Friday, 13 October 2017

Notes on a week in an apparently independent Pakistan 4th Oct – 12th Oct

Hyderabad Central Jail

I reached Islamabad on 6th October after meeting Veerji Kolhi in Hyderabad Central Jail. Veerji Kolhi is a lawyer, social worker and a fierce human rights activist. He has been a child bonded laborer and after his release became an advocate for human rights releasing hundreds of people from bonded labor and raising issues of women rights violations because of which he became enemy to the violators and they framed him in a murder case putting him in jail. The free spirited Veerji who has given so much to his community has been in jail for the past seven months and has appealed to the high court. The process of dealing with judiciary has already been quite frustrating because of the laid back attitude of almost everyone involved, because one has to beg the people responsible to help Veerji. Its frustrating that such injustice exists. When he was sentenced to life, his wife at that time was expecting a baby boy. When I visited this time, his son Ravi Sagar was recently born and Bhagwati, Veerji’s wife had taken Ravi to his first trip out and that was to Hyderabad Central Jail. In the dark where Veerji is right now, he is still trying to shine by helping fellow prisoners understand legal processes, human rights but its not easy being a fearless, aware, progressive person to create awareness between people who have killed, raped or are totally innocent yet in jail for years. In an environment where, the only relaxation for him is to probably read and write and that too is taken from him after the terrorists have been found in Karachi Jail. After visiting him in jail, I met Veerji’s lawyers and I would write my comments on that meeting once Veerji will be out. Then I spent some time with his wife and three children.
I came back sad because I had found out that the complainant party in Veerji’s case had filed a revision to increase Veerji’s punishment from life imprisonment to death sentence. The complainant party is not financially rich enough to hire a lawyer for almost Rs.0.5 million but it did because the “powerful” people who want Veerji to remain in jail are helping the complainant party make it more tough for Veerji Kolhi. I tried to use all my contacts that I have made through twitter with the influential people who can help in this case. His next hearing was expected on 13th October. I was uncertain but hopeful. One can only take action if one is hopeful.

In the Sky of Pakistan
On my way back in the airplane I had an old woman sitting with me constantly complaining about her knee pain, I was reading “Hope in the Dark” by Rebecca Solnit and wearing my earphones, after realizing that she is wanting to complain to me, I decided I would hear her. I, coming in my yoga teacher character taught her some breathing techniques, told her how moving your body was so important and how she should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day and she argued that she couldn’t have water or she would have to visit the toilet again and again and that’s too much a hassle, on food she said in a very unblessed way that “whatever my daughter in laws feed me, I eat it” and that is when her complaining against her daughter in law began saying that she wakes up so late. I really didn’t want to come in the character of an activist but it’s just so natural that I asked her what work did her daughter in law and son do. She told me her son goes to office and her daughter in law wakes up late (8:00 am) and makes breakfast for everyone in the house, then she washes dishes, then she takes three hours in cleaning the whole house and then she cooks lunch and serves them, then she washes the dishes again, cleans the kitchen and goes to her room and sometimes doesn’t respond to us even when I call her. I asked her if she had kids, she said yes just a two year old daughter, I asked her who brings grocery? She said we are very kind to our daughter in law, we allow her to buy grocery herself which made me realize that the daughter in law is a super woman for sure to be doing all house chores and dealing with complaining in laws at the same time. I asked the mother in law how much does the daughter in law get paid for all the work she does? The mother in law laughed and said my son gives her food and shelter and gives me Rs. 10,000 a month, my husband Rs.5,000 a month and his brother Rs. 5000 a month. Meanwhile the airhostess asked her for drinks and she ordered Pepsi, I didn’t even look at her but asked for water for myself and she looked at me and asked for water too. Later I explained her that I work for the rights of women and explained her how she could be kinder in her life, she was otherwise a very sweet woman and heard me and showed me that she understood. I hoped that after this flight she would at least be aware to have more water and may give a warm hug to her daughter in law, which would be nice.

