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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 8:47 pm 
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Hot new dating spot: Pakistan founding father's tomb

KARACHI -- Every evening young men and women flit through the gardens that surround the white marble dome of Karachi's Jinnah Mausoleum -- and they haven't come to pay their respects.

The tomb of Pakistan's revered founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who led the country to independence in 1947, has become the "in place" for lovebirds to meet once or twice a month.

It is the only spot in this teeming, volatile port city of 12 million people where courting couples can avoid the prying eyes of the police, the mullahs and their families.

"We come here to visit the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) and have a safe and secure date," says Ramzan Jafery, an 18-year labourer at a local textile mill. His date stands next to him wearing traditional dress and a shy smile.

"Odd things happen when we go on dates at other places. Sometimes the police interrogate us and sometimes people hang around us to the extent of harassment," Jafery says. "But this place is quite good as we face no police intervention or people gazing at us," adds Shazia, his 30-year-old companion.

The giant mausoleum -- a powerful symbol of the tight bonds between nationalism and religion in this Islamic republic -- spans a terraced 53-hectare park which is landscaped with lawns, flowers, trees and plenty of fountains.

It attracts a huge crowd of families at the weekend but on other days, especially in the humid evenings, couples find an opportunity to sit together among the dense foliage.

Being in the city centre and easily accessible by public transport, it is particularly popular with poorer Karachi residents who can't afford to go to swanky restaurants.

And the police who would elsewhere be busting young lovers are not allowed to enter. Instead a handful of soldiers stand alert at the centre of the mausoleum where Jinnah has lain since his death in 1948. His sister Fatima Jinnah and Pakistan's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan are buried beside him. Some civilian security guards provide the only real surveillance.

"We slap couples with a fine of up to 500 rupees (8.33 dollars) if they are caught kissing or engaged in excessive emotional acts," resident engineer and mausoleum chief Abdul Aleem Shaikh said. "And we find such cases almost daily.

But Shaikh said his guards would usually politely admonish such couples, unlike the police at other spots in the city.

It's a rare bonus for increasingly Westernized Pakistani youths, whose often liberal ideas, boosted by foreign movies and satellite TV channels, conflict with traditional and religious values.

Sex and courting outside marriage are strongly disapproved in Pakistan, with most marriages being arranged by people's families and men being more likely to hold hands with each other than with members of the opposite sex.

Yet the couples who date at the mausoleum have annoyed even some liberals.

"It has come to my knowledge that people come to the Quaid's mausoleum for dates. Of course this cannot be approved as it undermines the sanctity of the place," said Razi Hyder, a researcher and director of the Quaid-e-Azam Academy in Karachi. "But only the police can be blamed for this because they exploit and extort money from such pairs who go to other parks and public places in the city," he said.

The police say it's not their fault. "It's our standing instructions to patrolling staff and police officials not to disturb or intercept any couple," said Mushtaq Shah, Karachi's deputy inspector general of police. "But it is not infrequent that our staff violate these orders and catch couples, knowing that it would mean shame for them if it comes to the knowledge of their families," he conceded.

Some of the young lovers are themselves uncomfortable with using the mausoleum for their close encounters, but say they have no choice.

"This is surely not a place for dating," said Naveed Ahmed, a 21-year-old student at a nearby college. "But it is so because we have to face the police at other places like Safari Park, Hill Park and such other places," he said, referring to the two famous parks in Karachi.

Academics say the mausoleum's new role is part of a wider trend on the Indian subcontinent for people to use national monuments for dating.

"You can see people dating at the Royal Fort in Lahore and at the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in India," said Fateh Mohammad Burfat, chairman of sociology at Karachi University.

"Dating is against social, cultural and religious norms here. But society is so strangulated that young couples, who are impressed by Western culture, try to breach the restrictions."

The way to create a moderate society is for parents to educate their children to decide on moral issues for themselves without being forced, Burfat added. "A well-bred person is himself or herself capable of deciding which way of life to adopt."

source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2006 11:19 am 
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Pakistani woman in hiding despite Islamic sex law change

KARACHI -- Human rights groups have praised Pakistan for overhauling its Islamic sex laws, but for women like Quratulain Sattar, it is still an uphill battle against trumped-up charges under the harsh legislation.

The 25-year-old medical trainee's father lodged adultery charges against Quratulain and her husband Faraz Shah after failing to force her to marry the man of his choice.

Now pregnant and in hiding, she complains that even if she and Faraz are acquitted they remain under threat for disgracing her family's "honour" under Pakistan's atavistic tribal system.

"The new amendments eased my legal battle but I am still in fear of my life and have to run from one place to another," Quratulain said at a shelter run by a charity in the southern port city of Karachi.

"We are husband and wife, we love each other and cannot leave each other," she added.

Quratulain married her husband Faraz Shah in early 2005.

Coming from a conservative ethnic Pashtun background -- the same ethnicity as the Taliban -- her father filed a case arguing that she was already married to another man and that Shah had kidnapped her and forced her to wed.

The couple sheltered in Karachi at the private Edhi Centre, Pakistan's largest charity. They also worked as volunteers following the October 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed more than 73,000 people.

Her family's accusations are "completely false", she said.

