Category Archive:Pakistan and Bangladesh

Orphan marriages in Pakistan

By Osheela Hussaini

​This article is based on an interview with my father and my personal experiences in Pakistan. Islam is a dominant religion in Pakistan. Islam has very different traditions around marriages than western countries. Dating, finding a right person on your own to marry and love marriages are not allowed in most of the strict cities of Pakistan like Quetta, Khuzdar and Peshawar. In Islamic traditions marriages are mostly arranged by the parents of the girl and the boy, meaning that those boys and girls who have no parents or relatives to find them a life partner are unable to get marry.

​Most of the orphans living in orphanages remain bachelor for all their lives. In 2007, due to increased war in Quetta, Pakistan many young girls and boys were left with no parents or guardians and had to live in the orphanages. In 2008 Haji Eesaq, the head of the Local Islam mosque with volunteers of the mosque including my father, came together and formed a group. Their goal was to find suitable boys for the orphan girls and pay for their marriages.

Some extra money was also given to them so that they can start a living. The money was donated by individual people of the community and some of the money was given by the mosque. Some gold shop owners played an important role in donating money to orphans for their marriages. ​Most of the boys selected were also unable to get marry and were from the male orphanages in Quetta. My father also mentioned that after finding suitable people for the marriage the girl and the boy were asked to see each other and decide if they agree to marry. According to Islamic rules and regulations asking for the permission from the girl and the boy is a mandatory part of an arranged marriage. In Islamic traditions marrying poor women is considered a highest good deed and supporting them for all their life is considered being thankful to Allah and passing on the blessings of Allah to the rest of the community. Some boys who came to the mosque to marry some of the orphan girls were from very rich families and they considered it giving back to their community by marrying orphan girls.

​Haji Eesaq was killed in 2013 in a bombing by Taliban and the group was shattered. Now the mosque is trying to reunite the people and reinitiate a group to help orphans.

Works Cited

Hussaini, K. M. (2014, 01 28). Orphan Marriages. (O. Hussaini, Interviewer)

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Trends in Diaspora Philanthropy as represented by The Optimists of Bangladesh and USA

By Doug Bennet

The pictures are horrifying… the sort that newspaper editors decide not to publish, for reasons of taste and human dignity (and subscriber backlash).

Faces of lifeless children caked in concrete dust, bodies buried in rubble. Female arms and legs protruding from pancaked concrete floors of the crumpled factory, colourful clothing contrasting against the grey ruins. Rescuers tugging heroically, too often fruitlessly. Sudden, catastrophic death everywhere.

The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza clothing factory in the Savar district of Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killed 1,129 people, most of them young women. Another 2,515 were injured or maimed. The event shocked the world and put a searing spotlight on the worst excesses of global capitalism and blind consumerism.

For The Optimists, a Bangladesh-focused diaspora charity formed in 2000, Rana Plaza was just the latest call to action, if the most tragic in scale. The organization quickly posted graphic photos on its website as it reached out to supporters for donations.

The Optimists (not to be confused with Optimist International clubs) was established by ex-pat professional Bangladeshis living in New York City. Most of the founders have finance, medicine, or business backgrounds. They represent an increasingly mobile global professional class that has greatly influenced the modern evolution of diaspora philanthropy.

“During the information revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of philanthropists emerged from the booming finance and information technology industries,” note the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy: Private Giving and Public Policy, a 2010 study published by Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. “In the first decade of the twenty-first century, strong economic growth in emerging economies (particularly in South and East Asia) led to the emergence of new philanthropists with direct ties to the developing world.”

Helping The Optimists and diaspora philanthropists everywhere is a powerful tool that an early ex-pat philanthropist, the Scot-American Andrew Carnegie, could not possibly have imagined: the Internet. The charity maintains a website, offers online donations, runs a Facebook page, operates a blog, and publishes online videos. Material is published in both English and Bengali. The Internet “is making it possible for dispersed populations to organize, collaborate, and nurture ties across borders,” observe the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy.

The goal of The Optimists is to both address the symptoms of poverty and also its causes. The group provides underprivileged students with the means to continue their education. The Child Sponsorship Program, for a $135 USD annual donation, funds a student from grade 6 through grade 10. The Special Sponsorship Program is similar. A $310 annual donation supports a student from grade 11 through to a bachelor degree. Candidate students must show promise and must be from “underprivileged, distressed, dispossessed, orphaned, deprived, broken and/or vulnerable families,” according to the group’s website.

