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Aurat March – Paradoxes – by Peja Mistry



There was a very interesting character “Columbo” done by Peter Falk, in a TV series in 70’s, the series ran in 80’s and 90’s as well. I used to watch this as a teenager. And was just so impressed by that character. That it is one of the most cherished memory of my teenage watching Columbo in 80’s.

Columbo used to keep referring to his wife Mrs. Columbo all the time and was a very shy, conservative man who would blush on things like watching women kissing, short-dresses on the beach. He would do flirting with pretty women but will never cross the line and will always be saying who am I to judge on moral character of anyone.

In the last thirty years, Pakistan urban society has transformed in very rigid two segments. The so-called “Liberals” or “Modern” and the “Conservatives”. This segmentation is radically different from what it used to be in 70’s and early 80’s.

The two segments though claiming to be diametrically opposed to each other share the same foundation for their world view and beliefs. Which makes them almost identical in many aspects.

Let me explain this.

My better half is a conventional conservative Pakistani woman. She is highly opinionated and has very rigid beliefs about religion and social norms. She would want me and her kids to follow a certain code of life and will be happy if people close to her follow what she wants and will be angry and/or anxious if they don’t. But by no means she is a “radical” extremist who would blow herself up based on her religious beliefs. She is well educated medical professional, highly intelligent and best in her profession. In her profession she has to deal with addicts, criminals, sexual maniacs and all kinds of good and bad people.

Her profession demands a liberal point of view and not judge other people based on their beliefs. She would give professional opinion to her teenage patients about how to deal with psychological problems, educate them about sexual health best practices and all kinds of such issues. And she will give them a sound professional medical advice; on the other hand when it comes to her own teenage children she would advise them in the context of her religious and cultural values.

When it is about me, she will be even more rigid in her religious and cultural stance. She would be angry at me on drinking, she would yell at me on my atheist beliefs, she would stop me from talking to other woman if she suspects that I am flirting. All those conventional woman do.

On social media, I have been introduced to several very bold, liberal and smart women. One of those smart women is a Pakistani doctor, who happened to share a similar background as my better half. She is more “liberal”, “modern” and those new “atheists” that we have in modern era of social media awareness. The lady is outspoken, intelligent and very witty. She writes and speaks on all subjects including certain taboo subjects in Pakistan.

On the surface if you compare the views of both ladies you would think that their views are completely opposite to each other. But fact is they share a lot not just their background. Their basic world-view was shaped during the times of General Zia living in a certain environment. Their world-view has so many common factors that it completely outweighs their differences in religious and social beliefs.
For example:

1. My better half is as much convinced of truth of her beliefs as my social media friend is. Both can not think that they could be wrong. Their beliefs are based on scientific research, my better half can prove to anyone that God exists based on her own personal research on this topic. On the other hand my social media friend is so convinced that “God” does not exist that she can also prove it on the basis of logic and science.

My social media friend makes fun of other religions like Shia, Bralevi, Hindus, Christians and you name it; as she can not believe that in 21st century you can find people who would be so stupid to do such rituals as these religion’s followers do. She keeps on asking, how could Hindus be stupid to believe in so many gods, Or these Shias are crazy hurting themselves for what happened 1400 years ago.

My better half asks the same questions, she is amazed that such intelligent people can not grasp the obvious truth that there is no God but Allah. How can these idiots can not understand that these rituals are laughable. She shares with me those people dancing on mazars and tell me come on surely you don’t think they are intelligent people and I tell her that I truly think that you are an intelligent woman.

2. My better half, will insist on not being “hypocrite”, she would tell me that how could I pretend to be Muslim when I am an atheist, how could I go for matam in Moharram when I am not even muslim let alone Shia. I tell her that I go to Jumma prayer, and I also go to Church sometime. And she will be angrier as this shows how much hypocrite I am.

She would pray for me that I should find the way to truth. I tell her look I truly believe in your God, and trust me I am a Muslim. On her insistence sometimes I even ask forgiveness from Allah, say kalma and promise her that I won’t commit any sin again. But you know.

میں نہ پیتا تو تیرا لکھا غلط ھوجاتا۔

On the other hand my social media friend hates hypocrisy too. She is all for modern liberal views, sexual freedom, women emancipation, religious liberties. She however hates people who exercised these rights in the past or in secret but condemn them now in public. She would hate Veena Malik for exposing her body in the past but now when she opposes exposure of body, my social media friend would loath this hypocrisy. She will condemn Mia Khalifa speaking against pornography now when she has quit it.

It’s truly hard for my better half to understand the diversity, she can not comprehend how people can not see the obvious truth. And she gets frustrated, she will insist upon people admitting what she is saying is truth and if they don’t accept it she will be very much angry at them.

My social media friend gets frustrated too, she will be surprised that how world is full of stupid people, they can not use their brain. She will be angry at people who have different political or religious views than her.

3. For both ladies, it is truly hard for them to comprehend that having a difference of opinion, thinking in a different way is not just human but natural. And there is no right or wrong in most of the human issues. And tolerance is the foundation of liberalism. Respecting other people views even if you disagree with them is the key to success of human society. I was asked by my social media friend how could you live with someone who has so different views than yours, I posed a counter question why should not I live with a person who has different views than mine; in fact in my experience living with someone having similar views is rather difficult (but this might be case with me not everyone).

Now coming to the title of this long article. Aurat March has indeed exposed the same paradox that I showed above in the shape of the two ladies point of views. These paradoxes lie at the heart of Pakistan’s urban educated lot. And they come from the intolerance, rigidity and complete belief in one’s correctness.