"I was forcibly engaged with my cousin Bilal in (the conservative northwestern city of) Mardan but never married. They are now coming out with fake witnesses," she said.

"I did nothing wrong as my mother and brothers knew about it. They had even met Faraz and liked him, but then they all changed and followed my father's attitude, and rejected my husband."

Her father and other family members were not available for comment despite repeated attempts.

The case is still active and is due to be heard soon at a court in Karachi.

In July, President Pervez Musharraf changed the 27-year-old Islamic "Hudood" Laws to make adultery a bailable offence, leading to the release of hundreds of women awaiting charges -- and meaning Quratulain would not go to jail.

Then last month parliament passed a hotly contested bill with further, major changes.

These included distinguishing between rape and adultery. Formerly rape victims had to produce four Muslim male witnesses to prove the allegation or else face adultery charges themselves.

The reforms will also reduce penalties for adultery to a maximum of five years jail, when it was previously -- although theoretically -- death by stoning.

Quratulain says she will benefit from another change that means witnesses who give false statements can be jailed.

"In my case fake witnesses were produced to prove that I was kidnapped by Faraz and that I was already married when I got married with Faraz," she said.

But legal changes alone are unlikely to solve the couple's problems.

"Their fate has been decided and they must pay for disgracing the family honour," an Edhi centre volunteer who accompanied the couple to court quoted one of her relatives as saying.

The family of Quratulain's husband has also suffered.

"My wife's father put my parents under illegal detention, threatened them to force me to divorce, got them arrested and they are still under threat despite being out of jail," Shah said.

Quratulain said she could not sit her final year examinations at college as its management came under pressure to expel her.

Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami religious party also supported her father as he pursued the case, she alleges.

A female provincial legislator for Pakistan's main alliance of religious parties, which includes Jamaat-e-Islami, said Quratulain's actions were "not right" and she should have tried to convince her mother.

But the young woman's parents should have avoided the police and the courts and tried to sort the matter out between themselves, added Kulsoom Nizamani, the MP.

Quratulain says she may have to leave Pakistan to stay safe.

"I only pray that one day my parents realize that it's time to accept us, but perhaps tribal customs and the sick mentality of the conservative forces prevents them," she said.

Anis Haroon, chief of the Karachi-based Aurat (Women) Foundation, said the changes to the Hudood laws were "certainly a step forward, but it's still a long way to go to repeal all these black laws against women.

"And despite these changes, women in our society remain prisoners of tribal and conservative customs, which must be abolished."

source: AFP

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2007 10:53 pm 
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Lovers stoned to death in Pakistani village

MULTAN, Pakistan -- Two lovers were tied to trees and stoned to death for adultery by angry relatives in a Pakistani village, police said.

Police said the couple, in their early 40s, were killed in a barrage of rocks thrown by relatives of the woman in Donga Bonga village in central Punjab province on Sunday.

"It was a case of honour killing and we have arrested two brothers of the woman," local police chief Zafar Bokhari said.

Bokhari said the woman's family was annoyed because of her alleged affair with a man from the same village and planned the murder with the help of other relatives.

Donga Bonga police officer Haji Mohammad identified the woman as Ellahi Hussain and the man as Hafeez Shah.
Mohammad said the attackers dragged them from the house with a rope tied around the couple's neck to the trees, where they smashed their heads with stones and bricks.

Police reached the scene of the crime after some villagers heard the cries of the couple and contacted the authorities.

"We saw them sleeping together and we could not tolerate this immoral act and decided to punish them," the woman's brother, Maqbool, told the police in custody.

Mohammad said police were conducting raids to arrest two others relatives who allegedly took part in the killing.

About 4,000 people, mostly women, have been killed in deeply conservative rural Pakistan in recent years in the name of protecting family honour in the midst of allegations of illicit sexual relationships.

In 2005, President Pervez Musharraf had a law enacted by parliament which introduced the death penalty for honour killings.

source: AFP

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:51 am 
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Friday, 7 September 2007

Pakistan 'prostitutes' beheaded

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Suspected Islamic militants in north-western Pakistan have beheaded two women they accused of being prostitutes, police say.

The bodies of the two women were found by villagers on the outskirts of the city of Bannu.

A note found on the bodies accused the women of "acts of obscenity", a term that usually refers to prostitution.

The region is a known base for militants who want to impose their interpretation of Islamic law.

Police said the women were travelling in a three-wheeled vehicle when masked and armed men overpowered them and bundled them into a car.

Senior district police officer Dar Khattak told Reuters news agency it was the first time militants had directly targeted and killed women in the region.

The note read: "We have started doing this to end obscenity in the area."

Music and movie shops in the region have also been targeted by militants.

Militant attacks in the north-west have increased since the army ousted radical Islamists from the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, in July. More than 100 people were killed in the operation.

Source: BBC News.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 8:55 am 
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Pakistan is very sharia in some areas - and this has always been so. While the majority of hindus and muslims live very well side by side in most Indian towns and cities, there is a part that is very segregated and on sexual issues islam is much more restrictive than hinduism. Even if our current attitudes are left-overs from Victorian days our culture has made an art out of sexuality in its history.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:34 pm 
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Girl who fled arranged marriage 'was smothered or strangled'
By Mark Hughes
Published: 9 January 2008

A teenage girl found dead in a river after fleeing an arranged marriage was either strangled or smothered, an inquest has heard.

