Saturday, February 17, 2018

... solid than the ground she stood on

I have a very sticky memory ... everything sticks. Yet interestingly, I happen to suck at putting names to faces ... unless there is context. Then, the name merges with the face to become a person making the person and the context stick forever.

It doesn’t bother me ... I am fine with the stickiness. What bothers me is when memories become embedded, as if growing from within me. Such memories are like another head on my shoulders, an appendage which, if I tried to cut off, will bleed me to death, irrespective of my love or hate of it. The last five years of General Zia ul Haq’s rogue regime is an embedded memory. A five-year long memory of raising slogans, defying oppression and finding purpose during which, the name Asma merged with a face to become a personification of resilient resistance and unyielding struggle. Asma too, is an embedded memory, growing from deep within my concious mind and blooming through my heart. 

I can safely say that it began on the morning of February 12, 1983 in Lahore. Pakistan was in her fifth year of perpetual degeneration under the dictatorship of a despot. It was Sunday but not a holiday. Snatching weekend privileges from Church Sundays, and awarding them to Namaz e Juma Fridays, in desperate demonstration of impervious Islamization of a nation, was one of Mr. Bhutto's depthless efforts to please and religious rightist wingers. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in Regal Chowk. The traffic moved erratically as it ordinarily did, beggars loitered on the steps of HKB as they ordinarily did. the large contingent of police in the service lane in front of Masjid e Shuhada was not ordinary though; and neither was the steadily growing group of women on the opposite end of Regal Chowk. Determined women with the message that a woman is a person, and it is a folly to consider any person ordinary.  

I was nineteen and I was there. It was the day when we, the women, had decided to emerge together and denounce, in unison, the misogyny of Hudood Ordinance, the bigotry of Qanoon e Shahadat and dogmatization of an entire society. It was a good day in history because it saw us rise against imperious assaults on our social, civic, economic and human rights by an oppressor who forever changed the way the world looked at Pakistan & Islam.

Narrating this thirty-five years later today, as I use the words “us” and “we”, makes me proud. In the class ravaged, status mangled Pakistan of the 80s, for women to unite as one against human rights violations was unprecedented and therefore, a huge feat. We thronged together irrespective of who, where and what. There were home-makers, students, nurses, day-wagers, brick kiln workers, domestic laborers, political activists, social workers, teachers, lawyers, and doctors. There were women under banners of organizations; DWA (democratic women’s association), WAF (women action forum), APWA (all Pakistan women association) ... it certainly was a huge feat.

There were two plans that day. Ours and theirs. Ours was to assemble at Regal Chowk, read out a joint resolution and walk 500 meters to the gates of Lahore High Court to hand over the approved resolution to the High Court Bar representatives. Theirs was to stop us at all costs. The chatter before battle still echoes in my head;
“...they’re not letting us move... ...shall we stay... ...control Asma...  ...shall we go... ...shall we push... ...control Asma... to the magistrate..., not Asma... ...this is going to blow up... ...this is getting out of control... ...Hina, control Asma...”

We pushed through the barricades and the police responded with armed assault. Whips of their laathis on our bodies and teargas in our eyes; Regal Chowk witnessed the worst public manhandling (pun intended) of women in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

That day the women of Pakistan came to understand that they cannot allow androcentrism even if the holy books allow it.
That day the men of Pakistan came to understand that the tiny, stick-thin figure in a lawyer’s uniform, resembling a woman, was in fact, a fireball. The one everyone called ‘Asma’ and the one they wished they could control.

I consider myself lucky to have personally known Asma. I knew her through my father, through my mother and by myself. I remember when she smiled upon finding me among those who were arrested on that afternoon in February. I remember when she put her confidence in me by proposing my name for the WAF working committee. I remember when she burst out laughing on finding me toting a bindi at the Taj Mahal trying to pass as an Indian .... I remember, but this is not about me; this is about my embedded memory of Asma which grows from deep within my concious mind and blooms through my  heart. 

           Maybe I should end this piece here by saying something commendatory and leave the rest to history, but that would be trivializing the truth. History does not have the depth, the detail, the finesse or the courage to hold Asma ... history does not have such a dimension. From Asma Jilani vs Govt. of the Punjab, to being committedly married to a Qadiani against all odds, to having women stand in the front lines of her funeral prayers ... that ladies and gentlemen, is not history; that is an uprising in real time.  

So, pardon me if it irks anybody’s sensibilities, but I choose to end this with a cheer. Here’s to you Asma Apa, thank you for defining will, purpose, focus, integrity, commitment, reason and passion. Thank you for being the force and the source. Rest in Power.


1 comment:

  1. Para 3 line 4:
    The italicized and underlined portion was previously attributed to Gen. Zia ul Haq. Thank you Sadia Khalid for providing the correct information.


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