Binding neighbours, one yarn at a time

How trading cotton across the border can be a win-win situation for India and Pakistan

By Ira Puranik, Mahpara Kabir, Mohammad Malik, Priyashi Negi, Shaheen Abdulla

Sitting in his humble home in the quaint village of Kothe Chand Singh Wale in the outskirts of Bhatinda, in Indian Punjab, Avtar Singh is a picture of sorrow. Between him and his brother, Jasprit Singh — both wanting to abandon farming the produce —  it is not hard to fathom why they wish to cut ties with the cotton farming.

“Last year, we only had produced 15-16 maund (500-600 kgs). We have been suffering losses from the last six years. Many of us are planning on leaving cotton farming altogether, “ laments Avtar Singh.

As bleak as his hopes are from his produce, he believes there is a ray of hope if the fruits of his labour travel across the international border of India and Pakistan. While Avtar Singh’s cotton does not fetch him a good deal in India, he can certainly earn more if his cotton travels across the border. Across the border, it can benefit  an ailing textile industry that is in need of better, consistent cotton supply.

How cotton fares on either side of the border

Some 900 kilometers away from Bhatinda, Ali Pervez is looking for good quality and consistent supply of cotton for his textile mill in Karachi. Owner of Unibro Textiles, one of the largest textile industries in Pakistan, he has more than 1,000 employees on roll. “People can talk about nationalism, but we have to pay salaries to 1000 workers. The cotton we import from India is better in quality and cheaper as well,” he says. Pervez is just one of the many textile mill owners who rely on imported cotton to breathe life into the gradually declining domestic textile industry.

Improved seeds  and technological advantage gives indian cotton an upperhand in  raw cotton market.

The textiles industry is an extremely important contributor to the Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has been plagued by a shortage of domestic cotton for long. More than 100 Textile factories, mostly medium and small scale enterprises, were shut down in Pakistan affecting 500,000 jobs in 2015-16. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, the textile exports for FY 2016-17 showed a negative trend, with direct revenue loss  of about $ 3,602 million. Given the grim conditions, the Pakistan government allowed the duty-free import of cotton for five months in January 2019.

Yousam Khan lost his job and was unemployed for six years due to the decline of the textile industry in Pakistan, the revival of the textile sector could help 40% of Pakistan population.

Yousam Khan, currently a merchandise supervisor,  poignantly puts in light the diminished capacity of the textile industry, which has lost 30-35% of its production capacity in recent years.

“In earlier days we couldn’t find enough people to take on jobs in the textile industry. Today, people are standing in queues and yet, there are no jobs. There is a lot that needs to be done for our betterment. “

As a fabric that binds the two nations, both of which cut from the same cloth, it is perhaps unsurprising that cotton is one of the essential commodities that needs to be traded.

Surjeet Singh, who has been farming cotton in Indian Punjab for decades, says that it is the high cost of acquiring inputs like fertilizers and good quality seeds that push them into great debt. And given the low yield and the consequently low prices they receive, they are left with no choice but to commit suicide. His words ring true in the light of a survey conducted by three universities of Punjab, which reveal that on an average, around 1,000 farmers have committed suicide every year in the state since 2003.

All that is needed to give these farmers a new lease of life are good prices for their produce. Pakistan imported raw cotton worth $203.25 million from India in 2017, apart from importing other cotton commodities such as yarn, woven cotton fabrics etc. In stark contrast, an Indian farmer in Punjab received less than INR 4,500/ quintal for his produce. The potential for this price to go up is immense, given Pakistan’s increasing imports.

Experts agree that the festering conditions of farmers in India’s Punjab could be solved if the state let them sell their products across the border. Given how both nations rely greatly on exporting cotton, Indian farmers expressed that the transit to Lahore could revive cotton farming.

“Exporting cotton ( to Pakistan) could fetch more revenue to us due to reduced transportation costs. Textile mills in Pakistan could be a better market for us than say, Mumbai”, says Avtar Singh. His beliefs are not unfounded. Mr. Fareed, a senior Pakistani Economist, says, “You can have differences, but it is impossible to survive if your neighbors are your enemies.”

And why not? After all, in times of distress, it is often the neighbors whose help is sought before that of one’s far-flung kin.

Bringing the neighbors together

Even after the recent skirmishes between the two neighbors, be it India stripping Pakistan of its Most Favoured Nation trade status or the 200% import duty hike, cotton traders on both sides were optimistic of cotton trade remaining unaffected. “India is the most accessible and price-lucrative cotton market for Pakistan,” Atul Ganatra, president of the Cotton Association of India, told Economic Times, a leading newspaper on the same.

Farmers and mill owners aside, yet another crucial link in the trade are labourers and porters who have also been left without any means of sustenance due to the present halt of trade at the Wagah Attari border.

“When they came to receive Abhinandan (Indian Air Force pilot), we thought it will bring us a fortune, But instead, it halted the trade,” complaints Ram Singh, one amongst the ten thousand laborers whose livelihood depend on Indo-Pak trade. Many hope that normal trade will resume post elections in India.

The turmoil triggered in February 2019 has slowed down the trade in Wagah Attari Border. Each day thousands of labors depending the trade are affected.

Temporary halts aplenty, trade has never been permanently discontinued between the nations. Sure, a disturbed political sphere has spelled unease for smooth trade to ensue between the two countries in the past. But both the countries have, more or less, made up for it by valiantly pushing forth trade dialogues to make way from dire bilateral situations.

Cotton is the most exported commodity by India to Pakistan. It constitutes around
25% of the total export value.

Trade between the two nations had reached an absolute standstill post the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. Dialogue resumed nine years later, in 1974, with trade taking place in a limited number of commodities. What is noteworthy is that this ‘positive list’ kept increasing with time, commensurate their needs. Even in 2011-12, regarded by many experts as the ‘warmest period in the trade history of India-Pakistan’, the gradual phasing out of items from the negative or banned list to the positive register of commodities indicated the bilateral economic will to harness the prospects of trade growth.

India is estimated to export around 9,36,000 million tonnes of cotton in FY 2018-19. Pakistan imported cotton worth $1.2 billion in 2018, gaining its place as the 8th largest cotton importer in the world. Despite being a hefty producer, Pakistan’s reliance on imported cotton has been growing steadily. And for India, Pakistan remains a strong, if potential, trading partner.

What it was, what will it be?

“Trade is essential between the two,” says Dr. Nisha Taneja, one of the leading experts on India-Pakistan trade and a professor with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. In her words, there is a lot of untapped trade potential between these neighbors. More so, some products, she feels, seem so exclusively present for each other, that trade feels necessary and reasonable.

Taneja’s words are substantiated by the World Bank report, “ A glass half filled; Promise of regional trade in South Asia”. Released in September 2018, the report estimated that trade between India and Pakistan can potentially reach up to $37 billion from the current trade of $2.4 billion.

Millions of lives is depend on Indo- Pak trade. Opening markets to each other could bring even more employment on both sides of the border

“It is always the people who are at the losing end,” said Sanjay Kathuria,  author of the report and lead economist with the World Bank. But given the immense trade potential between the countries, there is no reason why people on both sides should have to suffer.

Seventy years back, both these nations were torn apart by partition that ravaged countless lives. Cotton can be a commodity that can bind the subcontinent and bring people closer, one bale, one yarn at a time.


Predators turned protectors: India, Pakistan involve communities to save endangered species

By Arslan Sheikh, Farkhanda Ashfaq, Shahzaib Naik and Tanishka Mehtani

Separated by the perennially hostile Radcliffe line Pakistan’s Multan and India’s Sawai Madhopur share a unique example of conserving endangered wildlife. These two regions in the sub-continent stand tall for turning indigenous groups, which were once considered imminent threats, into major stakeholders responsible for conservation of biodiversity they live in.

Sharing a rich biodiversity, Multan, Punjab (Pakistan) and Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan (India) are home to the endangered Indus River dolphins and Royal Bengal tigers, respectively. The animals make for a global attraction, and drive ecotourism in the areas. However, not long ago, their numbers were fast declining. In such a critical situation, local communities, who used to be part of the problem, are emerging as the solution.

In early 2000s, tiger population in southeastern Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park had fallen to an all-time-low of 17. This was in line with the nationwide trend of rapidly declining tiger population. The alarmingly low population prompted Rajasthan’s Forest Department to spring into action, and adopt new strategies to protect India’s national animal. Today, the park is home to 67 tigers.

A key driver of this change is the local Mogya tribe, erstwhile notorious for poaching tigers in the name of crop-protection. The forest department, with the support of Tiger Watch, a local NGO, unearthed a distinct pattern among poachers who had been arrested; an overwhelming majority belonged to the same local tribe — Mogyas.

Mogyas reside in makeshift tents and mud houses in an enclosed space, safe from wild animals.

Dharmendra Khandal, who spearheads Tiger Watch, says, “We realized that our approach of putting the poachers behind bars was ineffective, as they went back to the same profession.” Tiger Watch, along with the Forest Department, were able to dissuade Mogyas from hunting animals, by employing them in conservation activities and

Around the same time, 400 miles northwest from Sawai Madhopur, officials at the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) were facing an equally grave situation. Indus River Dolphin, a rare species which can only be found in the Indus river in Pakistan, was on the cusp of extinction.

About 80 kms from Multan, in Pakistan, Taunsa Barrage is a tourist destination popular for dolphin safaris.

Not long ago, these dolphins could be found in abundance from the Indus estuary up into the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Locally known as Bhulan, the dolphin is currently the second most endangered species of freshwater dolphin in the world. The primary reason for this population plummet apart from poaching, is dolphins getting caught in the cast nets laid out by local fishermen.

Javed Iqbal, in-charge of Taunsa region for STFP, says, “A few years ago, dolphin population at Taunsa Barrage had gone as low as 800. Today, things are much better and Bhulan population has shown a healthy upward trend in recent times.” According to the latest WWF survey, there are more than 1,800 hundred dolphins at the Taunsa Barrage.

A sneak-peek into the conservation efforts

Javed Iqbal, head of Taunsa region, is associated with STFP since 2013.

Iqbal believes that community involvement in conservation activities has played a key role in this. STFP has started a dolphin safari programme which provides alternate employment to the fishermen. “Dolphin safaris are conducted using boats of local fishermen. This gives them employment and an incentive to help authorities in conservation activities and rescue operations,’’ adds Iqbal.

Khandal’s Tiger Watch has employed 50 locals — mostly Mogyas— who reside along the periphery of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Further, they have established a school for young Mogya boys. Local women have also been employed in a handicrafts business by Dhonk, the business arm of Tiger Watch.

The volunteers  are paid to monitor the movement of tigers and other animals of the park, through camera traps and digital heat sensors. “In the past, we used to study tiger-movement from their pug-marks, which was highly inaccurate and flawed. A widespread network of local tribesmen who live along the border of the park gave us the manpower and reach to employ accurate and modern techniques of studying animal movements,” says Khandal.

Dharmendra Khandal has installed several camera traps to monitor tiger movement at the periphery of the reserve in Sawai Madhopur.

Mogyas are an indigenous semi-nomadic hunting tribe who, for generations, relied on their tribe-specific work of ‘crop protection’ as the only means of earning a livelihood. In addition to the widely-recognized meaning, the term ‘crop-protection’ has a unique connotation to it in this part of the world; it involves killing of wild animals who are seen as intruders and potential threats to crops.

Lakhan Singh, an elderly Mogya, explains that they were born into this profession and stuck to it, not to smuggle bushmeat but to make ends meet. A resident of Halonda, a small village on the periphery of the reserve, Singh was among the first to sign up for conservation efforts. A now-changed man, he says, “We don’t hunt animals anymore because our livelihood doesn’t solely depend on it now. We have a respectable alternate which helps the animals and in turn helps in clearing our muddy name.’’

Caught off guard: Lakhan Singh and his family share moments of quiet just before dusk in Halonda, Rajasthan.

Boat-owner Afaq Siddiq makes anywhere between PKR three and four thousand ($20-$30) per safari.

Thirty-five-year-old fisherman, Afzal Khalid, inadvertently, echoes Singh’s sentiments as he says that they were simply working when laying nets; they intended no harm. Riding with him on this wave of change is Afaq Siddiq (24), a boat owner of Taunsa, who is happy that not only have the dolphin safaris brought money, but also empathy towards dolphins. “It feels good that we are helping the dolphins. The safaris are seasonal for now. If these tours take place throughout the year, it will really help us, we will have a regular income,’’ says Siddiq.

These men are part of a changed breed, who are being given their due importance as catalysts of change. Their influence is gradually trickling down to the youth, as they pursue education and alternative career paths. Abhishek Baore, a young Mogya studying in class nine at the school run by Tiger Watch, says, “My father, like his father, was paid for protecting the villagers’ crops from animals, which sometimes meant killing them.”

Representing a significant shift in their mentality, Baore vehemently opposes the killing of animals, and dreams of one day becoming a forest guard.

Plastic pollution in Delhi and Karachi

Akshata Mishra & Arsalan Sheikh

India observed World Environment Day on June 5 where it hosted “Beat Plastic Pollution”, an event in association with the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme (UNEP) in New Delhi. Even then, plastic pollution is on the rise and not nearly adequate measures have been taken to curb it.

ThePlastic Waste Management Rule, 2016 has not been implemented entirely and remains on paper largely. A specific rule under the Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR) states that the producers and generators must be held responsible for the plastic waste management system. There should also be a collect back system to deal with such waste, as per the rule. However, it is yet to be implemented entirely.

Delhi had banned plastic bags in 2009. The ban on plastic bags includes the manufacture and sale of all kinds of plastic sheets and bags. It includes shopping bags, garbage bags and all kinds of plastic films and storage packets. Only plastic bags which are required for medical waste is exempted. The use and disposal of plastic bags are still prevalent by and large for carrying groceries and takeaways, etc.. However, according to a report, 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Delhi every day, which is home to about 20 million people. 50%of plastic waste is single-use or disposable.

Despite various provisions, policies and laws the use of plastic is prevalent by and large. It has caused the death of bovine animals and has also lead to land, water, and underground water pollution. Traces of microplastics have even been found in drinking water as plastic disposed off on land degrades slowly and its chemicals leech into the surroundings. India accounts for almost 18% of the world population. With its 2.4% of the global land area, the accumulation of plastic waste is enormous. A study revealed that 20 rivers (mostly from Asia) carry two-thirds of plastic waste to the ocean; the Ganga’s contribution to itis one of the highest.

“The Centre’s somewhat liberal estimate shows over 60% of about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily is collected. That essentially means a staggering 10,000 tonnes of trash is being released into the environment, a lot of it is going into the sea. Also, not every piece of plastic collected by the system is scientifically processed”, quoted a news report in The Hindu.

In the wake of the current situation of the problem of plastic pollution in Delhi, it has become imperative that the citizens of the national capital take matters in their hands and venture forth to clean their city. The concept of Plogging – running and picking up trash – a movement that was started in Sweden, has now become an activity practiced worldwide. “With the exception of a small population of environmentally conscious individuals and organisations, public concern towards the issue is largely laced with apathy and indifference”, stated Abhimanyu Chakravorty, the founder of PloggaIndia, a foundation which takes up the initiative of plogging in Delhi.

A lot of the garbage on the streets doesn’t picked up and stays stacked up in landfills and waste houses. As it lies accumulated and does not get disposed off properly and recycled or composted, it ends up getting dumped in rivers and oceans, clogging the streets giving off stench during the rainy season and getting washed off into the river, polluting it further. The problem of waste management in Delhi has reached its acme. Problems like landfills catching fire, the Bhalswa landfill recently is another calamity which the city faces when it comes to disposing off of plastic waste. “Ploggingbecame our way of addressing plastic pollution and over time, we started to address other issues in the waste management system, such as recycling, the lives of waste pickers, the concept of zero waste, tree plantation drives etc.” stated Chakravorty.

Tobacco packets, styrofoam plates & glasses, single-use polythene bags, chips packets in large numbers, plastic bottles etc. are some of the common items that are picked up by ploggers. The waste collected is then segregated to recyclables and non-recyclables. A very less percentage of plastic waste collected qualifies for recyclable waste, which is then sent to the municipal authorities. The rest of it goes to the landfills. A waste audit is also done by plogging teams regularly to notify brands so that they may shift their packaging to more organic ones.

