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Growing up and living as a minority in Pakistan

As Pakistan marked the National Minorities Day on August 11, freelance columnist and safety and security adviser Norbert J. Almeida took to Twitter to share his experience of growing up and living in Pakistan as a religious minority.

The 23-tweet thread, shared by Mr Almeida on the micro-blogging platform yesterday, has been hailed by netizens as very insightful, captivating and unnerving.

Here is the full thread:

“Thot about doing a thread on growing up and living as a minority in PK since the 70s. It’s been a mixed bag a lot of hate, some love and much indifference. Even a separate electorate till 2000s that many today don’t know about. In the end its my home too & hard not to forget that,”  Almeida tweeted.

“Some funny moments: arrive in Multan only to be met by a worried intelligence officer who couldn't understand nor willing to accept why I had a CNIC & not a foreign passport.

“Arrived in Sukkur to be refused a ride to the hotel by the driver waiting with my name on his board because he was told he was to pick up a Gora "foreigner".

“A room full of Govt officers who were there to attend a training led by me snickering away in Urdu about how young I was and how they knew more etc turning red in the faces when I proceeded to conduct the session in Urdu using technical terms.

“Being rechristened multiple times by people as Noor Butt, Rabert, Not Rabert, Nobat, Al-MEDIA, al Maida. Being asked by FIA immigration to state my Original nationality.

“The shock of classmates when I topped Islamic Studies in College being the only non-Muslim to have taken it as a subject in our batch.

“Of course the numerous neighbors through the years knocking the door seeking Brandy to cure a cough and being shocked to find out ours was a house that didn’t have alcohol.

The random knock on the front door by strangers who saw the name and wanted to know if we could teach them the English language.

“The friends and acquaintances wondering if they'd be served the "special" fruitcake and not knowing what they meant till years later when I started making it and saw the recipe had an option for alcohol.

 

“Hosting an annual Iftar for school and college friends with arrangements for namaz at home.

“The funny moment when a person asked for the Qibla direction completed their namaz and was like oh man you sure you gave me the right direction and having to take them to the balcony and point to the setting sun.

“Spotting giggling kids who'd never seen women wearing dresses in their area and saying haw they don’t have pants on and trying to grab a peek under the dress. Being a part of the winning school team in a Naat competition held for Eid Milad.

“The mistaken assumption that being a Christian meant a visa for the west is guaranteed not releasing the embassies consider us a flight risk (asylum seekers) and put more restrictions on us (short duration, report back, more documentation).

“Knowing the complete count in Urdu and the difference in inuhnatar unnaasee athanway etc

“Being offered something by a fellow passenger in a bus during iftari and when I refused because I could see they had nothing more for themselves the person said oh abhi time hai ap kay liye sorry (thot i was Shia)

“Setting up a Sabeel outside my house during Ramadan and leading the collection of money along with another neighbor to cook the haleem on 9th 10th Muharram and feeding the neighborhood.

“Always getting new clothes from the parents for Eid as we celebrated it more than Christmas growing up in North Nazimabad

“We also did Christmas Caroling going around north Nazimabad the week before Christmas to the few Christian homes that were there but always were surrounded by an amused crowd who would come to enjoy and experience something new.

“Learning a few sentences & counting in Pushtoo from the naan hotel wala and thereafter struggling on a trip to Peshawar because the folk I was dealing with thot I knew pushto and was easier for them than to speak in broken Urdu.

“The effort made by an office driver to find out the Catholic Church in Rahimyar Khan and the mass timings too because I had to spend a Sunday there. But his worry that it was a service in Punjabi and if I could manage then coming on his day off to take me there too.

“Finally. It was the 1st day of Eid and a 3pm funeral mass for my dad. The church was packed 99% by Muslim friends, colleagues, acquaintances. That is the Pakistan I grew up loving and wish for forever and ever,” he concluded.

Why Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years?

Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan is all set to be the country’s new prime minister. His party emerged the single largest in recent elections. It is only for the second time in the 71-year history of this second-largest Muslim-majority country that a democratically elected government will transfer power to another after completing its full term. The nation’s military has intervened repeatedly to remove leaders and has directly controlled the country for about half of its history. And so this recent milestone in Pakistan’s democracy has elated many citizens. However, one community boycotted the recent elections, as they have for over three decades: the Ahmadi, a religious minority. Who are the Ahmadis and what does their boycott tell about the role religion has played in Pakistan’s nationalist politics?

