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Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Indo-Pak Cross Border Weddings- an Advice to the Bride


 

Many girls from all over India and Pakistan write to me about their love stories across the border and their wish to marry & live happily ever after. Just two days ago we celebrated our 29th Wedding Anniversary. So I think it makes me quite qualified to give some pearls of wisdom to the new daredevils. 🙂

Since in a vast majority of cases it is the girls who move to the other side, here is an open advice to these girls :

My first pearl of wisdom to you:
“If you think there is a genuine love between you two, go ahead and take the plunge and embrace the pain that comes as a baggage. But  before you decide, first meet him in person and ensure he is the same person who you have known on social media.”

Secondly, I want you to know there are realities beyond honeymoon:
“If you will live in India or Pakistan, you live in an alien land where you will always be under moral pressure, simply by default of being a woman, because our societies, on both sides, are swamped with misogyny, just as our cultures and faiths are deeply immersed in patriarchy. In our cultures, we marry in a family, one husband cannot be the only one you will deal with, even if you are his Laila and he is your all too supportive Majnu.”

Thirdly but most importantly be well informed of what you are stepping into: 
“Read and inquire as much as you can about the other side- both pros and cons. Know that the practical challenges that you will have with the bureaucratic red-tape are inevitable even if everything else in your personal life is going like the Bollywood style Veer-Zara. Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik star couple are a wonderful example, but they are not to take inspiration from. Ask ordinary couples in such marriages of how things are like. But none of their story will be exactly like yours, post marriage. Like any ordinary couple, it will be a constant struggle. Be open to unexpected pleasant and not so pleasant situations.”

However, once you have decided to go ahead, here are a  few tips for your safety: 

1. Try to see his country as your home too. Love and befriend its inhabitants too. Do not live like an alien. Belong there.
2. At the same time do not lose any love and respect for your country of birth. Many will say, “You are still so “Indian/Pakistani”. Tell them “So what? I belong to both the places.”
3. Try not to be cynical about his country. Learn to be objective and honest about flaws and positives of both sides. Trust me, both places are no better or worse than the other. Blind patriotism will not bring peace within your four walls or lay breakfast on your table.
4. Best bet is to make it a taboo in your household to discuss Indian Pakistani political rhetoric in a partisan manner. Don’t expect a man who so loves you today, will not taunt your nationality sometime years down the road and will still not understand why are you so ‘touchy’ about it. So better shut these doors before they even open.
5. Keep yourself financially independent. Do not submit every penny in the name of love and family. Because that will disempower you. Try to keep some money/assets aside( openly or quietly) in your own name.
6. Do not stop visiting your family back home. Visas will be difficult, but you have to be very very persistent and persevering to not give in. Try your best. Ask for help from anyone who can help.
7. When you have kids preach them to be objective and not be partisan with either parents or their families.
8. Keeping a passport of your country is very challenging in India-Pakistan relationships, but in current times, its easier than 30 years ago.
9. Create your own circle of like minded friends in your adopted homeland. Don’t just depend on your husbands friends wives as friends. At some point of time you may feel that your personality, intellect and values are not similar to  your spouse’s, and hence making your own group of like-minded friends will give you a space of your own.
10. Pursue your profession or work and hobbies in your adopted country as you would in your own country. There is no reason to give up work. It will help you build confidence and be financially independent.
11. Keep in touch with groups like Aman ki Asha  on social media and fellow Indian-Pakistanis locally, who will understand your situation far more than the local locals. These friends work as a peer-support group and as a deterrent for abuse and exploitation at home.
12. If possible, and if going gets tough, try to move as a family to a third country, or at least have an additional passport of the third country. It is not the easiest thing to do, I realize, but will give your kids a choice.

Wish you all the best,

Dr. Ilmana Fasih,
A proud Indian-Pakistani.

indopakcake

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Educate a woman and you educate an entire generation…


Recently a photo of a 25 year old Afghan girl Jahan Taab from  a remote poor village Oshto in Daikundi,  went viral when she was taking the college entrance exam called Kankor Exam while breast feeding her child. Later it was confirmed that she has passed the exams and wants to go to college to study Sociology. Photo credits are given to an invigilating lecturer Yahya Erfan. He was so moved by her determination that he posted the pictures on his facebook. Link here

“She got up from her desk when her baby started to get fussy. She sat down on the floor, breastfeeding the infant, and kept filling out the answers to the test.” (Buzzfeed).