Another problem that the city faces is the lack of an equitable number of dustbins. Even if they are present they are not separated and tagged to collect organic and non-decomposable waste separately. While a considerable number of the population do not bother to throw the waste in the dustbins, segregation becomes an impossible task. Even the trash collected from homes, which can easily be segregated, is not separated. Moreover, the municipal authorities have only one vehicle to collect all the waste and as a result, it all gets dumped in one place. This becomes the breeding ground for vectors and a deadly fodder for bovine animals. “We definitely need to segregate waste at source. We also need to respect the work waste pickers are doing for us, they are the backbone of our informal recycling sector, and they need better wages for them to do their work best! ” stated Chakravorty.

It was observed that when the citizens engaged in activitieslike plogging, they became more environmentally conscious. It had a positivespill over effect in the closed community that was formed, in terms ofsustainable use of energy. “It’s our throw away culture that’s at the root ofthe problem. We have traditionally lived a frugal lifestyle but consumerism hastaken over and this is what is leading to the waste problem. We need to getinto the waste minimisation mode where we start thinking of reducing, reusingand precycling”, stated Chakravorty. Precycling is identifying the kind of plasticsbefore we make a purchase. This practice makes us aware and conscious of the type of plastic that the consumer is going to buy and if it is recyclable or not.

Field biologists are of the opinion that overflowing landfills have contaminated our groundwater beyond proportion, for the communities living next to them. The people living next to them are consuming this contaminated groundwater and are becoming prone to various health risks right from birth. The marine ecosystem has been heavily affected by the slush of plastic waste which stays there for hundreds of years, leading to death, starvation, deformities and even extinction. Plastic pollution has now started to add to the already deplorable condition of air pollution in Delhi. Land pollution is another aspect which is quite complex and not easy to solve due to the paucity of it. However, a recent study conducted by Universities abroad has also found traces of microplastics in the human body. It is largely due to the consumption of underground water and species of animals which are exposed to plastic waste. In a way, the entire food chain is under threat due to plastic pollution.

Karachi’s Plastic Monster

Plastic is convenient and cheap, thus it is widely used around the world. According to Plastics Europe, a trade association which represents plastics manufacturers active in the European plastics industry, in the year 2016 alone, 335 million metric tons of plastic was produced

A byproduct of oil and gas, plastic may have its uses but it is a known fact that it does not get decompose on its own. Depending on the type of plastic, it may take anywhere between 100 and 600 years to decompose.

It is virtually impossible to recycle the heaps of discarded plastic every day, so it find its way to landfills, large burners or in the seas. Erik van Sebille’s research article revealed that almost 8 million metric ton of plastic is being thrown in the oceans annually, which is like dumping a truck full of waste every minute of the day. Interestingly, a new study of Dr. Christian Schmidt of Germany, found almost 95% of the plastic which is polluting oceans comes from only 10 rivers and Pakistan’s Indus River is one of those.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, 88% of this volume is the result of sheer mismanagement. Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association reported that the per capita use of plastic in Pakistan in 5.5 kg, moreover, the country imports 1.07 metric ton of polymers every year.

Karachi being the largest city of the country, consumes a large chunk of plastic products produced in Pakistan. However, even with the constant increase in the usage and production of plastic, authorities seem to be at a loss when it comes to waste management.

There is a sizeable plastic manufacturing industry in Karachi.”The plastic Industry in Karachi is huge, with private firms producing it on various volumes of production,” says Ahsan Khan, a representative of Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association. The body is affiliated with the Director General of Trade Organizations and is working to expand the industry in the country. “However, a large majority of these manufacturers are not registered with the government,” he lamented.

The government of Pakistan only allows the manufacture and use of oxo-biodegradable shopping bags, which are usually above 30 microns. The shopping bags of 30 micros are thicker, they do not fly with air pressure and are also reusable. However, there is no implementation on these sanctions from the authorities as bags without D2W, a substance that sets a pre-programmed life of plastic and starts naturally decomposing, are openly used everywhere in Pakistan, including Karachi.”Manufacturers are selling shoppers with a biodegradable stamp on them, though it is fake and there is no inquiry against them,” Khan added.

