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We’re celebrating the 250th Press Freedom Day but is the Pakistani media really free?

Published: May 3, 2016

A Pakistani vendor arranges morning newspapers with front-page-coverage of the attack by gunmen on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, at a roadside newsstand in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

You know, therefore you are.

And we know because of the press. Be it print or broadcast, media is what keeps you updated. It provides us with information because it is our right to know, and it is the press’ right to relay that information.

The press, or a more relevant term today might be the media (that includes products of both print as well as broadcast and digital journalism) relay that information to you.

But, if you are a Pakistani and have never been a part of the media, never seen the workings of a newsroom and have never been a reporter, it is a given that you are someone who has hurled abuses, chanted frustrated expletives and blamed the media and press for everything that has gone wrong in the world.

The Pakistani media is far from perfect.

The headlines can be scandalous and out of context. The reporters and TV anchors cross lines. Media ethics are ripped apart every time a tragedy takes place, where cameras are thrust in the faces of victims and survivors. Information is relayed first and thought about later.

While print media (newspapers), exercises much more care and caution compared to TV, the web wing of newspapers is another animal altogether. News has to be broken within minutes otherwise it becomes redundant and stale. “It’s already been covered” is the worst nightmare in the web room. To make their story novel and different, value additions are pushed through and the ‘treatment’ of the story is altered to get more hits.

Journalists are paid a pittance, especially if they are in print media, and those that write in a local language are paid even less. The one thrill that keeps them going is the sheer joy of being able to tell a story or create awareness while taking the credit for it; their name or face appearing with the news story. And for this, they risk their lives.

With every passing day, our viewers, readers and listeners are also becoming less forgiving. A decade ago, we could have gotten away with shoddy and loud journalism by saying,

Abhi nayee nayee azaadi milee hai media ko

(Our media is enjoying its new found freedom).

But Pakistan’s media has now crossed the milestone of being nascent.

The initial euphoria of freedom after an era of being the proverbial “press in chains” has now begun to die down. Which means the media will not be able to get away with anything and everything. Also, mistakes made by the media, like everyone else, can become a social media trend within minutes. Whether the media person was right or wrong, how they should be dealt with is another debate.

But if media persons ask politician’s scandalous questions, storm into assemblies, do moral policing of dating couples in parks, or show unreasonable tilts towards an ideology or person, they cannot go scot-free. Writers and reporters should not be allowed to base entire stories on hypothetical sources and should not be allowed to share data without citations. Today’s media is grilled and criticised. If nothing else, the social media trial will take them to task.

And it must.

The absence of a check and balance corrupts anyone in a position of power, and one of the most powerful positions to be in is as a media person. What we say, show or write reaches millions. We, the media, are answerable.

Yet, as the world today celebrates the 250th Press Freedom Day, is Pakistani media really free?

What we know as ‘policy matters’ and ‘security concerns’ often hold back the pen or the microphone of the reporter to relay information that must reach the public. Certain ideas are shot down by editors due to fear of backlash and ruffling too many feathers, and then we wonder why our best journalists end up writing for foreign publications and not local ones.

Fears of consequences, tilts and allegiances of patrons, the editor’s discretionary powers to chop or discard a good pitch or story and the simple fear of becoming unpopular or redundant, often hold a journalist back from the noble task of telling the truth, and nothing but the truth.

The reporters in a press conference can and should be trained to ask better phrased and more relevant questions, but do they have the right to put those questions to a Pervez Rasheed, an Imran Khan, a Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or a General Raheel Sharif?

The answer should be a resounding yes.

In a world where surveillance of citizens is legally accepted, why should a media person’s right to ask questions be curtailed?

While absolutism in freedom of speech can be harmful, strict censorships harm a society by not only restricting, but mutating the development of healthy collective thought processes.

The annual report of press freedom by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated that Pakistan has been ranked 159 out of 180 countries. Yet, these restrictions are not just limited to Pakistan as the world at large is failing on many counts when it comes to providing press the required freedom.

In an era plagued with conflict, fear of life is what causes us, the media persons, to bite our tongues and throw away our pens.

The need of the day is to educate our press and media persons regarding media ethics, but at the same time, their safety should be safeguarded while ensuring that they can speak up without fear of losing their audience, their jobs or their lives.

8 Pakistani women you should follow on Twitter

Published: May 19, 2015
PHOTO: TWITTER

PHOTO: TWITTER

Though expansive in its content, a recently combined list of Twitter accounts belonging to Muslim women from around the world lacked representation from Pakistan.

Here at The Express Tribune, we compiled our own list of 8 Pakistani women that we believe you must follow. Our list consists of Pakistani women from all walks of life: journalists, activists, academics, actors and authors. Following these women is a must for those looking to gain an added perspective to the rather male-dominated public opinion.