The badly decomposed body of Shafilea Ahmed was found by workmen on the bed of the river Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, in February 2004 — five months after she disappeared from her home in Warrington.

A cause of death for the 17-year-old has never been established, but yesterday the pathologist who carried out her post-mortem examination said the possibility that she died of natural causes was "not credible".

Dr Alison Armour told the inquest in Kendal that it was no longer possible to confirm whether Ms Ahmed had died by strangulation or smothering, because the latter left few marks and her neck muscles had decomposed. Dr Armour also ruled out the possibility that Ms Ahmed had drowned.

The south Cumbria coroner Ian Smith heard that the teenager had run away from home with a male friend before a family trip to Pakistan in 2003, fearing that she would be forced into an arranged marriage.

Superintendent Geraint Jones of Cheshire Police said: "We know she had said that she would be forced into marriage."

He said Ms Ahmed had told hospital workers that she was the victim of dom-estic abuse and had self-harmed and drunk a "caustic substance", to find a way out of a forced marriage.

The inquest heard earlier from Ms Ahmed's father, Iftikhar Ahmed. Mr Ahmed, along with his wife, Farzana, was arrested on suspicion of her kidnap in December 2003 and later released on police bail.

He told the inquest he was "surprised" when his daughter went missing. He said that she was a "normal child, very bright" but that "problems arose" when she went to sixth form.

Ms Ahmed was last seen on 11 September 2003 and was reported missing by a teacher at Sankey High School on 18 September.

A mother and daughter, Eniz Byron and Heather Gibbon from Sedgwick, near Kendal, told the inquest they had seen a white van parked haphazardly near the river around the time she was missing.

They also said they had noticed an "awful" smell at the spot a few weeks later. It was the spot where Ms Ahmed's body was found.

Ms Ahmed's parents, who have offered a £5,000 reward to catch her killer, have always maintained they had nothing to do with her death.

Five other relatives — believed to live in the Bradford area, where Shafilea was born — were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but were also released on police bail.

The inquest continues until the end of this week.

Source: Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2008 3:27 pm 
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15 child brides used to settle Pakistan feud

* Declan Walsh in Islamabad
* The Guardian,
* Thursday June 5 2008

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Child bride Sunar (3 years old) is dressed for her marriage to her 7 year old cousin in Afghanistan

It started with a dead dog, escalated into a tit-for-tat tribal war, and has now reached a grotesque climax with the exchange of 15 child brides.

Pakistani human rights activists are outraged at reports that a long-running blood feud in a remote corner of western Baluchistan province has been resolved by the handing over of 15 girls, aged between three and 10, for marriage.

"There has to be action," said Asma Jahangir, a leading rights campaigner. "These people who force others to sell their daughters must be sent to prison."

The new government in Islamabad, led by the party of the late Benazir Bhutto, has promised to act. "We will not allow young girls to be traded like this," said the information minister, Sherry Rehman. "The culprits who tried to do this will be arrested. The orders have been given."

But Jahangir said those orders had not been acted upon. "There is a dysfunction in the whole system. They are not listening to the government," she said. "We need to see them being more effective than just rhetoric."

Vanni, an ancient tribal practice in which feuding clans settle their differences by exchanging women for marriage, is illegal in Pakistan. In 2004 the Sindh high court outlawed all such "parallel justice" systems. But the writ of government is weak in rural areas, and local police often turn a blind eye.

The current controversy started with a row over a dog, said Muhammad Paryal Marri, a researcher in northern Sindh for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

A dog owned by one tribe, the Chakranis, was shot dead because it strayed too close to a well controlled by their rivals, the Qalandaris. In revenge the Chakranis shot a donkey belonging to the other side. A ferocious bout of tit-for-tat killings ensued in which 19 people, including five women, were killed.

The fighting ended in 2002 when Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti - a rebellious tribal chieftain who was later killed by the Pakistan army - brought the two sides together. Bugti ordered the Chakranis to hand over 15 child brides in compensation; at a jirga, or tribal council. Last Friday they finally agreed to make good on that promise, said Marri.

"They agreed to pay some money and exchange the ladies," he said.

Such brutal traditions have only come to light for a broader public in the past decade, thanks to activism by human rights groups and publicity from local media.

"Barbarity in the name of tradition," declared the English-langauge newspaper Dawn earlier this week in a scathing editorial against the "medieval mindset that dominates many sections of our society".

But, despite previous shows of similar anger, official action has lagged far behind. "The government is unwilling to use its authority to protect women. It will find any excuse," said Jahangir.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 3:22 pm 
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Pakistani women buried alive 'for choosing husbands'

A Pakistani politician has defended a decision to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands.

1 September 2008

Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, told a stunned parliament that northwestern tribesman had done nothing wrong in first shooting the women and then dumping them in a ditch.

"These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," he said.

"Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."

The women, three of whom were teenagers and whose "crime" was that they wished to choose who to marry, were still breathing as mud and stones were shovelled over their bodies, according to Human Rights Watch.

The three girls, thought to be aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped by a group of men from their Umrani tribe and murdered in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district.

According to some reports, Baluchistan government vehicles were used to abduct the girls, and the killing was overseen by a tribal chief who is the brother of a provincial minister from the ruling Pakistan People's Party.

