Holding the grounds for women

ActionAid and Ajoka celebrated International Women’s day in Islamabad by staging a theatre at Pakistan National Council of Arts on Thursday. Initially they were to stage the play ‘Kala Mainda Bhes’, based on a real life incident took place in Sindh where a woman was exchanged for an ox. But due to time constraints, they decided to perform their play ‘Burqavanganza’.

'Burqavaganza' is a love story in the times when Pakistan is grappling with issues such as extremism, intolerance and terrorism. The play takes up many issues regarding women's oppression in our society. It is the story of two young people who are determined to defy the hypocritical values of an ultra conservative society and challenge the self appointed custodians of morality and faith. While the social and political fabric is falling apart because of terrorism, injustice and fanaticism; the state and society is only obsessed with petty issues like preventing the lovers from meeting etc.

Throughout the play the whole cast is wearing shuttlecock Burqas. The Burqa is used as a metaphor here for the mask our society wear in the name of Islam to hide their corrupt norms. Every possible evil is there in our society, our false moral values; Hinduism oriented thinking, our obsession with the opposite gender to name a few. Yet, we focus only on portraying an outside image of being Islamic and do nothing to curb these false values that are making the bigger impact. They satire how our people and maulvis are wasting their time, discussing the silly trivial issues, while the bigger ones remain unnoticed. The play also spoofs at Talbanisation by linking Usama Bin Laden and Talibaan approach with ours. All of us are playing with Islam and moulding it to fit our self interests, hiding our evils under the Burqa or the mask of Islam.

This tale of love in the time of Jihad is however told in a lighter way with humour, song and dance. Like all Ajoka plays it is thoroughly entertaining and at the same time thought provoking. The play has been widely appreciated by the public and the media whenever it was performed. An English translation of the play has been published by the Oxford University Press.

Expressing her view, Madeeha Gohar, the Executive Director of Ajoka Theatre said, ‘We are committed artists and artists can only protest through their art. We have the right to protest through our performances. We are determined to expose the Taliban in our midst. The real danger is from the individuals who are ideologically aligned with the Taliban and are promoting an agenda of hatred, intolerance and fanaticism in our country’.

Speaking to audience before the play, women rights activist Dr. Farzana Bari emphasised that it is for all of us to empower women and recognise their justified status in society. It is common in our society; men having reservations about the movements for empowering the women. But if the same men could place themselves in their father’s, brother’s and son’s roles they would also feel the need to think differently about women empowerment. If a women has to live a life of slave, her husband, brother or son can not be free either.

Bushra Naz
Published on Wednesday 17 March 2010, Daily Mail

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