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Rana Mehboob-We Tender An Apology

Rana Mehboob-We Tender An Apology

Rana Mehboob

Man’s attitude towards women is grounded in the romantic story of original sin. Like a thorn in our collective consciousness, sinfulness wrapping human sexuality is at the basis of most of our pain. Johan Jacob wrote “Law of the Mothers” in 1861. It is a fair attempt to divide history into three epochs, hetaerism, matriarchy and patriarchy. This division is a little different from hunting, agriculture and industrial periods often referred to by historians. Hetaerism was an age of sexual freedom when fathers and mothers were not baptized with present names and mothers were more of mistresses than wives. Second epoch was matriarchy. This was the age when women founded family and agriculture. Women became socially and politically powerful, bringing peace, equality and freedom for their progeny. Romantic concept of mothers is the last relic of matriarchy. Then comes patriarchy stamped with wars, victories and spirituality. An unholy trinity of gold, women and land were at the basis of philosophy of domination. Women were now reduced to a prized possession bringing prestige to men of substance. Then on wives became baby-churning machines producing soldiers for wars and workers for factories. This was the age of empires followed by capitalism and man was about to be denuded of his dignity as plume of creation. We are living in this age. 

Our history is unreal and autocratic. Official writers wrote eulogies of victors and invaders and murderers painting sons of the soil as cowards and idle. There is no parallel history of the conquered and the vanquished available. Leotard divides knowledge in two categories: scientific knowledge and narrative. Narrative has a spell stronger than science. Myths, stories, culture, language, land and traditions are woven into the narrative of a nation. In Multan, there is a group of friends who made a forum that meets on every Thursday. The name of this cultural and social forum is “Khamees Yatra” or Thursday Pilgrimage. They visit places and people while searching for their roots. Lighting lamps on shrines and laying floral wreaths on them connects them with the ritual of fire illuminating the universe of desire and flowers’ fragrance overcoming the stench of death and destruction. Their search for a new narrative springs from the premise that our history is not our narrative. Our narrative will be our history. History books are dripping with our blood. And nine yards and 18 yards graves on the outside of the historical gates of Multan are the mass graves of the sons of the soil martyred during resistance as science of biology gives no evidence for a 9 or 18 yards tall men. It requires going back to the original wounds and coming back with a more plausible and rational narrative.

Another thread of old history is the traditional antipathy against women that makes them butt of obscene jokes in patriarchal setting. Proverbial expressions, abusive language, jokes, satirical remarks, loaded sentences and trivia about women is emblematic of man’s chauvinistic attitude towards women. “Khamees Yatra” guys deflate male chauvinism and they articulate the dignity of motherhood and values of peace, liberty, equality and prosperity attached to it. They endorse a parallel view of history, pro-people and pro-women. Modernism and enlightenment included women liberation as part of their credo and women started clamoring for equal rights. But postmodern women want to be recognized as human beings first and given freedom commensurate with the traditions of a region or state. We have to discard the old paternalistic view about women and build a new positive feministic and humanistic construct. An accomplished Saraiki poet, Rifat Abbas in his latest book, “Mother Tongue’s Garden” has written a delightful poem on women. Inter alia, it emphasizes that men are to tender an apology to women for what they did over centuries. Below is the attempted translation of Rifat’s poem:

“About Women”

For daily trivial talk
For ancestors’ loaded maxims
For many satirical statements,
We tender apology.

For numerous stories
For ironic poetry of centuries
For jokes through ages,
We tender apology.

About women
Trivia that we heard
Nonsense that we said,
We tender apology. 

In Layyah, a remote district in Punjab, Pakistan a 24 year old girl was raped by three men including the guy who was her lover and then she was killed and hanged with a tree. The killer built a relationship with the young lady as he used to buy milk from the victim’s family but the snake in him killed her as serving milk to him was of no avail. In Jatoi, Amina, an 11th grader was ditched by Nadir Bhand, her paramour; self-immolated herself in front of the police station and succumbed to her burns. It will be of interest to know that literacy for women where Amina lived is only 10%. Maryam in Khanewal slapped a guy from Raja tribe for teasing her and was stoned to death next night outside her house. In 2013, in New Delhi, a student of medicine was raped in the bus but the men equipped with their weaker weapons were not satisfied and they then used iron rod to damage her vagina and intestine. She died in the hospital after being in coma for few days. In Lahore, Gulu Butt, leading a police party got fifteen victims dead including two burqa-clad women. And before this we saw the brutal murder of Farzana right in front of the Lahore high court, by her father and brother attacking her with bricks because she married a thug of her own choice. In UP, India, Pappu Yadev and his friends raped two young cousins and then hanged their dead bodies with two branches of a mango tree. Meer, a celebrated Urdu poet says,
“Gallows tree in putrid times
Bears fruit of Mansoor’s head.” 

Mansoor Hallaj was the victim of the traditional clergy and the king’s alliance but his name became a metaphor of martyrdom for freedom and commitment. But when the dead body of a woman swings on a siris tree or two sisters in UP are dangling on the two branches of a mango tree in India, no metaphors are being coined, no poems written. Rifat Abbas and Anshu Malvia may help to evolve a new pro-women and pro-people narrative. It will be like transforming all these women who were killed or attacked from romantic stories of Sassi and Heer to Malala, Farzana, Maryam and Amina of our day as icons who stood for their convictions. It will be like recognizing Muktaran Mai as Rosa Parks for this part of the world. 

Great magical realist, Garcia Marquez once said that all the complexity and solitude of Latin America could be described by the stench of a rotten guava. Shakespeare of yore, once said, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. If you know the world’s mango capital of Multan, smell of rotten mangoes coincides with the dangling dead female bodies in UP, India in the mango season. Poverty and ignorance have produced RSS and Tablibans everywhere, the ultimate mega men who know nothing about mothers, women and love. Half men tying bombs to their bodies to prove their manliness while 600 million people in their countries live below poverty line. The land that they parade has deprived its women of their rights. Nicholas Kristof says that such people are more scared of a girl with a book than drones. Wish this lot of men knows that ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Africa, Al-Qaeda in the stretches of Afghanistan and RSS in India have a common manifesto, which is transcultural and trans-human. Macho men killing indiscriminately. All of them need to tender an apology to all those mothers whose sons they kill and whose daughters they rape. An apology to their own mothers as well who raise them with love and never would have dreamed of turning their sons into scourge of earth. To change the old paradigm, we need to have a new narrative where women are respected and men stop seeing everything through a tool that blurs their vision. We have to transcend our sinfulness linked to a past, which can only be changed by revisiting the original narrative and coming back with a more truthful and real account.

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