Some accounts said that two older relatives had tried to intervene, but they too were shot and buried alive with the teenagers.

More than six weeks after the deaths no one has been arrested and human rights groups have accused local authorities of trying to cover up the executions.

Mr Zehri told parliament that a fuss should not be made over the killings, however several politicians stood up in protest, describing the so-called honour killings as "barbaric".

Human Rights Watch described the murders as a "heinous criminal offence".

The Pakistani Daily News condemned the killings and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

"Surely the government should be seeking the murderers, not protect (them) through some dark conspiracy of silence. The fact the act was 'kept quiet' means the government sympathises with such doings," an editorial said.

Source: Telegraph UK

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:22 am 
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Gender gap driving women into prostitution

Tom Hussain, Foreign Correspondent
November 24. 2008

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LAHORE // Thousands of ever younger women across urban Pakistan have been pushed into prostitution over the past 10 years, according to an investigation that ties the phenomenon to a state-promoted population boom in the 1980s.

The military junta of Gen Zia ul Haq, which ruled Pakistan from 1977 until 1988, used its weight with religious political parties to propagate a dogma of prodigious procreation. Against a backdrop of Soviet occupation in neighbouring Afghanistan and heightened tensions with historical protagonist India, congregational prayer leaders preached that only sheer weight of numbers would guarantee Pakistan"s survival.

A generation of Pakistanis responded vigorously, pushing population growth to above three per cent a year for more than a decade, with the aid of mass vaccinations that lowered the infant mortality rate.

Among the many negative consequences of Gen Haq"s procreativity policy, however, was a sharp rise in the migration to urban centres of enlarged poor families, who were no longer able to survive as sharecroppers and artisans in strained village economies. A second was the unforeseeable creation of a nationwide gender imbalance, whereby females now outnumber males by a ratio of 1.1 to 1 in a population of about 170 million.

The investigation — conducted from 2001 to 2007 by me for research into a novel — concludes that the two factors have conspired to create the stereotype of a new generation of female sex worker: family migrates to Lahore or Karachi in the early 1990s; father is an ageing unskilled worker unable to support his six to eight children; daughters are maturing, but being sent out to work because the family cannot afford to meet the dowry demands of suitors who are increasingly scarce.

Faced with the dual drudgery of spinsterhood and poverty, and constantly harassed by a male society still largely unadjusted to the public presence of women, many seek a logical, if desperate, escape route.

The "fortunate" ones find their way to upmarket bordello madams, such as 46-year-old "Candy", a living legend in Lahore"s social underworld. Hailing from the Kanjar clan, which claims descent from the courtesans of the Mughal Court, she is popular among new entrants — especially those pursuing dual lives — because of her reputation for grooming, fair dealing and political connections.

"I can"t figure out where all these new girls keep coming from," she said, before her 2006 arrest for narcotics trafficking. "I keep getting calls from them, quoting one reference or another, but when they turn up at the doorstep, it"s obvious they aren"t from our line of work. They are just kids from regular families and I don"t want their virginities on my conscience, so I send them away. A few weeks later, they are back, saying it"s no longer an issue."

Some of Candy"s graduates have gone on to earn underworld celebrity status: Neha, a 26-year-old from Lahore"s working-class Sanda district, has financed the illegal immigration of two brothers to the United Kingdom from the proceeds of her career as an erotic dancer — marketed through the sale of contraband DVDs — across Pakistan and in expatriate population centres in the Middle East.

"Before I got into this line, back in 2002, I used to make 2,000 rupees [about Dh150 at the time] a month working in an office. It was a dead-end situation. My parents were looking at me for money to raise my brothers and sisters, and this was the only way. I"ve done what I had to do," she said, batting her eyelids to show off tiger"s-eye contact lens.

Neha is one of the clever few not to lose sight of the fact that careers are short in a sex industry being constantly restocked by poverty. She has kept her wits and invested her earnings in property and consumer-size 22-carat gold bars. Most of her contemporaries descend into a vicious circle of clinical depression and drug abuse, and fall off the radar. The hardened survivors emerge to find themselves back at square one.

"I"m too old to get regular work any more and am really struggling to pay the bills," said Ghazal, a 36-year-old from Karachi with two children from a short-lived marriage to a client. "I"m trying to grow my team of girls, but they disappear and set up their own pimping operations as soon as they have a regular clientele."

As a conservative society still living in denial of moral decline, Pakistan has yet to acknowledge proliferating prostitution with a place on its socio-political agenda. However, that may change with growing public awareness about the spread of the HIV/Aids virus — more than 4,000 people in Pakistan have tested positive in the past three years. Official surveys of nine select urban centres, carried out between 2004 and 2006, identified four high-risk groups among a vulnerable population of some 89,000: female sex workers — comprising 42 per cent — were the largest.

thussain@thenational.ae

Source: The National, Abu Dhabi.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 26, 2009 8:28 am 
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Pakistani newlyweds live in fear of honor killing
22 January 2009

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Pervez Chachar and his wife Humera Kambo sit in a makeshift room in police headquarters in Karachi January 16, 2009.
REUTERS/Athar Hussain

By Aftab Borka

KARACHI (Reuters) - Pervez Chachar and his young wife live in the police headquarters in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Their crime? They fell in love and married without their families' permission.

