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Rise, Pakistani women

Ghazi Salahuddin

How fast can a Pakistani woman run? Well, among other things, this mainly depends on whether she is allowed to take the field.

We can be certain about her potential, though, irrespective of the burdens she carries in our socially oppressive society. Even today, there are areas in Pakistan where women are forced to live as the prisoners of a primitive way of life.

But then we also have Naseem Hameed – right now the fastest woman in South Asia. She won a gold medal in the 100-metre race in the 11th South Asian Games held in Dhaka. She was given a rousing welcome when she returned home, to Karachi, few days back. Coming almost out of nowhere, she has become a celebrity.

What we need to celebrate is not just the fact that a female Pakistani athlete has triumphed in a sporting competition. The real story here is about who she actually is and where she comes from. We should be grateful to the news channels and the manner in which they have followed this human interest story that the entire country has virtually met Naseem’s parents and seen her one-room home in Korangi.

In that sense, it rather seems like a fairytale with Naseem being the Cinderella of Korangi and an inspiration for other girls like her who belong to relatively poor families and who long to prove their abilities. The situation would have been a different one if a Pakistani female gold medalist in an athletic competition had come from a well-to-do and ‘respectable’ family, having been educated in some prestigious private institution.

It has been said that Naseem is a role model for girls of poor families. This is a valid observation. However, the genuine role models in this story are her parents. They are the ones we should know more about to understand how the almost illiterate and impoverished parents of a girl child were able to encourage her daughter to take to athletics. Her mother, particularly, comes out as a wise and courageous person.

Do we also have some intimations here of the direction in which the Pakistani society is changing? This is a difficult question to answer. But yes, there should be no doubt about the route that history would compel us to take. It is imperative for progress to liberate and educate women. The religious orthodoxy with which we are so severely afflicted remains an obstacle for the meaningful emancipation of women. Equally problematic are our tribal and feudal norms that strive to relegate women into a state of servility and submission.

Naseem’s example, however, gives us hope. It is also a reminder that within the huge underclass, there exist great talent and ambition. Beyond the gender issue, the Pakistani youth in itself is a resource that is threatening to become a dangerous liability. It is good that Naseem is now being showered with praise and monetary rewards. The life of her family is bound to change — and this is judicious recompense for the struggle and spirit of Naseem’s parents.

Nevertheless, we need to raise the question that why, at least a part of this recognition, had not come before Naseem left for Dhaka. Why was she not popularly known as an aspirant to the glory that she finally achieved? Obviously, we do not have a very efficient network of training facilities and talent scouting. It should be noted that excellence in sports is also a measure of a country’s development. The entire process is plugged into the educational system. Look at the medals that different countries win in Olympics. The developed countries remain at the top and we figure almost as low as we do in UNDP’s Human Development Index.

With this celebration of Naseem’s success, attention was somewhat diverted from another female gold medalist in the South Asian Federation Games in Dhaka. Sara Nasir won her medal in Karate, another evidence of the potential of our women and how it may change their status in society. Still, I think that Naseem’s example is more inspiring and socially momentous. She has risen from the depth of poverty and social injustice.

Incidentally, I had earlier thought of selecting another subject for this column appearing on February 14. Today, of course, is the Valentine’s Day and the way in which it is being celebrated in Pakistan, with its meretricious commercialism, is another sign of freedom that our young people are stressing for. In this case, changes that have been instituted by technological innovations such as mobile phones and internet have played a large part. Meanwhile, these trends also aggravate conflicts between the orthodox and the supposedly modern factions of our society. Many of our educated, urban young women see today’s rituals as a sign of their empowerment.

Well, it was actually not the Valentine’s Day that I had in mind to mark this second Sunday of February. The Chinese New Year also begins today. And this time, it is the Year of the Tiger. For a huge population of this world, today is a day of great celebration. The Chinese calendar is lunar and in their astrology, every year is named after an animal, in a cycle of 12 houses of the zodiac.

Just as the beginning of a Gregorian year, the calendar that rules our secular lives, is marked by forecasts and predictions about everything, there is a rush of predictions about the Year of the Tiger as well. What I found most amusing is that its beginning on the Valentine’s Day is not seen as auspicious for lovers. In fact, it is seen not to be a good year for getting married and there was a rush for tying the knot before today. This year is also called the ‘widow year’.

Other predictions, too, are not cheerful, though like politicians, soothsayers can be in opposite camps. I noticed this particularly in their predictions about President Obama. One prominent fortune-teller has said, as quoted by a foreign news agency, that fires and explosions are more likely in the coming year. Another asked people to beware of earthquakes, volcanoes and ‘metal-related’ accidents, like car crashes and industrial accidents. The previous Year of the Tiger that was associated with metal was 1950 — the year the Korean War broke out.

Let me conclude with this forecast by a Hong Kong feng shui advisor: “People will try to take on the strong and help the weak. They will try to help their fellow brothers. They will help friends who are being bullied. This year will be more violent”.

Does this promise some hope or offers a warning?
The writer is a staff member. Email: [email protected] .com

Source: The News

Date:2/14/2010

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