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Pakistani women : multiple locations and competing narratives
 9780195477054, 0195477057

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Pa k i s t a n i W o m e n Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Oxford in Pakistan Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology SERIES EDITOR: ALI KHAN

P a k is t a n i W o m e n Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

edited by Sa d a f A h m a d



Great Clarendon Street, Oxford ox2 6 d p Oxford University Press is a department o f the University o f Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective o f excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide in Oxford New York Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto with offices in Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore South Korea Switzerland Turkey Ukraine Vietnam Oxford is a registered trade mark o f Oxford University Press in the U K and in certain other countries © Oxford University Press 2010 The moral rights o f the author have been asserted First published 2010 All rights reserved. No part o f this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing o f Oxford University Press. Enquiries concerning reproduction should be sent to Oxford University Press at the address below. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way o f trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form o f binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. ISBN 978-0-19-547705-4

Typeset in Adobe Garamond Pro Printed in Pakistan by Mehran Printers, Karachi. Published by Ameena Saiyid, Oxford University Press No. 38, Sector 15, Korangi Industrial Area, PO Box 8214 Karachi-74900, Pakistan.


Publishers Acknowledgements Series Editors Introduction 1. The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives o f Pakistani Women Sad af Ahmad 2. Within the Walls: Home-Based Work in Lahore Anita M. Weiss 3. Women in Lok (Folk) Theatre Fouzia Saeed 4. Women and Poverty: Salient Findings from a Gendered Analysis o f a Quasi-Anthropological Study in Rural Punjab and Sindh Lubna Nazir Chaudhry 5. Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan: Wilful Daughters or Free Citizens? Amina Jam al 6. Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance Shahnaz Khan 7. Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-Health: British Pakistani Experiences Kaveri Hanriss 8. The Partitions of Self: Mohajir Women’s Sense o f Identity and Nationhood Rubina Saigol 9. Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women: A Case Study from Pakistan Amineh Ahmed



10. Fascination with ‘Difference’: Democratizing Anthropology, Conducting Fieldwork Among Equals Shahla Hatri




Notes on Contributors




Publisher's Acknowledgements

The publisher acknowledges the following for permission to include articles in this volume:

Hie University of Chicago Press Amina Jamal, ‘Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan: Wilful Daughters o f Free Citizens’, Signs: Journal o f Women in Culture and Society, 2006, vol. 31, no. 2

The Cambridge University Press Amineh Ahmed, ‘Death and Celebration among Muslim Women: A Case Study from Pakistan’, Modem Asian Studies, 39(04): pp. 929-980 (2005)

Feminist Studies Shahnaz Khan, ‘Locating the Feminist Voice: Hie Debate on the Zina Ordinance’ was originally published in Feminist Studies, Volume 30, Number 3 (Fall 2004): 660-685, by permission of the publisher, Feminist Studies, Inc.

Sustainable Development Policy Institute Lubna Nazir Chaudhry, Women and Poverty: Salient Findings from a GenderedAnalysis o f a Quasi-Anthropological Study in Rural Punjab and Sindh. Rubina Saigol, The Partitions o f Self Mohajir Womens Sense ofIdentity and Nationhood.

Series Editor's introduction


ehrgarh, Harappa, Mohenjodaro— it begins here. Mehrgarh— located in Baluchistan is the oldest known rural settlement dating from 7000 b c e . Harappa and Mohenjodaro, cities in the Indus Valley Civilisation, represent the most ancient of urban settlements dating back between 2800 b c -1800 b c . These ancient cultures found their roots in the area that now encompasses modern day Pakistan. As time progressed through to the modern day more and more civilisations, each with their own unique influence, came and left their stamp. Multiple invasions— Persian, Greek, Turkic, Mongol, Arab and later the British— led to the arrival of ‘foreign’ influences and populations, as migration (and trade) often followed conquests. Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam— all flourished. The indigenous and the non-indigenous fused to produce a mosaic of ethnicities, religions and cultures. It also established the region as an area that has amongst the richest and most varied of legacies. All of these influences continued to have a strong effect on the colonial and the post colonial state. Pakistan’s subsequent ‘development’ after independence in 1947 and the problems associated with ‘under development’— widespread poverty, educating a rapidly expanding population, and uncontrolled urbanisation and migration were all tinged with issues of regional identity, ethnicity and religion. Today, in addition to these challenges globalisation has brought entrenched ‘traditions’ into conflict with ‘modernity’ throwing newer issues such as the underpinning of modern day gender and labour relations on traditional ‘hierarchical’ foundations into the spotlight. Moreover, the transnational movement of Pakistani’s has meant that as an area of study, Pakistan is part of a global culture rather than being confined solely to the physical boundaries of the nation state But this rich melting pot of cultural nuances represents amongst the richest raw material for sociological and anthropological analysis. Yet, research on Pakistan in the field of anthropology and sociology— despite the potential of the area—has been scattered and limited in scale and scope. The Oxford University Press series is an attempt to try and fill this void. Firstly by bringing together some of the best research on Pakistan


Series Editor's Introduction

which has to date remained spread across numerous journals and edited books; and secondly by including fresh material both by established academics and by researchers just starting their careers. The strength of the series stems from this blend of older and newer articles and the fact that contributions have been made by both established and upcoming researchers. The common linkage though remains one of academic rigour and innovation. The Reader in Anthropology and Sociology is aimed both at the serious Pakistan focussed academic as well as academics, students and general readers who desire an introduction to the area as seen through a perspective that provides the kind of depth and intimacy of analysis that few disciplines can match. This series of books would not have been possible without the support of the growing band of researchers involved in work on Pakistan and I am particularly thankful to all those who contributed to the different volumes. The Pakistan focussed researcher is a shy species but the level of support for this series has been overwhelming. From those who started writing on Pakistan decades ago to those who are busily exploring new frontiers today, all have gone out of their way with the aim of drawing attention to the richness of material available as well as the incredible potential that Pakistan holds for research in the fields of anthropology and sociology. I would also like to thank the Oxford University Press for initiating this project. Ammara Maqsood, Maria Hasan, and Saad Siddiqui were my research assistants, and all three contributed to the quality of the end product. My final gratitude goes to my family who are my biggest support and especially my wife Mariyam and daughter Alena.



The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women S adaf A hmad


ostcolonial feminist Chandra Mohanty highlights the manner in which ‘third world women’ have commonly been represented as a homogenous ‘powerless’ group often located as implicit victims of particular socio-economic systems in much of Western feminist discourse (1991:57). Such a representation certainly holds true for Pakistani women, who like many other ‘third world women,’ are often perceived as monolithic subjects living ahistorical lives, a perception I suggest is particularly prevalent for them as apart from belonging to the ‘developing’ world, the majority of them are also Muslim, another label that seems to facilitate many to forget that women’s lives are historically and culturally heterogeneous. Thinking about the reasons behind the pervasiveness of such homogenous images of Pakistani women, anthropologist Shahla Haeri blames the misogynist practices that do occur in many Muslim states and the Western media’s fascination with and subsequent role in highlighting these practices (this volume). However, she proposes that we can only understand the production and ubiquitous nature of such images, and the links forged between womens alleged oppression and religion, by taking a historical look at the role Orientalism and early anthropologists have played in the construction of knowledge about Muslim women through the work they produced on Middle Eastern countries that has subsequently been generalised onto all Muslim women. As South Asian ‘third world’ women who are also largely Muslim, Pakistani women’s popular representation of living static lives as oppressed and powerless individuals, burdened by both religion and patriarchy, is not all that surprising. Nevertheless, it fosters a simplistic, one-dimensional view of both their lives and the culture they live in, and promotes a unidirectional view of power in society. The reality of their lives is much


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

more complicated, and the chapters in this volume bring out these complexities by focussing on different kinds of Pakistani women who are simultaneously ‘subordinate, powerful, marginal, central, or otherwise, vis-à-vis particular social and power networks’ (Mohanty 1991:59).

STUDIES OF PAKISTANI WOMEN The matter of misrepresentation or simplistic representation of Pakistani women is closely intertwined with their lack of representation, for the latter contributes to the former. This is not to suggest that studies based on sociological and anthropological research have not been conducted and published, for they have, but most of them have come out within the last decade. Some prominent examples are The Metropolitan Women o f Pakistan (1981), Sabeeha Hafiz’s sociological research on the working women of Karachi; Taboo! The Hidden Culture o f a Red Light Area (2001), Fouzia Saeed’s ethnographic work on the women of the red light area of Lahore; Our Women Are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush (2001), Wynne Maggie’s study of Kalaash women; Walls within Walls: Life Histories o f Working Women in the Old City o f Lahore (2002) by Anita Weiss; Between Chaddor and the Market (2002), Jasmin Mirza’s account of the experiences lower middle class working women have with the labour market; No Shamefor the Sun: Lives o f Professional Pakistani Women (2002) by Shahla Haeri; The Dancing Girls of Lahore (2005) by Louise Brown; and Sorrow And Joy Among Muslim Women: The Pukhtuns o f Northern Pakistan (2006) by Amineh Ahmed. Other research on Pakistani women is available through edited volumes and journal articles. Much of this work reflects the growing interest scholars have in exploring women’s participation in religious rituals and groups, and include studies such as Shi’a women’s mourning rituals in the North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) (Hegland 2002), women’s engagement in the Lashkar-eTayyaba (Haq 2007), and the cultural production like urban women are responsible for as they internalise Al-Huda’s religious discourse (Ahmad 2008). Mention must also be made of a relatively older account of a girls madrassa or religious school in Lahore (Mumtaz 1994), as well as a very recent account of Chitrali women’s response to the growing ‘Islamization’ in the N.W.F.P. (Marsden 2008). The works mentioned above represent women as living, breathing, three dimensional beings whose experiences are determined by a variety of factors, that include, but are not limited to class, occupation, and ethnicity, and whose lives are influenced by a variety of ideologies that

The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women


they are able to, to varying degrees, selectively engage with. The initial hope for this project was to bring together a series of works based on recent research that had not been published or widely circulated before in order to further the project of getting an in depth and insightful look at different Pakistani women’s lives. But things did not quite work out that way. The biggest challenge of putting this volume together was finding recent work on gender that was based on sound, rigorous research, and that presented an analysis that was not simplistic. Unfortunately, there was not that much work of such a nature to choose from. Most of the chapters in this volume are therefore based on work that has already been published elsewhere. Yet another challenge was including research from different parts of the country. The fact that nothing was found on Baloch women makes this volume on ‘Pakistani women’ incomplete. The contributions included in this volume are all based on anthropological and sociological research on Pakistani women. However that is where the similarities end. While Anita Weiss’s and Fouzia Saeed’s respective research took place in the late 1980s, the other studies are relatively more recent. Put together, the different chapters cover an entire range of localities, from rural to urban settings, and from small town to Diaspora. Most of the chapters are driven by ethnographic data, while some are more theoretical. Yet despite all this diversity of time, place and approach, a number of cross cutting themes come out in these chapters, themes that play a critical role in encouraging the reader, both within and outside of Pakistan, to recognise the similarity and diversity of Pakistani women’s experiences as they live their lives within a culture made up of a variety of ideologies that are often in conflict with each other.

THE INVISIBILITY OF WOMEN'S WORK Pakistani women live in a classical patriarchal society (Kandiyoti 1988), but to assume that patriarchy is the sole factor determining their experiences— so that they are all confined to the domestic sphere, live the larger part of their adult lives taking care of their families, and share bonds of oppression with each other— is problematic on a number of grounds, the foremost of which is that complex relationships exist between factors such as religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, class, age, and forces of nationalism and modernity, that may affect women in different ways in different times and places (Kandiyoti 1991; Abu-Lughod 1998; Saliba, Allen, & Howard 2002). Conclusions that are only drawn on the basis of


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

a knowledge of the systems within which people live their lives in any large geographical region risk hiding the diversity of the lives people lead within those larger systems. One of the many concrete drawbacks o f this is that it hides the multiple ways in which women contribute to society through engaging in different kinds of work. As Shahnaz Rouse put it, one of the best kept secrets in Pakistan has been the contribution of Pakistani women to the economy’ (2006:36). She explains that this is largely the result of a faulty enumeration system that is based on information collected from the men in the family who may feel embarrassed admitting that the women in their family earn an income, and that often misrepresents or ignores womens participation in the informal sector (e.g. piece work undertaken at home), or their contribution (e.g. livestock rearing) if it does not earn them wages. This invisibility has contributed to ‘the reinforcement and reproduction of both Orientalist and Islamist stereotypes’ about Pakistani women (2006: 37). Anita Weiss’s well known research on women from a lower income bracket who live within the Walled city of Lahore is extremely valuable for its in-depth look into lives that are otherwise hidden from public view. Although her research took place in the late 1980s, it continues to be critically important for the role it plays in making visible the invisible economic contribution these women make in their households. She (this volume) focuses on the range of activities these women engage in at home, ranging from sewing and embroidery to small scale manufacturing, such as stringing garlands or gluing straps to shoes. However, all these income generating activities are not considered work either by them or the men in their families, and take place in a larger context in which women’s respectability is largely dependant upon their confinement to the private sphere, where their decision making power is limited, and where the knowledge that women are economically helping support a family is a cause of shame for that family. Thus these women, along with the very small number that venture out to work, have to deal with challenges on a variety of fronts as they support their families. Fouzia Saeed’s research on the women who worked as actresses, singers, and dancers in the travelling Lok (Folk) theatres in the province of Punjab until the late 1970s makes a significant contribution to the literature on Pakistani women by highlighting the lives of a group of very talented and dynamic women whose work has never been visible in mainstream Pakistani society. She (this volume) provides an overview of the tradition of the Lok Theatre in Pakistan and places the women she interviewed within that setting, shedding light on their professional work, their private

The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women


lives, and the joys and challenges they faced in each of these, often times, overlapping spheres. What is particularly valuable about this piece of work is that it studies a sub-culture in which women are appreciated for taking up occupations that are stigmatised in the larger culture, and this exposure to contradictory values is one of the issues the women in this study have to face and deal with in their lives. Lubna Chaudhry did research amongst rural women belonging to six different villages in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, and her contribution in this volume is important for the manner is which it is able to bring out the heterogeneity of women’s lives in their respective villages. She tells her readers of the different kinds of women that make up any village, and illustrates how their position in society—based on factors such as religion, caste, class, geographical location— has a differential impact on their experiences vis-à-vis a variety of axes, such as health, education, types o f livelihoods, access to resources, participation in the electoral process, etc. Chaudhry places women’s experiences within the context of the larger power structures within which they live, and provides an analysis of the power dynamics based on the interaction of micro and macro level forces. She is thus able to shed light onto the diverse opportunities and constraints in different women’s lives, present the variety of ways in which they are productive members of their communities, and shatter the common assumption that rural women form a homogenous group with no diversity of lifestyle.

THE HEGEMONIC DISCOURSE That women are commonly seen as symbols of their families’ and nation’s honour (Abu-Lughod, 1998; Menon & Bhasin, 1998; Mankekar, 1999), and that this honour is dependant upon their roles of wives and mothers, their dress, behaviour, and their affiliation with the private sphere of the home (Chaterjee 2001), has been both documented and theorized upon. A case in point is how the notion of seeing women as the caretakers of a culture initially became increasingly important for the Indian Muslims (read: Muslim male) when their rule ended and the Indian subcontinent came under British colonial rule. ‘Muslim identity and respectability were seen to reside in the ‘protection’ [read: segregation and seclusion] of women’ (Rouse 1996:50). While it became acceptable for the men to participate with the colonisers in public life, women were relegated to the private sphere and the family, and were made into symbols of Muslim identity. In other words, ‘they became symbols of the authentic and sacred


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

community of believers’ (Ask and Tjomsland 1998:8). Ayesha Jalal explains that ‘there was consolation in the knowledge that the real strength of the Islamic social order lay in the continued stability o f the family unit and more specifically in the social control of women’ (1991: 80). The phenomenon mentioned above has been visible in Pakistan. Anita Weiss explains how Pakistani women have been used as symbols in state policy in different kinds of instances. These include but are not limited to an affirmation of identity against an Other (for instance, Hindus or the ‘West’), and the preservation of group unity and culture in the face of swift, and what is perceived to be threatening, change (1998). Hence, a key aspect of the Pakistani nationalist discourse, largely propagated by the state, is using women for the ‘maintenance of indigenous values and ‘cultural authenticity’ (Stowasser 1994:5). Honour is one of these values, and any activity deemed culturally inappropriate thus results in the loss of her honour, and subsequently her family’s and nation’s. In Pakistan, a woman’s honour (or rather her family’s honour) is located in her body (Menon 2002), and is closely tied to her ‘sexual purity’ (Haeri 2002:35). Thus, the control of women’s sexuality is necessary in order to continue the patriarchal family lineage, and because women are seen as ‘the cultural symbols of a collectivity, of its boundaries, as carriers of the collectivity’s ‘honour’ and as its intergenerational reproducers of culture’ (Yuval-Davis 1997:62). The patriarchal society’s division of women into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ the association o f various characteristics with each o f these categories—so that the former, for instance, are demure, passive, dressed in a manner that the culture deems modest, and keep men at a distance, while the latter are assertive, mobile, do not conform to the larger cultures definition of modest dress, interact with men, and feel they have a right to be in control of their lives and bodies— and the stigma attached to those falling into the ‘bad’ category is one way through which the larger society controls women’s behaviour (Saeed 2002). Although touching upon different aspects of women’s lives in very different geographical settings, all the contributions in this volume bring forth women’s experiences as they take place in a larger patriarchal context that is infused with a hegemonic discourse of who an ideal Pakistani woman is and the role she must play in upholding her family’s and nation’s honour. Amina Jamal (this volume) expands upon this theme theoretically by highlighting the dominant discourses and ideologies surrounding Pakistani women (and their bodies) as upheld and propagated within the contexts of their family, community, and nation. The reality of such discourses and their impact on women are brought forth through

The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women


her account of ‘the Saima case,’ in which Saima, manifesting her status as an autonomous citizen, went against customary norms and married a man against her family’s wishes. The resultant legal battles and debate highlight the pervasiveness (and dominant status) enjoyed by these discourses, and as such, provide a window into understanding the problematic nature of gendered citizenship for Pakistani women. Shahnaz Khan (this volume) also sheds light on the specific way hegemonic ideologies influence Pakistani women. She interviews some women imprisoned through the Zina Ordinance. This ordinance was a part of the ‘Islamic’ Hudood Ordinance that made no distinction between rape and pre/extra marital sex, and the latter an offence against the state. Her interviews illustrate the manner in which patriarchal and ‘religious’ forces combine with poverty and illiteracy to shape these women’s experiences. She places their experiences in a local, historical context that is also shaped by global economic forces, and claims that it is the recognition of how the latter also influence women’s lives that enables a person to see these women’s issues as both local and international concerns (and responsibility). Kaveri Harriss’s research is on chronic illnesses experienced by British Pakistani women and men living in East London. Although her work is with people living in the diaspora, one of the things that makes it so interesting is that it reveals the impact hegemonic discourses continue to have on people’s lives even when they are not living in Pakistan. Harriss explores the manner in which illnesses are enacted in a gendered way, so that good women are expected to remain stoic and suffer quietly when ill. The more they endure, the greater the respect they garner from others around them, subsequently increasing the likelihood of their increasing their status, if not necessarily their power. Nevertheless, endurance and illness are both tools that these women sometimes use strategically to meet their goals. The extent to which they are successful (or not) is an indication of how much power they have within their homes and amongst the people they live.

COMPETING DISCOURSES AND MULTIPLE IDENTITIES The women Harriss represents in her work live lives that are infused by hegemonic ideologies that restrict their roles and behaviours Yet in many cases they are able to increase the space within which to manoeuvre by working within these ideologies, that is, ‘strategize within a set of concrete constraints’ (1988:274), a phenomenon Deniz Kandiyoti refers to as


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

making patriarchal bargains. Although reinforcing the larger system within which they are working, these women are showing some agential power. The women Jamal and Khan represent, on the other hand, are not working from within the dominant ideology that infuses their culture, at least not at all times. It is in this context that we can look at Saima who went against the norms of her society to marry a man of her choice without her family’s permission, and it is also in this context that Khan represents the imprisoned women she interviewed as subjects who were both questioning and contesting society’s image of the ideal, virtuous woman. Women’s ability to think and behave in a manner that is in contradiction to the larger hegemonic discourse permeating society is not that surprising when we recognise that any one region is not made up of one many different kinds of ideologies. For instance, history shows the acceptability of expanding traditional roles during times of crisis, as well as for political expediency (Mumtaz & Shaheed 1990; Mankekar 1999; Haroon 2002). History also shows that ‘competing ideologies...have emerged in the process of nation-building in Pakistan’ (Ewing 1997:5). Competition can exist between slightly different national ideologies. For instance, what a womans ‘ideal’ role is, is largely dependant upon the political leader in power, and what he or she perceives the country needs at that particular moment. The ideal woman according to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Muslim leader of the Pakistan movement in pre-partition India, was one who fully engaged in public life to lead her country into development. In a speech made in Aligarh Muslim University in 1944, Jinnah stated that, ‘no nation can rise to the heart o f its glory unless your women are side by side with you...It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the house as prisoners...’ (Rosenbloom 1995: 248). However, the ideal of a woman as a caretaker of the home was at its height under the leadership of dictator Ziaul Haq in the 1980s. Furthermore, even when the dominant misogynistic discourse is internalised by many women, their behaviour, as they live and function within a society, often goes against this norm because the ‘national culture is constantly moulded as individuals and groups confront their social worlds and try to (re)form them’ (Fox 1990:2). Richard Fox claims that Even when one nationalist ideology becomes dominant and a national culture is produced, internal contradictions and new nationalist ideologies produced ‘from the bottom up’ make a national culture rubbery, perhaps nearly molten under some circumstances— and certainly not possessing the ‘iron strength o f cultural walls’ that Margaret M ead wrote about (1990:5).

The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women


Weiss illustrates the difference between the dominant ideal cultural discourse and practice amongst women in the urban areas of Pakistan by asserting that Various political figures intimate the need for separate womens bank branches, separate seating areas on buses, and even separate universities. The reality, however, is that many women have already crossed the lines: they bank wherever they want, sit wherever they can, and freely enrol at all major universities (1998:125).

The difference between this ideal ‘Woman’ and real ‘woman’ (Mohanty 1991:57) exists because the latter are drawing upon the variety of ideological systems (Hall, 1985) or the larger ‘cultural field’ (Comaroff & Comaroff 1991) that is present in any society. Furthermore, growing up in a context that is host to multiple, often competing ideologies gives rise to an individual whose life is informed by a number of competing identities (Haeri 2002; Saliba 2002) and takes us a step beyond the notion of a self that is ‘unified, coherent, self-centred...’ (Rose 1996:4). As Clifford Geertz elaborates, The Western conception o f the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational cognitive universe...organised into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background, is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context o f the worlds cultures (1984, as cited in Ewing 1990:256).

Contextual situations, for instance, often make a difference to a person’s subjectivity, which can often change or alter in different interactional situations (Marshy 2002). A person may, at any moment, experience her self as a ‘symbolic, timeless whole, but this self may quickly be displaced by another, quite different ‘self,’ which is based in a different definition of the situation’ (Ewing 1990:251). What self an individual projects or what identity is at the forefront is largely context-dependant, and as Stuart Hall (1996) explains, identities are built over varying, often conflicting positions and discourses, and are hence, fragmented and multiply constructed. Such a notion of identity can only be understood when rather than being ‘reducible to a closed system of signs and relations, the meaningful world always presents itself as a fluid, often contested, and only partially integrated mosaic of narratives, images, and signifying practices’ (Comaroff & Comaroff 1991:27). Hence, it is only when we


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

begin to recognise that individuals are usually influenced by a variety of, often competing discourses, that we can begin to see them as complex individuals embodying multiple strands of identification, and understand both their resistance and their strategic use of multiple discourses. This is one of the central cross cutting themes of the contributions of this volume. Rubina Saigol’s research (this volume) amongst Mohajir women illustrates the multiple sources of identity they have access to and that they rely upon in different situations. Although the experience o f being a Mohajir is one of the main sources of identity these women have— an identity that is strengthened by the party the MQM and their experience of being outsiders and persecuted in the larger nation even decades after independence— Saigols in-depth interviews reveal that these women do, at moments, critique and reject this identity in favour of other identities. In fact, women are able to fluidly negotiate between multiple identities, such as national, religious, gendered, regional, and ethnicity based, and go back and forth between them, and what are often contradicting discourses associated with them, within the course of a single conversation. Such fluid movements take place within a larger national context in which, despite the state’s efforts to impose a monolithic notion of what it means to be a Pakistani, a plethora of national, provincial/regional, and ethnic ideologies and identities prevail. Arnineh Ahmed’s (this volume) rich ethnographic account of wealthy Pukhtun women’s or Bibianes ghamkhadi activities expands the notion of ‘work’ by illustrating the critical role these women play in sustaining inter and intra-family relations, and brings their invisible contributions to political and economic life to light. Yet her work also shows that many young women are feeling the pressures and stresses of constantly having to negotiate between their various roles and identities, for instance that of a wife, mother, professional working woman, and a Pukhtun woman who is responsible for maintaining relations through a variety o f rituals. The different roles they occupy often lead to conflicting demands on their time, and strategies are adopted to reduce these conflicts. Having access to and adopting an alternative discourse, one espoused by the ‘reformist’ and ‘purist’ Islamic school Ai-Huda, is a popular way of doing this, although other, less drastic strategies are also relied upon by those women whose critique of the time consuming ghamkhadi rituals is more contextual than a constant.

The Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives of Pakistani Women


PLACING PAKISTANI WOMEN A dearth of knowledge exists about Pakistani women; knowledge that adequately represents the diversity found amongst women in this part of South Asia, and that is able to capture the rich details of their lives. While there may be many cross cutting themes in their lives—by virtue of being citizens of the same nation and hence being exposed to a particular history, power structures, and customs— there is also immense variation based on where they are placed in terms of rural-urban setting, ethnic background, class affiliation, social structures, and so on. The work that does exist, particularly that produced in the last decade, captures the diversity of their lives and offers readers insightful analysis. This volume attempts to further that project, and as such, contributes to moving away from the homogenous images of Pakistani women that grace many peoples minds. This is a goal that Shahla Haeri is committed to, and that is actualised in her book No Shame for the Sun, which is about professional Pakistani women; these women were deliberately chosen in order to bring another face of Pakistani women to the forefront. In her contribution to this volume, Haeri first draws upon a range of theories to help explain why Pakistani women (along with other women who are also Muslim) have been represented the way they have been in history, in the Western academia, and in the media, i.e. either as veiled, impoverished, or belonging to the rural areas. She then articulates the need for researchers to move beyond only studying and representing those whose lives are very different from their own, but also representing those who are not necessarily that different, and doing so with their collaboration. The disciplines of anthropology and sociology provide researchers with a number of tools that can be used to capture the complex reality of people’s lives, and it is only by representing this everyday complexity that is fraught with negotiation, accommodation, and resistance, and that takes place within particular socio-political power structures, that Pakistani women will no longer be reduced to being represented as one dimensional beings living static and ahistorical lives.


Within the Walls Home-Based Work in Lahore A nita M . W eiss


alking through the crowded alleyways of the allied City of Lahore, a visitor notices the ageless grace and beauty of the old buildings. They tower high above the streets, leaving the pedestrians below to navigate in a timeless dusk. There is a perpetual cacophony of sounds in this vibrant centre of activity: blaring Hindi film music, men hawking their wares from street corners, and children racing home with covered trays of hot curries or chana/kulcha1 bought in the bazaar. Indeed, social life appears to be entered in public space, in the bazaars and alleyways that are home to over a quarter of a million people living within the area encompassed by the walls of the old city. However, the social dynamics of the existing gendered division of space are far more complicated than this glance indicates, going far beyond physical divisions into the economic, political, and symbolic spheres. What we first see is this public, male world: men hawking fruits, vegetables, samosas,2 and other cooked foods from small carts; running sewing machines in their tailoring shops; selling dry goods to a largely male clientele; making tools by hand in workshops; and congregating endlessly around tea stalls. Social gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and political rallies occur wherever folding chairs can be lined up. In this one square mile of land bounded by thirteen ancient gates, which houses the largest concentration of urban poor in Pakistan, potable water and nonfluctuating electricity are at a premium. Kites and homing pigeons fly above the rooftops, plagued by the mass of electric wires hanging everywhere. The choked gutters, animal wastes, and the moat that surrounds parts of the Walled City become particularly pungent in the hot season, about eight months out of the year. The ever-present noise, the constant bustle of the crowds, the various animals pulling or carrying

Within the Walls


things on wooden carts through the cramped alleyways, and the ongoing sea of halwa/puri,3 nihari * and tea stalls are all a part of this accessible male sphere of life. Only by looking inside the towering buildings do we find women. The Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi argues that the design of sexual space in Muslim society projects a specific vision of female sexuality.’5 In the Walled City, this vision presents women as needing protection from the outside world, where a woman— and therefore her family’s respectability— is at risk. Here women live under the traditional constraints associated with purdah, which necessitate the separation of women from the activities of men both physically and symbolically, thereby creating highly differentiated male and female spheres. Most women spend the bulk of their lives within their homes; they go outside only when there is a substantive purpose. The culture outside the home, now as in the past, revolves around the actions of men: it is considered shameful (be-sharam) if it becomes commonly known that a woman leaves her house to work and help support her family, especially because the high-density living conditions enable everyone in the neighbourhood to witness such an escape. The institution of the family plays an essential role in the Walled City. The gendered division of labour within the family relies on a unique combination of economics and status concerns. Men do not necessarily have complete authority over household economics; in a sizable minority of families, women have traditionally been responsible for daily decision­ making and often have input in major purchases. Men’s power within the family, however, is absolute in its control over women’s actions and mobility because women are considered the repository of their family’s respectability. The Walled City is divided into large residential groupings, each identified by the name of the gate in its proximity. There are certain associations made with each gate (darvaza) and with most neighbourhoods (kuchas) that for most residents create both a spatial and a conceptual image of fictive extended family. Though most of the wall no longer exists, continuous waves of buildings that virtually recreate the wall remain, enabling the maintenance of a symbolic demarcation of identity between the Walled City and the world outside. Contributing to this notion is the extremely high population density in most parts of the Walled City, a density seven times greater than that in metropolitan Lahore as a whole. This feature is not a new one. An early-twentieth-century account describes the city as being overcrowded


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and already decrepit: ‘The streets of the Old City are narrow and tortuous, and are best seen from the back of an elephant.’6 Large living areas had originally been constructed to accommodate many levels of extended kin living together. Today, for purposes of economy, these former havelis have been sectioned off into smaller living units, so now there is often one family—with an average of seven members— living in one or two rooms on each small floor. The prevailing, oft-stated patriarchal ideology is that men lead economically productive lives making, buying, and selling goods and services, while women focus on reproductive activity, caring for their children and homes. Neither the gendered use of space nor the vision of women as captive domestics has undergone the kind of reformulation in the Walled City that they have in wealthier parts of Lahore. In the Walled City, allocation of gendered space still derives largely from one’s family’s class norms (although degree of piety is alsA an important consideration among wealthier families that do not accept change). Therefore, the conditions under which women live in the quintessentially Muslim working-class environment in the Walled City underscore the allocation of gendered space existing within most urban working-class areas of Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, in which there is both a symbolic and a practical divide in the way men and women use space.7 The ideology of ‘man the provider’ prevails despite the reality that local economies of scale force many women to earn an income. However, women living in the city under conditions o f poverty and high density confront a harsh dilemma. Sociocultural mores exclude them from many of the economic activities in which their counterparts engage in the informal sector in other countries, such as selling roadside snacks or raw fruits and vegetables from pushcarts, or home-made goods directly in the market. Virtually the only means available for women in the Walled City to earn an income is to work for piece rates in home-based cottage industries. WTiat results is a hapless social ‘twist’. The women essentially perform the same work that men do in the bazaar but solely within the walls o f their own homes and for significantly less remuneration because they are dependent on a middleman both for raw materials and for marketing. The design of sexual space within the walls of the old city physically encloses women within the walls of their homes for most of their lives, and the walls of the old city generally constrain their social activities. Perceptions of great distances are relative because most of life’s important tasks take place in a very concentrated area: food, spices, fresh milk, cloth,

Within the Walls


and household goods are found within a short walk of every kucha. People attend weddings nearby because relatives often live within calling distance of each other (e.g., the radius of a few alleyways). Girls attend schools only if they are within walking distances, while their mothers regularly visit doctors or saints’ shrines only if they are equally close. For example, the shrine of the most important saint of Lahore, Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh, lies near Bhati Gate, but only women living in its vicinity told me that they visited it on a regular basis. Indeed, over-crowded living conditions have become a form of social control in this environment where women’s activities must be circumspect. Few women wish to risk drawing additional attention to themselves by leaving the security of their kucha, where all of their contact with others can be readily observed and monitored and hence win approval. This restriction leaves little room for women to justify leaving the kucha, and certainly not on a regular basis.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRODUCTIVE ACTIVITIES The situation of the invisibility of women’s labour is not unique to Pakistan, for w om en’s co n tribu tion s rem ain dism ally underreported in

many parts of the world, as is shown elsewhere in this volume. However, the common perception that women remain confined within their homes so that neighbours do not have fodder for gossip about their respectability has important implications for women’s productive activities in such an environment. The social definition of women as housewives, particularly among the poorer classes, obscures the reality of their economic activity. The work women do in the Walled City of Lahore is virtually invisible, unrecognized by official statistics or by the dominant male community. Although men control nonproduction work (e.g., buying raw materials or trading), they also share in small-scale manufacturing and production processes. Men and women make virtually the same goods; what differs is where they make them and the compensation they receive for their labour. Men work in small shops in the bazaar, where they can also congregate around nearby food stalls, barber stands, and other places in the visible public sphere; women in the old city—unlike women entering the work force elsewhere in Lahore—work in the private sphere of the home, within the walls of their houses, earning an income but still maintaining their respectability and that of their family.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

