70 years of independence for Pakistan, zero years of independence for its women

Published: August 14, 2017

Look at your sister and realise how she isn’t allowed the same rights as you.

Seventy years of independence today. I’m sitting here, trying to sum up what that means for me. There are too many things that encompass this day. There are too many ways to go about it.

It’s 1947. Your grandfather is fighting for his life on a train that has no food. He is holding your father tight in his arms. Your great grandmother is leaving behind her house, her jewellery, her life, to run to a place she never wanted to go. You are not yet in the picture. You have not experienced the hardships. You came when it had already ended.

It’s 2017. You are fighting for your rights in a country that does not believe in equality. You’re reflecting on independence, on Partition, on all the things your ancestors went through to get to where you are today. You’re wondering where that is exactly.

Is it a place where women get raped every two hours?

Is it a place that kills women for acting/speaking/dressing outside of the norm?

Is it a place where independence thrives?

Or is it a place that kills the independent – luring you into believing that it is possible to speak your mind – and then silencing you for doing so?

We are always celebrating Pakistan’s independence; independence from the British, from India, from all the shackles we wanted to be free from. Seventy years of celebrating, 70 years of building, and rebuilding, learning and forgetting, 70 years of our own people. But we celebrate like it means something more, like we’re actually independent.

Let me break it down for you – I am 23-years-old, living in a country that my great grandparents and grandparents went through hell to live in. My great grandmother would tell me stories growing up. She’d talk about how she had one biscuit to divide between her five children on her journey to Pakistan, how she starved so that they could live. She told me that her house in Delhi was everything she always wanted, and so was her life. It wasn’t like her life in Karachi wasn’t great; it was just that the independence she had fought so hard to give to the women of our family doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of our imagination.

I loved hearing about that time. I wanted to understand what it was like, how everyone felt, what they went through. So I’d probe my grandmother into telling me stories.

Amidst tears she told me that they were forced out of their house in Delhi. They hid in a flat where they were told to keep the lights off. They were told not to speak a word. She said she could clearly recall the fear above everything else – it was her most distinct memory of all. Her father left to gather some things from their house, and while he left, a truck arrived to take them to Lal Quila, where they’d wait until they left for what was by then, Pakistan. My great grandmother refused to leave without him as she was afraid. But somehow, she managed to leave. I guess she knew that she had to do what was best for her children. When they reunited, my great grandfather conveyed that he couldn’t even manage to get to the house because there were too many bodies. Too many for him to even see over. For 10 days, they stayed in Lal Quila – they had no food for the entire duration. My grandmother and her siblings would cry for toast every single day and my great grandmother would go in search for it. She rarely found any and what she did find, she’d give to her children.

My point in relaying this story is that our women were so strong during this time. They stood by their children, they left everything for their sake, yet today, they are still unappreciated. They are still pushed to the side-lines. My great grandmother did everything in her power to ensure the safety of her family, even though it meant that she may not ever see her husband again. This is bravery at its core.

The most independent I have ever felt has been outside my own country – let that sink in. Imagine how it feels to not be able to live freely in a place that you call home. Moving back to Karachi after university was hard; I always knew it would be. But I began noticing things I had never even thought of back when I was in A’Levels. I noticed how I had to hide myself. My body was more of a burden than a blessing. Think about how that feels – being constantly aware of how you occupy space as a human and being told to hide that. It’s almost impossible.

I know if I wanted to, I could walk the streets of Karachi. It isn’t safe? I don’t care. I’m not dressed appropriately? I don’t care. But the problem is that everyone else does. It is not just the male gaze that follows me, but it is also the female gaze. It is the older women watching as I move my way down the street, unforgiving and unashamed.

They want me to be ashamed for going out without a dupatta – but I will not be.

They want me to be ashamed for raising my voice against something I believe is wrong – but I will not be.

Essentially, I’m lucky. My family is not conservative; they do not impose their beliefs upon me. But what about that little girl living in a village that isn’t allowed to go to school? What about that girl who is married off to her cousin because society will go crazy if she’s single at the age of 25? What about all the girls whose voices have been taken away from them? Where is their independence? Where is the independence for the women of our country?