The origin of the Ahmadi community goes back to the British-ruled India of 1889. At the time, in the province of Punjab (a region that would later be split between an independent India and Pakistan), a Muslim religious leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, became disenchanted with what he viewed as Muslim decadence that allowed for the humiliating experience of foreign rule. Like many Indians, he wondered what needed to change in order to overcome the invaders. Many European missionaries wanted to “free” Indians—both Muslims and Hindus—of what they characterised as their religious ignorance by bringing them to the “truth” of Christian traditions.

With the British government’s consent, some traveled through cities and rural areas to publicly denounce Islamic and Hindu traditions, while others published pamphlets doing so. To restore the wholesomeness of Islamic traditions that had once influenced much of south Asia, Ghulam Ahmad reinterpreted branches of Islamic thought. He broadcast the message of reform through his prolific writing. Most prominently, he claimed to be both the Messiah and a prophet. Most Muslims believe that Isa, or Jesus—whom they recognize as a prophet akin to Muhammad—will return as a Messiah, a figure expected to prepare the world for Judgment Day. In contrast, Ghulam Ahmad claimed to displace Isa in this role and announced that the end times were near.

What was more problematic, particularly to Islamic scholars, was his claim as a prophet. Most Muslims understand Muhammad as the “seal of the prophets,” the last sent by God. The Quran represents the final revelation offered to humanity by God. Ghulam Ahmad addressed these concerns by claiming to be a lesser type of prophet.

His message attracted growing numbers of followers among Muslims struggling to deal with the realities of British rule. Many were drawn partly to his strident criticism of Christian missionaries and Hindu activists who denigrated them. In 1889 he inaugurated a small group called the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya (the Organization of Ahmad), that helped spread his message. Although some Ahmadis later turned away from their leader’s most disputed assertions, the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya held steadfast to his claim to prophethood. This group viewed him as nothing less than the Messiah who had returned to help humanity as it faced its end.

They made Rabwah, a town in Pakistan’s province of Punjab, their headquarters. During Ghulam Ahmad’s life, Islamic scholars expressed disapproval with other scholars or individual Ahmadis. However, in 1947, after Pakistan was established as a separate Muslim homeland, some Islamic scholars publicly attacked the theology of the Ahmadis. Various politicians harnessed the controversy to their nationalist politics. The politics of defining the true Muslim

The first major expression of anti-Ahmadi sentiment targeted an Ahmadi, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, who held the foreign minister’s post in 1953. Some Muslims circulated rumors that Ahmadis proselytized among Muslims and represented a Western-supported conspiracy. This spurred riots throughout the country in 1953 that led to six deaths. Subsequently the government removed all Ahmadis, including Zafarullah Khan, from prominent official posts.

In 1974, however, the town of Rabwah became the epicenter of antagonism. Following riots targeting Ahmadis in many parts of Pakistan, Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto—among the least religiously inclined of Pakistan’s leaders —bowed to Islamist pressure to make constitutional amendments declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims.For the next two decades, the campaign against the Ahmadi proceeded haltingly, staggering between occasional local tensions and evolving political agendas. Later, in 1984, legislation prohibited Ahmadi from proselytizing or even professing their beliefs.

Matters worsened a year later when the government divided Pakistan’s electorate into “Muslim” and “non-Muslim.” This required voters to declare whether they accepted Muhammad as the final prophet. Ahmadi who declared themselves Muslim faced penalties. The bottom line is since 1985 most have not participated in an election. Casting a vote would require them to explicitly denounce themselves as non-Muslims, which would have its own consequences.

Nationalism’s double-edge

What is important to understand is that the roots of the current electoral conflict do not inherently lie either in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s message nor the Ahmadiyya community. The conflict emerges from an ideology of nationalism that inherently promotes a sense of belonging in its citizens, at the risk of exclusion of certain “outsiders.”