As with social life in general, work in the Walled City— be it making, selling, fixing, or moving something for which there is some kind of economic compensation—openly appears as a male domain. Census data and other official accounts of economic activity in Pakistan support such conclusions. For example, the 1992-1993 Economic Survey reported that 12.8 per cent of all Pakistani women above the age of ten work, compared to 71.3 per cent of all men.8 The last official District Census Report, conducted in 1981, reported that merely 4 per cent of women in urban areas of Lahore district were working or looking for work. Data on women living in the fifteen census wards that make up the Walled City are even more limited. All we know is that females were 46.6 per cent of the total population of over two hundred thousand in 1981, and that 12 per cent of the women were literate.9 The results of research I conducted in the Walled City of Lahore bring into question the low numbers of women officially reported as engaged in remunerative labour. My research also challenges the popularly held view that most women would rather not work if given a choice. Women in the old city are actively engaged in production for exchange, though for various social reasons this participation generally goes unnoticed or unrecognized— often even by the women themselves. Although women who work assert that their numbers have increased in recent years, there is good reason to believe that there has always been a sizable number of women who worked in their homes, making things. However, many women do seem to be engaged in new types of work, although one aspect appears to remain the same: Although their labour opens up incomeearning opportunities, this opportunity occurs under discriminatory and highly exploitative circumstances. They are unable to participate freely in the marketplace. O f the hundred women interviewed in my random-sample survey in 1987, about two-thirds said they either worked or that they wanted to work but there was nothing available to do. Merely one-third stated that they were currently earning an income.10 Only three of the working women combined their efforts with their family’s and hence had no distinguishable income of their own. Interestingly, of the women who did not work, 51 per cent stated that they would work if they had the opportunity to do so. The most prevalent work-related skill reported was sewing or embroidery, including goto, and salma sitara work, which is used on suits for special functions such as weddings. Three-quarters of the women claiming to have skills possessed this ability, although only seven women

Within the Walls


reported that they actually derived an income from sewing and three from embroidery. While there was some overlap of the two categories (some women could both sew and embroider), no woman was earning an income from both skills. All women earning an income in these two categories said that they worked at home and were dependent on a middleman for the raw materials and for picking up the finished goods. This dependence made them fearful of asking for more money because the middleman (who often sent his wife to their home as his representative) could just stop coming at his whim, which would be disastrous both for the womens respectability and for their families’ living standard. For example, one young woman embroidered an average of four necklines daily and received one rupee for each completed neckline. She earned eight rupees when a neckline included intricate salma sitara embroidery. She worked together with her sister, and the two women could do an entire roll of fabric, or eight to ten necklines, in about three days and earn between sixty-four and eighty rupees (three to four dollars). They handed over all their earnings to their mother, who used the money for the daily expenses of the household. Their father, a long-term government employee, simply did not earn enough to cover all the expenses. At one point the sisters wanted to be paid better, but when they asked for an increase for their labour, the middleman just stopped coming, as one recalled: ‘We sisters learned fast from each other. He [the man for whom they were doing the embroidery] had come a few times and told us that our work wasn’t good enough and that we were taking too long. He just stopped giving us work and told us to improve our skills. After he said this we were just sitting idle. My father asked us to stop doing the work when this happened, that the man wasn’t satisfied. But we wanted to work, and we needed the money. We went to the Hindustani woman and spoke to her and asked her to persuade him to give us work again. That woman convinced him and he started giving us work again.’ Through the intercession of a neighbour, the middleman finally returned and gave them more work, but he continued to pay them at the old rate. The next most prevalent skill, reported by 12 per cent of the women with skills, was the ability to read and write well by virtue of having received a higher education. This ability could be used either to teach or to give private lessons. All but one of the women who stated they had this skill were actually earning an income from it—in fact, two women had to leave the Walled City to teach outside it. As teachers, these women were relatively more independent than the sewers or embroiderers, but


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

they were equally subject to others’ largesse when it came to giving private lessons. The teachers told me that it was due to their high level of education that they are able to leave their kuchas and not draw criticism; however, many other women— not teachers— did not feel that teaching was such a respectable occupation. Indeed, although I found that 41 per cent of the women in the sample were educated to class eight or above (the equivalent of a junior-high education in the US system), apparently most of them did not perceive of literacy as a marketable skill at all. Women do not have a monopoly on any of these occupations. Men labour as tailors and embroiderers in small shops in the bazaar, are schoolteachers, and give private lessons as well. An important difference, though, is that men are integrated into economic networks of solidarity and so need not be as subservient as women to ensure a steady income. Forty-one per cent of the survey respondents knew how to sew, embroider or teach— activities that were generally regarded as extensions of domestic tasks done at home— but only 16 per cent earned income from these activities. We popularly assume that sewing, embroidery, and teaching compose the bulk of the work that women do, but only 48 per cent of these working women were so engaged. What kind of work were the other 52 per cent of the women doing? The remaining 52 per cent of working women predominantly engaged in small-scale manufacturing at home. In most instances, the women again performed the same work as men: some glued straps to shoes, decorated sehras (a type of wreath used at marriages and saints’ shrines), assembled plastic toys, strung flowers, or prepared samosas. However, women commonly earned appreciably less than men for the same tasks, usually less than 70 per cent of what men earned for the same kind of full-time work. In most instances, women had never been to the bazaar where their wares were sold. For example, one woman I interviewed prepared samosas at home, which her father and brothers then sold in Rang Mahal bazaar. She had never seen the family’s samosa stand, although it was a mere fiveminutes walk from their house. When I visited with her, other family members regularly cut through the area where she was working. She made the samosas outdoors in a courtyard during the hot summer and prepared them indoors in the house’s only large room on colder days. While sitting on her haunches, she took some kneaded flour in her hand and flattened it into cakes. She then turned each cake into a cylinder—like a snow cone—and filled it with the potato mixture after rubbing water on the samosa shell. The potato mixture was kept in a circle, surrounded by the

Within the Walls


as yet unfilled shells. Flies sat on the potato mixture and on the samosas. A board that could hold about 150 samosas sat next to her work area. She made the samosas from 7 am until 1 pm. Then she prepared lunch and had it ready in time for her father and brothers to eat when they arrived home. She served them, washed the utensils they had used in the bazaar, and then took a nap. When her father and brothers returned to the bazaar, she did the housework. However, when I questioned her about her daily activities and asked whether she engaged in ‘work’, she considered—despite having made samosas in front of me for about six hours, only stopping to clean the house and prepare the family meals— that she did not work, and she had no income of her own: ‘We have to give it [making the samosas] more importance than housework. My brothers knead the flour. Then I shape the samosas, fill them, and close them.’ Her hands were perennially covered with dust from the flour she used when rolling the samosas. Aside from the women who left their homes to teach, only four women in my survey stepped beyond their homes to work. One was in a service industry; she was a hairdresser in a ‘women only’ section of a beauty parlour. Two (both old women) were traders: one bought and sold cloth on a free-lance basis, and the other sold vegetables in a bazaar. The last one decorated nameplates for bicycles in a small factory near her house, where the only other workers were also women. All four women were in these professions because of extenuating circumstances under which there was no man to oversee their activities. The hairdresser’s husband was a drug addict; the trader’s husband had abandoned her some years ago; the vegetable seller was a widow; and the factory worker had never married but instead raised her younger brother and lived with him and his family. I met other unmarried and widowed women, but the former were supported by their natal families and the latter by their in-laws, most often a taya (husband’s elder brother). Widowed women still integrated into their in-law families confronted distinctive cultural constraints that further precluded their options and independence. For example, a widow living in a neighbourhood behind Masjid Wazir Khan had been stringing flowers at home every day for the past twenty-five years. Over the years, her daughters had helped her at home before they were married. Only one daughter remained to help her. The widow said, ‘I usually get paid after a month, but if it’s necessary, I ask him for money. At first, I used to get paid once a week, but now he pays me after a month. My daughter keeps the record of how much flowers we use. For this reason, I sent her to school, so she could keep the


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

records. Her elder sister used to keep the records before her. My daughters are all very sweet and helpful to me. They used to take their tuition in school, come back, and then help me.’ She was given all the necessary materials to string the flowers— the needles, thread, flowers, cardboard, foil paper for the centre of earrings— and was paid ten rupees (about fifty cents) for each kilo of flowers, usually completing two or three kilos per day. The man who gave her the work was a neighbour whose family owned gardens outside the Walled City and owned a shop behind a shrine near Masjid Wazir Khan where the strung flowers were sold. Five women in her kucha strung flowers for this man, though many others strung flowers for other shopkeepers as well. ‘They give us the other flowers just like this, in a tub. Either Bholla [the middleman] comes himself, or he sends his children. The flowers usually come between 11 am and noon, and are certainly here by 1 pm. He picks them up between 4-5 pm, and certainly by 6 pm. If he comes for the flowers and I’m not finished, I tell him to come back later, and he does.’ This woman felt that stringing flowers was a pleasant social activity: the flowers gave off a wonderful fragrance and she could talk with her friends and relatives while she worked. To earn extra money, she also occasionally shelled almonds, which she didn’t enjoy as much. All decisions regarding this widow’s children— their education, their marriages, her son’s career—were made by her husband’s older brother. She observed strict purdah and was fearful of upsetting her brother-in-law. Because she was not his wife, she didn’t have the opportunity to wait for ‘the right time’ to discuss things with him; instead, she had no recourse but to listen to him. Poverty and illiteracy also serve as constraints on women’s greater participation in the economy. There are limited educational opportunities. There are many elementary schools for girls within the Walled City, such as the free school built by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif near Sheranwala Gate, but there are no secondary girls’ schools. Many women told me they would have liked to have studied further but were unable to travel alone to a high school outside the city, and no male in their family was available to accompany them. Although there are many private and public sewing schools, there is no technical school for girls within the Walled City where they can learn industry-related skills. Women often told me that social values are the most powerful constraint on women’s economic activities. It is not only a question of a woman leaving her kucha and thereby bringing her morality into question,

Within the Walls


but the larger issue of a woman earning an income (or preparing to do so) and feeding the men in her family from that income. Women are not opposed to doing such a thing; they are just opposed to other people knowing about it. One woman astutely observed, ‘People think badly if a woman works at all. Whether she works as a lady doctor, or a teacher, people still say that her mother and father eat from her labour. The point is that whatever kind of work a girl does, if she has to walk outside to do it, it doesn’t look good for the family. A girl can work inside of her home, and no one knows.’ Norms and values associated with the gendered division of space in the Walled City, however, are under severe strain in poor households, compelling women to work surreptitiously. Conditions o f high density give rise to the fear that others in Walled City neighbourhoods will track women’s movements and activities; this fear may prevent teenaged girls from travelling to schools and limit the expansion of women’s economic activities, but it does not prevent women from working or studying, given economic and social necessity.

PROMOTING WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT IN HOME-BASED WORK It is not enough simply to declare that women living in the Walled City either are working at low-paying jobs or would like to work but cannot find employment. Given this reality as well as the existing constraints on their working outside their homes, their limited education, and lack of financial resources, what kinds of possibilities can we envision that might increase the likelihood that those seeking gainful employment will find it? Many of the women with whom I spoke had visions of what might be changed in their lives to facilitate their empowerment. For example, the establishment of a sewing cooperative network would bring them greater power. Many of the women already can sew, and ample opportunities exist to learn for those who cannot. With such a network, women could determine what they would sew and be able to obtain start-up money for their ventures. Building on this beginning, the Ministry for Women’s Development could help establish a central cooperative/clearinghouse that could draw on the existing and varied expertise of women living in the Walled City. The clearinghouse could keep lists of skills that women have and list unskilled women who are willing to do some sort of cottage labour in their homes. Businesses could be given incentives such as import tax credits for providing raw materials to the cooperative and marketing


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the finished goods. Under such a system, what the women do and the environment in which it is done would not actually differ from the present situation. However, because they are unable to go to the bazaar and sell their goods directly to shopkeepers (given the social norms and values discussed earlier), such a clearinghouse network would enable them to enjoy steady work. Additionally, they would not live under the threat of having work arbitrarily withheld from them, and they would earn far more than they currently do when middlemen control the entire process. We should recall Barbara Rogers’s caution that cooperatives should emphasize the manufacture of goods whose economic importance to the larger economy is popularly recognized— in this case, clothes and household necessities— and should shy away from craft items and other goods made for tourist and overseas specialty markets, which sustain the invisibility of women’s labour by perpetuating the idea that women do such work in their ‘free time.’" This emphasis is particularly important in working-class areas such as the Walled City of Lahore, where the invisibility of female labour perpetuates the myth that women need not work and in turn further limits their employment options. The recognition o f women’s productive labour will inevitably open up additional political, economic, and social opportunities for women. A second kind of suggestion emerged around creating a small-loan program for enterprising women who already are trained in some field and would like to start their own businesses. A training program covering such issues as small-business management, taxes, and marketing might be attached to the program. For example, the hairdresser who earns merely three dollars per week dreams of the day she might open her own shop. The cloth trader could make more profit if she could make her purchases in larger bulk, but that also takes an initial capital investment. A sickly widow who embroiders shirts on order feels she could earn more if she sells them directly, but she needs money to purchase the cloth and thread to get started. Being without a male wage earner is not unusual, and many women find themselves in this position at some stage of their lives. These women, like others, would prefer to earn for themselves rather than rely on their husbands’ families for their support. Such projects may also shed some light on the underlying contradictions that arise in the ongoing process of economic development and sociocultural transformation and on the kinds of alternatives that emerge as people living within the Walled City try to come to terms with these realities. Women and men are being forced, by the necessity of poverty

Within the Walls


and the changing structure of the extended family, to reallocate obligations, resulting in a redistribution of gender-based rights and power. Residents o f the Walled City of Lahore, Pakistan, anchored in centuries-old traditions while being forced to confront the challenges of contemporary life, provide cogent examples o f the renegotiation o f gendered expectations. An important result is that men are increasingly relinquishing some of the powerful control they have held over women and are also expecting women to take on different roles. We see an ongoing renegotiation of personal power and mobility within the family because of womens increased competencies. Men are also realizing that women do not need them as much as they did in the past and that it is now possible for women to be self-reliant. Needless to say, this change creates much confusion in a society where social norms still revolve around honour and respect, and there is a discernible increase in men’s fears o f what ‘uncontrolled,’ qualified women might do. When we think of the work women do in the Walled City— sewing, embroidery, food preparation, stringing flowers— we are reminded of what life looks like outside on the streets. Both the cooperative and the smallloans program would only be a short-term solution to an immediate problem, but such ideas are a first step in recognizing the presence and importance of women in the work force. By empowering women’s income-earning capacity, women are also empowered within the family, and this change is seminal to viable, long-term change.

NOTES This chapter is based on research elaborated in Anita M. Weiss, Walls within Walls: Life Histories o f Working Women in the Old City o f Lahore (Boulder, C O : Westview Press, 1992). 1. A savoury breakfast consisting o f curried garbanzo beans and spiced leavened bread fresh from a tandoor oven. 2. A deep-friend dumpling, generally filled with a spicy potato mixture when sold in the Walled City o f Lahore. 3. Halwa is fried, sweet semolina, to be eaten by hand with hot, deep-fried flat bread, puri, for breakfast. 4. A very not and spicy meat curry, renowned as a Walled City specialty. 5. Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society rev. ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 148. 6. Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 13, 14th ed. (London: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1929). 7. Apt comparisons, in particular, are Morocco and the old city o f Cairo, Egypt. Sec Elizabeth Fernea, A Street in Marrakech (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975); Fatima Mernissi, Doing Daily Battle (New Brunswick, N .J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989):






Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives and Arlene Macleod, Accommodating Protest (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). Financc Division, Government o f Pakistan, Economic Survey, 1992—93 (Islamabad: Economic Advisers Wing, July 1993), p. 111. These figures are estimates reported in the 1990-1991 Labour Force Survey. The 1981 District Census o f Lahore (Population Census Organisation, 1984), p. 74, reported that the Walled Citys population was 190,000 in 1981. A World Bank/Lahore Development Authority (1980) study estimated that the Walled Citys population would be 277,000 in 1986 (p. 22). More recent official figures are unavailable. For details on methodology used in conducting both the random-sample survey o f one hundred households and life history accounts o f a representative group o f women residents in the Walled City, see Weiss, Walls within W alls, pp. xi-xiii. For further elaboration on this argument, see Barbara Rogers, The Domestication o f Women: Discrimination in Developing Societies (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980).


Women in Lok (Folk) Theatre Fo u z ia S aeed


ost descriptions o f the performing arts are written by men with an exclusively male perspective. If women do at all enter the descriptions, they are usually romanticized or relegated to secondary roles. Little or no attempt is made to show women as professionals in their own right, particularly in the field of performing arts. The theatre is no exception. Faced with an all male audience, the performing women of the Lok (Folk) Theatre developed a high level of professionalism in the field and vied with the best of the male performers in developing the traditions of the theatre. The constraints placed on their personal lives by society and family notwithstanding, they effectively penetrated the male domain, surpassing them in their virtuosity and art. Career women of all fields in South Asia and Pakistan today will see in the lives o f theatre women familiar constraints placed on their professionalism by analogous social pressures. The focus of this article is on the lives of theatre women in the broad context of the Lok Theatre. While the traditions of the classical theatre in the Punjab have received some attention in the recent past, there is no written record of a similar expression of creativity that developed in the wake of colonial conquests parallel to the older classical tradition. Usually referred to as the Lok Theatre, it consisted of a mobile group that moved from one festival to another throughout the year. This form of theatre gained popularity in Pakistan (mainly in Punjab but also in Sindh and Balochistan) in the 1950s, holding its own for three decades and finally tapering off in the seventies. Today, this tradition is declining and only a few performing groups remain. During the performances, the main magnet for the audiences were the performing women (or men dressed up convincingly as women)— the singers, the dancers, the actresses. The performances were usually set up


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

in annual market fairs (mandi) or festivals both religious ( urs) and secular {meld). The theatre companies were equipped with all that they needed and virtually lived the lives of vagrant and semi-nomadic groups. The theatre companies were not alone in this mobile life style. Larger and wealthier than them was the circus, which was omnipresent at all fairs and from which the Lok Theatres usually sublet a part of the festival grounds. Even today, the pattern continues, though the circus is as strong as ever and the Lok Theatre is a pale shadow of its past popularity. The Lok Theatre as a form of folk entertainment was aimed primarily at the rural masses with the glamour of its loud music, bright lights, garish colours and heavily made-up women. All this went straight to the hearts of the peasantry, who often followed their favourite theatre from village to village far beyond their own homes. The annual market fair held for a group of villages was an important event for farmers: cows, buffaloes and goats were brought and sold with items of daily use. Deals were struck amidst prolonged haggling and money changed hands. The milieu was almost completely male and few women were to be seen. Women were also rarely present at performances. As most of the theatre performances lasted all night, many a peasant bought a ticket and sat through the entire performance till the small hours of the morning, preferring to be entertained rather than either paying for a nights lodgings or going back to their village by night. In any case, village life was a dull proposition compared to the dream world of the theatre. The Lok Theatre had its own stars, heroes, singers and dancers, each having an audience of admirers who waited impatiently for the theatre to come and perform in their village or nearby town. Both the performers and the audiences usually came from modest peasant stock or minor occupational groups— tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters and barbers. Families of professional musicians also joined the theatre. The performances themselves normally consisted of plays, songs, dances and comedy skits. The audience forced the performers to remain in the role they had initially chosen for themselves, as they were popularly known in the roles they played: for the audience, they were always a hero, a heroine, a villain, a character actor, a side hero and so on. Once a role had been adopted, the performer stayed with it for the rest of his or her acting career. O f course, shortage of female performers often had men playing female roles, while the reverse also occasionally took place: for example, Bali Jatti used to play the male role of the hero Ranjha in the folk epic love story Hir Ranjha.

Women in Lok Theatre


The fortunes of each Lok Theatre and its individual stars rose and fell dramatically. Notable among star performers were Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Alam Lohar, Bali Jatti and Khurshid Kuku. Their popularity was further boosted by radio programs that people listened to avidly in an era where television and video were unknown. The theatre was a rich recruiting ground of talent for other forms of entertainment. Many performers branched out into the cinema, the circus, dancing groups, smaller variety shows and some were eventually employed by state-controlled cultural organizations. So strong was the impact of the Lok Theatre on the Punjabi cinema that earlier films were modelled much on the same lines as a play. As in the theatre tradition, voices in the camera are loud and dramatic gestures exaggerated. In several Punjabi films, the impact of the ‘last bow’ can usually be seen in the last scene of the film, where almost the entire cast gathers together ‘by coincidence’ before the camera.

THE THEATRE The theatre itself was set up in a part of a big festival ground either rented directly or sublet through circus-owners. The size of the seating area and the stage was marked out with chalk powder as a big open air rectangle or oval, with the stage at one end. The seating area was dug out to make it lower and the earth used to make a raised stage. The digging was done to ensure a gentle slope to the stage. The stage was about four feet (more than one meter) higher than the seating area and surrounded with barbed wire, so that the audience could not enthusiastically climb onto the stage in the course of a performance. A thick canvas screen (qanat) or corrugated tin sheeting surrounded the whole area. The entrance to the theatre consisted of a high (about seven feet) wooden gate with planks of wood supported over it in a makeshift platform. This platform featured transvestites (khusra) dancing to music from blaring loudspeakers to attract the audience. The ticket seller usually sat on the edge of this platform, leaning down to sell tickets to all comers. The seating area sloped gently towards the stage and had chairs laid out near the stage, while the back normally had cotton rugs {dart) to squat on. A theatre could also have either only chairs filling the seating area or only rugs spread out from the stage to the entrance. Gaudy cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them were an essential part of the stage. It was normal to use six or seven backdrops in the course


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

o f a performance, but the number could vary from two to twenty, depending on the wealth of the theatre owner. Poles with fixed pulleys were used to pull the required backdrops down, the stagehands taking their cue from the director, who rang a bell as the prearranged signal for a change of scene.

PERFORMANCE TYPES The two main types of performances were called ‘Vareti’ (from the English Variety’) and Khel (play). Vareti, as the name suggests, was a one or two hour long programme of assorted items of songs, dances, skits and comedy acts. Khel was a stage drama which could last from six to ten hours. The vareti shows usually started at three or four in the afternoon. A show was repeated three or four times in an evening. The khel on the other hand started late (about nine o’ clock at night) and lasted the whole night through. The performance opened with a salami (greeting) in the form of a group chorus. A bell was rung twice as a cue for all the performers to gather on the stage for the salami. After the salami, the performers would start dressing (called getup) and getting made-up. The play would then start with the opening scene. At the end of each scene, the performers scurried to change their dresses and makeup, as they have to play several roles. In order to keep the audience from getting restive in the meantime, a dancer or singer came on stage. This interlude was called entri (from English entry’). Their performance had nothing to do with the play and served only to give time to the actors and stagehands to prepare for the next scene. If the audience responded enthusiastically, the entri grew from a short interlude of a few minutes to a full-blown performance lasting two hours. As we shall see, the entri was later to overshadow the theatre and develop a life of its own. The themes of the plays staged by the Lok Theatre consisted o f several folk romances and epics, as well as Agha Hashar’s plays and translations.

POPULAR THEATRES While many owners of these theatres entered the field to invest in a business enterprise, performers themselves occasionally evolved into full ownership. The theatre then became a sort of family enterprise, with the

Women in Lok Theatre


performer-owner acting more like a benevolent father than an owner. In a group of sensitive, temperamental and high-strung performers, normal rules of business could hardly apply, and a performer-owner was often better suited to understand the needs o f his former or existing colleagues. One mandi or mela had several competing theatres that sometimes cooperated with each other. At other times, they were involved in a neverending fight for audiences, which often meant the luring away of star performers from rival theatres. The complexion of the theatre was determined both by its owner and the major star performer, resulting in popular reference to them by the names of these performers or owners. For example, the Kissan Theatre was popularly known as the Inayat Hussain Bhatti Theatre because of the latter’s fame in that theatre. Some of the more notable Lok theatres during the three decades of their popularity include: Phaji Shah Theatre: This was one of the oldest folk theatres. It not only played a central role in popularizing the Lok Theatre in the Punjab, but also became a kind of training academy for several artists who later established theatre groups of their own. This theatre was owned by Syed Fazal Shah, nicknamed Phaji Shah. Phaji Shah was himself an actor, director and the theatre manager and his wife, Iqbal Begum, was also a theatre actress. Both of them performed as hero and heroine in several plays of their theatre. In later life, they contented themselves with character roles. The Phaji Shah Theatre did not survive their death and was wound up soon after. Shahjehan Theatre: This theatre company was owned by Mian Anwar, who named this theatre after his daughter, Shahjehan. She acted in leading female roles in the theatre. Though he was not an actor himself, he married the famous theatre actress Khurshid Kuku and was befriended by Bali Jatti. A wastrel to the extreme, he was said to have spent most of his money on gambling and women. Coming from a relatively low-status group, Mian Anwar has been described by his admirers as violent and quarrelsome, but also courageous and handsome. A traffic accident and long illness caused his theatre to collapse, and he died a heartbroken man.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Watan Theatre: Mohammad Ismail was the owner of this theatre. True to the tradition of theatre owners, he married the popular theatre actress Firdous. The rise of the famous folk singer Alam Lohar was during his time with the Watan Theatre. His son Arif Lohar continues to perform in this theatre. Ismail’s personality was the opposite of Phaji Shah’s— he has been described by people who worked for him as harsh and a strict disciplinarian. Kisan Theatre: The owner, Mohammad Sharif Cheena, was popularly known as Cheena Phelwan (‘Cheena the Wrestler’) because of his considerable strength and girth. Both Cheena and his wife Gulzar Jatti worked in the theatre in the leading hero and heroine roles, though Cheena was famous for his comedy roles. Their only daughter Bilo inherited the theatre on his death and her husband Mohammed Nasim managed it. Cheena’s widow Gulzar Jatti plays character roles occasionally in the Watan Theatre. The famous theatre actor and singer Inayat Hussain Bahtti was associated with this theatre for several years, at which time it was popularly known by his name. Gam an Theatre: Unique in the sense that the entire cast consisted of male performers, this theatre was owned by Gaman, who came from a small village near Multan. It has continued after his death and is still all-male, the female roles being played by male performers dressed up as women. This theatre continues to survive well and draws its strength from the southern city of Multan. Gaman’s family and the people who had worked with him carry on the tradition. Tufail Theatre: The nationally famous folk singer Tufail Niazi had worked in several theatres. Finally, he formed his own theatre company with his relatives and friends. He played the leading role as the hero in his theatre and rose to fame as a singer. He died in 1990. Other Theatres: Apart from the theatres described above, numerous theatres sprung up overnight and had a short-lived existence. Bali Jatti’s Shama Theatre was the only one owned by a woman and lasted sixteen years. The very traditional Bau Jan Theatre remained for a very long time, but never rose to the great heights of the Watan or Kisan Theatres. The Lucky Theater was started by the electricians that supplied the festival grounds with generators and the electrical equipment. It soon

Women in Lok Theatre


merged with a circus and was transformed into the Lucky Irani Circus, which is today the best known of Pakistani circuses. With the exception of the Watan and Gaman theatres, most of the theatres died by the end of the seventies.

THE LIFE OF WOMEN IN THE LOK THEATRE A significant number of women were linked to the Lok Theatre not only as performers, but also as the family members of the theatre staff. The whole group lived together as a community. The women in the theatre represented all age groups: infants, children, old women, mothers, housewives and professional performers. In this constellation, the performing women were at the apex of the female hierarchy after the high status accorded to the women in the owner’s family. Performing women were known by the roles they played in the theatre and were generally referred to as heroines, character actresses, singers and dancers. One performer could certainly be more than one of the above, but they would be known for a certain kind of performance. The names of some of the prominent female performers of the Lok Theatre mentioned more frequently during the investigation are listed here. While the list is not exhaustive, it certainly provides examples of artists who were famous for certain types of roles. A closer look at some of these women appears at the end of this chapter.



Classical Actresses

Khurshid Kuku

Naznin Mano

Iqbal Begum

Bali Jacti

Nargis Amrican Putli

Asha Posle

Gulzar Jatti








Shabiha Khanum

Roshan Ara Jchan Ara

This classification is not necessarily reflective of the actual versatility that these women showed: a heroine could be relegated to a character actress, while singers and dancers could easily take over character roles.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

For example, Iqbal Begum was a famous heroine of the Phdji Shah Theatre; she moved over to character roles as she grew older. In general, the heroines were the highest in the hierarchy, but an aging heroine could fall to a character role. The same fate awaited the dancers and singers. However, it was rare for anyone to rise from a character or a song and dance role to that of a heroine.

THE LIVING ENVIRONMENT The living environment as described by the women interviewed was similar to that of an extended family. Most of the people in the Theatre Company were either on a one-year contract or employed permanently. They thus developed a feeling of belonging to a community while travelling together from place to place, a community sharing both adversity and happiness. The compound behind the theatre enclosure had tents erected for the staff. The owner— and sometimes the main star as well— normally had bigger round tents. All others had more modest A-tents. As most of the artists had their families with them, each tent functioned like a separate household in the compound. Married women had their husbands and children, whereas unmarried, separated or divorced women lived with their fathers, brothers or some other (usually male) blood relative.

REAL LIFE BACKSTAGE Exhausted after performing all night, the woman of the theatre came back to her little tent in the small hours of the morning. She removed all her make up, put aside her jewellery and stepped into her ‘real world’. For her, show business was an artificial life, which an actress put up for the public. Stripped of all glamour, it was a struggle for survival. After changing her clothes, she said her morning prayers and went to sleep. She got up in the afternoon, made her tent clean and tidy and sprinkled water on the dirt floor to make the dust settle. Depending on her prosperity and support, she cooked her own food or had it cooked either by a less fortunate member of the family or a servant. After doing other household chores, she had to go in the afternoon for the rehearsal of the performance to come. Rehearsals were usually held either in the owner’s tent or a separate tent, where a literate munshi would help the generally unlettered performers memorize their lines. After the

Women in Lok Theatre


rehearsal, she took care of her children if she had any and prepared for the variety show, which started in the late afternoon and evening. At sunset, she began to prepare her clothes and jewellery for that night’s performance. The play normally started around nine o’ clock and continued all night. Performing all night was hard work. As women were the ones doing most of the dances, it would get very tiring for them. Bali Jatti still bears the scars of heavy anklet bells (ghungru) on her ankles. She said her ankles would start bleeding after several hours of dancing. On days when there was no performance, women would get together and go shopping if they could find the time. Most of their free time was spent in cooking large amounts of food and entertaining the guests of their men folk.

THEATRE WOMEN AND THEIR ADMIRERS The living quarters of the theatre folk were marked off by a perimeter of thick canvas screens (qanat) surrounded by a paling of barbed wire and guarded by one or two watchmen (chaukidar). The general public was strictly kept away from the living quarters. However, a certain degree of permeability in this strongly delineated boundary did exist, as some people who had given award money (inam) to the female performers during performances wanted to meet them. An admirer of a star would come to meet the star or have a cup of tea with her. These admirers would ensure that her husband or father would be informed of their wish. The latter would screen the admirers by talking to them and conveying their wishes to the female stars. They would talk to the admirer first and then ask the women if they were interested in meeting the fans. No woman interviewed mentioned any use of force by their men folk, though some cajoling in favour of particularly wealthy admirers was done. It was up to the woman if she wanted to meet with them or not. In case she agreed, they would meet in a group where the admirer, with one or two of his friends, the actress and her father or husband or some other relative would sit together and talk. If an actress refused to see any admirers after the performance, she would make a point of proudly letting everyone in the compound know. She would also take pride in boasting that men from the audience would lay wagers with each other just to glance at her face without make up, or be able to have a cup of tea with her without having to address her as ‘sister’. This last part was important, for any woman offering hospitality


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

as a classificatory sister could not be considered to be a future romantic partner. Naznin Mano related an incident where they were performing in a cinema hall. The owners of the cinema wanted to meet her and her father for tea. Her father refused their invitation very rudely, which incensed the owners and their friends. Shortly thereafter, news leaked out that plans were afoot to have some of the theatre women kidnapped. Theatre owner Cheena Pehalwan ran away to safety with his wife Gulzar Jatti and her friend Bali Jatti, leaving everyone else behind. The silver-tongued Inayat Hussain Bhatti saved the situation: he talked with the cinema owners in an obsequious and reasonable manner, with the result that they agreed that the kidnapping plan had been the result of an ill-founded rumour. The incident was thus reverted. However, when it was discovered that Cheena Pehalwan had run away with Gulzar and Bali, much laughter ensued: the girls said, ‘He took the old women with him and left all the young girls behind!’ Khurshid Kuku mentioned a case where one of her admirers was a very rich man. He begged his way to her tent and talked to her husband. He wanted to give Khurshid a large amount of money as inam to her directly: ‘My husband came in the tent several times to convince me that all the man wanted was to reward me for my wonderful performance on stage. Finally I told my husband to take the money on my behalf.’ An atmosphere of erotic tension was thus maintained between the theatre women and their admirers, who had to run the gauntlet of watchmen, fathers and husbands in order to be able to see and talk to the women. The cup of tea was the symbolic threshold to other possibilities: wealthy or assertive members of the male audience could, with luck and resources, end up with a love affair or marriage with a performing woman, or they could be talked into investing money into the theatre as an enterprise. If however, neither was forthcoming, their linkage with the inner sanctum of the theatre compound was terminated rather hastily.

THE WORLD OUTSIDE The theatre performances would usually be a part of a bigger festival where the other performances of skill and courage like the ‘Well o f Death’ (maut ka kuan), or other circuses and magic shows were going on. All these performers were bound by their occupations and had developed a feeling of belonging to one community. A great deal of ad-hoc solidarity developed among them against an outside environment that they

Women in Lok Theatre


commonly perceived as a source of income, but also imbued with hostility. Women had minimum interaction with the people other than those working with them, with a few notable exceptions such as the outgoing and the brave Bali Jatti. She was one of the few women who actually owned a theatre company. Once, at a festival, a policeman used his stick on Mian Shaukat, a lion tamer in a circus. Bali got so angry that she grabbed a microphone to make an emotional and impassioned speech on the spot: ‘We are all in this business together and we must protest against such injustice. If we do not, these attacks on our integrity will continue and increase. I will be the first to close down my theatre in protest and everyone should do so.’ Her powerful speech sparked off a general strike of the performing groups. This strike allegedly proved strong enough to put pressure on the police into an unconditional apology to the lion tamer. Such cases of courageous female engagement, however, were few and far between. In general, all the business dealings were done for the women by their fathers, husbands or other male relatives. Women were never permitted the opportunity to develop any business skills. Even in cases where their husbands were the owners of the theatre, very few were able to gain any power in terms of managing the business. The suppression and control of female entrepreneurial talent by males was thus a built-in feature of the theatre world. Their creative ideas and astute business sense was simply appropriated by their men and used for their own advancement.