I had only two days in Islamabad to contact all the people for Veerjis case and then go to Parachinar on 9th October. I contacted the people that I had to and called Shahid Kazmi, the person who was not in Parachinar when I had visited it last time during dharna with Mahim Meher, Jibran Nasir and Talha Rehman after a bomb blast that happened there but it was Shahid who had arranged a lot of things for us while being abroad himself. So I contacted him to help me with rent a car for me to visit Parachinar and he told me that he was visiting anyway with his mother and that I could go with him. On my way to Parachinar , I found some amazing things about Shahid’s kind personality , his kindness towards the people around him was unreal. His mother hardly talked to me in the car, but she did ask me if I was married, had kids and I also saw a victory smile on her face when I told her that my husbands name was Alamdar. She seemed like a very religious woman with an excellent sense of humor and an extremely caring personality. There was a lot of beauty in the colorful autumn leaves of maple trees with sun shining bright on them and the mountains. There was a lot of beauty in the niceness of the people especially women but I started writing these notes not to mention the beauty, I am writing because I am sad, I am hurt, my body aches since I have returned not because I am tired but because I am drained seeing so much injustice, inequality and oppression in the world. Its literally making me dizzy and affecting my personal health right now. I just came back from sunrise meditation, made coffee for myself and sat on the couch and effortlessly, tears started dropping from my eyes and I cried, I cried a lot and then decided to write it down so all the frustration that I have inside can just get vanished into the universe.

There were at least 16 check posts from Islamabad to Parachinar after which I lost count. There were very rude men on duty on some check posts humiliating people of Parachinar and some very kind ones, the women’s checking was done by a woman in a long black burqa, black gloves and black socks. In my opinion It did not look like a human being to me. The mobile Internet disappeared the moment we reached Kurram, there was no gas in Parachinar and the power was out most of the time. The people of FATA are Pakistanis as per our constitution but they cannot practice their basic human rights under the constitution of Pakistan because FATA is still being ruled under the British made Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) of 1901, which violates the fundamental rights of the people belonging to FATA regions.  The law states that three basic rights are not applicable to Fata residents, appeal, wakeel and daleel. Similarly other FCR articles violate the fundamental rights of the citizens of this area. Clause 21 deals with collective punishment and under section 22-23, fines are imposed on the entire tribe/family for the crime of a single person.”

Human – a member of Homo sapiens species, a woman, man or child; a person
Rights – Things to which you are entitled or allowed; freedoms that are guaranteed.

Human rights are the rights you have simply because you are a human. They are how you deserve to be treated as a person. There are many rights but human rights are the only ones that are applied to absolutely everyone and everywhere regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, location, religion, color of skin, language, status of finances, status of power etc etc. In other words they are universal. There are 30 human rights by United Nations all listed out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Pakistan generally there is a violation of human rights in every corner but in FATA its not even there on papers, in documents.

The political agent is a very disliked personality from what you hear from people, the men are just abducted any time and put into barracks without them knowing the reason and with no rights to appeal or lawyer, the journalists are not being paid but if they don’t report for free , no one will find out about what is happening in FATA, the lady health workers and women government teachers are not being paid for months and women have to take the permission of the men to go out of the house, to use internet, to protest for their rights, to study, to work. Women only go out to limited areas completely covering themselves from large black chaadars, they work from morning to night inside homes cooking, cleaning, sewing, milking cows, making cottage cheese, taking care of the livestock, vegetables and fruits that they grow many times. They talk loud when sitting in all women but when even one man comes, their voice is unheard, they fear men. They fear men a lot. Women do not hold the right to property, they are subjected to domestic violence that they can’t talk about, and there is no support system for them. I did not find the women’s life much different from the life that of jail that Veerji had told me about but yes the women are all sentenced to life. I do not want to offend the extremely kind to me men of Parachinar but it was sad to see extremely progressive men with wives scared of them, subjected to kitchens only and humiliated by men on and off. I went to one of the imam bargahs with the women; Imam Bargah is the only place where women can socialize as well. When women would ask me why I was there and I would tell them that I came to open a woman sewing training center, they would get excited and ask me to establish more centers in the areas close to them as well. I planned a large community center for women with them where there would be a library, computer lab, sewing training center, Beautician course (as per their choice) etc etc. I hope I am able to do that but nothing is enough for FATA right now. Women are considered inferior beings than men who are already treated as much inferior than the rest of the Pakistanis. Anyway besides all these countless issues, my trip was beautiful, I went to amazing places, met beautiful people, was given a lot of care by everyone and was amazed at the strength of everyone to be able to manage to survive and smile and laugh in a land that has seen and continues to see so much violence, oppression and neglect.

