Of Journalism

September 25, 2009

The eunuch’s side of the story

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 4:12 pm
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By Fawad Ali Shah @Daily Times, September 25

KARACHI: The body of Haseena, 57, which lay on a bed in the lawn of a five-marla house in Gizri, was surrounded by mourners.
“Tum hamay chor kar mat ja behen. Mat jaa,” cried Bijli, a niece of the deceased, pleading with her aunt to wake up from her eternal sleep. Haseena, born in a respectable Bahawalpur family, was a eunuch, and like most eunuchs, was disowned at the age of five. She was since living with people who she had no sort of blood relation with, but people who understood her pain and accepted her with open arms. One look at her wrinkled face speaks volumes about the troubles and miseries she suffered throughout her life, all due to no fault of her own. According to doctors, she died because her ventricles completely refused passing blood to the rest of the body, a phenomenon they have been unable to explain. Maybe the tussle between heart and mind finally took its toll, as her logical thinking pressured her to accept the stares and abuse hurled at her by society, while her heart pushed her towards revolting against the ‘two-gender’ society.
She could not, however, follow her heart, as the mind had a useful ally in shape of the stomach, and together they forced her to take the walk of shame everyday, begging the same discriminating society for her survival.
Although she passed away early in the morning, according to the traditions of her community, she was to be buried at night. This ritual also comes down to the eunuch community’s exploitation by society, as they believe that their souls are cleansed upon departing the body and the preying eyes of society may mark them again. “They abuse us everyday. We do not want them to see us,” says Bijli, as her eyes turn from white to red, “Their glances contaminate our souls.”
Anjali, 78, the guru or head of the area eunuchs, sits in a corner reciting the holy Quran and trying to console the mourning colleagues. A mixture of jasmine and sweat renders a unique smell, as the temperature rises in the evening. As night falls and the tears dry up, preparations for the burial kick off. She is to be buried in a graveyard near Mohajir Camp, where she would lay in peace along with 81 of her community members.
Only eunuchs are allowed to attend the funeral prayers, which are headed by a male maulana. According to the guru, Anjali, in the funeral prayers, they are considered to be females. She reveals that a grave has been booked and they will travel to the graveyard via buses. The body is taken in an ambulance and the procession follows in other vehicles.
According to her, Haseena had travelled from her home town in Punjab to Karachi in order to earn some extra money, believing the misconception that people in Karachi are less biased towards eunuchs. Haseena used to dance till the age of 35 and had been begging since after. “She always had a smile on her face,” the guru recalls. However, she did bear a grudge against the people of her hometown, as she had requested Anjali to ensure that her body is not taken to Bahawalpur. “According to our traditions, it is necessary that the body be taken back to the hometown,” Anjali said, staring at the dead body and trying to console the inconsolable Bijli, whose tears have not ceased for a minute.
The procession of 31 human beings, who are practically unrecognised by the other two genders, start their journey towards the graveyard in complete silence. Reciting verses from the holy Quran, they bury the body. Without casting a look at her face for the last time, the procession returns. A human came and went, without any identity.


September 1, 2009

A lonely bear’s probable last birthday

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:34 pm

Last Birthday?

Last Birthday?

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: It’s Emma’s 27th birthday today. The bear caged in a well, at Karachi Zoo, is trying to sip something out of an empty plastic bottle.
She is not doing so to celebrate her birthday, but probably out of hunger.
Sadly, zoologists and veterinarians predict that Emma would not be alive to enjoy her next birthday.
“The average age of these bears is 26 years and Emma is 27. Her body has lost shape and from her physical condition, it could easily be said that her time is over,” says Mian Adil, a zoologist, who has been doing research on animals in Germany for the last 17 years.
Although she is 27 years old, her mental status is that of a two-and-a-half-year old bear.
She was born on July 11, 1982 in Balochistan, but she was not given a chance to be with her parents, or more specifically with her mother. She was abducted from the jungle by some people and was shifted to Peshawar. After living there for two years, she was gifted to the Karachi Zoo, where she has been a source of amusement for visitors for the last 25 years.
Emma belongs to the sub-species of the Asiatic or Himalayan black bears. She is medium-sized, and has ears that are proportionately larger than the rest of her head. Her kind has a distinct white patch on its chest, sometimes shaped like a V and also has white fur on its chins.
The black bears of Balochistan prefer eating olives and fruits, but just like the other neglected animals at the Karachi Zoo, Emma has never really been given the food that she would like to eat. But on the other hand, she isn’t fussy and contently eats whatever the zookeepers and visitors give her.
The zoo administrators say that for the last two years, the numbers of people visiting the bear have decreased while Zawair, who takes care of Emma, told Daily Times that she likes to “remain in her cage and sleep.”
Emma’s caretaker says that during the night she is usually found banging her head against the wall of her prison like cage. During the day, she usually likes to sleep and sometimes comes out for a little walk.
What is surprising is the fact that Zawair has been taking care of Emma for five years now, and still has no idea about the bear’s eating preferences.
To defend his ignorance about Emma, he says that she has been eating whatever he has been giving her, and as she was never offered the life of a wild animal, she probably has no specific demands.
Emma is a sad example of how human beings are heartless creatures who leave no stones unturned for personal amusement. Emma has been deteriorating for the past 27 years, right in front of the administration. She has seen the worst of the human race, which has taken her away from her life in the jungle, put her in a cage, pelted her with stones to grab her attention and then left her to rot where she is. She has not aged well…her fur has shed in patches, showing her black hide.
Her sorry condition is not enough for the zoo to improve her living conditions here, let alone admit that it was a mistake to take her away from the jungle in the first place.
The zoo administration still insists that the fact that Emma was brought to the zoo was for her benefit. “Her life was endangered in the forest,” they argue, “We brought her here in order to protect her species.”
One might consider giving the administration the benefit of the doubt at this point, but one amusing question remains…how will her species be protected if she has no offspring. And even more amusing is the question that how will she have offspring if she does not have a mate.
When the zoo administration was asked this question their meek reply was the most expected, standard answer that is given in the country, “We did not have enough money to bring a mate for her.”
Emma reached puberty at the age of four and has lived a lonely life, her only companions being her various caretakers and visitors, whom she could have done without.
How Emma will react if she could understand that she would not live to see her next birthday is a mystery, but one is forced to think that she will be jubilant in her passing, especially after seeing her miserable living conditions.


Injustice is blind

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:28 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Zunaira, 57, is combing the city court buildings to find a man of an average height with black eyes. “His name is Mudassar and he is a highly qualified lawyer,” says the woman, standing in the lawyers’ rest room with tears in her eyes.
The widow maintains that a week ago, the SITE police, in a robbery case, had arrested her only son, Javed. “We have no other relatives so I came to the courts to hire a lawyer for my son,” she states, wiping her tears. “I gave 10,000 rupees in advance to this lawyer who called himself Mudassar,” she reveals. “He promised me that he would start legal proceedings in the court on Wednesday but he is absent today.”
Zunaira put her house up as collateral in order to get a loan of Rs 10,000 from a local businessman. She has now started asking the people in black and white about the profile of the lawyer, but nobody knows him. She walks towards the court where the lawyer had promised to meet her; finding no lawyer there, a realization dawns on her and she yells, “I have been ruined.”
A court reader comes out of the court of Judicial Magistrate-X and asks her why is she crying and she narrates her ordeal. He asks her if she has any contact number or address of the lawyer, she unruffled her duppata and took out a visiting card. The court reader tries to call on the cell number given on the card, but it is not responding.
“I came to the court to find a lawyer, I asked around for one and an old man pointed towards Mudassar and said that he was a genius,” reveals Zunaira, when the reader asked her where she found the lawyer. The lawyer had asked for money in advance and had promised that he would release her son in two days, said Zunaira, who earns her livelihood by stitching clothes.
This scribe contacted Advocate Ijaz, a member of the Karachi Bar Council, and asked about the lawyer. “Many fraudulent people come here disguised as lawyers and con innocent people,” he remarked. Muhammad Khalil, the constable on duty in the city court, said that such cases happen often in the courts. “It is not a new matter,” he said, adding that the police try to keep such fraudulent people away from the courts but it was practically impossible.
Zunaira is not ready to accept the fact that she has been robbed. “No, the lawyer did not look like a fraud,” she says, but her eyes betray her denial. It is difficult to read her mind; to know for sure whether she is thinking about her home her husband left for her, which she put on collateral or about her imprisoned son suffering for a crime he did or did not commit.
“I have been ruined,” she says, breaking into tears as people, young and old, wearing black coats pass her by. “Maula taso tol taba ka chi singa muz taba kam,” (God will ruin you all the way you ruined me), she shouts, her voice getting lost in the murmurs of the people in black.