RELIGION AND STIGMA: THE DILEMMA Most women working in the theatre did not join this field of their own free will, with the exception of those who were born and brought up in the theatre community. However, the exercise of such a will within the constraints of the conditioning they received in the theatre world could hardly be construed as free. All the women contacted for this study expressed the guilt and burden they carried because of the stigma attached to their occupation. They said it was not their talent or capabilities that prompted them to perform, but their helplessness (majburi). Whenever they got a chance, they chose a different profession for earning a livelihood. According to their religious and ethical socialization, performing in front of ‘alien men’ {ghair mard) was not allowed. Women in the segment of society they represented usually wore an opaque veil (burqa). To resolve the contradiction between their socialized value system


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and their practice, they developed a two-tiered conceptual framework: a ‘true face’ (asli chehra) juxtaposed to a ‘false face’ (naqli chehra). They thus brought themselves to believe that the ‘alien men’ of which the audience constituted saw only their false face, a face they made up for the stage. Their true face without makeup remained essentially their own. In their everyday public life they always wore the conservative veil. Most o f them sought support for this ideology from the mystic holy men (/>/>), who would obligingly absolve them of guilt and assure them that the work they did with the sweat of their brow was indeed permitted (halal) as opposed to dishonest (haram) labour. Reinforcement of this ideology was also provided by the older men of the theatre, who helped them to believe that there was nothing wrong with their profession. This discrepancy between their learned religious values and the demands of their profession resulted in an exaggerated emphasis on religion. It was very common for performing women to say their prayers six times a day (including the late night prayer of tahajud) and keep all the fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. A deep religiosity was thus used to nullify the distress and the guilt that confronted them because of their calling. The predominant religious sect of choice for the female performers whatever their actual religious origin was the Shia faith. The universalistic worldview of this sect and its close association in the Punjab with Sufi mystic saints lent itself to this end. Even those theatre people who were not Shia followed rituals associated with this faith.

WOMEN, VIOLENCE AND MANIPULATION As far as the men in the theatre company apart from their own immediate fathers or husbands were concerned, the women were unanimous in asserting that they felt very comfortable with them. Even though romances and marriages took place within this group, there was no danger or feeling of insecurity among women from the men living around them. The only physical danger they had was from their own ‘guardians’. Wife beating was very common. When asked about the frequency of such incidents in the theatre community, an old experienced actor said, ‘It happened every day. Some women in our group would get beaten up every day.’ Bali Jatti spoke of the time when her husband would put her hands under the bedposts and sleep with his second wife upon the same bed. At times, people from other tents would come to help but they usually ignored such incidents as an internal affair of the immediate family.

Women in Lok Theatre


Nevertheless, the theatre community occasionally acted as a buffer against extreme cruelty. The most common inducements for such violence were, my informants told me, money, jealousy and womens assertive reaction to their husbands’ love affairs. The pattern that emerged after interviewing several theatre artists was that owners of the theatres would usually have one wife at home (gharelu bivi), a second at the theatre and a third wife in the film industry if they found access to that medium. In addition, they would have a string of mistresses from time to time. Some theatre owners were known for what was euphemistically referred to as their iove for women’. When asked about the reason for such a pattern, the informants explained that control of women through emotional manipulation was essential to maintain the core group of the theatre: for example, a wife and a mistress who were a heroine and a character actress could both be kept with the theatre by bestowing attention on them. This then worked as a permanent store of unpaid labour in the tough and competitive world of the Lok Theatre, ensuring its stability and success. Performers were booked every year. More and more money was offered by the owners to get the best stars for their shows. Even when popular performers were booked for one year, the owners constantly lived with the apprehension that a rival theatre would take them away by offering more money to them. In case the artist left in the middle of the year, the performance of the theatre would suffer enormously. However, when the owner of the theatre could play the hero and his wife the heroine, a large part of his troubles were taken care of. A wife would not leave the husband and go to another theatre. The owner also saved money as he could get by without paying her. In addition, the owner would employ his own and his wife’s relatives so that they would stick together and be manipulated when necessary. For example, Mian Anwar, owner of the Shahjehan Theatre, saw Khurshid Kuku at Phaji Shah’s Theatre, where she was making her career debut. An understanding developed between Mian Anwar and Khurshid Kuku and he booked her for his own theatre for the following year. He married her in the same year, thus ensuring that she worked for his theatre exclusively for the remaining sixteen years of his career. In return for the prestige and security that marriage to an owner gave her, she had to relinquish any remuneration. For more than sixteen years, she was never paid by her avaricious husband, who even took away the award money that an appreciative audience showered upon her. So popular was she that she was


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

able to build a house in Lahore with a fourth o f the award money that she secretly held back from her husband. This pattern of marrying a famous or a potentially famous star still exists. Bashir Lohar, who owns the most successful living Lok Theatre today has married the heroine o f his theatre, which resulted in a considerable saving of expenses. This pattern was replicated in the film industry, where the directors and producers married rising heroines and confined them to work only in their own films. Rani, the famous film actress, started her career as a dancer struggling to become a heroine. Her producer-director husband rocketed her to fame by pulling her up to her desired status, in return for which she relinquished any claim on remuneration. All such relationships, however, were not exploitative: the most famous exception is the film director and owner of the Shahnoor Studios in Lahore, Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, who married the most popular film singer in Pakistan, Noor Jehan. We see how women were controlled and manipulated by the men of the Lok Theatre. The modes of manipulation ranged from romantic companionship, marriage and presents on the one hand and jealousy, violence or threats of violence, separation or divorce on the other. This generated fear, insecurity and distress among the women who had already been socialized to obey men in a patriarchal conceptual domain. They thus became the victims of dependency, providing services of cash income and sexual pleasure to their men while the latter continued to exploit their labour. Given below are some of the stories of these talented women that allow us a glimpse into the various aspects of their lives.

KHURSHID KUKU Khurshid was one of the most popular heroines of her times, a role she used to play in a repertoire of twenty-one plays. She started her theatre career from Phaji Shah’s Theatre, and was associated with the Shahjehan Theatre for most of her performing career. Her father, a very brutal and violent man, pushed her into this profession. He started her off with a year’s contract with Phaji Shah’s theatre. Her good looks and graceful movements made her very popular. Mian Anwar, the owner of Shahjehan Theatre, astutely saw in her a rising star and promptly booked her for his theatre for the following year. He married her within the same year.

Women in Lok Theatre


Mian Anwar was also known for his brutality and violence. Despite the hardships Khurshid endured during her time with him, she remained his wife for twenty years until his death. Like most theatre owners, Mian Anwar had a ‘domestic wife’ at his permanent home in Faisalabad. Other than that, he had married and divorced several women and had numerous mistresses. In fear of meeting the same fate as his divorced wives, Khurshid submitted totally to him. She became a virtual slave to Mian Anwar, cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, not only for him but also for his mistresses and friends. An indolent man, he was too arrogant to use the common toilet of the theatre people, preferring to relieve himself in his own tent and forcing Khurshid to take his excrement out. When interviewed, Khursid put out both her hands in a dramatic gesture and said, ‘These two hands have removed his shit regularly from our tent.’ As Mian Anwar was the owner of the theatre, Khurshid was paid nothing for her performances. Even the prize money that the audience showered on her (ranging from fifty to two hundred rupees per performance) was taken away from her. In desperation she contrived to hide about a fourth of the prize money to pay for the expenses of her children. She herself lived a life of extreme poverty. Despite her unremitting slavish loyalty and devotion Khurshid was subjected to the fate she feared: Mian Anwar married Bali Jatti and unceremoniously threw Khurshid out of his tent. It was then that she realized how tenuous and insecure her existence had become while living with him. She recalls how this rejection made her painfully aware of the future of her children. Khurshid has four daughters and two sons from Mian Anwar. She is very proud of the fact that she didn’t let any one of them join the field of theatre. Her only focus in life has been her children. Her own theatre career ended with the downfall of the Shahjehan Theatre and the subsequent death of her husband a few years later. After leaving the theatre, she and her children had to work very hard to make a living in the world of ‘virtuous’ people (i.e. people who were not in the entertainment business). She tried her hand at several business ventures to stay alive. She sold clothes as a retailer, made plastic clamps and even ran a small letter press for a time. During her time with the theatre, she had never once ventured outside the compound without the veil (burqa) and her only experience of ‘outsiders’ had been from the safety of the stage. The sudden exposure to the outside world that her work now necessitated was a shock that she


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

surmounted with great difficulty. Nevertheless, she managed to overcome the stigma attached to a performer by doing ‘respectable’ hard work, a fact that she is very proud of. She married in the late 1980s, after prolonged pressure from her father and other relatives and friends. The final decision was prompted by the fact that she wanted to marry off her second daughter, but had no money for the dowry. A man from Faisalabad who knew her from the times when she used to perform on the stage had been proposing to her ever since Mian Anwar died. She finally accepted his proposal and he helped provide the dowry for her daughter. He also supported Khurshid financially for two years, after which both his visits and gifts of money began to taper off. She now has no contact with him, though she bore him a daughter who is five years old and stays with her mother. Khurshid has placed great value on the education of her children. All o f them have had at least ten years of schooling and have passed their matriculation examination. One daughter has gone in for further study and is now completing her Intermediate Certificate (about twelve years o f schooling in all). Three daughters and a son are married, but the daughter who is still studying is ambitious and refuses to marry until she has acquired some professional skills. She plans to take a course in airline ticketing and work for Pakistan International Airlines or a travel agency at the least. At present, both Khurshid and her daughter do embroidery work on festive female dresses. Khurshid feels sad about how she was manipulated by her father and then her husband, but she is also proud that she gained her respect through her children, who are all married into ‘respectable’ households and do ‘respectable’ jobs.

NAZNIN MANO Naznin Mano’s parents were not associated with the Lok Theatre. Her father, Akhtar Ali, was a tailor by profession. When Naznin was still a child, her father’s friends managed to find her a small role in a Punjabi film Chan Wah (‘Hail the Moon’), in which she danced with other children in a scene. Among the people who were watching the shooting o f the film was the theatre owner Syed Fazal Shah, commonly known as Phaji Shah. He recognized the talent in the little girl and asked her father to bring her to the theatre, which the latter promptly did. Father and daughter both began to live there. She started off her career by performing child roles. As she grew older, she was given side-roles and finally the main

Women in Lok Theatre


ones. Apart from the Phaji Shah Theatre, she performed in several other famous theatres, such as the Kisan, Ittehad and Lucky theatres. Her father assumed the role of her agent. The owners would contact and setde the performance rates with him and he would collect the money on her behalf. She lived with him in a separate tent with a servant during her performing tours. When Naznin Mano was working in Kisan Theatre in the early 1960s, she met Inayat Hussain Bahtti, who was then in the process of rising rapidly in fame as a folk singer. A romance developed and she married him in 1964. She continued working in the theatre after her marriage. Even after a girl was born to them a few years later, she did not give up the theatre, leaving her father to look after the infant while she performed on stage. When Mano’s father died in 1971, she was left with the difficult responsibility of looking after a four-year-old child and performing at the same time. Her husband was no great help, as he only lived with her when they were both working in the same theatre. Mano left work in 1972 and moved into the house that she had started building during her career. Her father had begun to tire of the theatre life and had planned to build a little shop next to the house, where he could restart his profession of tailoring. His death put an end to this modest dream. Mano’s daughter completed twelve years of school, ending with an Intermediate Science Certificate. She taught as a science teacher in a school for a while, then gave up the job and now stays home with her mother. Mano has rented out half of her house (one of the two rooms of the house) to a family o f another theatre performer. In addition, she receives financial support from Inayat Hussain Bhatti, who has not fulfilled any other responsibility of his family other than this modest monthly stipend. Mano has largely raised her daughter on her own. Mano is gifted with a beautiful and melodious voice. Even though it had been fifteen years since she left the theatre at the time I spoke to her, she still clearly remembers her repertoire of theatre songs and the lines of the characters she used to play.

SURAYYA Surayya was a theatre child who grew up in the environment of the theatre. Her parents Bashir Salam and Khatun Begum were a famous couple of Bau Kale Khan’s theatre in pre-partition India. Both of them


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

were good singers and actors. Khatun Begum was particularly well-known for her portrayal of tragic characters. Sharing the guilt that dogged many performers, Surayyas parents tried to keep the children away from the theatre by sending them over to their relatives. They would send these relatives money for the upkeep of the children, but very little o f it was actually spent on their children. When the children visited their parents, they would be astonished at the abundance of food and other luxuries they saw at their parent’s home. They used to beg their parents to be allowed to stay on and work with them in the theatre. They relented eventually and Surayya finally entered the profession her parents had so bravely tried to keep her away from. Surayya and her sister Rukayya started working in children’s roles. Surayya was 12 years old when she played the young Laila (in the love story Laila Majnun) in the Shahjehan Theatre at the small town of Churkana in Punjab. By the end of her career, Surayya had performed in most of the big theatres: Phaji Shah, Ittehad, Shahjehan and Wali Shah. A man who wanted to marry Surayya brought his aristocratic friend, Nawab Sadiq, to watch her performance and then help him arrange his marriage. When the Nawab saw her performance, he found himself strongly attracted to her. He talked to her parents in the theatre compounds after the performance and received their permission to take Surayya out to see a film with him. During the film, he tried to touch her and was smartly slapped by her. According to Surayya, he became even more determined to marry her after this incident. The Nawab married Surayya secretly without telling his parents, who would never have permitted wedlock with such a low-status commoner. The main reason for this secrecy lay in the fact that he had never worked for a living and lived off a monthly stipend he received from his parents. Three years after the marriage, his family found out and drastically curtailed the money they were sending him. After five years of married life, he apologetically divorced her, preferring a regular income to a romance. Besides, as Surayya hesitandy mentioned, there was another woman involved. During the five years of married life, Surayya gave birth to two sons and a daughter, all of whom she had to clothe and feed from her own earnings. After her divorce, she went back to her parents. At that point, she was able to get only smaller contracts for singing. She ventured further a field by going with her sister to Karachi, where they both tried to make money in Qawwali (chorus singing with rhythmic hand-clapping)

Women in Lok Theatre


perform an ces. Sh e stayed in K arach i for ab o u t five years, after w hich she

gave up her performing career. Both she and her sister had made enough money in Karachi to invest in a house in Lahore. They both settled down in this house in 1974. Survival was still difficult for her and her children, so Surayya chose the option of remarrying, this time to Malik Arif. In retrospect, she sees both her marriages as unpleasant and bitter experiences. Her eldest son and daughter have both completed their Intermediate Certificate of education, while her second son has a Bachelors degree and is now studying law. Her children do not want to associate themselves with the theatre in any way. They tend to treat their mothers career as a skeleton in the family closet and avoid all reference to it.

CONCLUSION For a long time, the Lok Theatre enjoyed a virtual monopoly in popular entertainment. The first and most devastating inroad into this monopoly was made by the cinema, which attacked the Lok Theatre in a twofold manner: firstly, it began to attract away talent from the theatre and secondly, it pulled large crowds away from the theatre and towards the cinema. The powerful impact of entertainment provided by the national media also isolated the Lok Theatre from mainstream culture. Weakened by desertion to the cinema, caught up in their limited vision, lacking new scripts or innovative ideas, the owners of the Lok Theatre sought refuge in non-theatrical aspects. Recruitment polices changed accordingly, and the theatre became more attuned towards singing and dancing rather than acting. The brothel began to be tapped as a source and theatrical virtuosity became a secondary consideration. What was left of the theatre became increasingly imbued with vulgarity, as the constraints of censorship applied to the rival forms went unchecked in the Lok Theatre performances. Contemporary forms of theatres in Pakistan have few links either with the indigenous theatre tradition or the comparatively recent Lok Theatre. Forms of theatre that sprang up include the television drama, the parallel theatre, the street theatre and the performances organized by urban Arts Councils. These primarily urban phenomena catering to a specific class have the added advantage that, unlike the performers of the Lok Theatre, they do not generally have to do it for a living.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Lok Theatre Today

There were not many Lok Theatre groups left that featured actual plays at the time this research was conducted in the late 1980s. Among the few that still stuck to the theatre traditions include the Bashir Lohar and the Gaman Lok Theatres. One of the mainstream trends has been to highlight concerts of famous folk singers (Mansur Malangi, Afshan). However, the dominating trend has been the ‘disco show’ featuring women dressed in garish brocade western-style skirts, while the men emulate the Indian cinema hero (white sharkskin pants, white pointed shoes with buckles). In this latter trend, the musical instruments are western (a drum set if they can afford one, three bongo drums played rather like the South Asian tabid). The microphone no longer hangs from the ceiling like in the old days; instead, it is held by the performer, who elegantly trails the cable while capering across the stage. The songs mouthed are attempts to faithfully reproduce in all aspects the latest hit songs from the Indian cinema, calculated to draw the crowd in. In some cases the breakdown of the drama tradition has been complete. Loosely structured groups develop an ad-hoc association when entertainment is needed at a wedding or other festivity. They come together for one program commissioned by a patron and drift apart after it. The fare presented by them consists of songs, dances and comedy skits. It appears that the theatre tradition has broken down into the traditional entertainment sectors of the Punjab: the dancing girls of the brothels and the traditional cabarettists (bhand). All that remains of the theatre is the stage. However, traditions do not die: they transform and lend force to other traditions. The stage is likely to be used almost exclusively for songs and dance performances. Increasing economic pressures will probably shift the trend from the open ticketed shows towards specific bookings by patrons. The acting talent will be absorbed by the other media. There are also strong indicators that ‘video theatre’ will emerge as a private sector enterprise by this community.

Theatre Women For most theatre owners in Pakistan (the Gaman Theatre is a notable exception), it was convenient to retain female actors. Women in the Lok Theatre were economic assets: for the owners, they were the crowd-pullers; for their men (husbands, fathers, lovers and brothers), they were lucrative investments to be tapped at whim.

Women in Lok Theatre


During interviews with theatre women in the course of this study, certain similarities have been observed. A pattern emerges that provides valuable insight not only for the women of the theatre, but also of the situation of women in the entertainment industry in general: Most of the theatre women were ‘theatre children, i.e., the children of performing families; another source of recruitment was the more depressed economic class of the society. Rarely did women join the Lok Theatre of their own volition: they were usually brought in by male relatives or friends. Motivation among the theatre children was comparatively high, while women brought in from outside sometimes did not even know what they were getting themselves into. A theatre woman was seldom financially independent and was almost always actively controlled by a male agent, who negotiated the contract, signed for her and took the advance payment on her behalf. This agent also made the major decisions regarding her career in connivance with the theatre owner. As a result, women had very little control over their income: the best they could manage was a small amount surreptitiously put away from the money (inam) received during a performance. The control and manipulation did not end with finances. They were dominated and abused both physically and mentally. Verbal insults and beatings were common and tacitly accepted by the theatre community. A theatre woman’s marriage was either with the owner, a fellow performer or a wealthy fan. The theatre owner tended to marry a rising female star, both to save money and to retain successful talent to his theatre. In the search for security, the theatre woman’s utopia was a house of her own. Working towards this goal, she gave the money she had secretly saved to her trusted kin or friends. This trust was the only way out, for any support she received in child rearing or housekeeping invariably came from that quarter. Even though some of these women were able to eventually move into a house of their own with their children, these former queens of the stage were living lives of economic hardship at the time they were interviewed. However, even as they share stories about the pain they have suffered from various quarters, the pride they took in their work and the memories of the love their fans showered on them continues to bring joy to some of them, such as Nazni Mano and Bali Jatti; these women talk about their performing years with enthusiasm. Others, particularly whose children did not approve of their mother’s prior occupation, and perhaps who had internalized society’s standards of what respectable work is and who ‘good’ women are, were more hesitant. Yet


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

despite their relationship to their work, their talent, courage and hard work is to be admired, and their contributions to the performing arts in this country remembered.


Women and Poverty: Salient Findings from a Gendered Analysis of a Quasi-Anthropological Study in Rural Punjab and Sindh 1 L u bn a N azir C h a u d h r y

INTRODUCTION his paper is based on data generated from the margins.2 O f course, there are no margins without centres. Margins are produced because there are centres, and the margins exist to consolidate the centres. In writing from and about the margins, the paper takes into account the relations between these centres and margins. While the intention is to privilege rural women’s constructions and experiences of poverty, and their vulnerability and insecurity, as revealed by the study in six sites in rural Sindh and Punjab, the paper also contextualizes these constructions and experiences in the larger material, social, ideational, and political forces within which women and the spaces they inhabit are embedded. What men had to say about women’s lives as well as facts elicited from various other sources are used to shed light on women, their lives, and the multi-faceted gender constructions that shape and are shaped by women’s experiences. In the context of this report and the study, poverty is a multiplex socio­ economic phenomenon, and refers to more than the level of household income.3 This assumption requires that numerous aspects of household survival must be scrutinized in relation to public spaces, access to services, and opportunities for change. The larger study on which this paper is based aimed at understanding poverty and the experience of the poor with reference to public services, the rule of law, electoral process, and risks. A key component of the investigation was livelihood opportunities and the links between livelihoods and feudal, market, and state structures. With respect to risks,



Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the objective was to understand the kinds of risks faced by the poor, the options and recourses available to them in combating these risks, and the ways in which social and political institutions come into play in experiencing poverty. A central aspect of the study was, therefore, understanding what makes the poor particularly vulnerable to idiosyncratic and covariate shocks. The study analyzed peoples access to the coping and cushioning mechanisms provided by the state and by informal community networks. The quasianthropological mode of the study—that is, the design that allowed for an in-depth mapping of both institutional and informal processes—was developed in order to theorize and analyze the power relations that marginalize, silence, and oppress the poor, thereby perpetuating poverty. Exclusion from processes that open up possibilities of sociopolitical transformation of living conditions, whether through engagement in community-initiated collective action, or state-sanctioned democratic and participatory initiatives, was seen as a crucial factor in keeping the poor mired in poverty. The focus in this report is not exclusively on women who self-identify as ‘poor’ or on those who are perceived by others as belonging to poor households. Gender concerns are intertwined with poverty; they also transcend the poverty-affluence dichotomy. Gender hierarchies within affluent households make women vulnerable and potentially insecure. Also, public spaces are gendered, and women’s experiences outside the home, although varied across caste, class, and regional contexts, are informed by multi-layered constructions of gender that can conflate local, regional, institutional, national, and transnational discourses. Moreover, rural women in Pakistan, for the most part, no matter what class or caste they claim, remain peripheral to collective action enterprises. If participation and ‘voice’ in such enterprises are conceptualized as key determinants of not being poor, then women living in affluent households, if they are excluded or only marginally involved in collection action, are also valid subjects of a study on poverty. This is not to disregard the significance of class and caste divisions or to downplay material deprivations. The analysis brings out the specificities of women’s experiences. Furthermore, an analysis that scrutinizes women’s lives and roles across classes and castes allows for an exploration of exceptions, whereby women might have been key players in collective action, albeit in ways that might have been ultimately rendered invisible. This affords the opportunity to go beyond an understanding of vulnerability to highlight events and instances where conditions were

Women and Poverty


created for women’s participation and effective contribution to community imperatives in public spaces. The paper puts women at the centre of analysis. It highlights women’s experiences and combines this with a perspective that retains gender as a category of analysis. It explains how poverty translates into different experiences with different implications for men and women. The differences between the lives and experiences of men and women, including those designated or identified as ‘poor,’ are manifested across the myriad dimensions of their lives: livelihood opportunities, sexuality, duties and entitlements in households and communities, and perceptions of appropriate behaviour, to name a few. These differences are not a straightforward consequence of discourses and structures that sanction male privilege and authority. Rather, they result from the complex enmeshing of discourses and structures, whereby gender-based privilege and authority can be undermined, reinforced, or complicated through interfaces with other vectors of analysis, including caste and class. Within the socio-cultural context under investigation, the household is seen as the locus of women’s lives. However, in order to understand gender relations within households, the dynamics of relations inside households need to be linked to structural happenings at the local, regional, and national levels and to the operation of state and market institutions. Each of these processes has economic, legal, political, and ideological dimensions. The paper mainly analyses the articulation of the relationship between gender and local structures of domination, although linkages to wider power structures, national, transnational, and otherwise, are made explicit where necessary. Macro-micro connections, however, are only pointed out, and successive chains in the links between various levels of power relations have not been traced. My primary concern is with the documentation of women’s experiences and analysis of gender relations within the immediacy of community-rooted and customary norms of village patriarchies as they intersect with economic and political discourses directly shaping the lives of men and women in the different sites. Gender, caste, class, and religion are the analytic categories underlying village configurations of hierarchy, difference, and power. The primary focus, then, is on how these intersect in multiple ways in different spatial and temporal contexts within and across administrative units defined as sites of our quasi-anthropological study. The scope of this report eschews a detailed consideration of macro-level power structures and their impact on women’s lives. This is not to


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

discount the importance of what Watson-Gegeo (1992) has called thick explanation,’ the need to take ‘into account all relevant and theoretically salient micro and macro contextual influences that stand in a systematic relationship to the behaviour or events one is attempting to explain’ (p.44). Such a project would entail a historical understanding of multi­ layered structural forces and their interface with local power configurations o f each site. For instance, the differential availability of resources across sites needs to be contextualized within the political relationship between Sindh and Punjab since 1947, as well as that between Lower and Upper Punjab. This differential is a possible explanation for the three sites in Upper Punjab having functional government girls’ schools. Also, the rising costs of agricultural inputs that that has made farming especially expensive for those with smaller plots to cultivate have to be understood in relation to the rise of diesel prices internationally as well as the removal o f state subsidies in response to globalization pressures. The general buying power of households across sites has also decreased because of inflation, including increased fuel costs and electricity tariffs, a consequence of stringent structural adjustment policies. Another issue is the dynamic interface of gender norms at the village level with state-sanctioned discourses and legislature with respect to women.4 The passing of the Hudood Ordinance5 during the military regime of Ziaul Haq, and the inability of the Senate in recent years to take a stand against so-called ‘honour killings’ have proven inimical to women all over Pakistan, not only to those charged with a Hadd6 case or to those being persecuted in the name of honour. Finally, even the caste and kinship hierarchies underpinning local power relations are dynamic constructs that shift over time and space as a consequence of macro and micro imperatives. The agricultural versus non-agricultural division of peoples was consolidated under British colonial rule.7 Biraadrism, the social and political grouping of people along kinship and/or caste lines, was carried to new heights and in some ways reinvented during the elevenyear rule of Ziaul Haq.8 Again, this report will not always bring in the required historical depth and macro-level connections, but it is important that this backdrop be acknowledged as the preliminary analysis is presented. Although the report is restricted to a primarily micro-level analysis of trends across sites, the study is not motivated by a perspective that conceptualizes poverty as a micro-level issue, whereby bandage interventions at the local level will suffice. In-depth micro level investigations at the six sites complicate our understanding of social,

Women and Poverty


economic, and political processes creating and perpetuating poverty. People’s lives are complex, and policies that have failed to take into account this complexity have not been very successful. This study is our bid to grasp at some of these complexities in order to arrive at a more nuanced vision for policy formulation and implementation. It also appears that in attempting to generate this nuanced picture of poverty and women, the report remains circumscribed by mainstream conceptions of development, whereby the presence and maintenance of institutions associated with a Western liberal state are being deemed necessary for women’s escape from poverty, and subsequent empowerment. The study does scrutinize women’s inclusion and participation in statesanctioned as well as informal institutions, but this is not because the incorporation of women into these structures is the only envisioned path to enhanced well-being, equity, and justice. Women’s experiences and relationships with these institutions provide a vantage point from which to ascertain the extent to which women across the sites have power over their lives. This does not foreclose the possibility of going beyond the normative constructions of justice and equity in a Western liberal democracy. In order to be studied, women’s lives must be contextualized within existing power structures; however, the final section of the paper highlights how existing power structures must be transformed in order to realize the demands of justice and equity. Since Pakistan aspires to the trappings of modern democracy in some form, looking to state apparatus (such as education and the rule of law) to better serve women’s interests gives us a point of departure, even as we reiterate that poverty and exploitation can not be eradicated in a system where wealth and privilege remain in the hands of a few, nationally and internationally. The following section of the study delineates the design of the study and the particular challenges of conducting research with women in rural contexts in Pakistan. The section after that presents the salient findings across the sites under eleven sub-headings derived from issues identified as key to an understanding of women and poverty within the context of the study. The final section titled ‘Discussion/Conclusion’ brings together the diverse strands of the paper by positing hypotheses based on key themes of the report, offering policy recommendations, and delineating future directions for research.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

METHODOLOGICAL ISSUES Design of the Study The study utilized a mutli-layered methodology derived from ethnographic modes o f research. Data was collected chiefly through different interview processes. Participant observation was restricted to documenting the spatial and interactional context in which the interviewing was embedded. The design was quasi-anthropological in the sense that research participants’ constructions of reality were used as points of entry into analyses of economic, political, and social processes. Given the economic slant o f the study, a positivist mode o f interpretation, involving corroboration and arriving at a composite picture through the layering of multiple perspectives ultimately predominated over the anthropological approach of privileging peoples’ systems of meaning. The design was finalized after pre-tests in two sites in Punjab. The formal phase of fieldwork was conducted in six administrative units, in six contiguous agro-ecological zones in Punjab and Sindh. The research team, four men and four women, including the two lead researchers, spent around a week in each site. Following is a list of the sites, as they are referred to in the context of this report. The name of the administrative unit has been changed, but the actual name of the district has been retained: 1) Raheema, District Attock, Punjab 2) Akalipur, District Faisalabad, Punjab 3) Maanki, District Hafizabad, Punjab 4) Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, Punjab 5) Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, Sindh 6) Deh Darro, District Larkana, Sindh With the exception of the Faisalabad site, these administrative units consist o f several residential clusters. In District Muzaffargarh and the two sites in Sindh the residential clusters are quite far apart and retain enough of a distinctive identity to merit consideration as separate residential villages. In addition to questionnaires and observation instruments devised specifically to facilitate exploration of healthcare and schooling facilities, the research team worked with four other types of interview protocols: 1) a site-mapping questionnaire, used to elicit information in broad strokes about the entire village from knowledgeable individuals or groups; 2) a

Women and Poverty


sub-community questionnaire, used to solicit information and perspectives from distinct sub-communities in the village. These were usually collectivities that derived their primary identity from a kinship or caste affiliation. These group discussions were most often segregated in terms o f gender, but at times the groups were mixed; 3) a household questionnaire, designed to gather information and details from specific households with respect to issues already highlighted in the site and sub­ community mapping exercises; 4) a protocol for in-depth interviews. These were conducted when there was a need to probe particular research participants’ assessments or experiences outside the relatively structured format of the household questionnaire. This level of interviewing was especially valuable in gaining a gendered understanding of intra-household power dynamics and the redistribution of resources within a household. The data collection process struck a balance between the demands of rigor and the imperative to be flexible. Rigor was ensured through the use of systematic questionnaires, and the demarcation of fieldwork encounters into bounded units classified as interactions. Researchers, however, had to be flexible in their use of these questionnaires, as research participants would not always adhere to the strict order of questions as listed in the protocol during our discussions. In rural contexts, urban norms o f privacy were difficult to maintain: as they conducted data collection sessions, researchers needed to weave in and out of the group discussion format to individual or at least household level interactions. Similarly, household level interactions had occasionally to be abandoned in favour o f a group discussion if people from outside the household joined the discussion. The mode of inquiry guiding data collection in a site was primarily thematic in that insights and facts yielded by initial interactions were used as leads into further interactions. For example, lists of poor households and/or poor women generated by initial site mappings were used to identify further research participants. Kinship-based sub-communities were similarly identified through these mappings. Sub-community and household level exercises were then conducted with representatives of these different collectivities. Initial mappings would also highlight, for instance, the rule of law issues in the site, which would then be understood more fully from various perspectives in subsequent interactions. A m eticulous documentation o f this theme-based inquiry helped systematicize the eventual body of knowledge created through the process.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

On Researching Women During the pre-tests it became clear that design requirements for research with women differed markedly from research in predominantly male spaces. These differences were both conceptual and processual. Conceptually, as we were devising questionnaires, collecting data, and then choosing material for synthesis into a report, the other researchers and I had to be alert to the idea that if we were looking to women to be factually correct in all instances, we were placing ourselves in the position of dismissing a lot of information we were gathering in female spaces. Fact gathering and corroboration of these facts was a priority, but so were women’s knowledge and their interpretations of reality, including village politics and other arenas from which they were usually barred. Even if we received what could be constituted as inaccurate facts in many instances, it was important to understand how women gave meaning to their lives, since this process shed light on how they negotiated everyday power structures. Processually, this meant that we needed to adapt our data collection mechanisms, to the extent that it was possible, to womens routines and their interactional styles. Women, unlike men, are not accustomed to public interactions of the kind that we organized during our data collection. We had to be patient with interruptions and skilful at either utilizing or re-diverting digressions from the topic under discussion. Also women, unlike men, rarely have the luxury of time off from household responsibilities or their children, and we had to accommodate to these conditions in an interview. Long interviews meant unnecessary exhaustion for research participants, but interviews could be stretched if researchers synchronized their data collection with household rhythms. For instance, it helped to make allowances for women to leave the group and rejoin after they had taken care of the livestock. Interviews were also conducted while women cooked their meals, or while they were engaged in agricultural activities that they did not see as requiring much concentration. At every stage from the data collection to the writing up we had to remain vigilant to the tendency to subordinate data collected with women and in female spaces to the picture that emerged from interactions in the public, primarily male, spaces. The danger was especially acute in a study on poverty of this kind, whereby institutional processes were given heavy weightage. It would be very easy to justify the dismissal or negation of womens perspectives in some cases on the grounds that they were too removed from the dynamics of the public spaces we wanted to investigate.

Women and Poverty


Tensions would sometimes run high in the team when male and female researchers would take polarized positions with respect to an issue based on their own interactions in the field. For instance, in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, the women in the research team objected to the male researchers talking about the prevalent sexual exploitation in the site as transactions. The research participants the women had talked to interpreted recent incidents in the site as violations against women. Incorporating diverse viewpoints into field accounts— rather than attempting to arrive at the reconstruction of the ‘one truth’— helped to address these tensions. The challenge, then, in collecting, analyzing, and writing up the data, was how not to collude with the structural forces that erase, exclude or marginalize women’s realities from the mainstream socioeconomic narratives of our times. These issues warrant a separate paper, but I here wanted to at least draw attention, even if briefly, to the particular challenges of researching women.

SALIENT FINDINGS ACROSS SITES This section presents the salient findings of the study with respect to eleven dimensions crucial to an investigation of women and poverty in rural Sindh and Punjab. Here I utilize a broad-stroke mechanism, wedding analysis with description to present a synthesis of trends across sites as well a5 chief exceptions to these trends. Examples from different sites illustrate key findings. With respect to the following delineation, the divisions of people’s realities into neat, segmented headings are at the best arbitrary. Overlaps might occur between the subject matter of the following sub-sections, and I make analytical judgments about where to present material that might be relevant to multiple sections.