I came back on 12th Oct with a very high energy and a good vibe after visiting the beautiful places of Parachinar but the next day was Veerji’s hearing and I couldn’t stop imagining him out of the jail and back to serving the people of his UC when the next day I found out that his hearing was delayed to 7th November and that he had to spend another month at least in that jail. I wrote these notes on my laptop instead of my diary. This is just a small percentage of the injustice in this country. There is a lot of work to do for the people who are privileged compared to the rest.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Veerji Kolhi - A light we must protect

In 2014, when I heard the news about children losing their lives in Tharparkar because of the long drought that it was facing, I decided to visit it with relief items for those who were in need of them. I called a friend Gulnaz Sheikh living in Hyderabad to help me and she introduced me to Veerji Kolhi, a smiling man who looked busy on phone sorting out the truck we needed to take the relief items in. I noticed Bhit Shah’s picture in his small office that he had set up in his house. Bhagwati, his wife had prepared very tasty Sindhi curry for me and we left for Nagarparkar early morning next day. Veerji and I travelled together for 8 hours and those hours were the most fascinating hours for me listening to Veerji’s life’s story, his commitment to help the people of his village, his awareness and interest in gender equality, his love for the sun, moon, trees and rain and his knowledge on people from Bacha Khan to Fidel Castro to Benazir Bhutto to Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and the history of Sindh. It was like being in some fiction novel. Since that day I have been visiting Nagarparkar regularly with the help of Veerji and we are both travel companions while making an effort to make a model village that we can replicate in the whole UC Behrano and hopefully eventually in all villages of Nagarparkar.

Veerji Kolhi with his daughter Divia

Veerji Kolhi belongs to a village Dhanagaon in Nagarparkar – a desert area that has been facing drought for years now. Whenever the drought hits Nagarparkar, thousands of families migrate in search of work to bigger towns. In 1988, while Veerji was studying in 5th class, his family also migrated and they went to a place called Juddo in Mirpur Khaas where the family worked as laborers with a landlord. Veerji and his sister Krishna resumed studying there. When people from Nagarparkar leave for bigger towns, they don’t have any familiarity with the new area, they do not hold the influence of any ‘powerful’ background, so many times the feudal / landlords of those areas force them into bonded labor. Veerji’s family worked there and after 7 months when they wanted to return, the landlord asked them to pay Rs.65, 000 for the work that they they had done or continue working there by force. His family could not afford basic food items to be able to pay a big amount of Rs. 65,000 so they continued working there. The feudal asked Veerji’s father after 6 months, that if his children would study, who would do the extra work after which Veerji and his sister Krishna had to leave school and work there for the next 4 years. During that time Veerji’s uncle who himself was free of bonded labor found out about a person named Shakeel Pathan from the organization HRCP in Hyderabad helping people release from bonded labor. He told them about Veerji’s family after which they were released in 1992.  After the release Veerji resumed his studies while working as a clerk in an agriculture farm with a police officer Muhammad Nawaz araayein. Veerji always talks very high of him as that police officer also supported Veerji in getting private education from 1992 to 2005.

This was when his life took a major turn and he met Dr. Fozia Saeed in Hyderabad. Besides many other meaningful roles that Dr. Fozia plays, she is also the director of an ngo called Mehergarh and she asked Veerji to attend a 2-months residential training on leadership in Mehergarh Islamabad. By 2005, Veerji had never even watched a movie ever in his life, as he didn’t know movies even existed. He excitedly attended the training and received the most outstanding student award and that’s when he got a little recognition and Nazish Brohi published his interview in newsline and another was screened with Toseeq Haider on PTV.  Veerji believes Dr. Fozia to be a light in his life when he was in the dark. He considers her his teacher, mother and he is never done with being grateful to Dr. Fozia for changing him from a farmer to a lawyer to a leader. He was taught tools of leadership, human rights, gender equality in the training and he learned it for life. He said that after attending the training when he returned, he couldn’t bear the oppression and exploitation being faced by people and started the journey of becoming a lawyer and human rights activist fighting for the rights of people.

He got thousands of people released from bonded labor and contributed in raising and working on countless issues. In 2010, Kastoori Kolhi’s rape case happened that Veerji raised with a media campaign and he took it to Supreme Court after which the chief justice took a suo moto action against it and the people involved in rape were also punished but the rape was done by the son of a powerful feudal who made Veerji suffer so much for standing for justice. Veerji’s life went in danger. He was shot at while he was in his car with his family; there were false cases filed on him, a case of stealing a cow and eventually a murder case in 2011 that happened in Nagarparkar while he himself was in Hyderabad. Since 2011 to 2017, Veerji has attended around 143 court hearings, spending money on travelling, lawyers and giving so much time of his life to a case he has got nothing to do with.

