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Stop Raping Karachi!!

22nd May:

10.30 am: It’s a regular day. My daughter has gone to take an exam. My maid has arrived by public transport which means the city is functional. I know what has been happening in Lyari but for me it’s a regular day. However, Lyari is a splinter in my conscience. I know I must, if nothing else, write about it. Things, they say, are a wee bit better. I make up my mind to call up this person who lives in Lyari and set up an appointment to meet her for an interview. There is so much violence in that area, and life has come to such a stand still, and so many people are dead or injured, that the people of Lyari don’t even have enough food. They are mostly daily wage earners. They have no money and no work. They are confined to their homes, hungry and scared. This woman from Lyari? Her story must be told.

4 pm: A relaxed afternoon. I have run my errands for the day. A longish siesta should help beat the May heat.

7 pm: Siesta over. A cup of tea in hand. Channel flicking begins as I sip tea in my safe haven. News flashes appear. On Facebook, a friend’s status says “Karachi phir karrah raha hai” (Karachi moans in pain again). I quickly move to Twitter. Karachi is, sadly, trending.

7.25 pm: More news on all tv channels. About how this started in a rally of a nationalist party which was being supported by other parties as well. Marvi Memon was there too. The rally was in protest of the proposed Mohajir province and the recent operation in Lyari. Ironically, the rally was called “Muhabbat e Sindh Rally” (Love of Sindh Rally). But hatred takes over. Unidentified armed assailants open indiscriminate fire as the rally reached close to Juna Market. Initial dead are counted as 11. More than 30 wounded.

A young man, who is bleeding apparently due to gunshot wounds, runs for his life after unknown assailants opened fire at a rally in Karachi on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.—Photo by Faysal Mujeeb/Whitestar

7.45 pm: Angry political talk shows are being aired. They are all talking about Karachi but not about Karachi. They are angrily attacking each other. They are fighting over who loves Pakistan and Sindh and Lyari more. I am a common citizen. I am hurt and angry and confused – Why are they not talking about what happened? Why are they still selling their party, instead of worrying about those innocent lives?

8.10 pm: I am texting people I care for to make sure they are home and safe. A brilliant idea comes to my mind – cellular phones sold in Karachi should have inbuilt template messages that go something like: Unrest in city. Many killed. Are you alive? Are you safe? Are you home? Don’t move out; stay indoors.

8.30: A city of 18 million reacts in different ways. Some are what we call the “Infuriated mob”. The “Miscreants”. God alone knows who they are. All I know is that they are burning down vehicles and closing down shops. Violence has now spread to all areas. And people like me, in frustration, are tweeting feverishly. What else can we do? Well, we can ignore that this ever happened. But that would be simply signalling that we are zombies. So we tweet. And talk. And vent our anger.

A fellow tweeter’s tweet says everything I want to: Karachi belongs to? A) Muhajjirs B) Sindhis C) Pashtun D) Others E) Karachi kisi key baap ki jageer nahi hai sabka hai. I chose (E). You?

12.30 pm: I am still flicking channels and looking at tweets about Karachi. It is like a compulsion. An obligation. How can I be heartless and not even do this. I blog. And I go to sleep.

As for the woman on Lyari, and her story? For that, I will have to wait till the blood in Lyari dries up a bit. I am praying to God that more blood is not spilled on the same streets.

And for us Karachiites, tomorrow is a nother day. Call us brave, or resilient, or dheet, if you must. As if we have a choice.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Won The Oscar. So What’s The Big Deal?

Euphoria. Excitement. Waking up at wee hours of the morning, and an excited nation praying with baited breaths waited hopefully for what was an expected and well-deserved win.

And it finally happened! Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary “Saving Face” has won the Oscar.

And the euphoria is now viral. On Twitter, Facebook, blogs…..and that’s what we all are talking about, incessantly. Especially the Pakistani women.

Agreed that this is a great honour, but is it such a big deal as we are making it out to be? Turns out it is!!!

To begin with, the first reason is simply that Pakistan and Pakistanis are sick of all the “bad news” about them, both locally and internationally. Pakistan makes headlines, for sure. But mostly for a suicide bombing, for a drone attack, for an earth quake or a flood, for an air hostess trying to take with her dozens of cell phones at JFK Airport, for honour killings and violated women and extremism and radicalization. I can never forget how a fellow female journalist from Africa, in the course of a seminar I was attending in Washington DC in December of 2010, kept observing me for a while, then made the first move and came and said Hi and then said,”you smile a lot. You seem normal. How can anyone be normal in Pakistan?”. Well, Sharmeen’s win is an answer to that. Not only are we normal…..we are alive and throbbing and kicking! It is refreshing and replenishing to know that for every bomb blast and hate campaign news bulletin, there also comes along a Naseem Hameed, an Irfah Kareem, a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The inherent human spirit is celebratory in nature, not morbid, I believe. There is only so much one can mope and cry about. Good news like this gives us a breather. So yes, this is a big deal.

It is also a big deal because Chinoy is a woman. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan is not THE most woman-unfriendly country in the world, but is not the friendliest either. We have our issues when it comes to women. Pre-dominantly, it still is a patriarchal society. Domestic violence, rape, acid throwing still happen. Women face both harassment and discrimination at work place. Men (not all, of course), still are the spoilt brats in a lot of cases. This is February 2012, and in Mianwali’s by-elections, women are still being barred from voting. But even then, we’re not so badly off. We’ve had the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, the first female speaker of the National Assembly. We have an Asma Jehangir who scares the hell out of persecutor-type men. We have formidable talents in the likes of Mehreen Jabbar. We have women politicians who do us proud with some, if not all, of their feats – Marvi Memon, Nafisa Shah, Shazia Murree to name a few. And now we have a Chinoy who, being a woman, brings home the Oscar for the first time. In Chinoy, the woman who works her way up on the corporate ladder among sleazy flirts and the female activist who struggles to highlight women’s issues finds hope. So yes, it is a big deal. Though I must add here that not all men are patriarchal, chauvinistic sleaze-balls. We are blessed, as a nation, with an increasing number of level-headed, emotionally secure men who are the back bone for our success stories. I do believe that behind every successful woman, there is a man who believed in her.

Chinoy’s success is a big deal also to those wonderful, strong, resilient and “beautiful” women who are victims of the horrendous atrocity called “acid throwing” which is one of the cruelest forms of evil a human can inflict on another. It is a big deal to people who fight against these crimes – people like Dr Mohammad Jawad, the reconstructive surgeon from UK who comes back to homeland for “payback time” and does what he can to make a a few lives better. For activists, this documentary’s success is more than just an Oscar. It is something that pulls one back from disillusionment when one works day after day to make lives better with no apparent result in sight at times.

But while we are relishing this happy moment for Pakistan, exchanging mithaai and muabarakbaad and excitedly seeing Chinoy and “Saving Face” trend on Twitter, my inward hope is that the documentary which will now make people sit up and watch it, does not become a mere “tsk tsk, poor Pakistan” to the audience in the West. I hope it will be seen as an emblem of resilience, and not another addition in Pakistan’s list of problems. See it as a sign of the better days to come in the life of this brave, proud nation, who can and will have better tomorrows. We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.

Saving Face Trailer: