Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

Defying tall odds, Shahida Abbasi becomes second woman athlete to win a gold medal for Pakistan. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2019

Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

  • There is more to our Hazara town than just bomb blasts, Shahida Abbasi says

KARACHI: As Pakistan’s second woman athlete to win a gold medal in karate at the South Asian Games in Nepal, Shahida Abbasi knows how to pack a punch.

That, however, is half the battle won she says.

True glory, she adds, lies in the fact that her town in Balochistan — which until recently was in the news for bomb blasts and target killings — has now become a source of pride for the country.

“When I started karate a few years ago, there would be regular blasts in the Hazara town of Quetta. Now, the town which was in the news for blasts and target killings is being celebrated for its achievements in sports,” Abbasi, 24, told Arab News during a phone interview from Katmandu, the venue for the prestigious games which began on Sunday and end on Dec. 10.

Pakistan won two gold, three silver and four bronze medals, with Abbasi bringing home the trophy in the women’s single karate category. 

“I am happy that I’m a source of pride for my country, my city, my town and my parents,” she said.

First launched in 1984, the South Asian Games, formerly known as the South Asian Federation Games, is a biennial multi-sporting event which sees participation from seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Nepal is leading in the games with 15 gold medals, followed by Sri Lanka and India with three gold medals each. Bangladesh came a close third with two gold medals, while Bhutan and Maldives have yet to win a gold. “I am very happy that I was the first from Pakistan to play and gave my country a good start with a gold medal,” Abbasi said, adding that the bouquets she has earned have not been without their share of brickbats.

“When I would go to the academy for learning karate, the boys in my neighborhood would taunt me. I wouldn’t respond but continued my journey with all positivity. Today, I gave them the answer with my performance,” she said.

Abbasi started learning karate in 2004, going on to win national and international medals for her Hazara Club in Quetta and the country.

She credits her father for her win. “'Martial arts is not for girls,’ our neighbors would say. But my father, my main supporter, continued to push me and today I made him proud.”

The second of four sisters, Abbasi said that she called her father in Quetta to tell him that she had won. “But he already knew it! He was very happy and said he’s proud of me,” she said.

Another driving factor for Abbasi to go for gold was to change people’s perception of Balochistan. She said it is considered a backward province but has immense talent and potential. “Give the people of Balochistan a chance, be it in education, sports or any other field, they will prove themselves.”

Muhammad Shah, Abbasi’s coach, praised her “outstanding performance.” 

“She has played better than our expectations,” Shah told Arab News, adding that with support from the government, the athletes can do even better.

“If the government arranges for us around two months training camp, the medals can be doubled. All of my athletes were excellent. However, Shahida Abbasi was brilliant,” Shah said.

Asked if she had a message for other girls her age, Abbasi said: “Have self-respect and self-confidence. With these two things you can outshine in any field.”


New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.