Veerji Kolhi was elected as the chairman of his union council Behrano on 19th November 2015 as an independent candidate after which he joined PPP. During his election campaign he promised the people that he would make a model union council. When he won the elections, for one year after the elections at least the budget was in process because UC Behrano was a newly created UC so had some account issues. He could just not waste that one year and his conscience didn’t allow him to upset the people who voted for him with hopes so we raised funds and started working in his UC without waiting for budget and he opened 4 solar schools, 2 dispensaries and 1 first aid center, constructed 5 wells in villages with no wells, provided water supply to each house in one of the villages, conducted workshops with women to help them participate in municipal decision making and provided solar energy to one of the villages, constructed a community center that he had planned to have a library in, opened a women sewing training center etc. He also helped develop ration cards for everyone in his Union Council so during drought they could all receive the relief sent by government in a fair manner and he would make sure it was fair and distributed among all by giving his 100% to it.  Veerji has so many plans for the people of Tharparkar to get local job opportunities so the people don’t have to migrate if there are no rains. He believes that he will be able to provide basic needs and basic rights to the people of Nagarparkar because of which he joined the government so he can ensure sustainability in the projects that he implements. His purpose is only to serve people in the best possible way.

On April 1st, 2017 he was sentenced to life by the District Session Judge Tharparkar in the same murder case that we all believe he was falsely accused in. In all of Veerji’s conversations one can so easily tell that he is really against violence, exploitation, oppression and neglect. Its impossible for the people like myself who know him, to even imagine that he can murder a human when he even raises his voice against animal abuse. He resonates peace around him with the way he talks and all of his actions. Veerji Kolhi , the human who advocates freedom is once again caged in life for a crime he has not committed. He is fond of reading, poetry, and writing. He tells us famous love stories of Sindh, quotes from famous saints of Sindh, he talks about environment healing and the love for nature. He is aware! So many people saw electricity for the first time because of him; they saw water pipes in their houses for the first time because of him. Whenever I travel with him and there is anyone on the road asking for a lift, no matter what, he gives them a lift, whenever I am with him, he is solving people’s serious issues, no matter how busy he is, he keeps himself available for the people of his UC. He is not just another person that we are raising our voice for; he is a bright light in the darkest of places.

An appeal has been submitted in Sindh High Court against his conviction. Thousands of people are waiting for justice and seeing their leader again bringing positive change in their lives. He bears a never-ending ocean of wisdom, love, hope and encouragement to any thirsty soul that passes by. Save him!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

11 things that moved me towards JOY

Since childhood, I have been hearing quotes like “Joy is your original nature”, “Joy is within you” from different philosophers, spiritual masters etc but couldn’t understand how. Personally happiness has always been a point of interest for me and I have always seen happiness as the epitome of all success. When I was very little, my permanent prayer would be “ Dear God, make me happy forever”.

It’s hard in this fast paced society to find time for self and avoid complaining about various external factors we assume as our reasons to be away from joy. With time and experience, I added certain things to my life effortlessly and they moved me towards joy. Its not that I don’t get sad anymore because I still cry, get angry, have some unhealthy habits, get involved in arguments, get emotionally low but I can tell with full confidence that most of the time in my life, I feel a constant inner joy and below are the 11 reasons why.

1. Wake up early and sleep early
I wake up at 4:00 am and make sure I don't miss the sunrise. This gives me 4 hours of my personal time before going to work, helps me enhance my productivity, I feel healthier mentally, enjoy my quiet time and it has improved the quality of my sleep.

2. Yoga, breathing and meditation
I have attended many courses of the Art of Living in which I learnt sun salutations, padma sadhna, three-stage pranayama and Kriya. Every morning at sunrise I do 12 rounds of sun salutations followed by three stage pranayama, forceful breathing, chanting and kriya (breathing and meditation) and when I open my eyes I feel as fresh as a new being every day. All of this takes 1 and a half-hour and by 6:00 am I am done. This practice helps me stay in the moment, gives me clarity of mind and besides many other benefits it helps me experience a deep inner peace of mind.