The newlyweds dare not venture out of the police station as they fear their families will hunt them down and kill them. "I know they will kill her and I have to protect her," Chachar said of his wife's family who are enraged that the young woman chose to marry a man from a rival tribe.

In traditional rural society in Pakistan, getting married without permission is deemed such a serious slight to the "honor" of a family or a tribe that death is seen as fitting retribution. Rights groups estimate 500 people, most of them women, are killed in the name of "honor" in Pakistan every year, with the majority of victims from poor, rural families often killed by their own relatives.

Shortly after Chachar married Humera Kambo a year ago, the couple fled to Karachi from their home in Sindh province. Humera, too afraid to talk to a reporter, has been abducted by her family and Chachar has been beaten by them. Still defiant, they fear death if they stray too far from the cramped room next to the police canteen which they share with another young couple in the same position. They have been there for four months and they don't know when they can safely leave.

Under Pakistani customs still followed in much of the countryside, a man or woman can be declared an outcast for having sexual relations outside marriage, or choosing their own spouse. The United Nations has estimated that some 5,000 people, mostly women, die every year in so-called honor killings, mostly in South Asia and the Middle East.

BAD SIGN

Traditionally, people in rural Pakistan have little confidence in, or access to, police and courts in big towns. They solve problems through jirgas, or councils, of village elders. But the councils are often manipulated by the powerful and become tools for sanctioning violence against the weak, often in the course of a dispute within an extended family over land or some other asset. Women are the weakest of all in traditional, male-dominated Muslim society so they are often targeted, rights groups say.

"Why does it happen? Because they are always the ones who have no redress, either legally or socially," Anis Haroon, of the women's rights group the Aurat Foundation, said of the victims. "They don't know anyone, they have no contacts, they have no money to offer the police. And these perpetrators come from the higher status of society," she said.

Haroon said there could be no hope of change until legislators changed their mindset. Most educated, urban Pakistanis abhor the violence and former president Pervez Musharraf took small steps to improve the lot of women. But change is painfully slow.

A senator from Baluchistan province provoked outrage late last year when he said the killing of five women, who were reported to have been shot and buried alive in another case of honor killing, was a reflection of tribal traditions. The senator, Sardar Israrullah Zehri, is now a minister in the federal government.

"It is a very bad sign ... people who are encouraging violence, their membership should be canceled. They should not be allowed to contest elections," Haroon said.

TIME FOR CHANGE


Orangzeb Magsi, a 32-year-old graduate from a U.S. university, is a leader of one of the most powerful tribes in Baluchistan. Magsi has dealt with more than 100 cases of "honor" crime in the past four years in his district but thankfully no killings, he says. Only education and time will bring change, he adds. "On the one hand, you have these centuries old customs and on the other, the government says 'it's illegal'," Magsi said. "Since they are not educated, it's very difficult to make them understand."

Nafeesa Shah, a newly elected member of parliament from a rural area of Sindh province, said the jirgas and custom of killing women over honor reflected the failure of the judicial system. "You had these customs in medieval Europe. You had the lynching of people in America ... These things will only go if you have laws that don't allow space for it," Shah said. Shah, a member of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, said the party's victory in 2008 elections was a golden opportunity for change.

"It is important now that we, who are in power and can change things, take this as a sign of the times and work toward making laws and improving criminal procedures in a way that deters the offenders from protecting their crimes in the name of honor or customs," she said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Megan Goldin)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 11, 2009 10:49 am 
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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Pakistan festival dancers banned
By Nisar Khokar
BBC Urdu service, Larkana

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Leaders of a religious group in the south of Pakistan have banned women dancers from a traditional spring festival, officials say.

Organisers of the festival in the province of Sindh say they have had to cut the 10-day festival to three days as a result of the threats. The clerics who asked the dancers to leave the area were accompanied by local police, witnesses said. The group, called the JUI-F, has its main support base in the north-west.

But the JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazlur) has been spreading its wings in the south of the country as well. The JUI-F is led by cleric Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is known for his close ties to the Taleban in Afghanistan. His is one of the most influential and resourceful organisations in Pakistan working for what is described as a "pure, Islamic state".

Cannot proceed

"We asked the dancers to leave the area after obtaining approval of the Shahdadkot district police," JUI-F's information secretary for Sindh province, Maulana Abdur Razzak Abid Lakho, told the BBC.

Organisers said some 18 female dancers, mostly from Punjab, perform in the festival in the town of Waggan, in the Shahdadkot district of Sindh, every year. They said a six-member team of JUI-F clerics, accompanied by local police, came to the festival on Monday and asked the dancers to leave within one hour. The dancers immediately complied with the orders, they said.

Sufi music and dance have been the main features of the festival and organisers said that without this it cannot proceed.

The JUI-F ruled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from 2002 until 2007. During its rule there the party carried out a sustained campaign against musicians, dancers and cable operators in the province and in adjoining tribal areas, forcing most of them either to give up their business or flee into exile. In recent years, the group has also been asserting its control in rural areas of the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan - the traditional bases of support for secular nationalist groups.