Male prostitution, a hidden shame: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:06 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Male prostitution remains a taboo in our cultural setup and it is as well hidden in our society as are the problems that are caused by it.
Despite the fact that the phenomenon is increasing by the minute, no government body or NGO has conducted a survey to find out exactly how many men are in this business.
People are also as blissfully ignorant of the diseases that male prostitution contributes to the city.
The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) Regional Promotion Manager Salam Dharejo, told Daily Times that although there are many organisations working in the city for the protection of children and women’s rights, no one has ever dared to address the issue of male prostitution because of the strong social taboo attached to it.
However, he said that there was a need for the collection of the exact numbers of males in the prostitution business as well as their customers to spread awareness about the diseases that sprout from the phenomenon. “There are almost 30,000 street children in the country, who are usually the victims of sexual abuse, as time progresses these children are so used to being exploited that they decide to use the exploitation to earn quick money,” he added. Male-prostitutes are without a doubt spreading many diseases however, no one cares about it, as the issue for most people is non-existent, Dharejo adds.
There are many organisations such as War against Rape (WAR), Hamdard and Green Star health centres that are working across the city for many sex-related causes but none of them have bothered to think outside the box and address the issue.
Ironically, even the health department of the province also has no data or records related to male prostitution. The health department officials claim that the department has never been asked by the higher authorities to work on the issue and that is the only excuse they have to offer.
While most the city remains shut to the idea of male prostitution, many young men have become its victims. One such boy is Riaz Khan, 19. He is often seen standing at the footpath between the boundary of Jahangir Park and Dr Daudpota road, looking for customers. On a usual day in the business, the roads are jammed and the nearby shops are packed with clients. On Khan’s left, a barber works, unaware of his surroundings and on his right many other teenage boys are lined up, waiting for customers.
“I started this business when I was 11,” says the clean-shaved boy, wearing black clothes with embroidery on the front. He has a womanish touch to his voice. His hands are running through his hair. After completing his sentence, he winks.
Riaz is one the hundreds of teenagers who provide sexual satisfaction to homosexuals. Nowadays, Jahangir Park is where all the action goes down and it can also be referred to as the central point of their business. Most of the teenaged male prostitutes start their business in the afternoon and the dealing reaches its peak in the evening.
This scribe observed the activities of these male prostitutes for four days at Jahangir Park. Their customers, pederast, are from all parts of the society. You can see people coming, dealing and picking these ‘chokras’ in cars as well as in rickshaws. Although to people they are simply male prostitutes but all of them have reasons for joining the profession.
Riaz did not join the profession by his own free will. When he was in class three, he was a victim of the sexual thirst of one of his neighbours. “He took me to his house by offering me a parrot that he had and once there he sexually abused me,” the youngster says, wrinkling his forehead while he takes a puff of opium ‘to lessen his tension’. “I did not know what he was going to do,” he says in a childish voice. Though he was not given the parrot but he got Rs 1 for toffees. The man, who was a taxi driver by profession, then started sexually harassing him on a regular basis and whenever he opposed the driver, he threatened him. “He told me that if I disobeyed him he will tell my father about what happened, who in turn will kill me,” says the boy, but ironically he starts laughing as he lets out a stream of smoke.
The taxi-driver, a married man, also made him popular with his accomplices. “Every time they used me, I got Rs 10 to 20 as a reward,” the fair-skinned boy revealed. At the age of 13, he was addicted to homosexuality. Consequently, an innocent schoolboy had turned into a male prostitute. He was beautiful and people started hiring his services for the whole night since then he knew what his price was. He could not pass a day without having sex with some male.
At the age of 17, his parents threw him out of house as soon as they found out about his addiction. He took shelter with a male pimp. He was happy with the knowledge that he is not only getting sexual satisfaction but also money for it. Going back home was never an option but now he will not do so even if given the choice.
“I am satisfied with my present profession,” the youngster adds. He is not ashamed of what he does and is perfectly comfortable with the thought of working as a male prostitute in the long run.
All the male prostitutes at Jahangir Park mostly wear skin-tight shirts and pants. They are clean-shaven and all of them have a feminine touch to their voices and actions.
One can find any kind of male prostitute in the area depending on the choice. Their prices range from Rs 50 to 1000, depending on their age and skin colour. The male-prostitutes mostly belong to the underdeveloped areas of Karachi like Banaras, Metroville and Ittehad Colony.
The customers can be as young as 23 years of age or as old as 65. Half of the customers, Riaz claims are married. Most these youngsters are kicked out by their parents and share quarters with each other or are living with pimps. They provide services at night. “Before going off with a customer, we inject opium which heightens our instincts and the pleasure,” claims Riaz, with a smile just turning the corners of his mouth. Meanwhile a person winks to Riaz and he walks towards him. Psychologists opine that having homosexual sex with males is addictive. “After boys are abused a few times they get addicted to it,” says Sultan Jabbar, a psychologist, who is doing a research on gays for the last ten years.
“They are first bribed or threatened to do the job,” he says, “however, at the end of the day they end up being commercially involved in the sex provision.” He says that those addicted to having sex with children do not stop even after they get married.
“It is all about the addiction,” he adds with remorse, once they get addicted, they continue using children till the end of their lives.


