Enough of men

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Jawed Naqvi

GHALIB the 19th-cen­tury poet was ca­pa­ble of Hi­malayan van­ity and grov­el­ling mod­esty. He cap­tured a nadir moment in his fluc­tu­at­ing emo­tions thus: ‘Ghalib e khasta ke baghair kaun se kaam band hai’n

Roiye zaar zaar kya, ki­jiye hai hai kyun’ (The world didn’t come to an end with­out Ghalib, the heavens didn’t fall/Why then lament the ab­sence of a use­less man, why this gloomy pall?)

The lament turned out to be an in­vi­ta­tion to Ma­jaaz Luck­navi to draw a vi­car­i­ous con­clu­sion. The younger poet (and wit) ad­mired Ghalib im­mensely with all the 100 years that sep­a­rated them. But he could not help of­fer­ing his imp­ish in­tu­ition about Ghalib’s self-dep­re­cat­ing lines. “They were writ­ten by his wife,” he pro­claimed to a po­ets’ con­gre­ga­tion in Lucknow.

Ma­jaaz who died in the 1950s did in fact ex­hort women to re­claim their dig­nity at home and also on the bat­tle­front spawned by an un­equal so­ci­ety. ‘Tere maathey pe ye aan­chal ba­hot hi khoob hai lekin Tu is aan­chal se ik par­cham bana leti to achcha tha’ (The head­scarf looks lovely on you, sweet­heart, but yield! Why not make a flag with it for the bat­tle­field?)’

As al­ways the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day on March 8 will draw women and men to sem­i­nar halls, de­bates and sym­po­siums to dis­cuss the gen­der di­vide, the un­equal distri­bu­tion of work and pay be­tween the sexes, the shack­les placed on women’s rights, pri­mar­ily their right to re­claim the free­dom that men have cor­nered for them­selves like a bad host at the break­fast ta­ble.

There will be the in­evitable dis­cus­sion about the rel­e­vance of mar­riage and fam­ily. Con­sid­er­ing that it was the early so­cial­ists in Europe who first spoke up for women’s rights, it was not sur­pris­ing that Marx and En­gels frowned on the in­sti­tu­tion of the bour­geois fam­ily.

That theme will re­main of vi­tal im­por­tance for South Asian women and men, not the least be­cause Tehmina Dur­rani among oth­ers has put the sub­ject high on the agenda. In fact, a good rea­son why the is­sue is of cru­cial im­por­tance to South Asia flows from the re­al­ity that the re­gion ex­pe­ri­ences feu­dal as well as bour­geois on­slaughts on women. Ger­maine Greer might have been de­scrib­ing the pros­per­ous In­dian or Pak­istani woman or per­haps a Nepali or a Sri Lankan ‘homemaker’ when she wrote in The Fe­male Eu­nuch:

“In that mys­te­ri­ous di­men­sion where the body meets the soul the stereo­type is born and has her be­ing. She is more body than soul, more soul than mind … Egrets, os­triches and pea­cocks, but­ter­flies and bee­tles yield her their plumage. Men risk their lives hunt­ing leop­ards for her coats, and croc­o­diles for her hand­bags and shoes. Mil­lions of silk­worms of­fer her their yel­low labours; even the seam­stresses roll seams and whip lace by hand, so that she might be clad in the best that money can buy.”

The con­sumer so­ci­ety be­ing in­au­gu­rated as the way for­ward in our re­gion is de­signed to in­evitably ob­struct the women’s ad­vance, not spur their march for eman­ci­pa­tion. The de­bates and dis­cus­sions will get crude at times, be­cause some women will flaunt Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, even Be­nazir Bhutto as role models.

I heard an un­ten­able ar­gu­ment at a de­bate in Delhi the other day. The side with an In­dian army of­fi­cer’s wife in its midst won. She had ar­gued how the na­tion’s armed forces trained the sol­diers to re­spect women. And she got a loud ap­plause for that. The in­ter­jec­tion — why then does the In­dian state not re­move the ne­far­i­ous laws that pro­tect the sol­diers from charges of rape and mur­der — was drowned in the din.

The Is­raeli army has done one bet­ter. Its re­cruit­ment of women at key lev­els of its hi­er­ar­chy is match­less and flaunted as a rare achieve­ment for women’s equal­ity.

Should one ask a Pales­tinian girl what she thinks of this ex­clu­sive priv­i­lege for women in Is­rael? It is, how­ever, heart­en­ing to see much of the world ad­mir­ing Rachel Cor­rie, and not the Is­raeli women sol­diers.

The brave Amer­i­can girl was crushed

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