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Women at Pakistan Awami Tehreek sit-in eager to go home

By: Irfan Haider

ISLAMABAD: Twenty-two-year-old Rabia Saeed was looking forward to being home as her father reached Islamabad to take her back after she spent 40 days in the sit-in of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).

A resident of Shorkot tehsil of Jhang, Rabia attended the sit-in along with her fellow students and teachers from Minhajul Quran University in Lahore on the direction of PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.

Know more: PAT chief refuses to allow sit-in participants to go home

“The PAT chief asked all students, his followers and supporters to reach Islamabad to bring a revolution in the country,” Rabia said.

Weeks under the open sky have taken their toll on fervour and families want their daughters back home
She said she also asked her parents to join her in Islamabad but they refused as her father, a farmer, could not leave his work.

“My father allowed me to join the sit-in but he did not expect me to be camping under the open sky for 40 days. These have been the most difficult days of our lives as living on the streets was not an easy task.”

Rabia said she had contracted fever and throat infection for nearly two weeks because of the unhygienic conditions in the camps.

Saeed Chaudhry, Rabia’s father, told Dawn that in retrospect he considered it to be a mistake to allow his daughter to participate in the sit-in.

“I was expecting the sit-in to be over in a week and for my daughter to be back. It is difficult to understand why the PAT chief failed to bring a revolution while the sit-ins added to the difficulties of the people of Pakistan,” he said.

“Do you think it was easy for my wife and me to sleep comfortably while our daughter was sleeping under the open sky for five weeks?”

Like Rabia Saeed, Nabeela Jabbar, 29, a resident of Narowal district, was leaving the sit-in with her brother.

“I was only interested in getting a religious education which is why I convinced my parents to allow me to get admission to Minhajul Quran University in Lahore,” Nabeela said.

After completing her education at the university, she started working as a teacher there.

“Though I believe that Dr Qadri’s demands about the facilities of education, healthcare and job opportunities for the youth are genuine it is difficult for women to live under such difficult circumstances outside the Parliament House,” she added.

Nabeela said her mother had been calling her on daily basis because she was worried when she heard about the clashes between the police and protesters.

Saad Jabbar, Rabia’s elder brother, said it was unfortunate that religious scholars like the PAT chief were using women and children as pawns in pursuit of their agendas.

A resident of Lahore, 27-year-old Uzma Akhtar also reached Islamabad along with her friends on August 15.

“I am doing masters in Islamic Studies at the Punjab University, Lahore. My friend and neighbours asked me to join the sit-in of PAT in Islamabad,” Uzma said.

“I thought that it was a good opportunity to be part of a movement to bring a revolution besides seeing the federal capital for the first time in my life.” She said it was very difficult to be at the sit-in day and night and she had been telling her friends that she wanted to go home.

“My friends are teachers and students at the Minhajul Quran University and they told me that bringing a revolution would need some more days.”

She said her mother had told her that she was coming to Islamabad to take her home.

“Some other young women from Lahore at the PAT sit-in told me that they also wanted to go home,” she said.

According to the women participants of the sit-ins, hundreds of families and single girls had already left Islamabad during the last three weeks while dozens of others, including the students and teachers of the Minhajul Quran institutions, wanted to return to their areas as soon as possible.

When contacted, Umar Riaz Abbasi, the spokesman for PAT, said while the suffering of the people were increasing due to the prolonged sit-in, it was the responsibility of the government to overcome the political crisis through peaceful dialogue.

He said hundreds of families had left the sit-in due to their personal problems at home and it was also unfortunate that some people lost their homes and incurred damages to property in their native villages due to the flooding in Punjab and AJK. He said the PAT leadership had never forced anyone to stay at the sit-in but the participants were requested to spend maximum time at the venue.