A tribute to Benazir, the eighth queen of Bhittai
Benazir Bhutto was loved as much as she was hated. Unfortunately, those who hated her were victorious on that freezing evening in December four years ago, when she was shot dead.
Benazir belonged to the land of Sindhu (River Indus) – the very same land of Bhittai and his seven Queens Marvi, Momal, Sassi, Noori, Sohni, Sorath, and Lila who are valued for their bravery and courage. Benazir is fit to be the eighth queen, the leader of all of these.
Opposing the vehement character-assassination campaign against her that was run by the inventors of “Chaadar aur Chaar-deewari” and Hudood, Bhutto chose to stand up to the misogynists who had refused to salute her for being a female prime minister. Her struggle as a Muslim woman was historic. The sky could not even be seen above the crowds of hundreds of thousands of people chanting her name and supporting her. She recounted the day when her plane landed in Karachi in 2007:
“A display of emotion by a woman in politics and government can be misconstructed as a manifestation of weakness, reinforcing stereotypes and caricatures. But as my foot touched the ground of my beloved Pakistan for the first time, I couldn’t stop tears pouring from my eyes…I felt that a huge burden, a terrible weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was home at long last. I knew why. I knew what I had to do.”
Dauntless and unshakeable, Bhutto never succumbed to the mullah-military mindset, and always took the lead in condemning bigotry. While on her trip to the United Kingdom in 1990, Benazir Bhutto visited Dr Abdus Salam, a Nobel laureate in Physics, and paid great respect to him. The act gave rise to tremendous fury from fundamentals, and she was termed an Ahmadi only for paying homage to an Ahmadi scientist. However, the brave woman that she was, she never backed down and was undeterred.
Then, in May 2007, she rebuffed comments made by Muhammad Ijazul Haq regarding the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, citing that he was calling for the assassination of foreign citizens.
“I’m glad there was no cease-fire with the militants in the mosque because cease-fires simply embolden the militants,” she was heard saying this on Britain’s Sky TV after the Red Mosque Incident.
Her firm stance on the Lal Masjid fiasco, too, lost her significant support in urban Punjab and made her a legitimate target in the eyes of bloodthirsty beasts.
Benazir Bhutto dedicated the last years of her life to unveiling the root cause of the decline in Muslim societies, with special focus on the Pakistani society. In her riveting and most insightful posthumous book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, she candidly unravelled the quandary that befell Muslims:
“One billion Muslims around the world seemed united in their outrage at the war in Iraq, damning the deaths of Muslims caused by US military intervention without UN approval. But there has been little if any similar outrage against the sectarian civil war, which has led to far more casualties. Obviously and embarrassingly, Muslim leaders, masses and even intellectuals are quite comfortable criticizing outsiders for the harm inflicted on fellow Muslims, but there is deadly silence when they are confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence.”
Benazir had always maintained that the minority had hijacked societal values for their own interests. She had unshakeable faith in the collective consciousness of her people and never backtracked from her firm resolve.
She went on publicly calling out to the handfuls:
“Who jin ke siwa sab kaafar hein, Jo deen ka harf-e-akhar hein, un jhooton aur makaaron se, Mazhab ke thekedaaron se, Main bhagi hun main bhagi hun”
She was well aware of the universal truth that change, if any, had to come from within and couldn’t be imposed from outside. Moreover, she had this proud connection to her homeland that she had embarked upon to reclaim:
“I am the daughter of Indus, I am the daughter of Taxila, I am an heir of this 5,000 year old civilization”
If Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai were alive today, he would write about her, the eighth queen of Sindh. He would make her the queen of all the seven queens and would ask them to respect her. If he were alive, he would mourn the death of Benazir along with his seven queens.
“”Tell me the stories, oh thorn-brush,
Of the mighty merchants of the Indus,
Of the nights and the days of the prosperous times,
Are you in pain now, oh thorn-brush?
Because they have departed:
In protest, cease to flower.
Oh thorn-brush, how old were you
When the river was in full flood?
Have you seen any way-farers
Who could be a match of the Banjaras?
True, the river has gone dry,
And worthless plants have begun to flourish on the brink.”
Translated by Prof. D. H. Butani (1913-1989) in The Melody and Philosophy of Shah Latif
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