These non-biodegradable shoppers are nearly impossible to recycle and they do not decompose. As a result, they become a threat to the environment. A significant chunk of this plastic ends up in rivers and oceans through different channels, which adversely affects the marine life.

A World Economic Forum’s report estimated by the scientists that by 2050, the amount of plastic will exceed the number of marine life in the sea in terms of weight. Fish and other sea creatures consume this plastic and are then eaten by human, thus becoming part of the food cycle and cancerous for people.”There have been much talk about birds and fish dying because of consuming plastic, similarly, there must be fish and crabs eating plastic, which we dine on and the particles transfer to our body, because it does not decompose, it is one of the reasons for cancer becoming so common,” says Toseef Pasha, an environmentalist.

There are two other ways of disposing plastic waste – either you burn it to ashes or you bury it in the ground. The amount of plastic which is being produced and added to waste is too much to effectively dispose of in this manner. Besides, both methods are unsafe for the environment as well as living organisms.

“When plastic wastage is dumped in landfills along with other discarded materials, it creates a chemical[Leachate], which leaks down to water reservoirs in the rocks. The contaminated water is consumed by animal, plants and humans, which again end up in the food cycle,” explains Ahmed Shabbar, who has been researching the subject with the intent to set up a recycling plant. On the other hand, burning plastic is a common practice in Karachi and is disastrous for the environment.”Toxic gases are being released on burning plastic, so it cannot be a viable option to handle this problem,” he adds.

“See the environment of the city, there is no rain, there is scorching heat throughout the year, winters hardly arrive. Our food is contaminated, our water is toxic, we have been eating, breathing, seeing pollution and plastic has a huge role in this dilemma,” laments Shabbar.

There are recyclers working in Karachi, but they are unaware of the affects it is causing on the environment or on public health. All they know and do is to crush and melt all the plastic from which they can produce more plastic.”The recyclers in localities like Shershah are interested in crushing plastic, melting it, washing it and then producing grains for further manufacturing,” mentioned Zeeshan Khan, who is an engineer having experienced of working plastic manufacturing firms and currently associated with Ministry of Industries.

There are two major problems in what they are doing in the name of recycling. The first and foremost issue is, they do not differentiate between the recyclable and non-recyclable products. Secondly, they tend to melt plastic in open burners, which cause air pollution.”Recyclers in Karachi mix hospital waste, such as used syringes, gloves and other harmful objects with other plastic. No matter how much you wash or heat them, there is always some toxic particles attached to them, if you reproduce any food packaging material from these, it will be harmful,” Khan added.

So the question remains – how to deal with this plastic monster? “First, government has to step in, which has been almost ignorant of this massive problem. The government should run campaigns to create awareness regarding the cons of using this eco-unfriendly products,” Khan suggested. It is the people, who can make a significant difference, otherwise the devil is almost impossible to stop.”We have already been crushed by these mountains of plastics, there are researches going on, hopefully they will come up with a solution, but unfortunately, we have gotten late, we need drastic measures, we do not have 50 or 100 years to take down this problem,” Pasha stated.

Karachi has become a city too big for its own good, so do the problems of the city.Karachiites will have to come to basic to tackle this plastic pollution. It is the citizens of Karachi, who need to step up and get aware of the issue. Boycotting plastic bags is one of the solutions, it will be tough for them, but it will help the cause slowly and gradually.”Take the bag of cloth, use bowls to buy things like yogurt, get a bottle when you purchase milk, it sounds old-fashioned, it sounds a bit tough, but you have to go some extra miles to win against plastic, tolerate the inconvenience and think about our future generations,” emphasized Pasha.

On the other hand, Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association is in talks with the Minister of Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, regarding the pollution caused by their production. They are looking to bring in laws that can help the industry grow safely and at the same time mitigate the environmental problem. They are hopeful to convince government to introduce harsher penalties for those flouting the law when it comes to the manufacture and sale of plastics.

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

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.”


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

madrassah main
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.
Click on the image for interactive graphics

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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Click on the image for interactive graphics

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.


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.

