Monthly Archives: November 2018

India’s forbidden love

Nineteenth-century American essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that all the world loved, a lover. However, Indian society does not seem to be agreeing with Ralph’s belief.  In India, falling in love with the wrong person is deadly.  Every day, couples are brutally murdered on account of bringing dishonor to their families by falling in love, defying caste system and for rejecting strict social boundaries.

 In 2002, the entire nation plunged into shock when Nitish Katara, an MBA graduate and the son of IAS officer was murdered by his girlfriend’s family. The case fought by Nitish’s mother, Neelam Katara, went on for 15 years. However, not much has changed in the past 16 years. In fact, the situation has got even worse. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the number of honor killings in India leaped by 798 percent.  States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh are leading in such extrajudicial killings. “ 

In 2016, the evil of honor killing came to the fore once again when a young 23-years-old photographer, Ankit Saxena was murdered last year.  Falling in love with a Muslim girl was his only fault.  According to a BBC report, year after year 20,000 women were being murdered the world over, especially in Asia for falling in love with men whom their families and communities considered unsuitable.

Jagmati Sangwan a social activist in Haryana who has been fighting for this cause from very long time says, “Honour is just a sham, this term in itself is wrong because there is nothing honorable in this act.”

 Saviours From Honour killing

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul”. Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul.” Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Loving beyond social boundaries is fraught with many challenges in India,” says  Anish a cinematographer by profession who fell in love with a Muslim girl Tayyaba. The pall of gloom fell over the familywhen the family came to know about their relationship. When they saw that their family will not accept them they took help of an NGO Dhanak and they helped us in getting married.

Caste system stood in the way of Aarti and Ravikant’s story. Aarti belonged to the so-called upper caste Brahmin family while Ravikant belonged to the Jat community. Fearing death at the hands of her family, Aarti decided to leave Bhopal and come to Delhi.  The story of Arti who belongs from upper-class Brahmin community and Ravikant who belongs from Jat community also sought the help of NGO and after staying in a shelter home provided by Dhanak, they finally got married a few days back. Dhanak an organization based in Delhi is providing shelter, legal and financial help to couples from all across India. Dhanak was born in 2005. When few interfaith couples decided to get together with the intention to form a front.


“The idea was to help couples from similar backgrounds to come together and form a support structure for couples,” says Shabana, Secretary of Dhanak. All the members and members of Dhanak has the same stories to share. Shabana a psychologist by profession married Rajeev way back in 2005 after facing lots of odds in their life.  “Standing firm in face of societal opposition requires elephantine courage and when it is about Hindu Muslim marriage the obstacles in the way gets double,” so few couples like us with the thought that what we faced in life shouldn’t be faced by anyone else. Thus we created this forum to help out other couples cutting across caste and religion.  Shabana who got married to a Hindu guy in 2003 says: “Marrying against the wishes of the family is like striding on a thorny road. It has been 15 years of happy married life but still, everything is not normal, riders imposed on us from both sides of the family are still persistent.”

“While doing work on ground level the issue that shook our conscience was how couples were murdered in broad daylight, be ita case of Manoj- Babli or Be it a case of Nitish Katara that pricked us up about the legal void existing in Indian law to target the perpetrators of the crime,”says Ravikant a supreme court lawyer and President of NGO Shakti Vahini in Delhi. This legal void prompted Shakti Vahini to file PIL in 2010.  A bench hearing the PIL delivered a remarkable Judgement earlier this year that, “ Khap Panchayats has no right to act as conscience keeper of society.”

“We have won half battle as apex court of the country has directed the central government to frame and implement a stringent law identifying honour crimes in India. We as an organization will keep on fighting for this cause,” says Ravikant. 

Honor Crimes: Unholy Alliance of Patriarchy and Feudalism

A steep jump of 796 % was seen in the ‘honour’ killings according to the NationalCrime Record Bureau NCRB data in the year 2015. 28 murder cases were recorded in 2014, while the number jumped to 251 in the year 2015. States like Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are the infamous states where honour crimes are most rampant in the country. Lack of a separate law, shared interests of political leaders and archaic institutions such as Khap Panchayats in overlooking the gravity of the matter and societal pressure to toe its line are the main roadblocks.

Demands for the enactment of a separate law on honour crimes have fallen on deaf ears, says Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary, All India Democratic WomenAssociation. “When we met the then Law Minister Sadanand Gowda in 2014 and demanded the new law he said that the government would look into the demand but the actions of the government have not been forthcoming.” According to experts, there is no mechanism to recognize a crime as honour crime and the cases get registered under the murder and other IPC provisions cloaking the hideous nature of this crime where one gets killed at the hands of her near and dear ones.

Demanding a separate law against honour crimes on the lines of DomesticViolence Act 2005, Sangwan says, “In honor crimes your family members are the main culprits. In such a situation, it is very hard to establish the culpability of the accused as the crime is not reported to the Police in the first place and even if reported it becomes very hard to collect the requisite evidence. When you have a separate law like the Domestic Violence Act 2005, the onus will be on the accused to prove his innocence and not on the state machinery to prove his guilt.” Once a separate law gets enacted, it will be difficult for the accused family members to secure bail and get away with the crime, addedSangwan.

Apart from inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, marrying within the same Gotra(Clan), Guhand (neighbourhood), and a person from the same village also invite the wrath of archaic elements which results in consequences such as ex-communication, exile and violence against the couples. Aarti Tiwari, a 25year old Brahmin girl, married Ravikant who comes from the Jat community only to be abandoned by her family. Longing for her mother hopelessly and afraid for her husband’s safety at the same time Aarti says, “Sometimes I think of going to Bhopal to meet my mother and family but then… better sense prevails. It’snot safe in Bhopal. The only problem my parents had was Ravi’s caste. They would not have abandoned me if I had eloped with a Brahmin boy.”

Not withstanding the beliefs and age-old association of people with such issues, one can see through the vote bank politics and a political economy as part and parcel of honour crimes in the country. “Due to very bad sex ratio in Haryana, thousands of youth get married to women who are trafficked and ‘bought’ from poor states like Bengal and Bihar. Do they ascertain their caste and clan before marrying them? No.”. Highlighting the economy associated with the whole issue, Sangwan says, “If this was an issue linked to marriage only, the reaction would have not been this loud and violent. Their (upper caste) thinking is- today the girl’s hostile about her marriage; tomorrow she could become hostile for the property as well and ask for her share. The shift of land and property from the propertied class to have nots of our society is their biggest fear. Patriarchy and Feudalism are hands in glove on this issue.”

