She was making too much noise

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Karachi
She goes to school on a wheel chair. Because two men on a motorbike shot her father dead; when she screamed they shot her thrice. She was making too much noise. That’s what the killers confessed to the police.
The men belonged to a banned militant outfit. They wanted Pakistan to be a Sunni state—their kind of a Sunni state.
Mehzar is 14 now. She has a hole in her neck—it goes right through her throat—the skin has covered it now but the scar remains. It reminds her of the 40 days she spent on a ventilator, she breathed through an oxygen mask, and ate food through a tube inserted in her neck.
When she gained consciousness she asked everyone where her father was. Everyone told her that her father was very sick. But she knew they were lying. She had watched her father die—and then she had fainted.

mehzar
In November 2012, Syed Nazar Abbasi and Syeda Mehzar, father and daughter were heading to school, when two men on a motorbike opened fire at Shaheed-e-Millat Road. Nazar died, Mehzar survived.
Two years and several surgeries later, Mehzar is confined to a wheelchair. Doctors say that her legs have twisted to an awkward angle and she might never be able to walk again.
Her mother refuses to believe them. “My Maula makes miracles happen.” That’s what she said to the doctors when Mehzar was fighting for her life on a ventilator. The doctors had given up. But this mother insisted a miracle was around the corner.
As compensation the family received Rs5000,000. Out of that Rs200,000 went for the initial surgery and treatment. After three months Mehzar was allowed to go home but only if she continued getting regular physiotherapy. That took away Rs70,000 a month.
When the compensation money drained out the family took her to a cheaper physiotherapist. But he spoilt the position of her legs.
Sometimes she gets bed sores. The last time she got one, she was sick with fever for a whole month. Her kidneys give problems too. Doctors recommend her to drink lots of water.
And then there is the trauma. For a year she missed out school. She would scream and get very angry. Her family took her for psychotherapy. She still gets very angry. And scared when men on motorbikes get near her car.
“Did you ever think I would be confined to a wheelchair like this?,” she asked her aunt at a family wedding. That was the only time she ever talked about the incident in two years.

Syed Nazar, her father

Syed Nazar, her father

“She doesn’t talk about the incident. Or her father, but I know she misses him very much,” says her mother.
Mehzar started school last year. She is preparing for her grade nine exams. When she takes a break from studies she watches television. There was snowfall in Murree, says the news bulletin. She oohs and aahs. “I want to see the snowfall too,” she laughs.
When she gets older she wants to design houses. Paint colours. Bright colours—blues, reds, yellows.

A family photo taken while Mehzar was still getting treated at the hospital

A family photo taken while Mehzar was still getting treated at the hospital

The family shifted to a new apartment. The old one did not feel safe. They sold off most of their furniture. This house is too small, they say.
Their toilet seat broke today. “Thank God Mehzar was not sitting on it,” says her mother. “It is hard for me to pick her now. My back hurts. Don’t tell her. She gets very angry.”
Life for them will never be the same. It is slipping out of their hands. They want to leave the city, and the country— it has too many painful memories.
And what has Mehzar got to say. “Nothing,” she shrugs, and buries herself in her books. There is no time to mourn.

As I write Mehzar’s story another blast has ripped through a Bohri Masjid in Karachi’s crowded Saddar. Two people died, and several are reported injured. I dread to think that they will go through the same fate Mehzar did. For this is how life is after a sectarian attack.

‘I would rather stay invisible than be targeted’

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by Sidrah Roghay

Karachi

Elegantly trimmed shrubs line the pathway. A towering Alam shoots through the sky. As many as 8,300 graves line neat rows. More than 30 graves added here this month belonged to victims of the ongoing sectarian violence in this restive port city.

“2012 has been a bloody year for us,” says Hasan Naqvi, caretaker at the Waadi-e-Hussain, a cemetery of Shia Muslims where many of their slain community people are buried. Spread over acres, it is situated on the outskirts of Karachi.

There was a time when the tit-for-tat sectarian violence targeted only hard-line community leaders or militants, but not anymore. Now even ordinary civilians are being targeted with impunity.

Small, but highly organised sectarian groups are being blamed for most of the sectarian killings, though the majority of Sunnis and Shias co-exist peacefully.

This year, there has been a surge in sectarian violence in which dozens of Shias, Sunnis and people belonging to the Bohri community have been killed.