As Britain abandoned south Asia in 1947, Pakistan’s founders established a secular state meant to protect Muslims as a separate homeland from the political threats they saw in a Hindu-majority India. Certain Islamist political groups and politicians combined religious identity, language, and symbols to foster national unity. Specific domestic religious groups were targeted as the enemy of the public in order to garner popular support. In 2011, Pakistan was ranked at the top on Pew Research Center’s index on social hostilities involving religion. The Ahmadis were one targeted group.

Just as the Trump administration questions the loyalty of Muslim-Americans and simultaneously defines “true” Americans, an increasing number of Pakistani politicians and Islamists after 1947 portrayed the Ahmadis negatively in order to project themselves as protectors of “true” Muslim Pakistanis. By 2012, only 7% of Pakistanis considered Ahmadis as Muslims.

In this environment, the Ahmadis, representing perhaps 0.2% of Pakistan’s 208 million population, continue to struggle. They have been the targets not only of electoral discrimination but also of vandalism against their places of worship. They have been accused of blasphemy, and laws have made it illegal for them to recite the Quran. They are also not allowed to have Islamic inscriptions on headstones, or even call their places of worship “mosques.” Many have despaired of finding acceptance in their national homeland and emigrated to other nations. In Pakistan, as the recent election shows, they continue to struggle with a nationalist politics of exclusion.

Law enforcers arrested three alleged militants of the banned Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB)

Law enforcers today arrested three alleged militants of the banned outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) from Ruyerbhag village of Natore Sadar upazila.

The detainees were identified as Jahidul Islam, 30, of Gurudaspur upazila, Amzad Hossain, 42, of Baraigram upazila and Zahir Uddin, 40 of Lalpur upazila in the district Natore. 

On information, a team of Rab-5 conducted a raid in Ruyerbhag village around 2:00am and detained the three ‘JMB militants’ from there, Major Shibli Mostafa, company commander of Natore unit Rab-5, said at a press briefing today.

The other members of the outfit, however, managed to flee the scene, he said.

In primary interrogation, the arrestees admitted that they became inspired by another detained JMB leader named Jahangir Hossain, who is currently in Rajshahi jail, the Rab official also said.

‘Human rights violations are being normalized’

Advocate, human rights activist and former caretaker government advisor Sultana Kamal said in a Press conference few months backed that although Bangladesh has improved in many areas, it is falling behind in addressing human rights issues.

“Violations of human rights now occur so frequently that they are being normalized in our society” she said. She made the remarks during the inauguration of the Manobadhikar Sanskriti Foundation (MSF) at the National Press Club on Thursday morning.

During her speech, she also said that violence against women is very frequent, despite the progress made by Bangladesh to ensure women's rights. “Women are subjected to torture, harassment and other forms of violence everywhere, including their workplace, home and educational institutions. 87 out of every 100 women are being subjected to some kind of violence in their family,” she said. Referring to a report from a human rights organization, she said that at least 800 women were raped in 2017.

“The statistics from One Stop Crisis Center is horrifying, which says that more than 2,000 women were victims of physical and sexual violence. Risha, Tonu, Rakib, Sagor, Rupa are just a few names among the many we know, yet none of them have received justice yet.” Sultana Kamal added that there were over 1,500 cases of child abuse, murders and violence in 2017.

She said that people in Bangladesh are concerned about the recent rise in enforced disappearance cases. Regarding extrajudicial killings, the former advisor to the Caretaker Government said that “crossfires” were killing at least one or two people every day. She continued: “Although the government claims these things have stopped, but in 2017, there were 151 cases of extrajudicial killings. These human rights violations are not acceptable.”

On sexism, son preference and female infanticide in Bangladesh

On July 30, 2018 a father in Narayanganj burned his nine-month-old female infant alive since he “wanted a son” and was enraged at the birth of a girl (“Father 'wanted son', burns baby girl alive”, The Daily Star, August 4, 2017). He poured petrol over the child when she was asleep and set her on fire. He then switched on the fan to let the fire spread and stopped the mother from helping the child or taking her to the hospital reported a leading online news site.raged 

 

While it is appalling and abominable that a practice as medieval and barbaric as female infanticide still takes place in our country, it should not come as a surprise. In fact a similar incident took place only two months ago when a man from Satkhira, Khulna threw his two-week-old daughter into the pond since he too wanted a son and was disgusted by the birth of a daughter (“Father kills 15-day-old infant for being female”, Dhaka Tribune, June 9, 2017). Last year, a man from Abhayngar, Jessore poured poison into his three-month-old daughter's mouth while she was asleep because he was craving the birth of a son and could not bear having a daughter for the fourth time (“Father kills daughter”, The Independent, March 2, 2016). 

