LAHORE: Passionate cries for freedom and demands for an end to patriarchy resounded through the main roads of downtown Lahore, as hundreds of women, men and transgender people marched towards Alhamra Arts Council from the Lahore Press Club to mark International Women’s Day.

The ‘Aurat March’, as it has come to be known since the first iteration last year, was organised by Hum Aurtain -- a feminist collective. It has a manifesto demanding basic rights in each field of life.

The marchers carried bold placards seeking gender equity – not just for women, but also for transpersons, and anyone who was a victim of hate crime and discrimination on the basis of their gender or sexual identity.

“Hum chheen kay laingay azaadi,” shouted the marchers. “Pidr shahi ka nizam, nahin chalega nahin chalega.”

Baffled passersby and drivers gave way to the rally, while some watched silently, or made videos. “If they are making such a hue and cry about it, they must be right,” grinned a man in his ‘40s. An older man shrugged, murmuring that the demonstrators had the right to protest. One man gave a thumbs-up to the marchers as he passed by on his motorcycle on The Mall.

The rally passed by the Punjab Assembly and marched to Alhamra where the marchers sat in the open ground. From activists, journalists and writers to actors, artists and celebrities, the demonstrators included every section of society.

“Our village school teacher told us to come, so we are here,” smiled a woman, carrying her infant, who had come all the way from the outskirts of Lahore and was carrying a purple flag of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). Her daughter also held a placard demanding her right to education.

The demonstrators then watched street theatre performances on a stage set up in the Alhamra lawns. Poems were read out by some, and a speech delivered by one of the activists who talked about the problems of women from minority religions, and it was demanded that the marriage laws of Hindu, Christian and Sikh women must be looked into to protect them.

As soon as Iqbal Bano’s rendition of Faiz Ahmed’s poem ‘Hum Dekhain Gay’ was played, women of all ages started singing along.

Later, an Awami Workers Party worker sang a song accompanied by a classical dance; a tabla performance spellbound the audience and then singer/actor Meesha Shafi took to the stage to perform, receiving a thunderous applause. Shafi’s song ‘Dhol Baje Ga’ featured Rani – a dhol player who rendered an impressive performance.

“I have never felt this free in my life,” Sara Shah, one of the participants, told Dawn. “No one has molested or harassed me, and for once men are standing on the sidelines, not doing anything.”

Founder members of WAF and AGHS, including Hina Jillani, Dr Robina Saigol and Farida Shaheed, were also seen humming to the songs. A few women from political parties also attended the event.

One of the leading organsisers of the march was women’s rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad.

“The credit for today does not go to just one woman alone,” announced Dad towards the end of the event. “In fact, a number of women from different organisations and even individuals have worked on the event.”

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019

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