Swat dancers looking forward to journey home

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:59 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KJourney back homeARACHI: Zarmeena, 27, at her three-room flat in Banaras, decorated with musical instruments and pictures of her homeland Swat valley, is preparing to return to her war-torn native area.
“My family members in Swat say that the place is peaceful now and the barbaric people [Taliban] have been flushed out,” she says, as her fingers play with the wires of ‘Sitar’, producing light music.
Zarmeena is one of the dozens of artists, who migrated to Karachi after the sudden appearance of the Taliban in the once culturally and artistically rich Swat area. Foreigners used to enjoy dance and musical nights in Mingora before moving to other parts of the green valley of Swat.
But the streets of Mingora, once known for the richness of the art and natural beauty, lost their charm when the Taliban appeared and banned music and dance in the area describing them as ‘un-Islamic’.
“Now the situation is much different,” she says. “Previously they would hang musicians and artists in the streets but this time it would be safe to return.”
The singer-cum-dancer claims that she earns a decent amount of money in Karachi by performing in weddings and musical programmes at homes.
“But this does not mean that we would desert our homeland for money,” she says with empty eyes staring at the roof.
“I cannot live without Mingora…I learnt this art over there and my sister [Shabana] died at the hands of terrorists,” the middle-aged performer goes on to say, as tears appear from the corners of her deep brownish eyes.
“I hope the situation will improve and we will return to Mingora within a month,” she hopes.
One of the three rooms of her flat has been reserved for clients, whereas the other two are for personal use, and are filled with luggage as she claims the flat was too small as compared to their house in the Banar Bazaar of Mingora.
Zarmeena has four family members living with her. She introduces them as her mother, uncle and two sisters. Fatima, Zarmeena’s mother, claims to be the dance master and the teacher of the girls. Zareen Gul, who wears a thin beard, deals with the clients.
Fatima, 45, mother of the girl, wearing a dark green suit decorated with artificial flowers, prays that the Taliban do not appear again.
“We hope they are gone and do not appear again,” her voice trebles with emotions as she utters these words.
Fatima still remembers how she received threatening letters from the “animals”, and how they butchered her colleague Shabana.
“Whenever I remember those incidents, my body shivers,” the dance teacher says, paying tribute to the artists who braved the Taliban and never surrendered to their demands. She denies the impression that they migrated from Swat in order to earn some extra money. Rather, she says that they migrated to the big city in order to protect their art.
“During the Taliban era, we had two options…either to die or leave the art of singing and dancing,” Fatima says.
The artists of Mingora would not only entertain foreigners, but were famous all across the province for their dance and singing. Usually, well-off families of the province and the neighboring Punjab province would hire their services for weddings and other parties.
“I performed in Lahore, Peshawar and Nowshera and was appreciated by the people,” Fatima says. She also says that the locals of Swat were moderate people and the sudden Talibanisation was an external phenomenon. The artist says their sudden shifting to Karachi and now their return to Swat would not affect their routine lives.
“We usually perform at night time, whether it’s in Mingora or in Karachi,” she explains. Zarmeena and her two sisters, Zubeida and Rukhsana, were busy in their dance practice.
Zarmeena plays the Sitar whereas her uncle plays the traditional Mangay (urn).
The flat presents a compact picture of the homes in the Banar Bazaar in Mingora, but the only difference is the environment outside. In Karachi, there is a lot of traffic and the music is lost in the noise, where as in Mingora, roads are silent.
“We don’t fear whatever happens…we will go back to Swat wait and for a month before starting our business,” vows Zarmeena, promising to brave the fear created by Taliban and entertain the war-stricken people of the area. It appears that the Swat is ready to receive its heritage back.


Dancing to the beat of threats