Killing new born daughters (i.e. female infanticide) is not a random, inexplicable act of violence; it is an extreme manifestation of a pre-existing and deeply sexist societal mindset known as “son preference” which still plagues a sizeable portion of our population today. A 2006 study of 850 families conducted by Promoting Human Rights Education in Bangladesh showed that 93 percent of Bangladeshi families preferred a son, viewing them as a “blessing” to the home and country, while 93 percent viewed girls as a “problem.” (“Son Preference”, Stop Violence Against Women, The Advocates for Human Rights). So it is not enough or even helpful to simply admonish the perpetrator (necessary as that may be), we must also look at the wider scheme of things and force an introspection: what socioeconomic factors cause certain people to cherish the birth of a son but loathe the birth of a daughter—sometimes loathe to the extent of killing their own flesh and blood—and what are we, as a country, doing to tackle this insidious mentality and its component causes?

In South Asian culture the birth of a son is celebrated because boys are seen as custodians of the family who will secure the family's future by providing economic security and ensuring the continuity of the male line. Conversely, the birth of a daughter is an impediment to this continuity since our culture dictates that upon marriage a girl must take up her husband's name, permanently leave her family and move in with her in laws. As such, the birth of a daughter is considered "a burden" because the family must protect her "honour", and when the time comes, find a husband willing to marry her and provide a hefty dowry to incentivise the marriage (or rather "transfer of burden"). The practice of dowry runs rampant despite it being outlawed in Bangladesh by the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980. Indeed, going back to the Narayanganj case, Jahirul himself had taken Tk 1 lakh as dowry from his wife. 

Given their inevitable departure from the family and the price that must be paid, educating girls (or educating them on par with their male siblings) is not seen as a sound investment. This mindset is encapsulated in the old and notorious Asian expression which warns: “educating a daughter is like watering another man's garden”. Rather paradoxically, it is our own sexist and cultural practices which deny a girl the same opportunities as a boy which in turn eternalises her financial dependence on male kin but the girl is then blamed for “being a burden” as though it was of her own doing. How can we feasibly assess a girl's worth when we do not even allow her to realise her full potential to begin with? 

In her book Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective, Linda Lindsey explains how female infanticide and neglect are associated with the economic survival of the family, which is dependent on the number of sons and control of the number of daughters, who are regarded as financial liabilities. She further explains that a major shift in favouring males in the average sex ratio at birth (SRB) is growing throughout Asia and rural Bangladesh is among the places with the worst SRB imbalances. 

In 1990, Amartya Sen coined the term “missing women” to denote the shortfall in the number of women relative to the expected number of women in a region or country. This shortfall is usually measured through male-to-female sex ratios (such as SRB), and is theorised to be caused by sex-selective abortions, female infanticide. According to a study by the University of Kent, there are approximately 2.7 million missing women in Bangladesh (“Missing Women and Bare Branches: Gender Balance and Conflict”, ESCP Report, Issue 11). The study also found that gender imbalance in Asia is primarily the result of son preference and the profound devaluation of female life. The futility of the Dowry Prohibition Act in curbing the practice of dowry illustrates how legal change alone cannot remedy cultural malpractices; societal change must also follow.

Why must we wait till a female child is burnt or drowned alive to address the deep-rooted sexism and son preference which pave the way for barbaric practices such as female infanticide to occur? Every time we encounter anyone stating or doing something which is even remotely sexist or anti-women, we should call them out and retaliate. Indeed, change begins at home and change begins with us. We must attack sexism whenever we see it, from whomever we see it and in whatever shape or form we see it. 

