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70 years on, Partition deeply impacts my life.

“Partition. An event that would drastically transform the South Asian landscape forever.”

August 1947 – a month that not only saw the division, murder and separation of thousands of people, but the creation of two new nation states in the region. 70 years on, I discuss my experience and understanding of Partition – as an Indian-Pakistani British Asian – and how an event that happened long before I was born has had a significant impact on my life.

Partition. An event that would drastically transform the South Asian landscape forever. With the end of British rule in India, tensions had been rising within the region, with various groups fighting for recognition and representation. The creation of Congress saw the rise of individuals like Mahatma Gandhi & Jawaharlal Nehru, but also others like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who were key figures of the Pakistan movement. After protesting that Muslim voices, which formed a large part of the population in India were being repressed or even ignored, these individuals rallied for the creation of ‘Pakistan’, which initially was not meant to be a separate state, but rather a movement that would allow the voices of the Muslim community to be heard.

It should be pointed out that these tensions had been rising for many years prior, however their culmination fell on these two days, which saw large amounts of bloodshed. Neighbours turned on each other, parents were separated from their children and familiar faces became strangers over night. Even today, the South Asian community suffers from grief as many individuals still have no idea where their loved ones went. Home was no longer home for many millions of people.

But 70 years on, how did this come to affect the South Asian community? And how is partition viewed amongst the diaspora, especially here in the UK?

As a woman who can claim heritage to both nations, I believe that my experiences as a half – Pakistani and half – Indian can help shed some light on this. Anyone who has grown up with a mixed heritage will always tell you how hard it is to formulate an identity. Add to that the scars of a large political event like Partition, ultimately formulating your identity becomes even harder. Either you are not ‘Pakistani’ enough or you are not ‘Indian’ enough. Growing up was hard because ultimately you faced criticism from both sides. Aside from being called names from both sides, such as being a ‘betrayer’ or a ‘fake Indian/Pakistani’, there was this feeling that on either side, I was never truly accepted.

The biggest pain that is felt however, is the idea of travelling to my homelands. Due to the stringent visa requirements, India can refuse entry to those who have visited Pakistan or hold a Pakistani national identity. With the rise of the far right Hindu nationalist party in India, not only have hate crimes against Muslims become more prominent in India, but the idea of going to India to see my own family is a process that makes me nervous. As a half – Pakistani, I have to fill out extra forms, provide more details than my non – South Asian counterparts, and even then there is all the chance that I may be rejected for a visa. It means that any holiday I make is a decision to choose between two countries and two parts of my family. Tell me, how does one make a decision between two homes? If I visit my family in Pakistan I miss out on visiting my family in India. And this isn’t just me, seventy years before me, thousands of families were ripped apart as a result of partition. However my pain and trial is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of families that are still living today with no idea where their husband, wife, daughters or sons are after the horrors they went through during the month of August in 1947.

However, my mixed heritage has allowed me to experience some wonderful things. As a Indian – Pakistani Muslim I have had the pleasure of seeing how Islam is practiced on both sides. I have been able to witness amazing architecture and I have the opportunity to visit both countries, even if it is difficult. I have seen that the underlying South Asian culture that exists throughout the region, which whilst having its differences and its fair amount of issues, also shows some incredible amounts of similarity. As Indians and Pakistanis, there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Today more than ever, the South Asian diaspora is coming together to put aside our differences. The British South Asian community is a perfect example of how individuals, regardless of religious beliefs, come together to celebrate a common culture. Even within cricket, better sportsmanship and communication is taking place between players on both sides to show how we can remain united, despite our countries being stuck in political turmoil and opposition to one another. Bollywood is starting to push its boundaries across the physical borders that exist and showcasing up and coming talent from Pakistan. Not only that but its increasing criticism and attempts to show the unity between these two countries though movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan gives hope to those of us who believe that one day, despite the political, social and cultural problems, our countries will become friends.

by Zahraa A

Zahraa A is currently going into her final year of my International Relations degree. She loves anything and everything political or historic, with postcolonial theory, feminism and anything surrounding political movements from the PoC/BME community, Muslims and her own South Asian culture being her key interests. She blogs at ‘The Muslim Diaspora‘.

Partition image credit: RaghulDev
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websbite
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A tribute to my uncles who were gunned down in the Nazimabad attacks

brothers

You never think it’s going to happen to you… until it does.

Just over a week ago, I was in a queue with my four-year-old son. We were waiting for a train ride around the park near my parents’ house, when I received a phone call from my mum. It was the phone call that nobody ever wants to receive; the phone call that informs you of tragedy at home.

Five of my maternal uncles had been shot in Nazimabad, Pakistan. We weren’t sure who was alive at that point, but as we took to Twitter, the true reality of the horror was emerging. A ladies majlis, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW)) was taking place in a private residence; gunmen on motorbikes had opened fire, and three of my uncles, Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas, and Baqar Abbas Zaidi had been gunned down in targeted killings.

My remaining two uncles, Tahir Abbas and Nadir Abbas, and my 15-year cousin, Murtaza Ali Zaidi were in critical condition in the hospital. By the mercy of Allah, they have now recovered well.

Let’s be clear here; the attacks were sectarian, specifically targeting the Shia community. Later, the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took responsibility for the attacks. A spokesman for the group said: “There is no room for the enemies of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Pakistan”, a reference to Pakistan’s Shia minority.

It is important to note that whoever is behind these attacks, they are following a deviant interpretation of religion aligned to ISIS and al-Qaeda. This intolerant ideology comes from Saudi’s Salafi-Takfiris; they are a violent offshoot of mainstream Islam, and this tiny minority group is giving Muslims around the world a bad name.

In Pakistan, Shias are a persecuted minority who are still not free to practice their religion without fear of being killed for their beliefs. These attacks used to take place in public places, such as mosques, schools and hospitals. Now the attacks are taking place in private residences, which means people are not even free to practice religion in their own homes.

You think that these kinds of attacks happen to other people, but there are so many Shias being targeted, the chances are that you will know someone in Pakistan affected by these acts of violence. At the beginning of October, these same hardline groups killed my friend’s cousin, Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi, in a targeted attack, as he stood with his son outside his house. 

This is genocide, and it is specifically targeting the Shia community.

But this blog post is not an account of what happened that fateful day. You can read that yourself in the newspapers that have covered the event, including The Independent, The Guardian and The Seattle Times. The news made the front page of The Evening Standard last Friday.

This blog post is intended to tell you what you might not know about my mum’s brothers. I want you to know about their magnanimous personalities, about their humanity, and their values.

My mum’s brothers were very open-minded, tolerant, loving people who touched the lives of every single person they met. As I write this post, I know that there are not enough words to express the depth of the grief I am feeling, nor are words enough to explain how incredible my uncles were.

The Nazimabad firing took place during the Holy month of Muharram, when Shias commemorate Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Ultimately, Hussain’s struggle was about freedom from oppression; about sacrifice to protect universal human values. My uncles lived with the love of the family of the Prophet (SAW) in their hearts, and they implemented these values in their everyday lives.

During the attacks, the gunmen attempted to gain access to the ladies majlis in the house. When they could not enter, they fired gunshots on the people who were sitting outside. As the gunmen came forward, Baqar Abbas Zaidi, my mum’s youngest brother, opened up his arms to protect  the door and to stop the killers from going inside the house. He was killed instantly as the gunmen opened fire on his chest.

I think about how many lives Baqar Mamu has saved through this fearless act of self-sacrifice. By standing between the door and the gunmen, he prevented them from entering the house, thus stopping further bloodshed and carnage.

My Mum’s eldest brother was Naiyer Zaidi, a British citizen who had resided in London for more than 30 years. He loved this country as he had spent most of his adult life here.

Every year, Naiyer Mamu would go to Pakistan to commemorate the events of the tragedy of Karbala with his family. He loved to read poetry, books and literature. After retirement, he spent more and more of his time reading about Islam, and he loved to spend his time in the company of learned Islamic scholars.

It is my view that religious conviction manifests itself in the values of humanity, and Naiyer Mamu’s personality is testament to this. He was kind, he was generous and he was incredibly humble. Moreover, he would view everything in his life as an example of God’s infinite mercy. His positive outlook on life and his ability to always see the best in people is incredibly inspiring.

The true essence of religion is about akhlaaq; it’s about how you treat your fellow human beings. When my paternal grandfather, Qaiser Hussain Zaidi passed away, Naiyer Mamu truly was a rock for our family, giving us so much support and kindness in a period of great difficulty.

Another uncle who was killed on that horrible day was Nasir Abbas, a US citizen. Nasir Mamu brought joy, happiness and laughter to every single person he met. In 2008, my sister and I visited him in the US. In only a few days, Nasir Mamu had such an incredible effect on me. He had what can only be described as a magnetic personality. He was so full of life; not only was he absolutely hilarious, but we would spend hours conversing with him about many topics, including philosophy, poetry, politics. He was incredibly open-minded; he didn’t care about who you were or where you came from. He treated everyone with the same love, respect and dignity.

I have been reflecting on the personalities of my mamus and thinking about what I can learn from them. They were all so positive in their outlook, always seeing the best in every situation.

I know that they would have seen even the way they left this world as an example of God’s blessings. They lived their life through the love of the values of the Prophet (SAW) and his Holy household, and they left this world in the same way. As I watch their funeral, I know the cries of “Labaik Ya Hussain!” would have comforted their souls. They have become shaheed.

I feel so honoured and privileged to have known them, and I feel so sad that they are no longer with us. But to have left this world in the way they did is no doubt a great blessing. They have given me a lifetime of beautiful memories, and to know that so many people around the world are remembering them so fondly, is a source of great comfort.

Please pray for the departed souls of Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas and Baqar Abbas Zaidi.

Please pray for Muhammad Zaki Khan and Nadeem Lodhi, who were also martyred in this brutal attack and for the families of the injured and the deceased.

Please also pray for the soul of Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
All images are copyright of Aliya Zaidi. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission.


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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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The Unwritten Woman

by Roszeen Afsar

@Roszeen

‘Few writers have had a direct vision into woman. Few women had vision into themselves!’ – Anais Nin (quote attributed to D. H. Lawrence in Nin’s Diary, Volume 1)

I love reading and writing, it has been my passion since a very young age. After much reflection over the past few years I have started taking it seriously. My dream is to have a book published, a novel of my own making. But I’ve thought endlessly about why this dream makes me abnormal, why loving to read and write is a strange activity in my cultural community, why women of my family do not include creativity in their day-to-day lives. To this day these questions puzzle me. It is true that we have plenty of female writers in the world, some even from Pakistan, but the vast majority of the women I associate with my cultural background and community would not think of engaging in such a thing. Because of this I would like to give some time and space here to think about these women, to think about the importance of reading and writing and the need for self-expression.

 

The Women in My Life

My nani (my mum’s mum) was a woman with a presence. You could describe her as a mountain in that sense because of her strength of being. I believe deeply that had she been able to read and write – and also had she been desiring of recording the details of her life – it would have been an amazing story to read. It would be a story filled with the thoughts of a tested wife, a devoted mother and a dutiful worshipper. It would be structured by her memories of the tribe, the disputes of marriage, the hardships of poverty, and the hidden and wonderful workings of Allah. And when was the last time you read such a story?

Image courtesy of Roszeen Afsar

Image courtesy of Roszeen Afsar

It has been over a year since nani amma passed away. As many will understand, when a person of such an age and presence – indeed the matriarch of the family – is gone from this world, the gulf left behind is huge. I didn’t know my nani to any great extent, but when I heard the news I felt that something greater had gone than just a person. Firstly I felt that my mother’s guide had left the world and for this I was truly distraught, but then when I thought more deeply I felt that a part of our culture and language had also died. In fact this is what I’ve always believed of our elders; that when they leave this world some of the world leaves with them. However, with my nani’s death I began to think about the death of each woman who was never taught to write, or whose life never allowed her to even think about expressing herself. It revealed to me our resulting ignorance of the world such a woman once lived in because she was never given the ability to paint it for us.

