Aurat March participants air grievances through placards

March 09, 2020

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A GROUP of artists perform at the Frere Hall to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / White Star
A GROUP of artists perform at the Frere Hall to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / White Star

KARACHI: Those who reached the Aurat March organised by Hum Aurtein at the Frere Hall on Sunday early were luckier than those who joined them later because Abdullah Haroon Road was closed for security reasons later and the women had to make it all the way to the walk-through metal detectors on foot as the back entrance had also been closed. But it was their day and they didn’t seem to mind it at all.

The volunteers at the walk-through gates were also very nice and no one was treated or searched roughly. Passing through those gates you were met by the volunteers from the Commissioner Karachi’s office, who were distributing disposable masks and flyers with awareness messages about coronavirus.

Up on the big stage there was Sheema Kermani performing skits and songs. She with other women in her troupe in their favourite orange attire were explaining the actual meaning of the slogan ‘Mera jism, meri marzi [My body, my choice]’ raising so much unnecessary controversy to a bunch of angry men on the stage. “Izzat nahi, insaan hai aurat [She is not just for respect, she is to be respected as a human being first],” they were chanting but the men insisted on calling them shameless women. “We respected you like our mothers, like our daughters but you insist on raising shameful slogans,” they were saying. And they tried explaining to them some more though they refused to understand.

‘I wish they would understand the joy of having a daughter’

“Jaagi, jaagi aurat jaagi [See the woman has awakened],” the women started singing then while telling how women’s becoming aware could change the entire society. “Darya ki qasam, maujon ki qasam [I promise by the sea, by the waves],” followed.

On the ground while many were sitting cross-legged on the grass or on the chairs provided for the elderly watching the performances, there were many also holding up their placards. There was one placard which said ‘Mera mustaqbil, meri marzi [My future, my choice]’, another that said ‘Raise your standards, not my blood pressure’, and so many others with various messages such as ‘Go ahead, underestimate me, that would be fun’, ‘No honour in honour killing”, Baitiyon ko parhnay do, iss haq ke liye hummein larnay do [Educate daughters, let them fight for this right]’, ‘Don’t need sympathy, need laws, policies, regulations’, etc.

Each poster or placard came with a little story. Shehrbano, a medical student and one of four sisters, was holding up a placard which read ‘Ladoo banto, beti hui hai [Distribute sweets, it is a girl]’. “My parents never had a son and we sisters have made them proud. I am a medical student and I see patients having even five or six daughters in the hope of having a boy. I wish they would understand the joy of having a daughter,” she said.

When their arms hurt and hands got tired, they would put the placards down for a while to dance to the music or chant slogans with those on the big stage. Then it was back to marching with the placards.

Another placard said ‘Haath milana haram, bachiyan uthana halal? [You have a problem shaking hands with someone from another faith, but you think you can kidnap his or her daughter?]. Bhevish Kumar, who made the placard, said that he belonged to a minority religious group and often had met people who did not like to shake hands with him. “My poster also highlights the issue of forced conversions,” he said.

A young couple, Hina Fatima and Tahir Rasheed, said that they only had one little son but wished for a daughter too. They were holding up a placard that said, ‘Jitni betiyan, utni rehmatein [More daughters, mean all the more blessings]’.

Najeeb and his friend Zummer had come to the Aurat March with their four-year-old German Shepherd Max, whose ears would prick up every now and then at the sound of the music from the stage. The two friends and their dog also had a placard, which said, ‘Even Max understands what “No” means’.

Beena Burki had come all the way from Lahore to stay with her daughter Zaibunnisa. “I thought to visit and see how the march was going on in Karachi and I must say I was delighted. My other daughter, who is in Lahore, is sending me pictures from there too and I can’t tell the difference between here or there,” she said. Beena’s placard read: ‘For all my daughters, we are the revolution!’

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020