Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 4 News List

At Karachi mausoleum, lovebirds find a spot away from mullahs' prying eyes

AFP , KARACHI

A couple sit on a bench in a park surrounding the mausoleum of founder of the nation Quaid-e-Azam in Karachi on Sept. 14.

PHOTO: AFP

Every evening young men and women flit through the gardens that surround the white marble dome of Karachi's Jinnah Mausoleum -- and they haven't come to pay their respects.

The tomb of Pakistan's revered founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who led the country to independence in 1947, has become the "in place" for lovebirds to meet once or twice a month.

It is the only spot in this teeming, volatile port city of 12 million people where courting couples can avoid the prying eyes of the police, the mullahs and their families.

"We come here to visit the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam [Great Leader] and have a safe and secure date," says Ramzan Jafery, an 18-year laborer at a local textile mill.

His date stands next to him wearing traditional dress and a shy smile.

"Odd things happen when we go on dates at other places. Sometimes the police interrogate us and sometimes people hang around us to the extent of harassment," Jafery says.

"But this place is quite good as we face no police intervention or people gazing at us," adds Shazia, his 30-year-old companion.

The giant mausoleum -- a powerful symbol of the tight bonds between nationalism and religion in this Islamic republic -- spans a terraced 53-hectare park which is landscaped with lawns, flowers, trees and plenty of fountains.

It attracts a huge crowd of families at the weekend but on other days, especially in the humid evenings, couples find an opportunity to sit together among the dense foliage.

Being in the city center and easily accessible by public transport, it is particularly popular with poorer Karachi residents who can't afford to go to swanky restaurants.

And the police who would elsewhere be busting young lovers are not allowed to enter.

Instead a handful of soldiers stand alert at the center of the mausoleum where Jinnah has lain since his death in 1948. His sister Fatima Jinnah and Pakistan's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan are buried beside him.

Some civilian security guards provide the only real surveillance.

"We slap couples with a fine of up to 500 rupees [US$8.33] if they are caught kissing or engaged in excessive emotional acts," resident engineer and mausoleum chief Abdul Aleem Shaikh said. "And we find such cases almost daily."

But Shaikh said his guards would usually politely admonish such couples, unlike the police at other spots in the city.

It's a rare bonus for increasingly Westernized Pakistani youths, whose often liberal ideas, boosted by foreign movies and satellite TV channels, conflict with traditional and religious values.

Sex and courting outside marriage are strongly disapproved in Pakistan, with most marriages being arranged by people's families and men being more likely to hold hands with each other than with members of the opposite sex.

Yet the couples who date at the mausoleum have annoyed even some liberals.

"It has come to my knowledge that people come to the Quaid's mausoleum for dates. Of course this cannot be approved as it undermines the sanctity of the place," said Razi Hyder, a researcher and director of the Quaid-e-Azam Academy in Karachi.

"But only the police can be blamed for this because they exploit and extort money from such pairs who go to other parks and public places in the city," he said.

The police say it's not their fault.

"It's our standing instructions to patrolling staff and police officials not to disturb or intercept any couple," said Mushtaq Shah, Karachi's deputy inspector general of police.

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