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:54 pm



By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Swat, the hub of foreign tourists throughout history, has remained a host to dancers and musicians of all parts of NWFP, as here they could easily earn their livelihood.
Usually before visiting the lush green valleys of Swat, foreign visitors would love to stay at Mingora and enjoy dance programmes at night. However, now the bazaars of Mingora are deserted. To the people of Mingora the drumbeats, the sound of payals and the sweet melody of sitars, remain no more than a sweet dream.
After some of their colleagues suffered the brutality of the local version of the Taliban, the dancers and actors of Swat started shifting to Karachi in order to secure their lives and profession.
The artists claim that the terrorists forcefully made them abandon their businesses and those who refused to succumb to their pressure were killed. Beside these threats, the worsening law and order situation in the area made it very difficult for the artists to earn a living.
Saba Naz, 19, a dancer from Swat is one of those artists, who along with her colleagues, shifted from Swat to Karachi. The dancer, sitting in a flat at Sohrab Goth, surrounded by her madam (or ‘mother’ as she calls her) and friends, reveals that their business was badly affected by the recent crisis. The Taliban fired at our house, the teenager told Daily Times, adding that the terrorists kidnapped one of colleagues, and then killed her, brutally.
Saba used to entertain visitors at a local hotel in Mingora. Her services were also hired for weddings. She claims to be a ‘dance master’. “After our houses were struck by terrorists, we quit our jobs for some time and started attending weddings,” the dancer narrates her sorrow tale with her eyes fixed on empty walls and her fingers unconsciously tightening around the arm of the chair that she was sitting on.
She said that the number of dancers in Mingora was around 550. According to her, half of them have shifted to Karachi as they think that here, their businesses will thrive.
“Taliban are enemies of art and culture,” she adds with anger. She adds that now the sound of drums, remind her of the beheaded body of her colleague and her house on fire.
Gul Sanga, 23, another internally displaced artist, has taken shelter in the Banaras area. The house, which is on rent, has four rooms, out of which three will be occupied by her ‘family’ while the fourth one will be used to put on dance shows. “Five years earlier our business was doing fine but soon after the Taliban appeared, our business collapsed,” Rehana shared her experience of Swat, while sitting with her ‘mother’. Her eyes were not shining like they would have once and her mother attributes it to the fact that the terrorists killed Rehana’s sisters.
“Dance is my life,” she said and added that she could not live without dancing while she thoughtfully ran her fingers through her hair. It may be remembered that not only in Swat, which is a part of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, these girls used to attend wedding ceremonies in the settled areas of NWFP.
Gulzaara’s mother, 43, who was once a renowned dancer herself, said that the extremists have destroyed the beauty, culture and tourism of Swat.
Zulfiqar, who is the dancer’s administrator and gives himself the title of a choreographer, said that he wished that the entire dancing industry should have shifted to Karachi some four to five years ago. “Karachi has a huge market,” he said while fidgeting with his cap. He added with a hint of pride that the people of the city would have never come across such good dances and dancers. “We will give them variety,” he affirms.
Shabana was one the traditional dancers, who used to perform at Mingora city’s Banar Bazaar. Unlike her other colleagues, she refused to be dictated by the Taliban.
On January 2, she was kidnapped by the members of the terrorist group and was killed at the city’s green square. Besides her dead body, the murderers left a letter, threatening people that whoever will not abide by the laws of the Taliban would meet the same fate. The CDs containing her dances and some money were also thrown along with her dead body. After this incident, no one dared to be in the business and most professionals left the area for their own good. Shabana remains an example of the level Taliban will stoop to in order to make sure that the people obey their rules.


