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A Life Cut Short: Moniza Inam (1963-2021)

Published 13 Aug, 2021 03:51pm
Rizwana Naqvi remembers Moniza Inam.

The last time I met Moniza was towards the end of April at the Karachi Press Club when we, along with other women journalists, were to receive the ‘Noteworthy Contribution to Journalism’ Award. After the programme, we had iftar and dinner and bid each other farewell, but not before making plans to meet after Eid. Little did I know that this would be our last meeting and that within two months I would be writing her obituary.

The Moniza I knew was a responsible journalist and a human rights activist, not quite the Moniza her family fondly remembers as a mischievous tomboy who would climb trees and loved the outdoors – although she would retain her restlessness and love for nature even in later life. “Closed rooms make me claustrophobic,” she would tell her family, insisting on keeping the windows open, even during the Quetta winters.

After doing her Master’s in Psychology from Karachi University, she joined Business Recorder in the late eighties – she thought journalism would allow her to play a role in bringing change to society at large. Her colleague from Business Recorder, Samina Mehdi Naqvi, recalls her as outspoken and full of socialist ideals. “She loved being with intelligent and proactive people. Her activism came naturally, as both her parents held strong liberal sentiments.” She started her career when “she was a newlywed, expecting her first child. I was amazed at the ease with which she settled into the job and her new life.”

Due to her maternal obligations, she took a break from work as managing work, home and children became difficult without much family support – her family and her in-laws were not in Karachi. After a break of about 10 years, she joined Dawn in 2004 as a sub-editor at The Review, the mid-week magazine that focused on socioeconomic and social issues with a special emphasis on women’s issues. It was the right place, as it was where her interests lay. When, in 2009, all Dawn in-paper magazines were merged into a single new title called Images on Sunday, she was made responsible for a number of pages, including Gallery, the art section. When a special report section was initiated within the magazine, which all team members collectively planned, she would always come up with interesting ideas. In 2019, she was given charge of the Lifestyle and Gallery pages in Eos which she managed until her last day in office.

As a writer, social and gender issues were always close to her heart. Even in the early days of her career she wrote extensively on socio-economic problems and gender issues; her articles dealt with women empowerment, violence against women, gender inequality, maternal mortality, sexual harassment and discrimination against transgenders. She never hesitated to use her pen to highlight issues such as population growth, unemployment and food insecurity as well as religious intolerance and economic deprivation. She did not hesitate to tread the path which is often left unexplored and would often travel to remote areas. For instance, she travelled to Thar to report on maternal malnutrition and in 2011, when mass scale human rights abuses, targeted killings, and arbitrary arrests were rampant in Balochistan, she went to Quetta to write an impartial report on the situation.

Moniza was not just a journalist with a strong pen and stronger beliefs. She believed in human rights and equality and had been an activist in her college and university days as part of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). I am told that although she pursued a leftist ideology, she remained cautious; perhaps she felt vulnerable as she lived in the university hostel. Later, she became an active member of the Women Action Forum (WAF), Aurat Foundation and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), as well as other civil society organisations and worked tirelessly against discriminatory laws. She regularly attended WAF meetings and acted as their coordinator for a long time. Her enthusiasm during the Aurat March and other such activities was significant. “Her passing away is a great loss to WAF,” says Attiya Dawood, a writer, feminist and activist. One can easily say that she fought for women’s and human rights all her life.

Moniza wanted to promote the globally recognised Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR), with special reference to women in Pakistan and during our free time she would talk about her plans, foremost among them was forming an NGO as a way to fulfil her ambition of promoting ESCR. She was selected for several fellowships, including the Chevening Fellowship Programme, The Asian Journalism Fellowship and the Pakistan Press Foundation Fellowship. She also attended various training and capacity building programmes, such as the Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) and Sangat (a feminist network). Before the 2018 elections, she trained journalists from various cities in Pakistan at pre-election training sessions organised by the Pakistan PressFoundation (PPF), on how to handle gender-related issues during elections.

“She was a thorough journalist and always delivered on what she committed to,” recalls Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary General of PPF. “Whenever a task was given to her, there was no need to remind her of the deadline. She was a responsible human being and a responsible journalist.”

Despite her busy life as an activist, Moniza was a devoted mother and homemaker. She would encourage her children to pursue their dreams and build their careers. There cannot be two opinions about the fact that their well-being was always her top priority.

To say that Moniza was full of life would not be wrong; she had a cheerful disposition and greeted everyone with a smile. She had a particular ability to forge friendships and retain them,always meeting friends with great enthusiasm. In fact, in our 15 years together at Dawn, I never saw her depressed. Her aesthetic sense was evident in her appearance – well-made clothes and matching accessories and a bright lipstick, with well-kept blow-dried hair. She knew how to take care of herself; she walked regularly in the morning and was a regular member of the yoga club we formed at Dawn. She often reminded me that I need to take more care of myself and advised me to go for walks, pointing out that “you have no excuse,” as I lived near Zamzama Park.

To think that I will never see her smiling face and hear her talk about WAF activities and her children’s achievements and plans in the same sitting is heartbreaking.

You will always be missed, my dear friend!

Rizwana Naqvi is a freelance journalist and former Dawn staffer.