“Many children from rural areas in Bangladesh are unable to attend school in their villages because their parents can’t afford it,” says Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists. “They barely have enough money to sustain life. Most people barely even make a dollar a day in those areas. So sending their kids to school is luxury, not a priority.”

After the Rana Plaza disaster, The Optimists focused on supporting students directly affected by the loss or maiming of mothers or sisters who supported them. On January 17, 2014, the organization announced at an event in Dhaka that it had raised funds to support 81 students in its “Rescue Savar’s Future” program.

Something to think about on the next shopping trip.

Works Cited

E-mail interview with Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists.

The Optimists website

Asian American Federation, Census Information Center
Profile of New York City’s Bangladeshi Americans: 2013 Edition

Bangladesh history

Savar (Rana Plaza) Building Collapse

World Movement for Democracy
Report on Laws and Regulations Governing Civil Society Organizations in Bangladesh

Newland, Kathleen, Aaron Terrazas, and Roberto Munster. 2010.
Diaspora Philanthrophy: Private Giving and Public Policy.
Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute

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Shah Dola’s Rats—Deformed Messengers of God

Nazia sits guarding the shoes of the worshippers at the shrine of Shah Dola. She places a palm on the head of anyone who comes up to her, giving benediction as they pass her money to put into the shrine’s collection box. Twenty-five year old Nazia lives with microcephaly—a genetic condition in which the skull circumference is several sizes smaller than is normal for the person’s age and sex and is generally associated with some level of mental incapacitation. In local parlance, a microcephalic like Nazia is known as “Shah Dolay ka chua” (Shah Dola’s rat)—an indelicate allusion to the physical symptoms of her condition, a small skull with a receding forehead, pronounced ears and teeth.

Chuas have had a famous association with the shrine of Shah Dola in the small town of Gujrat in Pakistan. According to legend, the holy man Shah Dola was able to cure infertility in women. The price was for the first-born to be given to him (or his shrine following his death), failing which all subsequent children would be born as chuas. There is varying opinion on whether and how the shrine of Shah Dola has or has not exploited microcephalic children, people’s religious sentiments and superstitious beliefs to bring resources to the shrine and its administrators. While it may well be that, over the centuries, Shah Dola’s shrine has provided sanctuary for children with microcephaly, accusations are widespread that shrine administrators intentionally deformed firstborns given to them by fertility-challenged couples by clamping the heads of the babies in metal caps, restricting their growth and thereby inducing microcephaly. The intentionally-deformed children, it is claimed, were then used or leased out for begging. It seems that this has not been substantiated through evidence, but enough pressure built up through these claims that the shrine was taken over by a government department that administers awqaf, the traditional Islamic charitable trust. The government refutes claims that there is or was any practice of intentional deforming of children or that the shrine has ever exploited microcephalics. Accusations are rife about criminally-organized “begging mafias” associated with the shrine and the collusion of government administrators with these gangs who traffic in people with deformities.

It is easy to see why such claims abound. Chuas are “high-value beggers”, able to solicit twice the amount in daily alms than a civil servant would earn in a day. Their high earning power as beggers is linked to the fact that the deformed have a special status in the minds of the Pakistani rural classes. They are seen as being closer to God, with privileged access to His ear. In one online documentary about the phenomenon, a “chua-master” (a person who “owns” a chua as a means of income) refers to the microcephalic child he begs with as “sain-ji” (a reverent way of addressing a guru) and “malang” (a roving spiritual mendicant). As he roams the streets with his chua, he exhorts people to “give him charity and say a prayer.” Giving to a chua increases your chances of being heard by God because the deformed are “God’s people” – those who are provided for solely in fortuitous ways, like the generosity of strangers. Giving charity to the deformed and associating with them is therefore a trade to attain closeness to God. There is also an element of fear and self-protection to this giving—because they are heard more closely by God, the deformed and the renunciate also have the power to plague you. If you repudiate them or turn your back on them, God in turn may well turn his back on you.
There is a widespread belief in rural Pakistani culture that “providence is written”; everyone comes into the world with an allocation of means and resources and a fortune already accorded by the will of God. That is why a new child in the family is rarely seen as stretching limited resources—it is believed that the child brings resources with them, because God provides for all. The deformed perform a function as God’s messengers; they are incarnate reminders to people about fortune and God’s will. In giving charity to the deformed the givers affirm their faith in providence by becoming instruments of it.

Works Cited

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