The Women That Pakistan Forgot - Zeerak Khurram
Tumhe khamosh dekhne ki chahat
Qabro se bhi umdi aa rahi hai
Magar tum bolo"
In March, your Instagram will feature posts upon posts about women and feminism and equality and body positivity and all the other ‘ism’s and ‘ivity’s that are now associated with any female led social movement. Now, my feed usually does feature all these mashriki concepts that I am recently beginning to realize are immensely more global than we as Pakistani women have been led to believe. But March is different.
March is when even your most inactive relatives on social media will start posting about the joys of womanhood and how girls rule the world and various other forms of praise for the ‘fairer sex’. Let me rephrase that: the joys of a societally restricted, family friendly, heteronormative, male approved womanhood. The same male approved womanhood that allows for pictures of Fatima Jinnah but only if she is in her quintessentially Fatimah Jinnah sari. You know the one. With the white dupatta that covered her hair.
Madr-E-Millat. Mother of the Nation. The mother who was later censored by broadcasting agencies and the target of Ayub Khan’s political campaigns when Father died. The concept that she would have a say in politics without a Mehram was a foreign concept. It was Mashriki. And Ayub Khan, with all of his American backing, was anything but Mashriki it seems.
Dr Fatimah Jinnah.
One of the most recognized politicians in Pakistan with only half of her political career being celebrated.
“Apni Maa se
Aur uske baad?
Apni Maa se
Aur uske baad?
Apni Maa se
Aur uske baad
Phir apne Baap se”
Last year, there was (and still is) a Twitter user who goes by the handle @Bluemagicboxes. They wrote, “Urdu has no word for rape”. Now, I pride myself on my knowledge of strangely archaic words in my mother tongue. I didn’t know either. So, I googled it.
Turns out, it’s not that Urdu doesn’t have words for rape, it’s that it has too many. It wants to refer to rape without actually saying rape. Jinsi tashadud, aabroo raezi, ismat dari. They’re all drawn from Persian and Arabic roots. All are words that when used in conjunction with children or women or men in a news report, result in the offending channel being switched. Kyun ke bachoon ko kiya batein ge?
Pakistani culture is, if you think about it, unrealistically optimistic. It assumes that people should not be made aware of social evils and that they will always remain untouched. It’s the embodiment of the same childlike innocence that so many loose every year and that we all, until recently, ignored.
The most recent word for rape, it seems, is zuljinsi. It used to be called zina bil jabr- forced adultery- implying that both parties were equally responsible. Zuljinsi sought to dissociate it from the boxes carved out for us by the wonderfully inept legal stylings of Zia Ul Haq. I always found his name ironic. Haq. A naturally occurring oxymoron.
Of course, his was the reign where we had protests held by women for women against policies made to restrict women by a man.
“Raat din eik hi kaam
Ghar-girasti mein maze se masroof
Tum kahein pichhle janam
Shahd ki makkhi to na then”
- Ishrat Afreen
Zia Ul Haq introduced the Hudood Ordinances in 1979 and kept adding other laws like the Evidence Law and the Zina Ordinance throughout his reign. They include a number of laws supposedly rooted in Islamic jurisprudence. Some concern themselves with how the testimony of a woman is worth half of a man’s. According to a 2011 UNICEF Report, this would mean that Pakistan in 1983 joined a partial list of more than ten OIC countries that implement this same rule.
Regardless of whether Zia saw himself as the self proclaimed vanguard of the religion that did not need his guardianship, he did, at the end of the day, choose to ignore 50% of the population he had an obligation to safeguard. The concept of the weighing of female testimony in Islam is also a subject of controversy and discussion even among countries that adhere to Sharia law. (Pakistan officially does not). Even in the OIC nations that have this viewpoint, it is only implemented in certain courts. Zia’s policies in particular made it so that it is near impossible for a rapist, male or female, to be convicted in Pakistan’s penal system.
Initial protests against the Hudood Ordinances resulted in the establishment of the Women’s Action Forum. The Forum, along with other women’s rights groups, spearheaded protests against his policies. In an archived story from the New York Times dated 1988, 400 women gathered in Lahore to oppose Zia’s Islamisation campaign- a campaign that some intellectuals refer to as promoting despotic Islam. Even though they faced lathi charge and tear gas, they still kept organising more protests.
“Yeh hum gunahgar aurtain hai
Ki sach ka parcham utha ke niklen
To jhuut se shahrahen ati mile hain
Har ek dahliz pe sazaon ki dastanen rakhi mile hain
Jo bol sakti thi vo zabanen katti mile hain
Yeh hum gunahgar aurtain hai”
- Kishwar Naheed
Kishwar Naheed wrote the above verses in 1940. Women had been protesting at that time too. And before then in 1857, women also rallied behind the Rani of Jhanis Lakshimabai to revolt against the British.
Protests, particularly female led protests, have been part of our culture since time immemorial. It is the same culture that celebrates Sufi poetry, was bred on Ghalib's poetry and had the Hijra community that was tossed aside by the British. We had the Mughal Dynasty but we also had the Guptas, the Mauryas, the Dogras.
Now it seems we are ourselves confused as to what is culturally appropriate and what is not.
Mera Jism, Meri Marzi. The slogan sneered at by the people whose ancestors were also among those that wrote the Kama Sutra.
"Mein Belan se chakle pe
Beli gayee hun
Tavey par padi hun
Abhi pak rahi hun
Ye cooker ki seeti me
mein cheekhti hun
kiski degchi me padi gal rahi hun
Magar, jeer ahi hun."
Zeerak Khurram is an undergrad student at HKU by day, journalist by night and a member of the humanoid species fascinated by anarchy. Pronouns: she/her