Harassment restricts women’s access to public spaces

Women's Protest


Mayank Chawla and Pramiti Lonkar

Earlier this year, seven-year-old Zainab Ansari from Kasur district in Pakistan was abducted on her way to a religious tuition centre. She was later found raped and strangled to death. The incident led to nationwide outrage. Similar to the Nirbhaya gangrape case in New Delhi in 2012, the case touched a chord with the society and brought changes to the legislation. While the rape law in India was revised, Pakistan outlawed child pornography after the Zainab’s case.

However, the two countries remain among the most unsafe for women. As per a study by Georgetown Institute’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Index, India ranks 131 among 153 countries. The index measures inclusion, justice and security for women. India ranks way below Saudi Arabia (99) and Nepal(85). Continue reading Harassment restricts women’s access to public spaces


Ayesha Khan and Tahira Noor

Delhi-Conflicts between India and Pakistan might have been escalating but it has not stopped people from tying knots with each other. Cross border marriages between these countries continue to take place despite the rising tensions.
These marriages are a little difficult to manage because of the diplomatic and legal hurdles that such couples have to face. Visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for them. Due to this their mobility gets restricted to a few places, they have a problem going back to their country of origin. This also raises safety concerns and issues for getting new Visa or extending visa duration.
“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check-ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.

Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot on November 7, 2016, when the tension between the two countries was very high. Priya and her family belong to Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the date of marriage was arriving. Naresh tweeted his plight to the then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family get the visa.
“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting the visa and still, Priya is staying in India on a long term visa (LTV) and has not visited Pakistan after our marriage,” said Naresh.
Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of the border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. The government should ensure friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of giving citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh.’

Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my grandfather house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married. “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad be a good
partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan once every two years since her marriage. “When I go to Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India, I cannot due to visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.” Laughing, she tells, ‘When there is a match between India and I support Pakistan.”

Prtiam and Fiza(name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and married in 2012. Even though in the eyes of society it an inter-religious and cross-culture marriage as Pritam is an Assamese and Fiza a Punjabi Muslim, they do not consider such social constructs as barriers.
“We saw each other as individuals rather than an Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their place of birth. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.
Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after getting married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. They stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian) card very easily for their spouses when Fiza cannot when Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam. Pritam and Fiza are concerned more for their one-year-old daughter who is too young to understand these social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place where they truly belong.
Regardless of the countless difficulties, these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.



India and Pakistan have been in a troubled relationship for decades. The two countries have minimal diplomatic contact and tensions have reached the boiling point over a territorial dispute more than once. However, despite embittered ties, Indians and Pakistanis continue to defy all odds to unite in matrimony.

“Despite marked borders people often fail to regard the divide as territorial peripheries blur for them and relationships take preference,” said Shagufta Burney, an advocate and human rights activist at Pakistan-based Ansar Burney Trust.

“These are two countries, with intact borders…. [people have] relatives, friends and families living on both sides of the border,” she said. “It often happens that people don’t realize the [existence of] boundaries, come to Pakistan and then land in trouble. In such situations we approach the foreign ministries of both the countries to resolve the issue.”

The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 divided millions of families and the shadows of historic bifurcation still haunts the two countries. Since then, the relationship between them has been complicated.

According to experts, visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for crossborder couples. Due to these hurdles their mobility is restricted to a few places.

“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.         

Here are the stories of some cross border couples:

Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot in 2016 when fragile relationship between the nuclear-armed rivals was under severe strain. Priya and her family hail from Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the big day for the future couple was inching closer. Naresh Tweeted his plight to the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family with the visa.

“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting visa,” said Naresh.

Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. Government should ensure a friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of granting citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh’, ‘Seemant Lok Sanghatan’ and ‘Universal Just Action Society’ NGOs which assist members of Sodha Community with the marriage process.”

Back to roots

Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my Dada’s (grandfather) house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married.  “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad would be a good partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan every two year since her marriage. “When I visit Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India I cannot due to the visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.”

Love knows no bounds

Pritam and Fiza (name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and tied a knot in 2012. While Pritam is an Assamese, Fiza is a Punjabi Muslim.  

“We saw each other as individuals not as Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their nationality. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.

Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after we got married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. My parents stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card very easily for their spouses but Fiza cannot — even while  Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam.

Pritam and Fiza are concerned for their one-year-old daughter’s future who is too young to understand the social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place they truly belong.


