Would Nergis Mavalvala have made it had she stayed in Pakistan?
Overnight, astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala’s star went supernova in Pakistan. As news spread that the Karachi born scientist’s research played a role in one of the greatest scientist discoveries of our time, people who couldn’t spell ‘gravitational wave’ began celebrating her achievement with the fervour of Neil deGrasse Tyson dreaming about first contact.
Meanwhile, our right-wingers quickly started combing through scripture, seeking evidence of a Nostradamus like foretelling of gravitational waves, perhaps in hopes of winning a reductive reasoning award.
But I digress.
As TV channels and news dot coms broke the story, social media hit fever pitch.
Proud of Nergis Mavalvala a Pakistani American astrophysicist born in Khi helpd discover gravitational waves at LIGO https://t.co/ESRIlBGY96
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) February 13, 2016
— kiran Raza (@kiranraza_01) February 14, 2016
1 of the key ppl who discovered gravitational waves is a Pakistani professor at MIT,Dr.Nergis Mavalvala
The excitement ranged between all classes, of course, but the people I wish to address are the bandwagon jumpers…err… readers who usually spend their days posting anti-feminist and anti-homosexual comments in barely decipherable sentences. The same sort of Pakistanis who believe Malala Yousufzai is an Israeli/American/European puppet. The same sort of readers who think Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdus Salam should be wiped from local history books because he didn’t follow the same branch of Islam as them.
The same sort of readers who believe a woman belongs in the kitchen, was born to deliver babies, and must have her creativity, hopes, and dreams stifled by a black cloth. Yes, the same Pakistanis who have two black holes colliding in their grey matter on a daily basis.
I am sorry for the cynicism, but frankly, the hypocrisy is tiresome.
So let’s cut the bulls***!
Mavalvala may have been born in Karachi, but her professional accomplishment is 100 per cent American. She left Pakistan while still a teenager and attended an American college in Wellesley. Later, she joined MIT, where she took part in ground breaking research, developed proprietary technology, and earned a PhD.
She is also a single mother, is openly gay and proud to be a lesbian. To our homophobic chest thumping numbskulls rejoicing her Pakistani heritage, this means she prefers the intimate company of women.
What’s more, she is from Pakistan’s fast diminishing Parsi community. In other words, she is not Muslim, but a follower of Zoroastrianism.
Most of Mavalvala’s family is settled in the United States, because they didn’t feel safe in Pakistan.
An article on Dawn expands on the trials of the ‘fire worshipping’ Parsi people.
After facing persecution in Persia a millennia ago, the Parsi people came to South Asia to seek refuge. In Pakistan, they lived a lifetime until extremism caught up with them,
“The community, which has long been active in business and charity, has been unnerved by the upsurge in Islamist extremist violence. One expert said the loss of the Parsis in the society would be ‘huge blow’ to Pakistan’s diversity. Only around 1,500 are left in Karachi…”
Today, the Parsi community is leaving Pakistan ‘in droves’. Some of those who stay have hired security guards to protect them from neighbouring Muslims threatening to grab their land by force.
Would Mavalvala have achieved her dreams had she pursued her education in Pakistan?
Would Mavalvala have achieved her dreams as a single mother in a nation where single mothers carry a large stigma?
Would Mavalvala have been free to express herself professionally in a nation where her sexuality can be a death sentence?
Would Mavalvala have been embraced as a follower of Zoroastrianism?
So again, let’s cut the bulls***. As far as I am concerned, Mavalvala didn’t earn professional success because she is Pakistani. No, she hit the stratosphere in spite of her Pakistani roots.
If you have any doubts, just ask Dr Abdus Salam’s family how they felt when his gravesite was due to his Ahmadi faith.
Take a minute to absorb Mavalvala’s message,
“I really thought of what I want people to know in Pakistan as I have garnered some attention there. Anybody should be able to succeed — whether you’re a woman, a religious minority or whether you’re gay. It just doesn’t matter.”
If you want to celebrate Mavalvala’s Pakistani roots, then celebrate her values, and celebrate the ingredients that made her into who she is today. This includes her religion, culture, and sexuality.
Perhaps if we weren’t suppressing minorities, and homosexuals, if we weren’t restricting women from pursuing education, if we weren’t forcing so many educated women into the role of homemaker, instead of allowing them to pursue their careers, if we weren’t casting a shadow on single mothers, we would be producing more home-grown Mavalvalas every day.
If you follow the wave of public opinion on local social media, you understand the negative connotations feminism has for so many Pakistanis. Hopefully they now understand that Mavalvala is the epitome of feminism.
To truly celebrate Mavalvala, let’s start by unlocking the potential of our own daughters. Let’s give them the freedom to be who they are, instead what we want them to be.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.