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Success stories: From Balochistan to Karachi: Sewing lives back together

Zarmina and Bakhtawar display the dresses they have made. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

Whenever a well-dressed woman appears on television, Sohrab Khan Marri calls out loudly to his daughters Uzma and Sanam. “Look. This is the latest design. You can make something like this for your clients,” he says.

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.

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

 

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

January 16, 2013

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.

Now that the almost-ex-Prime Minister has handed over the ‘lollipop’ to the Hazaras, the media attention is safely focused on theLong March.

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.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15666/does-it-now-rest-on-the-shoulders-of-the-dead-2/

The Weightiest Loss: Triumph of a courageous heart

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: January 15, 2013

Irfan Ali’s death impacted countless lives and gave a face to the tragedy.

QUETTA: After a wait of four days, Irfan Ali, 33, has reached his final resting place after leading a life of struggle and triumph – the struggle of a community member wronged; the triumph of a courageous heart that served selflessly despite threats.

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.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/494169/the-weightiest-loss-triumph-of-a-courageous-heart/

Quetta sit-in: Sublime patience in sub-zero temperature

Published: January 14, 2013

Sources in the Hazara community claim the injured are not being given the medical care and attention they deserve. PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA: The Hazara community has announced that it will wait for the notification of governor’s rule in Balochistan on Monday before ending their nationwide sit-ins.

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.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/493705/quetta-sit-in-sublime-patience-in-sub-zero-temperature/

A story of the “Others” – Hazara Shias lose all hope in Pakistan

Published: December 31, 2012

Muslim groups demonstrate against the Taliban killings of Shias in Pakistan December 7, 2012 during the “10,000 Souls March” in New York. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Shabana Khan* speaks from behind a screen put up to protect her identity at a recent women’s assembly. I cannot see her. I do not know what her age is. I have no way of observing her non-verbal communication. But what I do know is that this is a person in pain. Intense pain has resulted in eloquence as well as a defiant, almost rebellious fearlessness. She is a young woman from the Shia Hazara community and lives in Quetta. This is an excerpt of the story she tells of herself and her community:

Death is waiting around the corner. Before that, I must share what it means to be a Shia Hazara. Today, I am going to share a bit of my story – the story of me and my people. When one of us comes in front of you, you mostly label us Chinese or Korean. Our complexions are not like yours, neither is our race or genetic composition. We are the ‘others’. And our pain is that of the others. We are Pakistanis but not considered a part of you. Very few will raise their voice for us, even when 27 of us are taken off a bus and are shot and killed just because we are Shias. Just because we have Mongol-like features. Just because we migrated here from Afghanistan.

What is our crime, I still don’t understand. We pay taxes. We make useful things out of spare parts. We want to be peaceful contributors towards the progress of our country, Pakistan. We dream of a beautiful Pakistan where all sects and ethnicities work together towards a common goal.

But what is the reality? How many of you can relate to 5 dead bodies being taken out of a house – father, brothers, sons. What do the women of that house go through? What is the future of these women? Of the Shia Hazara women? When they step outside the four walls of their homes once the men have been slaughtered, to earn a living because they have no other choice, vultures start circling. These are men who have been directly or indirectly responsible for lifting the roof off their heads. Responsible for killing the men in their lives. They offer help to these women in exchange for not cash but kind. I am one of those women.

As a girl from the Shia Hazara community, I know my life is forever at risk which is why I am hidden behind a screen for my safety as I speak to you. But trust me when I say that if tomorrow I am killed, my death will not make newspaper news unless a mass massacre happens.  Most killings of my community don’t make it to national news.Do you know

Why do you take each other’s pictures? Mementos? We, the Hazaras, now photograph each other knowing that probably these photographs, especially of our men, will be placed on their dead bodies during their funeral. The area of the Ganj-e-Shuhada graveyard for the Hazara community is being extended. More dead than alive. And the rest a community of the living dead…constantly living in a state of fear.

