Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Not To Write About Rape

Today I was reading the Dawn, which is Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper (and to which I contribute from time to time), when I saw a news headline and story that pained me beyond belief:

"Rape" victim commits suicide

The story is terrible, as these always are: a girl of about 14 or 15 (matric is the equivalent of 10th grade in Pakistan) was kidnapped by a man on a motorcycle in Bahawalpur, taken to another location, and gang-raped. The police registered the case but didn't arrest anyone. The rapist came to the house of the girl afterwards and shouted threats at her, presumably to get her and her family to back off. She went into her room and hanged herself from the ceiling fan.

It's the headline that makes me see red, though. Why is the word "rape" in quotation marks? Ostensibly (and I know that the Dawn is very careful about writing things in a way that doesn't get them sued) it would have been because the case had not reached court, the rapists hadn't been convicted or jailed.  To save space, instead of typing "Alleged Rape Victim Commits Suicide" they went for the shorter "Rape" Victim Commits Suicide.

Here's the problem. In Pakistan, rape victims and survivors are barely ever given justice. Their rapists are rarely if ever tried, convicted, OR jailed. There's so much pressure put on the victims and their families to withdraw their cases that these can even backfire into honour killings where the rape victims are murdered by their own families to escape the stigma of rape. Any woman who speaks out and alleges she's been raped deserves all our credibility and support.

To write rape in quotation marks may be the intelligent thing to do legally, and it will save you from being sued, but in reality it casts terrible aspersions on the woman involved. Putting things in quotation marks isn't always just a quote. It often denotes that the claim is questionable. That it might even be fictitious. That it's definitely suspect. And this is the attitude that rape victims get all over Pakistan, from Mukhtaran Mai who was gang-raped as punishment ordered by a tribal jirga, to Haleema Rafiq, the young cricketer who killed herself when she was punished by the Multan Cricket Board for alleging that one of its members sexually harassed or assaulted her.

The girl who killed herself in Bahawalpur doesn't deserve being questioned. She brought her case into the public, she wanted her rapists arrested, but it was never to be. The courage that it took to do that is more than most of us possess. She killed herself when she wasn't heard, when justice was not delivered. It sends a shudder down my spine to think of that poor child extinguishing her own life because she lost all hope.

Please, Dawn, and all other newspapers and magazines and anyone who writes about rape in Pakistan and anywhere else, let's not leave her with an epitaph that brings even more shame on her head. Let's not call her "rape" victim in quotation marks. It's the least we can do to honour her memory, even if nobody will ever remember her name. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fashion Collaboration

Today I went to Bina Khan's salon to have hair and makeup done. I wore an exclusive kurta designed by Afsheen Numair for Sanam Chaudhri's "Sanam Chaundri for Blocked" Independence Line. I was then photographed for a feature that will appear in the Dawn on August 14. Below is a description of the collaboration and what we're doing it for: 

Sanam Chaudhri has done collections for 14th August before, however this year, she will be collaborating with Afsheen Numair's label 'BLOCKED', to create the Independence Line that will be launched this August.  
Afsheen uses the ancient  craft of wood hand block printing to create all her pieces. Blocked will design and print the fabric for this collection. The fact that each piece will be painstakingly hand printed using a technique that is rooted in our Pakistani heritage, and then styled and stitched by Sanam Chaudhri will make them truly unique. It is with this thought, that the two brands are coming together to create a 'Sanam Chaudhry for Blocked' Independence Line. 
We have decided to forego doing a typical 'fashion shoot' to promote this collection. Instead, as a gesture of gratitude to a few, very brilliant Pakistani women, who are doing great things for the nation in their respective fields, we doing a feature to highlight their achievements and cause. This feature will be printed in Dawn Images in August.   
Each of the women featured in our Independence Line campaign, stand for a cause that is helping the nation on a grassroots level, but perhaps with increased awareness and some help from all of us, together their cause can be taken to another level. We will be giving a 100% of our profits from the line to charities that they represent. Bina Khan and Dawn are also partners in our cause.

The cause I'm standing for is the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust, which runs a model village in Khairo Dero, Sindh.

Here are some pictures from this morning, but you'll have to wait for August 14 to see the finished result.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Honey & Co. Ramadan Challenge Day 11 & 12

The posts have slowed down because I haven't had the time to cook each day. But the food that I did make lasted a few days, so I counted that as part of the challenge (hey, I get to make up the rules).

Anyway, here are two of the things I did make:

Tomato & za'atar fatoush, which is a type of salad I always get at Lebanese restaurants. Unfortunately, it's not a complete one according to the recipe. I didn't have zaa'tar nor pomegranate seeds. The salad still tasted good, because of the feta cheese.

Oh my goodness, though, the dressing that goes with this salad is delicious. I have been making it fresh every day and eating it on regular salads. It's deceptively simple but the flavours are complex. Garlic, red wine vinegar, and good olive oil, plus salt and pepper. Simple!