1. @MehreenKasana

PHOTO: TWITTER

Her bio is three words long: one woman army. And that is precisely what Mehreen Kasana is. Not only is she one of Pakistan’s top bloggers, but it is her unique take on things that makes her a top choice for our list. She is an activist and a progressive, through and through. She speaks loudly and bravely against racism and Islamophobia and truly thinks outside the box. Mehreen is one of those who build bridges between extremes.

2. @SanaSaleem

PHOTO: TWITTER

Though Sana is widely known as a rights activist, her humour and her anecdotes with her Daadi are worth a read. Director of “Bolo Bhi”, Sana is a fearless voice against state censorship, and an expert in digital rights and security. She says what she has to by cloaking it in biting wit.

3. @SheikhImaan

PHOTO: TWITTER

With the wittiest sense of humour, hands down, Imaan is an entertainer and wins over tweeps with her charm. Agree with her or not, you cannot ignore her. Reading any tweet by the Buzzfeed author is either time well spent or time well wasted.

4. @SamarMinallahKh

PHOTO: TWITTER

She makes us proud simply with all the good work she does. Anthropologist and documentary film-maker, Samar’s work for women’s rights, especially child marriage, has changed many lives for the better. Her roots are firmly planted in indigenous sensibilities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa from where she hails, and her work is thus respected both locally and globally.

5. @Mehreen Zahra-Malik

PHOTO: TWITTER

The Reuters correspondent for Pakistan is a great source for the latest rumblings in Islamabad. She might get a few details wrong here and there, but for the most part Malik tackles stories that local media can’t or won’t.

6. @Zofeen28

PHOTO: FACEBOOK

As one of Pakistan’s most respected feature writers and journalists, she brings to the fore issues that need to be highlighted. If you want to read human interest stories, this is the account to follow.

7. @NJLahori

PHOTO: TWITTER

Nadia Jamil, darling of the people, is as popular on Twitter as she is otherwise. The activist-actor, and self-claimed foodie, brings to you the much-needed zest of Lahore.

8. @RafiaZakaria

PHOTO: TWITTER

Attorney, political philosopher and the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan, Ms Zakaria is popular not without reason. She gives a less myopic and more global picture of issues that face present day Pakistan and the world.

https://twitter.com/rafiazakaria/status/595249549343629312

 

International Women’s Day: On provincial stage, women issues still glossed over

Published: March 8, 2015

Rights activists note movement in legislation for gender equality, but say it is time to walk the talk.

KARACHI: Encouraging movement has been seen in women-friendly legislation across the country in 2014. Provincial legislators in Balochistan passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2014, while their counterparts in Sindh adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which outlawed marriage below the age of 18.

Just two days before the International Women’s Day, amendments were made to the Punjab Muslim Family Laws Act 2015. The penalty for underage marriage has been increased, with offenders facing a prison term of up to six months and a Rs50,000 fine. The failure to pay alimony to a woman or a child will lead to enhancement of payment.

Why, then, are the women of Pakistan continuing to suffer? “There is too much emphasis on enactment of legislation but not enough stress on implementation of the laws,” said Fauzia Waqar, chairperson of Punjab’s Commission on Women.

Mahnaz Rehman, resident director of Aurat Foundation Karachi, agreed that implementation of laws is not satisfactory. “I suggest that the government and/or judiciary should make it mandatory that after the enactment of any law, rules of business and other necessary measures will be taken within three months. If concerned departments don’t do it, they should be summoned in the court,” she said. Rehman pointed out that though the Sindh Assembly enacted a law against domestic violence in 2013 it has not drawn up the rules of business or constituted protection committees yet.

Lawyer and human rights crusader Maliha Zia Lari believes that enforcement is sometimes held back by budget problems.

“There are only three to five medico-legal departments in all of Karachi, and none in Peshawar,” she said, sharing that medico-legal officers do not have basic facilities like a space to examine women. “We have heard cases where they had no electricity and had to examine rape victims in the light of cell phones. How can we have implementation, then?”

Women’s issues – a federal issue?

“Women are 50 per cent of the population. How can issues related to them be just provincial?” asks Lari. In her opinion, the 18th Amendment may have had a positive impact in other areas of development, but not when it comes to issues related to women. “We are happy about legislation regarding Child Marriage, but that is in Sindh and Punjab. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will not even look at it,” she said.

Lari also pointed out that it was unfortunate that the country no longer has a separate ministry for either women’s affairs or human rights.

Silver linings

The Punjab government, according to Waqar, has set up a helpline for women exclusively. “Call 080093372 and you get help of every kind if you are a woman in distress.” She expressed satisfaction over the improvement in data collection.