She reportedly told the lecturer Mr. Erfan that she is worried about the cost of education and that the University is 8 hours from her residence. It is the power of social media that a Go-Fund was created to support the cost of here higher education.

More about JahanTaab

 

 

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Needless to say, girls’ determination to study is never an issue. The key barrier is the systemic patriarchy in the garb of cultural mores or religious edicts.

Patriarchy is such an omnipresent barrier that hinders women in all communities and all economic strata one way or the other. And here is where the role of men becomes extremely important in bringing about women empowerment by dismantling the walls of patriarchy.

Here I must share my own story too.

(Bear in mind I am an urban educated woman with a strong will power. But even then, had it also not been the supportive men in my life, I may not have sailed through various systemic hurdles that patriarchal infrastructures create at every nook and corner of a woman’s life). 

In the early 1990s, as an Indian medical graduate I had to go through a written and a clinical exam by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to be certified to practice in Pakistan. I opted Karachi centre. When I received notification for the exam it said the exam will not be held in Karachi as there are no other candidates. The exam will be in Peshawer.

Since I lived in the Middle East, I was supposed to travel with my kids to Karachi where my in laws lived. But before I could even know and panic about how I will travel with kids to Peshawer, my husband first took an emergency leave from his hospital, and then informed me that we are all travelling to Peshawer. 

My husband Fasih and I, with our two kids- a toddler and a 6 month old breast feeding infant landed in Peshawar. It was a 3 day long exam- with a written paper and clinical exam.  From day 1, my husband sat in the lawn of the examination centre, with two babies, as he dropped me for the exam. I would come out to feed the baby every few hours in the breaks.

Funniest incident in the whole saga was when my daughter cried, “Papa potty.”
He ran with the baby in one hand and the toddler in another to the washroom.
As he entered the male washroom the guard said, “Take the girl to female washroom with her mother.”
“BUT mother is busy in exam.”
“Then wait.”
“But this baby cannot wait. She has to go urgently.”
So the guard let him take her to the washroom. And while holding the infant in arms he helped the toddler finish the job and clean her. 
Finally they came back to play and sit in the lawn again. 
And then he smelt the baby has soiled his diaper. He ran again to the same wash room.
The chowkidar got annoyed, “Ap pher se as gaye?” (You have come again?).
Fasih: “Smell this diaper.”
The guard laughed and commented, “Aur parhao biwi ko.”(Let your wife study more).

After day1 the entire examination team knew about my family and when I went from each viva and clinical exam, from Internal Medicine to General Surgery to ENT to ObGyn to Ophthalmology, first thing the professors asked was how are the husband and babies doing? 
Second question they asked was, “Where have you graduated from?”. 
On reply “Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi” every single one of them began the viva with the comment, “So do we really need to test your knowledge?”
No bragging but I passed with the top position. 

The head examiner was Prof Zakaullah Beg who was my husband’s professor in his postgraduate life. He himself called Fasih on phone 2 weeks later in Karachi to break the news.

Moral of the story: Empower a woman and she will make her husband, family and entire community proud.

“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”


“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”

I wish men ever got pregnant and had to raise children the way mothers do to realize what a travesty of injustice this clause by Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan is. It should be the other way round….men must have the permission from women for not using contraception.

There is little consolation that contraception is not an ‘as big an issue here like in Catholicism'(as often compared by the apologists), but if Allah (SWT) allows it, I am sure the Almighty has granted this right to  women knowing they are the ones who bear the children in their wombs and raise them.  Making husbands be the police over contraception is injustice and no where in any holy texts can this be found. Why is it a rocket science that this is simply a patriarchal attempt by  opportunistic men to control women?

Having worked in a conservative community in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the field of ObGyn/Family Medicine for 14 years, I know exactly what this means.

Here is a true story, which I remember even the details of.