Then, I tried the recipe for Sarit's version of maamool cookies. They are usually made with dates and walnuts, but this version uses pistachios and raisins, plus honey, cinnamon, and cardamom pods. I didn't grind the seeds in the pods properly so they stayed quite concentrated and gave a burst of sudden bitter flavour on the tongue.

The cookies aren't very sweet, and even though the recipe asks for margarine or vegetable fat spread (I used Flora) the result was a dry cookie. I'd probably use butter next time just for a richer taste. But still, these cookies are very tasty, and I keep wanting to pop one in my mouth every time I pass by the jar on the table.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Honey & Co. Ramadan Challenge Day 10

Today's recipe is something sweet for a change - a cherry-coconut-pistachio cake. I couldn't find the specific spice the recipe asked for, which is made from the pits of St. Lucia cherries and is not readily available in Pakistan. But it is the height of fruit season and I got a box of the last summer cherries to do this. And I used fresh coconut ground into tiny pieces for extra flavour, instead of desiccated coconut. We won't know how this turned out until the evening, when we have it on our Iftar table. But from the scent coming from the oven, I think this is a winner.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Honey & Co. Ramadan Challenge Day 9

Today's recipe is a bit of a cheat for me - Turkish coffee. I know how to make Turkish coffee. I love Turkish coffee. I used to drink it with an Egyptian lady who had married a Pakistani and emigrated here in the 1950s. She would make it for me, I would drink it, and then she would turn the cup upside down and tell me my fortune.

Wherever I go that serves Turkish coffee, I will have a cup. I savour its bittersweetness, its thickness, the rich taste. Turkish coffee is definitely an acquired taste.

But I've never been able to replicate that taste at home. I bought the coffee and an ibrik a couple of years ago, researched brewing techniques on the Web, experimented at home. It has never tasted quite the same as it does in restaurants. Once I was trying to impress a romantic interest, an Arab man, and I made a cup of Turkish coffee for him. But I was so nervous that I didn't brew it right. What I served to him could not be called coffee by any means - gutter water was probably a better descriptor of the drink. He was too polite to tell me how bad it was. It's no surprise it never worked out between us.

Anyway, the Honey & Co. cookbook has a recipe for Turkish coffee. It asks you to infuse cardamom in the coffee as you brew it, but I had coffee with cardamom added already. What differed between this recipe and how I usually prepare it is that it asks you to add sugar after the first time the coffee comes to the boil. Then you bring it to the boil twice more before it's ready to drink.

So I tried it that way today. It tasted good and smooth, although I still am not able to replicate that kind of burnt taste and thickness that I adore. It didn't have enough foam either which is the hallmark of a great cup of Turkish coffee.
 I'll keep trying though. And turning that cup of coffee upside down to see if fortune is smiling on me today. 

Honey & Co. Ramadan Challenge Day 8

Yesterday I had to be out somewhere in the evening so I didn't have any time to cook something from the cookbook. But at lunchtime, I did make something - it's probably the tiniest recipe in there. It is the salad dressing for the Fattoush (traditional Arab/Lebanese salad). It is the easiest thing in the world to do and involves infusing one garlic clove in some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. I made some for a lunchtime tomato salad (tomatoes and lettuce, only) and thought it was nice. I left it on the table to infuse some more. When I came home in the evening, the bowl was gone. I thought that someone had thrown it out, thinking it was a leftover.

This afternoon, my sister in law said to me, "By the way, that dressing you made was delicious!"

"What?" I said. "I thought it had been thrown out!"

"No way," she replied. "We took it downstairs and put it on everything. The pakoras, the samosas - it was delicious and everyone loved it."

What a shock - but it counts!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Death of a Cricketer

The newspapers yesterday reported the death of Haleema Rafiq, a seventeen year old woman from Multan who was a fast bowler on the national cricket team as well as playing in her home town.  Haleema, who along with five of her colleagues, accused the Multan Cricket Club officials of sexual harassment last year, saying that they were told they'd have to provide "sexual favours" if they wanted to be accepted on the team.

A committee investigated the allegations but when three of the women then denied there had been any assault or harassment, the two others, including Haleema, didn't show up for the hearing. The committee decided that there had been no impropriety, and then placed all five of the women on probation and recommended that they be banned from playing cricket for six months. Not only this, but Maulvi Sultan Alam, against whom the accusations had been levelled, then sought damages worth Rs. 20 million against the women.

Haleema was apparently fasting when she drank acid and died.

There have been misogynistic comments in the comments sections of the news sites reporting Haleema's death, bringing up the fact that sexual harassment charges were dismissed and that the "girls were lying in order to blackmail" the Multan Cricket Club officials.

What is far more likely to have happened is that the women were threatened and pressured to back off from their accusations. Their families were probably threatened, too. And then, they were punished for having dared to break the silence regarding the harassment. The thought of having to pay twenty million rupees to her abuser probably was too much for Haleema to bear.

This is an all too common story in episodes of sexual harassment and violence against women.  The victim suffers from mental harassment, intimidation, and the thread of physical violence if she doesn't recant. The victim is blamed, the accuser gets off. Haleema isn't the first woman to commit suicide because of this cancer.

RIP Haleema Rafiq.