Italian-Pakistani Sana Cheema was strangled: Forensic Report

 

 GUJRAT: Italian-Pakistani woman, Sana   Cheema, who was reportedly killed in a so-   called case of honour killing was strangled to   death, revealed a forensic report on   Wednesday.

 According to the Punjab Forensic Laboratory   report, Sana’s neck bone was broken.

On April 24, it was reported that Sana was killed by her father, brother, and uncle over ‘honour’. Police said that the 26-year-old woman’s family had termed her death an ‘accident’ and buried the body in West Mangowal area of District Gujrat on April 18.

According to the police, the girl’s father, identified as Ghulam Mustafa, wanted to marry her off to his relative but Sana wanted to marry of her own choice in Italy. 

The father then took on board his son, Adnan Mustafa, and brother, Mazhar Iqbal, and hatched a plan to kill her a day before she was expected to return to Italy. 

On April 25, her body was exhumed and samples were sent for post-mortem.

Interestingly, documents had also surfaced proving that Sana was taken to hospital on April 11 seeking treatment for blood pressure and stomach ache. The police received doctor’s prescription, along with hospital and medical store bills to investigate them. 

On the issue, the Italian foreign ministry had remarked that it has kept an eye on the case, adding that it is determined to reach to the bottom of the case. The ministry also said that it is willing to cooperate with Pakistani authorities over the issue.

Moreover, the case also garnered attention on social media and people in Italy.  

A Hindu Minor Girl Pinki Mali's Story

Pinki Mali 14 a Minor girl, D/O Khapu Mali -42 at Durgahata, Gabtoli, Bogra raped brutally by one Mohammed Saheb Ali -55 years. On 7th July 2016 at around 7 pm Pinki went to collect their clothing near the house. The Perpetrator Mohammed Saheb Ali was waiting there, he told to come to his house that was adjoined. When Pinki enter into his house Mohammed Saheb locked the door and shown to her a knife and ordered with anger “Open your Salowar and Kamiz” (cloth). Pinki tries to shout- suddenly, Mohammed Saheb captured her mouth with her cloth and started to open her Salower and Kamiz and bring to her into the bed and raped her.

After everything, while Pinki was crying, Mohammed Saheb told with Sought Keep quiet and don’t tell to anyone. If you tell anything to anyone then I will kill you including your parents. Frequently, Perpetrator threatens to Pinki that she should keep quiet. On 28th November 2016, Pinkis’ Physical condition has declined and her mother brings her to a doctor and doctor confirmed her pregnancy and it has matured level. When Pinki’s parents charged perpetrator and informed the local people. The perpetrator Mohammed Saheb threatens to kill them.

On 14th December, Pinkis’ father informed to Research and Empowerment Organization–REO (GHRD local partner) asking for help. Bikash Sornokar, A local representative at Bogra complained to the officer in Charge at Gabtoli Thana, Bogra and did an FIR under a section of child and women Nirjaton act 2003 on that day. However, on 16th February 2017, REO arranged to admit her into the Hospital at the emergency basis and on 17th February 2017, Pinki gave a birth to a boy of the rapist.

World Indigenous Day, 2012

06-08-2012

GHRD Campaign: World Indigenous Day: Protect the Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh!

Police assisted in the Attack on an Indigenous Chakma Village in Teknaf, Bangladesh

03-08-2012

Eleven Chakma villagers were severely wounded by a group of land grabbers who attacked the village Amtali in Teknaf in cooperation with the local police between the May 29th and 31st, 2012.

Bangladeshi Government instructs its District Commissioners not to celebrate World Indigenous Day in a confidential directive

22-05-2012

In a leaked memorandum, the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives demands that no government support is given on the World Indigenous Day August 9th, 2012, and that instead “steps might be taken [around that day] to publicise/broadcast in the print and electronic media that there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh”.

Bomb attack on indigenous students in Rangamati

21-05-2012

At least 14 activists of Pahari Chatra Parishad (PCP) were severely injured in a bloody bomb attack in Rangamati Hill Districts on Sunday May 20.

UPR Submission

20-05-2012

GHRD recently submitted its Joint NGO Submission with Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) on the situation for minorities in Pakistan to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR).


Medical Health camp at Gazipur, Dhaka organized by GHRD

Single Teacher School

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Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years.