Abira Ashfaq

Abira Ashfaq

A law teacher in Karachi who works with human rights organisations. She tweets @oil_is_opium. (twitter.com/oil_is_opium)

Let Mumtaz Qadri live

I consider what Mumtaz Qadri did to be a heinous crime and one of the most serious – murder, and that too motivated by ideological reasons.  The victim was the governor of Punjab who in furtherance of his public duty had met a woman convicted under the state’s discriminatory blasphemy laws. Nevertheless, Qadri should not be executed as the death penalty must be opposed on all accounts. There should be a special onus on us to resist the temptation to punish someone for their ideology, however repugnant we may find that ideology. People must unequivocally reject the death penalty, especially as applied in Pakistan.  Liberals who say they are against the penalty, ...

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What I learnt about life in Karachi

When you first come to live in Karachi, you are a bit anxious about how things are, and often get frustrated easily.  Slowly, however, you learn how to work the city. Here are some small lessons I have learned: Never talk to society women about where to buy lace; they’ll never shut up.  In fact they’ll talk so much about tailors and boutiques, if you could tap all that energy through some scientific magic, you’d have several gallons of petrol. If you see a woman who gets unusually animated when talking about her tailor, run for your life. Never get upset with a waiter who brings you your samosa with his fingers underneath ...

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Working from home: Basic rights denied

Contrary to popular perception, most women work in Pakistan, and often inside the home in the informal economy. Sixty-five per cent of the female workforce works at home, and a 2009 survey estimated their number to be 8.52 million, although activists suggest it may be as high as 12 million. These workers are not protected by formal labour laws and suffer the legal and social disabilities that are typically associated with this form of work – no rights to minimum wage, no social security benefits, inability to organise in unions and lawfully challenge violations of occupational health and safety (OSH) ...

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Mukhtaran Mai verdict: Where the court went wrong

Human rights activists are rightfully outraged that the Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the acquittals of five of the accused in Muktar Mai’s case, except Abdul Khaliq. (The State v. Abdul Khaliq, Criminal Appeals No.163 to 171 and S.M. Case No.5/2005, hereinafter “Judgment”) The case offers an opportunity to reignite the struggle and frame ethical principles that balance the right of the criminal defendant with the rights of victims of crimes. On August 31, 2002, the Anti-terrorism Court (ATC) found the six defendants guilty of several offences under the Hudood Ordinance and the Pakistan Penal Code.  These included rape and aiding ...

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Sesame Street: Can puppets change Pakistan?

A BBC news report stated that USAID has made a grant of $20 million to Rafi Peer Theater group to create a local version of Sesame Street. The setting is a rural village and the protagonist a spirited little girl named Rani. This report should be in the Onion or get a rotten tomato. It quotes Imraan Peerzada, a writer for the new series: She (Rani) will represent what little girls have to go through in this gender-biased society…her journey would inevitably touch on Pakistan’s ongoing fight with militancy, but would not directly refer to religion. What’s next? Fluoride in our drinking water to make us more docile, compliant and less flammable in ...

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