Saturday, March 19, 2011

When women are sold its truly a man's world!

An interesting assignment from 2004, 3rd year Architecture at KU

It was our 1st or 2nd assignment. The task was to divide the class in 3 groups of 4 girls each and conduct a socio-economic-administrative survey of a locality called Islamia Colony #1 in Orangi Town. It was the hilly area where mostly Pakhtuns from Wana Waziristan and Chaman lived, along with Afghan refugees or immigrants (hard to tell since many of them own Pakistani ID cards).

It was one of the most memorable assignments for me, perhaps because it had an element of danger involved. We were assigned to research the social aspect of the community and as case study visit as many houses from each community as possible. The area was divided among four communities, mainly Pakistani Pakhtun and Farsiwan Afghan, and hardly 4% Siraiki and Hindko. The majority were Afghan with better and bigger houses, owning shops in the posh localities of Karachi or owning transportation businesses, especially for drugs and arms movement. Pakhtun’s were mostly cabbies or rickshaw drivers who were knee or at times chest deep in loans taken from the Afghans. Interestingly, this was the first time I found out that actually it is not the Pakhtun who give loans on heavy interest but the Afghans.

We were being assisted by two NGOs, basically the Bright Education Society and the Orangi Pilot Project in conducting our study. Through these two NGOs we were directed towards individuals and families who were more welcoming of girls visiting their houses and speaking to them about their life in general and problems in particular.

Speaking to the Pakhtun families and girls was easier as they were not only keen on talking but also adamant to make us drink tea with them. Through them we found that the Afghan’s did not allow the Pakhtuns to even enter their lanes and if someone did, especially a guy, he would disappear in no time. Most of the stories were the same, starting with girls not being allowed to go out alone after 9 years, made to wear a burqa, only allowed to read the Quran and married of to a suitable guy. Suitable here meant a guy who could pay a hefty dowry. Women are not allowed to choose for themselves. According to the Pakhtun girls there was little or no interaction between the different communities. However, we were soon to discover it for ourselves, as one of the Afghan teacher at the local school agreed to take us to his home where we could speak to his mother.

The teacher’s family was from Wana (what he told us, but they spoke Farsi) and they had been living in Karachi for more than 4 years. As per the teacher, they were only allowed religious education and the girls were denied even that after the age of 9. Women in the family were barred to watch TV and could not speak to anybody from outside, including other women. However, he had made a concession or perhaps taken a bold step by inviting us to his home and letting his mother speak to us with him as a translator, since the old lady only spoke Farsi or Dari. She was delighted to see us and kept saying something fast to her daughter-in-laws who stood outside the room covering their faces. She accepted the restrictions put on women with a candor which for me even now is hard to digest, and perhaps to defend her sons told us they took her to the beach for the first time in her life. Nevertheless, all her efforts went to waste when her eldest son out of nowhere started yelling in the loudest possible voice and we were hustled out of the house in no time.

Just as a precaution we had been provided a guard who waited outside, and soon as he heard the yelling he almost rushed us away from the house. Only two days later, we were informed that we can no longer continue our research because the locals threatened the NGO with firing at the school children if the girls were ever seen again.

Later we also found that the other group of girls had stumbled upon a ‘Maulvi’ who proudly claimed he trained both male and female suicide bombers at the madarsa.

These are a few things that I had no idea how to put in with the rest of the words:

  • Afghan’s celebrate the birth of daughters since it means more wealth
  • A women whose name has been tainted can fetch a better price
  • The Maulvi told a man that if he has a daughter, he can never be poor (which meant he can marry her off to the highest bidder)
  • Women can be murdered for falling in love
  • The Nikkah is not done right away but once a girl is bought, she stays with the man and he can marry her whenever it is convenient for him, or not if he wants to resell her
  • Drug dealing and weapon smuggling is an honorable profession (Pakistani government is helpless in this regard, especially the Police who are not equipped to deal with the sophisticated cache of arms owned by the Afghan)

It’s truly a man’s world.

Note: In the beginning I have mentioned Pakistani Pakhtun and Farsiwan Afghan specifically because these were the only people we met. Although Pakhtuns can be either from Pakistan or Afghanistan

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Religion of peace, indeed!

Despite being thousands of miles away and being an atheist neither do I feel less guilty about the atrocities Muslims hand out to others in the name of religion nor can I detach myself from my mixed identity. Every other day something crops up to make me question the validity of the claim “Islam is the religion of peace.” I found no peace from it, and unfortunately, even though I am an apostate my name is still Muslim and hence the attached strings.

What is there to convince me about Islam being peaceful? The brutalities committed during the Gojra incident in Pakistan? Or the desecration of a museum church site in Macedonia by Albanian Muslims? Or the thought that my best friend’s brother was killed by a Shiite mob in Iraq, just because he was Christian and worked with the US army? Or better still, her disabled brother-in-law who was shot in the shoulder while he helplessly watched his cousin bleed to death? He was attacked after 2005 in Iraq by a mob of Muslim men shouting Allah-O-Akbar and death to the infidels. Interestingly, these Muslims (or as my friend said Shiite) people who attacked the Christians, were the ones who had been bemoaning about Saddam’s brutality.

My dear friend from Iraq, explained how things worsened for her and her family after 2005. It is important for one to remember she is an orthodox Christian and lived in Iraq all her life. But although she is as much an Iraqi as the next Mohammad Ali Basri, she is not welcome in her own country. Just like Asia bibi who not being a Muslim is being persecuted in Pakistan. Lest also not forget the Jews who were forced to leave Pakistan during the 1980’s.

In light of this hypocrisy, I find that the recent awakening of the Arab world will not have much affect against monarchy and dictatorial regimes. For many it may be wonderful and positive, for me it is nothing but opportunism. A mirage - that will evaporate soon enough. I perhaps am just a pessimist, who considers it a lost cause for Muslims to be awakened in reality and enlightened humanly.

Islam is still a religion of peace, indeed!