‘Either hang me or release me’

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:42 pm

Miserable conditions of elders in Pakistani prisons

Miserable conditions of elders in Pakistani prisons

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: For the past nine years, 85-year old Abdul Latif has been lying in a dungeon of the Central Jail. His white hair is caked with the dirt of his cell. His weathered shoes tell a tale of the hard times they have gone through. “Either hang me or release me,” the prisoner asked the authorities in a letter.
Latif is one of the hundreds of aged prisoners in the country who are slowly fading away, as they wait for their fate to be decided by the authorities; their cases are pending due to some reason or the other.
“Maaf karo baba,” a tired Latif says. “Tamasha na banao.” His cellmates say that he is an extremely moody person who sometimes suddenly bursts into tears and sometimes smiles for no reason. The aged man still wants to do his work himself. Time has eaten away his strength but has fueled his ego.
Jibran, a friend of Latif’s in jail, says that when Latif first entered the jail he was a polite man, however, time and experience has changed him and now he is rude to everyone who approaches him.
When standing in court he stares at children, trying to remember what his children and grandchildren look like. A police officer, Muhammad Jibran, who guards Latif’s cell, said that he talks less, however, in prison he is a typical elder who knows the art of storytelling. “His favourite story is that of entering Karachi for the first time and looking at the roads in awe and amazement,” Jibran, who has become friends with Latif says.
According to the police, Latif had allegedly killed the brother-in-law and uncle of his daughter. He was living with his son-in-law and on some domestic dispute he got angry and stabbed the two persons.
An FIR (177/2000) had been lodged against him at the Khwaja Ajmeer Nagri Police Station, under CrPC (302). The police officials claim that, since then, his trial is underway. Court officials of the Additional District and Sessions Judge Muhammad Yameen Khan claim that his case has been in pending because witnesses in the case, both officials and non-officials, have not been appearing in court.
However, they say the case will be decided soon, as the court has issued non-bailable warrants for the witnesses of the case.
Sleeping on the stone cold dirty cell in the Central Jail, Latif wonders, asking God whether he will get even a ghost of a chance to see and play with his children and chat with his old friends.
“Sometimes he wakes up trembling and cries or he gets up laughing and names some people,” his prison mates revealed. The old man doesn’t like it when someone asks him his story. “I want to either die or be free, that’s it.”


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