Activist and researcher Nazish Brohi said that this is “a time of huge possibilities, we have more space”. She said that it was encouraging that more Swara cases were being reported and more people were being arrested for crimes against women, showing a slow but stable improvement.

A changing Pakistan

As the dynamics of Pakistani society change, the lines between urban and rural culture continue to blur. “The massive scale of urbanisation has altered the demographic culture,” said Brohi.

Talking of provincial comparisons, Brohi said there is huge provincial variation. “What is true for Balochistan doesn’t resonate with the culture in Sindh.”

The situation is not bleak in Waqar’s opinion. However, proliferation of small arms in Pakistani society has affected the dynamics of violence against women (VAW) too. “In Punjab, from 161 cases in 2012 to 205 cases in 2014, there is a definite increase in the use of small arms,” she said.

“Religious extremism has increased the incidences of violence against women,” said Rehman. She added that justice and peace are prerequisites of women empowerment. For this, we have to “deweaponise society,” suggested Rehman.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2015.

Sexual reproductive health: Life lessons

Despite being a key issue, Pakistanis still whisper when it comes to sexual reproductive health. DESIGN : TALHA KHAN

“I was nine years old when I started sprouting. I was not made to wear a trainer. Mykhala (aunt) came to me and said ‘no one should know that you are growing up. I will teach you how to hide it.’” She took two big coins, placed them on my chest at the right spot, and tied a long piece of cloth over it tightly.‘Never let a man kiss you, otherwise you will become pregnant’, she said. I was nine! I recall my uncle kissing me on my cheek and me crying all night thinking now I was pregnant and God would never forgive me.” Saima*, an educated working woman from Karachi, is now 39, married, and a mother. Yet, she still feels that the way she looks at sexuality is not normal but is unable to alter her thinking. For the longest time, she could not fully enjoy physical intimacy with her husband either since there was a sense of guilt “as if it is something wrong,” she shares.

This sense of shame that society conditions into people when it comes to matters of the body starts very early on. The man at the grocery store will very deftly look away the moment a woman asks for sanitary napkins and pack them in a brown paper bag. Most Pakistani daughters will not ask their fathers to buy sanitary napkins for them. Menstruation comes as a shock to many Pakistani girls. With a still relatively young average age of marriage of women in Pakistan, many women and even men confess that they did not know enough details of the conjugal relationship till they got married. Zareen*, a USA-based doctor shares that despite having done her MBBS at the time of her wedding, her knowledge was so bookish that she knew almost nothing. “The experience was horrendous,” she says. “My ex-husband was also young at the time and his sources of information about sex had been very wrong. I think we were never able to develop a normal bond.” 

Shame shame

This halo of shame that surrounds any and everything that has to do with a young body morphing into adulthood has dire consequences. Yet, there is still immense reluctance about discussing the matter with young adults.

“Lack of awareness  pushes young people to reach out to any source of information out of curiosity,” says Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and human rights activist. “Questioning sexuality at a certain age is a natural occurrence, but the social clamp down further fuels the curiosity. As a result, they do learn about it, but they learn it [the] wrong way.” In Lari’s experience, this leads to dangerous things like unnatural experimentation, and often with the wrong people. Even young males are exposed to the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or being emotionally exploited by ill-meaning men or women. Lari adds that this is one reason why human rights activists discourage early age marriages. “We teach people to be ashamed of our bodies, not to take ownership. A young mind has so many unanswered questions,” she says. Contrary to popular belief, research also proves that awareness about Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) does not promote promiscuity in adolescents. In fact, it makes them more cautious.

‘The talk’

Survey of a cross section for this write-up reveals that most parents in Pakistan do not talk to their children about SRH, and if they do, the onus falls on the mothers. According to a study conducted by Marie Stopes Society in selected districts of Pakistan, the onset of menstruation was associated with anxiety in 47% girls as only 13% of them reported receiving information about puberty before the onset of menstruation.

Data from a 2013 baseline study conducted by Aahung (a non-profit organisation that concentrates on SRH) in four districts of Sindh, with adolescents as subjects, showed that only 34% adolescents would talk to their parents about pubertal issues. Nearly 49% of those questioned believed that AIDS is a curable disease, which means they were not aware of the possible dangers of unsafe sex either.

For Hira*, a mother of three, the experience was one typical for most Pakistani girls. “I came to know about puberty the day I had my first period. I went running to my mom who just told me that this happens to girls and that this is ganda khoon (bad blood) that needs to come out of the body. And I must not tell anyone about it as its one big secret,” she shares. She confesses that she learnt about feminine hygiene or issues related to puberty on a trial and error bases. “Only the basic information of how to use depilatory creams was provided, but nothing about when and where.” Her knowledge of the physical intimacy between men and women and how babies are born remained limited to that from Bollywood movies. “I thought you meet a boy, and then two roses dance together in a park, and you have a baby,” she laughs and says that she was told that “achi larkiyaan is baray mein baat nahi kartin”(nice girls don’t talk about these things).

