Day 16 – All are abnormal people in this normal world

Transgressed, relegated to the fringe and often even murdered. Now, having recognised Transgender rights, the deeply religious and conservative country of Pakistan is spearhead to the cause, globally.

In Defences, an area originally established for military personnel by the army, we met Kami Sid in her producer’s studio grayscale. Kami is the first transgender women in the Muslim world to have played the role of a transgender character in a movie.

Rani, a short film directed by Hammad Rizvi, tells the story of the transgender woman Rani selling toys on the streets of Karachi. Her desire for motherhood and the inability to live the life she wants because of her gender is the central theme.


“For my mother, I was born a boy”, Kami shows the inked dedication on her arm

Kami Sid grew up with a supportive single mother raising eight children alone. She shares the story of discrimination against the Pakistani transgender community – stories of being victimized, disrespected, and being left with no endorsement whatsoever which lead to resorting to fend for themselves for survival.

Asia’s transgender community is still a subject of bias by a society that has never been inclusive. With Subrang SocietyKami’s organisation promotes rights for gender minorities to conquer the social and religious obstacles the community still has to face. Kami herself quotes courage and passion as her successful weapons.

Kami belongs to the khawaja sira community. The Khawaja banishes its members for being different from gender norms. Those individuals find shelter within the Guru-Chela system. The “Hijras” as they get called then earn their money as beggars, sex workers or dancers. Kami is positive that all the stereotypes can be broken, and the situation can chance for the better: „We just need visability.”

Day 15 – Ignore the Law

Women’s Movement in Pakistan – Activism, Islam and Democracy is Ayesha Khan’s latest book recently presented at the ADAB Literature Festival in Karachi. Ayesha works for the Collective for Social Science Research, situated in PECHS – a civic neighborhood that has now changed into a business area. 

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We were welcomed by the women’s right activist, author and social scientist in her office, where we got insights on current and relevant women’s issues. The Collective conducts multidisciplinary research in Pakistan and on an international level. Ayesha Khan produces academic research to promote discussions on social, political and economic policies.

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Ayesha Khan, Director and senior researcher at the Collective of Social Research

The Women’s Movement advocates women’s activism ever since Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule in1977. Zia-ul-Haq installed an ‘Islamization’ program that changed many laws into discriminatory laws towards religious minorities and women – the Zina law being one of the most cruel ones.

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Since the Women’s forum has started more than 1000 Zina-law-cases have occurred. Even with the existence of the women’s forum and the increase in awareness, the law has still never been executed.  However it still exists and it seems very difficult to remove it. Many other laws implemented by Zia-ul-Haq are still on the Women’s movement agenda.  

Unsafe abortion related to morbidity and mortality and the impact of post-abortion care have emerged as major items in the current reproductive health agenda among policy-makers and stake holders in Pakistan. On the other hand there are far too many dying because of the lack of maternity rights.

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Last but not least it is the women’s quota again which will count in the end like all over the world it is a main issue in Pakistan’s women policies.

And finally: Pakistan has many different human rights activists who put pressure on the government to increase the implementation of pro-women laws to find an end – one far day –  with inequality against them.

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DAY 14 – The Sound of Creative Efforts

The credo’s of the music department of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) says: “It is foolish and myopic to condemn ‘pop’ music as an insidious Western plot to corrupt our youth”. We could convince ourselves on a chinking afternoon with Nafees Ahmad Khan, Head of the Music Department, and his students, who proof the credo right.

Nafees is the son of the very well renown sitar genius Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. The hard circumstances under which the father agreed to teach his son shaped Nafees, his career and his idea about teaching.

Girls are a matter of fact on NAPA’s premises. Although there is still more effort to convince parents: family loyalties which are traditionally sacrosanct are getting more and more sidelined. The way to understand themselves, music and how to fight for it seems to be part of the way music is communicated.

Sufism plays a great part in the way Nafees interacts with music, musicians and it’s listeners. According to the etymology of the term Sufi the word is connected with safi, the pure. Nafees gave us a short, but nevertheless convincing introduction into his interpretation of Sufism with the help of a one string sitar – a persuasive approach towards both issues.

Before we left – of course – Nafees singers and musicians invited us to an audition of a diminutive blend of traditional and folk sounds. That proves what we learnt: One needs to at least to know the basics of the gamut before the mix of various styles is possible.

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Singer, student and daughter Sajar Nafees

Sara Waqar studies medicine and guitar

NAPA music department coordinator Akbar Zaidi stayed after finishing his guitar studies at NAPA

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DAY 13 – Karachi’s Oasis Feeling

Forty years ago the story of KOEL began in a workshop in Karachi’s inner city. We met fine artist Noorjehan Bilgrami and her daughter, the designer Sara Bilgrami at KOEL, a place where one can find a gallery for temporary art, a shop for handicraft textiles and clothes and an oasis-like restaurant.

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View into Natasha Shoro’s exhibition “Transcending Boundaries”

Natasha Shoro, detail

Rabeya Jalil

Shah Abdullah Alamee

Shaukat Ali

Noorjehan Bilgrami, painter, entrepreneur, teacher and gallery owner

KOEL Gallery is quietly situated in Karachi’s area of Defence. It is not that easy in Karachi to find a place for solitude and quality time in comparison Lahore is the place for contemplation and relaxation: So one wonders, why is Koel not in Lahore, why Karachi?

