A year ago, the environment in this house in Quetta was very different. While Marri and his wife are educated people and allowed their girls to get an education, working outside the home was taboo for women in their family. All that changed after the two sisters stepped out of their comfort zone and travelled to Karachi to attend a six month-long fashion design course, introduced by Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) to help empower young women from Balochistan. “Before the course, I did not know I had a purpose in life. Now life is so exciting! I have realized I have the power to be a role model for the women of my area. I now teach women at Darul Aman Quetta the same skills I learnt. I also try and build their confidence,” says Uzma. “All of the 20 girls who were chosen for the first batch are from Balochistan. We extend help to anyone who we feel is marginalised and is from vulnerable segments of society,” explains Asma Zafar, Manager Institutional Support at IDSP. Zafar is in charge of these projects, and shares that the second batch of girls will soon start the course. The young women come from communities across Balochistan but they have one thing in common: life has not been easy on them. Their problems are mostly an overlap of poverty, insecurity and violence. “There have been cases on Saryaab Road area in Quetta where acid was thrown on women simply because they ventured out of their homes to work,” says Zafar. According to her, if these women step out of their homes to work, the Pashtoon rikshaw drivers will not take a Baloch woman as a passenger, and vice versa, as they do not want to get involved with the responsibility of helping a woman from another community commute to work. “The girls come to us with social conditioning and ethnic bias at times. But the same girls who initially do not want to talk to each other have, by the end, become best friends,” says Zafar, explaining how the project also serves as a peace-building initiative. Zarina and Bakhtawar speak to each other in Dari when asked if Karachi has been the safe haven they hoped it would be. They are from the Shia Hazara community and migrated to Karachi from Quetta more than 15 years ago, in search of a more secure and comfortable life. But while Karachi has given them a lot, it has also taken away a significant amount. Zarina’s 32-year-old brother, along with two others, was shot earlier this year at Karachi’s Maskan Chowrangi just because he belonged to the Hazara community. “An FIR was lodged but there was no follow-up. My brother has left behind five children, a young wife and our parents,” says Zarina. A resident of Manghopir area, there are 18 family members in Zarina’s house. The ISDP provides these girls with the basic materials they need for the course, like fabric. The profit is shared on a 50-50 basis between the girls and IDSP. In addition the girls are paid separately for the hard work they put in. To help girls like herself, Zarina is teaching 10 girls in her neighbourhood. “I charge them Rs200 each and earn about Rs2000 a month from that too. Recently, a supporter of the organization internationally exhibited the clothes designed by these girls and sold them. “We are taught everything, right from sketching, drafting, cutting and stitching,” says Zarina. What is most interesting is how these girls, in this women-friendly space, learn each other’s traditional stitches specific to the culture of each community. Zarina, for instance, displays very fine embroidery done in the Qibtimaar stitch, typical to the Hazara community. The course includes more than just fashion design. The girls are taught basic skills like oral hygiene and self-grooming techniques. “The first girl from a family comes to us with a lot of difficulty. But once they start earning, the male family members also come on board. The entire family transforms. But this is done one girl at a time,” says Zafar. Uzma adds, “I think we have succeeded in opening a small door to opportunity for the other girls of my family.” Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2014.
Tag Archives: Quetta
Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?
This photo shows Bara tribesmen, social activists carrying casket of a deceased during a sit-in outside Governor House in Peshawar. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE
When the living stop speaking up, the dead lead protests in Pakistan.
Two days ago, the Hazaras laid to rest the 87 bodies of their loved ones, while some 25 still waited to be identified in mortuaries across hospitals in Quetta. The dead watched and waited, anticipating a change, some sanity and a semblance of justice, as did the Hazaras and the whole nation. For that, they were made to wait for four days, while their loved ones could not even grieve as they were meant to because they were too invested in the hope that this sacrifice would result in a safer future for the community.
The Hazaras were laid to rest, as were some of their demands which the government dealt with deftly, diplomatically and well -politically.
Two days later, some 5,000 tribesmen are protesting outside the governor house in Peshawer, against the killing of the 18 people whose mutilated bodies were recovered from the Bara area of Khyber Agency on January 15.
