Tag Archives: Pakistan

the Old Tree

The morning is always sunny. Sometimes I wake up listening to the sound of birds chirping in my dreams. At these times, I am already half awake. In these times, I have a blurry sense of self. My dreams claw at me. I am not ready to leave my utopia. I’m the only one; I’m surrounded by trees laid bare by a harsh winter but it isn’t cold. A soft mist hugs the grassy banks, there is water nearby. The taste of stillness hangs around me; the damp smell of unmoving water, the soft sound of a dense water body hitting a solid wall; a red, brick wall, which rises high out of the water, unyielding.

In my dreams there are memories, in those memories there are dreams, buried deep. Why is it that I’m sad when I open my eyes? Where was I traveling while I slept? I have a feeling it’s the past, I’m going back in time, days gone by, time long past, a longing turned into an aching reality. It is my Pensieve. I’m just a shadow but I see my life unraveling, I see the dust swirling, changing everything, ageing everything, but I’m standing still. Yet it’s a whirpool around me, memories, voices, scents and smells; I’m 7 years old, I’m running like only children can run- with no care in the world, only the desperation and the breathlessness, the eagerness to get where I want to be. My feet slap the ground, I shouldn’t be running in those shoes; no one can stop me. I’m 10 years old, I’m free; I’m climbing a wall- it’s an adventure. The ground is full of my enemies, a stray snake waiting to bite me- no, it’s a stormy sea full of sharks. I must not fall.

I fall. I’m going to grandmother’s- I want to run in the backyard, I want to hear her tell me those stories… I want to run into her little kitchen, grasp open that fridge, I know she cooked because I was coming. Her roasted chicken was always special. I could eat as much as I wanted- she would only give me more, laugh, fill my plate up. Then I’d bug her- we could go for a walk. We always went for a walk, we always crossed the large, drooping tree next to the juice shop. She would always buy me mango juice in a little, cardboard carton and chat with the owner. I could sit by the tree, maybe even on it, with it’s branches hanging low and just waiting to be climbed.

Why do I remember her tonight, out of all nights? I haven’t forgotten her. I remember her stories, her comfort. Some days I wake up and it’s sunny and the birds are chirping but I’m back in the past, I’m waking up in her home, I’m smelling the food cooking, smelling her soap.

Those mornings, these mornings, I miss her so much.

Why They Are Jealous of a Schoolgirl

It seems as though no opportunity which presents itself to the Pakistani nation is good enough. For anything.

'Birds for a Bird I' by Nahid Raza
‘Birds for a Bird I’ by Nahid Raza

It is already a tragedy  that a 14-year old girl was shot in the head for expressing her views. But the greater tragedy is the kind of outpouring, filthy sentiments, which followed this incident. There are several opinions that have been circulating in the country regarding Malala Yousafzai- all as irrational, illogical and cruel as the next one. I came across many blogs that cry shame upon Malala; I saw many columns, which for some abysmal reason compare Abdul Sattar Edhi to this brave, 14 year old girl. Since the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize 2013 were released, it seems that the entire Pakistani nation has been in an uproar because Malala’s name happened to be on the list of nominations. Well, she didn’t win- and maybe that substantially cooled the hearts of many haters. Here, I will try to counter the many criticisms that people are proudly raising against Malala, partly because I am ashamed to have fellow countrymen and women reveal these kind of feelings; and partly because I think I need to make my contribution to the fact that Malala indeed was a brave little girl (And her interview with Jon Stewart was pretty impressive, here’s a link to a clip if anyone’s interested in watching it) Malala on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The first, and probably the most rehashed of these criticisms against Malala is that she is being ‘used’ by the Western media to ‘downplay’ the plight of the victims of US drone attacks, and to justify these attacks on the Pakistani soil. Pakistanis ask the question that why the victims of drone attacks aren’t publicized in the media- why Malala? Well, the fact is that no one is using Malala to justify drone killings. There was quite a good illustration of  all the Pakistani victims of drone attacks just this year in the Economist. But since most of the people in Pakistan aren’t bound to pick up a copy of the Economist, rather they would just easily regard everything they read on Facebook as newsworthy material- they would, of course, not know that the Economist quite extensively covered the issue of drone killings in Pakistan.