“Once I begun menstruating, my mother would keep drumming one thing in our heads: do not commit adultery, it is one of the major sins,” shares 25-year-old Maria. Such a warning from mothers may not always be a bad idea. However, she acknowledges that her mother’s choice of words was harsh. “For the most part, I thank her for that. I have been tempted many times but never crossed a line and that has saved me from many an emotional disaster,” she admits. Maria’s idea of sex, however is so plagued by a sense of guilt that she fears she will feel guilty initially even with her husband after getting married. “It will take me time. But I would give the same training to my daughters,” she says.

Educationist and motivational speaker Abbas Hussain strongly endorses the practise of parents talking to children about SRH, albeit sensitively. Interestingly, Hussain feels that, “Urban mothers prove to be big prudes, whereas rural mothers see this very important part of human life as a part of nature. Such are the idiocies of urban life that a cow giving birth to a calf is not considered normal,” he adds.

Will daddy talk to his son?

“Fathers take very little interest in the sexual education of their children, even boys, as the common notion is uss key doston ney bata diya hoga (his friends must have told him). Men are generally shier then we think,” says Hira. “My father never talked to me about these things,” shares 20-year-old Shehryar Imran. However, he feels it is very important for adolescents to be adequately informed about the changes their bodies are going through “without having to rely on clandestine conversations with peers who also may not be fully informed,’” he says. “In order to combat the spread of STDs, it is imperative to target the root cause of the problem: breaking the unhealthy taboo surrounding sex.”

The ‘talk’ at school and choice of words

Hussain also stresses the importance of teachers’ role when it comes to SRH. “Senior teachers can play a huge role, but in this I am very clear about the gender segregation — male teachers for boys and female teachers for girls,” he says, adding that sensitive and cultural sensibilities need to be respected. He also stresses the importance of chosing words carefully. “Using the term ‘sex education’ deflects from the real issue; this term is the red herring,” he adds.

Maliha Noor, manager communications at Aahung, endorses using “culturally appropriate language.” Hence, Aahung’s successful awareness programme on the subject is called Life Skills Based Education (LSBE). “This should be included not just in school curriculum but even our medical practitioners in the making should be taught about this,” says Noor. “Often, doctors and nurses know the biological details but don’t know how to handle queries about it.” Aahung’s LSBE curriculum covers a range of issues including pubertal changes, gender discrimination, HIV / AIDS, protection from violence, peer pressure, rights within the nikah nama, and family planning. Part of the programme also concentrates on training teachers. “When students would talk to us about their issues, we would often not take them seriously and even joke about them,” confessed one of the teachers trained by Aahung. After the training, she has learnt how to handle these queries sensitively.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Farahnaz Zahidi is a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 25th, 2015.

2014 report: Pakistan most dangerous country for journalists, says IFJ

Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: January 1, 2015

At least 14 journalists and media staff were killed in the country last year. STOCK IMAGE

KARACHI: Pakistan was the most dangerous country in the world for journalists during 2014 with 14 recorded deaths, according to the 24th Annual List Asia of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released on Wednesday. Syria, where a deadly insurrection against President Bashar al Assad has been ongoing, was in the 2nd place on the IFJ report with 12 journalists killed in the line of duty.

A total of 118 journalists and media staff were killed in work-related attacks in 2014, states the IFJ report. The attacks included both targeted or crossfire incidents. Seventeen other mediapersons died in road crashes and natural disasters while on assignments. In 2013, 105 journalists and media staff were killed.

After Pakistan and Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine recorded nine killings each while eight journalists were killed each in Iraq and Ukraine.

“We have been raising our voice for security of media persons but the government has never taken the safety of journalists seriously,” said Amin Yousuf, the secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told The Express Tribune. Yousuf complained that when journalists and media staff die in the line of duty, announcements are made by political leaders but their families never get compensation.

The IFJ report also warns that these new figures are a reminder of the gravity of the safety crisis in media and renews its urgent call to governments to make the protection of journalists their priority.

The Asia Pacific region, where Pakistan is located, had the highest death toll with 35 killings, making it the most dangerous region for journalists and media staff in the world for the second year running.

According to the IFJ, the ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine as well as the violent insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan account for most of the targeted killings of journalists.

“The levels of violence against journalists remain unacceptably high in a number of countries where journalists risk their lives in their daily job,” said IFJ General Secretary Beth Costa. “Sadly, many have paid the ultimate price this year and lost their lives to the spiraling violence which is engulfing media, fuelled by the climate of impunity.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2015.

One month later: Remembering the drowned

Published: September 5, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESSSixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
KARACHI: He left home to celebrate Eidul Fitr with five of his friends. Three of them never came back.

