“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only There is shadow under this red rock….”
— The Burial of the Dead by T.S. Eliot
IN the lives of many nations renewal has frequently meant the shedding of the old, the building of the new and the awakening of a collective consciousness which takes that nation forward.
In the life of our nation we appear to be destined to continue to acquiesce in the tyranny exercised by those who have wrested power by force or chicanery and then legitimised it by the mind-numbing chanting of one mantra or the other.
Democracy is the latest mantra in our land, demons mocking a system which allows voices to be heard, voices buried by those chanting the slogan of the day. Tirelessly, or perhaps out of sheer choicelessness, our nation seems to be able to switch mantras without a furrow on the brow or a crisis of conscience.
And yet, there are those who have always protested against tyranny of one kind or another, only to hear our voices fall on barren ground, rattling like dry reeds in the stirrings of the desert breeze. Time and time again we have spoken out against the violation of our bodies and our hearts, we have been subjected to brutalisation and incarceration, to threats of rape and then rape itself, to vicious beating and mutilation, to abandonment and betrayal, to deprivation and humiliation. We have been stripped bare of our dignity and paraded naked in town squares, we have been lacerated and burnt with acid, our faces disfigured, our souls wounded and numbed with anguish.
We have been doused with kerosene and burnt alive; we have been kicked, beaten with the buckle-end of leather belts, punched, knifed, pummelled, and left for dead on the sides of deserted alleys. We have been laughed at, mocked, lusted for, killed over, bought, sold, beaten, abused, discarded, forced to bear countless children, forced to give up those children, given away as settlement for the crimes of men, raped within the family, by neighbours, by those who are meant to protect us, raped again in times of conflict.
We are the ones who go without adequate nourishment, without adequate clothing or housing, without the education necessary to open up the potential which lies within each one of us. We are the ones who do not receive the healthcare which eats into already impoverished budgets. We are the ones who walk for miles to carry water for the home and the family, beaten once home, often not feeling the agony of calloused feet and hands which runs beneath the searing pain of fresh wounds.
We are the ones who forage in the drastically depleted forests to collect firewood to burn at the hearth. We are the ones who salvage the grain threshed on the earthen floor of our homes, the ones who sit by the light of the moon creating patterns of love and life with needle and thread dyed with the crimson of our blood.
We are the ones who labour and then give birth, the ones who know that the child within may not live if it is a girl, for what is the future of such a child in a land which abhors the women who give it life and sustenance? We are the ones who are forbidden to express our sexuality, who are punished with death for daring to express our desire to be a full human being whose life is protected by the law of the land, yet threatened by those whom we nurture.
We are the ones who bear the children who shall carry the name of their fathers, not our names, despite the fact that only a mother really knows whose child she is bearing. Perhaps that is the only power we have; most certainly it is that very fear which relegates us to the prison of patriarchy built and protected like a fortress by men threatened with a loss of control over our bodies. That is why we are caged at puberty, the fear of a woman’s burgeoning sexuality causing men deep anxiety, causing them to incarcerate us, spinning myths about honour.
That is why a girl child is not allowed to read and write, just in case she manages to express her desire through these empowering tools, threatening the fragile egos of those who believe they possess her body and her mind. That is why she is not allowed to make decisions for her own life; decisions which would loosen that tyrannical control tightened like a noose around her neck. That is why women are repeatedly beaten, burnt, and buried alive — for in most cases the graves of women are not dug after the heart has stopped beating; they are dug the day the birth cry of a girl child shatters the stranglehold of patriarchy’s tyranny.
Many years ago, in a village in the interior of Sindh, I learnt that natural gas was to be supplied to the area after a long wait. I asked the women gathered around me if the provision of natural gas would make their lives easier. There was a long silence, and I asked the question again, fearing that concepts of modernity may not have reached this part of the country. It was then that one woman spoke; her words have haunted me since: “It is not as if we are not aware of the ease this gas pipeline shall bring to our lives. It is just that in the smoke of a wood fire, we could weep our tears. But this fuel, it does not give off smoke, so even if the burden of our chores is lighter, it shall not ease the burden of our hearts.”
I have never forgotten those words, as I cannot forget the image of a terrified woman being pushed into a hastily dug grave. For those who have defended this heinous crime, I can only say that “I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you, or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Source: Daily Dawn, 6/9/2008