By: Minerwa Tahir
KARACHI: Many argue that the inherent cause of crimes against women, particularly honour killings, is the mindset that promotes this idea that women’s ‘chastity’ is what men’s honour is invested in and hence needs to be protected. It was perhaps only natural to be perturbed and ponder over the inherent causes of this discrimination in our patriarchal society.
Tehrik-e-Niswan organised a peaceful protest at Karachi Press Club on Saturday, using art as their medium, against this particular mindset. Short plays were enacted by classical dancer and rights activist Sheema Kermani and her troupe, depicting the harsh realities of women’s lives in our society with a touch of dark comedy. Among other issues, they touched the topics of sexual harassment in public spaces and the particular cases of rights activist Marvi Sirmed and Karachi University teacher Prof Navin G Haider.
One of the plays begins with a group of men surrounding a woman, instructing her about how she should behave. ‘Ziada na bolo [Don’t talk too much]’, ‘Saval na karo [Don’t ask questions], ‘Javab na do [Don’t talk back]’ and ‘Kandhay jhukao [Droop your shoulders]’ were among the orders they were barking at her, ending with ‘Shohar na bano [Don’t act like a husband] – an apparent reference to what Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl senator Hafiz Hamdullah said to Sirmed during the controversial talk show.
The woman is then joined by other female members, who swirl together in a dejected manner. “Yeh ortain, yeh maaein, yeh behnain, yeh betiyaan, qaumon ki izzat in se hai. Mardon ki izzat in se hai [These women, these mothers, these sisters, these daughters, they are the honour of nations.
They are the honour of men],” the men sing in unison pointing towards the women. This is when Kermani steps in to tell them boldly, “Izzat nahin insaan hai orat! [Woman is not an honour, she is human!]”, and her female members join the chant. The men respond by complaining how women are not happy that they are being ‘honoured’ by them. Kermani tells them that is a mere jugglery of words.
Another female performer says that it is these honours that are used as shackles by men to limit a woman’s freedom. The men retort sarcastically that no other nation has given their women as much honour as they have. To this, the women begin to question them about where they got this honour from to distribute among the women. “Yeh izat kahan se laye thay, chori ki thi ya daaka dala tha? [Where did you get this izzat from, through theft or dacoity?],” says one woman. Kermani adds to the question, asking if there exists some ‘izzat bank’, where men accumulate izzat and distribute among the needy women. The play ends with the repetition of the revolutionary chant, ‘Izzat nahin insaan hai orat’.
Soon after, a re-enactment of the controversial show involving Hamdullah and Sirmed begins. It is a sardonic criticism of how electronic media has reduced itself to following a culture of ratings, for which they resort to all sorts of depraved measures – from inviting unsuitable characters to adding fuel if a conflict erupts. Beginning the TV talk show, the host says that this is ‘Madari’ [clown] channel, introducing himself as ‘Journalist faqat naam ka’ [So-called journalist] and the guests as ‘Mullah Shalvari’ and ‘Be-baak sahiba’. Kermani questions the host why he does not invite scholarly persons to promote some awareness, to which he responds, “Agar agahi phelaein gay toh ishtihaar kahan se paein gay? [How will we get advertisements if we start promoting awareness?].”
Another short re-enactment was of the case of Prof Haider. Unfortunately, barely two leading English dailies have addressed the issue of Prof Haider, who has accused Prof Sahar Ansari, a renowned figure in literary circles, of sexually harassed her. The play depicted the events that Prof Haider had suffered. It begins with the professor, called ‘Prof Subah Shaam Iftari’ in the play, missing no chance to touch female students. He goes on to tell a female teacher how she would be lonely that her husband is away and also commented on how she looked at an event when she was wearing a ‘sleeveless, yellow sari’. The teacher goes on to complain about the professor to higher authorities. The verdict that follows is in favour of the professor, with harassment committee members questioning her why the female teacher is still unmarried and why she complains when she herself shakes hands with men and ‘doesn’t even cover her head with her dupatta’.
At the end of the event, Kermani called upon all like-minded people to join hands to protest against discrimination and sexual harassment of women.