U.S. Media Elite Honor Female Pakistani Journalist for Her Courage

Zubeida Mustafa with Maria Shriver (Credit: Photogallery.indiatimes.com)
Zubeida Mustafa with Maria Shriver (Credit: Photogallery.indiatimes.com)
Zubeida Mustafa with Maria Shriver (Credit: Photogallery.indiatimes.com)

Zubeida Mustafa was the first woman to work in Pakistan’s mainstream media. That was more than 30 years ago. Today, because of Zubeida’s courage to use her voice, report on other women’s voices, and argue for hiring policies that would allow women to occupy all positions in the newsroom, life is different for women in Pakistan.

“I wanted to create space for women and I thought if there were more, it would give them strength,” says Zubeida.

Over her three-decade career, Zubeida worked through extreme political instability, media censorship, gender barriers and social upheaval as the assistant editor of Dawn, a widely-respected English-language daily newspaper in Pakistan.

In addition to becoming the first woman in Dawn’s newsroom, Zubeida became the first woman on the editorial board, where she fought to gain coverage in the paper for the burgeoning women’s movement. She advocated running stories with women’s voices in all sections instead of relegating them to a “women’s page.”

As Zubeida’s career evolved, the central theme of her work became the inequalities she witnessed in Pakistani society. She wrote on health, education and women’s empowerment. She was able to cover stories that men were not able to because they did not have the same access to women as Zubeida.

When she wrote an article on breast cancer, a group of religious conservatives raided Dawn and accused the paper of printing “obscene” content. Undeterred, Zubeida went on to write about contraception and reproductive health. She also covered the case of rape victim turned women’s advocate when other writers were afraid to mention it.

A mother of two daughters, Zubeida not only broke the the social barrier against women working, but of mothers working.

On Monday night in Los Angeles and last week in New York, Zubeida Mustafa was honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the U.S. media elite with the Courage in Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award. What follows is my interview with Zubeida.

Tabby Biddle: I want to talk about Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old girl who was recently shot by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy of a girl’s right to an education. She started her blog at age 11. Is she an anomaly, or are there many girls like her who feel very strongly about having a voice in Pakistan?

Zubeida Mustafa: I think she is an exception. Malala has the support of her family, especially her father, and that really helped her. When she was campaigning, it was her father who accompanied her to many of the places that she went because she was attending seminars and meetings to speak about her experience, her love for education and how others girls should also be educated. I can say that she is rare. That is why we cherish her a lot, we appreciate whatever she did, and admire her because she is inspiring. We are happy that she is on her way to recovery and hopefully we will have more like her in the future.

TB: You were the first woman to work in Pakistan’s mainstream media. How did you break through the cultural gender barriers to get to this position?

ZM: Initially I had worked for a few years at a think tank before I joined the media. I would say that, for me, the gender barrier had been broken then because it was a major decision then to go and work in a place where there were generally all men around. I had a very good friend at the think tank. She had joined as a research officer, so we were a great support to one another. Then a few years later, I went into the newspaper. So it was not something new for me to enter a man’s world.

Of course initially I had to work hard to establish my credentials because otherwise I wasn’t taken very seriously. You see, women had been working in the media, but they were on the fringes. They were looking after women’s pages – the fashion pages, cookery, and things like that. Writing about serious issues like foreign policy was something new for a woman. I managed to make headway there because once my work was accepted the focus was more on my work than my gender. So the barriers came down.

TB: You pioneered a path for Pakistani women in journalism, beginning in the 70s, by writing about foreign policy, education, health and women’s empowerment. What is the climate like now for women journalists in Pakistan?

ZM: There are a lot more women journalists now. It is definitely a different field than when I first started. Television has helped a lot, and also electronic media. People somehow want to have women on television, whether they are anchors, newscasters or producers, but moreso when they are visible. That barrier is definitely not there. But what I would like to see more of is women at the policy-making level in the media. They are there, but we need more of them.

TB: When you were writing about issues that hadn’t been touched on before in Pakistan, like family planning, breast cancer, and abortion, were you ever afraid for your life?

ZM: No, I wasn’t afraid for my life. I would say things are more difficult in that way for men who are writing about strategic issues, terrorism, and things like that. Many of them have actually been killed because those are very sensitive issues. It was never like that for me. Actually, for me it was more about not doing something very conventional. So it was that which I had to put up with. I think somehow I didn’t care. I just wanted to do what I was doing, and I would go ahead and do it. I didn’t fear for my life. Sometimes when I wrote things, there was a strong reaction, but cultural issues don’t really create the same kind of a threat as political or strategic issues. You can be defamed, but nobody really comes and shoots you for that.

It is different these days because we have a bunch of extremists. They are using culture for their own political reasons because they want to control the country. So they bring up all these issues and make them religious or cultural and use them as an excuse to attack education in schools and women who are not adequately covered. This has always been a part of our society that we have a crust of women who are very emancipated, very highly educated, and who’ve been working in some area or another. This is very small, but it has been growing. Even now though it needs to be expanded so that women are brought into the mainstream in all professions.

TB: While the numbers of emancipated women are growing, it seems that still the large percentage of the society is gender segregated. First off, am I correct in saying this? And if so, how do you feel this affects Pakistani society from a developmental standpoint?

ZM: I think we still have a long way to go as far as women’s issues. Women should be allowed more freedom and more education. But what is happening is that there is greater awareness. I wouldn’t say it’s each and every woman because many women are still steeped in superstition and conservatism, but many of them at least want to do something. Of course they don’t have the means to do it, or the opportunities aren’t there, but at least the will is there. This is most important because I think that is what the women’s movement that started in the 80s did. Now you cannot even conceive of any political party going in for an election and not having some program for women in their manifestos or at least mentioning them. Although they don’t always do what they say, the mere fact that it is expected that they talk about some women’s issues is important.

TB: What is it like now in Pakistan in terms of women in leadership positions — in both politics and business?

ZM: It has grown, and particularly in politics. Of course I’ll mention Benazir Bhutto who became a role model for women who were in politics and who wanted to be there. There have been some ministers who have been women. Our foreign minister right now is a woman. In the provinces there are number of women in key positions. Even in places where there are very traditional societies, women have come up and are in leadership positions. It is not unusual to find women either at the top or in a very key position. So that is something that is important. I find it more important that once they are there, they open up doors for others, as I did myself. They show the way to others or provide opportunities.

TB: It sounds like things are definitely progressing, but there are still over 3 million girls out of school in Pakistan. Why is this?

ZM: First, it was wrongly believed that all men do not want to educate their girls. I think there was a time many years ago when men didn’t want to send their girls to school because they just thought that the girls are meant to stay at home and get married, so education was not required. But that was a long time ago. Now most parents want to send their girls to school. But if they are out of school it’s because the facilities are not there. I think the most important factor is that there aren’t enough schools. It’s not just having a big school in a few areas. You have to have many schools close to where the girls are because it’s hard for them to travel long distances. Girls’ security is a major factor. Sometimes the other reason girls are not in school is poverty. Men feel they cannot afford educate all the children, so the boys get entrance. Sometimes where the girls are married off early, the girls might go to school, but just for a few years. But now surveys have shown that the marriage age has gone up in Pakistan. So if the girls are out of school, I think it is partly because of lack of opportunity, partly because of poverty and partly because of culture.

TB: I read that the Pakistani government is determined to support girls’ and women’s education. Is that actually true?

ZM: I’m afraid that you’d have to ask the Pakistani government, but that is what they claim. I think they could do better.

TB: The perception is that Pakistan is very religiously conservative. Is there a progressive component to Pakistan?

ZM: One thing I can tell you is that society as a whole outside of Pakistan, and even sometimes within Pakistan, gives the impression through the media that the people generally are very narrow-minded; they are extremists; and they are ultra-religious. I really don’t believe that because I have been to many places where this is not true. Last month I was in Balochistan for a children’s literature festival and generally I found that was not the case. I would say the people are religious. I wouldn’t deny that. They believe that what they believe is between them and their God or their own community, but they would not try to impose that on everyone. Of course they may not be as emancipated and progressive as the small crust of women I talked about earlier, but they are at average and life is not difficult to live that way.

But what has happened is this impression that has been created by extremism. Extremists are armed; they are very vocal; and they create an impact. So obviously the rest of the society is not in a position to contest them because generally people are not armed in Pakistan. It’s only a few people who want to carry arms, so people are at a disadvantage with the extremists. This is what you see today as a result — the extremists are dominating.

Another thing that has come up is that at the universities and higher education institutions, there are some religious parties that are trying to get hold of students and are trying to influence them. Over there you do find some students who give you the impression of being extremely conservative with their religious views. I find that the student parties are off-shoots of the religious parties. They try to organize the students and educate them. This is one reason why I think education is so important, and that it’s important to modernize education and have a better system.

TB: How can the international community support women’s empowerment in Pakistan? And do the Pakistani women want that?

ZM: That is what I feel disappointed about. Of course I am grateful that the international community has come up in a big way and there is a lot of support for the education of girls and for women’s empowerment. But what is actually happening is that there is a lot of aid going in and it’s just making the country dependent on the donors.

What I would want is the aid to be second nature to empowering the people to be self-reliant, to creating opportunities for production and to economic opportunity. If a country increases its production in whatever areas they specialize in, it will be the best way of helping a society — rather than making them aid dependent. I feel many of the schools that have been opened in my country are actually dependent on aid. The agreement is for five years, and we do not know what will happen after that. The donors should see to it that they are making the people self-reliant and independent. Like what the Chinese say, “If a man is hungry, you can provide him fish. But teach him how to fish and he get can the fish himself.” That is what I feel should be done for women’s empowerment.

TB: If every girl and young woman in Pakistan could hear your voice, what message would you want to impart to them?

ZM: I would tell them please do whatever you can to educate yourself and educate your girls because if people are educated, many of their problems are solved. This is because they have a better understanding of the problem and they have a better understanding of how those problems get resolved. This is what I would tell each and every woman and girl in Pakistan.

The mission of the International Women’s Media Foundation is to strengthen the role of women in the news media worldwide as a means to further freedom of the press. The Courage in Journalism Awards are the only international awards that recognize the bravery of women journalists.

Malala won’t be airbrushed out

Malala Yusufzai (Credit: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

“I AM worried about Malala. The whole of Swat is worried about her. But every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”

This was a teenaged classmate of Malala Yousufzai being interviewed live on TV from Mingora. Steeped in courage, her words were delivered with indescribable resolve, a beaming face. Such resolve that a pessimist like me felt she was delivering a stinging slap on my cheek.

Then there was Kainaat. She was travelling in the same school van as Malala and was also wounded in the attack. Her determination appeared equally steely. She was certain nothing was going to stop her from returning to school with the eventual aim of becoming a doctor.

Then as one surfed channels many more Malalas were expressing admiration for their iconic schoolmate. Not one appeared unsure of the way forward. What can you do but salute the tenacity of the girls as well as their lion-hearted parents?

And the teachers. Malala’s teacher spoke with great pride, warmth and affection for his student, the child prodigy: “Such children aren’t born every day. She’s such a gifted child. It is our collective responsibility to support her, protect her. The government must do its part.”

Many months ago when this column focused a tad too frequently on the content of Pakistani TV discussion programmes, my editor advised against too much focus on this one area. He was right.

On this particular occasion, however, one was grateful for the idiot box as a diversity of opinion was beamed directly into the comfort of one’s study. This is where the gratitude ended. To say that the entire spectrum was not welcome would be an understatement.

Pakistan has come to represent such a roller-coaster that it seems to strive daily to live up to Dicken’s words: “… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

The TV output was no different. It mirrored society.

There was good news. Despite being shot at point-blank range in the head, Malala was somehow going to defy the assassin with her now legendary single-mindedness. She would survive. There were also the voices of her courageous (the word seems so inadequate) friends and classmates.

But then Jamaat-i-Islami’s former amir Qazi Hussain Ahmad made an appearance. He seemed to condemn the attack on the teenaged Swat student and in the same breath also condemned those who, in his words, “used Malala”. He didn’t elaborate. Neither was he asked to.

This was the first in a series of ‘we condemn the attack but…’ statements. Qazi Hussain Ahmad was not the only one who was not willing to condemn this dastardly attack without qualifying his condemnation. Many others created binaries where none existed.

Imran Khan came in for stick on social media for his perceived support to the Taliban but hasn’t he demonstrated his disdain for extremism? Wasn’t he one of the few politicians in the country to visit the bloodied Shia-Hazaras in Quetta, in rushing to Chilas after the mass murder of Shia travellers?

Referring to the attempt on Malala’s life, he talked about the scourge of extremism which he mostly blamed on the US-led war on terror. When the presenter pressed him to name the attackers, Imran Khan reluctantly said the Taliban.

When asked to condemn the Taliban, he was open in saying his party had a presence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and that he didn’t want to give statements condemning the Taliban and leave “my party workers undefended” at their mercy.

This statement at least clarified that he has shied away from unequivocally slamming the Taliban for the sake of his party workers’ safety and not on ideological grounds. One suspects the PTI leader understands the sort of threat the ANP and PPP must face at each of their public events.

This must be a major handicap for his rivals. As election approaches, the PTI is able to gather large crowds every few days in relative safety. Mr Khan must be hoping this generates enough momentum to have a snowball effect at the poll, leaving his Taliban-targeted opponents stranded.

This may be a fantastic tactical move. One hopes he has strategic options up his sleeve so he doesn’t end up risking a Kargil-type situation. Our army has scored similar own goals including the one manifesting itself in the militant threat that has claimed thousands of our soldiers besides civilians.

It was never a conflict we could afford to lose. Factors such as archaic tribal and feudal practices mean a steady diet of abuse of women’s rights anyway. Whether jirgas sanction wani or honour killings; whether it is gang rape or acid attacks we know the victim is almost always a woman.

Now religious extremism has created a new form of women’s oppression. This may owe its birth to a parallel national narrative contrived in the Zia years but it has also grown, gone from strength to strength unchallenged since. Before we move on it is vital to decide on one, single narrative.

Otherwise, this mix of confusion, polarisation and the paralysis it causes will destroy us. We have to somehow acknowledge we live in the 21st century, and are part of a larger world.

Women are more than half our population. Isn’t it an economic and social imperative that women and men are equal?

The Taliban and other forces of darkness would so wish they could do here in all public spaces what the well-known Swedish store chain Ikea did in Saudi Arabia: airbrush women models off their catalogue.

Thank God they can’t. Malala stands in their way. Their ideology may be toxic; her determination is life-affirming. Just imagine what’ll happen if Malala inspires millions of people, particularly the weak-kneed like me, to stand up for once and be counted.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Senior Journalist Zubeida Mustafa Arrives in US for 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award

Zubeida Mustafa (Credit: pamh.org.pk)

Zubeida Mustafa speaks modestly about her 33 years as a journalist in Pakistan, where she worked through extreme political instability, media censorship, gender barriers and social upheaval as the assistant editor of Dawn, a widely-respected English-language daily newspaper.

Her optimism sometimes subverts the challenges she faced as the first woman to work in mainstream media in her country and as a pioneer in reporting seriously on women’s issues, as well as politics, education, health and culture.

Her thorough, facts-based reporting and editorial writing earned the respect of her colleagues and many in the political and diplomatic communities. It also landed criticism from those who thought the subjects she chose were trivial, or even offensive.

“The attitude was, ‘if it’s not so important, let the woman do it,’ Mustafa said, “but I turned that to my advantage.”

She did so by taking lesser-reported topics like health and making clear their relationship to bigger questions about politics and society. As the only woman in the Dawn newsroom during the 1970’s, Mustafa explained that she used gender segregation to cover stories men couldn’t. During Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, Mustafa traveled to refugee camps to interview women driven away from their homes by war. “A man would have had a much more difficult time” getting the story, Mustafa said.

Crediting her male colleagues at Dawn for recognizing the value of her work, Mustafa said she did receive backlash for some of her stories from readers. In her editorials, she criticized the pharmaceutical industry for unethical practices and the government for ill-maintained public schools; her editors received angry phone calls, but Mustafa continued to examine tough topics in her pieces.

When she wrote an article on breast cancer, a group of religious conservatives raided Dawn and accused the paper of printing “obscene” content. Undeterred, Mustafa went on to write about contraception and reproductive health. She also covered the case of rape victim turned women’s advocate Mukhtar Mai when other writers were afraid to mention it.

A reporter must ignore critics and write the truth, Mustafa said. “Even if it is a tiny little drop in the ocean, you know you have made a contribution,” she said. “So then you can have a clear conscience.”

As Mustafa’s career as assistant editor – the second-highest position at Dawn – evolved, the central theme of her work became the inequalities she witnessed in Pakistani society. “There is one person who can get anything he or she wants, but there is another person who might be so good but is not getting any opportunities,” Mustafa explained the impetus for her work. She cites the biggest influence on her career as “the people I have met.”

Unequal treatment of men and women was a reality when Mustafa began working in the 1960’s: a condition that, she admits, still exists today. In the early years of her career, she said, there was “a social bias against women working. Especially married women, because they were expected to stay at home and bring up babies and change nappies.”

Mustafa said professional women had to form a perfect balance of work and family “to show people that we could do both.” Mustafa was born in 1941, before Pakistan was a country, in India. She moved to the newly-formed nation with her family as a young girl. She was a bright student who always loved to write. Even so, she didn’t plan on becoming a journalist.

At a time when Pakistani women were discouraged from seeking education, Mustafa earned a B.A. and an M.A. in international relations from the University of Karachi.

Her career began with a job at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, where she worked as a research officer in the 1960’s.

Her break into journalism came after she stopped working for a few years to tend to two young daughters. After her second child started school, Mustafa began to look for new work. That was when the editor of Dawn newspaper called her about the assistant editor position.

“Very frankly, I had never even stepped into a newspaper office,” Mustafa said. But her years of work as a researcher had given her ample experience with information gathering and writing.

The assistant editor’s main responsibility was providing editorial content for the paper, which was widely read by diplomats and Pakistan’s leadership. So Mustafa accepted the post and embarked on a career at Dawn that spanned from 1975 to 2008.

Her start as a journalist may have been a matter of chance, but Mustafa recognized the importance of her role for other women. At the time she started at Dawn, women were “on the sidelines” of media, she explained.

In addition to becoming the first woman in Dawn’s newsroom, Mustafa became the first woman on the editorial board, where she fought to gain coverage in the paper for the burgeoning women’s movement.

She advocated running stories with women’s voices in all sections instead of relegating them to a “women’s page”. She argued for hiring policies that would allow women to occupy all positions in the newsroom. “I wanted to create space for women and I thought if there were more, it would give them strength,” Mustafa said.

During her tenure at Dawn, Mustafa launched several new sections including Health Page, CareerWise and Karachi Notebook. For her work on Books & Authors, the first book magazine to be published by a newspaper in Pakistan, she received an award from the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association in 2005. Mustafa also led production of the One World Supplement at Dawn, published in the early 1980s in partnership with 15 newspapers from all over the world. This project allowed her to travel to places like South Africa and Sweden, among others.

She held fast through challenges faced by all Pakistani journalists, like attempts to quash free press. Mustafa recalled a time when nothing could be published “without information officers deciding what could go in and what should come out”.

She said the government exerted absolute control over press and that “they could just decide they didn’t like the paper and then close the paper…and the editor would end up in jail.”

Transitions from a military to civilian government and back created instability that left freedom of speech in jeopardy, according to Mustafa. She said the democracy of Pakistan “is kind of like musical chairs.”

Things are much better now for media than during the tumultuous period in the middle of her career, Mustafa said. “But now there are dangers of a different kind,” she said, with journalists facing more physical threat.

Despite her official retirement in 2008, Mustafa remains a prolific writer. With failing eyesight, she still regularly contributes columns to Dawn. She recently completed her second book and takes up editing projects periodically.

Her former paper now employs many women at all levels. Some current Dawn employees had Mustafa as a personal mentor; all of them consider her an inspiration.

“Ms. Mustafa is the only Pakistani who is and will remain the ultimate role model for women journalists,” said Dawn colleague Khuda Bux Abro. “She has never craved for any kind of personal gain or appreciation because people like her serve society selflessly.”


Teenage School activist survives attack by Taliban

Malalai Yusufzai after attack (Credit: english.alarabiya.net)

KARACHI, Oct 9— A Taliban gunman shot and seriously wounded a 14-year-old schoolgirl and activist in the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, singling out a widely known champion of girls’ education and a potent symbol of resistance to militant ideology.

The attack occurred in Mingora, the valley’s main town, when masked gunmen stopped a bus carrying schoolgirls who had just taken an exam and sought out the 14-year-old, Malala Yousafzai, shooting her twice.

Ms. Yousafzai, who won a national peace prize last year, was shot in the head and the neck, while two other people on the bus suffered lighter injuries, local health officials said. After emergency treatment, Ms. Yousafzai was taken by helicopter to a military hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, where doctors said she was in stable but critical condition late Tuesday.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Ms. Yousafzai had been targeted for her criticism of the Taliban and because it considered her human rights campaigning to be an “obscenity.”

“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” a Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said by phone from an undisclosed location. “She considers Obama as her ideal leader.”

The Taliban publicly placed Ms. Yousafzai on its assassination hit list this spring. Mr. Ehsan added that if she survived, the militants would try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson,” he said.

Although militant violence is a daily occurrence in Pakistan, the assault on an eloquent schoolgirl, who sprang to public attention in 2009 by documenting her determination to continue school under the Taliban, sent shock waves across Pakistan.

“She symbolizes the brave girls of Swat,” said Samar Minallah, a documentary filmmaker who has worked extensively in Swat. “She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children. Even adults didn’t have a vision like hers.”

Girls’ education in Pakistan has been a rallying cry against the Taliban for some here. In other districts close to the Afghan border, militants have shut down schools in recent years as a way of demonstrating their defiance of the national government.

Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistan researcher with Amnesty International, said the attack on Ms. Yousafzai “highlights the extremely dangerous climate many human rights activists face in northwestern Pakistan, where female activists in particular live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups.”

Fazal Rabbi, a family friend in Swat, described Ms. Yousafzai as a girl of “extraordinary qualities.” In Parliament, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged his countrymen to battle the “mind-set” behind such attacks. “She is our daughter,” he said.

On the Internet, the country’s beleaguered progressives seethed with frustration and anger. “Come on, brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a school girl,” one media commentator, Nadeem F. Paracha, said in an acerbic Twitter post.

Ms. Yousafzai came to public attention in 2009 as the Pakistani Taliban swept through Swat, a picturesque valley once famed for its culture of music and tolerance and as a destination for honeymooning couples.

Her father ran one of the last schools to defy Taliban orders to end female education. As an 11-year-old, his daughter Malala — named after a mythic female figure in Pashtun culture — wrote an anonymous blog documenting her experiences for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban,” she wrote in one post titled “I Am Afraid.”

Later in 2009, the army launched a sweeping operation against the Taliban in the area, displacing many militants into neighboring districts or across the border into Afghanistan.

Ms. Yousafzai continued to grow in prominence, becoming a powerful voice for the rights of children in the conflict-affected area. In 2011, she was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize; later, Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister at the time, awarded her Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.

In recent months, she led a delegation of children’s rights activists, sponsored by Unicef, that made representations to provincial politicians in Peshawar.

“We found her to be very bold, and it inspired every one of us,” said another student in the group, Fatima Aziz, 15.

“She had this vision, big dreams, that she was going to come into politics and bring about change,” said Ms. Minallah, the documentary maker.

Pakistan’s military has long held the 2009 Swat operation as an example of its ability to conduct successful counterinsurgency drives on its own soil. The shooting on Tuesday, however, was a stark reminder that the Taliban remain a deadly force.

“This is not a good sign. It’s very worrisome,” Kamran Khan, the most senior government official in Swat, said by phone. A search operation was under way to capture the attackers, he added.

In recent months, Taliban fighters have been gradually slipping back into Swat, attacking senior community leaders. On Aug. 3, a Taliban gunman shot and wounded Zahid Khan, the president of the local hoteliers association and a senior community leader, in Mingora.

A senior local official said it was one of three attempted targeted killings by the Taliban in recent months.

The Swat Taliban are a subgroup of the wider Pakistani Taliban movement based in South Waziristan. The leader of the Swat Taliban, Maulvi Fazlullah, rose to prominence in 2007 through an FM radio station that espoused Islamist ideology. He is believed to be sheltering across the border in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

The Pakistani Army virtually runs Swat, either directly through a large military presence in the valleys, or indirectly through armed militias that keep the Taliban at bay. But the military has also been accused of gross human rights abuses, particularly after a leaked videotape in 2010 showed uniformed men apparently massacring Taliban prisoners.

In response to sharp criticism, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, announced an inquiry into the shootings. An army spokesman said on Tuesday it had not yet completed its work.

Shah Rasool, the police chief in Swat, said that all roads leading out of Mingora had been barricaded and that more than 30 militant suspects had been taken into custody.

Reporting was contributed by Sana ul Haq from Mingora, Pakistan; Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan; Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi.

Accused in Fauzia Bhutto’s Murder Killed by Tribesmen

Nawabshah renamed Shaheed Benazirabad (Credit: pakmed.net)

KARACHI, Aug 20: The former Sindh Assembly lawmaker, Raheem Baksh Jamali, who was shot and injured in a mosque in Shaheed Benazirabad (formerly Nawabshah) on Sunday, succumbed to his wounds on Monday in a Karachi hospital, Geo News reported.

Reportedly, unknown gunmen attacked a mosque-bound Jamlai, who was observing Itikaf – an Islamic practice consisting of a period of retreat in a mosque during the month of Ramadan, especially the last ten days.

According to reports, the attackers, four in number, who knew exactly where to find him, got him in the main mosque in Cooperative Housing Society in Shaheed Benazirabad at 5:30 AM in the morning.

Jamali was shot and left for dead but the doctors in a local hospital where he was rushed to saved him form dying immediately before advising he be shifted to Karachi for further treatment.

Bullets had damaged his vital organs including pancreas, stomach and a kidney, which led to his death.

He was elected member Sindh Assembly in 1988 as a Pakistan Peoples Party candidate.


Pakistani born couple Jailed for Honor Killing in London

ictim of Honor Killing in London (Credit: guardian.co.uk)

LONDON, Aug 3 : A Pakistani-born couple were jailed for life by a British court Friday for murdering their “westernised” teenage daughter in an apparent honour killing.

Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, were told at Chester Crown Court in Cheshire, north-west England, that they would serve a minimum of 25 years each after suffocating their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea in 2003.

In a high-profile case, Shafilea’s sister Alesha had told the jury that her mother had said, “Just finish it here,” as they forced a plastic bag into Shafilea’s mouth in front of their other children.

Prosecutors said the Ahmeds, who lived in the town of Warrington, near Chester, killed their daughter because they felt her “western” habits such as wearing make-up and talking to boys brought shame on the family.

Passing sentence, judge Roderick Evans told the pair: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.

“Shafilea was a determined, able and ambitious girl who wanted to live a life which was normal in the country and in the town in which you had chosen to live,” he said.

“She was being squeezed between two cultures — the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace, and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose on her.”

Iftikhar Ahmed stood impassively as the sentence was passed, while his wife sobbed.

The jury had unanimously found them guilty earlier on Friday after 11 hours of deliberation.

Shafilea had disappeared in September 2003, and her body was found five months later on a riverbank in Cumbria, north-west England.

The court heard that she had been drugged and taken to Pakistan in February 2003 to be forced into a marriage with a much older man.

She was so terrified of the marriage that she drank bleach, and was taken back to Britain where she spent eight weeks in hospital.

Shortly before she was taken to Pakistan, she had run away from home and asked the local authority to provide her with emergency accommodation, the court heard.

In her letter to the authorities, she said she had suffered from regular domestic violence since she was 15.

“One parent would hold me whilst the other hit me,” she wrote. “I was prevented from attending college and my part-time job.”

Her main reason for running away was that her parents “were going to send me to Pakistan and get me married to someone,” she added.

Her parents were arrested in December 2003, three months after the killing, on suspicion of kidnapping Shafilea — but they were released without charge after prosecutors found there was insufficient evidence against them.

They were re-arrested in 2010 after Alesha was caught organising an armed robbery at the family’s own home, and told police she had witnessed her sister’s murder.

Iftikhar Ahmed, a taxi driver, denied the murder and said Shafilea had run away. His wife also denied the killing, but told the jury she saw her husband beating Shafilea and believed that he killed her.

Another of their daughters, Mevish, supported their defence.

But in a remarkable twist after the trial began, one of Mevish’s friends produced writings by her that appeared to corroborate Alesha’s story.

Mevish Ahmed insisted the writings were a piece of drug-induced “fiction” that Alesha had used to base her story on.

Prosecutor Paul Whittaker paid tribute to Alesha Ahmed for having the courage to give evidence against her parents, and urged victims of honour-based violence to come forward.

“The word ‘shame’ has been heard many times during the course of this trial, but the shame is not on Shafilea, it is on her parents,” he said. (AFP)


Pakistan Pins Hopes on Woman Sprinter in London Olympics

Rabia Ashiq (Credit: brecorder.com)
KARACHI: Pakistan’s talented athlete Rabiq Ashiq who will be competing in the 800 metres competition at the London Olympics, scheduled for Aug 8, has received a major boost with her recent sponsorship contract.

Rabia was selected to participate in the Olympics through wildcard and is hoping to make an impact in the challenging event at the Games scheduled for next week.

Rabia said that although she will strive hard for the medals, this opportunity alone of competing in the world’s top sports extravaganza is a dream come true.

“Girls should educate themselves and realise their dreams through hard work and persistence. Nothing is impossible,” she said prior to her departure for London.

Hailing from a modest background, Rabia had to face discouragement from her immediate and extended family initially but her passion drove her to continue taking part in sports at school and college level.

Recognising her tenacity, Zong a leading cellular company has decided to sponsor the athlete for her participation in the world’s foremost sports competition.

“Rabia is an epitome of courage and an excellent example for the world to see that with minimal resources there can still be success stories of women who are willing to dream. Even if the society is not ready to support, a person can change everyone’s perception through his or her consistent efforts,” said an official. (Agencies)

Young Woman Working for Social Change in FATA is Killed

Farida Afridi (Credit: tribune.com.pk)
Peshawar, July 5: Farida, belonging to the Afridi subtribe Kokikhel, was targeted on Wednesday morning at 6.30am when she left her house in Tehsil Jamrud Ghundi Kali for her office in Hayatabad.

“She was cornered by motorcyclists who shot her and she died on the way to Jamrud hospital,” said witness Abid Ali. Farida was 25.

Along with her sister Noor Zia, Farida was committed to social change and economic emancipation for women from the platform of a welfare organisation called the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA). Both women were among the founding members of the NGO and had a Masters degree in Gender Studies.

Due to tribal customs and traditions, women in the area remain mostly restricted and unable to achieve their true potential, but Farida broke all barriers and relentlessly worked for women’s development. “We have lost a great member of our team,” said Lal Jan, the technical advisor of the organisation.

To increase women’s involvement in the social and economic sphere, a few educated and aspiring women, including Farida who was still in school at that time, established SAWERA in 2004. The NGO works for the rights of women and children’s rights in the tribal belt.

Farida had three sisters and four brothers and she was the second eldest. She belonged to a poor family that had no personal enmity, Lal Jan said.

In an interview for The Express Tribune published in September 2011, Farida had said: “The government is oblivious to the general attitude of tribesmen towards women and the extent of inequality in our patriarchal society. This pushed us to start a struggle for their empowerment.”

The sisters faced tough resistance when they told their family about the path they had chosen for themselves. “We told our parents that we would work in accordance with our religious and cultural traditions, assuring them that we would never let the family honour suffer because of our line of work. Finally, they agreed,” Noor had said.

Syed Afzal Shinwari, project coordinator in Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), said that SAWERA started small but is now an influential organisation. “Because of this brutal act, women in Fata will be discouraged to work and development will come to a halt,” he said.

“Both government and security agencies will be sleeping and people like Farida, Zartif Khan, Khan Habib Afridi and Mukarram Khan Atif will be mercilessly killed. We, the participants of civil society organisations in Peshawar, strongly condemn this tragic death and vow to raise our voice against this tyranny and brutality at the hands of anti-state elements who have been given a free hand to kill people from the civil society,” civil society group Strengthening Participatory Organisaion said in a statement.

The End Violence Against Women/Girl alliance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata also condemned the murder.

Farida’s struggle and efforts towards the empowerment of tribal women will never be forgotten.

Edited by Zehra Abid

Ex MNA from Kohistan Threatens Working Women

Maulvi Abdul Haleem (Credit: elections.com.pk)

MANSEHRA, May 5: Former Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal MNA from Kohistan Maulvi Abdul Haleem on Saturday warned women working in non-governmental organisations against entering his district and said violators of the warning would be forcibly married off to locals.

“I issued a decree during Friday sermon that getting education for degrees by women is repugnant to Islamic injunctions because if a woman gets degree, she may use it for job, an act which Islam doesn’t allow in absence of mehram (close relatives),” he told reporters here.

Mr Haleem said: “If women working in NGOs enter Kohistan, we won’t spare them and solemnise their nikkah (marriage) with local men.”

Maulana Haleem, who remained MNA during the Musharraf regime, said if a woman got education and used it for job, then it was against the teachings of Islam.

“That’s why girls are not going to schools in Kohistan and girl schools are used as cattle pen,” he said.

The ex-MNA, who was once a mufti at Darul Uloom Haqqania, Akora Khattak, and also taught top clerics Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Anwarul Haq, Maulana Nizamuddin Shamazai, said he was not opposed to NGOs and would ensure complete protection of their male staffers in Kohistan.

He said if NGOs wanted to work for women’s development, they should spend money for the purpose through government departments.

“We won’t let them (NGOs) influence our women in the name of empowerment and financial support through women workers of NGOs,” said the ex-MNA, who remained the district chairman in Kohistan during the General Ziaul Haq regime.

He said he issued a decree in the past in favour of poppy cultivation and trade and continued to believe so.

“I also rose up against the unjustified slaughtering of animals by Jehanzeb Khan, the ruler of the formerly Swat state, at his birthday. Kohistan was part of the state of Swat at that time. Even he (ruler) put me behind the bars but I didn’t withdraw the decree,” he said.

The ex-MNA said killing of women in the name of honour was a ‘local custom and religious practice’ in Kohistan.

He said if someone witnessed female members of his family roaming with ghair mehram (other than close relatives), he could kill her without producing four witnesses,” he said.

Meanwhile, a man was killed and his father and two brothers critically wounded on Saturday when their rival tribesmen attacked their house in Palis area.

A dispute over the ownership of a water reservoir was blamed for the Narng Shahkhail attack on Badakhail tribesmen.

The dead included Azizur Rehman, while the injured were his father, Mohammad Asghar, and his brothers, Mohammad Essa and Abdul Quddos, whose condition was stated be critical at a local hospital.

The Palis police lodged an FIR and began investigation. Last year, four people were killed and three injured when Badakhail and Narng Shah-khail tribes exchanged heavy fire over the same dispute.


What Choices for Hindu Girls in Pakistan?

Rinkel Kumari or Faryal Shah? (Credit: Pravasitoday)

On April 18, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ruled that the three Hindu women who had been converted to Islam, Rinkel Kumari, Dr Lata Kumari and Aasha Kumari, should decide if they want to return to their parents or stay with their new husbands. All three stated that they had willingly converted to Islam and wanted to live with their husbands.

However, there are still concerns about the climate of intimidation in which these cases were carried out and both Rinkel and Dr Lata had previously made contradictory statements in court about their conversions. Often in such cases the Hindu parents and lawmakers receive death threats and therefore raises the question if these decisions by the three women were made under duress.

Imagine your name is Bharti. You are a 15-year-old Hindu girl who lives in a small apartment in Lyari. Your father is a driver and social worker who raises money for others while struggling to pay your family’s medical bills. You have three older brothers, who are busy with their own jobs and families. Your future seems bleak.

Imagine you then meet Abid. He is the son of a police constable and promises to marry you. He promises you many things – but on the condition that you convert to Islam. You agree and run away with him. His family teaches you the Kalima and gives you a niqab to wear. After a few days, they take you to a maulvi. While the nikah form is being filled, you already know what you have to say. You tell the maulvi that you are 18-years-old and your name is now Ayesha.

Imagine that a few months pass. You are still living with Abid and his family. Your father lost the court case after a medical report was produced that stated that you are 18. You couldn’t look your mother in the eye when she came to court. You haven’t once been able to visit your home since you ran away. Your in-laws still haven’t given you a cell phone but sometimes you are able to borrow a phone and briefly talk to your brothers. When you speak to them, you can’t help but cry.

Be it the mean streets of Lyari or the dusty villages of interior Sindh, stories such as these are becoming increasingly common in Pakistan. In the last four months alone there have been at least 47 reported cases of alleged forced conversions of young girls from minority communities. But none of these cases have quite captured the fascination of the public as that of Rinkel Kumari.

Nineteen-year-old Rinkel disappeared from her home in Mirpur Mathelo, a village in the Ghotki district of Sindh, on February 24. The answer to what happened to her varies significantly, depending on whom you speak to. According to her father Nand Lal, a government schoolteacher, Rinkel woke up somewhere between four and five in the morning to go to the bathroom when she was drugged and kidnapped by armed men. She regained consciousness at around nine in the morning to find herself in Barchundi Sharif in Daharaki – a stronghold of PPP MNA Mian Abdul Haq, also known as Mian Mitho, who is the spiritual leader of the shrine where conversions regularly take place. Just hours after her arrival in Barchundi Sharif, Rinkel was forcibly converted to Islam, married off to one of the kidnappers, Naveed Shah, and subsequently renamed Faryal.

Mian Mohammed Aslam, the son of Mian Mitho, provides a different version of events. He stated on an evening news show that Rinkel showed up with Naveed Shah at his doorstep, expressing her wish to convert to Islam and get married. Aslam added that he contacted Rinkel’s parents to let them know his daughter was with him and even invited them to come visit her before she converted, but they never showed up.

And to add to the confusion, there is a third account of events according to which Rinkel was indeed in love with Naveed and went to meet him on the morning of February 24, but did not know that he would be waiting with other men, ready to kidnap her.

In response to the latter accounts, Rinkel’s family has stated that they did not want to meet their daughter at Mian Mohammad Aslam’s residence because they were concerned that they would not be able to talk freely in the presence of the MNA’s son. And her parents have denied suggestions that Rinkel knew Naveed, stating that since there is no phone in their house and Rinkel does not own a cellphone, there was no way for them to have contacted each other.

But be it Rinkel, Bharti or any other girl, the problem at the heart of all these cases is that nobody knows what actually happened to the victims. Some of the girls, including Rinkel, have made somewhat contradictory statements, initially saying that they willingly converted to Islam and later crying that they want to return to their parents. And in all known cases, the accused have fiercely guarded the girls from meeting their families. This raises several questions: Were the girls’ statements made under duress? Should non-Muslim parents be allowed to meet their now Muslim daughters? Does tempting a young girl with false promises count as coercion? Are these forced conversions and marriages essentially cases of rape and sexual harassment committed in the guise of Islam?

Advocate Iqbal Haider believes the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal yes, and he does not hide his disgust towards Mian Mitho and others involved in such conversions: “Mian Mitho is exploiting his status as an MNA and has been indulging in the most objectionable activities.” PPP MNA Mian Mitho

Haider has fought many cases of forced conversions and described the kind of problems that commonly arise in such cases. “No police officer would dare defy the orders of an MNA. The police is not independent,” stated Haider, adding, “I recently saw it in court when two police officers led the girl into the courtroom and her alleged husband was glued to her.”

The police was apparently unconcerned that the man was yet to be proven as the husband and that he was imposing his presence on the girl. It was only when Haider shouted at the police that they separated the two. The families are often not allowed anywhere near their daughters and Rinkel’s parents and their supporters have received public death threats from Mian Mitho and his abettors.

It was against this climate of intimidation that the court decided to move Rinkel and Dr Lata, a 29-year-old who also converted and got married in February, to Islamabad. Haider will not be representing any of the cases in the Supreme Court but he believes it was the right decision to move the girls to more neutral territory. “Keep the girls in Islamabad in a protected area but you can’t keep them there forever. I hope the court holds judicial inquiries into each and every case.”

Haider emphasised the importance of cross-examining all the witnesses since the girls’ statements are often made under duress. And he also pointed out the importance of having a liberal judge since, in his words, “There are bigots everywhere.”

Rinkel and Lata had their court hearing in Islamabad on March 26. Rinkel was barely able to speak and it took her two minutes to answer whether she studied science or arts in school. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry instructed everybody to leave the court so that he could talk to the girls privately. The girls were then allowed to briefly meet their parents before being sent to Darul-Aman for two weeks, according to the court’s orders.

In a phone conversation the day after the ruling, Rinkel’s father, Nand Lal, revealed that in the few minutes the family spent with Rinkel, she cried non-stop and said that she wanted to return home with them. She also told them that Mian Mitho’s men had threatened her to not make a statement in favour of her family. While her father hopes that Darul-Aman will provide a safe environment for his daughter, the family does fear that Mian Mitho’s men will be able to reach her there as well. If Rinkel is happily married, as Mian Mitho and his followers like to claim, then why do they feel the need to resort to these intimidatory tactics?

PPP MNA Nafisa Shah, who has publicly condemned the forced conversions, believes this environment of intimidation is the main source of the problem. “Coercion does not just mean using brute force,” she said, “We have an extremely claustrophobic environment in which there is space for only one religion.” And it is this claustrophobic environment that limits opportunities for minority communities in the country and makes the offer to convert and get married all the more alluring to young, vulnerable women. Nafisa Shah also pointed out that Hindus are rarely involved in serious crimes in Pakistan, but because they don’t have arms, they become all the more vulnerable to outside threats.

Nafisa Shah did not want to specifically talk about Mian Mitho, but she made it clear that these forced conversions go against the ideology of the PPP and points out that people like Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer lost their lives as a result of speaking up against prejudicial laws. Shah emphasised that the space for dialogue and multi-faith expression is shrinking and attributes Talibanisation as the source of this problem. She also added that conversions are not an issue, but the fact that in Pakistan it is a one-way street of only minorities converting to Islam that causes concern.

According to Bharti’s nikahnama she is 18-years-old.

Abdul Hai, assistant coordinator at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, agrees that there is nothing wrong with converting, even if it is for the sole purpose of getting married. “The real problem is where is the girl going?” he adds “Maulvis will say in court that the girl’s parents are kafirs and that she can no longer meet them. How can you forcibly cut the girl off from her parents?”

Senior journalist and human rights activist, Akhtar Baloch reiterates the points made by both Shah and Hai: “You cannot stop adults from converting or getting married. But why is it only the Hindus who are converting to Islam? And that too girls? Why don’t we have men converting to Islam or Muslims converting to other religions?”

Baloch is also concerned that the cases being highlighted in the media are of those who are financially more secure and he fears that there are countless more cases that go ignored.

One such case is that of Bharti. On December 2011, Narain Das found his daughter was missing from home and filed an FIR at the Baghdadi thana only to soon discover that his daughter had run off with Abid, the son of Anwar Kalia who is a constable at Preedy police station.

This is not the first time one of Das’s children ran off to convert to Islam. Around 12 years ago, Das’s employers, car dealers, lured his oldest son Lakshman, who was at the time barely a teenager, to convert to Islam. The men, who Das drove cars for, would send the young boy to fetch alcohol and when Das scolded him, they suggested that he convert so that he would no longer have to live by his parent’s rules. Das and his wife would try to visit Lakshman but each time he would run away. When Das finally got a hold of his son, Lakshman said that he ran away because he was told that if he met his non-Muslim parents they would all become wajib-ul-qatl. Das had enough knowledge of Islam to know this was untrue but as a cautionary measure got a fatwa from a neighbourhood maulvi. When Lakshman was nearly 18, Das proposed to his son’s converters that they should get his son married and help him get started in life. The next day, Das was called to take his son back home.

“I bet nobody in all of Pakistan has done what I did next to my son,” said Das. He went on to relate how he got his son a job with a Muslim butcher and when a Hindu girl fell in love with his son, he told her parents that she would have to convert to Islam since his son is a Muslim.

“I have a Muslim son. I have Muslim grandchildren. And I am the Hindu dada of those children,” Narain said, stating that he has no issue with his daughter converting to Islam. What offends him is that his daughter was lured to run away and that Kalia’s family is preventing them from contacting each other.

Also, Das has NADRA documents stating that Bharti is 15 but the police got a medical report alleging that she is 18, over which Das lost the court case.

Das was visibly furious when I met him. “If these NADRA documents hold no meaning, then close down all their offices in the country. And how can Bharti suddenly be older than her brother Sunny? Next they’ll come and say she’s older than her parents.”

The family has received death threats for pursuing this case and Das added, “The biggest mistake I made was hiring Amarnath Motumal as my lawyer. Not because Amarnath is a bad person, but because he is a Hindu and the other side clearly threatened him.”

Motumal, who is also the vice-chairman of HRCP, confirmed that Bharti is indeed only 15 but the case is now unfortunately closed and he hopes public outcry might lead to a new, fairer trial.

Das revealed how Anwar Kalia had the police on his side. The DIG Sindh ruled that Bharti should be taken to a women’s thana and that Anwar Kalia’s family would not be allowed to visit her there. However, these orders were ignored and Kalia’s family would go take meals to Bharti everyday. He also describes Bharti’s alleged husband (Das and his family do not recognise the marriage since Bharti was under coercion) as a good-for-nothing drunkard and drug addict. Her brothers tell me I can ask anyone in the neighbourhood about Abid’s reputation.

Occasionally her brothers were able to speak to her on the phone and they said she would always cry and say she made a mistake. In trying to get in touch with Bharti, I spoke to Abid’s uncle who firmly advised me to move on and not bother them, saying “Bharti is happily married so there is no point in talking to her.”

He admitted that they medically proved her age but did not want to disclose the name of the hospital or doctor they went to. And the maulvi who presided over the nikah ceremony, Mohammed Abbasi, was of little help as well. When asked how he confirmed Bharti, or rather Ayesha’s age, when she had no form of identification on her, he said, “She said so. And you can tell by looking if someone is 15 or 18.”

He also shamelessly told me how Narain Das spoke to him on the phone for an hour, begging for help, but he did nothing. “I have given my statement to the police and the girl married willingly.” It also does not concern him that the witnesses were only from the boy’s side even though in Islam, witnesses from the bride’s side are required.

“If they didn’t accept me as a witness because I’m Hindu, then why didn’t they take my Muslim son as a witness?” Das asks. “And why is it that Dr Lata who is 29 is taken to a women’s shelter, but my 15-year-old daughter is sent away with the accused? Why should I be dealt a different judgement because I am poor?”

Had Rinkel’s family not been able to find the right contacts, had Mian Mitho not been involved, had the Pakistan Hindu Council not decided to take up the issue, her case too perhaps would have been left ignored.

New cases of forced abductions are emerging every month. But Nafisa Shah is sceptical about giving exact figures because nobody is able to find out for certain if the girl in question converted willingly or not. How can one know when soon after the conversion, the girls are married off and cut off from the public? Even in the rare case in which a girl speaks up, there is fear of persecution. According to Seema Rana, a member of the Hindu community who is doing research on these conversions, a girl from Lyari was asked to take an oath on the Quran in court. She refused, saying that she cannot take the oath since she is a Hindu and was forcibly converted. The girl was returned to her parents, but her family feared the accused might take revenge and immediately got her married. Even though the girl is willing to talk about her experiences, her family is too afraid to give her name to the media.

Without access to the girls themselves, we can only imagine what truly happened to them.

The Lost Girls

These young girls – long forgotten by all but their families – were allegedly kidnapped from their homes and forced to convert to Islam.

In December 2009, 13-year-old Radha Ram’s parents reported that she was kidnapped from their home in Rahim Yar Khan. She was kept in a madrassa and Abdul Jabbar, the leader of the madrassa, prevented the Hindu family members from meeting her since she was now Muslim.

Four men kidnapped 13-year-old Mashu from Jhaluree, a village near Mirpur Khas, on December 22, 2005. They then allegedly forced her to convert to Islam and renamed her Mariam. Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi was involved in her conversion and soon after her abduction and conversion, she was married to one of the kidnappers.

Anita Kumar, a 22-year-old Hindu woman with two young children, was kidnapped from her house in Moro, Sindh in April 2011. In the process her two children, aged four and two, were beaten up and locked up alone in the house. The Supreme Court allowed her marriage to a Muslim man, even though she was still married to her first husband, Suresh Kumar. She has since then been renamed Aneela Fatima Pervez.

Gajri, a 15-year-old Hindu girl, was kidnapped by a neighbour from her home in Katchi Mandi in the Rahim Yar Khan district on December 21, 2009. She was later discovered in a madrassa, but by then she had already been converted to Islam and married to her neighbour, Mohammed Salim. Her parents later received an affidavit, in which the daughter stated that she had converted to Islam willingly but they were not sent a copy of the marriage certificate. The parents are not allowed to visit their daughter since they are non-Muslims.

On October 18, 2005, a Hindu driver, Sanno Amra, came home from work to find that his three daughters Reena, Usha and Rima had disappeared from their house in Punjab Colony, Karachi. The oldest sister was 21 and the youngest was 17 – legally still a minor. When Amra pursued the case he started receiving death threats and eventually found affidavits in the mail, which stated that his daughters had willingly converted to Islam. The parents were only allowed to briefly visit the daughters, and that too in the presence of maulvis and police officers.

This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “Unholy Vows.”