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news.

“He was very talented and used to work as a skilled helper for jewellers to help support our family,” says Omar’s grieving brother Fazal Kareem, asking despairingly, “How do you console a mother who has lost a young son?”

The police are initially unwilling to share the list of the names and ages of those who drowned. But a look at this list makes the tragedy hit the reader harder. Ayaz, 13, son of Sawali Khan. Amir, son of Umar Illahi, aged 15. Fourteen-year-old Ejaz Ahmed, son of Ali Zaman. A mere glance shows you who would flock to the turbulent seas even in the high tide of the monsoon season. They were all between 13 to 27 years old. They were all young men. They were residents of Sohrab Goth, Baldia Town, Orangi Town and Bhains Colony.

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With few options for entertainment for the recreation-starved public, the trend of taking to the sea will continue. “We see high risk-taking behaviour in this age group, because they have excess energy and not many responsibilities,” says clinical psychologist Sarah Jafry, who works with adolescents at War Against Rape. “If we cannot provide them with healthy outlets, seeking thrills even at the risk of life will continue, and even after seeing bad examples, young men will not be able to resist the urge.”

While Karachi commissioner Shoaib Siddiqui says that most of the beach has now been reopened, the public trying to visit it says otherwise. Anwar Bhutto, the duty officer at Darakhshan Police Station, confirms that Section 144 had been imposed for 90 days and the beach remains off-limits. Siddiqui, however, maintains that only the area behind Dolmen Mall is closed. “This is because it is reclaimed land and we have suspicions about dredging and depression in that area,” he says, adding that there should be evaluations about how construction near the beach might enhance risks.

Most of the bodies of the drowned were found on the same day, but it took three days to recover Omar’s body. “We kept trying to console and pacify the relatives until the bodies were found,” says Anwar Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation. “Some of them were recovered from distant areas such as Manora and Keamari.”

Omar’s family, and the families of the others who drowned, still await monetary compensation. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah promised them Rs0.2 million, while Malik Riaz pledged Rs1 million.

“I cannot comment on why Riaz has not given the money he promised,” says Siddiqui. “As for the sum promised by the CM, the cases have been sent to the Relief Commissioner and hopefully the families will get the money soon.” He added that they should call 1299 to follow up on it.

“We have always honoured our social welfare commitments,” says Bahria Town’s marketing manager Nida Zahoor, when asked about Riaz’s pledge. “We are only waiting for the list of the deceased from the Sindh Governor.”

Meanwhile, Kareem, whose family is from Buner in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and now resides in the Boulton Market area, has only this to say: “We are poor people. We could use that money to marry off our sisters. But we have no hope.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2014.

The hands behind the flags

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Karachi – “I am quite old,” he says, contemplating in reply to a question, as his nimble fingers continue working on a huge Pakistani flag of synthetic material. “May be I am 12?” says the podgy child, sitting on a heap of about a hundred flags. “He is ten years old,” yells out his brother from the other side of the huge room where at every turn of the head, all one can see is flags of Pakistan. Mukhtiyar smiles, clicks his tongue non-chalantly, and goes back to work. There is lots of work to be done as Pakistan’s 68th Independence Day is a few days away. Mukhtiyar and his colleagues work in a kaarkhana (factory) in an industrial area of Karachi. He works on almost a 1000 flags a day in peak season.

 

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Just some eight kilometres away, alongside a main road in an affluent part of Karachi, 15 years old Shazia and her younger brother have set-up a stall on a small table. The national flag in cloth and paper of all shapes and sizes, and many other items that help fuel patriotism are on display. “We buy all of this from lighthouse and sell it. We earn about 200 to 300 rupees a day, that’s all. Is dafa dhanda naheen hai (there is not much business this year),” says their mother Shehnaz who works as part-time domestic help in nearby bungalows. She swings by the stall every few hours to see how her children are doing.

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Hoisting flags around the world

Every year, Pakistan is a splash of green and the minimal white. An entire industry springs into action weeks before the 14 August, and goes back into dormancy after the day is over. But for the workers at Pakistan’s only flag-based company, VIP Flags, flags are made all year round and provide livelihood to around 100 workers and their families. The factory is situated in Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi, and the products they churn out have been record-breaking, literally. “We set the world record of the time for the World’s Largest Flag on the occasion of Pakistan’s 57th Independence day in 2004. The flag measured 340ft x 510ft which is 173,400 sq.ft,breaking the previous American Super flag record, which was 255ft x 505ft,” says Asim Nisar Parchamwala, Director, VIP Flags. The record may have been broken but the pride with which he talks is permanent. From ceremonial and table flags to taking export orders of flags in the thousands that they take from all over the world, this is where most flags are made in the country, including the flags for all political parties. While smaller factories and industries make more economical versions of the banner sporting the symbolic star and crescent, most flags used for official purposes are made here. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has commissioned us to make a flag for this year’s Independence Day which will be hoisted on the world’s tallest flag pole in Lahore,” says Parchamwala.

