On the 14th of August 2020, I wrote:
“Every year for the past twenty years, when August arrives, I suddenly go quiet. I never know what to say, how to say it. August holds so much weight for us – but for those like me, who have their roots trailing through a land that still isn’t free, roots that stretch endlessly, it’s difficult to know where you’re from. I have a passport that says where I was born: is that my only identity? I could probably make it easier for myself and stick to it, but I can’t. The Partition is perhaps a trauma I’ll carry forever. I’ll give it to my children – wrapped in a bow. August is a burden when the 14th comes. I have a homeland, but is it mine? I hope so. I speak its language, I wear its clothes, I sing its songs. Am I allowed to have it? Please say yes.”
But today, I’m no longer sure I want it.
Sometime between all the independence days, I’ve become disillusioned with August 14th. What good is a homeland if it won’t protect me? What good is a country that doesn’t – won’t – keep my dreams safe? What good is a country that won’t unclench its fingers around my neck? I used to happily wave a green and white flag, “sohni dharti Allah rakhe.” Are we even worthy of God’s mercy when Pakistan is decidedly stubborn in its violence? I won’t call my country she. To do so would concede defeat to men that are trampling all over the women of Pakistan.
Initially, this piece was supposed to solely be a tribute to Noor Mukadam, a bright, beautiful soul murdered at the hands of cold-blooded, savage Zahir Jaffer in the nation’s capital. But every time I opened the document to put pain into words, a new #JusticeFor[Insert Name] had been trending. How many women and little girls have to die at the hands of men for this country to see how desperately we need to change? Even in the aftermath of such horrors – even after death – Pakistan does not afford a woman the liberty of being believed. We poke and prod until men are convinced that no, it was not their fault, that the woman must have done something, anything to provoke such an attack. I am writing on behalf of all those Pakistani women whose lives are cut short by men because they do not have anyone but fellow women to defend them. And I will – even if my voice is hoarse. How can we in good conscience sing the national anthem when the only words on our lips are pleas for freedom? This hyper-masculine nation does not warrant reverence.
Pakistani women are figuratively killed at inception. We’ve been told to step into neat little square boxes, where we cannot speak, we cannot wear this or that, we cannot talk back, we are nothing but unsuspecting prey for the archers that are Pakistani men.
The woman’s only crime was that she was proud to be Pakistani. She was brave enough to stake a claim to her country, in front of the very site where Pakistan was concretely conceptualized 81 years ago
Pakistani women will rise, hum dekhenge. And when that day arrives, perhaps I too can rev the engine of a motorcycle and race across the roads that are rightfully mine just as the men who currently leer at me do.
As I began writing this, horrific news of a woman being groped, assaulted and stripped by hundreds of men on August 14th in front of Minar-e-Pakistan came forward. not one, but close to 400 men participated in this heinous sin — they took glee in the fact that they were ripping apart her clothes and sanity. From 6:30 pm to 9 pm, through calls to prayer, through dusk to night, these men celebrated independence day doing what Pakistani men know best: humiliating a woman. The video went viral: a woman’s trauma was put on every screen in the nation for men and women alike to judge. and judge they did. Why was she there? Why was she making TikToks in front of a national monument? Why didn’t she know any better?
Enough is enough. Why does Pakistani society have unwavering compassion for criminal men? Why are men never directly blamed? It’s always their upbringing, society, or lack of better judgment that is named as the perpetrator of gender-based violence.
The woman’s only crime was that she was proud to be Pakistani. She was brave enough to stake a claim to her country, in front of the very site where Pakistan was concretely conceptualized 81 years ago. The Minar-e-Pakistan marks the site of the Lahore Resolution and it was this very resolution insisting that “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities […] for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.” Pakistan has done nothing to abide by it. To see the country that our ancestors had so much faith in crumbling because of regressive beliefs is nothing short of humiliating. I ask, then, what should we celebrate on August 14th? It is mostly cishet men who parade around the roads shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’- because they are the ones who are truly free. Women are at their very best, afterthoughts. We are not free. It would be enough if we could ‘zinda bhaag.’
I was appalled that the very things I sought to write about became a harsh reality: this is no longer a fear that creeps in the back of our minds. It was a real crime that occurred in daylight and not a single soul tried to stop it. It is men who are evil. It is men who are our culprits.
