80 Hindu couples tie the knot at mass wedding in Karachi

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Faisal Edhi, Chairman of the Edhi Foundation, takes part in one of the most important rituals of a Hindu marriage during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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A woman pours ghee or clarified butter during a ritual as part of a mass wedding for 80 Hindu couples at the Railway grounds in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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A bride holds a vessel and a coconut while participating in a Hindu wedding ritual during a mass wedding of 80 couples at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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A bride, Asha Das, gets ready for the rituals during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Das recieves blessings from her mother after the completion of her wedding ceremony at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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A man appliee sindoor or vermilion to his bride's forehead as part of a ritual during a mass wedding involving 80 Hindu couples at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Brides and grooms are dressed up in different traditional attires during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Brides and grooms are dressed up in different traditional attires during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Brides and grooms are dressed up in different traditional attires during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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A couple is seen here participating in rituals during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Rituals are performed during a mass wedding of 80 Hindu couples at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Rituals are performed during a mass wedding of 80 Hindu couples at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)
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Updated 28 January 2020

80 Hindu couples tie the knot at mass wedding in Karachi

  • Eighty Hindu couples get married in a joint ceremony with financial aid provided for all
  • Organizers say such events play a vital role in projecting a positive image of the country internationally 

KARACHI: Dressed in colorful apparel, 80 Hindu couples, from across Pakistan’s Sindh province, vowed to honor their partners for life at a mass wedding in Karachi on Sunday.

Faisal Edhi, son of late Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, took part in the rituals while a Hindu priest, Maharaj Jay Kumar, recited a few verses to solemnize the weddings.

“Edhi Sb, when he was alive, would regularly attend our grand weddings. Today, his son, Faisal is among us, giving a message of interfaith harmony to the world, a message that we Pakistanis live together, mourn together and laugh together,” Ramesh Vankwani, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), a non-governmental organization, which has been organizing mass weddings for the past 12 years, told Arab News.




Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)

The first event, which was held in 2008, saw 35 couples get married at the time. That number has since grown to 100 over the years.

“This year, 80 couples were chosen out of those who had applied and were scrutinized, bringing the total to more than 1,200 who have been married thus far,” Vinod Premlani, an organizer, told Arab News.




Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)

The process itself, he added, is very tedious.
For the purpose, applications are sought from community members through the PHC’s district units at least three months prior to the event.

The PHC’s committee then scrutinizes the applications, shortlisting the most deserving candidates.

Those selected are then required to provide their National Identity Card and other documents for the purpose.

Unique to Karachi, the mass weddings cost Rs8 million to arrange – funds that are sourced from the community or sponsored by banks and other entities.

On any given day, mass weddings take nearly two hours to complete.

For Sunday’s event, which was held at the Railway Ground along I.I. Chundrigar Road, the couples traveled from different parts of interior Sindh to participate in the rituals.




Eighty couples got married during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)

After a brief announcement by Vankwani, Maharaj Kumar continued with the rituals which required all the brides and grooms to take individual vows for their partners.

Vankwani said such events are necessary for any society as they promote “strong social bonds.”

“Strong social bonds are developed among the participants as they celebrate their big day in a joint gathering. We also provide financial support – amounting to more than Rs100,000 ($647) – to the couples so that they can start their life with honor and dignity,” Vankwani said, adding that it also projects a positive image of Pakistan on the international stage.

“We want to show the international community that non-Muslims enjoy complete freedom to organize and participate in socio-religious ceremonies, too,” he said.

It’s a thought, Edhi says, which is unique to the idea of Pakistan. “Today, I am very happy that deserving couples were married with such dignity. These are the sons of the Sindh soil and have been living here for thousands of years. We believe in humanity and are here to show that we are together,” he said.

Edhi wasn’t the only Muslim to participate in the event. “I come here every year. It’s a brilliant cultural event where the poor are given a lot of respect,” Dr. Karamat Ali, a social activist and executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research told Arab News. 

Abdul Rasheed, a 50-year-old resident of Sangar who was accompanying a Hindu couple, said he was at the event because his friends were like a family to him.




A bride, Asha Das, is seen here placing a garland on her groom Sanjay Pradeep Kumar, during a mass wedding at the Railway Ground in Karachi on January 26, 2020. (AN Photo by S.A. Babar)

While organizers said that the mass wedding encouraged charity too; for a majority of couples participating in the event, it was a dream come true.

Jhaman Alam, a 50-year-old laborer from Umerkot, said giving his daughter away in marriage was not an easy task. “With this price hike, it’s hard for me to earn a living for my family. I am happy that my daughter has gotten married with dignity,” Alam told Arab News, as he poured some ghee [clarified butter] into the fire as part of the ritual for his daughter Dhhai Alam and son-in-law, Atam Parkash.

