I have as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed. Can any man do more than that? …. I am as strong as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it…’
By Zaffar Junejo
Professor Mushtaq Mirani, Jami Chandio, and I traveled from Hyderabad to Sukkur to attend ‘Aurat Azadi March’. Women’s Action Forum (WAF) Hyderabad was one of its lead organizers along with Women Democratic Front. We took the National Highway. We all were silent. When we crossed Matiari, the driver played Khalid Bhati’s song:
اسين رول ماڻهون رلياسين ته ڇاهي
نه منزل جي رستا ڀلياسين ته ڇاهي
The song might have conditioned the companions differently, but a common thread was melancholy. Soon, the cause to travel diverted my thoughts, and I recalled the WAF-Hyderabad’s inception that how a dedicated team launched and transformed it into an organization of hope and compassion for the women. In a short period, it achieved numerous milestones in the arena of women’s rights. Its tightly-knitted team members namely Haseen Musrat Shah, Rozina Junejo, Zakia Aijaz Mallah, and Gulbadan Jawaid Mirza kept it moving in all situations, however Professor Dr. Arfana Mallah and Ms. Amar Sindhu’s leadership stood up against all the odds. Sometimes, their stand kept them alone, and they willingly paid the cost of the struggle. A case in point is of Sukkur Aurat Azadi March 2020.
The text messages on my cell phones distracted my thoughts. I scrolled down the screen, read the messages. The majority was about the Aurat Azadi March, Sukkur, some in support and some bitterly against it. I quickly scanned the friends’ text message with whom in the NGO Resource days I worked nearly for a decade. I opened the recent one, and it read: ‘Ada, Lage Tho Mula Jherro Na Karae Wijhan.” I reminded him of old Deshi days, with a couplet of Badar Abro:
ڏکيو وقت آهي، وڇوڙا پون ٿا
اچو دوستو اڄ کلي موڪلايون….
محبت جي سورج جي ڳولها ۾ ساٿي
هوائن جيان روانا ٿيون ….
Within no time, again, cell phone peeped, and I assumed there would be a response from the same friend. Yes, I understood correctly. He wrote, ‘Ada, Lab-e-Mehran Te Milandaseen, Bbareen Bbacheen (We Will meet at Labe-Mehran, I will be with my family). I smiled and thought, still, he keeps the flame alive. I looked at the messages, although some of them were older. The opponents and supporters exchanged these arguments around the incubation period of the march when the organizers were making preparations. Amidst it, a group of people at the social media uninvitingly jumped into the discussion and aired the irrelevant arguments. Most of their arguments, counterarguments were rooted in ‘Non-Polis-Culture’ and ‘Barbarian-World-Outlook,’ and glued in religious and ultra-extremism attitudes. None of them was ready to realize the demands of the changing world and understand how New Communication Technologies have shortened the distance, and shaped the sociology.
Strangely, some individuals exposed their grudge in the name of ideology. The group’s trading views out-rightly indicated ideological chauvinism – ‘Aurat Azadi March is damaging the socialist movement, it is shadowing the class struggle and harming the progressive movement.’ Their arguments reminded me, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer’s novel ‘Washington Confidential.’ The authors tricked that communists in the capital from the promotion of communism are recruiting the people of color, women, and sexual perverters. The novel attempted to raise the ‘antifeminism-sentiments’ and stated that only white-colored people, orthodox faith, and patriarchy could halt the communism.
I stopped reading the messages, while Jami Chandio and Professor Mushtaq Mirani conversed. Both appreciated the strategically chosen, the bold decision of the leadership regarding not to change the route. The demands and slogans were also discussed, including ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’ (My Body, My Right), and brushed off the reactionaries’ point of view regarding the slogan.
The hue and cry of those reactionaries reminded me of the poster titled ‘The World Turned Upside Down,’ where orthodox linked the dips and declines of gender, society, and body to the political troubles of seventeenth-century England. The illustration shows that the mouse chases the cat and carriage pulls the horse, rabbit hunts the dog, worm, and fish repeal each other, and church building standing upside down. Presently, the reaction against the women march and slogans was a true reflection, what the people of London thought in the 17th century about the changing society.
We reached Sukkur around 1:45 pm. Mr. Ramzan Buriro, Muban Mangrio, and Mehran Mangrio welcomed and told us that the administration had cordoned off the road, and only pedestrians are allowed. We walked to join the march. The march was fully charged and well organized. However, the route was very challenging, and it had to cross a lot of Madresas and Mosques of various sects. The organizers split the caravan with a gap, the women took the lead, and the males followed them.
This scribe took the footpath along the shoulders of Lab-e-Mehran. The local policemen were vigilant and supportive. They paced with the caravan. I overheard the comments of the Sepoys. One said to his colleague, without calling his name that after a long spell, he hears the slogans, which participants uttered with full zeal and spirit. The companion responded, ‘there must be difference in between Bharre Te Ayal (paid-participants) and Asli (genuine-participants). Simultaneously, they were moving with the march. One said kiddingly, ‘Tuhenja Bbar Ahen, Ya… (Is your family, there or …) and before the completion of the sentence, a third Sepoy, aged one, interrupted and said ‘Sabh Pahenja Bbacha Ahen… Losi Lamboshi Te Nazar Rakhjo, (We are family, keep an eye on trouble-maker). Ustad, Khurerrie Na Hannando (Sir, be assured, he will not take even a breath). I slowed down and heard the whispers of the ladies’ police. They whispered ‘the march has unnecessary disturbed them.’
Now the march was gradually moving, and it passed Madresas and mosques. Some students (Talib), along with their seniors, were standing at the iron gates of their Madresas. They were making the shots with their cellphones. However, their grim faces reminded me of a dialogue of one of the characters of Menippus, ‘we shall laugh when we see them grieving.’
The march quickly passed Madresas, crossed the Church, and took the left turn to reach Sukkur Press Club. The stage was already ready and WAF-Hyderabad’s leaders and their co-organizers delivered the speeches. The essence of their addresses reminded me, Sojourner Truth’s speech she gave on 28th May 1851 on the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention. She said: ‘… I have as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed. Can any man do more than that? …. I am as strong as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it…’
The robust gathering was taking its momentum when an announcement from the stage came that a fanatic group has attacked the Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad, and the Sukkur moot rejects it. Gradually, women started to disperse.
It was one of the most successful events in the contemporary history of Sukkur. The success of the event has inspired social and political workers.