Hajj pilgrims return home in Pakistan to hero’s welcome 

A girl drapes a garland around the neck of her grandfather as he returns to Pakistan after performing the Hajj, at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Thursday, August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)
Updated 22 August 2019

Hajj pilgrims return home in Pakistan to hero’s welcome 

  • Over 200,000 pilgrims expected to return through 500 flights between August 17-September 15
  • Rules relaxed to allow maximum family members and friends to enter airports to receive pilgrims 

KARACHI: Retired school teacher Muhammad Saleh lives in Naushahro Feroze, a small city of 1.6 million in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, some 342 kilometers away from the port city of Karachi. On Wednesday, Saleh and dozens of his relatives and friends made the grueling journey from their hometown to Karachi, traveling through the night to reach Jinnah International Airport in time on Thursday morning to receive his nephew who was returning home from the Hajj.

Gul Faqir, a resident of Naushahro Feroze, poses for a photo with relatives and friends at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport upon his arrival from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after performing the Hajj on Thursday, August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

As Abdul Hakeem appeared through the international arrivals gate, Saleh and others accompanying him rushed to hug and kiss the pilgrim and put garlands made of flowers and currency notes around his neck. 
Hakeem is one of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the globe who have begun returning to their home countries since last week to a hero’s welcome after performing the annual pilgrimage to the Great Mosque of Makkah in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, one of Islam’s most holy rites. 
Pakistan began its post-Hajj flight operations last Saturday as a Saudi airliner brought more than 200 passengers to Karachi. Over 200,000 pilgrims are expected to return home from Saudi Arabia through 500 flights between August 17 and September 15, according to airport authorities.

People pose for a selfie as they wait for a relative to arrive at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Thursday on August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

“We have come in four cars and on our return journey, as we get closer to our hometown, more cars will join us and it will be a full-scale motorcade by the time we reach our home,” Saleh told Arab News before the arrival of the Saudi Airlines flight carrying over 200 pilgrims from Jeddah, including his nephew.
He said when a pilgrim returned to his hometown, it was as if a VIP person, or a top government minister, was visiting. 
“He or she is more special than a bride or bridegroom,” he said, adding that people traveled from far and wide to reach the airport to greet returning pilgrims because they wanted to be the first to see the eyes of someone who had “been looking at the Kaʿbah and Roza-e-Rasool (PBUH) for forty long days.”
Mujtaba Baig, a Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson in Karachi, said if a regular international flight attracted around 100 people to the airport, including cab drivers of hotels, thousands thronged to welcome returning pilgrims. Zafar Aitemad Siddiqui, the chief operating officer of the Karachi airport, said rules had been relaxed to allow a maximum number of people to enter airports to receive Hajj flights.

Pilgrims arrive at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

In homes around the city, too, families and friends prepared for pilgrims to return, cleaning their neighborhoods, arranging lavish banquets and buying gifts. 
“My uncle will especially come from Lahore to receive his brother,” said Noman Bashir, the son of Bashir Ahmed who will return from the Hajj on August 30. “We have cleaned our street which will be decorated a day before my father’s arrival. We have made all arrangements for a grand dinner and chosen the best rice, curry and sweet dishes for over two hundred guests.”

People from remote areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province travel on buses and wagons to reach Karachi's Jinnah International Airport to receive pilgrims returning from the Hajj. Photo taken on August 22, 2019 (AN Photo)

After the dinner on the day of his father’s arrival, Noman said his father would begin visiting people’s homes for feasts held in his honor. 
“We have confirmed ten invitations from relatives and friends,” Bashir said. “Hajj is a special occasion; in our family, we make it memorable for those performing it.”

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

Updated 07 October 2019

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

  • Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades

NEW DELHI: Ravish Kumar is nervous about the “danger that Indian democracy is facing today” and how “a systematic attempt is being made by the ruling establishment in Delhi to suppress all the dissenting voices in the country.

“Journalism prepares you to face the unknown everyday, so I was not really surprised when I got the call from the (Magsaysay) award committee,” Kumar said.

“The problem was that I was asked to keep it a secret until they had made a public announcement. It was painful to keep quiet for almost a month,” he told Arab News with a smile.

“When the news became public, I realized what I had been bestowed with. I feel the award is a vindication of trust in good journalism. People felt as if the award had been bestowed on them,” he added.

It is this concern for democracy and its institutions that earned Kumar the prestigious Magsaysay award for 2019.

Instituted in 1957, it is awarded every year by the Philippine government in memory of its former president Ramon Magsaysay for “integrity in governance, courageous service to the people and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

Kumar, who works as a managing editor of India’s leading bilingual TV channel, NDTV, has created a niche for himself in the world of journalism with his daily primetime show, which draws huge audiences from across India. 

At a time when most mainstream TV channels and newspapers have stopped questioning the government and challenging its narrative, Kumar’s reporting takes a critical approach to the lawmakers.

For this constant critique of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the government does not send any of its spokespersons on his show or the channel.

He laments that a large section of the Indian media has become “an extended arm of the government and the mouthpiece of the establishment.”

For his outspoken attitude, Kumar and his family have received threats from “people who are subsidized by the ruling party.”

“I don’t have any hope for the media. It is dead in the country. Just a few are holding the placard of fearless journalism,” he said, adding that “the death of independent media has affected true reporting from Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation in the region is so bad that after the abrogation of its special status, even the significant moderate voices in India have been pushed to the militant camps,” he said.

Describing the government’s policy on Kashmir as “brazen,” he questioned the “audacity of the government to hold local body elections in the valley when there is a complete lockdown.

Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades, adding that he was aghast at the Supreme Court’s silence on the abrogation.

“Why is it taking so long for the apex court to intervene on the issue of the internet lockdown in the Kashmir valley? Can you imagine the American Supreme Court behaving the way the Indian judiciary is acting on such a crucial issue?” He asked.

He said that the decline of independent institutions such as the media, judiciary and election commission is gradually creating a democratic imbalance.

Kumar understands the award has given an extra responsibility on him and that he felt “burdened with expectations.” So great are those expectations, he has not ruled out entering politics.

“Politics is a good thing. I tell everyone to join politics,” he said, adding that his current responsibility is to “warn people about the danger that is lurking in Indian society.”