This morning, on my way to work, I saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk. She sat in a squat position – men stared and she stared back – she is one of the fearless few that do not need anyone’s approval to get by in life. I wish more of our women were like that. I wish they knew that their self-worth was not any less than a man’s. I wish they knew that they could be the breadwinners of their families. But they don’t. Because we hide them behind closed doors and stoves. We shove them into corners while their brothers go to school.

I know that there are so many girls in our country who, when given the chance, could bring change. But we can’t find them. We don’t allow ourselves to. Pakistan’s literacy rate is at a staggering low – yes, schools are being built but the education budget is not even half of what it should be. All the money is being spent and all our girls are sitting on the floor of a classroom where their teachers do not show up because they aren’t being paid.

Dear Pakistan, if you think you’re independent – just take a look around. This Independence Day, look at your sister and realise how she isn’t allowed the same rights as you. Look at your mother and notice how she picks up the dishes after dinner instead of your father. Look at your friends and note how they need you to drive them home at night because their parents are afraid of them taking the car on their own. Just acknowledge the lack of independence that we have.

Raise your voice, because if you don’t, you’re going to lose all your girls. They will leave. They will go back to places where they have true independence, where their voices and ideas and opinions are valued. They will leave and never look back.

Maheen Humayun

Maheen Humayun

The writer studied Literature and Creative Writing from John Cabot University in Rome. She is the author of the novella Special. She is currently a sub-editor at Tribune. She blogs at karachiiloveyou.wordpress.com/ and tweets @MaheenHumayun

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Masood Uttra

    Very nice article Miss Maheen, we lose our houses, we lose our business, we lose our blood relations then we reached in this homeland where we are living as independent nation and a nuclear power. Pakistan Zindaa Abad.Recommend

  • Vijay Kumar

    wow…what a great article ,maheen ji. u rocked in this one…what a great soothing narrative about the truth. same conditions here in india too. with love from india. jaiRecommend

  • vinsin

    Wasnt Pakistan created for this purpose? Jinnah had said, “Islam is in Danger” on women rights.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Oh boy.. Even 14th August is about feminism now. Nauseating.Recommend

  • greywolf

    the voices of these feminists has gotten very annoying. take a deep breath.Recommend

  • Salman Shareef

    Miss so called Muslim, Pakistan was not made for the shameless girls who are dreaming of strolling nude on the streets and expect the men to low their gaze.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    Lol. “Look at your mother and notice how she picks up the dishes after dinner instead of your father”. That’s because my father bears the financial responsibilityRecommend

  • Sufyan Iftekhar

    i disagree with most of your stances. Every society has its norms and its own culture. People are not bound, but if they like then they can practice whatever they want. In Pakistan, I see a rainbow thinking, I find girls with burqas, abayas and then wearing jeans. I am anyways cool with it ! My father sometimes, picks up dishes after dinner. What’s the big deal ? Let everybody practice what they want to, Women rights and their role is inevitable in any nation’s building this; is a Gospel’s truth.

    God Bless.Recommend

  • Ab Rar

    Totally useless article. Should a person whose father changes 2 buses to work everyday look at his mother and ask her why she aint doing the same? Women are equal to men in the eyes of law but there social status is not same as men. Bibi Hawa was created for Adams assistance not the other way around. Living in a western country one can clearly see what happens when women are equal to menRecommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    A big LOL. Totally agree with your comment. Our independence id different from the west. The author is a typical NRP. I think she needs to stay outRecommend

  • ab

    When will feminist started taking some responsibility and stop playing the women card?Recommend

  • Muhammad Fateh

    one more thing ask one question to your grandmother if she is alive
    That while she was migrating towards pakistan she had “dobata” or not…


  • S.