The second question I pose is that okay, let’s assume that the Western media is ‘using’ her. Let’s assume this- then let me ask that what is there in Malala’s message, which doesn’t deserve to be highlighted across the world? Is there something wrong about girls getting proper education? Or is there something shameful and frightening about equal rights for all, men and women? If Malala speaks for such issues, then let her speak, and let the world hear, because it is high time that Pakistanis take their ostrich-necks out of the ground and understand the reality around them- that women in parts of this country are, in fact, being denied these basic rights, which every human being on this planet deserves.

This brings me to my next criticism- I was actually in disbelief when I came across a popular blog post, in which the writer claims that Malala is maligning the image of Pakistan by talking negatively about the country. Excuse me? I don’t know how to express my quite literal frustration here. Negatively representing Pakistan and the status of women within Pakistan? This is the same Pakistan in which Pakistanis cry out in anger because a 14 year old girl is shot in the head- not to mistakenly support that girl, God forbid, no- but to say that she ‘created a drama’, and this tragedy wasn’t worth the hype. Unbelievable! We prove what she says about Pakistan right every time we open our mouths on the Malala issue.

“Nahi jee, Malala ko tou koi Peace Prize nahi milna chahiye tha. Yeh tou sari Amreeka ki saazish hai!”

Witness the common Pakistani mind-set.

According to the latest Human Rights Report by Amnesty International for 2012, and I will quote directly from it,

The Aurat Foundation documented 8,539 cases of violence against women, including 1,575 murders, 827 rapes, 610 incidents of domestic violence, 705 honour killings and 44 acid attacks.

So, obviously, Malala has openly lied about the situation of women in Pakistan. It’s quite good, as you can see from documented statistics I mention above. Only 705 honour killings; it is clearly an improvement from a decade ago when that figure must have been in the thousands. So I guess much has to be said about Malala maligning the image of the great Islamic Republic of Pakistan; a state which, since its creation, has failed to protect its minorities and women. But who criticizes that? Whom, from among us, cries out when he or she hears about Hazaras dying almost daily in bomb blasts, bombs that are planted by the Taliban? Or whom, from among us, went to rescue Malala and the rest of the girls when they were denied their education? Whom, from among us, would support the rest of the women victims from the tyranny of our nation? Mukhtara Mai or Asiyah Bibi are probably all tools used by the West to present that negative image of Pakistan. It’s really quite a good country for women.

And how about that inane comparison of Malala with Abdul Sattar Edhi? How are the two even related? From where does this comparison spring? I don’t even know how to answer this one because there can be no logical answer. It’s a paradox really, that if the Nobel Peace Prize is just Western propaganda, then surely you wouldn’t want Abdul Sattar Edhi to be nominated, because you have already nullified the authenticity of this prize. (Think about it)

There are still so many things I want to write here. So many examples of the way Pakistanis treat their women; Malala spoke against oppression, she spoke for something universal; and never in her speeches has she not considered the rest of the women and children who suffered along with her. I have never seen conceit in her. I have seen an outspoken girl- and that is the heart of the matter. The undeniably misogynist mentality of Pakistanis is what hurts whenever they hear Malala speak. Well, truth is indeed bitter, for when have you respected your women? You judge a woman by her clothes. You drape her, and shroud her in veil upon veil. You relate honour to a piece of clothing. You would rather marry your women for ‘respect’, then respect an educated woman. For an educated Pakistani woman, everyday is a struggle for her dignity and for her rights. So we are indeed all asleep when we say, “What is Malala doing? Why is she misrepresenting our country?” She isn’t. She is telling the truth and it just hurts to hear it from a 14 year old girl, that’s all.

Why the ‘Burka Avenger’ Sparks Frustration: A Personal Opinion

Burka Avenger

I agree I’m a little bit behind with the news, as I only just found out about this new superhero on the block, the ‘Burka Avenger’. It is the story of a teacher at school, who decides to fight tyranny, crime and the like around her village and will be aired soon on a Pakistani TV channel. So what has sparked debate once again on Pakistani soil, this time about a character in a childrens’ animation? This super-heroine, in order to protect her identity, dresses herself up in a ‘burka’- i.e. the equivalent of the head-to-toe Muslim veil.