“My father, Parkash Das, was working at a marriage hall before he fell sick two years ago. Witnessing a wedding almost every second day, he would think of a lovely wedding ceremony for me,” Asha Das said, adding that Prakash had given up hope of ever seeing her married.

“This is wonderful. It is more than what my father had dreamed of for me.”


Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against greenback

Updated 29 November 2021

Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against greenback

  • US dollar closed at Rs176.20 on Monday despite clearance of Saudi deposits
  • Pakistani currency has lost 15.7 percent of its value since May this year

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency continued to lose its value against the US dollar and hit a new all-time low as the greenback closed at Rs176.20 on Monday. 
The rupee has lost its value by 15.7 percent, or more than Rs24, since May this year, when the dollar was trading at around Rs152. 
While analysts believe the rupee is weakening against the greenback due to a high demand for imports and an expectation of higher import bills for November 2021, currency dealers say the reasons for rupee’s depreciation were not clear, despite a decline in oil prices and the clearance of a Saudi financial package.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Monday formally signed an agreement under which the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) will deposit $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 
In October, SFD announced a financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation as it struggled with depleting foreign reserves. The package includes suppling $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit. 
“The demand of dollar for imports is exerting pressure on Pakistani rupee besides it is expected that November import bill will be higher as well,” said Samiullah Tariq, research director at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company (PKIC). 
Tariq said the flow of Saudi dollars into Pakistan would improve market sentiment despite an expected high demand for dollar for imports. 
“The Saudi deposits will improve the sentiment of the market,” he said. “The deposit will increase the import coverage of the country for three months.” 
But Zafar Paracha, general secretary of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), said analysts were unable to comprehend why the dollar was appreciating in the interbank market, despite the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility and around 10 percent decline in oil prices. 
On Monday, the rupee appreciated in the open market and the US dollar traded at Rs177.80 for selling and Rs177.30 for buying. The greenback traded at Rs179 for selling and Rs178 for buying the previous day.  
“There is more supply of dollar than the demand in the open market,” Paracha said, explaining the rupee’s appreciation. 
Pakistan’s equity market jubilated over the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility, with the benchmark KSE 100 index gaining 1215.89 points on Monday. 
“Stocks closed record higher after reports that federal cabinet approved terms of $4.2 billion Saudi package,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation said. “Strong economic outlook ahead of release of IMF tranche and surging exports, remittances and global crude oil prices played a catalyst role in the bullish close.” 


Pakistan mob sets fire to police station over alleged Holy Quran desecration 

Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Pakistan mob sets fire to police station over alleged Holy Quran desecration 

  • Crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded police station in Charsadda town on Sunday night
  • On Monday morning, 2,000 people remained outside police station burning uniforms of officers

PESHAWAR: Thousands of people mobbed a Pakistani police station, setting fire to it and nearby checkposts after demanding that officers hand over a man accused of burning the Holy Quran, police said Monday.
The crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded the police station in Charsadda town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday night, also setting fire to more than 30 cars.
On Monday morning, around 2,000 people remained outside the police station burning uniforms of officers.
"The mob stormed the police station asking to hand over the man to them so they could burn him alive like he burnt the Holy Quran," district police chief, Asif Bahadur told AFP.
The identity and religion of the accused has not been disclosed by police, Bahadur said.
"The motive behind burning the copy of the Holy Quran is still unknown but we are investigating."
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.
Rights groups say the legislation is often hijacked for personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Holy Quran. A former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in Islamabad in 2011 over his call for reforms of the blasphemy law.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman and a labourer from central Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal in 2018, which prompted days of violent demonstrations by hardliners. She and her family later fled the country for Canada.
The country has frequently been paralysed in recent years by anti-blasphemy protests waged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, often linked to the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) by a French satirical magazine. 


Islamabad, Saudi Arabia sign agreement on $3 billion deposit in Pakistani central bank

Updated 29 November 2021

Islamabad, Saudi Arabia sign agreement on $3 billion deposit in Pakistani central bank

  • State Bank of Pakistan says funds will help support country’s foreign currency reserves
  • In October, Saudi Fund for Development announced financial package of $4.2 billion for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, represented by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), on Monday formally signed an agreement under which SFD will deposit $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 
In October, SFD announced a financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation as it struggled with depleting foreign reserves. The amount includes suppling $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit. 
A deposit agreement was signed in Karachi by SFD Chief Executive Officer Sultan Bin AbdulRahman Al-Marshad and SBP Governor Dr. Reza Baqir, the SBP said in a statement on Monday.


“The deposit amount under the agreement shall become part of SBP’s Foreign Exchange Reserves. It will help support Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves and contribute toward resolving the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. 
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy deep-rooted strategic ties. Around 2.5 million Pakistani expats are living in the kingdom, and are the biggest single source of foreign remittances to the South Asian nation. 
Saudi Arabia also supported Pakistan in 2019 with $3 billion deposits and a $1.2 billion deferred oil payments facility. 
“The deposit agreement reflects the strong and special relationship and will augment economic ties between the two brotherly countries,” the SBP said.


At Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai, a night to promote tolerance, inclusivity

Updated 29 November 2021

At Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai, a night to promote tolerance, inclusivity

  • Acclaimed motivational speaker Muniba Mazari shares Jubilee Stage with singer and actor Meesha Shafi
  • Speakers urge people to cherish individuals who are differently-abled, unique in their own way

DUBAI: The Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Sunday organized an evening of music and inspiration where speakers and musicians highlighted and celebrated tolerance, inclusivity and equality.
Exhibitors from almost 200 countries, including Pakistan, are participating, with many countries and companies looking to the expo — the first major global event open to visitors since the coronavirus pandemic — to boost trade and investment.
The Pakistan pavilion was officially inaugurated by President Dr. Arif Alvi on October 9. The Expo itself commenced on October 1 and will last till March 31, 2022. 
On Sunday, acclaimed motivational speaker Muniba Mazari shared the Jubilee Stage, one of the main event platforms at the exhibition, with singer and actor Meesha Shafi at an evening themed ‘Pakistan — Connected through Diversity.’ 
Speaking to the audience, Mazari said the world celebrated sameness and labelled those who were ‘different,’ which needed to change. 
“What about the people who don’t look alike? Those who look different, unique and want to see the world as they want to see it, people who think out of the box, those people are labelled crippled, handicapped, disabled,” she said. “Tonight, let us change this narrative and replace these negative labels with positive words like courageous and resilient.” 

Muniba Mazari, an acclaimed motivational speaker, speaks on inclusivity and equality at an event organized by the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 28, 2021. (AN Photo courtesy Pakistan Pavilion)

Mazari, who is wheelchair bound since an accident crushed her backbone 13 years ago, said while recuperating in hospital for over two months, she made life-changing decisions to give back to society, started painting and adopted her son, Neil, who is now 10. 
“I decided to accept myself as I was and move on and move forward in life,” said Mazari, who delivers motivational talks around the country and beyond, and showcases her paintings globally. She was Pakistan’s first UN goodwill ambassador and named in Forbes 30 under 30, BBC’s Top 100 Women and many other global lists.
“Tonight, I am going to dedicate all these titles to all those people in the world who are unique and who are differently-abled,” she said. 
The event was also attended by young upcoming singer Maria Unera, who rocked the stage with her powerful voice while paying tribute to her mother whom she lost to cancer. 
Meesha Shafi delivered a surprise performance with Mazari and Unera as a closing to the event.
“Pakistan has a lot of reasons to be proud of at the Expo because the pavilion is very impressive,” Shafi said. “It was not just a show but there was an intention behind it and I was really glad to be part of it.” 

Singer and actor Meesha Shafi performs at an event organized by Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 28, 2021. (AN Photo courtesy Pakistan Pavilion)

 


‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

Updated 29 November 2021

‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

  • Pakistan to increase testing in high risk areas, launch booster shot program for high-risk segments of population
  • Detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments world over scrambled to impose new travel curbs

ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the national pandemic response body, the NCOC, said on Monday it was “impossible” for Pakistan to block the Omicron coronavirus variant from entering the country and the only protection against it was to increase vaccinations.
The detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs and financial markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.
In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19, including vaccines.
Addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, Umar stressed the need for citizens to get vaccinated, saying the government would take new measures to protect against the Omicron variant. These include increased testing in high risk areas, and the launch of a booster shot program for high-risk segments of the population such as the elderly and the immunocompromised.
On Saturday, Pakistan banned travel from six South African countries and Hong Kong following the emergence of the new coronavirus variant.
“We can take measures to delay the entry into Pakistan of this variant, we can reduce its numbers, but it will spread all around the world,” Umar said. “As we saw before, once a new variant comes, the world is so interconnected, there is so much travel, that it is impossible to stop it. So what is the solution, what is in our hands? The answer is vaccination.”
“This is a very dangerous variant but vaccination will still be effective against it,” the minister said. "So it is my appeal to Pakistanis, particularly those who've gotten one dose, to get the second dose.”
"This variant will come to Pakistan, and we have the next 2-3 weeks to reduce its threat,” Umar added.
The Omicron variant spread around the world last week, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.
WHO has said it was not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.