The ongoing spate of violence has created a deep sense of fear among citizens of this volatile city, especially Shias.

On Wednesday, a twin bombing outside an Imambargah left three people dead and 11 wounded, underlining the gravity of the situation. The attack occurred despite the massive security measures taken by the government at places of worships and Majalis and processions.

But bombings and suicide attacks are not the only threat. Assassins armed with sophisticated weapons can get their target anywhere.

Take the case of Zahid*, 29. He was sitting outside his apartment in the building compound with six friends in the second week of November. It was a daily routine; they would sit through some part of the night and talk. Two men on foot arrived. They shook hands with Zahid, and then fired nine bullets into his stomach. The two friends who tried defending him were shot dead too. When he fell onto the ground, the gunmen kicked Zahid’s limp body to check for any signs of life, and then shot twice — just to be sure that the job was not half done.

His family narrates that a day before his death he had received a phone call. “So you think you will escape our clutches,” the caller had said. In similar circumstances on July 7, Zahid’s father was shot dead.

The family, who has stopped wearing black and decided not to attend any Majlis this Muharram, insists it was a sectarian attack. Zahid was not a member of any sectarian group.

In a similar incident on November 11, Jaffar Hussain, 55, along with his two sons Sajjad Hussain and Gulzar Hussain, was gunned down by four men on two motorcycles in Orangi Town.

Police claimed that the victims, who worked at a tyre shop, were killed on sectarian grounds.

There is crippling fear and attendance at the Majlis has thinned down. “Just before the blast at Abbas Town on November 18, the Imam who had flown in from Iran expressed surprise at the thin attendance. Not many people made it, and I wonder if they made the right choice or not,” said a resident of Ancholi, a Shia-dominated area of the city, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“I have stopped wearing the silver ring and kalawa (red thread) we wear during the month for fear of being recognised as a Shia. We are crippled with fear,” he says.

“All over our building Sipah-e-Sahaba has been painted in black. We live in a Sunni-dominated area, so we refrain from wearing black, or being too obvious about our faith,” said Nargis*, a resident of Patel Para.

“My uncle is a doctor. A few months back some men entered his clinic and asked him to stop practising. Scared for his life, he quit work for two months, until my father motivated him to continue practice. Life and death is in Allah’s hand,” said Rizvi*.

The Imamia Student Organisation (ISO), one of the political representatives of the Shia community, calls the sectarian attack a foreign conspiracy.

“We condemn every death, whether a Sunni or Shia, but this is not a Sunni killing a Shia, nor a Shia killing a Sunni. All these banned organisations which claim to be carrying out these attacks are funded by the West,” said Hamza Abbas, head of the Karachi Division of the ISO.

An Islamic scholar of the Shia sect admits, on the condition of anonymity, that no one will speak “against the mindset that promotes sectarianism in the present circumstances”.

“I would rather stay invisible than be targeted,” he says, quoting Gandhi, “There are many causes I would die for, but there is none for which I am willing to kill.”

Activists of Sunni groups, too, have suffered. A spokesman for the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Akbar Saeed Farooqi, says the organisation has lost 160 of its workers since January this year.

Dr Muhammad Shakil Auj, Dean Faculty of Islamic Studies at Karachi University, who belongs to a Sunni school of thought, blames it on the failed system of punishment in society.

“The terrorists go unpunished. If by any chance they are arrested, a stream of phone calls from influential people set them free.”

He quotes the 33rd verse from Surah Maida where punishment for terrorists is given. “The terrorist should be mercilessly killed, or crucified; his limbs from opposite ends should be cut off or he should be exiled — here exile does not mean sent off to a European country but confined to a small space. His movement should be curtailed.”

He condemns the hypocrisy of religious leaders who lead their public life very different from their private life. “In front of television camera they condemn sectarian killings, and when in the privacy of their homes they mock other schools of thought.”

Ghazi Salahuddin, veteran journalist and analyst, blamed the hate crimes on the hate speech from the pulpit. “The Jihadi mindset is gradually becoming mainstream. What is more, the atmosphere needed to counter it is absent. There is no dialogue or cultural exchange.”

He condemns how leaders who promote sectarianism through hate speech roam around freely in the capital city. “There should be an operation against the Taliban; it is being delayed for no reason.”

* Names have been changed to protect privacy