 

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The workers here are mostly young, the oldest ones in their 30s. The volume of work is challenging. The factory is clean and the workers are well looked after. “They get a ten per cent raise in salary every year,” says Parchamwala, talking to The Express Tribune. When asked why he hires such young workers, he replies by saying, “what do you think these children would be doing if they are not hired? They would be running about in the streets or become members of gangs and mafias.”

 

In another room, two young “cutters” are cutting out flags that will later undergo finishing. The weather is hot and humid, but they are not putting on the fan. “Maal urta hai phir (the flags flutter with the wind the fan produces,” says Ghani.

 

Shahid, a 21 years old worker at VIP flags, agrees. “I have been working here for the last three years. My two brothers also work here. Initially I did not know this work, but overtime I have learnt the skill,” he says. Shahid’s salary is a reasonable sum, between 12 to 18 thousand rupees a month. “We make enough to support our family comfortably.”

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A condensed version of this photo feature was published in The Express Tribune here:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/748918/full-mast-the-hands-behind-the-flags/

Sufisticated: Celebrating Amir Khusrau via Saami

Published: August 21, 2014
tribune.com.pk/story/751231/sufisticated-celebrating-amir-khusrau-via-saami/

The Saami Brothers qawwal group is presently performing events that are thematic tributes to Hazrat Amir Khusrau. PHOTO: FAISAL SAYANI

KARACHI: Guftam ke Roshan az Qamar/Gufta ke Rukhsaar-e-man ast/Guftam ke sheerin az shaker/Gufta ke guftaar-e-man ast.” (I said: What is bright like the moon? He said: The cheek of Mine. I said: What is sweeter than sugar? He said: The talk of Mine.) The lights are dim. The voices and clapping resonate across the hall. The crowd is almost mesmerised as this beautiful bit of Amir Khusrau’s Persian poetry is performed by The Saami Brothers.

“So, who is the speaker and who is he speaking to in this nazm?” is the question a listener poses to Rauf Saami, the eldest of the brothers. “Nazm nahi, bibi. Ghazal,” he points out and goes on. “On purpose, this has not been spelt out here. Hence, this can be interpreted in more than one way,” he smilingly says that not all of Amir Khusrau’s poetry was for his spiritual master. “Where he wants it to be understood as specifically for Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz, he takes his name.”

In a later sitting, Rauf’s father sheds more light on this. “Some people are given so much in so many aspects. They are God’s special people. Amir Khusrau was one of them. A linguist, a scholar, a poet, a mystic, an advisor to kings, the devotee of his Peer-o-Murshid Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and a musician,” says Ustad Naseeruddin Saami.

We are sitting in his spacious apartment in Garden Town with two of his sons sitting around him. Two tanpuras named Saawan and Bhaadon sit majestically in the room; they are some 430 years old, passed on through generations of the Saami family as heirlooms.

Ustaad Naseeruddin Saami’s four sons and a nephew make up The Saami Brothers group of qawwals. The troupe is currently performing in events that are thematic tributes to Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the father of qawwali and a 13th-century Sufi musician, poet and scholar, and a spiritual disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Titled Kalaam-e-Khusrau Ba Zabaan-e-Saamat, their next performance will be held at T2F on Thursday afternoon after a successful event at the PACC auditorium. They are doing this to celebrate the Urs of Hazrat Amir Khusrau.

While other qawwals, even in their own family, have experimented with fusion and innovations, this group remains more puritanical in its approach. They safeguard their link to their ancestor Miyan Saamat, who was both a student and colleague of Amir Khusrau. “They were peers. Miyan Saamat was already doing zikr in the darbar of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. But when Khusrau entered, the two started working as a team. They experimented with it and the name ‘qawwali’ was introduced for this art form,” says Ustaad Saami.

Talking about the many languages Amir Khusrau wrote poetry in, the conversation wanders into the makings of the Urdu language. Urdu, the language symbolic of pluralism, has words of Arabic, Turkish, Hindi and Persian. Khusrau dabbled with all of these languages in his poetry. “The purpose of the Urdu language was mingling and communication of the many races here. Music is also a means of communication and nothing else. And Khusrau was the master mingler,” says the maestro.

For Saami, music is about “invoking in yourself and your audience the correct kaifiyat (feeling)”. Ustad Saami, for whom his close students use the term of endearment ‘jaan’, has a deep attachment to Khusrau. He had travelled to India on what one may call a ‘study tour’ to search his roots to Amir Khusrau. “Qawwali kiya hai? Kisee achhay qaul ko logon tak pohnchana,” says Saami. “The divine words given to us by those who were directed by Him.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.

