The mir­ror still needs a ‘Chad­dar’

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Vir­dah Khan Email:vir­

IYet was per­turbed and ex­as­per­ated.

again I had missed an op­por tu­nity to help a fel­low Pak­istani in need. Hav­ing ar­rived in Dubai in the same flight as I, the wo­man trav­el­ling by the same flight, had changed her ap­pear­ance: the beau­ti­ful blue Chad­dar was gone; in­stead she was now adorned by a pair of high heels and bright red lips. She couldn’t carry her lug­gage and the queue was long. As I took a step to­wards her - and al­though she looked des­per­ate for help - see­ing me take that step, she turned in haste and skipped three queues to the left. Like a deer caught in the head­lights. Now she was at the far­thest edge, still strug­gling with her lug­gage, but far away from any query­ing eyes. It made no dif­fer­ence to me that she had ap­peared to be swal­lowed by the big blue Chad­dar when we left Be­nazir Bhutto In­ter­na­tional Air­port and that she was stand­ing now in only the es­sen­tial cloth­ing, giv­ing any su­per model a run for her money. I do not judge peo­ple for their pro­fes­sion or their out­ward ap­pear­ance so more power to her and her choices. Yet the in­ci­dence paved way for the brain storm to brew.

The im­mi­gra­tion queue crawled. I was fi­nally at the lug­gage belt af­ter two hours of ar­rival. I picked up my bags, and within a few more min­utes, I was at the back­seat of a cab, on my way to my apart­ment in Me­dia city. The chatty Bangladeshi driver asked if I was from In­dia and I told him I am from Pak­istan. He said “but why don’t you wear abaya like other Pak­istani women”? And I couldn’t help but think, if the wo­man with blue Chad­dar would wear an abaya? And what would she achieve by adorn­ing her­self with a veil? Why the veil or the Chad­dar is used or forced to be used as per con­ve­nience? Why “club girls” from my coun­try are most in de­mand the world over? And why yet our so­ci­ety stares down women?

The cab was speed­ing un­der limit and the cabby was chat­ting con­stantly. He told me ev­ery­thing I had missed dur­ing the last ten days that I spent away, from ac­ci­dents to labour laws, ev­ery ma­jor sub­ject was ex­plored. I par­tic­i­pated ea­gerly in the “dis­cus­sion” as it kept my mind away from other glum thoughts. It had been my first visit to Pak­istan af­ter the 16/12 APS tragedy. Right from the touch­down in Rawalpindi, I had ob­served ev­ery­thing about the Pak­istani way of life. Evil al­ways seeks our per­mis­sion to strike. Ex­actly when did we, the cit­i­zens, per­mit this evil to en­twine it­self with our so­cial fab­ric?

The Ben­gali driver had no clue I was brood­ing and gos­sip­ing at the same time. We fi­nally ar­rived at my des­ti­na­tion and he helped me with the lug­gage. Be­fore leav­ing he said “Madam, you need any­thing, call me, Ok? No worry, I am here your brother”. Lo and Be­hold! I had a brother and I wasn’t clad in a burqa or Chad­dar as means of gain­ing some­one’s sym­pa­thy or re­spect!

The Chad­dar in its essence was im­posed as a manda­tory part of na­tional dress for women of Pak­istan, by the late Gen. Zia ul Haq. He first in­tro­duced it through the PTV pre­sen­ters, giv­ing it a “la Vogue” stature. Af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of Mr. Zia ul Haq in 1988; the first general elec­tions took place. The coun­try found its first ever fe­male Prime Min­ster in the form of Late Be­nazir Bhutto, who was coin­ci­den­tally, also the first fe­male Prime Min­is­ter of the Mus­lim world. She was a pow­er­ful fe­male fig­ure. Her vic­tory brought a sense of ela­tion and true em­pow­er­ment to com­mon women. Mil­lions of girls grew up ad­mir­ing the late Bibi, wrapped in a tra­di­tional Chad­dar, for this sym­bolic em­pow­er­ment; they also grew up rec­og­niz­ing Chad­dar as a sym­bol of re­spect and grace.

By no means can a well-cov­ered women be judged un­less she puts her­self for the eval­u­a­tion by wear­ing a Chad­dar to hide her flaws. But flaws are nat­u­ral. Flaws are what make us hu­man be­ings. So why such re­pres­sion of hu­man­ity should be ac­cept­able to any of us?