What does this have in common with the Hazara protest?
Yes, the dead bodies.
Peaceful but not inactive, they sit with the caskets housing the bullet-riddled bodies of their family members, chanting slogans and asking for the army to leave. According to the tribesmen of Bara, these were ordinary citizens, not militants, killed by security agencies before they even got a chance to advocate their innocence.
What new levels of desperation are the people of this country reaching that no other form of protest seems to work anymore?
What extreme measures does a family have to go to in order to get people to notice their plight?
This, I assure you, is not done with ease. Family members of those whom we are calling “dead bodies” were changing the shrouds of those bleeding bodies of slain Hazaras sometimes more than once a day, carrying slabs of ice to avoid decomposition.
Too gory, these details?
Imagine having to live through that! Imagine a mother deciding that her son’s burial needs to wait. Imagine a son delaying giving a shoulder to his father’s funeral.
Too emotional, these details – I agree. And why relive them in these already morbid times, we may think.
The Hazaras are old news and the tribesmen in Peshawar sitting-in with those caskets are peripheral small news – really.
I mean, just look at what they are competing against. Tahirul Quadri’s blood-boiling use of rhetoric and promises, coupled with his interesting get-up. Peaceful protests hardly stand a chance when juxtaposed against the Long March that ironically threatens to destroy the very concept Quadri is repeatedly talking about – Jamhuriyat (democracy).
The Pied Piper pipes away. The awaam follows in throngs.
But let’s not blame the media only. The media gives you, pre-dominantly, what the awaam wants to read, see and hear.
A crowd that is accusedly a million strong gets attention like nothing else does – attention of a nation that has extremely short attention spans and no concept of following up on a cause.
The Hazara and Balochistan issue woke us up from our apathetic slumber for a bit. Once the dead were buried, we are focused on more glamorous issues.
The Shahzeb Khan issue is yester news. The tribesmen are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are desensitised to KP happenings in any case.
We are an emotional lot. All we have for free in this country starved of food, clothing and shelter (along with power and gas) is emotions. The good side of this is that if and when we wake up to a legitimate cause, we can make real change and ruffle just the right feathers.
But we lose that passion way too soon and get distracted way too easily. Sustained focus on causes challenges the status quo, else headlines come and go.
The political circus of this country shall continue, and will continue to get its share of attention. However, it is up to the people and the media to keep alive other issues that matter – like health, education, food-security and safety for the people of this country.
I pray that the Hazaras did not keep their loved ones waiting to reach their final destination in vain.
I also pray that no one, again, has to reach that level of frantic desperation that the only way they can draw attention to their cause is the coffins of their dead.
Too idealistic a hope, perhaps.
Irfan Ali’s death impacted countless lives and gave a face to the tragedy.
Irfan was buried on January 14 along with more than a 100 members of the Shia Hazara community who lost their lives in a series of bomb blasts on January 10 in Quetta. Though the dead were mostly unknown to most apart from their friends and family, Irfan Ali’s death impacted countless lives and gave a face to the tragedy.
A human rights and peace activist from the Hazara community, Irfan’s zeal was infectious. He was able to inspire every colleague and acquaintance with effortless ease. The brave man’s only aim was to salvage innocent lives from the clutches of tyranny and injustice. The irony of his death in the Quetta blasts can therefore not be emphasised enough.
It was after the first blast that he, along with several other young men of the Hazara community, fled to the carnage site to rescue people – only to add to the number of casualties as another blast rocked the area. Irfan died saving lives, literally.
In losing him, it wasn’t just the fraternity of peace activists that lost a salient member: his young wife lost a husband, his parents lost a son, his younger brother, who is battling injuries received at the blast, lost a brother. An entire family is grieving, as is a community, as is a nation.
Social activist Anthony Permal, a close friend of Irfan, still can’t get himself to talk about the loss. After mustering some courage, he only managed to repeat some words said to him by Irfan: “Thank you for your work, brother Anthony. People like us can only find support in each other when everyone else decides it’s too dangerous for them to raise their voices. It is unbelievable how people are turning a blind eye. But brother, we have to keep talking about it. If I go silent, then what will be the point of being alive?”
