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Top 10 Dawn special reports that captivated readers in 2019

Which exclusive pieces saw the biggest audience in the last 12 months?
Updated Dec 31, 2019 07:41pm

In 2019, Dawn told in-depth stories on a gamut of topics that mattered the most to you: our readers.

From lifting the veil on fraudulent schemes to breaking the silence on issues that are taboo, Dawn's exacting and insightful reports dug deep so that you could be better informed.

Below are the top 10 Dawn exclusives which saw the greatest reader engagement this year.


10. The strange case of the silent women

The issue of alleged abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam came to the fore once again this year. Ghotki resident Hari Lal made headlines when a video of him — helplessly slapping himself while crying outside the Ghotki police station, asking the police to do something to recover his daughters — went viral online.

While Lal maintained that his two daughters were forced into converting, the Islamabad High Court ruled that they had married Muslim men out of their own free will.

An exclusive investigative report by reporters Naeem Sahoutara and Ali Ousat delves into what lies behind the silence of the girls involved in such cases and raises questions about the degree of truth that is contained within media reports. Read it here.

9. What TikTok tells us about Pakistan

TikTok, a social media app that lets you become an alternate version of yourself by miming short video clips, took off exponentially in the country in 2019 with a reported 16.3 million downloads by mid November. Its user base is the young and adventurous populace, seeking liberation from the mundane and the ordinary that is everyday life.

Author Sanam Maher, in her piece for EOS, discovered that those who are on the app are very aware that it offers them access to an audience far more than any other social media platform. So who gets to have a voice here and what can they use it for? Find out here.

— Illustration by Marium Ali
— Illustration by Marium Ali

8. 'They have burnt Mummy and Papa': What happened to the children of Shama and Shahzad Masih?

Five years after the horrifying lynching and burning of Christian couple Shama and Shahzad Masih over a blasphemy allegation, the three children they left behind are still haunted by the memory of the incident that took place in Kasur’s Kot Radha Kishan district in 2014.

The eldest, Suleman, who was just five at the time, was the only one among them to have witnessed the tragedy. The traumatised boy was plagued with nightmares for a long time following the ordeal. Sonia, also an infant, kept telling Michelle Chaudhry of the Cecil Chaudhry and Iris Foundation (CICF): “Mummy Papa nu saar dita” (they have burnt Mummy and Papa). Poonam, who was two at the time, was too young to remember anything.

In the time that has passed, the children have barely scratched the surface of coming to terms with the loss of their parents. Read the piece by Xari Jalil here.

CICF organised a protest rally in order to demand Justice for the ill fated couple. — Photo courtesy: CICF
CICF organised a protest rally in order to demand Justice for the ill fated couple. — Photo courtesy: CICF

7. History: The fall of Dhaka from Bihari eyes

On December 16, 1971, Pakistani troops laid down their arms and surrendered to India for the secession of East Pakistan. The lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were lost. The demography of the land was such that 90 per cent of the population were 'Bengali', as they were formerly known, and the remaining 10 per cent were non-Bengali, also known as 'Bihari'.

Engr Imtiaz Alam Khan, a survivor of the 1971 civil war, recounted the harrowing events of December 16 as a resident in a Bihari locality in Dhaka for EOS. Read his gripping account here.

Gen Niazi (right) signs the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. — Raghu Rai
Gen Niazi (right) signs the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. — Raghu Rai

6. Pakistan's 'positive' crisis

While already battling a spiralling polio crisis this year, the country was given a rude awakening in April when an HIV epidemic began to unfold in Larkana's Ratodero taluka.

On World AIDS Day, EOS published a report which examined the measures taken by the government in response to the HIV outbreak and took input from health practitioners and well as the affected population and their loved ones on how they are dealing with the highly stigmatised disease, and the intense media scrutiny that followed.

Read the complete report by journalist Sumaira Jajja here.

A woman gets tested. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi
A woman gets tested. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi

5. Dawn Investigations: The shaky foundations of ASF Arabian Vista

"By hook or by crook, it seems that everyone wants a slice of Karachi’s precious real estate," wrote journalist Naziha Syed Ali in her investigative report on the real estate racket in Karachi.

