Stories written by Rafia Zakaria

Decemberistan redux

It is what happens in Karachi every December and extends sometimes to January or February but hardly ever to March. The sweltering heat abates, blossoms emerge in flowerbeds, the air is dry and cool, and the wedding venues are lit up like amusement parks (which they also are in a sense).

Removing Hate from Sermons

It has been nearly 10 years since an angry mob raged through the streets of Gojra in the early morning hours of Aug 1, 2009. The trouble had begun the day before, Friday, when certain xenophobic clerics had incited Muslim villagers, citing rumours about the desecration of religious verses. On that grim day, around 10 Christians were burned alive.

Courts of the People

Maryam Nawaz looked prim and poised as ever as she stood before hordes of men in Mansehra last week. She wore a pumpkin-coloured shalwar kameez, and as always a chiffon dupatta on her head; the lipstick on her lips matched exactly. Insulating her from the crowd (the stage was so packed that Maryam Nawaz had to interrupt her oratory with a chastising, “there is no more room left”) was a cabal of grinning younger women, dressed with lesser finesse than the leader whose presence required their own.

Posing as Liberators

A lot was done in the name of Muslim women in the waning weeks of 2017. Saudi Arabia gave permission for women to enter the previously forbidden sports stadiums and allowed female contestants participating in an international chess tournament in Saudi Arabia to forego the abaya and hijab. In future months, the kingdom benevolently promised, women would be permitted to drive trucks and motorcycles in addition to driving cars.

Wanted: Violent Muslim Women

It was only a couple of months ago that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came out with its women’s magazine. Titled Sunnat-i-Khaula, the magazine attempted to appeal to Muslim women, offering first-person stories of a female doctor who gave it all up to travel to ‘Khorasan’, an interview with the wife of a commander (he did the dishes and helped around the house), and even a supposedly inspirational portrait of a child soldier.

Marriages of Desperation

War bleeds people; it spills over borders, rivers, deserts and forests, with people hiding and pleading and always, always running. Along with the Rohingya, the people of Syria have seen incredible devastation in the past few years. Even as other wars have waxed and waned, these conflicts have continued in full view of the world, with the feeble bureaucrats of the United Nations looking on and doing nothing.

An Almost Happy Country

The World Happiness Report operates from the premise that happiness can be measured, counted up via surveys, tabulated in statistics and then ranked by country. This year’s report ranks 155 countries in a master ranking of happiness. It also proves statistically what all of us have known tacitly: rich people are happier than poor people, more likely to describe themselves as “happy” and consequently rich countries, made up as they are of rich people, are happier than poor countries.

Rain and Ruin

Undoubtedly, there were others who suffered more. Even before the rains beat down on Karachi this year, taking a few and then a few more and finally over 20 lives, hundreds others had died in neighbouring countries. The citizens of Karachi died as they do every year in an increasingly destructive monsoon season: a child drowned in an underground tank, two men were electrocuted while riding a motorcycle, another in his home. The run-up to Eid meant that there was livestock everywhere, tied up in markets and outside homes. The waste from these animals mixed with stagnant water — the deadly mix of offal, excrement and raw sewage in standing water — may well raise the number of dead. They will not be included in the official death count for this year’s rains.

Rape and Ordinary Men

“You can’t clap with one hand,” one of the rapists in the notorious Delhi gang rape case had famously said after being convicted of rape and murder. This man, along with five others, had been found guilty of taking a young woman to the back of a Delhi bus one night in December 2012. The men raped the young woman inflicting injuries that were so terrible that the doctors, including those in Singapore, where she was sent for treatment, could not save her. A few weeks after the incident — after she had identified her assailants and given her statement — she succumbed to her injuries.

A Woman in China

Sometimes it takes a single person with courage to awaken a society. So it may be in the case of Ye Haiyan, a women’s rights activist in China who has sacrificed nearly everything to bring to attention the condition of sex workers in her country.

In Defence of Women’s Shelters

Many of the women’s shelters currently operating in Afghanistan have been founded and funded during the Nato/US presence over the past decade.

No More Development Aid?

A few weeks before 2016 took its leave, David Hale, the US ambassador to Pakistan, announced that the United States government, via the United States Agency for International Development, would be investing $7.3 billion toward increasing the number of female teachers in Pakistan. The announcement came as part of the 16 days of activism initiative by USAID’s Gender Equity Programme, which the Aurat Foundation is implementing. Around the same time, USAID also signed an agreement with Wapda to provide $81 million for the construction of the Kurram-Tangi Dam that will help generate 18 MW of activity for the Waziristan region.

The Wrong Man

It was the week before Christmas and, like all cities in the Western world, Berlin was lit up, the air was cold and the mood festive. At the Christmas market near the Zoologischer Garten train station, people milled about shopping and enjoying themselves.

Terrorism’s Decreasing Numbers

Numbers, like words, tell stories. In recent years, the stories told by the numbers of Pakistan have mostly been sad ones that have largely to do with death. Collectively, they enumerate deaths from disease, deaths in childbirth, deaths at the hands of loved ones and the country’s security/state apparatus. Meanwhile, the numbers of deaths from terrorist attacks have been responsible for the state of the most bereft. We have, over the years, counted dead children, dead mothers, dead fathers, dead governors and dead prime ministers. People have died at terror’s hands while shopping, while taking their children to school, while praying and in hospitals while already dying.

Not our kids

THE numbers should shock and shame Pakistan but they are unlikely to. According to data produced by Sahil, an NGO that monitors child abuse in Pakistan, reported child abuse cases have increased by 36 per cent in Pakistan in the first half of 2016, as compared to the same period last year. If this were not horror enough, there is more: the number of reported gang rapes of children (classified as under 18 years old) has increased by 71pc as compared to the same time last year. Increases are also seen in the number of attempted rapes and in the number of abuse cases of the very youngest of children, those between 0-5 years of age.

The Wild Cards

The Rio Olympics began with the signature fanfare that accompanies the Games every four years. However, unlike every year, the nature and size of the spectacle, the synchronised dancers, over-the-top fireworks and the millions spent brought a new set of disappointments with them.

Saudi Scapegoats

The eleventh day of September 2001 seems a distant memory now. On that day, 19 hijackers unleashed mayhem in the skies over the United States of America. Fifteen of these 19 hijackers, it would later be discovered, were Saudi citizens. Yet the war that ensued, that cast its bloody fingers deep into the Middle East and South Asia, would not be a war against Saudis. It was instead against Afghans, Iraqis and, at least via remote control, Pakistanis.

Elites, Expats and Enclaves

At the end of a hot and exacting month of fasting, Eid-ul-Fitr this year arrives on the heels of a ghastly number of terrorist attacks. In the week gone by, travellers have perished in Istanbul, diners in Dhaka, shoppers in Baghdad, and several people in three separate blasts in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia the other day.

Lords of the Campus

Thomas Pogge is a professor of philosophy at Yale University, one of the most eminent educational institutions in the world. From there he directs the Global Justice Centre, which advocates, among other issues, the premise that the wealthy countries of the world have a moral and ethical responsibility towards providing aid to poorer nations.

Leaving Saudi Arabia

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not one pilgrims or foreign tourists normally visit. Set against the Persian Gulf, it is the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry. Unsurprisingly, it is also home to most of its migrant workers whose labour populates this sector.

On Secret Marriages

It happens far more often than anyone is willing to admit or acknowledge. A woman who is a widow, or whose family owes a debt, or who has caught the eye of a lecherous boss, or who is no longer very young, or who fails to fit the fair and lovely demands of the usual suitors, is approached by an older man for marriage.

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