Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges

Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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The image taken in September 2019 shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)
Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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The image taken in September 2019 shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)
Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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The image taken in September 2019 shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)
Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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A view of Karachi's Hindu crematorium, which is the only cremation ground for the 250,000 Hindus who live in Pakistan's largest city, on Sept. 11, 2019. (AN photo)
Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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The image taken in September 2019 shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)
Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
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The image taken in September 2019 shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)
Updated 14 September 2019

Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges

Visas for the dead: ashes of Pakistani Hindus can’t get to the Ganges
  • Getting visas to take cremated remains to India was always difficult, even before tensions escalated
  • Roughly 4 million Hindus live in Pakistan, with a majority of them in Sindh

KARACHI: The teeming metropolis of Karachi, a melting pot of religions, ethnicities and languages, has a single cremation ground and the ashes of over a hundred Pakistani Hindus waiting to reach the River Ganges, buried for now, under the bureaucracy of a strict Indian visa regime.
With a Hindu population estimated at roughly 4 million in the Muslim majority country of 208 million people, most members of the community live in Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh.
Over 250,000 Hindus live in Karachi city alone, with its crematorium next to a dilapidated Hindu graveyard. In Hindu practice, cremation grounds are usually built near rivers or freshwater streams, so the ashes of the deceased can be disposed of easily and quickly.
But for many of Pakistan’s Hindus, whose ancestors remained in Muslim Pakistan during the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, a last wish to cross the border into India is gathering dust.
Among almost a hundred others, in a small room are the asthi, or cremated remains, of Atam Parkash, a Pakistani-Hindu businessman who died of cancer in May this year, and who asked that his ashes be taken to the ancient city of Haridwar in northern India, where the River Ganges, considered holy by most Hindus, exits the Himalayan foothills. The river is the site of thousands of cremations and ash scatterings every day.
“My brother asked that his asthi be scattered in the River Ganges, but I don’t know if we will ever be able to fulfil his wish,” his brother, Sunny Ghansham, told Arab News. His fears are not unfounded.




A view of Karachi's Hindu crematorium, which is the only cremation ground for the 250,000 Hindus who live in Pakistan's largest city, on Sept. 11, 2019. (AN photo)

Relations between Pakistan and India, both nuclear-armed countries, have always been strained primarily over the disputed Kashmir valley, which both own in part but claim in full.
On August 5th, tensions dramatically escalated when India flooded the valley with troops, restricted movements and cut off communications as Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew special rights for Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan responded by downgrading diplomatic ties, stopping all transport links and banning bilateral trade alongside making appeals to the UN and international community.
As a result, already hard-to-get Indian visas have now become a near impossibility, and it appears the ashes of some of Pakistan’s Hindus might never reach their desired resting places.
“Although currently strained ties have increased our worries, obtaining visas for taking asthis (across the border) was never an easy job,” said Shri Ram Nath, caretaker of the Karachi Shamshan Gath, or crematorium, who took charge of the institution in 2005, and found the remains of hundreds of people dumped inside a small room.
“When I entered the room, I saw hundreds of remains lying one over the other... like trash,” Ram Nath said.
“I inquired of the staff who told me those (remains) were lying there for Asthi Visarjan (immersion) in Ganga Mayian (River Ganges). When I checked closely, I found the remains of a man, his son and grandson among them,” he said.
After investigating the case, Ram Nath discovered that years ago, a man waiting for an Indian visa had kept the ashes of his father at the crematorium, but died before it was issued. His son then brought his ashes to the cremation ground, and hoped to one day scatter them in the River Ganges. His visa never came either, and he too, died in waiting.
Ram Nath called a community meeting and 50 Pakistani Hindus, whose friends and families had asked for their ashes to be scattered in Haridwar, applied for Indian visas. All were refused.
“Finally, in January 2011, with the help of some NGO’s in India, we got 11 Visas and took 135 remains (to the River Ganges), including those of the three generations of one family,” Ram Nath said.
In September 2016, Ram Nath was able to take 160 more remains to India but since then, a gap of three years has meant the arrival of over a hundred remains in-waiting for the Ganges, that now crowd the small room of the city’s only cremation site.
“If Pakistan can open Kartarpur despite tense relations, why can’t the relatives of deceased Pakistani Hindus be allowed...to go to India to take their ashes to Haridwar,” Sunny Ghansham said, referring to the proposed border corridor between India and Pakistan to facilitate Indian Sikh pilgrims coming to Pakistan.




The image taken on September 11, 2019, shows the cremated remains of Pakistani Hindus, marked and stored sometimes for years, in a small room at Karachi's only cremation ground. (AN photo)

But relations between New Delhi and Islamabad are only getting more tense, with diplomatic courtesies largely suspended.
In August, the last ‘friendship’ bus from Delhi to Lahore, a popular means of travel between the two countries, pulled into a deserted bus stop and terminated service. Earlier this month, Pakistan refused to allow India’s President the use of its airspace, and Islamabad has been campaigning profusely for New Delhi’s international condemnation. India has defended itself by saying the constitutional revocation is Delhi’s ‘internal matter,’ and accuses Pakistan of smuggling militants across the border to fuel an insurgency in its part of Kashmir, a charge Pakistan vehemently denies.
Not all Hindus in Pakistan choose the Ganges in India for the scattering of their ashes, however. In fact, Ram Nath said, most ashes are immersed in the River Indus, which is also considered holy.
“Not all wish (for it), but those who do ask that their ashes be taken to Haridwar... we are obligated to fulfil their wish,” he said.
The immersion of ashes is also done at a point near the Karachi port, he said, but with increased littering and the mixing of sewage water, it is no longer considered a desirable place for the dead.
“We are bound to honor the will of the deceased,” Ram Nath said. “But it seems hard... very hard now.”


Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister
Updated 15 April 2021

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister
  • Muhammad Younus Soomro, a TLP lawmaker in Sindh Assembly, said he would use his legal options to retain his seat in parliament
  • TLP Karachi chief warns he will disown his party chief and members of central consultative body if they did not call off the protests

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Pakistan's federal cabinet has approved the interior ministry's recommendation to outlaw the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a religious party whose supporters have been holding nationwide protests since Monday, a senior government minister told a news conference on Thursday, adding that the government would take the case to the Supreme Court to ensure the dissolution of the religious party. 

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced on Wednesday that his ministry would send a proposal to the federal cabinet to impose a ban on TLP for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life through nationwide protests. 

The demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after Saad Rizvi, the religious party’s head, was arrested on Monday after he threatened to launch a major campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication. 

"We have proscribed [the TLP] and the notification for that will be issued shortly," said federal interior minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed. "Tomorrow, we will send another summary to the cabinet to file a reference in the Supreme Court since we are moving toward [TLP's] dissolution." 

Muhammad Younus Soomro, a TLP lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, said he would use his legal options to retain his seat in parliament. 

“We'll see our options once the notification [regarding the ban] is issued,” Soomro said while distancing himself from the TLP protests. 

On Thursday, the TLP chief in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi, Allama Razi Hussaini, also warned that he would disown his party chief and members of the central consultative body if they did not call off the protests.

“If the party’s central Shura and Saad Hussain Rizvi Sahib continue to show stubbornness and insist that they do not want to resolve this issue through talks, the nation will be disappointed and we will have no association with the TLP leadership,” he announced in a video message.

The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. 

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form. 

In the 2018 elections, the party managed to win two seats in the Sindh Assembly from Karachi and got a female member elected on a reserved seat of the assembly. 

Commenting on the government’s move to ban TLP, legal experts said the government was required to refer the matter to the Supreme Court within fifteen days of making a declaration to ban a political party while presenting its reasons for doing so.

“The Supreme Court may decide on the government’s reference in a week or ten days and its decision will be final,” Justice (retired) Shaiq Usmani told Arab News. 

He said the law regarding the dissolution of a political party was “very clear” and if the apex court upheld the government’s declaration against the TLP, “the party shall stand dissolved forthwith.” 

Legal experts said the three elected TLP members in the Sindh Assembly could retain their seats by resigning their party membership and publicly announcing their dissociation with the TLP before a final Supreme Court decision. 

“If the TLP lawmakers dissociate themselves from the party before the apex court’s verdict, they will be able to complete their constitutional term as independent members in the house,” Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a former attorney-general of Pakistan, told Arab News. 

He said if a member of the parliament or provincial assemblies was disqualified in case of the dissolution of a party, they could not run for electoral office or a legislative body for four years from the date of their disqualification from being a lawmaker. 

“There is no ambiguity in law,” Ali said, “and it’s up to the party lawmakers now as to what they choose in case of the dissolution of their party.”


Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks
Updated 09 April 2021

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks
  • Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence, during a live broadcast last Sunday
  • Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News Khan "never engaged in victim blaming"

ISLAMABAD: Civil society activists organized a protest at the National Press Club on Thursday, demanding an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for a recent statement on sexual violence against women, where he said wearing the veil, the traditional Islamic head covering, would protect women from sexual assault and not lead men into temptation.
In a statement that has caused outrage among activists and opposition politicians, Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence.
Members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have said Khan’s statement was misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News the prime minister had “never engaged in victim blaming,” adding that certain segments of his interview were lumped together, causing “misunderstanding.”
“Initially, he spoke about how the government had put in place robust rape laws to deal with the rising cases of sexual assault,” Khalid said in a phone interview. “And then, in a different context, he spoke about society, mentioning pardah [veil] which is not just a piece of cloth for women but also [a symbol of] respect.”
“People understand it as being specific to women, but it applies to both genders,” Khalid said. “It is about respecting other people’s space, about yourself when you interact with others.”

Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Asked what the prime minister meant when he spoke about “vulgarity” giving rise to sexual assault cases, ruling party senator Faisal Javed Khan said the PM could not be accused of victim-blaming.
“He did not put the responsibility on the victims [of sexual violence] or what they were wearing when he used that word,” Khan said in a phone interview. “Nowhere did he explicitly say that. He said that the root cause was the presence of such media being readily available on phones which everyone has, and we need to fight this together as a society.”
The government issued an official statement on Wednesday saying Khan’s comments had been “distorted to mean something that he never intended.”
“The Prime Minister said that our strict anti-rape laws alone will not be able to stem the rise in sex crime,” the statement said. “The whole society has to fight it together.”
Major clerics and religious bodies also announced their support on Thursday for PM Khan’s statement, saying “obscenity and nudity played a key role behind instances of molestation and abuse” and the prime minister’s stance would be “lauded” at Friday congregation prayers around the country.
But women’s rights activists say they were dismayed.
“The prime minister needs to have some gender awareness,” said Farzana Bari, an organizer of Thursday’s protest. “How can a head of a government make such irresponsible statements which are indirectly creating sympathy for rapists? This is why we are here since we demand something better from him and the state.”
Bari said Khan’s comments reflected a lack of understanding about crimes of sexual violence.

Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Renowned women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah said the prime minister’s statement betrayed a “misogynistic” mindset.
“He has gone beyond the pale, absolutely, of what is acceptable,” she told Arab News.
Abdullah said Khan not only owed an apology to women but also to Pakistani men.
“To say that men cannot control themselves and resist the temptation of women without a veil in the public is to imply that men cannot control their ‘rapist tendencies,’” she said.
The demands made by activists for an apology in Thursday’s protest were also mirrored by opposition leaders like Senator Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“Blaming vulgarity for the rise in rape cases is ridiculous as this removes the onus of responsibility from the rapist,” she said in a written message. “Rape is an act of violence where the rapist wants to establish his power and authority. A person’s body and autonomy are violated. Is the PM telling the women of this country that it is their fault if they get raped?“
Muhammad Zubair, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician, had the same query.
“His analysis is not just completely wrong, but it is dangerous for the prime minister of a country to suggest that the blame [for sexual assaults] falls on women and the way they dress up,” he told Arab News over the phone. “Victims of rape can be as young as 5 or 6 years of age … How can you blame them or imply that they somehow provoked men into committing such act of violence?“
“Without question, there must be an apology,” Zubair added.


Northwestern Pakistan apologizes as families of COVID-19 doctors still uncompensated

Northwestern Pakistan apologizes as families of COVID-19 doctors still uncompensated
Updated 22 March 2021

Northwestern Pakistan apologizes as families of COVID-19 doctors still uncompensated

Northwestern Pakistan apologizes as families of COVID-19 doctors still uncompensated
  • In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 79 health workers have died while saving others from COVID-19
  • Provincial government approved a compensation fund for medics in April last year

PESHAWAR: The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa apologized on Sunday for delaying compensation to families of health workers who lost their lives while saving others from COVID-19. 

With 79,245 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,208 related deaths, the northwestern province of Pakistan has one of the highest coronavirus mortality rates in the country.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government approved a compensation fund in April last year, but families of 78 health workers, including 48 doctors, who died of COVID-19 while on duty have not been compensated yet, according to Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) data.

"We apologize for any delay. All (families of) frontline health workers who died of COVID-19 on the line of duty will be compensated with their pension issues resolved," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra told Arab News. 

PDA president Dr. Ameer Taj told Arab News said he had sent two letters to the provincial health secretary and director general of health "months ago" to expedite the disbursement of compensation fund, but there has been no progress.

"We're left with no option but to go to court of law to get our legitimate right," he said, adding that the health department was "inefficient and dysfunctional" at a time when the country is struggling with the pandemic.  

"The deceased health workers have many issues such as schooling of their children. Delay in the financial package is really a source of concern for us all."

According to PDA information secretary Dr. Salim Yousafzai, only one family, of Dr. Muhammad Javed who died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in April last year, had been redressed for the loss.

Dr. Nasir Inayat, a medical practitioner at Khyber Teaching Hospital’s nephrology department, said his uncle Dr. Hidayat Ullah Khan died of the virus in July last year but no help for his family had arrived from the government.

"We're hearing of a financial package, but we haven’t received any aid. My late uncle has two sons who study in university and I’ve to bear their expenses," he said.

According to Minister Jhagra, all the paperwork needed to compensate the deceased doctors' families would be ready next week. 

Provincial Health Secretary Imtiaz Hussain Shah told Arab News that those "qualified" for compensation would be paid Rs7 million ($45,000). He did not specify, however, who would qualify and how many families would receive the funds.


Pakistan couple expelled by university after public proposal

Pakistan couple expelled by university after public proposal
Updated 13 March 2021

Pakistan couple expelled by university after public proposal

Pakistan couple expelled by university after public proposal
  • The University of Lahore said the pair had acted 'in violation of university rules'
  • The couple has refused to apologize, saying they have done nothing wrong

LAHORE: A university in deeply conservative Pakistan expelled two students who embraced after getting engaged on campus, after a video of the incident spread on social media this week.

In the clip, a female university student gets down on one knee and proposes to her boyfriend; the couple can then be seen hugging and holding bouquets of flowers as onlookers cheer them on and film the scene.

The University of Lahore said the pair had acted "in violation of university rules."

It added in a statement on Friday that they had failed to appear before a disciplinary hearing and were later expelled for "serious infraction of the code of conduct."

Public displays of affection between couples -- whether married or not -- are viewed as culturally and religiously unacceptable.

Many women in patriarchal Pakistan find it hard to defy tradition, with much of the society still operating under a strict code of honor.

The couple has refused to apologize.

"We did nothing wrong, and we are not sorry for this," Hadiqa Javaid tweeted.

"Can anyone explain to us what wrong we did by proposal in public in University of Lahore?," her fiance Shehryar Ahmed said, adding that couples had previously proposed to each other on campus.

They said they had received online threats for the show of affection.

Condemning the university's decision, the Progressive Students' Collective union on Saturday tweeted that "moral policing in universities has become a norm lately."

Some universities in Pakistan have barred female students from wearing jeans, tank-tops or makeup, while others regulate interactions between male and female students.

Earlier this week, the organizers of Pakistan's International Women's Day rallies said they had received death threats after a "vicious smear campaign" saw doctored images of the event circulate online.

The annual rallies calling for women's rights have received a fierce backlash since they first began in Karachi in 2018, including legal challenges to have them banned.


FM Qureshi, US Secretary discuss Daniel Pearl Case

FM Qureshi, US Secretary discuss Daniel Pearl Case
Updated 30 January 2021

FM Qureshi, US Secretary discuss Daniel Pearl Case

FM Qureshi, US Secretary discuss Daniel Pearl Case
  • The Pakistani foreign minister says his country wants economic partnership, regional connectivity
  • The two officials discuss Afghanistan, other areas of bilateral interest during a phone call on Friday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Friday it was important and in the mutual interest of the two countries that justice was served in the Daniel Pearl case through legal means. 

According to an official handout circulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Qureshi had a telephone conversation with the American official in which he congratulated the new US state secretary on assuming his office and highlighted the steps the government had taken in the kidnapping and murder case of the Wall Street Journal reporter. 

The foreign minister told the American official that Prime Minister Imran Khan was pursuing a new vision for his country that placed premium on forging economic partnership, building a peaceful neighborhood, and enhancing regional connectivity. 

He also underscored Pakistan’s commitment to a comprehensive partnership with the United States based on convergence of interests on a wide range of issues. 

“Foreign Minister Qureshi told Secretary Blinken that peace in Afghanistan through a negotiated political settlement was one of the fundamental convergences between the two countries,” the official handout said. “It was essential to have reduction in violence leading to ceasefire and to work towards securing an inclusive political solution in Afghanistan. Pakistan had facilitated the Afghan peace process and remained committed to working with the United States as a partner for peace.” 

The foreign ministry’s statement added that Secretary Blinken recalled US-Pakistan cooperation over the years and noted that the two countries had a range of areas to engage on. He also acknowledged the sacrifices of the people of Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. 

The two officials agreed to remain engaged and work together on advancing their bilateral agenda and promoting common interests in the region and beyond.