    There are mothers who work and do household chores as well. Never heard of a father who does both.Recommend

  • srinivasrjy

    In India Women has lot of economic freedom compared to men.. as govt also encouraging themRecommend

  • Mercurial Blogger

    Women in Pakistan are a lot more independent then what your article tries to portray. Of course the level of independence might vary in different parts of Pakistan but it’s not all doom and gloom.

    I fail to fathom why people think wearing half clothes or going out without the ‘dupatta’, eating and drinking everything is the only form of independence.

    I’ve seen plenty of women in Pakistan working independently and competing directly against their male/female peers. As a NRP, I have also seen a lot of Pakistani women study and work here independently and they are proud of their achievements.
    Nuff said.Recommend

  • Sohail R Abid

    I don’t know which part of Pakistan the author is talking about. I have Alhumdolilah three daughters and no sons. I have taken them for swimming, horse back riding and one of my daughters was an under 13 rock climbing position holder. they all wear abaya and full veil without my intervention. They have started doing it with their own will. In that same state I have taken them to the US for a vacation where they enjoyed everything from kayaking to roller coaster riding. Recommend

  • Ahmar

    There are fathers who work at a job as well as cook and clean dishes. Picking up kids from school, buying groceries and acting as plumber/electrician/gardener around the house is also part of their job as a man. Babysitting and carrying around children while “Begum Sahiba” does shopping in the market is also their responsibility.

    Just because you’ve “never heard or seen them” doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Come with me and I will show you hundreds of such men in Karachi.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Feminist ranting: “OMG! Stop staring at me. You are oppressing my freedom to wear what I want. I am an independent woman and I want my freedoms. Stop gazing in my direction!!!”

    Man: “You have the freedom to wear what you want. And I also have the freedom to look where I want.”

    “Now could you move? You are standing in front of the television.”Recommend

  • Patwari

    There are no Pakland girls who dream of strolling nude. That’s your
    imagination. If the girls survive honor killings, panchayat ordered
    rapes, beatings, or being sold as maids at 9 years of age, or married
    off at 12 years,…..then they consider themselves extremely lucky.
    Could be, then, Pakland was made for Mullahs? Who run madrassas
    and very frequently beat the students senseless. Or torture and abuse
    them. That’s just from the cases that are reported. How many go
    unreported? No one knows or cares.
    Once such victim was sent to US with extensive injuries, for medical
    care. Injuries he received from a mullah…er…so called ‘teacher’.Recommend

  • Jayne Williams

    Brilliant blog, very sad.Recommend

  • Jayne Williams

    That sounds like they’re not the type of Pakistani woman the blogger is talking about, Care to explain?Recommend

  • Patwari

    So your father just sits there like a ‘seth’? Everyone, sneaking, creeping,
    around him with lowered eyes, praying to God to make them invisible, so
    they won’t be the subject of his ire for the day? Or singled out for whatever.
    That’s what happened in your family? You following in his footsteps?
    May Allah bless you and give you fortitude and show mercy to your family.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Exactly! May the three daughters succeed in all their endeavors,
    may they prosper, may God watch over them. They are not typical.
    They are privileged. Mashallah.
    Not like the ones from Ibrahim Hyderi fishing village, or Malir or Kot Diji,
    or Ayub Goth, Ramzanpur, or the Hazara neighborhood in Quetta or
    Dera Bugti or the Afghan bastis….their narratives are very very different.Recommend

  • jiyala

    What happens when women are equal to men? They get the freedom to choose how they want to live THEIR life (which my or may not follow your moral standards). Problem with people like you is that you consider women your property, hence you think it’s up to you whether you allow them to look a certain way or not. Try thinking of them as human being with complex emotional needs just like yourself for a change, and see if that stirs something in you.Recommend

  • rationalist

    Pakistan wasn’t created to become a haven for feminists.Recommend

  • Shaheryar A. Khan

    bravo sir bravo!! Your comment made me log in and appreciate you!Recommend

  • Shaheryar A. Khan

    A big thank you!Recommend

  • Shaheryar A. Khan

    SUBHANALLAH. May you be blessed more by ALLAHRecommend