We are marginalized. As a working woman, I have seen better days. There was a time when I could travel to 30 districts, safely, even at night and my parents didn’t worry. Now, I  cannot walk even a kilometer down from Meezan Chowk to buy something I need. A Shia Hazara girl today cannot go till the Sariyab Road, Quetta, to the Balochistan University, to get an education. Do you know what it is like to live in a constant state of fear? To be surrounded by people who are also equally afraid? When fear becomes a way of life. Even if the sound of thunder or lightning strikes, we think someone is here to attack us. If a bus is stopped by the police for checking and we are on board, we are sure that this is it – that death has arrived.

These days when Shia Hazara mothers hand over chadars to their daughters when they are stepping out, they advise them to kill themselves in case someone approaches them with wrong intentions. To save their lives, our brothers flee the country as part of a mass exodus, travelling by sea, and many become food for the fish on way. Many are kidnapped in that dangerous journey, and then their families are asked for ransom. If they are lucky enough to reach Australia, they will never be 1st grade citizens of that country.

I often wonder why the contributions of my community are not mentioned in history books. Our ancestors may be from Afghanistan, but we have made contributions for Pakistan. Even today, Hazaras are a silent force, working towards a better Pakistan, peacefully and sincerely. We are doctors and engineers. If nothing else, we are labourers and janitors. We build your homes and lift your trash. All we ask for in return is the right to be able to live a peaceful life in this country we call our own. Is that too much to ask?

My mother always used to say ‘pray for your brother. Allah listens to the prayers of a sister for her brother’. But now I sometimes think none of my prayers are being heard.950

There used to be a time that my community was doing so well as traders and businessmen because of fair dealings. Hazara boys and girls got jobs easily because of their efficiency and integrity. Now, fear forces us to stay at home. Even going to the hospital for treatment is an ordeal. Our dead in hospital mortuaries are also not peacefully handed over to the families till their wives go and identify the bodies.  Even our children suffer. Look carefully at a Hazara child’s eyes.

We also have brave Malalas among us. But we are just not in the limelight.

People ask us where is your ghairat (honour)? Why doesn’t your community fight back?Whom do we fight against? Our ignorant Muslim brother who doesn’t even know why he is killing us? And we who are being killed don’t know our crime!

Political bigwigs have made statements saying ‘death is in Allah’s hands’. Why this fatalistic attitude only for the Hazaras? It is not so easy to accept the death of a little boy who dresses up for Eid namaz and goes but comes back home not alive but dead. Allah has every right to take our lives because He is our Creator. But murderers taking innocent lives, this is not by the will of Allah. This is tyranny. This is oppression.

In Muharram, our Sunni brothers used to set up sabeels for us when we mourned the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Now, since 2002, we mourn ourselves and lift our own dead and bury them ourselves. We no longer prepare jahez or baree. Because it is cloth for shrouds that comes by the yards.

When hope is lost, all is lost. The Hazaras are reaching that point where we lose hope permanently. Save us before that day comes.”

*Name has been changed

http://tribune.com.pk/story/486883/a-story-of-the-others-hazara-shias-lose-all-hope-in-pakistan/

Numbers:

 In Pakistan there are an estimated 956,000 people belonging to this community of which 600,000 live in Quetta city alone.

 
So far, at least 1000 have been killed in terrorist attacks across the province of Balochistan. More than 1600 have received severe injuries.
 
Many Hazara asylum seekers reach Jakarta and from there, by a perilous and risky sea journey, try and make it to the nearest Australian point, the Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. At least 950 have lost their lives while going to Australia. In addition, more than 300 have lost their lives while going to Europe via turkey boarder during the last one decade.
Source:
1. Human Rights Commission for Social Justice & Peace
2. Hazara Town graveyard, Barory, and Ganj e Shuhada graveyard, Alamdar road.
3. Local hospitals & the local Hazara community