His Twitter followers mostly knew him as Khudi Ali. Iqbal’s philosophy of Khudi resonated with the young man – he wanted the self to rise above the pettiness and ego that results in human violence, which explains why he added the word “Khudi” as a middle name.
In compliance with strong implications of his middle name, Irfan’s work was not Hazara-specific. The man fought for peace and justice for all communities. With this in mind, he formed, in early 2011, the ‘Human Rights Commission for Social Justice and Peace’. With this he wanted to increase awareness about human rights violations, the causes and solutions.
Journalist Shiraz Hassan, who had worked with Khudi Ali, is still in denial. “This is heart-wrenching. I cannot forget the smiling face of Irfan Ali. He gave a voice to his voiceless community and his words are still echoing in this gloomy atmosphere and asking the government and security agencies to protect its citizens.” To Hassan, Irfan’s tweets “continue to haunt us”. Irfan had tweeted shortly before his death, some of the last words he left behind. The words were, of course, about the struggle of the Hazara community.
Huma Fouladi, a human rights activist from the Hazara community, lost a fellow comrade and friend when she lost Irfan, and is still grieving. “I have lost my strongest ally. He was like my family,” said Fauladi, hours after Irfan was finally laid to rest.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.
Members of the Hazara community shout slogans during the Quetta blasts’ victims’ funeral ceremony. PHOTO: AFP
Some 17 bodies, unidentifiable due to the impact of the blast, wait for their families to recognise and bury them.
The Hazara Town graveyard, Barory, and Ganje Shuhada graveyard, Alamdar Road, receivedthe victims of the January 10 bomb blasts that claimed more than a 100 lives, only after the community’s elders announced that the protest was officially over. Their decision followed Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s announcement that some of the community’s demands would be met, including the dismissal of the provincial assembly and the imposition of governor rule.
The struggle for the community, however, is far from over – this may very well just be the beginning.
“We trust the decision of the elders of our tribe. However, we are wary of trusting the government’s promises. It may be just a pacifier … We have some degree of satisfaction over governor rule in the province, and (the fact that) false cases against our Hazara brothers in police stations and courts (are) being withdrawn, along with release of those Hazaras who are in prisons,” said a Hazara community member who returned home for the first time since the blast, while talking to The Express Tribune. Yet, he shared, his community was not happy with how “giving more power to Frontier Corps (FC) is being dealt with. It reeks of deception. Only time will tell”.
Another member of the community pointed out that most who had lost their lives on that fateful day were young boys volunteering to save those who were injured in the initial explosion. “The first blast had fewer casualties. That was actually bait to draw as many men as possible to the site, so that a maximum number of men lose their lives in the attack,” he said.
The man told about how he lost his 23-year-old cousin who was about to get married soon. “He called us after the second blast saying ‘I have lost one arm and one leg, and I am bleeding too much. Come soon. There are others here who are in worse condition than me’. By the time we covered the 45 minute distance from Barory to Alamdar road, he was gone. We have been through hell. We are still living it.”
Sitting out in the freezing cold for days has left the Hazara community physically exhausted. There has been a spread of respiratory and chest infections, as well as joint aches and pains. Emotionally too, the deaths and protests have taken their toll. Yet, their resolve is unwavering.
“We are not going to give up the struggle. But from the government and the people of Pakistan, all we can request is, ‘bring the culprits to task’. You all know who they are. And if you cannot do that, at least stop supporting them,” said a female Hazara activist, adding that death does not scare her any more.
What has driven the besieged minority is a wave of support which brought several parts of the country to a standstill over the last few days, leaving a fearful government resorting to jamming mobile phone networks once again.
“It is heartening to see how people all over Pakistan and in fact all over the world have woken up to the cause of Hazaras. The turnout of women at the sit-in is no small feat, considering how protective and conservative Hazaras and generally the people of the province are when it comes to their women,” a Hazara activist said. The campaigner added, “It was excruciatingly painful to make our dead wait to be buried. But I think the sacrifice of those who died will not have gone in vain.”