The birth of Pak­istan in 1947 had co­in­cided with the great tur­moil of 19th and 20th cen­tury. Sev­eral names of this era are de­scribed with tall words as all of them rose against a suf­fo­cat­ing and op­pres­sive set of cir­cum­stances. Hellen Keller and Vik­tor Frankl are ex­am­ples of peo­ple who sur­vived op­pres­sion and ad­ver­si­ties to leave be­hind lega­cies, which have shaped the des­tinies of both Europe and Amer­ica. Is­lam, a most im­por­tant el­e­ment of the cre­ation of Pak­istan, has its own tales of Brav­ery and Courage. Khadija (RA) was a suc­cess­ful mer­chant in a time filled with ig­no­rance and hate. She went on to be­come the pil­lar of strength for our Prophet (PBUH). And lastly, our Prophet (PBUH) is the great­est ex­am­ple of grace and hon­our, in the face of se­vere hos­til­ity and aver­sion.

As I pushed my lug­gage onto the lift my mind etched out a set of ques­tions. How was it pos­si­ble, with guid­ance of Sun­nah and Qu­ran and by the ex­am­ple of Quaid and Iqbal, that the peo­ple of Pak­istan have come to re­press their unique­ness, in­di­vid­u­al­ity and dis­own their nat­u­ral flaws? Why do we ridicule the weak­nesses in oth­ers and sub­se­quently are forced to hide our own hu­man­ity. Is this the rea­son that our col­lec­tive self-es­teem has been crip­pled due to this at­ti­tude of re­pres­sion?

In­stead of liv­ing by the ex­am­ples of Courage set by the Quaid and our fore­fa­thers, most Pak­ista­nis to­day live by an un­sta­ble and volatile par­a­digm in which “ex­er­cis­ing one’s free will” is a cause wor­thy of mock­ery, de­jec­tion and even mur­der. Is this not the very extremism that we are fight­ing? These are the same Pak­ista­nis who com­prise, the sup­posed to be, bal­anced civil so­ci­ety of our coun­try. The wo­man with blue Chad­dar had left me with quick con­clu­sions and a strug­gle to try and bal­ance this para­dox, a great un­bal­anced equa­tion which is a so­ci­ety that leaves Pak­ista­nis in­nately em­bar­rassed of their iden­tity and dis­tances them from each other. We are com­pelled to act pe­cu­liarly; most of our deal­ings take place un­der the ta­ble, and then we hide from each other, ex­pect­ing Di­vine mir­a­cles in our per­sonal and na­tional bat­tles. At our ‘finest’, we are ‘holier than thou’ and mock any­one who dares show a weak­ness. Iso­lated we stand, in­di­vid­u­ally and as a na­tion. Al­though Malala Yusufzai (and Syeda Ghu­lam Fatima, at the time of this writ­ing), have brought world’s en­cour­age­ment, yet the so­lu­tions of our so­cial op­pres­sion and guilt, lie not in in­di­vid­ual ac­co­lades, rather they are in a col­lec­tive courage we lost long ago, to look our­selves in the mir­ror.

To­day, we stand at the de­bris of a wreck­age, which was once a “so­cial con­scious” or the idea of a “great, free na­tion for all women and men”. We find our­selves grap­pling with terms to de­scribe our own mo­ral col­lapse. We call it “extremism” and we say late Gen. Zia ul Haq “in­vented” it. We don’t say that it is us, the peo­ple of Pak­istan, who gave up their free will to choose bet­ter for our­selves and our gen­er­a­tions. Our women chose to wear their Chad­dars and abayas as a sub­ju­ga­tion note and chose to stay op­pressed as slaves, by their own thoughts and ideas while our men and the pow­er­ful re­peat­edly opted for cor­rup­tion and abuse unchecked. We are re­spon­si­ble for the ter­mite of “extremism” in our so­cial be­hav­iour and only we can erad­i­cate it. But do we have the courage to look in the mir­ror?

“Why hast thou made me born in this coun­try, the in­hab­i­tant of which is sat­is­fied with be­ing a slave?” – Al­lama Mo­ham­mad Iqbal. — The writer is a free­lance colum­nist.

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