“They cannot understand how [our] hearts aches. I have left behind my loved ones and you have parted with yours. [Only you and] I understand this misery.”

Nishat Naqvi, a 74-year-old widow and now a Pakistani, recalls these words by the Sikh officer who came to her help when she faced difficulties on her first visit back to India from Pakistan after her marriage. Her voice quivered as she recalls memories of the visit.

Having married Mukhtar Naqvi in 1970, she first came to Pakistan in 1971, along with her parents, to visit her relatives. Back then She had no idea that her short visit would turn out to be a permanent one.

It took her 7 years, after her marriage, to be able to meet her family in India again.   

“By the time I went back to India, I had two kids aged 5 and 2,” she said.

When finally she did get a chance to visit her former hometown, Allahabad, she had
to go through a lot of trouble and inconvenience during the course of her
journey. Due to a mistake from the Pakistan office, her children’s names were not
endorsed on her passport and the officers refused to let them accompany her to

Naqvi was neither prepared to leave her children behind, nor was she ready to go back and restart the lengthy process of applying for a permit for India. “So I sat
in the office and said I won’t go back,” she said.    

After hours of waiting, a Sikh officer came to her help. He sympathized with her situation, having parted with his own family. Teary-eyed herself Naqvi recalls that he was in tears as he related his heart-wrenching experience.

Arif Hasan, an acclaimed social researcher and architect from Pakistan resonates Naqvi’s sentiments. According to him the impact of the partition was a long-lasting one and many still identify with their roots across the border.

“If you ask anyone of my generation what is your one wish, they will say want to go back to Hindustan and see their house just one more time,” he said.  “People go there and cry over the misery of separation due to partition.”

It is hard for Naqvi to let go of the memories of the past. They remain as deeply etched in her mind as that of the sardar jee who came to her rescue.

Naqvi chuckled as she recalled the hearty reception she got when she finally met her family in India.

“I felt as if I found some missing piece of my life’s puzzle … when I reached Allahabad, members of my family were so excited, they were all overwhelmed,” she said. “The whole neighborhood gathered to greet me.”

However, these pleasant memories are not enough to dispel Naqvi’s grief. “I don’t want to remember all that. Such a good time I spent with all of them, I can never forget it.”   

Relations across the border

Married in 1950, Rajabali has always yearned for easy access to members of her family including her daughter, who is now married to her nephew in India.

Hailing from Bombay — now known as Mumbai, she was separated from her family by a border spanning many miles when she settled in Karachi after her marriage. However, the border was of little consequence in impeding her travel to India. In fact, now as she reminisces the early years of her marriage with a smile, she opines that travel and communication was actually much easier in the past with no visa restrictions.

“There was a permit system and they [authorities] used to give permits [to travel across the border easily], you see. Since there were divided families, people used to travel often; the airfare was 110 rupees.”

Back in those days, the technology wasn’t advanced but distances weren’t as wide either. Travelling between the two countries was quite common and gifts were often sent through a third person across the border.

Remembering those days she said, “My mother used to send various things whenever someone was visiting Karachi. I too would send gifts to India… I used to send French Chiffon to India and often received Indian saris from there.”

Taimur Ahmed Suri, a Pakistani educationist, is of the opinion that the divide between the people across the border actually widened after the 1965 war. “Prior to that… people from Meerut used to send Qorma to refugee migrants via trains, every week”, he recalls, citing it as an example of frequent unbridled interaction between the residents of India and Pakistan post partition.

Rajabali, a nonagenarian has seen the relationship between the two countries plunge to unexpected lows since she migrated to Pakistan after her marriage. She especially feels the widening distances between both the countries due to travelling difficulties, including visa restrictions and increased cost, having one of her daughters married India.

“Now since PIA has limited its flight operations, you have to either go via Dubai or via Colombo and the cost has doubled”, she claimed.  “Is it fair? My daughter cannot afford to visit every year now.”

The last time Rajabali went to India was for her granddaughter’s wedding and nothing has changed. Old relations and friendships have persisted for Rajabali despite the territorial divide. “I wish, I wish that these borders were open,” she said, in a voice half choked with grief.

Regardless of the countless difficulties these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.