The Women in the Sites: Axes of Difference Rural women in Pakistan are not a homogenous group. Multiple axes of belonging and identification interface with constructions of womanhood and gender relations in a site to create specific realities and experiences for the female population. There are provincial and regional differences among the women because of different histories and geographies. These differences have meant differential access to resources, facilities and livelihood opportunities. Even within the same site, women cannot be bracketed into one collectivity just as one socially stratified site cannot be conceptualized as one community with common aspirations, experiences,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and issues. The differences between women from different collectivities within a site imply different relationships to the centres of power within the site and beyond. Women and their households can be situated in more than one identifiable collectivity. Caste, class, religion, and geographical location are the chief vectors of differentiation among the women within the different sites. These vectors mediate and are mediated by relations of domination and subordination, indicating the boundaries and overlaps between various collectivities within an administrative unit. None of the six sites in the study has a landlord we could designate as a powerful feudal at the district or provincial level, yet power bases exist in each site whereby feudal-like structures work with other modalities of authority to ensure hierarchical systems of control. A key facet o f these systems of control in each site is the delimiting of women’s lives so that the reproductive and productive labour required from them is assured. Nesting within the larger system of control are other codes of authority at the sub-community and household levels that intersect to determine gender norms organizing the lives of women and men within and across caste, class, and religious lines. Although the job of having and rearing children is a common denominator, the exact nature o f the labour expected from women is what is different for women from different collectivities and strata. The modalities of control through gender norms are flexible, and even contradictory, enough to accommodate these different expectations. In Raheema, District Attock, Punjab, for instance, the wives of the Khan9 landlords are primarily expected to service their husbands and nurture their children, so any women who wants to work outside the home is frowned upon. Yet, these women from the Khan households can only devote their entire existence to looking after their husbands and children because women from Kammi Kameen (a group o f castes designated as lower castes; literally those who serve) households come to their houses to do the domestic chores. For the women from various Awan sub-castes in the site, on the other hand, working in the fields cultivated by their households generally as sharecroppers is seen as an extension of their role as nurturers who ensure food security for their household. Some poorer Awan women also work as labourers in fields cultivated by other households, including the Khans. A group of Awan households, however, living away from the central village in smaller clusters, known as ‘dhoks,’ that are surrounded by fields, are adamant about their women not working on Khan land as a symbol of their resistance. The Kammi Kameen women, for the most part, do not work in the fields in this site, as their

Women and Poverty


households’ participation in agriculture is mostly limited to harvest time. They contribute to household income by working in other people’s homes or by doing embroidery. In Raheema, as in other sites, kinship group, or caste, is deployed as the primary identity label by people themselves and others. However, experiences within a kinship group or caste are also mediated by other realities, such as household income, land ownership, occupation, and geographical location, which then become identifiers in their own right. Sharecroppers in the different sites, for instance, have specific identity labels that bracket them as a collectivity. In Raheema, sharecroppers are referred to as kashtkaar (cultivator; farmer) or zamindar (literally ‘of the land’). In Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, sharecroppers are called lh a a r isDifferent castes, categorized collectively as Kammi Kameen in the four Punjab sites, are named to reflect the particular services they have been historically affiliated with. For Nats (haircutters) and Mochis (shoemakers), for instance, the caste itself is described through traditional occupations. The above example from Raheema also illustrates how women are not just marked by these vectors of differentiation, but are themselves markers of difference for various collectivities. Awan women from households in the dhoks (small clusters) represent their family’s dignity when their labour is refused to the Khans. Being restricted to the home, to be with one’s husband and children, becomes an elite practice, one that is in some form emulated by some Kammi Kameen women, who do not work outside their homes either. Women’s sanctioned roles with respect to labour become tied to an ethos of honour and respectability that manifests itself differentially in women’s lives. Gender norms of mobility and decision-making are inextricably interwoven with class and caste-based hierarchies as they impact, and are impacted by, women’s labour in different contexts. These gender norms, in conjunction with structural factors as well as other assumptions about women’s status in the household and larger community, have implications for women’s utilization of services, access to public spaces, and involvement in efforts for social transformation. These implications change according to women’s particular stage in their life cycles. Girl children, teenage unmarried girls, young married women, middle-aged women with children, unmarried middle-aged women, and older women, to name some of the categories, have different roles and responsibilities. Gender codes are therefore differentially applied, resulting in different experiences at different points in their lives. O f


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

course, neither life-cycle perceptions nor gender norms are static and continue to change over time and across contexts in response to discourses emanating from various quarters. For instance, in Raheema, the nurturing role for middle-aged Khan wives has in the last few years encompassed living with their children in Islamabad so that the children can go to ‘good schools’ as defined by the Pakistani elite. The manner in which the axes of difference between women intersect and impact women and girls with respect to various aspects of their lives will unfold in the remainder of the paper. Here I will briefly encapsulate what class, caste, religion, and geographical location mean as axes of difference in the context of the study. Caste, Class, Religion, and Geographical Location as Axes of Difference

Caste is not just the kinship collectivity a household identifies with, but also the perceptions of others as to (a) the authenticity of that claim of belonging or (b) the particular nuances of the level of belonging. For instance, in Raheema, District Attock, the sub-caste Raee, which selfidentify with the caste Awan, is regarded by others as actually belonging to the caste Araeen. Another example is that of the landless Channa households in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, who are not perceived as being genuinely Channa (by virtue of supposedly different bloodlines) by the landed Channa family. Although caste affinities are indicators of social position, not all members of the same caste enjoy the same privileges in all contexts. Kinship groups have their own hierarchies based on gender as well as class. Class remains an indicator o f social position in the sites. Class here primarily refers to socioeconomic status that is a consequence of the possession or lack of assets and resources, including land. Caste and class divisions may work independently of each other, whereby the effects of divisions created by either have the same implications for hierarchy and power relations. Among the Bhattis in Maanki, District Hafizabad, for instance, there is a clear distinction between the richer Bhatti households, with relatively bigger landholdings of 15 acres on average, and the poorer Bhatti households who have smaller landholdings, or land that is no longer cultivable. These Bhattis, unlike the landless Channas in Mouza Tibba Channa, are seen as authentically Bhatti, but are stigmatized as poor, quarrelsome, and ultimately powerless. Some of these poorer Bhattis have even entered into contractual labour arrangements known as ‘seer (labourers working under a contract) with Bhattis who are better off. The

Women and Poverty


relationship between richer and poorer Bhattis, then, takes on the dimension of relationships between landlords and Kammi Kameens. At times in certain relationships, however, depending on the context, axes of caste and class intersect with each other to complicate, intensify, or contradict hierarchical power relations. Class and caste intersections are particularly complex in the context of Akalipur, the Faisalabad site, where the power is diffused not just across various biradris (kinship groups), but also across multiple modes of production. Landed power does not enjoy any absolute authority, but works with and is, at times, contradicted by, power established through other means, including money obtained through legitimate businesses, and networks established with key political and legal figures in the region. Also, even though kinship remains significant in the demarcation and establishment of power bases, alliances for the control of resources and political clout cut across kinship lines. Coalitions are formed between the wealthier strata of different biradris, while the poorer members of their biradris are either left out or pressured to comply with the wishes of the elite. With respect to religion, only Akalipur, District Faisalabad, Punjab has a non-Muslim population. Members of the 15-20 Christian households in Akalipur refer to their identity as a matter of quom, which literally means nationality, but can also mean caste. In other sites, as well as in Akalipur, there are different sects of Muslims. These differences, however, are only salient in Akalipur and Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh. Akalipur has mosques for three different sects: Sunni, Shia, and Ahl-i-Hadees. The site has a history of sectarian strife. In Mouza Tibba Channa, most people are Sunnis, but there are some Baloch households who are Shia. A few years ago there was a dispute between the sects that almost led to violence. The geographical location of the women in the sites is generally tied to class or caste differentiations and sometimes to the nexus between the two. Even in Akalipur, the only site that consists of a single consolidated residential settlement, and where the majority of the households are not grouped along caste lines, some segments of the village house the poorer populations. One such segment, a mohallah (neighbourhood) consists of the Christian households and a few Kammi Kameen households. Another neighbourhood on the outskirts of the village that has been built illegally on common village land consists of a set of poor Faqeer (literally meaning beggars) households. Kammi Kameen households in the other three Punjab sites are for the most part segregated. In Maanki, District Hafizabad, the richer Bhattis live in different residential clusters than the poorer Bhattis.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In the various Sindh goths (residential villages) in District Nawabshah and Larkana, the populations are mosdy homogenous in terms of caste. If members of more than one caste or sub-tribe coexist in a duster, they live in different paaras (distinct neighbourhoods). A couple of goths (residential villages) that are homogenous in terms of caste have paaras where the poorer households live. The geographical location of women in an administrative unit can determine their relationship to the centres of power in the site. Earlier, I mentioned that in Raheema, District Attock, households live away from the center of the village in clusters known as ‘dhoks' (small villages). The women living in these dhoks are isolated from the mainstream life of the village, but they are also more self-confident and unafraid to state their opinion than the women living in the centre. Being away from the everyday impact of village politics and hierarchies makes them more independent in their views. Another striking illustration can be seen in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, where the physical proximity of landless Channa women to the landed Channa family bestows upon them an ambiguous privilege. Since the landless Channa women live in the same residential cluster as the affluent Channa households they enjoy some semblance of solidarity with the women from richer households. They are included, albeit peripherally, in networks for support. However, their physical presence in the same cluster as the richer Channa landlords makes them more vulnerable to sexual advances and harassment from these men. Geographical location of women and girls in a site is also a determinant of access to public services and transportation to the world beyond the site. Girls who live in settlements that are farther away from schools or healthcare facilities tend not to have access to schooling or healthcare. This is especially applicable to girls from poor households where gender norms governing mobility intersect with financial constraints. Transportation costs are added to other expenses if these trips are undertaken. In some cases, schooling and healthcare are discontinued after initial attempts because of the inconvenience, costs, and the censure received for violating gender norms.

Poor Women/Women from Poor Households Lists o f poor women and poor households generated by research participants are accurate in that they provide the names of the poorest in the site, as was borne out by our own household-level investigations. Poor rural women identified by research participants generally fall into four

Women and Poverty


categories: widows, divorced women, or women whose husbands have remarried; women from households whose chief male breadwinner has lost his livelihood because of illness or other reasons; women from landless households; and sick women. O f course, there are women who fall into more than one category. A sick woman, for instance, might also be a widow, and belong to a landless household. In the same vein, a household where the male breadwinner is sick does not preclude the illness of other individuals, including women. Also households where a male head is sick could also be or become landless. I will retain these categories in the following discussion because, despite situations where these categories intersect in the context of particular womens lives, each category merits an exploration of its specific nuances. I will, however, take into account the intersections and overlaps between categories. In exploring these categories, the intention is to highlight how poor womens lives have dimensions that are very different from their male counterparts. Here the objective is to present in broad strokes the key themes underpinning a consideration of women and poverty that will be developed further with respect to specific issues and domains in subsequent sub-sections. After briefly discussing each category listed above, I will list the emergent key themes. Categories of 'Poor Women'

Widows, divorced women, or women whose husbands have remarried are all constructed as baysahaara (those without protection or support). The loss is both financial and social. Divorce entails more of a stigma for women than losing a husband through his death, but where husbands are clearly to blame divorced women are also regarded with sympathy. Despite this sympathy, women who are without a husband are under strict surveillance by their communities, since they no longer have a husband to watch over them. Divorced women who do not have children usually live with their parents, brothers or other relatives. Younger widows who have no children or whose children are small live with their parents’ or brothers. Older widows, especially those with children, maintain their own households. Women whose husbands have remarried and who are not divorced continue sharing the same living space, but usually set up their own chulha (kitchen). Older women who are over sixty, whether widowed, divorced, or separated, prefer to live on their own, and in all sites, across castes,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

younger women in the neighbourhood help them with their domestic work. These women who lose the supposed protection of a husband are for the most part responsible for their and their childrens survival. Even when these women live with relatives and might not have to take on remunerative work, housework becomes their chief responsibility. In some cases, though, relatives such as brothers do offer a lot of support, often at the expense of their own families. Ameen Samat2,10whose case is discussed under ‘Shocks,’ is an example of such a brother. Mostly, though, assistance from support networks is occasional, and women end up working in a labour market that does not pay much for jobs seen as feminine. Support networks among upper and landed castes offer more to women who are their relatives, whereas women from lower or landless castes remain on the fringes of these support networks. Their own kinship groups are usually not able to offer much financial assistance or support in accessing zakat (a tax paid by affluent Muslims to benefit poor Muslims) or livelihoods. However, for widows from landed castes, the downward mobility of their households is in many cases more stark and vivid than among landless groups. Very few widows, especially those with small or no male children, are allowed access to their deceased husband’s land or its income. Whereas some women from landed backgrounds are at least taken care of by their male relatives, many women, especially those with little backing from parents or siblings, are left to their own devices. Women who live in households where the male head is sick take on a threefold responsibility: arranging/managing household finances; running the household, which includes taking care of children; and tending the sick person. Household budgets have to make room for funds for the medical treatment of the sick person. Women in such instances enjoy an ambiguous power in the context of the household. They have almost complete control over decisions and finances, but this is usually at the expense of increased vulnerability to external factors, especially if income generation responsibilities entail more work outside the home. When male heads of households fall sick, ownership of a substantial portion o f land affords more o f a cushioning mechanism than identification with an influential kinship group. Women in such situations derive the legitimacy to supervise the cultivation process because of the presence of a husband in the household. Labourers are hired to farm the land, the land is sharecropped, or it is given on lease. Possession o f land, though, is only an adequate cushioning mechanism if the holding is big enough to ensure household subsistence. If the head of household had

Women and Poverty


contributed to household income through a combination of livelihoods, then women are more at the mercy of the inequitable labour market in order to compensate for the gap in household income. Sharecropper households in different sites lose the land when the male head of household becomes sick. Only in two instances, one in Raheema, (District Attock), and one in Deh Shah Alam, (District Nawabshah), have such households been allowed to hold on to smaller plots of land (around half an acre) for the women and children to cultivate. Especially in the case of prolonged or chronic illness, kinship-based networks generally provide assistance in terms of loans and gifts in the initial phase of the illness. Households also have a pattern of selling assets, like livestock and jewellery, first when the head of household stops working and then later when his condition begins to seriously deteriorate. The patterns of household expenses during illness are discussed further in the section on ‘Health.’ Women from landless households, are generally women from Kammi Kameen backgrounds in Punjab. In the Sindh context it refers to haaris (sharecroppers) or labourers with limited histories of land ownership. The Sammat5 households in the two sites, for instance, fell into this category, although this group in other parts of Sindh possesses land. Haari households are vulnerable to the land being taken away in the case of the illness of the head of household, or the mere displeasure of the landlord. Women from landless households remain especially prone to food insecurity, although most of them try to gather grain for household consumption by working in the fields at harvest time. Insecurities at other levels are also more acute for this category of women, given their households’ dependence on the upper and landed castes. These women are on the margins of most informal support networks. Kammi Kameen women in Punjab generally have more mobility since they sometimes have to go farther away to find work. Landlords either employ female relatives or use the services of the women in their own households in the fields nearer the village. Also Kammi Kameen women are open to different modes of employment, not just agriculturally based, which might be available in other villages and small towns farther away from home. This increased mobility, however, puts them at a higher risk of encountering sexual advances. They are also perceived as having little ‘izzat' (honour). Even if their families are well-off and no longer pursue traditional occupations which entail servitude to local landlords, these


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

images of Kammi Kameen women persist in collective memory. Zohra Qureshi, the elected councillor from Maanki, District Hafizabad, lives with her brother who has a relatively well-paid job in a bank. However, she was nominated for the election because of her lower caste background. No upper caste household would want their women to be prominent in a public space. Sick women, the last category of poor women identified by research participants, includes older widows living on their own or sick women of different ages living as part of a larger household. Interestingly, individual sick women are identified as poor even if their households are relatively affluent. This is because these women are deprived of healthcare or adequate food, since they can longer contribute much to the running of the household, in terms of domestic work or remunerative labour. Older women who live with their adult sons fare better than younger women living with in-laws, husbands, or other relatives. Women, old or young, continue with their work, especially their household responsibilities, till their condition deteriorates. In some cases, husbands remarry after their wives fall sick. Most sick women in such situations continue to live in the same house as their husband’s second wives. In this category of poor women, the type of sickness of the women is a more salient indicator of vulnerability than household income. In cases where women are paralyzed or incapacitated they require constant care as well as medical treatment. Women with adult children are relatively well looked after in these circumstances. Inter-household support networks are more effective in middle to high-income kinship groups. Lower income extended families, though well-intentioned, have little room for financial support. For married women across sites brothers are an important source of support during sickness. Unmarried young women, who are the most likely to be deprived of healthcare, do not enjoy the same kind of support from brothers. The section on ‘Health’ elaborates on issues presented here in further detail. 'Poor Women versus 'Poor Men' '

Four key issues, presented below in normative terms, distinguish the conditions and implications of women’s poverty from that of men as indicated by the study:

Women and Poverty







Women derive their social status and their right to be a part of a household through the male head o f a household. Marriage is a contractual sphere whereby domestic services are rendered by women in exchange for financial and social protection from a man. The loss of a man entails financial poverty as well as the loss of social legitimacy to set up a household. O f course, in some cases, the loss is primarily social, since the woman is the primary, albeit unacknowledged, primary breadwinner all along. Only women with children can legitimately establish households without a man (i.e. if he is deceased, sick or absent) through their roles as mothers. When women are unable to offer their services to a man, in case of illness, for instance, they can be discarded. Women are primarily interpellated through their sexual and mothering roles. The domestic sphere is deemed their ideal realm of activity. Incursions by women into the public space are valid only if extenuated by the circumstance of poverty in the household or by the absence/illness of adult male members. Still, women from poor or lower caste households who venture outside the home more than other women in the village for livelihood purposes or to undertake errands for the household are seen as less respectable women. Norms of mobility restrict/limit womens access to healthcare, education, and rule of law mechanisms as well as their involvement in bids for social change. Womens remunerative labour, whether home-based or labour outside the home, is restricted to underpaid tasks that are largely perceived as extensions of their roles as mothers and nurturers. This is the case even when women do the arduous physical labour of harvesting, and post-harvest processing of crops. Women are barred from other labour opportunities that men might have because they lack the human and social capital, i.e. the required skills and the social legitimacy to exercise those skills to access those jobs. Women are regarded as lacking entitlement to the possession and control of land. So when a womans land is taken over, generally after the death of a male household member, the dispossession tends to be framed as a consequence of losing the male relative rather than a case Aof land theft. O f course, lower caste men have historically been deprived of land ownership. This issue o f not being able to access and control land is of particular salience to women from landed caste backgrounds and to women from sharecropping households who lose


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the land being cultivated by their households in case of the death or illness of the male head.

Livelihoods and Food Security As described in the previous section, womens labour across the sites is undervalued, and at times not even recognized as real work. This applies to non-remunerative labour and to work that brings in cash or grains into the household. Womens non-remunerative contribution to the household remains unacknowledged because of cultural constructions of what it means to be a woman. Child-rearing, domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, house repair, and taking care of the sick are tasks that are seen as inextricably bound up with women’s beings. Women’s efforts to generate income either through home-based work or through forays into the outside world are either framed as a majboori (compulsion or necessity) or as a luxury. The supplementary income is either required as compensation for adverse circumstances, or as an allowance for savings or extra comforts. More often than not, these bids for extra income, despite the hard work, also become naturalized as extensions of the domestic realm, and therefore not worthy o f due remuneration. The non­ recognition of women’s efforts as work at home is mirrored in the exploitation of women’s labour by forces in the larger society. Women and Agriculture

Given the primarily agrarian nature of the economy in the six sites, women’s primary remunerative tasks are agricultural based. Women in poorer households, especially from lower caste backgrounds, work as labourers in other people’s fields, as well as in fields owned or sharecropped by their own households. Working in fields being cultivated by one’s own household does not generally yield any cash or grain in hand for the women themselves, but is a contribution to the household as a collectivity. In District Muzaffargarh and in the Sindh sites, some men claim that they pay women in their own households. However, the women say that they are not paid. Womens primary task in Akalipur (Faisalabad), MouzaTibba Channa (Muzaffargarh), Deh Shah Alam (Nawabshah) and Deh Darro (Larkana) is cotton-picking. In fact, cotton-picking is seen as ‘women’s work’. In 2001, women received between Rs 40-60 for picking a maund (around 40 kg) of cotton. Relatives provided pickers with a meal sometimes. The

Women and Poverty


farther the crop is from residential clusters, the better the remuneration. A healthy young woman, who is also quick on her feet and nimble, according to the research participants, can pick a maund in a day. With the exception of a few very affluent households, women from all households, including the lower castes not traditionally associated with agriculture, pick cotton. Within all groups women with small children (younger than six-five years) are generally excused from this labour. Very old and sick women also may not pick cotton. Cotton-picking women are differentiated according to four categories: working in their own fields, working in their own fields plus the fields of their relatives, working in fields that are far from their homes, and working in fields outside the administrative unit. Women from more affluent households pick cotton in their own fields or the fields of relatives. Poorer women go further afield, and labour wherever they can. The number of hours a woman works a day is an indicator of felt and perceived poverty. More time freed for domestic chores and cooking is seen as a luxury. During the cottonpicking season, poorer households cook only a morning and evening meal. A third hot mid-day meal is a privilege restricted to a few affluent households. The entire process of harvesting cotton is a gendered process. Many men and women see picking cotton as an extension of household labour; thereby discounting both the hard work involved and the contributions to the household economy. While women from landlord families can ‘spy’ on women workers to ensure they do not steal the cotton, male supervisors are in charge of patrolling the fields and weighing the cotton after the morning and afternoon shifts. Some women insist on weighing the cotton themselves, to ensure that the men do not cheat them. The amount picked is recorded in an account: the women are paid when the cotton has been sold to traders. However, the likelihood of fraud remains, as most of the women are not literate. There are both caste and class dimensions to the surveillance and the fraud. Women from poorer and low caste households tend to be more strictly supervised, and measures are also more punitive if they are caught. Women have even been physically punished, in addition to being barred from work in the fields. Women from poorer households or from households that are of a different caste background than the landlord or his helpers are cheated more often with respect to their wages. This was stated in accounts shared by poor as well as more affluent women. Women from poorer households also harvest wheat. Harvesting wheat with a sickle is generally seen as ‘men’s work.’ Most women harvest wheat


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

with the male members of the household. A few women harvest wheat with a sickle on their own. Remuneration is based on harvesting per acre. In 2001, the remuneration was 2.5 maunds of grain for harvesting an acre. Some women merely pick wheat stalks from the ground. Some landlords take their share from these stalks. Others allow women, especially if they are relatives, to keep all the wheat stalks. In Raheema, District Attock, women also labour during the maize harvest, and in Maanki, District Hafizabad, some women work as daily wage labourers in rice fields. Payment could be in cash or kind for this labour. Women work extensively with the men in farming, although they are generally excluded from the financial aspects of the process. Women assist in turning over the soil: some even apply pesticides. Post-harvest processing is ‘women’s work’: they clean the grain before it is stored, and keep it free o f infestation after storage. Although women do not go out alone at night, they do at times accompany men when fields need to be watered. Again, women’s contributions to cultivation by the household become naturalized as part of their household labour. Ensuring that the members of their household do not go hungry includes helping to grow their food. Women’s concerns with food security are expressed differently than those of the men in the study. In Mouza Tibba Channa, for instance, where, increasingly, sharecropping is being replaced by leasing arrangements, women are worried that men will switch to growing more cash crops in order to generate more money. For them, growing as much wheat as possible for household consumption is a priority. In other sites too, for instance in Raheema, District Attock, and Deh Shah Alam, District Nawab Shah, women are uneasy about paying debts off with grain, because later in the year they are at the mercy of landlords or middlemen for their staple food. Non-agricultural Based Livelihoods and Rural Women

Non-agricultural livelihood opportunities for women are scarce. In the sites where there are local teachers and local Lady Health Workers, these women are from the middle to upper income tier o f upper caste backgrounds. Traditional birth attendants, who charge higher rates if a boy is born, are from Kammi Kameen backgrounds in the Punjab sites, and from poor households, generally landless or haari, in Sindh. In Maanki, District Hafizabad, a few women from Kammi Kameen

Women and Poverty


households are running shops. Older women usually go to the markets to buy wares. Kammi Kameen women in the Punjab sites and poorer women of landless households in Sindh undertake domestic work in other peoples’ households. In Maanki, some Kammi Kameen women work outside the village in the employee residences of the mill that is a few kilometres away from their village besides the metallic road. Women operate different kinds of stitching and sewing enterprises in all six sites. However, only in Raheema (District Attock) and Deh Darro (District Larkana) are their outputs sold outside the village in nearby towns. In Raheema, women embroider clothes and household articles. They also make naalas (strings to tie shaltvars, the pants worn by both women and men). These items are taken to various towns, either by traders from the outside that have forged connections with various households for this specific objective, or by relatives living in these towns. In Deh Darro women embroider caps and clothes. They also make rallis (patchwork quilts). Various goths (villages) have different arrangements whereby articles are taken to nearby towns. The women whose wares are sold outside their villages earn more money for an article of the same quality than when it is sold inside the village. For the most part, women were reluctant to share the specifics of how much they earned, and would talk about profits in broad, general terms. In Maanki (District Hafizabad) women also earn money by weaving carpets for traders ‘from the city’, although in the last year this business seems to have fizzled out. Some women have handlooms in their houses: they sub-contract work to other women from the village who come to their homes. Other women work on by themselves. Most women fall sick after a few years of weaving carpets because of the smell of the dyes and the long hours in front of the loom in an uncomfortable posture. The work is underpaid, earning around Rs 25 per day on average. The contractor can refuse payment if he thinks the weaving is not up to the mark. Both the upper caste Bhattis and Ansaris, a Kammi Kameen caste for whom weaving is the traditional occupation, claim to have introduced the business to the site. It appears that contractors might have approached both quarters at the same time to tap into the two-tiered labour market in the village. The Bhatti women would not go to work in a Kammi Kameen household, so handlooms had to be set up in their homes. Even now the sub-contracting arrangement is predominant only in Bhatti households. Only members use handlooms set up in Ansari households.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In Mouza Tibba Channa (District Muzaffargarh) women and girls weave different items, like chabbay (bread-baskets) and hand-fans from date-palm leaves and water-reeds. These are sold within the village. Women across the sites, with the exception of the few landlord households who are powerful enough to extract labour from others, assist in tending cattle and poultry. In many cases, women bear the primary responsibility for tending the cattle. Households have their livestock and cattle, but poorer households also raise cattle and poultry for other households on what is known as adh (half)- The milk and eggs belong to the household raising the livestock or hens. The milk and eggs are mostly kept for household consumption, although sometimes they are also sold. When animals are sold, the cash is divided evenly between the caregiver and the owner. The responsibility for fodder is the tender’s. Fodder is generally grown on land the household is cultivating, but if there is no such land fodder is generally bought or taken from relatives’ and landlords’ fields in exchange for other favours. A system o f patronage and favour feeds into the choice of who to give animals on adh. Displeasure from a richer household can result in animals being taken away without any compensation for services rendered. In case of an animal being sick the household rearing the animal pays the expenses incurred. In the case of an animal dying, owners do not usually claim any losses from the rearer, since the rearer is also losing out on their investment in terms of time, effort, and fodder. However, sometimes owners do try to extract losses from a household if an animal dies in their care. Poor women across the sites juggle their multiple responsibilities as caregivers, housekeepers, farmers, and wage labourers. Gender norms constrain their mobility, although women from lower castes in Punjab tend to defy these norms, resulting in an increased vulnerability to assault and the negative effects of physical exertion. Livelihood opportunities are scarce and underpaid. Wares made at home, with the exception of two sites, are also sold in underpaid local markets. Even when poor women are working very hard, household subsistence remains precarious. Extra expenses incurred through illness or occasions like weddings can unsettle a household’s budget, leading to debts or even more work. The Multiple Livelihoods of Sukhan Bibi

Sukhan Bibi, a very thin woman in her early forties, lives in a small oneroom house in Goth Kamil Sammatl in Deh Shah Alam, District

Women and Poverty


Nawabshah. She is now living by herself, having recently married off her two daughters. Her husband died around 10-12 years ago of a heart attack. He was much older than she was. Sukhan Bibi belongs to the Sammatl kinship group, the dominant caste in her goth (village), whose members own most of the land. Sukhan’s husband, though, had owned very little land, just half an acre or so. Sukhan does not exactly know how much. After his death her husbands male relatives took it over, and she accepted it because she had no sons. Her husband used to undertake sharecropping on land owned by other Sammatl households, but the land was taken away from him when he became older. The plot of land on which Sukhan Bibi has constructed her house belongs to her cousin. She receives electricity through a richer neighbours meter, but does not pay for it. He has also given her an old fan for her use. She cannot afford the water supply connection, so she gets water from the khaddo (ditch). She raises goats for her sister. When there is a kid it is sold, and she and her sister split the cash. Sukhan keeps the milk for household consumption, if there is any. She brings the fodder from the nearby forest. Sukhan Bibi has her own chakki (hand mill) to grind flour. She keeps it in her mother’s home where there is more space. For each kilo of wheat she grinds into flour, she receives Rs 5. She earns Rs 180-200 per month in that manner. Sukhan Bibi earns Rs 5 for each trip she makes to the water supply pond/ditch to fetch water for various households. She also earns a couple of hundred rupees washing clothes and sweeping peoples’ floors. She also picks cotton. For each maund she earns Rs 60. She also collects wheat stalks during the harvesting season, and usually gathers one to one and a half maunds of wheat in that manner. The wheat stalks she gathers annually usually meet the household’s needs for two months. For ten months she has to buy flour. She told us that in the previous week she had helped a bride-to-be with some beautification rites. She has been given old clothes for this service. Finding regular work is difficult for Sukhan Bibi. Going out o f the house, let alone the village, is seen as very bad for a woman. She says she has never let her daughters work for wages. This year she picked 5-6 maunds of cotton all by herself. Sukhan Bibi is now trying her hand at buying and selling kallar, a form of fertilizer. She had to borrow money from a money-lender in the nearby


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

town for this purpose. She must pay a hundred rupees on each five hundred borrowed after sue months. Sukhan Bibi spent Rs 25,000 on each daughter’s wedding. She undertook the expenses because it was the rituaaj (custom, tradition). Since her daughters are orphans’ (i.e. without a living father), people did not expect her to spend money on meals at the wedding. She, however, had to purchase bedding, crockery, and other household goods for each daughter. In addition, clothes were given to the daughters, their husbands, and their in-laws. She hopes to pay off the money through her earnings. Sukhan Bibi only cooks one meal in the day. She rarely cooks vegetables. She usually has chapati with lassi given to her by neighbours. She has tea for breakfast. Sukhan Bibi has started receiving some zakat (a tax paid by affluent Muslims to benefit poorer Muslims) in recent years, once she got an identity card. One of her daughters completed primary education. Sukhan Bibi’s maternal uncle financed the education. Her other daughter does not know how to read or write.

Household Subsistence, Gender, and Social Networks For Sukhan Bibi, household subsistence, or basic household survival after the death of her husband, over the years has meant ensuring food security for herself and her daughters, as well as maintaining a semblance of respectability as an all-female household. This concern with appearing respectable was behind her choice of not allowing her daughters to work outside the home, even though it meant taking on all the responsibility and drudgery herself. She works very hard and takes on all the available labour opportunities that she can physically manage without crossing the gender boundaries. None of the vast array of remunerative tasks she undertakes pays a lot, but she uses her earnings judiciously and even saved enough to marry off her daughters in a manner that is appropriate for someone of her caste background. These savings though come at the expense of restricting the diet of the household to one cooked meal per day. Sukhan Bibi had to resort to borrowing money from a professional lender in order to start her business. Her relatives do not lend her money, although they are reasonably affluent. She is, however, definitely more supported than the poor women in the Sammat5 households living in the

Women and Poverty


goth. She belongs to the kinship group in the village that has the bigger landholdings. This is probably why she has a National Identity Card (NIC) and has been able to receive zakat. Her affluent neighbour allows her free access to his electricity connection. She lives on land belonging to a cousin, and her uncle paid for the primary education of her daughter. She is also supported by her community through their bids to provide her with livelihood opportunities, even if these opportunities pay very little. Again a Sammat5 woman in a comparable position will not be favoured in such a manner. Her sister gives her goats to rear; her mother gives her space for her chakki (hand-mill), and neighbouring households pay her for bringing water. The fact remains, however, that she was not allowed access to the small plot of land her husband owned. The support of her social networks does not extend to either lending her money or ensuring that she inherits the land previously owned by her husband. Whatever assistance is provided by the available support mechanisms also seems to be circumscribed by Sukhan Bibi’s adherence to a strict gender-based code that encompasses a script for raising and marrying her daughters. Sukhan Bibi’s story highlights the gendered nature of rural livelihoods as well as the manner in which gender and caste demarcate assistance offered by kinship-based support systems. Sukhan Bibi’s creativity is apparent from the diverse repertoire of her livelihoods. She is also adept at ensuring that her household conforms to expected norms of behaviour. Despite her creativity and adeptness, Sukhan Bibi is a weak and malnourished woman, who fulfils other obligations at the cost of her own well-being.