This is very much the case with the women of my cultural community; Pakistani and British Pakistani women. In my desire to know of their experiences I have often felt a strong urge to ask them about their lives and then write out what they tell me in order to bring their voices into the world. But this is not possible because I believe that such an endeavour can only really be done by the individual themselves – once they have opened up the faculty to write what is within them. For this a woman must first and foremost believe in the possibility of such an action and recognise it as important, something which our historical cultures have never focused on. Female literature is non-existent in history – I have found this to be the case in both eastern and western cultures.

Instead historical civilisations possessed strong oral traditions. This is still the case in some parts of the world, my memories of Pakistan confirms this. I have many childhood memories of sitting at night before a burning coal brazier, surrounded by family and listening to one of them retelling stories they heard as children. These tales were told so breathtakingly that I believed each one to be true and felt it was happening just as I was hearing it. It was usually a woman, one of my mother’s sisters, who was our storyteller. Those nights around the fire, I realised later, were the times they allowed themselves to break from their daily chores, to sit down and lose themselves in fairy-tales – an activity which would be frivolous at any other time of day.

The Necessity of Writing

I believe the highest freedom is the ability to express what one is.

It is very important to understand that writing involves an awareness of the self. When you write something you come face-to-face with your thoughts in concrete form, you see the language you speak before you, the way you perceive things now taking form on the page, you realise that this is the way you think, what you believe, what you remember, this is what you know and what you have been exposed to in your life. If you understand all of this then you can also understand that impoverished areas of the world come hand-in-hand with low literacy rates. After the physical needs of the poor are met, their mental requirements take precedence, although this latter criteria is often forgotten or ignored. An individual’s lack of liberty and autonomy always includes the fact that they don’t have the means to express themselves.

I believe the highest freedom is the ability to express what one is. I have often felt grateful for the freedom to be able to sit down and write how I’m feeling (especially when I’m upset) because it means that I myself have given words to my ailment instead of letting another create their own analysis of me. As such, female literacy is a high focus amongst charities in poor communities, because (as those charities highlight) an educated woman has a higher self-awareness and thus the ability to progress, to be able to care for her dependents and manage her family life. On a basic level this is great, but in addition to these developments we mustn’t forget that when a woman learns how to read and write she is also given the power to engage with written knowledge and has the ability to express herself without barriers.

Learning how to read and write, therefore, is not in itself the liberating force. True freedom and power comes from being able to engage with knowledge and being able to put forth ideas. Despite such a potential in literature and language, I have found that the females of my community do not aspire towards such possibilities. Many Asian women are too busy in their married life, in their family roles and their day-to-day practicalities to even conceive the notion of sitting down and writing, or engaging in some form of self-expression or creativity. Entering into fields such as those of language, literature or art is unheard of to them. My mother, in contrast to my nani amma, can read and write, but the idea of writing her own experience is foreign to her. It is a luxury in her opinion, saved for a woman who has time to think about the world.

It seems that the female writer is all too often portrayed to be of a different order; a single woman, no children, financially comfortable, someone with the time and freedom to pursue a leisurely activity. And I believe that this is very sad. I understand the struggles of the women around me, their financial constraints, the hardships of raising children and managing a household, the responsibilities and lack of choices. However, I also believe that reading and writing are things which everyone should and can engage in.

When I was younger I used to see my mother reading novels she found in the Urdu section of our local library. I think sometimes that over the years she has probably forgotten about this since it’s not something she ever mentions, but I remember it. She used to do this because of how overwhelmed she felt in England, surrounded by a different language and culture. It helped her stay grounded and gave her something to do during the day. But as the years have gone by she has buried herself into a routine – absolutely and selflessly immersed into the roles of housewife, wife and mother. My mother is an incredible woman who does not give herself any time, who does not take anything for herself. Just like with my nani amma, no one could ever do justice to describing the world my mother sees. But I am grateful that I can sit with her and ask her about her life.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.