Through snail-paced, the political machinery is being forced to acknowledge the gravity of the issue and take action on the same front. “Couple Protection homes are being built across the country where the couples can stay in a safe and protected environment. Also, the Apex Court has also laid its guidelines where the District Superintendent of Police will be held responsible if a couple is harmed under her watch,” says Ravikant, President Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on the issue. However, these developments are the small steps and the movement has a long road to tread  

Shrinking spaces: Encounters of homeless women on roads

By-Ahmad Belal, Anubhav Chakraborty, Arpita Singh, Ayesha Khan, Azam Abbas & Filza Rizwan



The idea of space has been severely contested for the longest period of time between several sections of the society. The oppressor and the oppressed contest over the ‘Demarcation of space’ almost every time. In some cases, it might be based on caste or class division and in some cases, it might be based upon gender division. Women historically have been denied the rights to ‘public places’ as a systematic way of marginalizing them. However, things have changed, with the rise of the new India milieu, there is a high section of working women population who are challenging the outdated patriarchal norms.

A cold winter morning

Rain baseras or homeless shelters area part of an initiative launched by the Delhi government in a hope to give comfort and shelter to people who are homeless. There is around 144 Rain base as currently in operation in and across Delhi. Among these, there are certain shelter homes which are just reserved for women and their children. Most people come and stay here on a day to day basis, while some people prefer sleeping in these shelter homes, some like loitering around outside as it somehow curbs their freedom. Reasons to not stay in a night shelter can be multi-fold and not traced back easily to one single cause and effect.

While the facilities which are provided in these shelter homes are mostly adequate, however, there is still systematic negligence which these shelter homes face in terms of most of them not having a properly established fence in and around the compound, time restrictions for entry and exit from these shelter homes and proper management of these shelter homes.

We tried to find women who would narrate their stories on why they prefer to sleep outside rather than the homeless shelters which are provided to them and what the concept of ‘home’ or the idea of residence means to them per say, and how many have won the battle against the society and how many are continuing to fight it till these point of time.

Who said ‘Dogs are a man’s best friend’?

NewDelhi, the capital of the ‘bright spot’ amongst all developing countries, is also the city infamous for its unsafe streets for women and is thus, often dubbed as the ‘rape capital. On December 16, 2012, a 23 y/o woman was gang-raped inside a moving bus and the incident shook the nation to its core. Women took to the streets to raise their voices, and were further angered by the thecontinuous rhetoric of ‘What was she doing out so late?’ The incident marked a movement that started out for women to reclaim public spaces.

Image for Pakisatni students Pexels.com

The norm is that women’s access to public space has to be conditional to a specific purpose. Once the purpose is fulfilled, they should no longer remain in thepublic space. Pinjra Tod, a movement based out of New Delhi, is attempting tofight this idea. It is no news that women’s hostels in India have curfewtimings while most men’s hostels don’t.

Three years on, the movement continues to fight for women in the public space. It is not only questioning the boundaries set for women but also the internalisation of patriarchal practices. Since 1953, the boys of Hindu college worship a banyan tree as a Virgin tree. Several students gather around a tree amidst a lot of fanfare to paste a picture of a woman and proclaim her as the object of male desire. As per Pinjra Tod, this celebration reeks of misogyny and views a woman only as an object of desire, not as an equal citizen. The idea is that only men have the right to express their sexuality, women are simply objects.

TheReclaim the Nights movement began in August 2017 in Chandigarh in response to the stalking case of DJ Varnika Kundu by Vikas Barala, the son of a prominent politician. Close to 700 people stepped out on the streets of Geri route for the Bekhauf Azadi March to reclaim the nights.

The boundaries are clearly defined.

Some incidents touch a chord and appeal to the collective conscience of the people. Most of the time, however, they remain as bystanders who simply do not want to interfere in another person’s matter. The #AskingForIt initiative by a Delhi based NGO Breakthrough attempts to focus the attention on the role of bystanders who have the power to influence the situation but largely remain ignorant. Some of them even end up blaming the girl, who is simply going about her day. They decided to flip the rhetoric by asking #WhatAreAskingFor and #WhatAreWeNotAskingFor?

Have the movements made an impact on the unconditional presence of women in public spaces? Do women feel safer maneuvering their way around the city? Women in collectives claim more women out on the streets means safer and inclusive spaces for them, however, a similar feeling of safety for a lone women stepping out still needs to be addressed.

The movements are centered on campuses, mainly fuelled by the urban middle-class women going to colleges. These movements rarely address the discourse on the lower class women and their mobilization. There need to be stronger efforts aimed at mobilizing the rural areas so that they too, can be a part of making sure their spaces are safer and more inclusive.

Asgari Begum

It was early morning, close to Nizamuddin In Khusrau park when people were draped in the blanket of their dreams. We met one such woman who was laying with her two kids, they were rabbits who were named ‘Amitabh’ and Rekha’. When we looked a bit closer, we came to know that in these modern times, when people don’t have time to talk to her, she found her own time to have a conversation with her rabbits.

Asgari Begum arrived in Delhi as a teenager, she came from her birthplace Calcutta in search of a new life where she would have her own family and a home.

They say destiny is pre-written. She got married and had her own kids, however even after thirty years she couldn’t find her own home. She tried every possible way to build a home but she failed, and now she works as a rag picker.

With the passage of time, she fell in love with Nizamuddin Dargah and its adjacent surroundings and in the last thirty years, she has made that her home.

She is happy now, however, the fate of a homeless remains uncertain always, because there is no guarantee when she can be evicted from the premises.

In 2017, she received the biggest shock of her life, when the Delhi government decided to demolish every makeshift shanty in Khusro Park. She pleaded multiple times to the government, however, nothing worked. After all who will listen to a homeless person?

However she still hasn’t lost all hope, she is still optimistic about having her own home in few years by saving the money which she earns as a ragpicker and without any feeling of ‘fear’ and ‘paranoia’, she will have her own home.

Seema Begum

Folding her bed sheet, Seema waits for her daughter to get up in the morning. She bought two cups of tea from a nearby stall, she is worried the tea will get cold if her daughter will take any more time. Seema’s daughter visits her once in a blue moon, whenever she feels like. Otherwise, they prefer living away from each other.

Seema has been living in a small corner in Khusro Park near Nizammudin Dargah in Delhi. Seema says the corner is where she belongs, she has an affection with the place to an extent that she wouldn’t trade it for a palace. Seema’s shanty was demolished by the government in 2017. Her heart was broken but her attachment to the place didn’t. She couldn’t leave the place even when her husband died last year. “I was introduced to the road by my husband. He brought me here after our marriage. His company made this footpath a palace for me.”

Radha

At the age of seven, leaving behind the abusive father and a six-month-old sister, Radha fled nights of physical torcher and days of forceful labour only to find herself stuck in the arduous circle of drug abuse and petty thefts near Kalkaji Mandir. Since her birth, shehas been mostly abandoned and left alone.

Since that time she arrived in Delhi, she found herself living on the streets, lingering wearily in the neighborhood, spending time in deserted narrow lanes yearning for food and a way to escape her situation.

Today, when she looks back at her life she gets teary-eyed at the afflictions that she endured.

Bare Hands: A struggle for dignity of labour

 

By-Zeeshan Kaskar, Karan Anand, Akhilesh Nagari, Eisha Hussain and Tahira Noor Khan:

These lines from Langton Hughes’, ‘The Black Man Speaks’ exhibit how democracy, which promises equality and dignity to every citizen, consists of groups that are marginalized and face continued oppression.

This holds true for the community of manual scavengers in India. Most of the manual scavengers largely belong to the historically oppressed and marginalized Dalit community. The Dalits have also been discriminated against for being “untouchables”. Though untouchability and caste discrimination remain banned by the Constitution of India, the discrimination faced by dalits, has insidiously crept through to the modern society. People from the dalit community have been restricted to the dehumanizing profession of manual scavenging and are subsequently alienated and ghettoised.

In recent years, the government came up with the Swach Bharat Mission, a scheme which claims to clean up the streets, roads, and infrastructure of India by 2019. The central government has spent around Rs 530 crore over its publicity in the last three years but the promises don’t include any relief for the manual scavengers. An overwhelming majority of sanitation workers in India are still contractually employed, wherein they aren’t paid any minimum fixed wages, and often had to work under the hazardous conditions without any safety measures.

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

In 1993 The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed and in 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was passed to stop the employment of people in the degrading job of cleaning human excreta. Though the government employed sanitation workers do not have to enter manholes anymore, those illegally employed by private contractors have no respite. Despite countless deaths of manual scavengers, not a single person has been convicted under these acts.

The government’s apathy towards the issue reflects in the discrepant budgetary allocation. While in 2013-14, the Budget Allocation for manual scavengers was Rs.557 crores, it has seen a drastic plunge to Rs. 5 crores in the 2017-18 budget.

Manual scavenging, apart from being dehumanizing, is also a lethal profession. In 2017 alone, more than 300 people died due to it as stated by National Safai Karamchari Andolan. Manual scavengers are exposed to high concentration of poisonous gases causing various health issues like hepatitis, cholera, meningitis, typhoid, and cardiovascular problems. Many die because of asphyxiation in the manholes.

According to a survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, around 20,500 people have been identified as manual scavengers across 18 states. These figures have been contested by NGOs and other organisations for the welfare of manual scavengers and thus, considered to be grossly underestimated. The National Commission for Safai Karamchari, on the contrary, reports that there are more than 30 lakh manual scavengers and one person dies every five days because of manual scavenging.




Manual Scavengers are from the caste groups which are relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and are confined to a livelihood which is perceived as deplorable or deemed to be too menial by the higher caste groups. The caste designated profession further reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or untouchable and thus perpetuates their misery.

An absurd misery

Entangled within the web of society, Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger, shares his community’s agony. He talks about the discrimination they face every day, how their children are coerced to sit separately in school and bullied for being born into a manual scavenger’s family. His voice trembles with the years of disappointment both from the society and the government, as he explains his predicament.

While cleaning the gutter, with his hands immersed in the muck, he said with a smile, “..sometimes while cleaning the sewage we come across such disgusting things, that it  becomes impossible for us to eat.”

The sight of him cleaning the shit is one rattled with an absurd misery; the longing for something seemingly impossible, nostalgia for what never was and the regret for not being something else.

In a dim-lit room with walls smeared with a quaint blue, Virender took a chair to sit and started eating. He remembered his co-workers and friends who lost their lives while cleaning the gutters. He says that if it were up to him, he would straight away leave this profession. But in order to survive and provide his children quality education, if he has to work as a manual scavenger, he would.

Virender and many others like him start their days with some booze and smoke. They explain that if it were not for intoxication, they would never be able to convince themselves to get in the gutter brimming with human excreta and muck. The alcohol helps them fathom the courage to face the pungent smell that welcomes them in the sewer.

Even though the government has banned the act of manual scavenging, the discrimination against those still involved or previously involved in the profession doesn’t end there. While Dharampal, a permanently employed sanitation worker with the government organ doesn’t have to enter the manholes anymore, he has still not managed to escape the discrimination perpetuated by the caste system. Most people still don’t let him come near their houses. They despise his presence as if the squalor they produce is stuck to the bodies of Dharampal and others like him.

An old manual scavenger waiting for work on a wintry morning 
2 PM: Waiting

The irony of being Rani

Rani (literally translates to queen), a 35-year-old woman, has the most ironic name. With eyes filled with tears, she recounts a life full of hardships and short-lived happiness.

In a dingy shanty, with the haunting absence of her husband, Rani lives with three young children. Her husband, Anil, was a manual scavenger and died on 14 September 2018, because of asphyxiation while cleaning a sewer in West Delhi.

“My life has become unbearable without Anil. I constantly think of immersing myself in mother Ganges (a Holy river according to Hindu mythology). But something pulls me back. Maybe it’s the thought of my three young children who have nobody except me.”

Rani feels that if there were no manholes, her husband wouldn’t have died. She hopes that all manholes are closed and no other woman has to face the same fate as she did.

Rani’s story echoes the wail of a hapless woman resonating the agonizing pain of the life of a manual scavenger’s family, her four-month-old son passed away after fighting his last battle with pneumonia, and soon after that blow, within six days Anil passed away, leaving Rani with her three children alone at the mercy of God. 

The Tyranny of Caste

Caste discrimination is the Achilles’ Heels of the Indian society. Dr. B R Ambedkar, the writer of the Indian Constitution and the one who coined the term “Dalit”(oppressed)—has compared caste discrimination in India with that of the discrimination against Jews under Hitler. Caste is a social structure which permits the domination of one caste (a social status in the ‘divinely ordained’ social hierarchy in the Hindu society) by the other on the basis of hereditary. Simply put, it means a perpetual domination of one caste on the other.

According to Stanley Rice, the origin of untouchability is to be found in the unclean and filthy occupations of the untouchables. The Dalits have been forced to clean human excreta, burn dead bodies and remove animals’ corpses. This makes them ‘impure’ in the eyes of the rest of the society. They have been subjected to ostracisation owing to their profession.

In a caste-based society, one doesn’t choose their profession but is restricted to it.“How can one feel proud of cleaning the worm-filled, stench-producing shit of millions every day?” Bezwada Wilson writes in his foreword to Ramaswamy book, “India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work.”

With dirt coated hands, eyes longing for respect, the gaze of a scavenger reflects the irony of a society which seems to inflict the burden and misery of scavenging collectively upon him but at the same time looks at him as ‘impure.’ Kailash, Virender and Dharampal are amongst few belonging to the community of manual scavengers, whose profession historically has been to clean the shit produced by other humans. The predicament is that even today there are millions who are forced into scavenging. Their dignity and life are of little importance to the government and society alike, that have comfortably turned a blind eye towards the agony of manual scavenging.

On the other side of the border

Tehseen Abbas


Manual scavenging is not an attractive career choice but for some in Pakistan it is still the only option. 
“I remember my mother’s words, she said that we can only eat when we clean the waste of others,” said  Akram Masih, who was 15 when his mother told him that he would spend his life cleaning blocked sewage lines across the city. 

Masih is now 25 years-old but he remembers each day he spent cleaning blocked drain lines of Saddar town in the bustling port city of Karachi.

In Pakistan, such jobs are reserved for Chuhras or the lowest ranking members of the minority Christian community.  He lives in Essa Nagri, a predominant Christian neighborhood, with a family of six. He makes Rs.800 or roughly $6 per day. “Rainy days were always the worst I had to do extra work to make the rainwater follow,”  Masih said.

Like Masih, so many others are forced to clean the human waste across Pakistan. 
Saqib Masih, 27, is another manual scavenger who has worked in Karachi for more than a decade.  “We often find it difficult to find any other job in the city,” he said. Manual scavenging involves not only cleaning manholes and blocked sewerage lines but also stepping into drains and septic tanks. All of this is a health hazard, according to medical experts. 

Dr. Hassan Auj, a medical officer at University of Karachi said that scavengers are constantly exposed to germs. “Their (scavengers) workplace is unsafe and terrible it definitely has a negative impact on their health,” the medic added. “Most of the scavengers have no protection which makes their job more difficult,” Dr. Auj said.

Like India, manual scavenging in Pakistan is also restricted to particular castes — primarily Christians. Public advertisement clearly seek members from the Christian community for such jobs.

Despite little hope of change, Jawaid Michael, a Christian social activist, encourages members of his community to send their children to school. Michael believes it is about time the government protect members of his community. “The government needs to get serious about enacting laws that ban manual scavenging and assist the affected caste communities.”

A news report quoting World Watch Monitor said that minority representation in sanitation work in Pakistan is above 80 percent. According to the report, 824 out of 935 sanitation workers in the Peshawar Municipal Corporation are Christian.
About 6,000 out of 7,894 sanitation workers in the Lahore Waste Management Company are Christian. And 768 out of 978 workers in the Quetta Municipal Corporation are Christian.

Iqbal Masih, who is responsible for cleaning the sewage lines of Federal B Area block 20 said that he and others have complained so many times about the unsafe sites where they are being sent to work. “We never receive safety training; neither we have safety equipment nor do we get any precautions,” he said. “The only response we get is ‘do your jobs or quit’,” he added.

A report by Minority Rights Commission published in 2012 said that at least 70 Christians have died in Pakistan since 1988 while cleaning sewerage pipelines.
A number of Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia, have successfully tackled the problem of sewage management and technology is being used to do such jobs.

While Pakistan struggles to provide equality. People like Akram Masih continue to do their job in tough and inhumane conditions. Masih recalls he had no option but to be a manual scavenger. “There was poverty and I had to feed our family. So there was no other option for me – I covered my nose and started doing it,” he said with a quiver in this voice.

Inside Madarsas: A story beyond stereotypes

By – Hasan Akram, Pramiti Lonkar, Mayank Chawla, Ghada Mohammed, Ila Kazmi & Haris Ahmed Khan

A timeline from the colonial times to the present

Early Islamic education started inside mosques in the form of study circles. It had evolved gradually to separate institutions for elementary and higher stages that taught Islamic theology along with various subjects such as mathematics, grammar, poetry and history.

In the Indian sub-continent, early ‘Madrasas were established in Sindh region during the Arab rule in the 8th century. InSouth India, a form of Madarsas was established almost around the same time along the Malabar Coast. Thus, Madarsa was an essential part of any Muslim society to provide the individuals with education and to fulfill the state’need for preachers, teachers and judges or Qazis.


It wasn’t until the colonial years that the distinction was made between religious and general education. According to Muslim scholars, there were traditionally transmitted sciences such as Quranic studies, Hadith and Fiqh and then there were the rational sciences – logic, philosophy, arithmetic and astronomy. (ReligiousEducation and rhetoric of reform: Madarsa in British India and Pakistan by Muhammad Qasim Zaman) ‘Both these sciences were taught in Madarsas. When the colonizers wanted to set up universities in India, they started promoting this binary,” says Waris Azhari, an Islamic scholar at Jamia HamdardUniversity, New Delhi.

 The British came to an understanding that a distinction between religious and non-religious learning was imperative for sound political administration. The East India Company only supported Madarsas set up by the state or the ones they financially supported. They faced restrictions on imparting religious knowledge, limiting themselves to Arabic and Persian. During Viceroy Macaulay’s tenure, the British came down heavily upon these religious institutes.

Muslims realised that their religious sciences were under threat due to the state regime. In response to this threat, Darul Uloom Deoband was set up in 1866. The syllabus of the Madarsa had now entirely changed, shifting its emphasis from the rational sciences to religious education. Other Madarsas in British India were set up on the same model as Deoband. The focus had shifted to the preservation of Islamic texts.

In 1875, Aligarh Muslim University was set up. “Since then,the Muslim ulama decided to take up the task of teaching the religious sciencesin the Madarsa and let the university take up the task of modern education,”says Wazhari.

Most private Madarsas in India resist state funding as the ones run by the state are in deplorable condition. They also fear that the state may exercise control over the syllabus in lieu of funds. Further, many of the Madarsas are run by families over generations who don’t want to pass over the ownership to the government

After the events of 11 September, 2001, Madarsas across the world began to be viewed as a hub of extremist activities. In a Congressional report on Madarsas by the United States government- ‘observers suggest that these schools are wholly unconcerned with religious scholarship and focused solely on teaching violence.’

“Several Madarsas in India were run by foreign funds from Saudi Arabia and other countries. As Madarsas were seen as a threat, the funding soon dried up after 2001,” says a member of the administration at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in New Delhi.

In a recent survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the educational attainment of Muslims is the least. In urban areas, the number of male Muslim postgraduates is as low as 15 per 1,000. This number is about four times lower than that of other communities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Despite India being the fastest growing large economy, the economic condition of Muslims does not show any sign of improving.

Madarsas often pave the way for affordable education in low-income households. Caught between the cycle of ‘reform’ and ‘modernism’, Madarsas strive to maintain their relevance in the contemporary world.


One cannot limit oneself to the Madarsa, need to study beyond it: Ayaz Ahmed

17-year-old Ayaz Ahmed has already chalked out his career plans. Currently studying at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in old Delhi, he wants a desk job as a web designer. ‘Mujhe AC aur kursi ki naukri karni hai’- I want a job where I can sit in an airconditioned room. He also aspires to serve his community along with his regular job.

Four years ago, Ayaz joined the Madarsa to offer hisservices to Islam. After finishing his classes in the Madrasa, he travels toMukherjee Nagar in North Delhi to study for a Diploma in Computers. Several universities don’t give due recognition to students of Madarsa to enroll in college courses. Ayaz is also giving his Class 12 examinations from theNational Institute of Open Schooling so that he can apply for a Bachelor’s inComputer Applications.

According to him, studying in a school or college is necessary to earn a livelihood and studying in a Madarsa is necessary to become a good Muslim. He believes that both of them are of equal importance. When asked if Madrasas need to change to remain relevant, Ayaz says, “A Madarsa is a fort for religion. If they change, then there will be no such thing as a Madarsa.”

If everyone becomes doctors who will spread the message of Islam?: Mohammad Asif

It’s a few hours after sunrise. The boys are busy getting ready for their morning classes. As they comb their hair while sharing hand mirrors in the corridor, 24year old Mohammad Asif walks along and gathers a small crowd. The students in the Madrasa are not too pleased with Asif as their newly elected leader. They believe the student union president has not done enough to make their problems go away. ‘What have you done for us since you were elected? We have been asking for a good English teacher since months’, says the tallest one amongst them.  Asif explains that he has been trying to get a teacher that the Madrasa can afford but to no avail. “There is a constant need for funds and we always come up short,” says Asif.

Four years ago, Asif came to Jamia Riyaz Ul- Uloom in old Delhi to become an Islamic scholar. Born and raised in Muradabad, Asif soon realised that the world looks at the Madrasa with a different lens. Largely, the narrative in media is that extremist beliefs are being taught in Madrasas. This is also largely backed by the research papers on Madrasa written by government agencies. ‘There is no understanding of the message of Islam. What does Islam really say? It is the messenger of peace’, says Asif.

And it is this understanding that Asif wants to bring in to society’s discourse on Madrasas. While Asif acknowledges the lack of economic stability that comes with becoming an alim, he believes there is a need for more youngsters to start learning the religious sciences.“If everybody becomes doctors and engineers and no one becomes an alim, then who will tell the people what goes on inside a Madrasa?’ he asks.

Eventhough the children at Madarsa have the talent, they can’t get jobs: Arshad

“Learning Urdu was the biggest advantage of studying at the Madarsa,” says 23-year-old Arshad. He is preparing for civil servicesand he has chosen Urdu as his optional subject. However, Arshad believes thatis the only advantage he has over students from the modern education system.

Many Madarsas are not governed by a central body. Hence, there is no standardised syllabus. History and geography taught at the Madarsa has barely helped him prepare for civil services. “Before coming to JNU, I was not even aware of my rights or the Indian constitution,” says Arshad.

Madarsas have a 12-year course. The governmentrecognises Madarsa education only if the student completes the entire length ofthe course. Else, he is considered a dropout and has to start over. Further, several colleges don’t recognise these certificates. JNU is one of the fewinstitutes which recognise Madarsa education.

“There is a need to restructure the syllabus and work with the government to gain recognition,” says Arshad. Even though a child may have the requisite skills, he cannot get employed without a valid certificate.

I want to become the future: Shamshaad Alam

As the students in the Madarsa settle in after dinner, Shamshad arranges notes for his class.He teaches his class based on themes. Today, he is going to teach the studentsthe etiquettes of addressing people in English. Although English is included inthe curriculum of the Madarsa, some of the students feel it’s not enough.

“Shamshaad helps us in making conversations. What we study from the teacher is mainly textbook knowledge which doesn’t help us to talk in English,” says one of his students. There are around 15-20 students who pay a monthly sum of 300 rupees for the night classes. Shamshaad has been training himself in English for the past seven months at the American Institute in New Delhi.

He passes on these teachings to his students. Shamshaad also said that once he imposed a fine of five rupees for anyone speaking English in his class. He says that the same rule is applicable at the American Institute too.

According to Shamshaad, English helps him bridge the cultural gap and he considers it as important as currency in today’s world. “Now, when I step out of the Madarsa, I become a part of the culture outside. There is no difference,” says Shamshaad.

He says that English is not taught ‘up to that level’ in the Madarsa. When asked if he plansto talk to the principal about it, he says he doesn’t want to rile things up asthe teachers might take offence. He refrains from questioning their pedagogy. Shamshaad plans to learn five more languages in the future and aspires to become a translator.

 

In need of an upgrade in Pakistan

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It is a small room packed with teenagers, all of whom sit on the matted floor, with wooden desks in front of them. They are virtually glued to the copies of Holy Quran places in front of them as they recite verses in chorus following their Qari (teacher). This is a regular madrasa class at Jamia Darul Khair, a medium-sized Deobandi madrasa (religious seminary) in Karachi.

In Pakistan, there are over 35,000 functioning madrasas, as per  a report titled “The Madrasa Conundrum – The state of religious education in Pakistan” by Umair Khalil, lead researcher of HIVE, a non-governmental organization.

The report estimates 64 percent of Pakistani madrasas are Deobandis. Whereas 25 percent are Barelvis and the remaining 11 percent are from different sects.
A large amount of Pakistan’s youth receives education at madrasas. A majority of these young students belong to underprivileged backgrounds and cannot afford to enroll at schools. “I have a year left in my graduation as a religious scholar. I came here from a very deprived area of Torghar district in Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I could never have imagined to study if madrassas weren’t there,” said Sibghatullah Qayum, a student of Jamia Darul Khair.

In Pakistan, madrasa based education has a great deal of significance in the society. Madrasas are considered as the primary source for Islamic teachings. On the other hand, these institutions also fill the vacuum created by the deteriorated educational system of the country.

According to an associated press report, approximately 2 million students have been enrolled in madrasas across Pakistan.

Reason being, they provide free religious and basic education to the underprivileged students of the country and also serve as an alternative to state-funded schools which used to provide spasmodic and substandard education. Qayum’s further described that all of his colleagues are from diverse rural areas of Pakistan where educational institutes are a rare find.

“On my return, I plan to teach at my local madrasa,” said Qayum.Historically, the curriculum at madrassas has undergone revision. They’ve taught Arabic grammar to learn Quran and Hadiths, Philology, Persian poetry, Philosophy, Penmanship, Arithmetic, Logic, Fundamentals of jurisprudence, Dialectics and Dogmatic sciences. Even, Swimming and Horse riding were included in the syllabus by some madrasas as co-curricular activities.

But, these practices were abandoned after the downfall of liberal Muslim empires across the world. According to the curriculum published by each board on their website, it is drafted in such a way that it follows Dars-e-Nizami which is the historical madrasa curriculum of the subcontinent, combining in-depth religious and some secular subjects.

Most academic experts claim that the system of education at Madrassas has been out of touch. A professor of linguistics at a university in Karachi, who wished not to be named, questioned: “How can you educate students and prepare them for the world if you haven’t updated your curriculum in decades?”madrassah secondWhile many religious institutions claim to teach English, Science, Drawing, Math, Logic, Sindhi, Urdu, Economics, Persian, History, Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Astronomy as secular subjects throughout the period of study.  Their primary focus remains on Arabic (Grammar & Literature), Islamiat, Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Tajweed, Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, Qira’at, Hadith, Tafseer, Ethics, Ruling of Edicts and studying the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Our curriculum is designed in such a way that it develops student’s expertise in religious education without ignoring secular subjects because at the end of the day our prime intent is to educate students regarding Islam,” claims Mufti Adnan Ali, a scholar, and teacher at madrasa Jamia Darul Khair.madrassahHowever, Murtaza Haider, the Associate Dean of research and graduate program at Ryerson University in Canada who is currently researching on madrasa graduates and their prospects in labor market has debated over the fact that the curriculum offers secular subjects only at the initial phases of studies and are gradually reduced as the classes proceed.

This means students lack in technical and vocational skills which limit their job options. “With our limited funding sources, we can only teach theoretical subjects to the students. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to introduce technical and vocational training in madrasa curriculum to help these students in attaining certain kind of skill development as well. Had it been implemented it would be a great initiative,” explained Mufti Ali in his defense.As the graduating madrassa students approach the competitive job market a majority of them fail to find employment opportunities.

“Most of them are not trained for the world we live in,” said a top ranking multinational firm’s HR manager, who did not wish to be named. Professor Jamal Malik, chairman of Islamic Studies at Erfurt University in Germany and an expert on the matter stressed the fact that the curriculum at madrassas in Pakistan should be revised and should include technical and vocational training which could help students securing better employment opportunities in job market.

While there is little political will to reform madrassas, the current Chief of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has recently stressed that madrasas should be reformed. In 2015, the Sindh government initiated the registration process of madrasas in the province. Lawmakers in the province have also drafted a bill for registering madrasas and monitoring their funding sources but unfortunately it has been nothing more than a paper tiger.Some madrassas in the country have realized the need for change. Darul Uloom is one of them.

“Darul Uloom has always tried to set standards,” said Mufti Ebad-ur-Rehman, head of the department of studies at Darul Uloom, Karachi. “Adopting a curriculum which has a mix of traditional religious subjects along with updated modern subjects has helped us produce better students,” the cleric claimed. While Darul Uloom may have experimented with reforming its curriculum, there are many madrassas across Pakistan that continue to resist change.

“It is necessary for the government to introduce compulsory act for reforming madrasas which should be applicable across the board,” said Murtaza Haider an expert on madrassas at Ryerson University in Canada.  

“You can’t have unskilled workers in the market. Students must receive vocational training along with religion and other subject to be able to sustain themselves in the market,” Haider stressed.  

Of toil and yearning – the daily struggles of Afghan migrants in India and Pakistan

Hanan Zaffar, Amanjeet Singh, Majid Alam, Intifada P.B., Basit Aijaz & Omer Nadeem

Afghan refugees started immigrating to India after fleeing the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1979. Many more migrated to escape the Taliban regime two decades later. According to UNHCR reports there are close to 10,000 Afghan refugees in India, most of whom live in Delhi.

In spite of the struggles that come with abandoning home and homeland, most Afghanis seem to have assimilated well, finding small jobs or even opening a business of their own. However, the struggle has been tough and continues to be so for many refugees.

This project traces their journey post migration and how they have gelled well into the society despite vast cultural and social disparities, focusing on how they have built their lives around places where they have spent their life-long savings: a bakery shop, a small restaurant, a coffee shop, a grocery store etc.


Dawood Ahmad is a tailor in Bhogal. Mustafa Hameedi works as a mechanic in Ashram. The Qasimin brothers run a salon in Bhogal. What’s the one thing that unites all of them? War. They, like many thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, have fled their country seeking refuge and asylum in Delhi. According to a 2016 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees scattered across the globe. Of them, about 14,500 refugees and asylum-seekers are registered with the UNHCR in India.

Until today, India doesn’t have a uniform refugee policy and nor is it a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on refugees. However, it does let the UNHCR run welfare programs for them in the country. Here are a few of their stories.

According to Article 1 Para 2 of the 1951 United Nations Convention, a refugee is defined as an: “A person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

The tale of a tailor

At a tailor shop in one of the crowded localities in Delhi, four tailors are engrossed in stitching kurtas which you don’t often see in Delhi. The four tailors speaking in broken Hindi with a Pashto accent sought refuge in Delhi three years ago.

Dawood, the master tailor fled Kabul to escape the violence that that has tormented the city since the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979. Today, he lives in Delhi as a UN recognized Afghan refugee. He runs a rented tailoring shop and stitches clothes, especially catering to the small Afghan community present in Bhogal, South Delhi.

Dawood’s day begins at 9 in the morning, taking orders, designing and stitching. Dawood’s family of five resides in the vicinity of his shop. While talking of Afghanistan Dawood recalls his childhood. “The country was peaceful before the Taliban took hold. I owned a small shop back home. Business was extremely good,” he says.

While Afghan refugees like Dawood, temporarily find themselves at peace in India, there’s a long way to go before their sufferings come to an end. The refugees living in India and elsewhere are given refugee cards by the UNHCR. Even though the cards grant them a refugee status, they provide very little else in terms of ensuring good living conditions. While Dawood complains about the expensive living conditions in Delhi, he is thankful for the peace he has found here.

But what happens if you don’t have a UN refugee card?

Dawood’s story is one of hope. But this is not the case with thousands of other Afghan refugees living in India. When Mustafa Hameedi, a 37-year-old mechanic escaped the bloodshed in Afghanistan and landed in Delhi little did he anticipate the struggles he would face here. After four years of living here, Mustafa, who runs a small automobile workshop in Bhogal, South Delhi, still longs for official documents that will establish him as a refugee in India.

“The UNHCR is asking for certain documents that require me to go back to Afghanistan to fetch for them. But how do they expect me to go back there? It’s not possible. It’s very dangerous,” Mustafa says.

Apart from the tedious UNHCR process, the Indian government also hasn’t done much to help the Afghan refugees. Recently The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha seeking to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. This new Bill provides citizenship to illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian extraction. However, the Bill doesn’t have a provision for Muslims from these countries, who constitute a major chunk.

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This irks Mustafa, who believes that rather than being a liability on the country, he and many other skilled refugees like him are actually contributing to the economic growth of India. “India claims to be friends with Afghanistan; however, refugees like me are waiting for the government to recognize the effort we are putting in to build this country. My mechanic store provides employment for four other Indians. I am not being a burden on India’s economy,” says Mustafa.

However, these difficulties do very little to dampen the hopes and dreams of these Afghan refugees. A brilliant example is of the Qasimin Brothers.

Singing their way through hardship

In an expensive deluxe hotel in South Delhi’s Hauz Khas, some half a dozen Afghani boys are dancing merrily on a raised platform in presence of a sizeable Afghani crowd. It is an Afghan wedding reception lit by lilting music of the Qasimin brothers. Bedazzled by the Persian and Pashto rhythmic tones, the whole crowd seems to be mesmerized by the mellifluous songs performed by Sameer, Asad and Mujeeb Qasimin. One can see nostalgia-laced over all their jubilant faces.

However, the Qasimin brothers are not full-time professional singers. In fact, they are not even trained in the trade. They are barbers by profession – the band barbers- as lovingly called by the other members of a closely knit refugee community in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area.

Eight years ago, forced by uncertainty back home Sameer, the eldest of the three decided to come to India in a bid to start life afresh.

“There were bomb blasts everywhere. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to lose my family. So, I came here (India) with no regrets but a lot of pain. The pain of losing my motherland but satisfaction that I have a family to live with,”  Sameer adds.

Except for Mujeeb, the youngest among the trio- who makes YouTube videos, the Qasimin brothers worked as barbers back home also, before lucrative offers by Afghan refugee families for performing in wedding ceremonies tempted them to learn traditional musical instruments.

According to UNHCR data, Pakistan and Iran are the most viable options for Afghans fleeing their country. Experts believe that geographic proximity, porous borders and the presence of functional labor markets are what attracts them to these countries.

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However, the trend in refugees fleeing the country has varied over the years depending on the intensity of the conflict. According to reports 4.6 million registered refugees returned home, largely from Iran and Pakistan, in the decade following the U.S.’ invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. However, according to a study by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) almost three-quarters of those Afghan refugees who returned home were forced to flee again due to violence and lack of assistance to start a new life in a war-torn home.

Perhaps this is why Sameer Qasimin, has started to accept India as his home. “India is a second home now and the chances of returning back (to Afghanistan) keep diminishing with every passing day.” As Sameer continues his story, Asad his younger brother abruptly interjects him. “No, as and when peace returns to the place, we will go back. We have our home there. Our relatives. Nobody wants to die in a foreign land,” he says with absolute certainty and hope in his eyes.

The only thing conflict has left the people of Afghanistan is memories. Memories of pain, suffering and longing. While Dawood Ahmad’s teary eyes glitter as he recalls mountains back home dotted with snow and Mujeeb Qasimin’s voice quivers as he speaks about making his country proud by becoming a famous singer in India.

(With inputs and visuals by Baitullah Hameedi from Kabul)

Afghans in Pakistan – Home away from home

Dressed in a shredded Shalwar Kameez, Habibullah and Waliullah travel across Karachi to collect garbage on a cart attached to the back of their motorbike.

Both brothers live in the Afghan Refugee camp, situated in Sohrab Goth area — a shanty part of Pakistan’s bustling port city of Karachi, which is dotted with small concrete block houses, tight shops, cartwheels, thorny shrubs and crowded by a large number of trucks.

“We leave our home at 6 in the morning” says Habibullah, aged 24, as he empties a garbage bin in one of the huge jute bags while his younger brother, Waliullah, 15, sits on the cart, separating paper and cardboard from the rest of the trash. The latter says that their father suffers from mental disorder. “He yells and tries to throw things on every member of the family.”

The two brothers who originally hail from Afghanistan have no option  but to work with his brother to earn for his family that includes, Habibullah, his mother, and three young sisters.

Despite belonging to a conservative religious family, these brothers pick garbage because of the lack of employment opportunities for Afghan refugees.

“I want to enroll at a school but I can’t because I have to wake up early in the morning for work every day,” Waliullah states. If I don’t work who will feed my family? he added with a quiver in his voice.

The brothers take their motorbike to Gulshan-e-Iqbal area of Karachi that is about six kilometers away, to collect trash from around 250-300 houses and earn Rs. 50-80 per house every month, depending upon the amount of trash each house generates.

As any conservative Afghan family, the women stay at home. Waliullah’s sisters are no exception. They remain at home to attend to their ailing father but at times he becomes aggressive. When the situation gets out of their control they they call Habibullah or Waliullah to take care of him. The family has been to sought medical help but the hospitals don’t allow any of them to stay because they don’t have a National Identity card — an identification document mandatory for all Pakistani citizens.

Ironically, despite pleas for mercy, hospitals in the city refuse to admit their loved one. “As an Afghan refugee we have no options.” “We end up taking our sick father to religious clerics, but that didn’t work either,” Habibullah sobs as he recalls his father’s misery.

Afghan refugees are not just deprived of basic necessities such as the right to employment and education, they are also denied healthcare facilities — all for not being a legal citizen of Pakistan.  

Both brothers are happy that the country has given them a place to live but they “feel hopeless” at times because they cannot own anything.

“The bike we use for garbage collection was purchased on my father’s friend’s name who is a security guard but a Pakistani national.  “He has done a favor for the love of his friend and our father, Habibullah says.

The brothers are grateful that Pakistan has welcomed their “parents and grandparents” at the time of migration, giving them a place to live and “food to eat” but at the same time, they feel “devastated and underprivileged” for not being able to something as basic as a bike or a house.

But not all Afghans are unhappy for living in Pakistan, some feel “privileged” for being able to migrate for their “children’s secure future.”

Adjusting in Pakistan

Azzami Madad works as a Naan maker or commonly known as Roti wala. He has a little shop situated in North Nazimabad area of Karachi. He explains, “My PoR card is a blessing in disguise because it enabled me to get a shop on rent.” Proof of Registration (PoR) card is given to the registered refugees by the government. The cards are important tools of protection that provide temporary legal stay and freedom of movement for the millions of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The 48-year-old Naan maker migrated to Karachi decades at the beginning  of the infamous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was just a teenager when his family had to run for their life. A few years after his arrival, he got married to one of his paternal cousins. He has two children, Shahjahan, 12 and Gulmeena, 16.

He works from 11 AM in the morning to 1 AM at night just to make sure that he is “providing the right amount of income” to his family. Despite being a Naan maker, he is saving money for his daughter’s wedding and is desperately seeks a marriage proposal for her. He says, “I would have gotten her married to any of my relatives’ son but she does not want to marry in the family. She has gone to the community school, led by UNHCR, here in Karachi and I must respect her decision because this is what our religion teaches us too.”

His son Shahjahan studies in fifth grade in a school situated in Sohrab Goth area. “I don’t want him to make Naans. I want him to get religious and contemporary education and start his own business,” he says, as he takes out a Naan from the Tandoor.

“Pakistanis have always been welcoming. Giving away a piece from your land to people who don’t belong to your country is not an easy decision to make. I wholeheartedly admire Pakistanis for their generosity,” he says as he wipes away a thin layer of sweat from his forehead with a piece of cloth.

He lives in Sohrab Goth with his family and he feels Pakistan is a safe place to live — or atleast safer than Afghanistan. “Since my children were born here, I raised them as a Pakistani citizen.”  Afghanistan will always be a foreign land for them, he adds.

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Hope for the hopeless

In what might appear to be a glimmer of fresh hope, newly-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan has made a promise to the Afghan and Bangladeshi migrants living in Pakistan. On 16th September 2018, the premier vowed to grant citizenship to Afghans whose children were born in Pakistan.

“We are really looking forward to the new PTI government’s support for their Afghan brothers and sisters as PM Khan promised,” says Abdullah, the 44-year-old community leader of Afghan refugees residing in Karachi. He continues, “However, we have not been contacted by any member of the National Assembly or Provincial Assembly, or for that matter, any member of PTI yet.”

Wearing a white turban, the six-feet tall Abdullah who has blue eyes, can easily be mistaken as a Pakhtun. “I was just a kid when the Soviets blatantly killed anyone and everyone they would find,” says Abdullah. Recalling the ill fated Soviet invasion, Marwat, 78, says, “It all began in late 1979 when the then Soviet Union literally demolished our homeland with tentatively 100,000 soldiers. Abundant Afghans, including my family, left their birth country, due to massive executions, arrests, absolute political unrest, and explicit human-rights violations.”  During General Pervez Musharraf’s term in office in early 2007, a significant number of Afghan refugees were allocated Proof of Registration (PoR) cards after a well-concluded registration exercise by the government. These cards provided all those refugees a temporary but legal refuge in the country.

“We are completely satisfied with our Pakistani brothers and sisters, for they have given us a chunk of land from theirs and they have never let us feel insecure or unprotected around them. The last time we felt highly vulnerable was when we were home” said the forty-four-year-old community leader Abdullah.

As per Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Pakistan has a total of 2.8 Million Afghan refugees within its territory with 1.6 million having a PoR card, meanwhile approximately 0.84 million Afghans have been repatriated by the joint initiative of UNHCR and the Government of Pakistan.

“I want to go back to Kabul. The place does not only have my father’s toys that he had saved for me to play, but it also has the grave of my father,” says Marwat’s young grandson.  A teardrop rolls down his cheek as Marwat picks him up. “We will visit Kabul soon and your father will be really happy,” says Marwat as he assures his grandson.