Health Poor households from all the sites weigh the pros and cons before spending the money and time to visit a health facility. If an illness docs not appear to interfere with the ability of an adult to do his/her work, and if it is not causing too much pain to a child, household members prefer to stay away from doctors. This is quite risky in that illnesses that appear not be serious can become life threatening. For instance, in all the six sites we found adults and children whose asthma or a chronic cough turned out to be tuberculosis (TB). Also there have been recent deaths in Punjab as well as Sindh from jaundice, which could have been treated if caught earlier. There also seems to be a trend to give up on treatment for degenerative, chronic, or persisting illnesses, especially if the patient is old or female. Ensuring food security and subsistence for the household takes priority over spending money on the health of one individual. There is a


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

pattern of money being spent initially when symptoms begin to interfere with productivity and then again when the condition becomes more serious. Families also make judgments about the utilization of funds when more than one person in a household is sick. In a household in Mouza Tibba Channa (District Muzaffargarh) where quite a few children are sick with TB, the older male children are provided healthcare first. In another example from Raheema (District Attock) Firdous Begums husband and their daughters are sick in an Awan kashtkar (sharecropper) household, with the two young women suspected of having TB. While the husband is receiving relatively regular treatment for an infection in his joints from a hakeem (traditional herbalist), one of the young women has only been recently taken to a doctor after her condition became serious. A goat has recently been sold for the fathers treatment. Three years before the data collection Firdous Begum broke her arm. A buffalo was sold to cover the expenses for the operation to insert a metal plate in her arm. ‘It was a matter of an arm,’ explained Firdous Begum, ‘My husband said no expense should be spared.’ Firdous Begum helps out in the fields, does the majority of the domestic chores, and is the primary caregiver for the livestock in the household. One of the most alarming findings of the study is the degree of prevalence of TB across the six sites. In one goth (residential village) of around 70 households in Deh Darro (District Larkana) around 50-60 individuals are exhibiting TB symptoms. Only half of them have been diagnosed properly, and a few of the sick, relatively younger men are following a treatment regimen prescribed by doctors at the TB hospital at Khairpur Meeras. Across the six sites, there are numerous sick people whom the team members suspect of having TB. In most cases, although these patients are being treated at the nearest Basic Health Centre (BHU), their TB is not being definitively diagnosed, since BHUs do not have X-Ray machines. Even when a few of these patients do go to the Tehsil Headquarters Government Hospital or private clinics, the poorer of them are unable to afford the diagnostic tests. Most of the TB cases go unregistered, because if there are no definitive test-based diagnoses the doctors record the cases as those of a fever or cough. We found instances in affluent households where people have recovered from TB. These cases do not include women, although there is one instance in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, where a small girl from a well-off family has been cured after treatment. Among poorer households, there are only a few examples of people who received proper

Women and Poverty


treatment for some time. Ameen Sammat2 in the Nawabshah site, and M. Bhatti in the Hafizabad site are two examples. Both are small farmers with small landholdings, who became sick when they were relatively young. Ameen went to the TB hospital in Kotri for a while, and Mai got his initial treatment from Gulab Devi Hospital in Lahore. Both discontinued treatment when their households could no longer sustain the expenses of the trips to Kotri and Lahore. Ameen’s case will be elaborated upon in the section on ‘Shocks.’ Gender and Healthcare

Gender is a key factor in determining healthcare provision to a household member. However, other factors intersect with gender when decisions are made as to the allocation of funds for the healthcare of an individual in a household. Households tend to give up spending money on the treatment of a patient more quickly if the sick person is a woman, but again the age factor is salient. Older women with adult sons have a better chance at getting treatment for chronic illnesses than older men with grown-up sons. Older men are also a vulnerable group, and healthcare provision for them tends to be irregular. Sabir Channa, who was diagnosed with TB 5 years ago, is a 60-year-old man living in Mouza Tibba Channa, with his wife and daughter and a married son who has a wife and small children. The household owns 3 acres of land. Sabir’s son also undertakes waged labour. When Sabir first became sick he consulted doctors and took regular medication. However, at present he is only taking analgesics to ease his pain. His daughter provides the Rs 10 per day through selling the date-palm leave items. Sabir’s daughter-in-law is quite blunt in her reasoning for not spending on Sabir’s illness. It is a simple matter of priorities. Her father-in-law is old, and her children are young. The household has only one real earning member, her husband, and they have to choose between nurturing the potentially productive young and saving the old. Fazil Sammatl and his household, from Deh Shah Alam (District Nawabshah), is in a similar situation. Fazil lives with his wife and three daughters. The land he was cultivating as a haari was taken away from him by the owners when he became sick. His illness remains undiagnosed. The women are now all labourers and also take up stitching work. The household is unable to afford the livestock needed as dowry to marry off Fazil’s daughter. When one of the women falls sick, they go to a private


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

doctor in a nearby town if they can afford it. Fazil has not consulted a doctor in years. He occasionally buys pills based on earlier prescriptions. A patients trajectory vis-à-vis access to proper treatment and the chances of recovery are bound up with his or her gender, age, class, and caste positioning. Maanki, the site in District Hafìzabad, Punjab, where TB cases, diagnosed and suspected, are present across the social spectrum provides a startling glimpse into the relationship between social stratification and access to proper healthcare. Two Bhatti men from landed backgrounds are the only people who have been cured of their TB in recent years. In the last year, another Bhatti man and his wife from a relatively well-off background contracted TB. The man divorced his wife, and proceeded to get treatment for himself from Gulab Devi Hospital, Lahore. M. Bhatti, the farmer with a small landholding mentioned earlier, has been suffering from TB for around twenty-five years. His daughter-in-law has been unwell for the last four years, but her TB was only diagnosed after she became pregnant in the last year. The household then sold cattle and took loans for her treatment. The daughter-in-laws maternal uncle is a relatively powerful Bhatti, and the household lives on his land. He also helped out with the medical expenses. The young woman was not taken to the TB hospital in Lahore, and her baby daughter died of TB twenty days after she was born. Another woman, Meher, from a Bhatti household with a plot of one acre has had TB for two years. She has small children. Her husband also works in the nearby factory for a monthly salary of Rs 1800. Meher’s mother-in-law is very fond of her, and forces her son to acknowledge Meher’s hard work in the fields and at home. Initially, the household sold livestock for Meher’s treatment, and Meher’s brothers provided financial support even to go to Lahore. However, when the support for treatment petered out Meher left her husband’s home to live with her brothers. The mother-inlaw promised her treatment and brought her back because the house could not run without her. Kammi Kameen caste member Ashraf Mochi has had TB for 10-12 years. He had a proper X-ray based diagnosis, so he received proper healthcare initially. He lives with his wife and sons, who are the income generators for the household. Ashraf s treatment in the present appears to be rather intermittent. Another man Jan Mochi died of TB 3 years ago. His wife is very sick, but her TB remains undiagnosed. She came back from the government hospital after they asked her to pay for a urine test. Now she takes medicines from the dispenser who has a private clinic nearby. Even these medicines are only bought if there is money left over

Women and Poverty


after fulfilling household needs. Her husband did get treatment from Pindi Bhattian, but it was ineffective. Jan Mochis daughter, who weaves carpets in a loom set up by a Bhatti family, might have TB too. She has not been to any healthcare facility. The above delineation of TB cases also illustrates that the stage in a womans life and the extent to which her labour is perceived to be critical to the overall maintenance of the household, are significant determinants of access to healthcare. Meher Bhattis mother-in-law supports Meher’s treatment because she values her contribution to the household. O f course, she is also fond of her, and the example also points to how the kind of relationships women have with household members who have more decision-making power mediates their access to healthcare. The Bhatti woman who was divorced by her husband after they both contracted TB probably did not enjoy any affectionate ties with powerful people in the context of her household. M. Bhattis daughter-in-law received proper treatment after she became pregnant. Jan Mochi’s wife is the decision-maker in her own household, but chooses to prioritize other expenses over her own health. However, she still sees a dispenser occasionally, while her teenaged daughter who is contributing significandy to household income does not even do that. Overall, in all the sites, young unmarried women from poor households of all castes are the most likely to be deprived from healthcare when they are sick. This holds true even if the young woman is an active contributor to the household, either as a formal income generator or as someone who contributes to domestic and agricultural labour. In any case, these young womens contributions to household income generally go unrecognized, as they are seen as saving up for their marriages. This saving up for the dowry, though, is usually an excuse to save face. Households do not want to admit to living off their daughters earnings. Still, young women are continually constructed as a burden on the households. In Sindh and Punjab we have parents complaining about not being able to marry their daughters off because either the prospective in-laws are demanding livestock as dowry, or community norms demand a lavish wedding feast. Such demands are not mitigated if the daughter is being married off to a relative or if the daughter is being married in exchange for a bride for a male member of the household in a custom known watta satta (literally exchange of rocks). Parents or brothers, then, regard marriage preparations as a more important long-term investment in the households well being than taking the young women to consult a doctor.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Jan Mochi’s daughter and Firdous Begum’s two daughters in Raheema, District Attock, who might be suffering from TB, are examples of young women not getting proper treatment that have already been discussed here. In other cases, young women are being denied healthcare for illnesses ranging from kidney infections to influenza, from liver problems to headaches. Financial constraints coupled with gender norms form the justification of this neglect. In Maanki, even women from middle-income households say that they avoid taking their unmarried daughters farther away than the nearby dispenser’s clinic because then people come up with allegations of abortions. Also, even for more affluent households, the public declaration of their daughter having an infectious or potentially life-threatening disease results in a stigma. Daughters’ engagements can be broken off if such truths leak out. In poorer households, the fear of stigma works with financial limitations to obstruct healthcare for unmarried young women. For younger women living in relatively remote areas the problem becomes compounded, as transportation costs and the violation of gender norms with respect to mobility become more salient issues. Generally, male members of the household have to accompany women if they need to go to a nearby town. This time needs to be taken off work, and so the household suffers more losses in their everyday income. This further deters efforts to provide healthcare to young women. Social Networks and Illness/Injury in a Household

Inter-household relations in the sites complicate the simple picture of gender determining whether a household supports the healthcare of an individual or not. Households are not perfectly bounded units. Support, financial and otherwise, is at times available through social networks that are usually kinship-based. In these networks, too, the gender of the patient plays a role. For instance, sick sisters are more likely to be supported than sick brothers, since norms convey that sisters are brothers’ responsibility. These norms of looking after sisters are realized more often when sisters are married, since taking care of one’s sister becomes a matter of ‘izzat’ (face; honour) in front of her in-laws. Also once a woman becomes part of a larger communal network through marriage, her brother’s duties towards her are subjected to a greater degree of public accountability. The examples from Maanki, District Hafizabad, given above, show how Meher Bhatti’s brothers help her out. M. Bhatti’s daughter-in-law is also supported by her maternal uncle, so taking care of a sister’s daughter

Women and Poverty


is also considered a responsibility. We also find several instances of a brother’s financial, emotional, and practical support o f married or widowed sisters among Baloch households in Southern Punjab and Sindh. Practical support takes the form of helping out in the fields, taking care of livestock, or taking items to the city to sell. In the Upper Punjab sites and among other castes in Sindh brothers also help out sisters, but usually they take on more responsibility for sisters living with them as widows or divorcees. In Maanki, there is one example of a brother helping out a sick brother with the farming of his land, but usually brothers’ support for other brothers seems to be restricted to occasional gifts of money and clothes. Gender relations and norms within and across households intersect with other factors such as caste and class to determine the extent to which a household suffering the shock of disease or injury can rely on cushioning and support processes available in the village community. Caste is significant because even if one is poor but belongs to a kinship group with members who are affluent and powerful the possibility of support is at least there. For one thing, money can be borrowed without interest. If a household is poor and belongs to a lower or less powerful caste, then the possibility of support from social networks is decreased. Close relatives who are poor do help out but their financial constraints prevent them from providing substantive assistance. Even if a household is part of stronger networks of support, financial and other forms of assistance decrease over time. This is a contributing factor to the termination of treatment for prolonged or acute illnesses. Just as financial support systems are not sustainable over time, so are familial networks limited when it comes to sick women. In Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, Mai Rifat, a Baloch woman, became paralyzed and arranged a marriage for her husband after she thought she had become baykar (useless). Her brothers tried to get some land in her name from her husband as a protection mechanism, but when she refused to co-operate, since she could not cultivate the land herself, they stopped talking to her. The point is not just that the brothers’ support was conditional, but that they did not take a stand against the husband for remarrying. Gender norms allow men to take on another wife if the present one falls sick, and this practice remains unquestioned. The first wife is pitied, and given occasional sympathy and gifts, but it is accepted that if a wife is no longer able to perform sexual, reproductive and domestic services she can be replaced. If the man does not divorce the first wife, it is seen as a blessing, because he means to still take some


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

responsibility for her, relieving the wife’s brothers and other relatives. In Mai Rifat’s case, her husband’s second wife does cook for her, although after the marriage her husband has stopped buying her medicines. In Deh Darro, District Larkana, two men, one from a Sammatl 1 background, and the other a poor Sammat5, have remarried because their wives have ‘the coughing disease.’ The Sammatl 1 man is himself sick with acute diabetes, but he found a woman to marry. Healthcare Facilities

Very few research participants in the six sites, poor and otherwise, express their satisfaction with the government healthcare facilities. There are complaints against the inattentiveness of the doctors, the rudeness of the staff, and the lack of medicines as well as equipment. In one site in particular, Mouza Tibba Channa in District Muzaffargarh, the staff is extremely unpunctual and irregular. The unavailability of medicines and the lack of equipment, including stethoscopes, at the BHUs was indeed borne out during our visits to these facilities. The doctors themselves admit that disposable syringes are re-used because the supplies they receive are not enough. Healthcare personnel at government facilities encourage patients to consult them in their private clinics. Lady Health Workers and Lady Health Visitors also over-charge patients, and offer services for which they have not received any proper training. Even the poorest women and their households, though, say they prefer going to private health facilities if they have the money, although these clinics are generally at a distance from their homes. At least, the doctor will be present in the clinic. Even if they take more money, they examine patients carefully and prescribe medicines that are usually covered by the fee costs. However, most people agree that these private doctors can be negligent. For surgery people prefer government hospitals because private procedures are too expensive. Even relatively well off households with land end up selling livestock or using land and jewellery as collateral if a member has to undergo a surgical operation. The research team found that private doctors tend to prescribe medicines in inappropriate dosages. At times the dosage is too strong, but then patients are also given medicines in ineffectual dosages if they can only afford to pay a part of the fee. For instance, sometimes half a course of antibiotics is prescribed. There is also a disturbing trend of prescribing

Women and Poverty


too many tranquilizers for symptoms as diverse as high blood pressure, back pain, and headaches. Most poor households, frustrated with government facilities, and unable to afford either the money or time to visit qualified private healthcare facilities generally available in nearby towns, turn to hakeems (traditional herbalists) and dispensers who have set up shops in the vicinity. Even trips to hakeems and dispensers are made after selfmedication possibilities, through household remedies and medicines left over from previous illnesses in the household or even neighbourhood, are exhausted. Emergency healthcare provision, though, remains an issue, especially for those households who have no mode of transportation at their disposal. For women this lack of emergency healthcare poses particular risks during childbirth. Most women do not go to a doctor during their pregnancy unless there are complications. With the exception of a few women from affluent households, most women rely on the services of traditional birth attendants in the village for their deliveries. However, in critical situations they have to be taken to healthcare facilities. In such situations women and their children living in villages that are either farther away from qualified healthcare personnel or are not connected to the outside world through metalled roads are particularly vulnerable. Again, women from relatively well-off or well-connected households who own or can borrow a vehicle fare better. Despite reports of vaccination teams regularly visiting sites, polio and tetanus persist in the population, especially in the Sindh sites. In the Faisalabad site we met a little boy from a Christian household who has been affected by polio, despite taking the required polio vaccinations suggesting that the vaccination was either ‘bogus’, or improperly administered. We also found that although women are quite aware of family planning, they cannot implement practices, usually because their husbands or mothers-in-law are against these measures. On a more positive note, women, with the exception of those living in remote residential clusters in Sindh and Southern Punjab, are quite familiar with simple first aid practices, including the dispensation of salt water to those suffering from diarrhoea. Overall, women in Akalipur, District Faisalabad, and Raheema, District Attock, have relatively better access to health facilities. Poor women in both sites are constrained by household finances when it comes to diagnostic tests or buying expensive medicines. However, for the women in Akalipur the presence of the BHU in their own village does facilitate


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

healing in the case of minor illness. Women in Akalipur, more so than in any other site, consult medical personnel when they are pregnant. The BHU assigned to Raheema has an especially dedicated doctor, who though frustrated with the inadequacy of the supplies and equipment at his disposal to the point that he is on anti-depressants, is committed to fighting disease in the area. Raheema was also part of an internationalN G O funded experimental project to fight TB, so the BHU and Tehsil Headquarters hospital have an ample supply of free TB drugs, although the project was recently terminated. Also, the women in Raheema have the choice to access a number of government and military hospitals in the region, where applications can be made for exemption or subsidization of treatment costs. In addition, private doctors in nearby small town also have arrangements whereby patients can pay for examinations, medicines, and minor operations in instalments.

Education Three of the Punjab sites, Raheema in District Attock, Akalipur in District Faisalabad, and Maanki in District Hafizabad, have functional government primary schools for girls within their boundaries. There is a building for a girls’ school in one of the residential villages in Deh Darro, the site in District Larkana, Sindh, but the school has been inoperative for a while. Raheema has two teachers, including a headmistress, and 81 students enrolled in the school in classes Nursery to Five. The female population, according to the Census conducted in relation to the study, is 732. Akalipur has 5 teachers, including a headmistress, and 190 students. The teacher-student ratio thus apparently better than that of Raheema, in that there are less than 40 students to a teacher. However, the English teacher is usually absent, and the headmistress has to teach 87 students in a combined nursery and Class One group. Akalipur’s female population is 1437, so the ratio of girl children in school is very close to Raheema’s. Maanki has only one teacher for the 64 students enrolled in the school. From a female population of 912, 64 girl children are in the government primary school for girls. A few girls also go to the government primary boys’ school, since the sole teacher in the girls’ schools is unpunctual and irregular, and the school is located in a settlement considered to be populated by miscreants. In all three sites, the number of students per class decreases, as we go from nursery to Class Five. The trend for girls’ education in Raheema and Akalipur is on the rise, whereas it is stagnant in Maanki. Girls from a few

Women and Poverty


Kammi Kameen households are also going to school in Raheema and Akalipur, while the female student population in Maanki is restricted to Bhatti households, the dominant caste in the site. Raheema and Akalipur each have two private schools that are co­ educational till Class Five. These are relatively recent additions. The schools are only for girls from Class Six onwards. Girls from poorer households usually go to the government schools, while relatively well-off households send their girls to the private school. The exception to this trend is the Christian girls in Akalipur. The few girls who do go to school from Christian households attend the private school, because Christian children feel persecuted in government schools. In Raheema the Khans, who are the chief landlords of the site, and comprise 35-45 of the 237 households, send their daughters to Wah and Rawalpindi/Islamabad for their schooling. Some girls from these families are also in college. A few girls in Raheema from less affluent families now go to nearby small towns to attend middle and high school. In Akalipur the two private schools allow girls from relatively poor families to continue their education after Class Five. Girls from the site from relatively well-off families have been going to the middle and high schools outside their village. Girls from affluent households, especially the Dogar community, have also been sending their girls to the college in Samundari, the Tehsil headquarters. In Maanki, only the single Syed household has girls who have studied till Class Seven in a school outside their village. They discontinued their education because o f purdah (religious sanctions concerning the segregation of sexes/the covering of one’s face and body from men who are not immediate relatives) imperatives. In the two Sindh sites girls attend the government primary boys’ schools in the villages. There are more girls in school in the villages in Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah than in Deh Darro, District Larkana. Only very few girls in both sites go beyond primary schooling, and even those are now living in Karachi, Larkana, or other places outside the sites. The trend to educate girls seems to be decreasing: the highest number of women who have completed their primary education are between their late twenties and mid thirties. Women and girls younger than this tend to have dropped out earlier. Mouza Tibba Channa, in District Muzaffargarh has one government primary school within the administrative unit that is technically for boys. The teacher is, however, ineffectual, and, given the location of the school amidst the oppressive Channa households, even boys in the site prefer


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

going to schools elsewhere. Only a few children, some boys and a couple of girls, attend the school in the site. Boys from the bigger landlord Channa family, from around 15 households of the 199 households in the site, are sent to Alipur, a town 35 km away, while boys from other less affluent households in different clusters go to schools in bordering mouzas (administrative units). Girls from the landed Channa family usually go to school. They are increasingly being sent to Alipur with their brothers, where they live in the homes o f their relatives. Girls from poorer households in the site remain deprived of formal schooling. This site has the lowest literacy rate of all the six sites in the study. Perspectives on Girls' Schooling

The presence of schools that are specifically for girls strongly affects peoples’ perspectives on girls’ formal education. In sites where there are girls’ schools, just as in the other sites, the entire gamut of reasons why households do not usually send their girls to school are present. These reasons range from the idea that ‘schooling makes girls wilful and licentious’ to ‘how can we educate girls when there is no money to educate boys’. Households in these sites also send girls to school only if their help is not needed at home. Girls are also more likely to be pulled out of school than boys in case of a setback in household finances. Girls in these sites, hit an educational ceiling earlier than boys, in that only a few go on to high school, and even fewer to college. Still, one significant difference between the sites where girls’ schools are functional, and where there are no or non-functional girls’ schools, is that more parents in the former perceive of girls’ schooling as a viable option. Even if this option is not being entertained in actuality, parents grapple with the pros and cons of girls’ schooling because the presence of a school for girls drives home the immediacy of the issue. Girls go to the boys’ schools in sites where are there no schools for girls, but the lack of girls’ school in an administrative unit where coeducational schools are not the norm clearly sends out the negative message that the state does not consider the education of girls important. The quality of available schooling also affects parents’ decision-making with respect to girls’ schooling. In Maanki, District Hafizabad, the inefficiency of the schoolteacher reinforces parents’ perception of girls’ education being a waste of time. In Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, some households send their daughters to the government primary boys’ school in their villages, especially if the schoolmasters are local or if they

Women and Poverty


have won the trust of the villagers by regular, sustained contact. However, in one particular goth (village) stories of how children going to the school for four or five years have not learned how to read and write abound in the collective memory. In this goth (village), women told us that they would send their girls to school even if there were no school just for girls, provided there were guarantees that the girls would learn something. Another salient theme in households’ perspectives on girls’ schooling has to do with the perceived relevance of formal education to women’s life paths and goals. The kashtkaar (sharecropper) women in Raheema, District Attock, are quite clear that if their daughters are only going to do what they themselves are doing with their lives, going to school is not only a futile exercise, it actually detracts them from real work. The Kammi Kameen women, however, whose envisaged trajectory for their household members is not so tied up with agriculture-based livelihoods, are more concerned with the financial aspects of sustaining schooling for their girls and with the outcomes of the educational process. Boys from Kammi Kameen and other relatively poorer households in Raheema have finished high school, but the jobs go to people from well-connected families. These young men from poorer households, especially those from Kammi Kameen backgrounds, had earlier seen the pursuit of formal education as an alternative to their fathers’ lower status traditional occupations. Their schooling, though, has not yielded the expected returns. So if boys, who are meant to be the primary breadwinners, are labourers after high school, why invest in girls’ schooling, is what many parents argue. The disillusionment with schooling is also obvious among the young men in Maanki, District Hafizabad, and probably has an influence on girls’ schooling. Some young men from Kammi Kameen households in Maanki also have a few years of college education, but only a very few of them have permanent employment. One young man is a bank employee, but he admits that he got his job through sifaarish (connections). Another young man recently lost his contract-based employment at the nearby factory. The others undertake wage labour or tend livestock. According to them, formal education does not make you competitive enough for the job market unless one has advanced degrees. Households generally cannot finance higher education, since it entails the expenses of prolonged residence in a big city plus more years without the young men contributing to household income. The lack of anticipated gains from boys’ education combined with the ineffectuality of the girls’ school in Maanki has a detrimental effect on girls’ schooling there.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In Raheema there are more girls from Kammi Kameen households going to school than in Maanki, partially because of the efforts of the headmistress, who is from the local Khan family. Her demeanour is elitist and she is condescending towards her students, but she does motivate her bright students, regardless of their class and caste background, to continue their education. Lateef Lohar’s household is very supportive of their daughter Ayesha’s educational aspirations, chiefly due to the encouragement of the headmistress. The household makes sure Ayesha is free of any domestic responsibilities, so she can devote herself full-time to her studies. The neighbourhood chips in with old books and uniform for Ayesha. Ayesha’s mother, Sameena, is not quite clear where Ayesha’s schooling will lead her, but she trusts the headmistress’s judgment whose own education has made her a successful teacher. The presence of an effective teacher who cares about the schooling of poorer children does make a significant difference to people’s perceptions with respect to the role and relevance of schooling to the lives of the children. In places where men and women from poorer households usually cannot interact with school personnel for whom education for all is a priority, the impression that formal education is the purview of the wellto-do and the powerful is strengthened. In Akalipur, District Faisalabad, for instance, women in poorer Kammi Kameen households say that their children are subjected to harsher physical punishment because of their class and caste, and so they feel justified in pulling them out of school. In Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, where there is a sense that the landlords are deliberately blocking the education of children from the poorer households, the teacher’s ineffectuality augments the notion that quality education for their children is out of their reach, and therefore not a feasible goal. Girls’ possibilities for schooling are more adversely affected than boys’, as girls’ education is not high on peoples’ agendas in the first place. Gender norms with respect to mobility, in conjunction with financial constraints, serve to deprive poor girls of any schooling. Boys in the site from poor households do end up with a few years of schooling from nearby villages or towns. In reviewing the history of girls’ formal education across the different sites, two key themes emerge. First, girls who were the first to attend school in rural contexts came from households where domestic, agricultural, or other livelihood-related responsibilities were lighter, or were relieved through assistance from other quarters. Khan girls in Raheema and Syed girls in Akalipur could attend school because their households did not need or utilize their services in the fields: they could

Women and Poverty


also buy the labour of poorer women, generally from Kammi Kameen and Christian backgrounds, for housework. Even now, Dogar girls in Akalipur who make it to high school and college are from affluent households that have domestic help. Ironically, the freedom from domestic work for these women is bought through funds generated by a flourishing trucking business that has led Dogar men to regard education as useless for their own livelihood purposes. Dogar young women are in a sense allowed to pursue education as a pastime, since their services are not required in the home or in any income-generating activities. Second, even these girls from upper or middle-income households or upper caste backgrounds who first went to school had to struggle against’ resistance from their families and larger communities that attempted to curtail their education once they were older. The stories of the government school headmistresses in Raheema and Akalipur, the first a Khan woman and the second a Syed, both from landed backgrounds, are remarkably similar in their motifs of resistance. Both women took a stand with their families about continuing their education. Later, they maintained their resolve of taking teaching jobs in the face o f bitter opposition from their in-laws. The headmistress in Raheema to this day has to contend with her father-in-law’s persistent efforts to get her transferred from the village school, in order to force her to quit her job and stay at home. The two headmistress’s life stories also serve to strengthen my earlier point: girls and their households need to perceive the relevance of education to women’s lives in order to risk investing in education. Both these women wanted to become teachers early on in their lives, and then proceeded to take steps to realize their ambitions, even if it meant taking on their families. Their families did eventually give in to their demands, partially because they had the resources to support the request. In two stories about young men from less affluent and predominantly illiterate backgrounds, the conscious choice to pursue formal education also derived its impetus from a clearly envisaged objective of the educational enterprise. However, these men received full support from their families. In the case of the young Awan man in Raheema, his family committed themselves to his education because they wanted him to be able to eventually help out with all the disputes with the Khans. The other story revolves around a young Mohana man from Mouza Tibba Channa whose formal education was taken on as a project by his maternal uncle who wanted to do something worthwhile for his sister’s son after the sister’s household went through a severe idiosyncratic shock.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

For girls from poor households, continued access to education involves facing different kinds of obstacles than either poor boys or girls from relatively well-off households. For boys, investment in education is usually justified on the grounds of it leading either to increased earning capacity or to a more effective role in public spaces. For girls from well-off households there is neither a dearth of resources nor, usually, domestic obligations. Because of an elite marriage-market where some educational qualifications in a bride are seen as enhancing the prestige of the in-laws, gender norms in most upper caste and upper class families in the four Punjab sites have been modified to incorporate attending school as acceptable behaviour. This trend also affects middle-income households in these contexts who are increasingly making compromises to educate their daughters. Girls in poorer households have to contend with financial constraints as well as the need for their labour at home, in addition to their families’ inability to see a role for their daughter’s education. Because there are not enough livelihood opportunities for rural women and because women are not allowed to be key players in public spaces, girls do not merit sustained investment in education at the expense of other household priorities. Even if girls do earn more because their parents have financed their education, eventually their in-laws and husbands will benefit. Poor girls like Ayesha Lohar, in Raheema, District Attock, whose households, despite their limited income, are breaking out of the mould, are few and far between.

Rule of Law The rule of law remains absent from most women’s lives. Women, poor and otherwise, for the most part do not have direct access to either informal or formal justice ensuring processes. Poor men fare better than women in this regard by virtue of the legitimacy of their presence in public spaces. At times, poor men are not in a position to ensure justice because of their powerlessness. Poor men are also prevented from seeking redress because they are unable to afford the bribes and the rightful expenses involved. However, for rural women from all classes and castes the very fact that women are not allowed in most dairas (male spaces associated with specific landlords in Punjab villages) and autaqs (meeting places outside residential villages in Sindh), where community-driven rule of law interventions take place, symbolizes the law being placed outside the purview of women. When cases involving women are discussed in these public spaces male affines or relatives represent the woman.

Women and Poverty


Justice remains elusive in cases involving women. For the most part, only cases involving women from poorer or less powerful backgrounds become subjects of public mediation processes. Issues arising in relation to women from richer landlord households tend to be settled in private. If community-based mediating bodies or local influentials commit crimes against women, the emphasis is on re-establishing the status quo rather than justice or redress. In these instances, the powerful are favoured, and the relatively powerless merely placated. In Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, a Sammat2 young woman was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by Baluch2 men. The young womans father was a baari for these men. The local influential, Ali Nawaz Sammat3, settled the case in favour of the haari, and told the Baluch2 men to pay him 4 lakh rupees: he later supported the Baluch2 landlords in their non-payment of the blood money. When the money was finally paid, after the intervention of another influential, it was one lakh rupees less than the amount originally agreed upon. Some men in the site think the crime by the Baluch2 men was mitigated by the murdered young woman’s affair with one of them. Formal mechanisms of law remain remote from most rural women’s. As mentioned earlier, their male relatives mediate women’s access to the police and courts. Only crimes and cases acknowledged by men are registered or processed. Only in one site, Raheema, District Attock, do we find an example of women taking the initiative of registering a case against a man for attempted theft and murder. The man either attempted to take off a gold necklace or tried to strangle a woman sleeping in her courtyard at night. She woke up, and bit his hand. Her sister-in-law then apprehended the man before he could climb over the walls. The two women registered a case with the police the next day. The police used the teeth marks on the man’s hand as evidence, and incarcerated him. The case was still in progress during our data collection. In Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, two years before our study, a man was named in two charges of an ‘honour conflict.’ A woman claimed that he broke into her house with the intention to sexually assault her. The charge was revoked, once the matter was settled at the key landlord’s daira. The man had to give three quarters of an acre of land to the woman. Many villagers, however, dismiss this case as an attempt by rival factions to dishonour the man and his family. According to this version, the woman made false accusations at a landlord’s instigation. Even if the woman’s allegations were true, she could not have sought or received redress unless a powerful man was backing her, given the prevalent context of unchallenged sexual harassment, sexual violations,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and inequitable sexual relationships. No charges are made either through formal or informal mechanisms. Poorer women from various caste backgrounds are especially vulnerable to sexual assault and advances, because they might be living on land belonging to the bigger landlords, or their household’s livelihood might be dependent on the continued patronage of a landlord. At times, sexual favours are solicited through male relatives, who provide ‘access’ to women in exchange for various privileges. Households that do not co-opcrate are persecuted, and are sometimes forced to leave the village. There are instances of men who have discontinued their livelihood-based migratory trips because they are afraid of leaving their wives behind. Even when there are occasional protests against the sexual exploitation, usually by men who frame it in terms of a violation of their honour, these voices of dissent are suppressed over time, and there are no outcomes. A little while before our data collection, the sons of an influential Channa landlord allegedly raped Baloch women over the course of three days at their daira. These women were brought over to the daira by Baloch men. Some Baloch residents raised an outcry. A few Channa family members sided with the Baloch men against the Channa men accused of rape. The matter died down when an influential from the nearby administrative unit mediated between the Channa landlords, one of whom was contesting the local bodies’ elections, so that they could unite before the elections. Women here, of all castes and classes, live in constant fear for their own and their daughters’ safety. This fear is intensified by recent events. Even women from landed Channa households, whose male relatives are implicated in the crimes against women, identify with the women raped at the daira. For some men this incident is framed in terms of two parties exchanging favours. For the women, it is a clear case of zabardasti (coercion; force) against women. The police cannot come into Mouza Tibba Channa without the permission of the landlords. In addition to crimes of a sexual nature, women report their National Identity Cards (NICs) being snatched before elections, zakat funds being misappropriated, and lands being taken over by male relatives on the death of a husband or by landlords during the ishtimal (land consolidation schemes initiated by the government). Women like Shareefan Channa, whose brothers-in-law refused to give her access to her household’s inheritance after her husband died, choose to remain quiet because they are related to those who have meted out the injustice. They are unwilling to forego even the tenuous protection being

Women and Poverty


offered in return for their silence. They have no faith that any alternative recourse exists. Other women, especially the poorer Baloch women, are helpless in the face of the forged documents produced by the local patwari (revenue officer) who colluded with the landlords during the ishtimal a few years before our field-work. Other sites yield accounts of women being divested of their land, and then denied justice. Raukhsana Mai, in Deh Darro, District Larkana, was cheated out of her land after her husband was murdered, probably in order to gain access to the land. Another womans plot in Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, has been illegally taken over by a doctor, who is also the Naib Nazim (an elected official in the local bodies,). She has been warned that if she takes any legal action, her only son will be harmed. In Akalipur, District Faisalabad, a court case was decided in favour of a Dogar widow whose land was occupied by her Dogar tenant. The rule of law, however, could not prevail till the woman paid the tenant around Rs 40,000 to leave her land. Akalipur, District Faisalabad, remains unique among our sites in that it has a self-proclaimed female gunda (goon) named Tahira Jatti. Other women, especially poor women from lower caste families, corroborate her claim by calling her a badmaash (a miscreant) who uses her police connections to harass them and even extract money. Tahira’s daughter has recently joined the police academy as a trainee, and this has further terrified Tahiras persecuted neighbours who live near the village land Tahira has illegally occupied. The village has won the court case against Tahira, but she somehow continues to come up with stay orders against her evacuation. Tahira is well-connected with court officials as well as district management bureaucrats. Tahira Jatti has managed to create a space for herself in a man’s world on their terms. She remains the key example of a woman who derives power through rule of law mechanisms. However, this power is based on co-opting law enforcing agencies and other legal processes, rather than implementing due process to ensure justice. While Tahira occasionally engages in struggles with the powerful in the site, such as Shahid numberdar, her regular targets are the poorer women in the village. Her defiance of gender norms with respect to proper behaviour is predicated primarily on terrorizing the powerless, including one of her own daughters who remains dependent on the whims of her mother because her husband is too sick to support her or her children. Akalipur, then, is distinctive from other sites in that more spaces are opening up for women to assert power, but that authority is only


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

effectively asserted through near-terrorist acts of persecution and fraud. Otherwise, as evidenced in the case of the Dogar woman versus her tenant, women continue to lack structural influence. The rule of law situation in Akalipur is reminiscent of a postcolonial city with a heterogeneous population that has migrated from different points of origin, rather than a village or even a small town with a homogenous, settled population. A web of organized crime is operating in the site, even if the scale and scope is not comparable to that of a city. There are multiple players in the scene, supported by corrupt rule of law institutions. While the positive trappings of the modernizing impulse are made visible through the presence of the BHU and schools in the village, the negative side of an urbanization process is highlighted through the fragmentation of village community and the near breakdown of the state-sanctioned law and order situation. Vestigial feudal structures work with capitalist outcomes to consolidate the extra-legal power bases. The fragmentation o f community structures, partially a consequence of post-partition displacement leads to the relaxing of gender norms impacting women’s mobility and behaviour. Women’s relative freedom, though, does not translate into any degree of effective empowerment for women who are not connected to existing networks and alliances of the powerful. Those who remain on the margins of various power bases in Akalipur, especially the poor women in Kammi Kameen and Christian households, live in a continuous state of insecurity.

Shocks The absence of effective, state-sanctioned mechanisms for cushioning shocks is especially critical for poor women and their households. In fact, shocks at the household level are aggravated, if not caused, by the lack of adequate public services for the poor. Lack of access to quality health services, for instance, sends poorer households spiralling into poverty, by causing the untimely death of household members or depriving the household of a healthy earning member. This economic deterioration is, of course, in addition to the pain and grief caused by the deaths and diseases of those suffering from illnesses that would be easily curable if adequate healthcare were provided. Even in times of disasters, such as floods, there are no checks and balances in place to ensure that relief funds and provisions reach the most affected. People in flood prone Mouza Tibba Channa, for instance, remember only two occasions when government allocated resources did get to the most needy: the 1973 floods in Bhutto’s time, and the 1993

Women and Poverty


floods when Shahbaz Sharif visited the region while supplies were being dropped. During other floods, such as in 1992, the landlords appropriated everything. People mostly rely on informal networks that are usually kinship-based, but not restricted to the administrative unit in order to cope with shocks. However, not everyone is equally connected to these support circuits, which are themselves based on structures of patronage and compliance. Kinship ties figure prominently in the formulation and membership of these informal support networks, but do not exclusively determine who is included or excluded. Any benefits received through connections with the powerful are contingent on adherence to norms of co-operation and reciprocity. Investing in poorer relatives, even women from affluent households if they are now on their own, is not generally seen as lucrative. It is true that initial and intermittent assistance can be provided, but these informal networks do not guarantee sustainable, long-term coping or cushioning mechanisms. In fact, as the case of Shareefan Channa in the last section illustrates, shocks such as death in the family make women even more vulnerable to plots from within their social networks to deprive them of their assets. In the context of the sites, familial support systems among less affluent households appear to be more well-intentioned. Among middle to low income Baloch households in the Southern Punjab and Sindh, for instance, we find several examples of financial and practical support being provided by siblings and other relatives. Brothers in Akalipur, District Faisalabad, and Maanki, District Hafizabad, also extend support to sisters and their offspring in times of crises. Again, among the poorer households, constraints in terms of funds and time, however, limit the extent of support being provided. Covariate Shocks

Women-headed households and female members of households tend to face deeper levels of deprivation of food and healthcare during disasters such as floods. Relief funds are not just appropriated by affluent men; poorer men also tend to disenfranchise poorer women, including women in their households. If relief funds do get to poorer households in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, during and after floods, for instance, no effort is made to ensure that women have access to them. Women, whose roles as nurturers and caretakers take on added dimensions during disasters due to the displacement, increased food insecurity, and


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

increased risk of disease, are further stressed physically by this lack of access to food and other aid. During times of floods in Mouza Tibba Channa, poor lower caste women and their households are on their own. The cushioning mechanisms formulated by the richer landlords are extended, even if superficially, only to those who share their caste background or residential cluster. The process of reconstruction after the floods is also, for the most part, unsupported by formal or informal mechanisms. Family members try to support each other, but collective efforts are manifested along caste and class lines. Poorer households arc expected to contribute if a landlord needs help with repair, but the expectation is not reciprocal. Reconstruction for some families after the submergence of their residence or agricultural land means relocation, and the search for a new livelihood base. Womens roles outside the home with respect to remunerative labour become more salient in these instances o f relocation: women suffer the most because of their limited access to public spaces and to womens social networks. There are women in Mouza Tibba Channa whose households moved into the administrative unit years ago, but these women remain outsiders, isolated from the informal social networks among women. Agriculture-related covariate shocks documented in other sites in Punjab and Sindh garner even less support than the floods in Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh. The implications of these shocks for poor women and their households are severe and the effects are long term. However, even short term relief is not provided in the case of a bad crop or shortage of water, as these shocks are generally unacknowledged by the state. In Raheema, District Attock, the maize crop in the fall of 2001 was destroyed by a severe hailstorm. Earlier in the year, the villagers had to contend with low wheat yields, a consequence of a lack of water in a region that relies heavily on rain for irrigation. The food insecurity is intense in poor households. Unlike the landed Khans and relatively affluent Awans, most households have neither stored grain for consumption nor enough cash to buy food. Most households are taking food on credit that covers funds for food, electricity, and water bills in exchange for a commitment that households will sell them their agricultural output. Women, however, are now getting increasingly worried, because their household debts to these shopkeepers are piling up. For two seasons now people have had litde to give these shopkeepers. A few people from Kammi Kamcen households have already been denied

Women and Poverty


further credit. Some households have started to sell livestock to raise cash for food. Women in Raheema complain bitterly about the state’s inattention to their plight. The failure of the crops also means fewer opportunities for wage labour in the village. In fact, after the destruction of the maize crop, the Khans are extracting free labour from poorer households expecting them to help with cleaning the fields farmed by the Khans. The men have to go further to find work, but this also means than women can not bring in money as labourers because they need to stay close to home to fulfill domestic responsibilities. The patwari (revenue officer) made a tour of the village to assess the damages, but they never heard from him as to whether the land tax for that year has been exempted. Similar tales of misery are to be found in Maanki, District Hafizabad, and Deh Shah Alam, District Nawabshah, where shortage of water has decreased agricultural output. Men from Maanki have had to take on seer (contracted labour) with landlords quite far away from their home. Men from Deh Shah Alam are increasingly going to work in Karachi. Women are usually left behind in Maanki and Shah Alam. They have to fend for themselves and their households in situations where their own labour opportunities are limited by the water shortage. Household survival is chiefly dependent on remittances from Karachi and elsewhere, and can be infrequent or delayed. Idiosyncratic Shocks

Here I present two illustrative cases from different sites. The first case revolves around the impact of the prolonged illness of the male head of a household, as well as the household’s attempt to look after the widowed sister. The second case is about three children who, after the loss of their mother, are in their old grandmother’s care. The coping mechanisms of households, available support networks, and stresses caused by loss of income as well as extra expenses due to the shock, are central concerns in the following narratives. A significant thread through both cases is how structural factors that have covariate implications, such as lack of access to adequate healthcare or limited livelihood opportunities for women, exacerbate the effects of idiosyncratic shocks on a household.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

C ase # 1.

A m cen Sam m at an d his h ou seh old , D eh Sh ah A lam , D istrict N aw abshah

Amcen lives with his household in one room and shares the courtyard with his brother’s household. The house, joindy owned by Arneen and his brothers, is built on common village land. The household has sixteen members, including Ameen; his wife, Sanam; their seven children; Ameen’s widowed sister, Rani; and her sue children. The household has recendy married oif Ameen’s oldest niece to the son of his other sister. No expenses were incurred at the wedding. Rani, Ameen’s 35 year old sister, was widowed four years ago when her husband died of jaundice. Rani then moved in with her brother. She has become sick with gham (grief) since her husband died, and has been unable to do much. Her four other brothers do not bother with her. Rani’s three litde boys are the only children in school. Ameen feels responsible for these orphans and wants them to have a good future. One of Rani’s daughters also went to school for a while, but then refused to do so because the teacher beat her up for not having books and the correct attire. Ameen’s own children have never been to school. Ameen is 40 years old, and has been unable to work for the last 7-8 years. He used to work as a bus conductor. He was definitively diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) three-four years ago. Ameen has no money now, so his TB treatment is in abeyance. He went to the doctor in Nawabshah two or three times after a month’s treatment at the TB hospital in Kotri, but recendy he has been seeing a hakeem (traditional herbalist) in Qazi Ahmed. His last visit to the hakeem was a week before. He spent Rs 200 on this visit, inclusive of medicines. Ameen told us that Dr Ayub at the government hospital in Nawabshah diagnosed his disease. Medicines that Dr Ayub had prescribed were taken for three months in 1998-1999. Ameen was then admitted to Khuda ki Basti, a TB hospital, in Kotri. He was there for a month from 17 November 1999 onwards. At the end of this month Ameen was given medicines for 7 days, and discharged. He went back after a week, and got a refill. But after that he was not able to do his weekly returns, because he could not afford the fare. The six hour round trip cost Rs 70-80. Ameen continued to buy medicine against the old prescription whenever he could afford it, but then two months ago he vomited more blood than usual. That’s when he let go of the medicines, and visited the hakeem. All the children and teenagers in the household have suffered from seasonal colds and flu in the last few months, but have recovered without

Women and Poverty


formal treatment. Sanam suffered from palpitations and had not been able to go to work for four-five days in the last year. She had consulted a private doctor in the nearby small town, who had given her medicines that had helped. She is still unwell, but cannot afford to go back again. Ameen told us that no one, especially his own family and kin, has helped him during his illness. In actuality, people from other castes and villages have provided a bit of financial assistance on and off. Recendy, another poor man gave him Rs 100 to help him buy medicines. Ameen’s half an acre of land has been given on mukataa (contract) to a man in another village. The household receives Rs 500 for this land every year. This arrangement was set in place five years ago. Before that Ameen was strong enough to cultivate the land himself. He would earn money as a bus conductor and with the help of his wife and children take care of the fields. They grew fodder, wheat, and cotton. They used to rent a tractor with a driver. At times, they borrowed oxen from the two households in the village who still had a pair. At present Sanam is the chief procurer of food for the household. Ameen’s sister Rani does not help out much with the housework or with generating income. The household does not need to buy flour for six months of the year, because Sanam, her children and Rani’s older daughter manage to earn enough wheat to sustain the household for six months. For the rest of the year, flour is bought from local stores. The household is strictly opposed to taking credit: money earned through cotton-picking is used to buy the flour. Sanam and her three daughters usually pick cotton every day during the season. They earn Rs 60 for picking one maund (40 kg) of cotton, and they are given a cup of tea once during the day. Usually three people from the household work together, and a fourth one joins them occasionally. Three people gather two and a half maunds in a day. During the wheat season Sanam engages in Labaaro, which means that she harvests wheat by using a sharp instrument. Most women do not undertake this kind of strenuous harvesting, but she and her older son and daughters, do so. For harvesting half an acre of wheat, one earns a maund of grain. The younger children and her nieces help out through choondi (gleaning), which means they pick up the wheat stalks that have fallen on the ground. This helps to supplement the grain earned through labaaro. Some landlords insist on taking a share even from the choondi. Others let the children keep all of what they pick. Sanam also undertakes other kinds of labour whenever there is an opportunity. For instance, she also earns some money through extracting


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

mustard seeds. She and her daughters also raise six goats for other people. The household keeps the milk. They try to find free fodder from various fields. When the goats or kids are sold, they get half the cash, and the owner gets the other half. Ameen and Sanam’s oldest son, 18 year old Iqbal, has just gone to Karachi where he milks buffaloes in the bhains (buffalo) colony. He also works as a labourer. He had been only gone a month at the time o f the interview, and not yet sent money home. Ameen’s cousin had arranged to take him there. Before he went to Karachi, Iqbal worked part-time as a tailor, and part-time as a labourer. He was primarily engaged in agricultural labour, but sometimes undertook construction labour too. The household cooks two meals when there are resources; otherwise one meal is cooked. When there is no money chappati is eaten with onions. Two years before the data collection Ameen and his brothers were involved in a land dispute costing Rs 3000-4000 with his fathers brothers, over the land they had inherited from Ameen’s father. Ameen and his brothers won the case, which lasted three months, because they had the legal title.

Case # 2. Deena Mai and her grandchildren, Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh Deena Mai, a Baloch woman, lives in a small makeshift hut with a cemented boundary wall in Gopangki Basti with her three grandchildren. Her daughter, Fatima, had died a few weeks before our data collection. She was sick with jaundice, and died after five months of illness. The treatment from the BHU in Kisar, the nearby town, was ineffective. Fatimas husband passed away three years ago. He died of sarsaam (a fever that is said to affect the brain). The disease hit him very fast and he died before they could get to a doctor. Now their grandmother looks after their three children, ranging from 8 years to 2 and half years, toqeer, the oldest child, is in school. The little girl and the baby boy stay at, home. Deena Mai used to take turns living with her other children, but when Fatimas husband died, she moved in with her. Deena has two sons and three daughters who live in nearby villages. One of her daughters is also a widow. All o f her children are struggling to make ends meet. The sons primarily work as labourers in other people’s fields. They have their own families. It is very difficult for them to provide financial assistance to Fatima’s children. One of Deena Mai’s sons sometimes makes some extra

Women and Poverty


cash by catching fish. He always gives some of this money to his mother and Fatimas children. Toqeer and his sisters have inherited one acre of land from their parents. Cotton and wheat are grown in that plot. Fatima, their mother, used to cultivate it after their father died, with the help of her mother and occasional assistance from her brothers. Toqeer helped with looking after the younger children. Fatima used to also work as an agricultural labourer in other people’s fields. Fatima was able to store enough grain to feed her household for most of the year with her mother’s help. Now Deena Mai and her sons try to look after the fields for Fatimas children. Toqeer helps out after school, but his grandmother and (paternal) uncle are trying to ensure he continues his studies at the school in the bordering administrative unit. When Toqeer’s father was alive, their financial condition was more stable. Toqeer’s father cultivated his land, worked as an agricultural labourer, and baked bricks in a small kiln. He used to earn Rs 120 for making 1000 bricks. People in the basti (residential cluster), who are all related to each other, help out with zakat. They used to give Fatima money and clothes on Eid and sometimes Shab-i-Baraat and will probably continue to do this for her children. But zakat is given only once a year, and Eid and Shab-i-Baraat come after a long time. Other households in the basti told the research team that they are taking care of Fatimas children, and give them imdad (aid) whenever they can. But as Deena Mai pointed out, these occasions are infrequent and unpredictable. Hence she cannot rely upon these acts of goodwill to have a sense of security regarding an assured livelihood for the children and herself. Deena Mai or her children, including her widowed daughters, have never received any funds from the state formulated Zakat Committee. She does not even know about the existence of such a committee (which is supposed to ensure that families receive at least minimal subsistence in situations such as this). Deena and her children have never borrowed from anyone. She does not intend to incur any debts even now. The household usually has one meal a day these days. Electoral Process

Women’s assessments of the electoral process were primarily elicited through their experiences with the 2001 local bodies election. In the upper strata in the sites, perspectives on the elections are clearly gendered,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

whereas in the poorer households men and women have similar experiences and insights to report. Class and caste, then, are more salient than gender in determining experiences with the electoral process. Gender does play a role in the voting process of poor households, in that the men were the ones who either participated in village-level decision-making processes vis-à-vis nominations and voting for candidates or were sent for by village influentials to ask for votes. In some cases, some candidates or their supporters even visited the houses of the poor, but they only talked to the men. However, the poor men are clear that their presence in collective village level discussions does not translate into participation. Men from upper tiers also remark on the silence and apparent acquiescence of men from poorer classes and/or lower castes in these pre-election meetings. Gender also remains salient in that more poor women than men did not vote because they did not have National Identity Cards (NICs), and on the day of the elections most women went to vote accompanied by a man from their household. Both women and men from most poor households couch their stakes in the electoral process in terms of a negative: if they do not vote for, or according to the wishes of a certain relatively powerful person, they have to face the consequences. Some poor households frame this more positively: we voted for the influential, or according to his wishes, because he is our kin, or as a thank you for his kindness. Most women in relatively affluent households, especially from castes which are influential in the area, express disinterest in the electoral process, and present it as part of men’s world in which they see very little role for themselves. Poorer women share with poorer men a feeling of being outside the electoral process, but their apathy is dissimilar to that of rich women in that it is tinged with more than a hint of bitterness and disillusionment. While affluent higher caste women are indifferent to elections, as they perceive no bearing of the process on their lives, for most poorer women and men, including the poorer relatives of higher caste households and those seen as lower caste in the site, the electoral process accentuates their powerlessness with its aftermath of revenge and promises that remain unfulfilled. In Raheema, District Attock, the Rae community, an Awan sub-caste who are the largest group in the site, collectively voted for a fellow Rae, Ajmer, whose victory against a member of the influential Khan landlord clan has apparently undermined the prevailing power configuration in the site. The Rae households voted for him because he is their kin, and also because they saw it as a mode of resisting the powerful Khans. While the

Women and Poverty


relatively affluent and independent Rae women are quite dismissive of Ajmer’s capacity to deliver on any promises, they are happy that a Khan has been defeated. The poorer Rae women are angry with Ajmer for not following through with any of his promises. Some of them also regret voting for him because their act has invoked the wrath of the Khans, who might take away the land their households cultivate as sharecroppers or harass the Raes in other ways. The Kammi Kameen households in the village split their votes among the parties so that neither the Khans nor the Raes were offended. In the words of one young woman from a Lohar (blacksmith; a lower caste) household, ‘Hum to bach bacha kar rahtay hai (We live by protecting ourselves.) In Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh, the landlords from the local Channa family took away the National Identity Cards (NICs) of the poorer people they thought might not vote for their family member. Cards were taken away from the poorer Baloch and Mohana households on the pretext of getting households zakat. In the Kammi Kameen cluster, built on land owned by a Channa landlord, cards were just taken away. No zakat story was made up. The Baloch women, especially, are very vocal in their critique of the landlords and their coercive behaviour. They are angrier, though, at the false promise of zakat rather than at being restrained from casting their votes. They find voting a futile exercise. The possession and dispossession of National Identity Cards (NICs) emerges as a compelling metaphor for poor women’s relationship to the electoral process, as well as the state for which this process is being implemented. Landlords can fracture/sever this relationship by divesting people of NICS, and their right to vote. Local identities as the dependent and the subservient are subordinated to identities as citizens and nationals. For women more so than men, as mentioned earlier, this identity as citizen is sometimes never acknowledged. In Sindh especially, but also in the Punjab sites, many women across all age groups do not possess National Identity Cards. Neither they nor other members of the household see any value in going through the process. A few poor men and women did obtain NICs with the help of their landlords or local influentials so that they could vote in the desired manner. However, these men and women did not receive the zakat or other favours promised to them in return for casting their votes. The transaction whereby they utilized their identity as citizens to access immediate material benefits for themselves and their households did not yield the envisaged outcomes.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Women as Players in Local Electoral Politics

Maanki, District Hafizabad, and Akalipur, District Faisalabad, are two sites where women figure prominently in discussions about recent local bodies elections. In Maanki, Zohra Qureshi, a woman in her thirties from a Kammi Kameen household, was elected to the woman councillor’s seat at the Union Council level. In Akalipur, Tahira Jatti, a woman in her late middle ages, initiated the process whereby Shahid Jat, the local numberdar, lost a Union Council seat to his Syed opponent. A woman from Shahid Jat’s family also lost the woman Councilor seat to a Kammi Kameen woman. Zohra Qureshi in Maanki was nominated by the numberdar, a Bhatti, and other influential after a village-level discussion that ensued after an announcement of the meeting on loudspeakers in mosques. The entire village voted for Zohra. At first, Zohra did not enjoy the process, but now she looks forward to the meetings at the Union Council. According to other women in the site, the villagers chose Zohra because as a Kammi Kameen woman she enjoys greater mobility. She has always shopped in nearby markets for the Bhatti women. Also, her husband has left her, so she is not constrained by marital responsibilities. Men framed their reasoning in terms of izzat (honour). The Bhattis did not want their women to contest because of their sense of honour, so they supported the candidacy of a woman from a lower caste. People’s scepticism towards Zohra’s efficacy as a councillor who can contribute to the betterment of her village is based on either of two arguments. Some people say that Zohra is poor and powerless herself, and a councillor has very little authority, so she will not be able to accomplish anything even if she tries. Others think that Zohra is already embezzling funds entrusted to her by the state, so nothing will get to the village or its people. In Akalipur, Tahira Jatti and Shahid Jat had a personal quarrel, because the numberdar did not side with Tahira when her daughter’s in-laws sent the police after her daughter. Tahira proceeded to join hands with the Syeds and Dogars to split the Jat votes, which otherwise might have all gone to Shahid on biradri (kinship) grounds. A Syed man was especially nominated as Shahid’s opponent for this purpose. A Kammi Kameen woman was also nominated to contest the seat for which Shahid Jat’s family member was a candidate. The men in the site do not generally acknowledge Tahira’s role in the elections. Although the woman from Shahid Jat’s family did not win the elections, it is significant that a woman from the Jat biradri (kinship

Women and Poverty


group), a landed upper caste, contested the elections. Gender norms and codes o f honour in Akalipur are therefore more relaxed, or at least, more flexible than those in Mannki. Both these sites are technically in Central Punjab. Differing stances towards women contesting elections are a consequence of different local power configurations. Maanki has one hegemonic landlord biradri. In Akalipur, power is shared by at least three key biradris. Furthermore, landed power is diluted and complemented by power derived through other means, such as a successful trucking business, and connections with the police.

Access to Resources and Assets A few women in four sites have land in their name: Akalipur, District Faisaiabad; Maanki, District Hafizabad; Mouza Tibba Channa, District Muzaffargarh; and Deh Darro, District Larkana. With the exception of Najma and Tahira Jatti in Akalipur, all the women have inherited their land from their husbands or fathers. Najma has bought some land to supplement what she could retain her of her inheritance of 50 acres from her father. She lost most of the inherited land to her uncles in a court case. She was left with only 6-9 acres. She now owns around 50 acres. She is a professor in a big city, and only comes to the village occasionally. Tahira Jatti inherited a few acres from her husband, but she has also bought a few acres herself. In addition to Najma and Tahira, who control their land and the income from it, there are a few baywas (widows) in Maanki who control and manage their lands. These women are from Bhatti households and after their husbands died they started to manage their lands, much to the resentment of their in-laws and most of the Bhattis in the site. They have the backing of their brothers and other male relatives who are powerful Bhattis in the district. Each widow has a landholding of around 10-12 acres. The level of outrage against these women is high. Evidently, no women have ever been this bold. They do seem to believe in maximizing their income. They lend grain or money to people in need and charge interest. The poorer Bhatti and the Kammi Kameen women are their regular clients. Still, unlike Tahira and Najma, they do not have the right to sell their land. Also, if they remarry they are in danger of losing their land to their husbands’ relatives, as there was some kind of binding clause in the wills leaving the land to them. Another woman in Maanki, Khurshid Bhatti, has started to cultivate the one acre her husband left behind for the household. Khurshid also tried to run a shop, but her in-laws made her life miserable. There are


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

shops in Maanki that are being run by women, but these women are from Kammi Kameen backgrounds. Khurshid controls the income generated from the land, since she has to feed her children, but if she does try to sell it, her husband’s family will most probably not allow her to do so. A Dogar widow in Akalipur also has control of her inheritance from her husband, although it is not clear if she feels she can sell it. Ever since her husband died she has been vulnerable to the machinations of men trying to take over land. O f her 19 acres, 7 are under dispute with her husband’s relatives. She gave the rest over to another non-relative Dogar to cultivate as a tenant, who refused to give her anything after the first year. The matter was taken to court, but even though the matter was decided in her favour, she paid the tenant around Rs 40, 000 to vacate the land. The woman does not have a strong family to back her. Women from landed households with relatively large landholdings in Mouza Tibba Channa and Deh Darro have inherited land from their fathers or husbands. These women, though, are not given any control of the land, nor are they involved in the cultivation process. The brothers and other male relatives of their husband take charge of what they claim is the collective land of the family and therefore indivisible. Sisters with landholdings are usually married off to close relatives to keep land in the family, or not married off at all. In Deh Darro most widows from these families are at least being provided for financially. However, there is a story of one woman in Deh Darro whose husband was murdered for the land that was eventually taken over. In Mouza Tibba Channa, widows who have small or no male children are not just deprived of control of their land, they are also not given their due share of the yield from their portion of the land. Shareefan Channa and her children, for instance, mentioned in an earlier section, only receive any share of the crop if they work for it like any labourer. Access and control to land, then, remains a man’s domain. Women who do try to control and manage their land are seen as anomalies, trespassers into a world that is not legitimately theirs. They are even scorned by other women and their own family members. A Baloch woman in Mouza Tibba Channa chose to accept her inheritance from her father rather than follow her sister’s example in giving her share away to their brother. The brother and other members of her family perceive this as a betrayal. Women who choose to govern their own land and the finances associated with it are perceived as betraying the ethos of the entire community.

Women and Poverty


With few notable exceptions, most women across the sites do not make unilateral decisions regarding the sale of livestock, jewellery, land, or any assets that might be in their name. Even if their husbands have passed away, other male relatives take over decision-making processes. The exceptions are: the Syed headmistress in the government primary school in Akalipur; Tahira Jatti; the infamous ‘widows’ in Maanki; a Dahay matriarch in Mouza Tibba Channa who is the traditional birth attendant in the village; and a young divorced woman Ayesha in Akalipur, who lives on her own after her mother and younger brother passed away. Men, on the other hand, feel free to dispose off and use funds from assets that might be in the name of female members in the household. Some women do say that they are consulted in decisions regarding the sale of assets belonging to a household, no matter who the legal owner might be. Generally, assets are sold to make available funds for what are seen as collective household concerns, such as land leasing payments. Even when women’s jewellery is sold it is more often than not to raise money for the healthcare of another family member, generally a husband or son. There are also instances of women selling off their jewellery to finance their husbands’ livelihood-related trips to the Middle East or Europe. Households across the site, poor as well as well-to-do, do try to make funds available for women when they are ill. However, as was discussed in the sub-section on ‘Health,’ if the treatment is not perceived as effective or if the disease is prolonged or chronic, treatment is discontinued. This holds less true if a son rather than a husband is financing the treatment. One notable exception is an old Mochi man, living in the Kammi Kameen cluster in Mouza Tibba Channa, who arranged for his wife’s eye surgery, although his own eyes are causing him a lot of trouble. Unmarried young women in a household have the least access to resources, including those generated through their own labour. Their own labour is meant to contribute towards lessening the burden of the household with respect to their marriage expenses. There are a few households in all the sites where women are fully responsible for managing the finances for the household. This is generally true of lower caste households in Punjab and poorer haari households in Sindh. The men in the household give them all the money, and take the money back as need arises. Women get to be managers in households "^here a lot of financial juggling is involved. This of course gives them more decision-making power in the context of the household, but this power is limited by structural, material, and financial constraints impacting the household. Women who are in-charge of household


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

finances are usually older women. Daughters or daughters-in-law who live in the same household with older women in most cases are neither independent nor do they have significant input into household matters. In wealthier landlord households, usually men let women control only a segment of the household economy, generally the segment that has to do with the day to day running of the household, such as the provision of food. The men themselves handle other expenses, for instance, related to agricultural costs or healthcare costs. Women’s decision-making power thus gets limited to the realm of the everyday. Again, older women are in-charge in a household with more than one woman.

Women's Vulnerability and Insecurity Women in all the sites, for the most part, remain unprotected in their own right. They do receive protection through male-derived identities, but that protection is contingent on adherence to norms of subordination. This entails subscribing to gender norms emanating from different quarters. For the women in the richer landlord households this means following the codes of restrictions imposed by their husbands and male relatives. For poorer female relatives of these landlords it entails obeying their husbands or other heads of households, and in addition, whether their husbands are there or not, co-operating with the agendas of their male relatives, even if it means, as Shareefan Channa’s story in an earlier section illustrates, being silent about injustice towards one’s own household. The women from landless households, who either undertake labour, sharecropping, or a combination of the two, defer to their husbands or fathers, but then both they and the male head of the households cannot, for the most part, refuse the demands of the landed households. The men in the Kammi Kameen households in Punjab and the landless Sammat5 labourers in the Sindh sites generally do not expect the strict enforcement o f gender norms in the context of activities associated with their households, but they and the women in their households are powerless in the face of deployment of norms about appropriate usage of the services of lower caste women established by the more powerful men in the sites. Widows, or other women without the supposed protection of husbands are paradoxically both on their own and common property who have to live by the entire community’s code of conduct if they want a modicum of assistance and support. Adherence to prescribed norms for a particular class and caste-based category of women is no guarantee of protection. Insecurity can result from dynamics within the household or factors originating from the

Women and Poverty


outside. As in other contexts around the world, women face physical violence or their households lose livelihood and food security even though they might be strictly conforming to accepted norms of behaviour. In the case of these violations and losses, women have little choice but to look to cope with the insecure situation without challenging the status quo in any significant manner. Access to state-sanctioned protection mechanisms remains limited, and mediated through men. Women across the sites are largely outside the state in this regard. This is true for women across households of all caste and class backgrounds, although some women are more vulnerable than others are and face more risks of life, health, and well-being. Informal mechanisms of support for women in need, from their own families as well as more extended networks also remain contingent on women— unmarried, married, or single— following the prescribed of code behaviour. Brothers look after sisters, for instance, if they uphold modes of proper conduct. But then not all women have brothers or male relatives they can count on. Brothers, however, do figure prominently across class and castes in all the sites in womens constructions of security. Even having a not so reliable brother is better than having no brother at all. Just the presence of a brother in one’s life can ensure better treatment from one’s in-laws, if a woman’s married, and can diffuse the impact of gossip for an unmarried woman. Also in all the sites marriages based on watta satta (exchange of brides) arrangements are common among both landed and lower castes. This practice of marrying off a daughter into a family in exchange for a bride for a son or other household member is perceived as providing equal leverage to both families. In-laws are less likely to mistreat a woman if one of their female relatives is married to the woman’s brother or other male relative. O f course, if the brother and his wife’s marriage does not work, the woman’s marriage is also affected. An irresponsible brother can increase the insecurity in his sisters life. The Most Vulnerable of Them All

Kammi Kameen women in the Punjab sites; the Christian women in Akalipur, District Faisalabad; and the Sammat5 women in the two Sindh sites are the most vulnerable groups in the study. The Sammat5 women households live in a subservient and dependent relationship with the other caste in their goths that is very similar to the Kammi Kameen-\anAtd caste relationships in the Punjab sites. Some of these women in all three groups,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

especially the older ones, have more control of their household decisions and finances than women from relatively better-off households. However, this exercise of relative power is enacted in a larger structural context of insecurity that manifests itself at many levels. For one, most of the women and their households in the above collectivities are living in houses provided by landlords. In some cases, as in Maanki, where some lower caste households are built on government land, the landlords still convey the impression that they control that land. These women, then, live under the constant threat of eviction. It also makes women more vulnerable to sexual harassment by landlords, as is evidenced in Mouza Tibba Channa. The livelihoods of women and their households from these groups are also largely dependent on the landed castes in the village. For Kammi Kameen women in Punjab households income has been adversely affected in the last two decades by the decrease in local demand of skills associated with specific Kammi Kameen castes. Landlords now buy shoes from the cities rather than commissioning a pair from the local Mochi. For Sammat5 households in Sindh, too, the trend for the landlord to acquire tractors to cultivate their land has meant less land is being given out for sharecropping. For Kammi Kameen, Christian, and Sammat5 women and their households displeasing their wealthier neighbours can also translate into decreased opportunities of agricultural and non-agricultural labour. In a similar vein, animals being reared for other households on a partnership basis can also be taken away without due compensation for fodder costs or the time and effort spent in tending to them. The displeasure of local landed households can also entail trips to markets outside the village to buy grain. Otherwise, grain is usually bought or taken on credit in the village, thus saving on transportation costs. In the case of loss of land or livelihood to a household, due to the illness or death of a male member or the machinations of a landlord, Kammi Kameen and Christian women in Punjab manage better than Sammat5 women. They have learned to effectively juggle multiple livelihoods over the course of their lifetime. Also, women whose male relatives are usually away working at brick kilns or living on landlord’s dairas as seeris are used to fending for themselves. Furthermore, the lower caste and Christian women enjoy greater mobility than the Sammat5 women as well as women from other class and caste backgrounds. Gender norms with respect to mobility are relaxed as these households mostly do not have land of their own and there are no guarantees of finding labour opportunities near one’s home. However, the fact that Kammi Kameen

Women and Poverty


and Christian women can go farther away from home in their search for work also makes them more unprotected in the face of assault and harassment, sexual and otherwise. Class and gender norms in most sites intersect to justify the violation of poorer, lower caste women on the grounds of their not having any ‘izzat’ in the first place because they choose to leave the sanctity of home and village. During shocks and periods of crises the above-mentioned groups of women are rarely supported through social networks. Usually the support mechanisms among these groups themselves tend to be shaky given their fewer numbers and insecure livelihood bases. The landed castes’ assistance is occasional, and based on perceived need of the services from these women and their households. For these women, the risk, for instance, of prolonged illness or the deterioration of a disease due to lack of adequate healthcare is higher than women from other groups. Despite greater control of household finances and greater chances of access to healthcare facilities due to less rigid gender norms, limited resources and the prioritization of food security over their own health constrain these women from seeking medical treatment. The unmarried young women in their teens and early twenties in all three groups are the most vulnerable to neglect as manifested in discriminatory food portions and limited access to healthcare. This issue has already been discussed in the context of ‘Health.’ Here I just wanted to reiterate that the unmarried young women in these collectivities are even more at risk than their counterparts in small farmer households in the six sites or sharecropping households in Punjab. When the context of household subsistence and survival becomes more insecure, this insecurity manifests itself the most in how the young unmarried women are treated.