3. Morning bath
I have a bath playlist which has classical music from Bach, Beethoven and some violin tracks that I play while taking a bath with full awareness of the moment and it makes me feel alive, present and beautiful. I use shampoo only once a week and natural coconut conditioner once a week, rest of the days I use only water and when my hair gets dry I put a little bit of rose water in my scalp. By 6:30 am, I am done with ironing clothes, shower and changing into clothes for work

4. Never miss Breakfast
I weigh only 46 Kgs so I may not be having a very healthy breakfast but I have scrambled eggs with cheese, mushrooms, olives and some veggies with bread and masala tea (or green tea). I cook my breakfast myself and cut vegetables in a meditative state giving 100% to everything that I do with total consciousness. I feel it’s the most important meal of my day.

5. Reading/Browsing/tweeting
At around 7:30 am, I read the newspaper, contribute my bit on Twitter, check all of my social media pages and whatsapp, welcome people to the new day and read a few pages from a book. I mostly read philosophy, spiritual or motivational books and sometimes I choose to watch videos on YouTube of different spiritual gurus, authors and philosophers.

6. Job to earn 
From 9:00 to 5:00 I do a job in an NGO working for human rights and providing humanitarian assistance in emergencies. In these 8 hours besides coming home to have lunch, I don't know anything about the outside world and I am 100% into the work that I am getting and enjoy the salary it gives me by the end of the month. I earn good enough to pay my bills, have good food, help someone in need and travel within the country. At work I stay in the moment and I don't plan any activity for future and neither do I bother myself with anything that happened in the past. If I am bound to plan something specific for near future, I just write it down on a notepad and know in my heart that I will manage it.

7. Service to humanity
I run a little charity that works for equality for all and I have a big vision of what to do. When I come back from work, I meditate for 20 minutes which helps me take rest and after that I spend my time on working on my vision which includes work on registering my NGO, raising funds, spreading awareness, contacting people from the areas where I am involved in working, implementing activities in different areas of need and listening to people from different areas about their issues as I get messages from people of various geographic locations with their serious issues/matters and I then work on their solutions. I also spend this time being an activist on social media or attending protests favouring the causes I support. 

8. Traveling/ connecting with nature
I make sure I leave the town I am living in at least once a month, come what may. As I am sure about doing this in my life, I never have to make an effort to plan it but it happens automatically. Similarly I make sure that on the weekends I go into the woods, hills or near any water falls, rivers etc., I make sure that I feel the grass barefoot and also in the beginning of the year I aim for a few countries to visit and I make sure I visit at least one other country once a year. 

9. Learning a skill
I never spend my time without consciously learning a new skill. I don't learn it for my ambitions, I don't learn it for any reason but I make it a part of my life to be involved in learning at least one new skill. It can be learning a new musical instrument, learning new asanas of yoga, doing a new course on leadership, human rights, and gender equality, learning a new language or anything that interests me. It always remains a part of my life.

10. Leisure time / Spending time with family and friends
Everyday before sleeping, I effortlessly find leisure time. It's normally between 8:oo pm and 10:00 pm when I hear music actively, meet friends and spend quality time with family, watch some interesting tv series like house of cards, elementary, game of thrones etc , dance with my friends and family members, play some indoor games, do colouring or chat with friends on whatsapp. By 10:00PM I am asleep. 

11. Angel signs
Various beings/things that I encounter in my day, I take them seriously and notice them as my angels giving me guidance. It could be a feather on my way, butterflies, dragonflies, peacocks, something from my dreams or meditations. These angel signs can come as a validation or answer to a question i may have asked, or they may serve to simply remind me that my angels are with me, and that they’re ready and willing to help.


This lifestyle may sound mundane to some but has a lot of room to play around with the daily activities, it may sound tough to some but our body gets used to a conscious routine very easily and everything gets effortless eventually. I am sharing my daily routine with everyone because however my day is and whatever is happening in my life, when i am aware of it, it helps me remain at peace and joy. This routine helps me improve my life on a moment-to-moment basis and also helps me spread joy, love and peace around me. Everyday is a fulfilling experience and every moment looks magical. This has also helped me gain more empathy, and the power of intuition. I have met some amazing people on my journey and each one of them works as a magical mentor for me.

On a final note it's in our best interest to invest the time in selves and see what works for us the best and remember that what I feel today as the best may be completely opposite to what I feel tomorrow as we all constantly change.