Every day in this land is a living nightmare. My grandmother hastily walks me through the streets of every market aisle, lamenting how I refuse to wear a dupatta. When I feel guilty enough, I don one but that doesn’t stop the stares of the vultures. And I am so incredibly tired of shrinking myself for men lest they cannot contain themselves. Because we have known for a long time that they don’t just stop at hungrily eyeing the curves of our bodies. Seeing a woman being repeatedly held down as men did whatever their heart desired will haunt August 14th for the rest of our lives. It is every Pakistani woman’s worst nightmare turning into a reality.
Is this the azaadi that the Quaid wanted for us? Pakistani women are akin to caged birds, whistling a tune of despair. Why are our bodies violated constantly? My autonomy is mine. And I refuse to celebrate the creation of this country until it abides by the values it was created upon
The 400 men who descended upon a woman knew what they were doing, and they were enjoying ripping a woman’s body to shreds. Amongst the crowds were little boys younger than 13. Following in their fathers’, uncles’, and brothers’ footsteps, it is apparent that the next generation of Pakistani men will be no different than the ones of the past. We are smugly told that it is not all men but is 400 not enough? 400 saw a woman for their taking. Not one man tried to stop it. Instead, she was treated worse than a piece of meat that hangs from a butcher shop.
Men gleefully ask me “All men, so your father and brother too?” thinking that it is a loophole to my feminism. It is not. These 400 men were fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and that didn’t stop them. So yes, it is all men. It will continue to be all men until they fight alongside all women – not just those inside their homes. Men readily take up arms against me when I say this – out come randi, gashti, whore, slut – but they do not have the same vengeance when every woman has a story to tell. A tiny phrase borne from centuries of oppression and violence causes an insidious uproar from men but excuses are made when that same oppression and violence occur in front of them.
I, alongside my fellow Pakistani women, do not want to set off fireworks for a country that only pretends to care when the cruelest of crimes go viral. The sinister misogyny lurking in the shadows is just as ruthless. I see the new generation of Pakistani women being told to make themselves smaller lest the men outside kill them. The innocence, happiness and wonder at the world slowly dims in my 9-year-old cousin every time she is told to cover her chest, to not wear such a small shirt, to sit properly. There is no solace – not even within the four walls of a home. We should be ashamed that we literally and figuratively take away the ambition and confidence of Pakistani girls, that we tell our daughters to stay home instead of locking men indoors. It is men who need fixing not little girls and it seems as if Pakistani women are fighting with a brick wall. We are so stubborn in our supposed love of culture that we let it eat us alive. We are so used to letting men escape accountability. And we are so proud when a boy is birthed and for what? So he can grow up and entrap his wife and daughter in this vicious cycle of contempt? Why are honor, glory, and safety reserved for men only? It is delusional to believe that this patriarchy won’t end in flames because one by one, the women of Pakistan will fight back. I can only pray that it happens in my lifetime.
From 6:30 pm to 9 pm, through calls to prayer, through dusk to night, these men celebrated independence day doing what Pakistani men know best: humiliating a woman
I often question why we are told to be afraid of men, why we must obey our fathers, why we must stand dutifully and nod. We all know the answer: to men we are nothing but prey, extensions of their egos. My only sin is being born a woman in a country that places the responsibility of maintaining a man’s izzat on a woman’s shoulder. Have I no pride of my own? I am not a mere extension of a man, I refuse to be seen as just my father’s daughter or my brother’s sister for I have the right to claim myself. We may have resigned ourselves to this horrible, automated answer to all our questions but that does not make it right.
Is this the azaadi that the Quaid wanted for us? Pakistani women are akin to caged birds, whistling a tune of despair. Why are our bodies violated constantly? My autonomy is mine. And I refuse to celebrate the creation of this country until it abides by the values it was created upon. Until it guarantees women the same luxury it willingly bestows upon its men.
There is nothing that ties us to the soil of Pakistan but the ropes of the patriarchy. Until the nation blows its celebratory horns for women, we will not take joy in being Pakistani. We will never be forced into the facade of patriotism until the keys to our freedom are handed back to us.