Women's Agency, Resistance, Resilience, and Creativity With the exception of Tahira Jatti in Akalipur women in the sites are invisible in accounts of collective action. Even Tahira Jatti’s role in influencing the results of the electoral process is mostly unacknowledged by the men in her village. Also Tahira Jatti’s participation in collective action as well as the other forms of her defiance can only be regarded as an ambiguous resistance to power structures. Tahira’s assertion of power is usually at the expense of the poorer women in her village, and involves collaboration with state-sanctioned and informal repressive apparatus. Women’s resilience is amply evident as they battle shocks, illness related and otherwise, in their lives, and in the context of their households, in

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Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the face of strong structural barriers and very little support. Jan Mochi’s wife and Meher Bhatti in Maanki, for instance, continue with the work of looking after their households even as their health deteriorates. Despite their own physical pain, both of them took the time out to be courteous and friendly to the research team. Even as they talked to us Jans wife was washing clothes, and Meher was doing lipai (layering the walls and floors of a house with mud). Another story that combines persistence with resilience is that of Farzana, Sabir Channa’s daughter, from Mouza Tibba Channa. Farzana is determined to collect money for her fathers TB treatment, even if it means violating gender norms by going to the riverbank unaccompanied to collect reeds and date palm leaves. We find examples of women across classes and castes that held their households together through extremely adverse circumstances in all the sites. We find little evidence of womens participation in any collective action initiative, nor do we see women emerging as a strong collectivity to give Voice’ to their concerns. The structural barriers with respect to access to public spaces and the class-caste divisions between women are so entrenched that the existence of ‘women’s movements’ in the sites is infeasible in these circumstances. However, this is not because women lack creative thinking or agency. Neither are they devoid of any consciousness of their powerlessness. The realm of the everyday in the sites does yield instances of women’s resistance and creativity. Women actively negotiate with the power structures in their daily lives. At times this negotiation is restricted to their inner lives, and is articulated only as unfulfilled desires, but it definitely exists even when there are no structural spaces for the deployment of agency. During our fieldwork in Mouza Tibba Channa, a group of poor landless women chose to be interviewed by us in the face of strict instructions to the contrary by the powerful landlords in their village. The light-hearted interaction that might have had dire consequences for these women later on is a testimony to poor women’s capacity for resistance. This interaction also underscores the need for researchers ‘studying’ poor women to look beyond mainstream notions of collective action to understand the potential for women’s challenge to power structures. Collective action, then, in the sites under scrutiny in the study, is a gendered domain. Women are not publicly involved in village level initiatives to transform conditions. O f course, when men were constructing the dam in Mouza Tibba Channa, or they were going off to fight for their right to canal water in Akalipur, the women cooked for them and tended

Women and Poverty


those who were tired or injured. There is no place in the discourse on collective action to recognize these roles played by women.


Hypotheses Two key hypotheses emerge from the salient findings in the study with respect to improving the lives of women, especially poor women, in rural contexts in Pakistan. They are as follows: Hypothesis



Women in rural contexts are better able to ensure food security for their households, have more decision-making power in the household, and have more input into village-level issues if they have access to agricultural land. Access includes legal title to the land, actual control of the land, and the control of the finances associated with the cultivation process and output. Women’s access to and control over land needs to exist in a context where cultivation is a feasible and profitable exercise for small farmers. The study reveals how increasing costs of agricultural inputs, rising diesel prices, and the fraudulent practices of middlemen all contribute to making farming an expensive project. In addition, all sites face varying degrees of shortage of irrigation water. Markets, therefore, need to be regulated as well as monitored, and the water shortage needs to be addressed for the above hypothesis to be proven correct. Also corporate farming, currently being pushed forth by the state as the panacea to the insecurity o f small farmers, whereby women would be given plots to cultivate for a conglomerate is not the answer, since this will mean the subordination of women’s decisions to those in-charge. Women’s control of land includes the prerogative to decide what crops should be grown. Food security in the case of women controlling land can only be ensured in the case o f a larger context that is supportive of the cultivation of staples rather than cash crops. If market forces or other factors push women into cultivating mostly cash crops the risk for food insecurity is higher. The success of the hypothesis is also contingent on women possessing the human and social capital to farm the land. This human capital includes the knowledge and expertise required for cultivation and the building of social capital involves acquiring the legitimacy to undertake


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

this work. Local gender norms which intersect with class, caste, and religion in different contexts will have be stretched for women to be able to supervise men and drive tractors, for instance. Also law and order situations will have to be conducive for women to be able to work unaccompanied by male members even at night. Hypothesis



Rural administrative units, within the domain of effective state-sanctioned rule of law institutions, which provide easy access to healthcare facilities, schools, multiple livelihood bases, and nearby towns are conducive to the participation of women in public life as citizens. The formulation of this hypothesis derived impetus from my analysis of the two sites in the study where at least some women from particular class and caste backgrounds had engaged meaningfully with the process and outcome of the local bodies’ elections. In Raheema, District Attock, for instance, some of the Rae women are still celebrating the victory of the Rae man against his Khan contestant, despite the Khan family’s vengeful treatment of the Rae sub-community. Even those women who regret voting for their Rae kinsman now were initially enthusiastic about supporting him, although the Rae candidate had mainly canvassed among the male members of his community. In Akalipur, District Faisalabad, a woman, Tahira Jatti, actually played a role in determining the course of the elections. In Akalipur women in general appear to be more mobile; however, this mobility is counterbalanced by the highly insecure law and order situation in the site, where the poorest are the most vulnerable to harassment by the influentials that have the co-operation of the police. In Raheema the rule of law situation is better, although people do not have the means to redress the punitive steps taken by the Khans. Based on the situations in Akalipur and Raheema, I have incorporated the contingency of an effective rule of law situation in the hypothesis. Access to public services for women and girls is easier in Akalipur and Raheema than in any of the other sites. Akalipur has a BHU right there in the village, and the Tehsil Headquarter Hospital (THQ) is only 3-4 kilometres away. For Raheema the BHU and T H Q are further away, but there is a Lady Health Worker in the site, and an entire range of healthcare facilities in nearby towns are accessible through metalled roads. Both sites have government primary schools as well as private schools for girls. The literacy rates in both sites, according to the census in the study, 53.6 per cent for Akalipur, and 43.1 per cent for Raheema, are the highest among all the sites. There does appear to be a correlation between the presence

Women and Poverty


of the trappings of modernity in a site and womens interest, if not full participation, in the public arena. Both for Raheema and Akalipur the modernizing impulse leaves behind the women and girls from Kammi Kameen (lower caste) women and poorer women from other castes. Lower caste and poorer women in both sites are less likely to access health facilities. Also girls from poorer or lower caste households are less likely to attend school and more prone to dropping out of if they do go to school. Christian women and girls in Akalipur are also marginalized. O f course, the above hypothesis will only hold true if the available public services are effective and efficient, and are also accessed by poorer and lower caste women and girls. In the next sub-section on policy recommendations I touch on the issue of what public services should offer at a minimum. Also the multiple livelihood bases should offer equitable and non-exploitative opportunities for women as well as men across caste and class lines. Information dissemination campaigns, whereby the poor and marginalized are informed of their rights, as well as the nitty-gritty of electoral and rule o f law processes should be implemented. Underpinning the success of this hypothesis in most contexts is also the assumption of land reform whereby women and men who have previously not owned land will be able to own and control their own plots.

Policy Recommendations The implications for policy arising from such a multi-faceted study are numerous enough to merit a detailed chapter in its own right. Moreover, the emergent picture on the state o f women in the six sites is so dismal that massive structural changes involving the redistribution of wealth and the overhauling of institutions at international, national, regional, and local levels is urgently required in order for justice to be realized. Here, however, I only list key recommendations with respect to the main aspects of the study that are more feasible than others in the prevailing context of power relations: 1)


Monitoring bodies need to be set up to assess the impact of structural adjustment policies and removal of subsidies on the lives of poor women and their households. Land reform should be instituted whereby women and men from all castes, classes, and religions in rural contexts should be provided ownership and control of land. This reform is also a must to diffuse landed power bases that impact everything from livelihood

1 14






Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

opportunities to rule of law and electoral processes in most rural contexts. Womens acquisition of the required human and social capital to farm and control land should be facilitated through the setting up of training centres to impart know-how to women and the implementation of consciousness raising campaigns to promote the legitimacy of womens roles as farmers and owners of land. Government health facilities need to better ensure that the appointed staff at BHUs, and Tehsil Headquarter Hospitals is regular and punctual. BHUs should have basic equipment including a stethoscope, tongue depressant and blood pressure gauge, and medicines should be made available in accordance with the common and prevalent illnesses in a specific area. BHUs should have some provision of emergency healthcare, including the 24-hour presence of medical personnel and an ambulance to take the seriously ill to the Tehsil or District Headquarters Hospital. Diagnostic facilities at Tehsil Headquarter Hospitals should be free for the destitute. Special TB units should be set up in all Tehsil and District level government hospitals if TB is prevalent in the area. Preliminary testing for TB should be made available at the BHU level if the incidence of TB is seen as rising in the region. Health awareness campaigns and vaccination drives should be also extended to remote areas. Primary schools for boys and girls should be set up in all large residential villages within an administrative unit. If only one school in a cluster is feasible, the school should be presented as co­ educational, rather than either for boys and girls. In such a situation, women should be preferably hired as teachers. In case a man has to be hired, a local hire should be given preference. Training for pre-service and in-service teachers should incorporate a gender awareness component. Teachers should also be encouraged to interact with the parents of students, especially mothers. In addition, teachers should be made cognizant of the necessity to be particularly attentive to the needs of their poor students. School curricula need to be realigned to incorporate the realities of rural students. Subject matter needs to be of relevance to childrens future lives as farmers even as texts acquaint students with other options for livelihoods. Also gender biases in school texts need to be eliminated, and girls need to be exposed to women as positive role models through the school curricula.

Women and Poverty










The examination system needs to be revamped in order to make learning by rote redundant. The emphasis, instead, should be on literacy; the understanding of science, and social sciences; and the appreciation of literature. State sanctioned mechanisms to assist the poor need to be independent of local power structures. This should be applicable to mechanisms for routine assistance as well as assistance provided during disasters. Special efforts should be made to ensure that assistance reaches women. Formal rule of law institutions need to be monitored so that they are not co-opted by local informal power structures. Deterrent mechanisms such as, posting officials for only short terms in different regions, or the strict enforcement of anti-corruption measures can be utilized. Steps need to be taken to make state sanctioned rule of law institutions accessible to women. These could include aggressive information dissemination campaigns to acquaint women with their rights and steps that can be taken to redress violations of their rights. Sustained efforts need to be made to incorporate more women in law enforcing agencies as well as the judiciary. Curricula for law and police trainees should incorporate a gender component. The electoral process needs to be de-linked from local power structures. For one, the possession of National Identity Cards (NICs) should be made mandatory, and the process of obtaining these less painful for the poor. Information dissemination campaigns acquainting poor women and poor men with their rights and duties as citizens as well as laying out the nitty-gritty of the electoral process should be implemented. In addition, monitoring bodies, whereby poor men and poor women can register complains against the misuse of power by office bearers, or the violation of the electoral process by candidates need to be set up. Wages for agricultural and non-agriculture labour should be regulated in accordance with international laws for minimum wage. Women’s home-based work should be similarly regulated. Markets prices for agricultural inputs and outputs should be strictly enforced, and traders involved in fraudulent practices should be severely penalized. Media drives as well as local state and NGO sponsored campaigns to foster women’s participation in public spaces should be initiated.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

16) Affirmative action measures with respect to scholarships for girls and young women from lower caste, religious minority, and low-income families need to be taken at all educational levels.

Directions for Future Research Several strands of future research are indicated through the study and this report with respect to women, social exclusion, and poverty in Pakistan. A few suggestions for future studies, chiefly motivated by my own interests, are as follows: 1) The impact of structural adjustment policies and the removal of subsidies because of globalization imperatives on women’s lives in rural contexts should be delineated. 2) Longitudinal case studies o f women who own and control land should be documented to better understand the challenges o f access to land for women. 3) In-depth investigations of rural women’s resistance to power relations in the realm of the everyday as well as through participation in collective action initiatives should be carried out to gain an understanding of the potential for women’s empowerment. 4) Intra-household gendered dynamics with respect to decision-making and redistribution of household resources in different caste and class contexts need to be fully mapped to establish optimal conditions of women’s empowerment within a household. 5) Gendered processes in markets, agricultural domains, public service facilities, formal and informal rule of law institutions need to be mapped in detail to arrive at a fuller understanding of women’s experiences in public spaces and access to labour opportunities.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS T his article was initially published as a report for the Sustainable Development Policy Institutes Publication Series. I would like to thank my research team for their hard work and critical engagement in the field. Sadia Almaas and Shahbaz Bokhari were especially insightful in their data collection and subsequent writing o f notes. My Research Assistant/ Assistant Co-ordinator on the project, Nadia Assad’s invaluable help extended from the beginning o f the project through the fieldwork and data collection to the writing o f this report. Sajid Kazmi, the Co-ordinator, was similarly crucial to the project and ultimate preparation o f this report. Ayesha Khurshid, my SDPI Research Assistant also needs to be thanked for the innumerable hours she put into the data compilation and the translation phase. I gratefully acknowledge the editorial input from Virginia Appell. Shahrukh Rafi Khan and Saba Khattak also provided useful editorial comments in addition to more

Women and Poverty


substantive critiques. O f course, Saba Khattak and Farzana Bari contributed at so many levels, intellectual and emotional, to my well-being during this study that no words can adequately express my gratitude. Finally, my thanks to the World Bank researchers not just for the funds that allowed for the project, but for creating an opportunity for me to grapple intensively with the reality o f a feminist ‘doing development’ in a context delimited by donor and masculinist agendas.

GLOSSARY adb autaqs badmaash baykaar baywas baysahaara basti bhains biraadrism biradris chakki chabbay choondi chulba dairas dkoks Faqeer gham goths gunda haaris hadd hakeem imdad ishtimal izzat kailar kami kameen kashtkar khaddo Khuda ki Basti labaaro lassi lipai majboori maund mochis mohallah mouzas mukataa

half meeting places outside residential villages in Sindh a miscreant useless widows without support residential cluster buffalo the social and political grouping along kinship and/or caste lines kinship groups hand mill bread baskets the picking o f wheat stalks that have fallen on the ground; gleaning kitchen male spaces associated with specific landlords in Punjab villages smaller residential clusters away from the central village a lower caste; literally meaning beggar grief residential villages goon sharecroppers literally the limit traditional herbalist aid land consolidation schemes honour, respect form o f fertilizer a group o f castes designated as lower castes; literally those who serve cultivator; farmer ditch literally G od’s neighbourhood; refers here to a T B hospital harvesting wheat by using a sharp instrument a drink made o f yogurt layering the walls or floors o f a house with mud compulsion or necessity 40 kilograms shoemakers neighbourhood administrative unit



Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

naalas nais Naib Nazim numberdar

paaras purdah patwari quom rallis

riwaaj sarsaam seer seeri safaarish watta satta zabardasti zakat


strings to tic trousers haircutters an elected local bodies official a semi-formal non-paid government officer who helps with revenue collection at the administrative village level and so receives some percentage o f revenue collected distinct neighbourhoods religious sanctions re the segregation o f sexes; the covering o f ones face and body from men who are not immediate relatives revenue collection officer literally means nationality but can also mean caste patchwork quilts custom: tradition a fever that is said to affect the brain contracted labour contracted labourer connections literally exchange o f rocks; a marriage arrangement whereby two families exchange women as brides for their sons coercion; force a tax levied on Muslims whereby 2.5 per cent o f the value o f assets/savings have to be given to the poor; this is paid through personal as well as statesanctioned processes literally o f the land; landowner or cultivator

NOTES 1. The study, funded by the World Bank, was conceptualized in early 2001, and field-work was conducted in 2001. I was one o f the two Senior Researchers on the project. 2. Here I write in the tradition o f feminist and critical researchers, working from Third World quarters and elsewhere, in disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts, who are committed to challenging mainstream, Eurocentric modes o f knowledge production. Lather (1991) and Smith (1999) provide comprehensive discussions on the theory, logic, and practice motivating this perspective. The emphasis in this perspective on research is on voicing and analyzing the experiences o f those who have been hitherto marginalized by power structures, including those structures governing the production o f knowledge. I have attempted to privilege the voices o f the women who were gracious enough to talk to me. Despite the constraint o f having to work within the broad parameters prescribed by World Bank researchers, I have done my best to avoid being straight'jacketed by narrow conceptual categories that diminish human beings. 3. While the conception o f poverty underlying the study benefited from the experience and expertise o f the two Senior Researchers, myself and Haris Gazdar, as well as the World Bank research team, including Tara Vishwanath, Ghazala Mansuri, and Shahnaz Kazi, my reading o f the papers in Razavi (2000) and Jackson & Pearson (1998) helped crystallize my thinking further as I analyzed the data and wrote this piece. 4. Rouse (1998) provides a comprehensive analysis o f womens relationship to the state in Pakistan. 5. The Ordinance prescribes punishments against a variety o f offences, but the punishments with respect to adultery have particularly harsh and unjust implications

Women and Poverty


7. 8. 9. 10.


for women in eases o f adultery and rape. The testimony o f four Muslim males is required in order to prove that a sexual encounter was rape. If a woman cannot prove that she has been raped, a case o f adultery can be filed against her, since she has ‘confessed’ to extra-marital sexual intercourse. Khan (2004) provides a useful analysis o f how the law has impacted women’s lives in Pakistan. Hadd punishments are defined as being ordained by the Holy Quran or Sunnah, and are therefore fixed, leaving no room for flexibility or discretion on the part o f the judge. See Ali (1988). See Jalal (1994). Caste and kinship tides/names have in some cases been changed or modified to retain the anonymity o f the site and research participants. All names o f research participants have been changed to preserve their anonymity.


Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan: Wilful Daughters or Free Citizens? A m in a J a m a l


iscourses about Muslim women’s victimization—which have intensified during the US-led ‘war on terror’ position Muslim women as objects in a debate of Islam versus the West, tradition versus modernity, and threaten to erase accounts of Muslim women’s agency and activism within their own societies. We need to examine Muslim women’s ambivalent positioning within religion, society and politics, and family and nation and recuperate the ways in which women appropriate contradictory discourses to assert their identities as daughters and citizens. This article seeks to trace the mutability of the gendered identity and status of the citizen, that is the locale of a persistent tension between Shariah laws and constitutional statutes in Pakistan. I focus on the social construction and control of women’s sexual autonomy in Pakistan that is due to the imbrication of law, religion, and politics at a particular historical moment. While I do not mean to suggest that a neat demarcation between legal, political, and social spheres is possible, I am interested in a peculiar collaboration between the imperatives of nation­ state formation and the cultural-political project of Islamization in which the courtroom became the site of construction and contestation of ideas about ‘the nation,’ ‘the Muslim woman,’ and ‘citizen.’ An important part of my project is to explicate the challenges posed by the assertion of women’s sexual agency to the ideology of the heterosexual middle-class nuclear family and thus to the nation-state, even as the demand for autonomy is couched within the language of citizenship. This complicated positioning of women within family, community, nation, and state has shaped the feminist discourse in Pakistan, which is overwhelmingly couched in the language of women’s rights as universal human rights.

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


SEXUAL AUTONOMY AND CITIZENSHIP Contemporary feminist analyses have usefully explicated the dangers that women’s assertion of sexuality and sexual agency pose to the ideology of the heterosexual middle-class nuclear family, which is both the cultural and economic unit of capitalist society and hence of the nation-state that assumes such a society. Many of these analyses have also successfully de­ lineated the heterogeneous implications of sexual autonomy for citizenship in different contexts.1 Feminist scholars have shown how women— whether as lesbians defying the heterosexual ideology of the capitalist state (Alexander 1997) or as daughters refusing to yield control to fathers and brothers over their sexuality in marriage (Hussain 1997)— tend to destabilize the categories of nation, citizen, home, and family. M. Jacqui Alexander has proposed the concept of erotic autonomy to signify the independence of ‘woman as citizen rather than daughters raised and ladies always defined in relation to men’ (Alexander 1997, 64). For her the erotic is a contested site for both state and citizens, and she suggests that the institution of ‘heteropatriarchy’ enables the state to regulate domains other than the sexual and also to represent itself as a saviour of the citizens (1997, 99). She argues that erotic autonomy poses a danger to the nation­ state since it threatens the nuclear family and points out that, ‘because loyalty to the nation as citizen is perennially colonized within reproduction and heterosexuality, erotic autonomy brings with it the potential of un­ doing the nation entirely, a possible charge of irresponsible citizenship or no citizenship at all’ (1997, 64). Other feminists have also looked at how various notions of home and family based on the arbitrary, and highly sexualized, constructions of private and public are used to construct dif­ ferent types of women and citizens (e.g., Grewal 1996). Thus contem­ porary feminist work emphasizes the dangers posed by women’s autonomy to the middle-class home and argues that in threatening this social and economic unit of the modern nation-state, women’s sexual autonomy threatens the nation as well, Another important outcome of the feminist interpretation of these processes of assertion and challenge is the iden­ tification of ways in which certain gendered and raced bodies come to symbolize this eroticism and serve as tropes for normative narrations of nation and citizen. Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s (1996) work on abducted women powerfully illustrates how ideas about women as cultural and biological reproducers of the nation structured the ‘rescue’ operations undertaken by the newly partitioned nation-states of India and Pakistan in the early 1950s. More recently Alexander has pointed to lesbians in the


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

context of the postcolonial Bahamas as an example of ‘particular figures [who] have come to embody this eroticism and have historically functioned as the major symbols of threat’ (Alexander 1997, 65). Simi­ larly, I would suggest that in contemporary Pakistan the woman who transgresses the boundaries of clan, caste, sect, class, or religion to form sexual relationships is being slotted in this space. This is a sign of ‘woman’ who asserts her sexual autonomy, and her citizenship, either by choosing her own marriage partner or rejecting forced marriages— thereby chal­ lenging patriarchal control over a traditional site for the respectable de­ ployment of women’s sexuality. The construct of the ‘wilful’ daughter/ woman that is being recuperated through the discourse of Islamization appears to interact with another one—the enduring concept of the ‘West­ ernized woman,’ a rights-claiming individual—that has traditionally func­ tioned as a trope to enable the narration of the virtuous woman, be she a mother, a sister, a wife, or a daughter, as the privileged national female subject. Therefore, in this article I would like to examine the constructions of these identities and representations at the particular moment at which the idea of the (sexually) wilful daughter burst into prominence in the national imagination. Although more extreme cases exist in the history of male violence against women in Pakistan, I will focus on the one instance referred to in the literature as the ‘Saima case’ or the ‘Saima Love Marriage case’ (details follow in later sections). I will show that this particular episode epitomizes the unstable constructions of ‘woman’ and ‘citizen’ that emerge through the interaction between the discourses of Islamization and modern nation-state formation in Pakistan. While ‘Islam’ and ‘woman’ have always been part of the public dis­ course around citizenship and nation in Pakistan, this process intensified with the state-sponsored program of Islamization adopted by General Mohammed Ziaul Haq, who controlled the nation from 1977 to 1988. Zia’s project of Islamization of law and society introduced oppressive laws, particularly the notorious Hudood Ordinances, and promoted other mea­ sures and guidelines that have adversely affected the political, legal, and social position of women and religious minorities in Pakistan.2These have been recorded in detail by Pakistani activists and scholars.3 On the whole, this literature provides substantive information and insights into the legal, social, and political implications of Islamization for women and religious minorities. However, since most of these accounts consider Islamization to be an attack on modern nation-state formation, they often reinscribe the dichotomous tradition-versus-modernity construct, which does not allow a nuanced account of the discursive terrain where political subjec­

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


tivities are constructed and contested. We need analyses of Islamization as a project of modern nation-state formation in which the state is ap­ prehended as a complex of practices, a complex that overlaps, contends, and collaborates with a catachrestic sphere of civil society that includes both religious and secular groups. Such analyses can usefully explicate the significance of the middle-class home both as a bastion of the nationalist project of signification and also as the limit of the state’s authority when women creatively invoke discourses of citizenship and human rights in their own interest. Although the Saima case was not conducted under the legal framework of Hudood laws (with the exception of a related case filed against Saima’s husband’s lawyer), it was clearly marked with the subtext of politicized culture.4 Thanks in part to the public debates in the case, judges felt impelled not only to deliberate on questions relating to rights, legality, the individual, and the family but to determine what type of woman was necessary for the kind of society desired by the Islamization project. In particular, widespread speculation about the ineffectiveness of institutions responsible for the domestication o f the ‘pure Muslim girl’ enabled the pathologizing of women’s autonomy as deviance. This, in turn, facilitated narrations of the wilful daughter, the Muslim home as a sanctuary, and the preservation of the family in ways that undermined the legitimacy of both the rights-bearing individual and the sexual woman. In addition the constitutional protection that General Zia provided for the Shariah laws meant that the nature of constitutional rights was changed and with it the notion of citizenship.5 In this case the issue of women’s citizenship itself appears to be a problem for the judges, who must try to reinterpret the constitution in order to bring it in line with what they consider to be an ideal Islamic society.

THE'SAIMA CASE' The ‘Saima case’ refers to the courtroom battle that started in the city of Lahore in early 1996, when Saima Waheed, a twenty-two-year-old business student, married Arshad Ahmad, a teacher of English, in accor­ dance with Islamic law but against the wishes of her family (Khan 1996a). When Saimas father, Hafiz Abdul Waheed Ropri, and other relatives asked her to rescind her decision, she approached the AGHS Legal Aid Center, which arranged accommodation for her at Dastak, a shelter for women in Lahore (Khan 1996a).6 Saimas father and uncle, who are members of the powerful right-wing religious Ahle-Hadith sect, used their influence


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

to put Arshad in jail, where he was tortured into signing a divorce deed (Dawn 1996b). When Saima refused to yield to her family’s pressure, her uncle filed a habeas corpus petition for her ‘recovery,’ on the basis of which Justice Ihsan-ul-Haq Chaudhry deputized a bailiff to forcibly re­ move Saima from Dastak. Eventually another judge, Malik Muhammad Qayyum, who was approached by Saima’s counsel, Asma Jahangir, ordered the police to take her to Darul Aman, an institution run by a religious organization, Anjuman Hamiyat-i-Islam. Justice Qayyum, while refusing Saima’s request to be allowed to return to Dastak, ordered that she should not be forced to see any of her relatives, including her parents, but would be free to meet her counsel (Dawn 1996b). Meanwhile, Saima filed a petition for release from illegal detention, in which she stated that she was sui juris (entitled to act for herself) and therefore had the right to decide for herself where she could live. On 22 April, the Lahore High Court found Saima to be sui juris but ordered her back to Dastak. Instead of being allowed to join her husband she was placed under the supervision and control of the Lahore High Court Bar Association president pending further proceedings on a petition filed by her father for her ‘custody.’ Thus, what is popularly referred to as the Saima case comprises two main petitions: one by Saima for permission to live with the man to whom she said she was legally married; another by her father, Hafiz Abdul Waheed Ropri, for custody of his daughter on the grounds that her marriage was illegal since it was contracted against his wishes. The two petitions raised a number of legal, social, and cultural issues, such as whether a sui juris woman is entitled to marry without the consent of her parents, whether she is at liberty to live anywhere she likes, whether the ‘rights’ of a father over his children are judiciable, and whether validity of a nikah (marriage) is to be determined by legal precedence or particular interpretations of Islamic Shariah. By June 1996 the judges perceived the issues arising through the arguments presented by the two sides to be so important that they decided to apply to the chief justice for the constitution of a larger bench. The two judges hearing the case, Justice Chaudhry and Justice Qayyum, agreed that the decision about the in­ dependence of a sui juris woman in Islam could affect the roots of Family Law, the sole law governing marriage and divorce in Pakistan (Nation 1996). In her arguments on behalf of Saima, Jahangir said that Saima was an adult woman and as such entitled to autonomy under the constitution o f Pakistan. She said the argument by Saima’s father’s counsel for the presence of a legal guardian, or wali, to mandate all matters relating to women’s activities outside the home would violate basic human rights and

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


contravene the country’s constitutional guarantees provided for all citizens {Dawn 1996a). After almost a year of courtroom debates the judges were unable to render a decision and asked the Supreme Court to place the split decision before a referee judge. Finally, on 10 March 1997, a full bench of the Lahore High Court upheld the validity of Saimas marriage on the grounds that a marriage contracted by a sui juris woman without the consent of her wali was validated by the constitution. While two members of the bench upheld the marriage, a senior member of the threeman bench gave a dissenting judgment.7 J Each of the three judges separately recorded and explained his judg­ ment. Justice Chaudhry, in his forty-page judgment, relied extensively on Quranic verses and hadith (recorded statements of the Prophet Muham­ mad) to conclude that marriage was not simply a contract in Islam but also a religious duty and that obedience to parents could be legally en­ forced.8Justice Qayyum, in his two-page order, differed with the opinion of Justice Chaudhry. While conceding the importance of family and its sanctity in Islam, he relied on legal precedent to argue for the validity of the nikah of a sui juris Muslim woman even in the absence of the consent of her wali? The third judge, Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, in thirty-one pages of remarks, relied on the Quran and the Sunnah (the life and prac­ tices of the Prophet Muhammad) to argue that Saima’s action, though constitutionally sound, was socially and morally precarious.10 While ac­ cepting that the consent of the man and the woman involved is an in­ dispensable condition for the validity of a marriage and that a wali has no right to grant consent on behalf of the woman without her approval, the judge declared that he believed ‘premarital and extra-marital liaisons, courtships, secret friendships and secret marriages’ to be offensive to Islam." Therefore, in his remarks he strongly recommended that the state introduce laws that would make such relationships and marriages a penal offence. Despite the ambiguity in the decision, eminent lawyers and jurists termed the decision in the Saima case to be ‘historic’ and a ‘landmark judgment’ (News 1997). An examination of the reports in the media, court debates, and the texts of the judgments suggests that the case brought up insecurities about cultural and national identity since arguments about ‘Islam versus West’ and ‘tradition versus modernity’ were freely mobilized to counter appeals to constitutional provisions or legal precedents. I will therefore explore how constructs of Muslim womanhood encountered modernist ideas about citizenship to authorize particular kinds of subjects to police the boundaries of subjecthood. This encounter was rehearsed through a va­


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

riety of discourses that proliferated at different sites during the trial: the question of womens legal maturity or entitlement to act as autonomous individuals, the ‘home’ and ‘family’ as ideological units of the ‘nation,’ the réinscription of ideas about Muslim womanhood in constructing the normative woman in the Pakistani nation-state, and definitions of national boundaries through notions of the good society. Feminist discursive strat­ egies in support of Saimas, and women’s, autonomy can be understood as being framed by and against these discourses. Texts that I draw on include newspaper reports in Urdu and English that sensationalized not only the Saima case but also other similar cases; related feature articles, editorials, and newspaper columns; judgments in the Saima case; and published statements by government officials, social activists, human rights groups, and religious political parties.