Local correspondents say the group appears to be using the rising threat of militant attacks to get the local judiciary and police to implement its agenda in these areas. Three months ago, the JUI-F obtained restraining orders from a local court to force a local television channel, Sindh TV, to abandon a music show in Nawabshah city.

The party has also carried out extensive graffiti campaigns across Sindh province in which satellite dishes, cable TV and VCRs are described as "three signs of the approaching doomsday".

Source: BBC News.

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PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2009 2:50 pm 
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PAKISTAN: Sex workers speak out on HIV
19 May 2009

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KARACHI , 14 May 2009 (PlusNews) - For the first time, female Pakistani sex workers have been given a chance to talk about the difficulties of protecting themselves from HIV, at a national meeting in the city of Karachi.

Although Pakistan is a low-prevalence country, there are fears that a concentrated epidemic among injecting drug users could spread to female sex workers and other high-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men. Ministry of Health data from 2006 to 2007 showed that female sex workers were a high-risk group in at least 12 cities.

Less than a quarter of the 4,639 female sex workers surveyed reported using condoms consistently, and 10 percent had had sex with an injecting drug user in the past six months. Illiterate sex workers were much less likely to use condoms than those with some level of education.

The meeting in Karachi - National Consultation on HIV and Sex Work - organised by the National AIDS Control Programme and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), sought to improve HIV programming targeted at sex workers by consulting them.

"Although a few of our clients agree to wear a condom, the majority of them prefer sex otherwise," said Nasree*, a female sex worker and peer educator who attended the conference. "It is very hard for us to convince them to put on a condom, but I feel that a female condom would put us in a position where we can protect ourselves against HIV and sexually transmitted infections." She added, however, that female condoms were hard to come by.

Another sex worker, Naila*, said legalising sex work would make it easier to protect their rights. "The police harass us for no reason; female sex workers who are working as outreach workers also get into trouble," she commented. "For a way out, many times sex workers succumb to pressure and end up having sex with the policemen; those who don't, end up getting a beating and being violated forcefully."

Daniel Baker, UNFPA's country representative for Pakistan, said sex workers should have greater involvement in the design and implementation of HIV programmes. "The female sex workers have to be in there as managers, workers and leaders to benefit in the long run," he said. UNFPA's Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha confirmed that the recommendations made by the sex workers who attended the meeting would be crucial to future programming.

"The female sex workers agreed that there should be vocational training and the means for alternative work opportunities for those who want to move out of sex work, as well as those who are past their prime and do not find sustainability in sex work," he said. Other recommendations included prioritising HIV testing and referral services for sex workers, and finding ways to curb the stigma and discrimination they faced.

*Not their real names

Source: Plus News.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:21 am 
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'Happy and Gay' in Pakistan?

Pakistani Laws Condemn Homosexuality, but Some People Are Willing to Discuss Their Sexuality Openly
By NICK SCHIFRIN
LAHORE, Pakistan, June 1, 2009

Image
In this file photo, Women in burqa wait in line at a repatriation centre in Peshawar, located in the North West Frontier Province on April 30, 2009.
(Adrees Latif/Reuters)

It wasn't until she was 16 years old, when she'd left her Pashtun family in Peshawar for an elite school where the teachers were nuns, that Minot realized she was gay.

"I found out when I dated my literature teacher [a nun]," she said. "I got an A."

It is virtually unheard of in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for a lesbian to be willing to discuss her sexuality openly, especially a lesbian who is also Pashtun. The Taliban, who are overwhelmingly Pashtun and were born in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas near Peshawar, have pushed walls of bricks on top of gay Afghans.

But Minot, now 42, who asked that only her nickname be used because of societal stigma, sat recently in jeans and a T-shirt in the Pakistani city of Lahore, confidently talking about her sexuality, her girlfriends and her attempts to be with men.

"I have been with men, two men," she said. "But that was to get the confusion out of my mind. Since then," she said, pausing, "happy and gay."

Pakistan's religious laws punish homosexuality with stoning, but gay members of the elite are to be found in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. And homosexual relationships can be found in villages across the country, although they sometimes involve force and pedophilia in rural areas.

But in a country where most of the entertaining is done in people's homes, most gay Pakistanis are terrified of practicing openly or speaking about their sexuality publicly. They are comfortable discussing it among their friends, behind closed doors. There is little public acceptance of the notion that someone can love a member of the same sex.

Minot is an exception by Pakistani standards, her confidence created by a unique support network, a well-educated, wealthy, liberal family and friends who call themselves members of Lahore's elite, more open to Western values than the vast majority of Pakistanis.

She calls herself the most open lesbian in the country.

"For me, it's really easy," she said. "By the grace of God, if you're confident in this society, and you're open about your sexuality, people will come onto you more. I would say I'm the only woman I think in Pakistan who will talk openly. ... I'm probably the only woman in Pakistan who is confident in her sexuality."

Pressure to Marry

In Pashtun society, most people marry before they turn 20. Minot was engaged to one of her cousins, a common practice.

"I told him, 'I could totally put up the façade in front of people. But I'm gay and I will do what I want to do. If you can accept me like that, then it's OK. I'll marry you. But I'm not going to stop it,'" she said, recalling a conversation she and her cousin had after he had returned from school in the United States. "He goes, 'I can't marry you under these circumstances.'"