Up until now collectors support the gallery and its artists. This ensures a survival at ease.  40 years ago the situation was fairly different compared to nowadays, where the number grew from a handful of collectors to a broad audience. This allows the gallery owner to work completely independent from the international art market.

When the shop opened Sara Bilgrami entered the business and together with Noorjehan  she worked on carrying forward the traditional way of doing hand block – a task that takes knowledge, engagement and optimism.

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Designer Sarah Bilgrami, KOEL’s restaurant and textile shop owner

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Sarah Bilgrami and the traditional hand block printing clothes

When people come to the restaurant, it is not just a feeling of comfort and comfort food. It is the blend between Eastern and Western food that makes the balance and gives the place a twist.

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Koel Restaurant with painted bricks by Sadia Salim

KOEL’s dishes – a bridge between Eastern and Western

The garden for Karachiites to meet and relax

Our way back through Cliftons smart and civic area

Day 12 – The State Has Failed

Based on the belief in it’s idealistic potentials Karachi based entrepreneur and businessman Khurram Kasim started collecting artworks from a very young age. The art collector who is in the third generation on the board of directors of various companies of the family concerned Hasham Group received us at his house in Clifton.

Entrepreneur and art collector Khurram Kasim

Khurram gave us a very warm welcome in his big huge house where he hosts a private collection of contemporary Pakistani art. The collection is not unlike the house huge and big, as a matter of fact one of the largest accumulations of contemporary art in Pakistan and it is skilled. Skilled is the knowledge about the way a city like Karachi works or, closer to our ways of thinking and understanding, disfunctions.

Khurram Kasim has his own approaches on the idea on how Karachi’s continuous progression guarantees a dynamic art scene of constant development: education first!

Since Karachi has transformed during decades from a small old fashioned harbour town into one of the biggest cities in the world (latest counts lead up to 18 million people) the clichees and rankings about Pakistan beeing one of the cheapest countries in the world or Karachi as one of the world’s least livable cities slam the image of the people down.

When it comes to women’s issues we talk about a complex political, societal and religious constraint – Pakistan ranks on second to last place on the UN’s Gender Gap Report, right behind Yemen and Syria. So obviously the main part of the Pakistan society has not yet agreed with on the idea of equality of its citizens.

Islam has for various governments played an important role regarding the constitution and the political system of the country. Religion has been misused in order to fulfill ambitions of political legitimacy and power: “One mustn’t blame religion when it comes to politics.”

Mohsin Shafi, Until I discovered cooking
I was never really interested in politics

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The art collector’s entrance and his library

Tag 11 – Girls – Strong in Body and Mind

Pak Shaheen – Karachi’s first girls’ boxing club – was found in Lyari, one of Karachi’s toughest areas, notorious for it’s gang street fights. It is also where we went to attend an hour long training session with the girls of Pak Shaheen.

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Younus Qambrani, coach of app. 18 girls between eight and 17 years of age

Younus Qambrani is a former coach and founder of the Girls and Women Boxing Club in Lyari. Father to a son and two daughters, he is not a typical Pakistani father figure. For a society deeply rooted in the pariarchy, girls are pressured to focus on home-making skills – learning how to cook, clean, and how to make and look after a family. There is little encouragement from home to pursue an education, go to school or participate in sports activities, rather, it is often forbidden.

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Anum Qambrani, is being supported by her father – in spite of the disaproval of her females family members

But the girls, aged 8 to 17, are more than keen on learning boxing as a form of self protection and defence. They confidently came forward on their own to speak with us and loved posing for the camera but as soon as their training began, they were serious and focused on their tasks– strenghtened in body and mind.

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Day 10 – Return to The Real Purpose

As a little boy Abdul Latif Dorai had a huge dream. Through his life he was willing to work for it to make it come true– he dreamt of a school for the kids of Lyari. The social-worker is now in his mid-forties and chairman of the Haji Abdullah Haroon Vocational Training Centre in Lyari.

Lyari is one of the oldest parts of Karachi. The school is situated right in the middle of the area, which has been the site of ongoing violence for the past two decades. What once was a breeding ground of gang violence and brutality now works on the reformation of its image. Abdul Latif showed us around in a school that has been used as a torture cell during the time of gang-war by  the Lyari Mafia. Now the school serves his initial intend – rehabilitation for the youth of Lyari.

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Abdul Latif, the school’s heart and soul

When Abdul Latif was a child he was made to go to work with the fisherman and was not allowed to go to school. He would watch the pupils in uniform on their way to school and admire them, wishing he could wear one himself and learn English – he never did.

Anyhow Abdul Latif made his childhood dream come true, When he finally became the father of a daughter he felt the urgent need to offer her a better future. Due to his engagement in late 2013, he first started computer classes followed by hairdresser’s, stitching and beautician courses for the girls. He also started web design classes for both genders.