Hundreds of construction projects in this city are of highly questionable provenance, the product of collusion between rapacious political bigwigs, establishment figures, their front men (the builders) and a venal land bureaucracy — in short, what is commonly known as the land mafia.

ASF Arabian Vista and Saima Arabian Villas, which together occupy a chunk around 270 acres off Surjani Town Link Road in North Karachi, are a textbook case that illustrates the role played by all the moving parts in this racket.

Read more here.

A view of the project. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqui
A view of the project. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqui

4. Bahria Town & others: Greed unbound

In a two-part sequel to a 2016 report which had explored the collusion between officials from the Board of Revenue (BoR) Sindh, Malir Development Authority (MDA), the district administration and police to acquire land to enable the completion of the Bahria Town Karachi (BTK) project, Naziha Syed Ali exposes the continued flagrancy with which the enterprise is extending its reach from the outskirts of Karachi to the Jamshoro district.

The exposé centres around the craftier methods employed this time around by the real estate developer to further its goals. In the exercise, not only were poor farmers forced to surrender their land, which was their only means of sustenance, they ran the risk of earning the ire of local waderas and being thrown into prison. It explores how, in the thick of it all, a prominent PPP lawmaker fell out of favour with the party's top leadership for resisting to follow in the farmers' footsteps in acceding to the demand for land.

The second half of the report takes a look into an off-shoot venture that has further compounded the woes of the indigenous populace: unbridled sand mining and extraction of groundwater from Malir and Jamshoro.

Dive into the details here.

— Illustration by Marium Ali
— Illustration by Marium Ali

3. Pakistan's silent suicide problem

Despite the alarmingly high suicide rate in Pakistan — with one person dying every hour according to an estimate — the issue remains among the least debated and understood ones.

To better understand the trends and context surrounding suicide in Pakistan, Dawn.com published an online survey in December 2018, asking respondents to anonymously share their views and stories about suicide. The project — by giving space to those who have suffered, by providing expert commentary and by providing access to a few resources the country has to offer those seeking help — hopes to end the silence around Pakistan's suicide problem.

Read the full report by Dawn.com Editor Jahanzaib Haque and journalist Atika Rehman here.

— Illustration by Mahenoor Raphick.
— Illustration by Mahenoor Raphick.

2. Shahrag, the Pakistani town where boys aren't safe from men

While sexual abuse — especially that of children — is rampant in Pakistan, the Balochistan town of Shahrag has the distinction of being one where sexual exploitation is "normalised".

In a shocking report which exposes the ugly secrets held by the coal-mining town, reporter Muhammad Akbar Notezai reveals the tragedy that befalls young boys — most of them non-locals — when they are sent to work at the mines by their families. In exchange for "friendships" with mature miners, the boys financially support their poverty-stricken families.

Though government initiatives such as schools aim to protect the boys from such vices, there is a high rate of refusal by parents to send the boys there. To make matters worse, government records do not show any boys registered as workers.

Read how desolation and desperation are accepted in Shahrag as justifications for child labour and child abuse here.

Growing up ought to be a time of innocence but for these children, it is a time of torment. ─ Photo by Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Growing up ought to be a time of innocence but for these children, it is a time of torment. ─ Photo by Muhammad Akbar Notezai

1. Dawn Exclusive: A time for restraint

Ten days after India accused Pakistan of backing a suicide attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces in the India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir city of Pulwama, three former foreign secretaries of Pakistan ─ Riaz Hussain Khokhar, Riaz Mohammad Khan, and Inamul Haq ─ penned an article for Dawn in which they called on both sides to exercise restraint.

It was observed with regret that while India chose to avoid military response in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attack, the war bugle was sounded immediately after the Pulwama incident.

The former diplomats advised Pakistan to continue the diplomatic route taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan soon after assuming office and later when an offer to investigate actionable information in the aftermath of Pulwama was made. They also advised the country to remain at the ready should things escalate — which they did two days after the article was published.

Read the article here.

A Pakistani Ranger and an Indian Border Security Force soldier gesture to each other during the daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check-post at Wagah border. — Reuters
A Pakistani Ranger and an Indian Border Security Force soldier gesture to each other during the daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check-post at Wagah border. — Reuters


Header illustration by Mushba Said.