Every Pakistani is expected to marry. Most marriages are arranged and, even in more liberal circles, it is rare to find Pakistanis in their 30s who are not married. Divorce is extremely rare and looked down upon by everyone except the elite.

And so many gay women get married, sometimes to gay men.

One such couple, described by one of their friends, is in a "happy relationship." The woman "100 percent loves women," their friend said. "But she's also in love with her husband and her husband is in love with her."

She openly has sex with other women. "There are no accusations going up and down, about who has walked in with who," the friend said.

But it is still not something to be discussed publicly. When this reporter contacted a different woman he had been told was gay and living openly with her gay husband, she bristled and objected to the call. "Haven't you heard about my marriage?" she asked, denying she was gay.

Being gay in Pakistan "is a social taboo," one gay man said. "Very strong, it's extremely suffocating."

Jaluluddin Ahmed Khan, 27, who describes himself as a "psychotic, sarcastic and socialist blogger from Karachi," blogs regularly about the angst and frustration he believes many Pakistani gay men experience, especially those with traditional parents.

"I came out to them, and told them that I am this way, [but] they keep pestering me about getting married and they did not let me move out of the house, even though I could have," he wrote in December on his blog, Tuzk-e-Jalali. "I don't think I can forgive them, or I will, or I may, I just know that I have anger and hatred against them. And then there is the inevitable feeling of having lost five years of my life fighting with my parents on this one topic. It is a very long period of life, and I felt I was caged, and I want my time back, but alas, it is the greatest of wishes that can not be fulfilled."

Minot has long since revealed her sexuality to her parents and siblings, although she keeps it from most of her extended family. "I come from a conservative family in Peshawar," she said, describing the handful of family members who served in the military and the powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. "And I don't think they would be accepting of me."

Her father, she said, knows about her sexuality but chooses not to acknowledge it.

"When I told my mother, I said, 'Mama, I'm gay.' She turned around and said, 'But gay are men. You are a woman.' I said, 'Yeah. I like women.' She said, 'There's nothing wrong with that. That's very good.' So, I was like, 'I cannot go deeper than that.' The topic was closed and we never spoke about it again."

Clash Between Conservatives and Liberals

In May, 2005 a gay couple caught having sex in the tribal belt along the Afghan border were publicly lashed.

A few months later, when a 42-year-old man in the same area married an impoverished young man, a tribal council told the couple to leave the area or be killed for breaking tribal "values and ethics."

Pakistan's tribal areas have always been more conservative than its settled areas and have always operated under their own set of customs and laws.

But the country as a whole has also always struggled to balance civil law with religious law. The constitution states that sodomy is illegal, punishable with two to 10 years in prison. But in the late 1980s, President Zia-ul-Haq enshrined conservative Islamic law within the country's civil law. The Hudood Ordinance of 1979 lays down violent punishments for adultery, drinking alcohol and sodomy, which can result in a sentence of being stoned to death.

In a place like Lahore (the second largest city in Pakistan), where Pakistanis can often bring wine to restaurants and where parties often include drugs, those laws seem like they come from a different world.

Even there, though, the local film board briefly banned the popular Bollywood movie "Dostana" because the male protagonists of the film pretend to be gay.

But among the elite, among the Pakistanis who travel to the West, where people are more culturally aware and better educated, the culture loosens.

"There's a lot of awareness because of the media," a gay Pakistani man said. "You see movies, and you see things, and the parents have developed an understanding, and eventually, every parent has to accept it."

That may be a bit overstated but in the past few years, Minot said, Pakistanis have changed their opinions about gay men and women, especially in Lahore, where she has lived for the past 20 years. She refuses to spend much time in Peshawar.

"I would be stoned, the way I am open, up there. ... It's not acceptable at all," she said.

But in Lahore a few years ago, she said, she and her girlfriend were "the first couple who actually came out and went open as a gay couple. And I don't like to give myself credit, but it gave a lot of our friends a lot of hope. 'If you guys can do it, so can we.' It used to be very closeted before. But now it's not."

When asked whether she worries that people will judge her, she said, "I don't care if they think I'm a sinner. That's for God to judge."

Source: ABC News.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:47 pm 
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Lessons for Karachi sex workers
19 July 2009
By Arman Sabir
BBC Urdu service, Karachi

Zeba Raman is a 28-year-old Pakistani sex worker. Born into the profession in Karachi's red light district of Napier Road, she plies her trade all over the city.

Image
I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex - Nadia, sex worker

She is celebrating the launch of an initiative to promote health awareness among sex workers. "We are now revealed to society," says Ms Raman.

But prostitution remains illegal and anathema to many in Muslim-majority Pakistan. It is an ever-present fact of life, but never really acknowledged. The last two decades, given the increasing Islamisation of Pakistani society, have further reinforced stereotypes about such women.

But the profession has only grown. Karachi alone has at least 100,000 female sex workers, according to data gathered by local welfare organisations. Lahore has 75,000 sex workers while the military garrison town of Rawalpindi has at least 25,000.

'Spirit of openness'

Pakistan's first workshop on health awareness among sex workers has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the profession. "Earlier we were doing our jobs secretly, but now we can raise our voice for our rights," Ms Raman says.