Many people defending the ‘Burka Avenger’ claim that ‘the animation effort should be praised’. This argument is beyond me, and completely separate from the issue here. It is supposed to be an animation for children, and for that, the responsibility on the heads of the creators increases. I don’t entirely believe that the creators have some hidden message beneath it all. No, it seems like whoever came up with the name of the show had one thing on his or her mind- ratings. Naming a character ‘Burka Avenger’ means it is sparking a forseeable controversial debate about a piece of clothing, which is controversial. Simply put, the show will have more viewers given this name. It could be for the same reason Veena Malik decided to shock people by appearing nude on the cover of some magazine; to generate interest in controversy, to gain attention and publicity in the media, or simply to earn a living. But, the deeper and more sinister reason could be that the only socially acceptable way to have a female heroine fighting crime is to cover her up in a burka. This is what I initially thought, however, once I watched the trailer, it seemed like the former reason better fits the situation.

The second issue, I guess, are the two groups arguing for and against the burka. The first one that asks, ‘Why cover her up in a burka at all?’; and the second one that says, ‘It’s a good show with a good message, never mind the burka’.

It is certainly distressing to see the latter argument, again and again; to stop complaining; to hear the same opinion that Pakistani liberal fascists are on the warpath, always criticizing etc etc. and so forth. But the fact remains that for one, burka has nothing to do with Pakistani culture, especially not the type the super-heroine is wearing. It originated and always was a part of Arab culture. Now again, this is quite a recent thing to try to do everything the perceived Arab way; to pronounce our ‘s’s like ‘th’s and replace ‘z’s with ‘d’s. We are not Arabs, note. We are South Asians, we are Pakistanis, enough with this identity transfer. I reject this notion of ‘pan-Arabism’. I reject the imposition of Arab dress, ideology, culture and language on Pakistanis. The thing is, if people are so intent on following this code, then the men should also wear checkered headdresses, yet it is only the women who are keen to garb themselves in this Arab garment. It is not the law of our country, it is not the dress of our country. It should, therefore, not be the dress of (probably) the first Pakistani-born and bred super-heroine.

The problem is that the people designing these concepts, on the lighter side of life, maybe do not know the power of mass media; and on the darker side, they are fully aware that the best way for acceptance of a certain thing is to put it on television and feed it to the masses. In any case, whatever the message might be- the girl fights crime, teaches all the good lessons to children- she is still dressed in a garment, which is the symbol of subjugation of women around the world, accept or reject this fact, or swallow it with a bitter pill, this is the truth.

I want to believe that the creators, instead, used the burka as irony; a woman who fights the patriarchy in the same costume intended for her submission. I think that underlying it all, this is the better message.

To many readers who are already aware of the ‘Burka Avenger’, it may seem like this piece of writing is another one by those so-called liberal ‘fascists’ who make up a small proportion of Pakistanis. Ever since the elections in May, there was a lot of criticism about the ‘Burger Bachas’ and the like, who were accused of supporting Imran Khan, being a part of the ‘band-wagon’, carrying DSLRs and so forth. A noteworthy observation would be that it was these same ‘Burger Bachas’ who took to the streets 2 and a half to 3 years ago in a cleaning initiative, where they tried to mop up dirty, trash ridden parts of the city of Lahore. It was a project done under the name of Zimmedar Shehri, as far as I can remember, meaning ‘responsible citizens’.

I see nothing to joke about in this constant criticism of the youth who end up going to the few good colleges and universities in Pakistan. It is the result of their hard work, most of the time. The University where I studied was giving many scholarships to many, many students. In fact, some of my friends studied their entire time there on fully-funded scholarships. To mock this intelligence is wrong, to mock these kids is also wrong. In a counter argument, I would ask the critics to think if it was better that the regular kid spent all day on the street, smoking cigarettes and hollering at girls going to the market, or spend a few hours hitting the books to improve his future. The story seems to be one of those ‘sour grapes’ type to me.

We do not study to Westernize ourselves. We have no liberal agenda, in fact, to fight for human rights is not a liberal agenda. If anyone insists on calling it an ‘agenda’, then better call it a ‘human agenda’.

Anyone looking for the Burka Avenger can watch the trailer (in English) here on YouTube. I do admit I was impressed, but I really wish the avenging angel was dressed more feminist-ically.