The girls boxing trainer’s son is very fond of the IT courses but he doesn’t like boxing

But yet: Lyari is just at the beginning of its way out of poverty, corruption and insecurity. There are still a lot of little boys from poor families who have to participate in the family’s income. Like Abdul they help the workers to repair fishing nets. Another problem arises out of the lack of responsibility the local government shows towards the eager engagement: only 12 teachers provide their services although far more get paid to do their teaching. There is no control respectively the control is not in safe hands – yet! Abdul Latif is positive that Lyari will become peaceful and loose its negative perception through education efforts and by installing the center into an ideal place for socialization. Support for example is delivered by Vasl Artists’ Association which sends staff for teacher-training – pro bono, of course.

Above: Classes for hairdresser’s, stitching, beautician courses and web design. Below: Mechanics workshop for boys

Government High School for girls:

Meeting these openminded, wonderful teachers and inspired, optimistic children delighted and impressed us

Day 9 – The Talent to Make Men Feel Uncomfortable

Oscar and Emmy award winner filmmaker
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in her Karachi-Studio

In the name of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah twofold Oscar and sixfold Emmy award winner filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy boosts the voices of those who are facing disparity. She makes it her misson to insure that his vision comes true: Man and women shall have equal rights and the society shall be a just society!

We talked to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in her office, the SOC Film house. Terror’s Children, Reinventing the Taliban? Saving Faces to name just a few titles out of her filmography list already tell what Sharmeen is up to: Her forward movement grows out of reality and instead of „gloryfying the good“, she faces the bad and uncovers the ugly side of Pakistan. But: What she shows are the heroines, the women who stand up and fight and that is what she tries to make transparent and gives support to.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgivenness is one of her Oscar-winning documentaries. The true incident about a Pakistani girl shot in the face by her family, namely father and brother,  for the sake of honor was a great big help and initiator in persuading Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Sharif to fight honor killings in his country.

Sharmeen wants to adress first and foremost young Pakistani with her work. The confrontation with real-life heros, female heroes and of course men who facilitate women – „men who champion women are actually heroes themselves“ is a central issue in her work for those who don’t fear for their comfort zones.

Sharmeen’s utmost concern – there again – goes back before the time of the decades since Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s death, the time when Pakistan came into being . The time when General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, has started a conservative Islamic ideology that has eroded women’s rights. Her mission there again is inspired by the country’s founder idea on Pakistan, who wanted a free country for all the religions and equal rights for men and women.

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The filmmaker’s office

Poster of the Acadamy Award winning documentary.
Below: Photo by Bernhard Frue of a dirtbag full of dust referring
to the film “Saving Face”

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Day 8 – Maoist in a Sari

Sheema Kermani performs the language of dance

Sheema Kermani is one of Pakistan’s most well-known dancers. The theater director and social activist, who quotes herself a Maoist, gave us immediate proof of the direct relationship between dance and liberation: „When a woman performs on stage she posts the message ,Here I am, not ashamed of my body, confident and I don’t fear you’.

In her past the classical dancer’s dedicated her work to the fight to end social injustice, through her work, in the archaic patriarchal society of Pakistan. Nowadays she wants to show future generation that dance is an art form with the potential to achieve peace, humility and beauty and is also an alternative platform for communication. As a matter of fact, Sheema decided to take up dancing in 1983 when General Zia-ul-Hag eradicated classical dance by women on stage, and installed Islamic anti-women laws instead.  Since that time discrimination against women in our society comes first on Kermani’s agenda: „Women have to find their places of dignity and respect.“

Day 7 – Orangi – Karachi’s Informal Settlement


Orangi Town is located in the northwestern part of Karachi – listed the world’s largest slum in the UN World Cities Report 2016. Although the situation has improved now, there are still some parts of Orangi Town that can be characterized as a slum.

Improvement is due to the most incredible engagement of Perween Rahman, one of the founding members of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). Perween had to pay the highest price for her commitment to Orangi Town and got assassinated in 2013. We met her sister the writer and social worker Aquila Ismail at the OPP office. Aquila joined OPP after her sister’s demise.

OPP Director Aquila Ismail in front of the numerous activities
taking place in her OPP office

OPP has worked in Orangi Town since the 1980s on the improvement of sanitation and infrastructure, and also runs a schools support programme with different organizations, one of them is Vasl Artists’ Association – the number of inhabitants roughly counts 2.2 million, with only 64 state-run schools. Art in school can improve the lifes of children – is what they believe in.

The proramme also  includes a training for around 50 teachers, most them are women. The trainings include art, math, science, languages, and gardening. A Women’s Saving Program teaches women to pool their money to set up small businesses or take credits from it.

Perween Rahman devoted her life on developing projects to decrease poverty across the country, Aquila and her team truly believe in the power and resilience of children – and know it works.

OPP has to be protected by security. Inside the doors you find a peacefull place with organic gardens, library and project rooms

Above: Parveen Rehman, beloved director of OPP, was gunned down in March 2013. Below: Sahar Ismail followed her aunt Perween’s footsteps to OPP
and has set up the Women’s Saving Programme in Orangi

Aquila Ismail interviewed by Sabine Kienzer in attendance of
Anwar Rashid, architect and former director of OPP