Image
Dr Ghulam Murtaza

The three-day event was recently held in Karachi by Gender & Reproductive Health Forum (GRHF) - a local social welfare organisation - in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

"I am very happy that a number of sex workers attended the workshop," says Ms Raman. "This has provided us an opportunity to gather and exchange views and experiences." She is not the only one to have benefited. "I became a sex worker five years back," says Nadia, 26. Nadia said that she learned about safe sex measures at the workshop. "I had heard about HIV/Aids, but I thought that it could only be transmitted through blood transfusions. I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex as well," she said.

Before the workshop, most sex workers who attended did not know about measures for safe sex, Nadia added. Dr Ghulam Murtaza, the head of the GRHF and the man behind the workshop, said the organisation was working to create awareness of safe sex among female sex workers.

Image
Ms Raman said she drew a lot of confidence from the workshop

"It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested," he said. "We offered several incentives and assurances and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20) per day for their attendance," he said. "Finally, we succeeded in gathering almost 100 sex workers at the workshop held at a local hotel."

Most of the sex workers who attended avoided the cameramen there, saying they were afraid of being exposed to their families. Many said their husbands or family members did not know they were sex workers. They told their families that they worked for private firms.

Despite these barriers, Dr Murtaza said the workshop had been successful. "We have trained some female sex workers. They will now go to their community to create awareness among their co-workers."

'Reinvigorated'

The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned.

The UNFPA representative, Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha, said at least 100 HIV-positive sex workers had been found in central Punjab. But the number of HIV-positive women was not high among female sex workers in Pakistan. "It can be controlled by creating awareness about the disease among sex workers and about usage of precautionary measures," he said.

The workshop was widely considered to be a success and Dr Pasha said they were considering organising a national convention for sex workers next year. The sex workers themselves were moved by the workshop. "Having attended the workshop, I feel reinvigorated," Zeba Raman declares. I can now continue with my profession with more confidence."

Source: BBC News.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:28 am 
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Pakistan to register 'third sex' hijras
by Basim Usmani
18 July 2009

Image
Hijras in Dhaka

A court ruling follows a bid to improve life for Pakistan's impoverished transgender, transvestite and eunuch community

Pakistan's supreme court recently ruled that all hijras, the Urdu catch-all term for its transvestite, transgender and eunuch community, will be registered by the government as part of a survey that aims to integrate them further into society. The ruling followed a petition by Islamic jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who said the purpose was to "save them from a life of shame".

Khaki's petition was prompted by a police raid on a hijra colony in Taxila, an ancient city filled with some of the oldest Buddhist ruins in Pakistan. Two of the three judges on the bench that ruled in favour if the hijra petition, chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, were under house arrest for the better part of the past three years. This, coupled with the clobbering the police gave the lawyers during their demonstrations against the suspension of the judiciary in 2007, makes it easy to regard the hijra ruling as being directed against the police.

Outside the affluent areas of Lahore, police are known to arrest and shake down members of the urban working and begging classes; and many police working at busy intersections have bad relations with the "genderqueer".

But that doesn't mean the current judiciary stands for greater gender equity either. Last May, one of the judges that also sat on the bench for the hijra ruling, Ijaz Chaudhry, banned the popular songstress Naseebo Lal from being played on the radio for singing vulgar songs.

Still, the ruling has brought hijras further into the public eye. They held their first protest outside the Lahore Press Club a week after the ruling. On 26 June, hundreds from around Pakistan gathered outside the club holding up placards with the verse "Who am I?" by Punjab's most beloved poet, Bulleh Shah. The gathering was to laud the colossal effort it must have taken for the supreme court to acknowledge their existence, and to hopefully inform the public about the impoverished, and desperate conditions that they live in.

Boys who grow up genderqueer in Pakistan are often abandoned by families and left to fend for themselves during early adolescence. Most hijra colonies could be described as matriarchies, with a clear leader, referred to as the guru. Some hijras remain on the colonies, others go out to dance, collect alms or entertain city dwellers for money, which is given to the guru who ensures their food and lodging. There are other boys, referred to as pakhi was (gypsies), who live on the banks of the Ravi river in tent colonies and also dress up as women to earn money singing and dancing in public. But pakhi was dress like this to earn more money and attention, not because of their sexuality.

In a culture with strict gender codes, those who bend the rules choose to dress as hijras for many reasons. The government survey will have to decided whether or not to recognise the distinctions between hijras, street performers and even prostitutes.

This survey is also likely to be lacklustre in its execution. Previous government attempts to survey or register the working and begging classes have been ineffectual, at best. After securing a 150 rupee daily wage for labourers, the labour secretary in Lahore admitted that only a fraction of the labourers working in the city were registered. Despite a so-called guarantee by the government to keep the poor from starving to death, people are still starving to death. Without a real follow-through on the part of local districts of major cities and towns, any government surveys will remain unhelpful.

The move to recognise hijras has perhaps been part of a spillover from India's efforts to recognise its own hijras following a stunt last April when three hijras applied to run for office to raise awareness about the "third sex issue". As a result, hijras can now give their gender as "E" for eunuch on their passports and government forms.

One thing is for sure, though. To change the attitude towards sexuality and gender in the country, it will take much more than rulings by the courts, or surveys by the government.

Source: Guardian UK.

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