Stories about freedom

What if there really is no end?

It was a dark night, there were no stars or moon in the sky. A little boy was lost in a labyrinth of little streets. He ran from one street to another, and then to another, and then to another— there was no end. But there has to be an end. There’s always an end. He was unfaltering in his pursuit of finding an end. He was out of breath and felt sparks of searing pain in his legs, but he still ran. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.  His body screamed. He had been running for a long time. What if I had been wrong all along? ...

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No peace under occupation: My parents are alive, but the conflict in IoK has ‘orphaned’ me

A few days ago, I celebrated my 19th birthday without my parents. No, I am not an orphan. But the conflict in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) has ensured I live like one.  I was born in Srinagar. My father, Dr Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, spent nine years in prison before I was born. He was briefly released and then arrested within months of my birth. It has now been 19 years that I have not seen him under the open sky. He is one of Kashmir’s longest-serving political prisoners, having languished in jail for 25 years now. Sometimes I want to tear the prison down and carry ...

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Manikarnika: Only Bollywood’s real ‘Queen’ can play Jhansi ki Rani with such valour and brilliance!

Gone are the days when Bollywood was associated with movies that only portrayed the valour and gallantry of male protagonists. Filmmakers are now finally shifting their focus from male-oriented films to powerful women-centric movies. Successful films such as English Vinglish (2012), Queen (2014), Dangal (2016), Neerja (2016), Pink (2016), and Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) are just a few names that kept filmgoers spellbound with their feminist storylines and audacious leading ladies. The Queen-famed Kangana Ranaut’s highly anticipated biographical film, Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi, is one more addition to these powerful women-centric flicks. These movies that revolve around ...

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The silence that kills us

Perhaps it isn’t the discomfort of the narrow streets which makes liberty unbearable for us, It isn’t the sharp scents of sweat which disgust us, It isn’t the crowd which suffocates us, In fact, it isn’t the noise, the crowd or the obvious lack of quality in products, It’s the silence.   The unsaid hush when I turn to speak up to the unwanted hands up my clothes, The constant background whistles of frustrated middle-aged men, It’s the toxic masculinity which suffocates us, The vulnerability when your body turns into a canvas, Painted by obnoxious stares, Held by unholy hands.   It’s the desensitisation, the normalisation, the silence, The echoes of shameless name ...

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What independence are we celebrating?

Some 71 years ago, people from all over subcontinent left their homes and took roads laced with perils to reach the ‘land of pure’. What made them leave their lives behind to move to an unknown land where all that awaited them was a promise? No tangible shelter but only a promise; the promise of freedom. What is meant by this ‘freedom’ that caused the greatest migration of the century? Freedom or independence means the availability of the opportunity to exercise one’s rights, powers, desires and even faith. Yes, I put emphasis on faith because any country where any ...

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Smoking kills, but so does patriarchy

What is the duty of a good brown woman? For most of our society, it’s ‘upholding traditional values’ – whether it’s the ideal bahu (daughter-in-law) in most TV dramas, desirable conservatism in Bollywood dynamics, or unsolicited advice from politicians. A 2017 Ipsos Global Trends report even reveals that 64% of Indians believe that a woman’s primary role is to be ‘a good mother and wife’. This burden of sanskar (values) and dutifulness then become a tool of oppression, of restriction. On the other hand, men have no such shackles, and end up having a monopoly on the social acceptability of ‘having fun’. There is a systematic curbing of women’s freedom to experience ...

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Tête-a-tête with Beenish Afreen: A rebel reclaiming her public space, one bike at a time

In this technology-saturated modern biosphere, women motorcycling are still not a welcome sight. In a conservative society like Pakistan, it is unfortunate that people are more vocal and contemptuous about women riding bikes than they are about the harassment they face in their commutes generally. In a traditionalist patriarchal society where domination is believed to be a masculine realm, the general perception still is that women riding bikes and claiming public spaces or independence are against the orthodox status quo. The ill-norms, taboos and misogynistic expectations ballooned in society are holding women back from empowering themselves. Not many women dare to ...

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Malala vs APS survivors: Do our children have to compete to be our heroes?

It was in 2014 – while I was studying for my Masters in Europe – that a German classmate of mine, upon getting to know I am from Pakistan, showed me a picture of Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. I can recall chatter in the classroom of European students about Malala’s bravery, and the hardships she faced as she pursued an education in Pakistan. This was one of the rare moments of my life when I took great pride in belonging to the same country as Malala, and for all the activism that I do, including this very piece, I believe ...

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She was found in a pool of dried blood

The light blue sky hung over Najeeba as she rushed on the wet, slippery streets of her city. The city was lit by neon lights emerging from clubs and bars around every other corner, and nightfall meant the noise of blaring car horns was so loud, she couldn’t even hear herself think. Terror clouded her mind, her eyes darting from one corner to another, fearing the longing gazes of street hawkers and lazy drivers, each of them with a disgusting smile plastered onto his face. She knew she would have to bear her father’s anger once she got home. She ...

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Pakistan celebrates Kashmir Solidarity Day but does it really want Kashmir to be independent?

The day, February 5th, is a national holiday in Pakistan every year – the Kashmir Solidarity Day. It is to remind the people of Pakistan and the world of Kashmir, of the promises made to the Kashmiri people, which remain to be fulfilled till today. It is to stand with a people whose recent history has been that of a brutal subjugation, one that has brought misery to its young and old.  It is to convey a collective support, to remind the Kashmiri people that the ensemble of nations might have turned a blind eye to some of the worst crimes ...

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