A 40/41 year old woman with 5 children, eldest in his late teens came to me asking for contraception. After discussion on pros & cons, she decided to choose a pill that was appropriate for her age.
Half an hour later, her husband, in early 60s banged the clinic door open and showed me the medication in his hand asking: “What is this?”
I told him “This is a medication for women.”
Him: “Is this contraceptive?”
Me: “Yes.”
He threw it in my dustbin and warned me that if I prescribed a contraceptive again, he will complain against me.
He closed my door back and I was later told that he dragged his wife to the car pulling her by her head scarf.

An year and a half later, the woman had a new baby.

Three years after the child was born this man suddenly died of brain hemorrhage at 67.
The lady was left with 6 children, 2 of them not even in their teens. And she was the second of the three wives he had left behind.
I saw her all the years, until I left the job, and I know in how much misery this woman in her mid to late forties was going through raising children as a widow on 1500 Saudi Riyals stipend as a widow.
(BTW this is one of several stories I personally encountered).

It is easy for men to dictate not to use contraception but it is extremely hard for women to raise children when men take decisions but do not follow through with responsibilities arising out of it.

Decision to bear children and their number must ideally be a joint responsibility. The woman must have a voice in that decision making instead of being forced upon her.

 

Going Home~ Creating safe space is not a rocket science.


It is dark, and quiet,
She is alone,
She is young and beautiful,
Yet she is spontaneous and warm
Because she feels safe.
Doesn’t that feel good?
Whether you are a man or a woman,
to see a fellow human feel secure in your company?
Age, place, dress, time do not matter,
Secure and safe space is everyone’s right.
Can you give that space menfolk?
Yes, you can, and you must.
I know womenfolk will have that space one day,
And I know that day is not too far.

Creating safe space for women
Is not a rocket science.
Its not just possible,
but is very simple
Watch this:
A lovely short film by Vikas Bahl #GoingHome

The Flawless Purse: Dilemma of Consumerism


In style she clutched a glossy purse,
Tight between her hand and her chest,
Protecting it from falling or
From being scratched,
From the pointed necklace
Around her own neck.
She had saved for years,
And dreamed of even longer
To own this branded gem.
She holds on to it firm,
Yet all tender, all protective,
Like a beautiful relationship,
Between two souls,
Knowing how hurt,
The purse can get,
When there are bruises
And that the purse
shall never be the same,
if held back after it falls.
So precious, and so priceless,
She finally owns a flawless dream.
But oh for the flawed souls,
They come and go in our lives.

ClutchBag

Kesariya Baalam by Reshma


Reshma who originally hailed from Bikaner Rajasthan here sings a ‘maand’ or a welcome song in Rajasthani language for the arrival of the beloved.
(Have attempted to translate the verses from my basic knowledge of the language).

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Thaare aayo dujaan
Barishme mere
Your arrival
shall bring life in me

Saajan aaye o’ sakhi,
Main kayeen manwa vikraan,
Thaari paryo gaj motiyaan,
Aur ooper nayn dharaan.
My beloved shall come my friend
How can I keep my mind sane,
I shall spread pearls on the tray,
And keep my eyes on them.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Sajan sajan main karaan
Sajan jeev jari
Choorley per moondshaan
Aur vachaan ghari ghari.
I utter “Beloved, Beloved.”
“Beloved” is embedded on my tongue,
Shall weave his name on my bracelet,
And watch it over and over.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Awan saavan keh gayo dhola
Ker gaya khol anek
Bin taagan taa gash gayee
Mhaari anganiya ree rey.
Shall come in the rains, he promised,
Played many cruel jokes on me,
Without the rope of his swing,
My courtyard is deserted.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Samra’s story: When marital abuse did not break her


First published in Express Tribune, Pakistan on June 10, 2013 : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17620/samras-story-when-marital-abuse-did-not-break-her/

 

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying

“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!”

Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening.

At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws.

The in-laws reassured their support too.

However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,

“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”

Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.

Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans. She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.

It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,

“Ask your father for that too.”

She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realized he could not live without her. Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse.

Samra stated that,

“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”

Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,

“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”

Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.

Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.

In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,

“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”

The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counselor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it.

She reveals;

“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”

And all he replied with each time was,

“Because you deserve this.”

The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.

“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say,

“Talaq, talaq, talaq.”

(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)

Samra says,

“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”

Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,

“Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”

However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way.

She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,

Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”

Samra revealed that,

“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”

As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.

Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets.

“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”

I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,

“Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”

She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,

I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana