Trafficked to Pakistan decades ago, social media helps Indian woman virtually reunite with family

Waliullah Maroof, a local prayer leader and social activist, on August 4, 2022, shows Hamid Bano Shaikh a photograph of her on a Qatari visa from the late 1990s. The photo was shared by her family in India. (AN Photo)
Short Url
Updated 05 August 2022

Trafficked to Pakistan decades ago, social media helps Indian woman virtually reunite with family

  • Hammida Banu Shaik was trafficked to Pakistan under the ruse of an employment offer in Dubai in 2002
  • Her family recognized her last week after a YouTube interview of her and an article were published online

KARACHI: An Indian woman who was trafficked to Pakistan two decades ago said on Thursday she was eagerly waiting to return to her country after a video call arranged by a local cleric last week allowed her to see her children for the first time in two decades.

South Asia, with India at its center, is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, after East Asia, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.

In 2020, a total of 4,966 cases of human trafficking were registered from across India. In 2019, the government reported 2,088 trafficking cases under the Indian Penal Code, compared with 1,830 trafficking cases in 2018, according to data from the US State Department.

Hammida Banu Shaik was trafficked in 2002 after an employment agency offered her a job in Dubai. The woman had already spent nine years working in Doha in the 1990s and did not suspect that the job offer was part of a plot to kidnap and traffic her. She ultimately ended up in Pakistan where she was kept in illegal confinement in Hyderabad city. After three months, however, she managed to escape through a window and fled to Karachi where she has been living since. Arab News has reviewed proof of Shaik’s employment in the Middle East and her Indian nationality.

"[Before I left India] my younger son told me, 'Don't worry about my marriage, I will earn and take care of you'," Shaik told Arab News. "'I will work hard at the railway station. Don’t go.'"

But Shaik left to pursue what she thought was another job that would help to support her poor family and it was only this week, after twenty years, that the 65-year-old had her first contact with her children since her kidnapping.

“I met my grandchildren for the first time [online],” Shaik said. “I wanted to hold them and give them all my love. I wish there was a way I could have flown to them.”

The virtual meeting came about when a local prayer leader and social activist, Waliullah Maroof, interviewed Shaik on YouTube and the video was picked up by a Mumbai-based journalist, Khalfan Shaikh, who contacted Maroof and published a story about the woman's ordeal online. Last Sunday, the journalist contacted Maroof again, saying Shaik’s children had recognized her from the online posts. The cleric arranged a video call the same evening.

“I had lost all hope, thinking I was going to die in Pakistan without meeting my children,” she said.

Speaking about her years in Pakistan, Shaik said soon after arriving in Karachi, she realized it would be difficult for her to survive without a man since people were not even willing to rent her a room in the absence of a male family member.

“I used to say what kind of law you have in Pakistan,” she said. “Does the law here prohibit people from renting out space to a woman who is all by herself?”

Shaik thus decided to marry a Pakistani man who she said took care of her as long as he lived and also agreed to help her look for her family in India and send her to meet them, but under one condition: that she promise to return to Pakistan.

Shaik never made the promise and her husband hence never let her travel to India.

Saving small change for years, the woman said at one point she had Rs2,000, which she tried to use to contact her children via telephone. But she always reached a wrong number.

"'Are you mad? The number on which you are calling is not of your children, your children are not here,'" Shaikh said, quoting the person on the other end of the receiver. "The person who would pick up the phone was not my own."

And so, she kept dreaming of meeting her children and never went a day without praying for their wellbeing.

Now, finally, her prayers have been answered.

“I forgot all my hardships, though even today I cannot eat, drink or sleep [out of happiness],” she said. "I had left them when they were small kids. Today I have met such grown up children that I couldn't recognize them."

Shaikh said she has been contacted by the Indian high commission in Islamabad, which had requested her to send a formal application to travel to India. She has dispatched the documents. 

“I want to go to India to spend the rest of my life with my family,” she said. "I request India to send me to my children at the soonest. I need nothing else."

The Indian high commission did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

In Pakistan’s southwest, Royal Palace of Kalat where Jinnah was weighed in gems

Updated 43 min 11 sec ago

In Pakistan’s southwest, Royal Palace of Kalat where Jinnah was weighed in gems

  • Jinnah visited the Khan of Kalat for the first time in 1945 while the independence movement was at its peak
  • Second visit was after partition to collect donations so Bank of England could print currency for the new nation

QUETTA: A sprawling palace in Pakistan’s southwest, hemmed in by scenic mountains and apple orchards, has a special connection to the country’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The princely state of Kalat is in Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province of Balochistan, and acceded to the dominion of Pakistan on March 27, 1948, after having declared independence earlier on August 15, 1947. The accession was a stormy affair, and insurgencies continue in Balochistan to this day against the state of Pakistan.

But before partition, Jinnah twice visited the Royal Palace of Kalat, built over 8,000 square feet of land, and home to the ruler of the princely state, the Khan of Kalat. The building’s design is inspired by the upper deck of a ship on which the Khan went for the first time on a Hajj pilgrimage. Before the royal residence was built, the rulers of the area had lived in the ancient Mirri Fort which was flattened in a devastating earthquake that shook the region in 1935.

“Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited the Royal Palace of Kalat in 1945 and 1948,” Prince Agha Umar Jan Ahmedzai, the Khan’s grandson, told Arab News in Kalat. “During Mr. Jinnah’s two visits, he was welcomed by the people of Balochistan because we knew he was leading a sacred cause for the Muslims of the British-ruled Subcontinent.”

The image shows the exterior view of the Royal Palace of Kalat in Pakistan's Balochistan province on August 5, 2022 (AN Photo)

Ahmedzai said Kalat had played a major role in strengthening the country and was instrumental in getting Pakistan over 40 percent of its land in the shape of the resource-rich province of Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by area.

According to the prince, Jinnah spent two days in the newly constructed palace during his first visit, and returned three years later for an entire week.

The Khan of Kalat had designated two of the most luxurious rooms on the top floor of the palace for Jinnah and his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and offered them expensive gifts of gold and gemstones when they visited.

“Mr. Jinnah came with his sister Fatima Jinnah to the Royal Palace of Kalat [in 1945] where my grandfather weighed [him] and donated him gems according to his weight,” Ahmedzai said. To Fatima, the Khan gave an expensive necklace. 

He added that the founder of Pakistan also sought donations during his second visit to the palace in 1948 since the Bank of England had inquired about gold reserves before printing currency notes for the new nation.

“There was a currency problem when Pakistan came into existence and Quaid-e-Azam came here in distress, saying he had gone to businessmen of Karachi but could not gather the gold which was required for currency deposits [with the British],” Jan said.

“So, almost 1,360 kilograms of gold was given by Khan Ahmed Yar Khan [the Khan] for the printing of currency.”

“This house has overall a lot of importance. In Pakistan’s existence … definitely there is a big role of the Baloch people and this house.”

In Jinnah’s memory, the royal family has preserved all the items Jinnah used during his stay in the palace.

Saeed Ahmed Naichari, whose family has served the palace for four generations, said his job was to brief tourists about the history of the place.

“Even the overcoats worn by Muhammad Ali Jinnah still hang in the wardrobe,” he said as he gave Arab News a tour of the palace.

The picture taken on August 5, 2022 shows an overcoat worn by the founder of Pakistan, Muhmmad Ali Jinnah, during his visit to the Royal Palace in 1948, in Kalat, Pakistan, on August 5, 2022 (AN Photo)

“Our family looks after this house,” Ahmedzai added. “This is not just our house but this is a house of the Baloch nation. When you go to someone’s house, you cannot enter the gate but this house is open for everyone. And it is open for all Balochis, Pakistanis and for everyone who wants to visit it.”

Pakistan captain Babar rules out Malik return for T20 World Cup

Updated 40 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan captain Babar rules out Malik return for T20 World Cup

  • Babar says team needed to give fresh talent more opportunities to develop 
  • Malik played last of his 124 T20 Internationals against Bangladesh last November

LAHORE: Pakistan captain Babar Azam has ruled out a return for veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik to the Twenty20 squad ahead of the World Cup in Australia, saying the team needed to give fresh talent more opportunities to develop.

Malik, who played the last of his 124 Twenty20 Internationals against Bangladesh last November, has impressed in Pakistan's domestic T20 league and with the Asia Cup and World Cup on the horizon local media suggested the 40-year-old's experience could prove invaluable.However, there was no place for the former captain, a useful all-rounder, in the squad for this month's Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Babar said they were looking to the future with the World Cup coming up in October-November.

"There are matches immediately after Netherlands, so it's unlikely there will be time for changes," Babar told reporters on Thursday ahead of their Dutch tour next week.

"When senior players leave the side, those replacing them need focus. (Mohammad) Hafeez and Malik were huge players and we'll miss them a lot, and players like Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah and Iftikhar (Ahmed) need to fill their boots.

"We want to give them plenty of matches and confidence, and these players have performed."

Pakistan will play three one-day internationals in Rotterdam before arriving in the UAE where they begin their Asia Cup campaign with an Aug. 28 blockbuster against arch-rivals India in Dubai.

Pakistan, Turkey sign trade in goods agreement

Updated 12 August 2022

Pakistan, Turkey sign trade in goods agreement

  • Pakistan PM has resolved to take bilateral trade with Turkey to $5 billion in next three years
  • Pakistan commerce minister Naveed Qamar and Turkish trade minister Mehmet Mus singed document 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Turkey on Friday signed a ‘Trade in Goods Agreement’ under which both countries will get concessions on the trade of a number of goods and aim to increase bilateral trade.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in May visited Turkey where he expressed his resolve to take bilateral trade between the two countries to $5 billion in the next three years. The leadership of the two countries had also agreed then to speed up the process to finalize the Trade in Goods Agreement.

Pakistan’s minister for commerce Naveed Qamar and Turkish trade minister Mehmet Mus singed the new deal in Islamabad.

Sharif, while addressing the signing agreement, said the agreement had been under discussion for many years and would now open “vistas of opportunities” for both countries.

“Our potential is unlimited, our capacity is beyond anybody’s imagination and commitment is outstanding,” Sharif said. “Let’s now resolve to implement this agreement in letter and spirit and let the world know that we mean business.” 

“This Agreement will be pivotal in achieving the initial trade target of $5 billion. There is an unlimited potential for bilateral trade,” Sharif later said in tweet.

Turkish trade minister Mus called the agreement an important mile stone in bilateral ties.

“I strongly believe that this agreement will serve the expansion of our bilateral trade and will be most important tool to catch our 5 billion US dollar [bilateral] trade volume [target] set by our leaders,” Mus said.

The Pakistani commerce minister said under the new agreement, both countries had granted concessions to each other on a number of trading lines.

“I must say that we are grateful that our brothers from Turkey have given us concessions in 231 lines and Pakistan has given concession in 130 lines,” Qamar said.

'Sedition' case: Pakistani court sends ex-PM Khan aide to jail on judicial remand

Updated 12 August 2022

'Sedition' case: Pakistani court sends ex-PM Khan aide to jail on judicial remand

  • Gill was arrested on Tuesday afternoon over televised comments the media regulator says were “seditious”
  • Khan condemns “torture” of Gill in police custody, says he deserves a “fair hearing” even if he broke a law

ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital on Friday sent Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, to jail on judicial remand, rejecting a request by police to extend the suspect’s physical remand.

Gill was arrested on Tuesday afternoon, a day after controversial comments on a talk show aired by a private news channel, asking army officers not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

Local media reported Gill told the judge police had kept him awake at night and tortured him, saying investigators had not carried out a medical examination and lawyers were not being allowed to meet him.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan took to the twitter and condemned what he said was “torture being inflicted on Shahbaz Gill.”