A spokesperson on behalf of Shia Hazara activists gave this statement of gratitude: “To all our honourable brothers and sisters who joined hands with us in these painful moments – We are thankful to those mothers the world over who have trained their children to support the oppressed when in pain …”
It went on to add: “We pray to Allah that you all never have to suffer how we have suffered. Rest assured, if ever a time comes when God forbid you all need support, the Shia Hazaras will be by your side, and will not hesitate from giving any sacrifice to safeguard you. May God be with you. From the Shia Hazara community.”
Demand for army
Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen Central Secretary Raja Nasir Abbas demanded of Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to call in the army for security in Quetta.
FC and police personnel, along with volunteers of the Hazara Community, were on alert as the burials took place.
Later, addressing a joint press conference, Abbas along with leader of Yakjehti Council Qayyum Nazar Changezi and the head of the Hazara tribe Sardar Saadat Ali Hazara expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. At the same time, they demanded that Quetta be handed over to the army, since the FC had not proved effective in the past.
The speakers said they shared equally the grief of the journalists martyred in the bomb blast.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.
Sources in the Hazara community claim the injured are not being given the medical care and attention they deserve. PHOTO: AFP
Before the late-night development, the entire Shia Hazara community in Quetta was out in the merciless sub-zero temperatures of winter, away from the comfort of their homes, for the fourth straight day. Thousands of people from all walks of life, ethnicity and religious background were also continuing their sit-ins elsewhere in the country to press for their demands.
Till this story went into print, the number of dead bodies the Hazaras had been refusing to bury as part of a peaceful but powerful protest is 114, with more being added every day as the injured of the blasts continue to succumb to their injuries. Sources in the Hazara community claim the injured are not being given the medical care and attention they deserve.
A visual scan of the crowd at the protest revealed both men and women, of all age groups. Grandmothers were protesting alongside newborn babies as young as 10 days old, out in the cold.
“We have not gone home even once in these four days. We are not willing to leave our dead all alone. They are not being buried for a reason. They are waking up the numb conscience of many, something even alive Hazaras have not been able to,” said an unnamed female Hazara activist at the occasion before the late-night clamping of governor’s rule in Balochistan.
According to the Human Rights Commission for Social Justice & Peace, in Pakistan there are an estimated 956,000 people belonging to this community, of which 600,000 live in Quetta city alone.
“Mainstream media has not given this protest the coverage it deserved. It was only after we had incessantly tweeted and created at least 250 Facebook pages, that people became aware of our plight as we sat waiting alongside our martyrs,” said another Hazara activist.
The haunting photographs of grieving Hazaras sitting alongside an array of coffins with eyes searching for justice became viral on social media and finally woke up the media in general.
“Everybody is saying we should bury our dead because Islamic tradition demands the dead be buried at the earliest. We are Muslims. We know that. But people have to understand that this is an exceptional situation.
“Political forces are pressurising us to give up on our demands and keep saying ‘bury the dead and then we’ll talk’. But we know that once the dead are buried, there will be no pressure. More Hazaras will continue to be slaughtered. It’s better to go through this pain today than having to bury our loved ones month after month,” said the female Hazara activist on Sunday evening.
According to her, they have had to change the shrouds of the martyrs frequently as the bleeding from the bodies continued, and it was not easy, but even in their death, the dead were helping potentially towards saving lives.
A wave of support in the last 4 days has highlighted the plight of the Hazaras. Hazara activists expressed satisfaction and gratitude over the support the common people have shown.
“We thank you for standing up for our community. Rest assured, if tomorrow something happens to your communities, God Forbids, the Hazaras will stand up for what is right,” said a Hazara community elder.
Interestingly, the most support from members of other ethnicities in the Quetta area has been from women. “It’s heartening to see Punjabi and Urdu-speaking women, besides other ethnicities too, slowly trickling in and joining us to support us, even though they know that it’s not the most secure place,” said a grateful Hazara woman.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2013.