Organic and healthier food alternatives are also more readily available. But I struggled with my need for a good paan after dinner. Lahore needs to import someone from Karachi to make good paans and perfect its repute of being the ultimate food hub.

It’s happening

Lahoris are zinda dil (lively), truly, as are all Pakistanis. And a safer environment makes that easier. From theatre and grabbing just the right books from “readings” to musicals at Yusuf Salli’s Haveli, it has a lot to offer for those who want to live it up.

Yusuf Salli’s Haveli courtyard. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Yusuf Salli’s Haveli from the outside. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

For the wanderers, an added advantage is that places like Islamabad and Nathia Gali are at drivable distance. Some of the best educational institutes, with the most beautiful campuses, are here, as are places of history and culture. And Lahore doesn’t go to sleep early, just like Karachi, which makes it easier for a Karachiite to settle in.

Beautiful vines at Yusuf Salli’s Haveli. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

A pictures wall at Yusuf Salli’s Haveli. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

The people

At what was supposed to be a nashta (breakfast), I am at the third floor of a thin house in inner Lahore, visiting a family I have not met in decades. Her children, in their teens, are taking selfies with me, while their father is frying stuff for us in the kitchen. From adjacent rooftops, people are waving. On another day, a random person, himself a photographer, agrees to pose for me as I find him an interesting subject for photography. There is a certain openness in Lahore that I love. Lahoris are not afraid of emoting openly.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

They laugh, cry and share readily.

While there are cons to this behaviour, there are definitely many pros. Without stereotyping, I would have to say that I end up making connections in Lahore more readily than any other city. There is a lesser bureaucratic and also a less hurried, guarded and agitated feel toLahore’s people.

Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I love Lahore.

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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

http://tribune.com.pk/story/608972/girl-child-rape-how-she-came-to-heera-mandi/

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/

Unsafe abortions: Risky business

Published: June 25, 2013

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Nearly a million Pakistani women resort to abortions annually due to absence of timely contraception. PHOTO: FILE

Nearly a million Pakistani women resort to abortions annually due to absence of timely contraception. PHOTO: FILEA view of a shady clinic located in Lahore. PHOTO: SARAH MUNIR/EXPRESS

LAHORE: The beads of the tasbeeh in her hand are beginning to move faster. She wipes off sweat from her forehead with her lawn dupatta, due to anxiety and the intense 48 degree heat of Lahore, with load-shedding in its 5th hour in a house in Safanwala Chowk.

The dark magenta bedspread seems to intensify the heat in this bedroom on the second floor that serves as a makeshift waiting room for families of “patients”. What is allegedly an “operation theatre” is a tiny claustrophobic room constructed on the roof.

“It’s been almost an hour. Safaai normally doesn’t take so long,” says the worried middle-aged mother, looking out of the semi ajar window overlooking a lane off Temple Road. Her 27-year-old daughter is a mother of five, getting an abortion done. The infamous abortion clinics of this area still exist, but most have been relocated into lanes to avoid attention of the media and health officials concerned. It was after an hour of asking around and driving in the area that a shopkeeper in a secretive manner guided The Express Tribune team in. Immediately, a female gatekeeper locked the gate from inside. “We don’t want anyone to know this is a clinic,” said the over-worked woman who introduced herself as a doctor, but had no degree, certificate or anything that confirmed that she is a medical doctor. The clinics of this area have had thousands of abortions take place in them, some as late as in the 5th month; while the clinicians advise against abortions at an advanced stage, they oblige for some extra money.

Tales of Horror

Timely FP could save lives of not just the unborn foetuses but a multitude of Pakistani women. A national survey of public-sector health facilities estimated that about 200,000 women were hospitalised in 2002 alone for abortion-related complications. “We get cases of perforated uterus, guts, intra-abdominal complications, all complications of unsafe abortions,” says Dr Nadeem Khalid of Family Health Hospital, Lahore.

The methods used are unthinkable. Ingesting large doses of drugs, inserting a sharp object into the uterus, drinking or flushing the reproductive tract with caustic liquids, vigorous movements like jumping or physical abuse, and repeated blows to the stomach are some of them. Incidents have been reported where bowels of the patient are pulled out by mistake through the reproductive tract.

If the woman survives, she can suffer from long-term disabilities and infertility. Incomplete abortion, hemorrhage, trauma to the reproductive tract or adjacent organs and sepsis (bacterial infection) are common. Post-abortion complications, experts say, account for a substantial proportion of maternal deaths in Pakistan.

Numbers and reasons

Out of the 2.4 million unwanted pregnancies in Pakistan in 2002, some 900,000 were terminated by induced abortions (Studies in Family Planning 2007). The actual number is definitely higher, considering the unaccounted for cases. In a country where only an estimated 30 percent women use contraceptives (NIPS study: 2006-2008), induced abortion is used as a form of contraception. Contrary to popular belief that most abortions are the last resort of promiscuous women, a Population Council study shows that a staggering 96.1 percent of the women who get abortions done are married women.

The abortion rates in the more urban provinces of Punjab and Sindh are substantially lower than those in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In urban areas, the contraception rates are higher.

The reason why shady clinics and unskilled women end up performing these abortions are two, the main one being simple economics. A doctor in a lower income area would charge an average of Rs2,600, whereas a traditional birth attendant (TBA) would charge as less as Rs770, says a study by Marie Stopes Society, 2008.

Secondly, most certified medical practitioners avoid performing an abortion not just because of religious reasons, but also because they are afraid of legal complications. Under the 1990 revision in Pakistan’s Penal Code with respect to abortions, the conditions for legal abortion depend on the developmental stage of the foetus. Since 1997, under certain circumstances, abortion is conditionally legal in Pakistan to provide “necessary treatment”.

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Women seeking induced abortion

– Highest in age group (30-34) yrs 39.6 % and lowest in (15-19 yrs) 3.9%

– Higher in married women (96.1%) and for single women    (3.9%)

– Highest in women with no education    (62.5%)

– Highest in people with already 5 or more children   (68.2%)

(Source: Population Council) 

http://tribune.com.pk/story/567963/unsafe-abortions-risky-business/

 

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