“Under what law & under who’s orders is this being done? If he broke any law then he shd be given a fair hearing,” Khan said. “All laws are being violated with impunity.”

On Monday, the country’s national media regulator issued a show cause notice to ARY News, the channel on which Gill’s comments were aired, describing them as “seditious.” The channel has also been off air since Monday night.

A day earlier, on Thursday, a Karachi court released Ammad Yousaf, the news director at ARY News, while the Sindh High Court directed Pakistan’s media regulator and cable operators to restore the channel’s transmission immediately. 

In Karachi’s old town, birthplace of Pakistani founder stands hidden from public eye

Updated 12 August 2022

In Karachi’s old town, birthplace of Pakistani founder stands hidden from public eye

  • Wazir Mansion in Newnham Road has been officially recognized as Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s birthplace since 1953
  • Some scholars say the actual place of Quaid-e-Azam’s birth was 20 yards away, a building behind Wazir Mansion

KARACHI: While thousands of people flock daily to Mazar-e-Quaid, the mausoleum and final resting place of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi, and most know that he spent his last days at the Ziarat Residency in Balochistan, few can tell you with certainty where the founder of Pakistan was born.

Jinnah’s official place of birth, the three-story Wazir Mansion, is just a few kilometers away from his tomb, tucked away in a narrow street on Karachi’s Newnham Road, surrounded by shops and residential apartments.

Wazir Mansion was officially recognized in 1953 as the birthplace of Jinnah, revered as the country’s founder, who led the struggle for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent from 1937 to Aug. 14, 1947, when Pakistan gained independence. He served as the new republic’s first governor general until his death in 1948.

“It was built during 1860-1870 with stone masonry in lime and jute mortar to suit the volatile weather of Karachi,” an information board on the house reads. “This is a precious national monument that provides inspiration to our nation.”

A handout picture, taken on January 10, 2021, shows a board placed by the Sindh government at Wazir Mansion, the residence of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in Karachi. (Instagram/tahirhali)

While there are disputes over whether Wazir Mansion was the actual birthplace of Jinnah — some believe he was born in Jhirk, a small town in Thatta district, over 150 km away from Karachi — the building’s custodian, Muneer Hussain, said the building housed the very room “where Jinnah was born.”

Jinnah’s father, Jinnahbhai Poonja, arrived in Karachi from Mumbai to set up a business, and chose Newnham Road, then a steel trade hub, for his enterprise, Hussain said. He rented an apartment in Wazir Mansion, where Jinnah was born on Dec. 25, 1876.

“Seven siblings of Jinnah were also born in this building,” he told Arab News. “Fifteen hundred to two-thousand people, mostly students, visit us monthly and I want this number to be doubled because this small building has changed the map of the world.”

Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari, an archaeologist and historian, told Arab News theories claiming Jinnah’s birthplace was in another city were incorrect.

“This has been refuted by the statements of Quaid himself,” Lashari said. And then quoting a speech by Jinnah, he added: “He said that, ‘It gives me immense pleasure to stand here in front of you and tell you that I was born in Karachi’.”

However, according to Lashari, it was a building behind Wazir Mansion that was Jinnah’s true place of birth. 

“Jinnahbhai was occupying the part of property which was behind it [Wazir Mansion],” Lashari said.

“So, it’s the building which is behind it and this is the reason that the scholars don’t consider Wazir mansion [as Jinnah’s birthplace] …The Wazir Mansion, the present building which is there, was actually built after 1880, so

Jinnahbhai was occupying the part of property which was behind it ... There is a difference of 20 yards.”

While the difference is small, the scholar said it mattered as much as other details of Jinnah’s legacy and life.

“It is very significant [to know where Jinnah was born] but I tell you, not only the birthplace but every aspect of his life is significant and important,” the scholar said. “And there is need that attention is paid to the studies on his life and his works.”