International day to end obstetric fistula: ‘Help me stay dry’

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I can’t do anything but this.”

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are
trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this
field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I
can’t do anything but this.”

KARACHI: 

She wept inconsolably, and the doctors at Koohi Goth Hospital Karachi could not understand why. They had treated this young woman in her 20s already, and they were ready to discharge her so that she could go back to her family near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

A translator was brought in who told them the real problem. “My first born is with the money-lenders as girwi (mortgage). I developed the fistula during his birth. But I was so desperate to be healed of this constant leaking that I took the chance. I needed money to reach here to get treatment.” Doctors at the hospital raised the money and sent her home. One life saved out of the nearly 5,000 women that develop the fistula every year in Pakistan. But thousands await treatment.

For fistulas, precaution is the best cure. And the cure is simple: Women of Pakistan need to deliver babies into trained hands and with basic health care facilities. This cure is still a distant dream.

Snuggled away in the outskirts of busy Karachi, Koohi Goth Hospital is Pakistan’s only hospital exclusively built to end the scourge of this preventable disease. Only, there should be not even one fistula hospital in Pakistan, because fistulas should no longer exist. “The last fistula case in England was in the 1920s. Here we are with 5,000 new cases every year,” says Dr Shershah Syed, founder of this hospital.

“If the labour is prolonged, the baby’s head can get stuck in the birth canal. If it keeps pushing against the thin wall between the bladder or rectum and the wall of the birth canal, thereby causing strain,” says Dr Suboohi Mehdi, one of the surgeons at Koohi Goth Hospital.

Another way a fistula may be formed is if, by mistake of an unskilled surgeon, a cut is caused in the bladder or rectum during surgery. “We are able to treat just 500—600 every year. Lack of awareness and no accessibility to treatment facilities is the reason,” says Dr Sajjad Ahmed, project manager Fistula Project. The project, run by Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) and UNFPA, has treated some 3,400 women since it started off in 2006.

Women suffering from fistulas leak urine or stool uncontrollably. Because of this, they are socially ostracised and lead isolated lives. The fear of leaking leads to them starving themselves, which in turn leads to malnourishment-related problems. They miss basic joys like socializing and traveling by public transport.

“I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four lives is wash clothes,” says 40-year-old Rihana from interior Sindh. Rihana cries easily; she knows her case is a complicated one. “I don’t know how I will fix her. Sometimes, the cases are so messed up by the time they come to us that there is little we can do,” says Dr Mehdi.

“The first thing we do when a lot of them reach here is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital. Gul is now a trainer, helping train young girls who come to the Koohi Goth Midwifery School and Hostel. Once trained, these girls will go back to their communities and be able to help deliver babies safely, so that more women do not develop this disease.

In a message on this day, the President Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan (SOGP), Dr Tasneem Ashraf correctly points out that doctors must identify high risk patients for fistula development, especially pregnant women below the age of 20 years or above the age of 40 years, women who have given birth to many children, those suffering from obesity or Anemia, or having larger than normal babies.

Husbands on Board

Naz Bibi is tiny in stature but gives a resolute smile. Suffering from a fistula since the last nine years, this woman in her 40s has come to Karachi all the way from Goth Dera Bugti. She lies on a plastic sheet spread out under her, and can’t wait for the day when she will be dry once more. “Every one left me. Family, friends. I smelled all the time. I leaked non-stop. Yet, my husband was the only one in my life. He brought me here,” she says.

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from
the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way
to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers
were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

“We are seeing a definite positive change in the trend. More and more husbands now support their wives through the ordeal,” says Dr Ahmed.

“My husband brought me here all the way from Sialkot,” says Fozia, who developed a fistula during the birth of her first child. “I am so excited! Once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray for the last seven years”.

Facts in numbers

Fistula is a poor women’s disease, and the patients are 99 per cent poor women who cannot afford to get their child delivered under proper medical care.

Every year, Pakistan has 4,500—5,000 new cases of fistula. Out of these, only 500—600 reach doctors for treatment.

Pakistan has an estimated 38 surgeons who can perform fistula repair surgeries, but because this is not a lucrative line of medicine, only an estimated 15 are regularly working in this field.

Life saving info:

For information, call 0800-76200

Pakistan National Forum on Women Health

PMA House, Sir Aga Khan III Road, Karachi.

Office number: 021-32231534

Karachi:

Dr Sher Shah Syed

Koohi Goth Hospital

0315-8230856

0333-3026437

Islamabad:

Maternal and Child Care Centre (Professor Dr Ghazala Mehmood, Dr Kausar Tasneem Bangash)

Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS)

Phone: 051-9260450   Mobile: 0300-5510525

Lahore:

Professor Yasmeen Rashid, Dr Tayyaba Majeed

Gynecology ward, Lady Willingdon Hospital

Mobile: 0300-9487305

Multan:

Dr Rafeeq Anjum

Urology Ward

Mobile: 0300-6303574

Peshawar:

Professor Nasreen Ruby and Dr Tanveer Shafqat

Gynecology ward, Lady Reading Hospital

Phone: 091-5810779  Mobile: 0300-6303574

Quetta:

Dr Sadrak Jalal

Christian Hospital, Mission Road.

Mobile: 0300-8381724

Professor Saadat Khan, Dr Haq Nawaz, Dr Masha Khan

Sandeman Civil Hospital.

Mobile: 0321-8198024

Larkana:

Professor Rafi Baloch, Dr Shaista Abro

Gynecology ward, Shaikh Zayed Women Hospital

Chandka Medical College

Mobile: 0300-3415322

Fistula relief centres

Karachi:

Professor Dr Nargis Soomro, Civil Hospital

Dr Azra Jameel, Sindh Government Qatar Hospital

Orangi Town, Karachi.

Hyderabad:

Professor Dr Pushpa Sri Chand

Isra University Hospital

Dr Nabeela Hassan

Liaquat University of Medical Health Sciences

Abbottabad:

Dr Rahat Ansa

Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Women and Children Health Centre

Nawabshah:

Dr Razia Bahadur

Peoples Medical College, Civil Hospital

0345-2750470; 0300-2162392

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2014.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/712365/international-day-to-end-obstetric-fistula-help-me-stay-dry/

Slide show: http://tribune.com.pk/multimedia/slideshows/712507/

World Press Freedom Day: Where journalists fear to tread

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: May 3, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/703239/world-press-freedom-day-where-journalists-fear-to-tread/

WPFD
Between Jan 2013 and Apr 2014, 7 journalists and 3 media workers were killed in Pakistan, says report. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI:
Every day when 29-year-old Zaheer Ali* leaves his house on his motorcycle to go for a reporting assignment, he has a nagging fear that this may be the last time he is seeing his family. “While I am on my bike, my eyes are darting in every direction.
Whenever anyone passes by slowly, I am afraid that this may be someone whose target is me. Knowing details of how fickle and cheap life is here, especially of a journalist who reports on sensitive issues, I live in constant fear,” he says. Yet, Ali sheepishly agrees that much as he has considered giving up the profession, the incentive of uncovering the truth stops him from leaving this line of work. “I cannot give up what I do. All I can do is get a life insurance so that my family has some support if I am killed. My siblings and family will take care of my wife and children if anything happens to me. I have no hope from anyone else.”

Such is the life of journalists in Pakistan.

And the fear has only grown stronger. Ali, for one, thinks that in the last few years it has become harder for journalists to do their work.

Between January 2013 and April 2014, seven journalists and three media workers were killed in Pakistan, said the “Press Freedom Report – 2014” issued by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) here on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.
The report also said that 14 journalists were injured from January 2013 to April 2014. Many of the injured were either beaten by policemen or injured by violent people while covering processions and rallies. Other journalists mentioned in the report are living under the dangling swords of life threats.

Frustration for journalists like Ali is as bad as the fear. “If you don’t know something, it is different. But knowing realities that we do, it is not easy to sit tight and not reveal a piece of information due to fear of being killed. We have been silenced.”

Ali echoes the feelings of many reporters and media persons who keep hearing stereotypical comments. “People say media makes up stories. We risk our lives to get you the facts, and this is what we get in return.”

The World Press Freedom Index 2014, issued by the international non-governmental organisation “Reporters without Borders” earlier this year, termed Pakistan “long the world’s deadliest country for media personnel”, adding that for the second year running, the Indian sub-continent is the Asian region with the biggest rise in violence for journalists. The index calls the targeted nature of the violence “the most disturbing development”. The report ranked Pakistan at the 158th position out of 180 countries.

Just three days prior to World Press Freedom Day, a report, titled ‘A bullet has been chosen for you: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan’, was released by Amnesty International. This report revealed a startling statistic: an estimated 34 journalists may have paid the price for being journalists, killed because of their work since March 2008.

The 3rd of May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993. This year’s theme for this day, as declared by the UN, is “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda”.

“Every report expressing the threat to members of the press is based on facts. The situation is worrisome. Pakistan’s press should be allowed to speak. On behalf of human rights we think that commissions should be set up to train the media to be more responsible, but journalists cannot be choked into silence due to fear of death,” says Amarnath Motumal, ex-vice chairperson Sindh, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Motumal praised the media as being increasingly aware about human rights issues. “Pakistani media is showing remarkable courage at this difficult time.” (*Name changed to protect privacy)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2014.