MUSLIM DAUGHTER OR CITIZEN OF PAKISTAN? Feminist accounts describe the Saima case as significant and argue that it represents a battle between patriarchal control of women’s sexuality and a (Pakistani Muslim) woman’s assertion of her desire and rights (Sarwar 1996; Hussain 1997). The Saima case, like many similar situations, ap­ peared to constitute a struggle between two opposing social, economic, and cultural groups in Pakistan— one represented by Saimas father, an upwardly mobile middle-class businessman with close ties to an orthodox religious sect, the other represented by Jahangir, a prominent human rights lawyer with elite family connections who is well known for her secularist politics. Thus it invoked representations of a classic struggle that Muslim feminist scholars such as Fatima Mernissi, Farida Shaheed, and Khawar Mumtaz have theorized as the tradition-versus-modernity struggle being fought in Muslim societies between ‘fundamentalist’ men and elite professional women (Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987). According to journalist Beena Sarwar, Saimas family and her lawyer symbolized the ‘two extremes of Pakistani society,’ since her father was a leader of the extreme right-wing religious sect Ahle Hadith, while her lawyer, Jahangir, was ‘known for her stand on secularism and progressive thinking’ (Sarwar 1996, 6). ‘This factor contributed in no small way towards propelling the case into prominence,’ Sarwar writes (1996, 6). Similarly, feminist scholar Neelam Hussain describes the Saima case as a power struggle between ‘an upwardly mobile fundamentalist orthodoxy and women who represented a mix of the old elite and rising social classes’ (Hussain 1997, 206). Hus-sain’s detailed analysis of the narratives of the Saima case attempts to illustrate

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


how state apparatuses, social institutions, and the community colluded in the interests of maintaining both legal and social control over womens sexuality’ (Hussain 1997, 202). Seeing Saima’s marriage as the assertion of a woman’s autonomy, Hussain suggests that the issue is so fraught with danger that Saima’s father’s counsel tried to draw attention away from Saima’s avowal of her citizenship rights by raising the question of parents’ right to be obeyed, the status of marriage in Islam, and the condition of a waits permission for a valid nikah (Hussain 1997, 226). Therefore, although feminists and progressive groups welcomed the apparent victory of constitutional rights, it is important to explicate how and in what ways the validation of a woman’s autonomy was overwritten by discourses of the protection of daughters and the nurturing of girls. While ‘woman’ carries (admittedly limited) ideas of legal and social personhood, the concept of ‘girl’ is culturally and socially associated with dependency, protectedness, and legal incapability (Smyth 1998). Although Saima had defied her family by acting out her desires and rights as a woman, in the statements of her father and his counsel she remained a ‘girl’ whose ‘innocence’ had been corrupted by the influence of feminists and Westernized women. In one extreme illustration of such defilement, her father’s counsel actually tried to convince the court that Saima had not married Arshad of her own accord but that her lawyer, Jahangir, had been involved in misleading her into the,situation (Khan 1996a). The desire to protect (and to disempower, by speaking for) was evident in the arguments for ‘custody’ put forward by Saima’s father’s counsel, Riaz-ulHasan, who defined the main issues as parents’ right to obedience, the inapplicability to Muslim marriage of the notion of civil contract between individuals, and the permission of a wait as a prerequisite for a valid nikah.n This position was in turn enabled by the ambivalent decision of the judges, early on in the case, when they declared Saima sui juris yet ordered her to be retained under supervision at Dastak instead of freeing her to rejoin her husband (Khan 1996b). Muhammed Malik Nawaz, also an advocate for Saima’s father, stressed this point further by asserting that in Islam, the outdoor activities or public life of even a sui juris woman could be regulated by her parents or wali, who are also responsible for arranging her marriage. He claimed that prior to marriage, ‘the girl is the responsibility of her parents’ and if she defies their authority or shows them any disobedience, under Islamic tenets she can be put on the ‘right track’ through a judicial order. Nawaz argued that ‘a virgin girl stepping out of her house without the consent of the parents can be asked to go back.’13


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

One of the main questions before the judges was whether a woman whom they considered to be sui juris could be compelled to live at her fathers home against her will or, conversely, whether a Muslim woman could be allowed to live independently.14 Eventually the judges decided to treat it as an issue of state failure in successfully integrating ‘Islamic’ tradition and culture into constitutional law, a failure through which the relationship between the religious and the legal presented thorny dilemmas for the judiciary. Pakistan’s legal system is a corpus of laws established under British colonial rule, the Anglo-Muhammadan Law, intermixed with Shariah law (Mehdi 1994). Centralization and unification of laws by British administrators in India in the interest of efficient colonial rule led to the replacement of local criminal justice systems by British law, although Hindu and Islamic law continued to be applied as the ‘personal’ law in matters relating to inheritance, succession, and religious endowments. This meant that the diverse Muslim legal practices that existed in colonial India were subsumed under a uniform and consistent code—Islamic law—and this universal set of rules was applied to every person who identified with Islam (Mehdi 1994). In territorially independent Pakistan, judges traditionally managed to avoid the inherent contradictions between constitutional and Islamic laws by following in the footsteps of the British Indian courts in applying case law, evoking legal precedent rather than their own interpretation of the Quran. This changed after 1977, with Zia’s plan to ‘Islamize’ all aspects of life In Pakistan, including both criminal and status law (Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987). Shahnaz Rouse (2001) points out that this marked the first time in Pakistan that the liberal agenda was ideologically challenged at the state level and that this challenge reversed the compromise between secular and religious forces that had been in evidence up to that point. While earlier regimes had tried to appease the religious opposition by delegating them some control over personal law, Zia altered the entire legal structure and created parallel systems of civil, religious, and military courts in which the latter two were accorded supremacy over the former (Rouse 2001), My reading of the Saima case suggests that the judges, who were civil court judges, showed a concern not so much for abidance with the ‘true’ principles of Shariah or consistency with legal precedence but with their perception of their own roles in the Islamization of society— their pedagogical position in nation-building. ‘We are national judges and as such custodians of the morals of the citizens,’ declared Justice Chaudhry in his dissenting judgment of 10 March 1997.15 From this and other statements from a variety of positions, it is clear that the case had acquired

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


a pedagogical importance for the project of national signification and therefore entailed a reassertion of different interests about the relationship between woman, sexuality, and national interest. In his minority judgment Justice Chaudhry made it clear that he con­ sidered it the duty of Muslim parents to arrange the marriage of their children, particularly daughters, as early as possible to prevent them from coming across male outsiders and sullying the ‘purity’ of the home.16 Further, he suggested that the government should regulate or ban marriage bureaus and other institutions that were becoming a menace’ to society, presumably by encouraging people to choose their spouses.17 O f most significance are the thirty-one pages of judgment remarks by Justice Ramday, whose decision turned the case in favour of Saima. Despite al­ lowing Saima her constitutional ‘liberty,’ Justice Ramday’s remarks show very litde difference from those of Justice Chaudhry and, in some in­ stances, seem to be harsher in condemning her actions.18 Although he declared the marriage of Saima and Arshad to be valid and conceded Saima’s right to reside wherever she desired, Justice Ramday emphasized not so much the importance of citizenship or individual rights but the need for measures that would limit these rights in the interest of what he deemed to be Islamic and moral values. He called for preserving the middle-class family as a symbolic national model and as a bastion in the cultural battle against the West. Justice Ramday proposed a ‘right of pre­ emption through which families could protect themselves ‘in the matter of strangers being brought into the household either in the form of a son-in-law or the form of a daughter-in-law.’19 According to this view, in the discursive regime of the middle-class Muslim home, as Hussain rightly points out, the concept of ‘woman’ can only be invoked through the transgressive metaphor: thus crossing the threshold can signify the trans­ formation from daughter to citizen and from ‘good anonymous woman’ to ‘transgressive woman or fitna [agent of social and moral chaos]’ (Hus­ sain 1997, 215). Seen thus, domestic chaos can lead to national chaos. While upholding Saima’s liberty as a citizen, Justice Ramday hastened to draw attention to the plight of the West, where social chaos had erupted due to the absence of ‘proper balance between the extent of the individ­ ual s freedom and the limits to which the individual’s rights extended.’20 The judge blamed the ‘social chaos’ of the West on the inability of its leaders to control the ‘common man.’21 He therefore emphasized the need for the nation-state to maintain the balance between home and street through measures designed to protect the purity of the middle-class family. For Justice Ramday, the security of the Muslim family meant


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

purdah— protection of women from the outside’ and from their own sexuality. After emphasizing the respected status of women in Islam, Justice Ramday proposed to guarantee this status by circumscribing the home as a ‘safe’ gendered space and by silencing women within a discourse of seclusion as protection. He suggested that: \a ) the females should ordinarily stay indoors; (b) if a woman needs to go outdoors then she must extend her veil over her face; must cover her chest and should not indulge in any act which could attract men; and that (c) if it becomes inevitable for her to talk to a man then she should not talk in a mild and a pliable tone, and further that if someone needs to ask her for something then she should talk to the man from behind a screen or a veil.’22 In this extreme representation of sexuality, Justice Ramday seems to equate the gendered female body, the fact of woman’s identity in itself, with the potential for sexual chaos— a face unveiled, the female body outside the home, even a mild tone of voice is considered a dangerous signal of sexuality and, consequently, societal immorality. Hence he proceeds to emphasize marriage not as a relationship between two individuals but as a religious and social duty that parents must discharge so that a daughter will not have to undertake the un-Islamic practice o f ‘husband shopping.’23 Therefore, despite the favourable majority judgment deeming her capable of marrying without a father’s consent, Saima remained symbolically the daughter who had been tainted by feminists and outsiders and who needed to be represented because she could not represent herself. There was thus a profusion of concerns about the ‘problems’ of ‘girls’ and the proper nurturing of daughters in the judges’ final statements as well as in other statements and discussions in the courts and the media. What is unremarkable about these discourses is the enabling fiction that a girl’s identity is supposed to emerge within the sanctified atmosphere of the middle-class family and home. What makes these discussions sig­ nificant is that the anxieties about the proper upbringing and education of girls were focused overwhelmingly on the middle classes, who are just entering the developmental project of the nation-state through access to modern education, employment, and media. This becomes evident in a sampling of the national and local Urdu press, which directs itself mostly to urban and rural lower-and middle-class readers.24 Feature articles, letters to the editor, discussion forums, interviews, and surveys started appearing in Urdu newspapers about the problems of girls and the failure to provide proper upbringing, education, and nurturing to girls by particular classes of families, by the education system, by teachers, and by the state. There were debates on the pros and cons of arranged versus love marriages, early

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


versus late marriages, relationships between parents and daughters, the generation gap, and so on. Anxiety about the changing patterns of behaviour among girls in middle-class families is exemplified in a feature article in a nationally circulated Urdu daily that suggests that late marriages of girls were leading to difficulties for many families (Nazir and Zafar 1996). The article cites parents, psychologists, and the manager of a marriage bureau in arguing that many social problems were resulting from increased opportunities for higher education and careers as well as from the changing aspirations of girls in middle-class families. ‘Whatever the reason the problem of late marriage of girls is a problem that besets every fourth household,’ the authors noted (Nazir and Zafar 1996, 12). They quote Syed Azfar Ali Rizvi, head of the Department of Psychology at Government College Lahore, as saying, ‘Failure to find a suitable [mar­ riage] proposal is a problem, but higher education, the quest for the best, desire for the ideal, discrimination o f caste and class and greed are reasons why late marriages are on the increase. And the higher incidence of divorce in our society is an aspect of this trend’ (Nazir and Zafar 1996, 12-13). While this article seems to be drawing attention to the social and economic stresses of modernization on middle-class families, another writer laments the failure of national cultural processes in producing the right kind of citizen-subjects in middle-and lower-middle-class families. Referring to the uproar created by the Saima case, columnist Saeed Wasseq asks in the newspaper Khabrain why girls run away from home. For the answer, he draws on religion, Western psychology, and modernist notions of family and parent-child relations to explain the crisis’ facing the middle-class Muslim family: ‘There are many reasons....The basic one is that the girl does not receive from her parents, brothers and other family members, the kind of attention and love that she craves....Another tragedy of our society is that there are very few parents who have a mutual understanding with their children. Parents consider themselves to be the providers for their children and therefore their superior and consider it their fundamental right to assert their will on their children....This is why there is very little communication between parents and children and there is a great distance between them’ (Wasseq 1996, 6). What the writer appears to be arguing for is a reorganization of the Muslim home as a space in which individuals as members of a family are trained in their ‘proper’ roles as mothers, brothers, daughters, and so on. Wasseq notes the significance of differential social and economic conditions of different families and pinpoints as most deserving of national concern ‘those low middle-class families’ that experience ‘constant strife’ due to economic and


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

social problems (1996, 6). Although Saima was identified with a wealthy industrial family, the anxiety generated by her marriage appeared to be felt most acutely in relation to the section of the population identified as the lower middle classes of Pakistani society who, presumably, could not be relied on to act in their own interest or that of the nation. Wasseq suggests that the concept of girls running away is less common in upperclass homes, where children are granted much more freedom due to the influence of Western culture. In lower-middle-class families that, according to him, are larger and have more domestic problems, he suggests that parents are not sensitive to the emotions of their children since they are not educated in the right sense.’ He declares that this is evidence of the failure of national ideology: ‘Is this what Pakistan stands for?’ (1996, 7). The protection of ‘girls’ from their social environment and the creation of the right kind of mothers and daughters are thus seen to be the re­ sponsibility of the nation-state. This resonates with Lisa Smyth’s (1998) analysis of discussions that surrounded the issue of abortion for a teenage girl in Ireland in 1992, which were dominated by appeals for safeguarding her identity as a Catholic daughter. The positioning of a girl as a daughter aroused issues of nation, family, and state protection, since daughters ‘belong to families and since ‘the family’ is an important trope for the narration of the nation. These comments illustrate anxieties related to the changing situation of the middle-class family and particularly of (laughters within such fam­ ilies, since there is evidence that women from the middle and lowermiddle classes entered urban-based universities and employment sites in record numbers during Zia’s time. This period is also associated with the dislodging of the Western-oriented elite from their almost total control of state and social power in Pakistan (Weiss 1986; Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987; Jalal 1991). Due to political realignments and changes in the bal­ ance of power among different social groups, Zia’s period witnessed the rise of a new section of middle-class traders and petty entrepreneurs who continue to be the strongest supporters of the state’s Islamization project. The ascendance of this class is ascribed to a number of factors, including increased access to financial credit for groups hitherto denied it, the use of financial incentives as a measure to neutralize political opponents, and most of all a dramatic boost to Pakistan’s economy by trade and labour migration to the oil-rich Arab Gulf states. Saima’s father’s family, the Ropris, arose from within the petty commercial and trading groups that appear to be both economically prosperous and religiously conservative (Sahafat 1996; Hussain 1997). Hussain suggests that they represent the

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan

1 33

‘orthodox world of fundamentalist Islam as it reaches out for the fruits of modernity while holding on to the certitudes of traditional structure inherent in female segregation and authoritarian lifestyles’ (Hussain 1997, 205). I would add that the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ spaces of home and society are constructed not only by fundamentalist or modernist desires but by the dividing practices of gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and status, which produce gendered subjects capable of functioning within the context of both capitalist expansion and state-sponsored religious repression. Thus, newspapers reported that Saima, who appeared in court completely veiled, was allowed at other times to dress in Western clothes, to own a mobile telephone, to go swimming, and to ride in fancy cars (Haider 1996; Sahafat 1996). I would argue that this reflects the family’s ability, due to their economic prosperity, to straddle the border between what is considered modern behaviour for women in Pakistan and that which is seen as traditional. Further, I propose that in Saima’s case, transgression of the boundary between family and society can be seen to lie in her reaching out for the modernist rights of the individual as citizen-subject rather than in appropriation of the usual markers of cultural change—for example, unveiling or Western education—that in anticolonial nationalist discourse often symbolized the change from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’ woman.25 Saima’s internalization of her case as representative of the elusive woman-citizen is significant. Against widespread depiction of her, on the one hand, as lovesick (media) or innocent but duped (her father) and, on the other, as an independent adult (her supporters), or an essential woman (sympathetic writers), Saima describes herself as ‘the first drop of rain’ and as an autonomous, rational individual through statements such as: ‘My nikah was not an impulsive act’ (Qayum 1997). Saima therefore publicly presented her case not as the victory of a ‘love marriage’ or the fruition of a woman’s desire as emblazoned by the national and international media but on the register of modernity, as marking a new identity for Muslim women of her class (Qayum 1997). Whatever significance one attaches to the Saima case, the debates that it generated certainly disturbed— even though they did not dislodge— the discursive regime of the middle-class family in Pakistan in which female selfhood is limited to ‘daughter,’ ‘wife,’ ‘sister,’ or ‘mother.’26 If, as Partha Chatterjee (1993) argues, the middle-class home was the originary site of anticolonial nationalism and the development of middle-class female selfhood, the Saima case also bears out Inderpal Grewal’s (1996) contention that notions of selfhood in the home can also be constituted in ways that challenge notions of state and nation. As Hussain points out, Saima’s


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

transgression succeeded ‘in revealing possibilities of breaking the frontier and in revealing the anxieties of the powerful within ‘the maps they have drawn’ (1997, 240). The discourse of the home as a sacred harem of privacy and protection was disrupted by Saima’s repeated accusations that she feared for her life from her relatives and by her refusal to go with any of them: ‘I have tested all my relatives— I was betrayed by everyone I trusted’ {Jang 1996a). The discourse of women activists supporting the idea of middle-class women’s autonomy as ‘individuals’ was also complicated by the need to attend to the differential social class positioning of different women as highlighted by the Saima case. While the project of Islamization begun by Zia affected women from the poorer and working classes most ad­ versely, it was accompanied by a public discourse on women’s dress and mobility that alarmed upper-dlass women and led them to experience social and cultural restrictions from which they had previously been protected by their class position (Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987).27 The leading women activists who challenged Islamization, including Saima’s lawyer Jahangir and the women who set up Dastak, are associated with the upper and upper-middle classes of Pakistani society. In demanding constitutional rights for Saima and in her efforts to enlist sympathy for her struggle, Jahangir also appeared to replicate the paternalistic discourses of protection o f girls in both middle- and lower-income classes. However, unlike Justice Ramday, she took care to emphasize not only the threats from outsiders and strangers but also from within the ‘protective’ space of the family, from fathers, uncles, and brothers. In challenging the idealized constructions of daughter and family, Jahangir drew attention to the vulnerability o f the majority of girls and women in Pakistan who are denied access to social and legal resources due to their social and economic class position {Jang 1996b). She also referred to dowry rituals associated with poorer families in which fathers are seen to ‘sell’ their daughters and to other instances where (middle-class) parents subject their daughters to humiliating court cases to punish them for marrying against family wishes. She argued that even though higher courts frequently legislate in favour of daughters, it is usually the parents who take the matter to court— mosdy after nonlegal attempts at coercive control fail to achieve the desired results. Jahangir emphasized the increased responsibility of the state and judiciary to compensate for the fragility of a woman’s legal personhood and her vulnerability as a daughter by contending that the ‘treatment of girls in our society is such that no girl would have the courage to move the courts for redress’ {Jang 1996b). The

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


discourse o f women’s autonomy in Pakistan therefore became entangled, inextricably and contradictorily, with the class-specific discourses of the construction of girls and their protection.

CONCLUSION The Saima case is significant in expanding our understanding of how gender underlies and organizes citizenship— and how women in Pakistan both contest and appropriate the discourses of Islamization and modernity. In the case of Pakistan (as in many other Muslim states), whilethe mod­ ernizing state seeks to build a concept of nationhood by eroding alternate forms of alliance, it has foundered in the area of personal law—particularly in matters relating to women and the family (Kandiyoti 1994). The gen­ dered nature of the discontinuous and contradictory processes of nation­ state formation in Pakistan has meant that even as the state has tried to claim more authority for itself in certain areas, it has also relinquished its authority in other areas to tribes, families, and privatized forms of regu­ lation, particularly of women. While Pakistani feminists have tended to see the modernizing state as liberating, it is important to understand that the processes of state formation, including anticolonial secular nationalism, have strengthened patriarchal control of women by delineating customs, traditions, and culture as a domain of the personal against which the legal and political are then seen to constitute the public sphere. The imposition of ‘Islamicized’ laws such as the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evi­ dence, and the Law of Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (blood money) has made some matters pertaining to womens bodies and sexuality directly accountable to formal laws, yet it has also made certain types of murder and injury, especially violence within families and tribes, ‘compoundable,’ that is, crimes against the individual rather than the state.28 There is thus a peculiar reconfiguration of the private and public by which areas typically designated private such as sexuality, personal relationships and liaisons, modes of dress, and so on are deemed to be matters of public interest while other issues typically designated as public have been subsumed under the private rights of families and communities. The state s attempts to bolster its authority through constitutional amendments and acts that enable it ‘to prescribe what is right and to forbid what-is wrong’ {News 1998, 9) include the incorporation and endorsement of mechanisms embedded in notions of family, community, and tribe to regulate women’s morality. This has resulted in the privileging of informal and customary practices and privatized identities over the national identity


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

of ‘citizen.’ As in the Saima case, there are dangerous results for women when sub-national identities such as family, biradri (community), or tribe emerge as subjects to arbitrate issues of sexuality and identity. Pakistani feminists argue that the Islamizing state has bolstered private control of women by the family and community by further restricting women’s access to the public sphere and by regulating morality through strict prescriptions for women’s dress and deportment.29 As the above discussion shows, there was a profusion of uncertainties around whether the Saima case should be judged according to legal precedent, prevailing social and cultural behaviour, or religious law. Caught between the ideals of national interest as envisaged in the discourse of Islamization or the imperative to uphold rights enshrined in the constitution, the judges evinced ambivalence around the question of whether to treat Saima as a citizen or as a daughter. Feminist politics in Pakistan are both framed by and have to mobilize the tension between private and public and home and nation to press for women’s rights. Although they used the discursive space opened up by Saima’s predicament to draw attention to women’s oppression within the family and community, Saima’s supporters could ignore neither the classspecific nature of women’s experiences nor the decisive role of cultural and ethnic affiliations in their lives. They therefore had no option but to resort to an unmarking of women’s identity as citizens. While drawing attention to the precarious position of girls, especially in lower-and middle-class families, Jahangir ultimately emphasized women’s citizenship rights and human rights as offering the best protection for Pakistani women of all classes. The crux of her arguments was that any law, convention, or customary practice that conflicted with the provisions of the constitution regarding fundamental rights could not be legally sustained. In challenging her opponents’ arguments about Islamic tradition and Muslim or Pakistani customs, Jahangir thus relied on the formal guarantees provided in the 1973 constitution through articles 10, 11, 14, 20, and 25 relating to fundamental rights, safeguards against detention in custody, safeguards against traffic in human beings, inviolability of the dignity of man, freedom of religion, and safeguards against discrimination on the basis of sex alone.30 The Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a major alliance formed in Pakistan in 1981 specifically to challenge the Islamization of law and society, was one of the groups that strongly campaigned for Saima’s right to be treated as a citizen instead of as a daughter. In a statement issued during the Saima case, WAF stated that the issue was not, as popularly represented, the right of a father over his daughter but one o f ‘an adult

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


woman’s rights to freedom in movement, choice in marriage and right to determine her own life, all of which are fundamental rights granted in the Constitution of Pakistan’ {News 1996). The group said it was ‘alarmed by the developments taking place in the country as exemplified by the controversies surrounding the Saima Waheed case’ {News 1996). In its arguments the women’s group also highlighted the importance o f Pakistan’s commitment to universal human rights instruments and treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Such a privileging of universality as the desired condition of national subjectivity resonates with the demands of many progressive and secular democratic groups in Pakistan and other Muslim societies. It certainly testifies to feminists’ emphasis on the transcendence of human universality over nationalist particularity in local contexts where notions o f politicized culture are mobilized to subvert gender equality. By strategically fusing ideas about Muslim identity and citizenship claims and by subsuming both under women’s rights as universal human rights, women activists in Pakistan attempt to reject both notions of women as wards of the family and as dependents of the state. Through demands for state adherence to international conventions on women and human rights and by drawing on transnational support to confront the state, women activists discursively challenge the emotional and physical boundaries of both ‘home’ and ‘nation’ as sanctified spaces for women.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The research for this article was enabled by a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council o f Canada. Many thanks are also due to friends in Pakistan who helped me in my research. In particular I must mention the Women’s Action Forum and Dawn in Karachi and A G H S in Lahore. All newspaper references are taken from the clippings files (‘Women’ in the Dawn library, Karachi, and ‘Saima Case’ in A GH S, Lahore) and thus may appear without page numbers here.

[Signs: Journal o f Women in Culture and Society 2006, vol. 31, no. 2]

© 2006 by The University o f Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/2006/31020005$10.00


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

NOTES ! . See Grewal 1996; Joseph 1996; Alexander 1997; Hussain 1997. 2. O n 10 February 1979, on the recommendation o f the Council o f Islamic Ideology, Zia issued five ordinances that would change the existing Pakistan Penal Code. These were called Hudood Ordinances and related to offences concerning private property, adultery, fornication ( eina), false accusation o f adultery iqazf), and consumption o f alcohol. The ordinances also defined a series o f punishments that were ordained according to the severity o f the offence. 3. See Weiss 1986; Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987; Jahangir and Jilani 1990; Khan 1994; Haq 1996; Gardezi 1997; Hussain 1997; Saeed and Khan 2000. 4. The Saima case in fact comprises a set o f related cases referenced by this name. 5. In 1985, before he ended martial law and introduced a civilian government with himself as president, General Zia issued President’s Order no. 14 o f 1985 for the Revival o f the Constitution o f 1973 (also known as the Eighth Amendment). Constitutional amendments made through this order not only introduced the basis for a theocratic state in Pakistan but also validated all laws passed under Zia’s military rule since 5 July 1977, so that they could not be challenged in court. 6. The acronym A G H S stands for the first letters o f the names o f four women lawyers who founded the organization: Asma Jahangir, Gul Rukh Rahman, Hina Jilani, and Shahia Zia. 7. Pakistan Legal Decision 1997 Lahore 301 (PLO 1997) before Ihsan-ul-Haq Chaudhry, Malik Muhammad Qayyum, and Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, JJ, Hafiz Abdul Waheed (petitioner) versus Miss Asma Jehangir [sic\ and another (respondents), criminal - miscellaneous no. 425-H o f 1996, decided on 10 March 1997. In All Pakistan Legal Decisions (Lahore: PLD Publishers, 1997), 49:301-84. 8. Ibid., 312-52. 9. Ibid., 352-53. 10. Ibid., 353-84. 11. Ibid., 383. 12. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988) has demonstrated how strategies o f representation work in die silencing o f women in particular locations. 13. PLD 1997, 313. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid., 341. 16. Ibid., 312-13. 17. Ibid., 343. 18. Ibid., 353-84. 19. Ibid., 380-81. 20. Ibid., 370. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., 379; emphasis added; some Islamists argue that Muslim women, when speaking to male strangers, should use ‘straight-forward and customary speech’ so as to avoid appearing flirtatious. See Jameelah (1978) 2000. 23. PLD 1997, 381. 24. In contrast, the English-language press is aimed primarily at upper-and middle-class urban readers who are more conversant, and often more comfortable, with English than other local languages.

Gender, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in Pakistan


25. Such a conception o f womens liberation or modernization is most vividly evident in womens own accounts o f their lives and times, such as Shahnawaz 1971 and Ikramullah

2000. 26. Michel Foucault (1982) defines a discursive regime as the circulation o f knowledge as truth and the practices o f power related to this organization o f knowledge. 27. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1988-90, 1993-96), who came to power after Zia, although not a proponent o f Isiamizadon, did not take any effective measures to reverse the process. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (1990-93, 1997-99), who was a protégé o f Zia’s, revived the Isiamizadon program and introduced new legal and political changes. General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in October 1999 and is Pakistan's president as o f this writing, describes his philosophy as enlightened moderation. He has vowed to review, and where necessary modify, unjust laws that were introduced in the name o f Islam. However, all the oppressive laws, including Hudood Ordinances, remain in force. 28. I use the term Islamicized to emphasize that Islamization in Pakistan must be approached not with reference to Islamic revivalism or fundamentalism but as a historically situated policy that was implemented within specific sociopolitical conditions. The Law o f Qisas and Diyat, which determines all aspects o f intentional and unintentional murders, bodily injuries, and abortion, was proposed duKng Zias regime but passed later, in 1990. According to this law the compensation for a victim o f murder or bodily injury if it is a woman or non-Muslim would be half o f diat for a Muslim male. In the aspect o f evidence too, this law reduces women’s testimony to circumstantial evidence in all cases o f murder or bodily injury (Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987; Mehdi 1994). 29. This argument has been ably expounded by Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987 and Rouse 1998. 30. PLD 1997, 321.


Locating thé Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance S h a h n a z K han


omen’s incarceration is often preceded by physical and sexual abuse in the home. For example, the majority of the women in Indian prisons are rape victims who have been placed in ‘protective custody’ in prison to ensure that they will be present at the trial of the accused rapist. The accused rapist on the other hand is not apprehended, let alone incarcerated. In her study of Canadian women’s stories of incarceration, Elizabeth Comack notes a gender bias as well, for she suggests that we view women’s encounters with the criminal justice system as a means through which men exercise control over women.1 There is another aspect to women’s imprisonment. Prisons frequendy resemble poorhouses. As noted criminologist Jeffery Reiman comments about the United States, if you are poor you have a greater chance of being arrested and charged. Money, he argues, provides an enormous advantage with which to manipulate the justice system.2 These comments are certainly true in Pakistan where gender, class, and control of women’s bodies appear integrally connected to women’s incarceration for zina (illicit sex). Places of incarceration and refuge (in state-sponsored shelters) can, however, become ‘safe’ spaces for many Pakistani women fleeing the wrath of their families. Moreover, the process politicizes many of the women and they question the fundamental principles of their socialization, in particular obedience to their families. In this article, I consider the history and effects of the Zina Ordinance (also known as zina laws), and show how it is the legacy of a particular legal, political, and historical process.

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


THE ZINA ORDINANCE The Pakistani constitutions of 1962 and 1973 called for the appointment of a Council of Islamic Ideology to bring existing laws into conformity with Islam. The military regime of General Ziaul Haq (1977-1988) took this mandate more seriously than did any of its predecessors and in 1979 promulgated the Hudood Ordinances as a first step toward the process of Islamization.3 The Hudood Ordinances include the Zina Ordinance (‘Whereas it is necessary to modify the existing law relating to zina so as to bring it in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as set out in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah’), the Law of Evidence, and the Law of Blasphemy.4 The Zina Ordinance censures and prescribes predetermined punishment for the offenders based on particular readings of sum (chapter) 24, verse 2, of the Qur’an: The woman and the man Guilty of fornication Flog each of them With a hundred stripes Conventional Sunnah scholarship established legal interpretations of this verse such that punishment of one hundred stripes was to be applied only to those persons who were not married. For married persons guilty of fornication, the traditional view was that they should be stoned to death. With the proclamation of the Zina Ordinance, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, illicit sex became a crime against the state and was made noncompoundable, nonbailable, and punishable by death.7 Legally the term zina conflates adultery and fornication. Moreover, under the terms of the new laws, if it cannot be proved that sex occurred without consent (rape), the act of sex itself then becomes a crime against the state. No woman convicted under these laws has been stoned to death, although whippings are frequent for those convicted under the lesser offence of Tazir.5 Stoning to death as punishment for illicit sex between people who are married but not to each other, the maximum for the offence of zina, was contested as early as 1981.6 Lucy Carroll notes that the Federal Shariat Court (the special court in which Hudood cases are heard), in a four-toone decision, held that the Sunnah cannot alter the clear wording of the Qur’an calling for one hundred stripes as punishment for zina. Thus, in


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the opinion of the court, the maximum punishment for married as well as not-married offenders ought to be one hundred stripes. ‘The Ordinance, to the extent that it imposed the death penalty for Zina, was thus held repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.’7 Pressure from those who disagreed with this decision no doubt influenced General Zia, for he altered the composition of the Federal Shariat Court within weeks of the decision and added three ulema (religious scholars) in an attempt to tip the balance for a more conservative reading o f the law. Although Zia accepted recommendations from the Council, he made the final decisions himself. His understanding of Sharia (Islamic religious law), however, suggests a one-dimensional perception of the legal process on which it is based. When questioned as to how differing interpretations o f Islam would be handled within his Islamization program he replied, ‘We are not getting into that debate. We are going to the basic laws [in] Qur’an and Sunnah. We are not going into various schools of thought.’8 By focusing on the ‘fundamentals’ of Islam, Zia’s vision denied not only the complexities of Islamic traditions but also, as I will show, the complexities of the Pakistani context with its deep cleavages based on gender and class. Paradoxically, people in the context in which I am located, Canada, also often focus on the fundamentals of Islam and reproduce decontextualized accounts of Third World Muslim women. It is to an examination of the forms of knowledge frequendy produced in North America that I now turn.

READING THE ZINA ORDINANCE IN THE EAST/WEST DIVIDE Elsewhere I have argued that narratives o f Third World women’s oppression are frequendy textualized in the West as human interest stories, which overdetermine women as helpless victims of their societies.9 As Gayatri Spivak reminds us, such representations often serve to further demonize and stereotype Third World peoples, reinforcing the idea that brown women need to be freed from brown men. These representations are also supported by some feminists who have not questioned the prevailing stereotypes about Third World women as more passive, powerless, and oppressed than First World women.’10 Western women, largely excluded from power, often perpetuate these prejudices through practices of exclusion directed toward women of colour.11 Although the binary thinking suggested by these views no longer dominates much

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


feminist theory, such ideas continue to circulate at the fringes and to structure popular perceptions about the Third World woman. I have found that speaking about the injustices women suffer is a fairly straightforward matter in Pakistan, because many of the activists and jurists I have met are openly against the laws. However, my criticism of the zina laws places me in a theoretical and political quandary in Canada. My work risks not only reproducing the Third World woman as a spectacle but also has the potential to reinforce the Islam-bashing so popular after 11 September. Pakistani women, controlled by poverty and their families, may be controlled again by the Orientalist gaze and co-opted into mystifying the oppression women in the West face.12 Set against the backdrop of the woman jailed for fornication, the Western woman may appear free and liberated. Such dichotomous views of East and West, however, shake feminist solidarity and minimize the chances for effective international collective action. Standing at the intersection of sexism and racism in Canada, I place this discussion in what I believe to be a productive tension between writing about the Zina Ordinance and its reading in the West. This tension could be described as a ‘third space,’ one of liminality. Homi Bhabha and Bell Hooks argue that the contradictions within this space allow for a renegotiation of binary codes and predetermined boundaries, enabling critical inquiry and social change.13 Such a space also allows feminist responses to move beyond culturalist explanations, which simply reduce Pakistani women’s subordination to gender or religion. Articulating a forceful voice at this juncture allows feminists living in the West and in the East to examine the underlying oppressions that women face worldwide, even as it strengthens transnational feminist politics. With this political project in mind, I now turn to die context that spawned the Zina Ordinance.

CONTEXT OF THE ZINA ORDINANCE South Asian nationalist anticolonial struggles strengthened and united local religious and nonreligious power brokers against colonial rule, making religious authorities important players in the creation of nation states in the subcontinent. In Pakistan, religion was reasserted as nationalism, and the country, imagined as a homeland for Indian Muslims, came into being in 1947. The prominent place of religious identity in the state’s creation has helped legitimize the frequent recourse made to religion by diverse political actors in pursuit of political power.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

John Esposito notes that both the regimes in power and those opposing them have used Islam to legitimize themselves and to participate in a discourse of morality that they did not always themselves exhibit. These trends have been exacerbated by the legacy of authoritarianism, both indigenous and colonial, that has coincided with a restricted civil society.14 In Pakistan, this process peaked during General Ziaul Haq’s regime. In 1977, Zia engineered a military coup against the democratically elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and declared himself president of Pakistan. Zia further incorporated religious ideas into state policies and practices to secure a broader-based electoral legitimacy. At the same time, he accelerated a process, begun by his predecessor Ali Bhutto, through which the left was largely destroyed. Instead, support was given to the fundamentalist Islamic party Jamat-i-Islami, which was afforded government patronage. Tariq Ali argues that this process was part of a worldwide trend supported by US foreign policy to strengthen and use Islamic fundamentalism against left-leaning indigenous movements. These policies were part of the cold war strategy through which the spread of communism in Third World societies was to be halted. Through the process of Islamization initiated by Zia, ties between Islam, the Pakistani state, and the military were further strengthened. The needs of the state and its view of Islam were to be backed by the muscle of the Pakistani military. Conversely, the needs of the military and its international supporters, including the United States, were to be legitimated by state interpretations of Islam. Zia drew on Islam for support but remained firmly in control.15 It has been argued that people turn to politicized forms of religion, such as Islamism, partly as a result of insecurities generated by the effects of economic and ecological disaster, urbanization, and militarization.16 I argue that this process is likely true in Pakistan as well. Like Islamists elsewhere, Zia focused on symbolic and moral cleansing, frequently providing simple answers to complex economic and social problems. Anita Weiss’s comments support my argument. She notes that Zia’s programme was Islamist, rather than Islamicizing, in its failure to emphasize ‘redistribution of wealth, especially of rural land-holdings; establishment of an Islam based political decision-making process [or] formation of social programmes stressing man’s obligations to God’s creation, haquq ul-abad.' Instead, she argues, women were singled out in his reforms, a process which reinforced the authority of extended families and favored a more feudal economy. In effect, women are not encouraged to be

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


independent workers. Rather, they continue to be socialized into obedient daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers.17 Although womens organizations demonstrated against the antiwoman bias in Islamization policies in February 1983 and were assaulted with batons by the police, a broader resistance failed to materialize. Sadia Toor cites several reasons for this. The period of the Zia regime was a time of relative peace and prosperity, with several years of good harvests in Pakistan and significant remittances from foreign workers living in the Middle East. Pakistan also benefited from the military and financial aid provided to Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors) mounting a jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials siphoned off much of this aid for their own purposes, and resources that could have been used to build the social infrastructure went to purchase consumer goods, particularly luxury items for the wealthy. Zia and his religious supporters attributed the increased affluence of this era to the moral direction provided by Islamization.18While state funding strengthened the religious parties, both Pakistani and Afghan, it also increased the state’s power over the lives and liberties of its citizens and brought more people, particularly women, into contact with what has been described as an abusive and corrupt criminal justice system.19 In the relative prosperity of the period few questions were asked about inequalities generated by existing social conditions.20 The period of relative affluence of the Zia regime is now over, but the Islamization policies, including the Hudood Ordinances, remain. Subsequent governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have shown litde inclination to repeal them. Both of these regimes held minority government status. It is unlikely that either wanted to risk alienating the pro-Islamization forces by retracting existing laws. The acceptance of Islamization and its attempts to control women in Pakistan, Barbara Metcalf suggests, is ‘part of a society characterized by rapid changes where educational institutions fail to educate, bureaucracies are corrupt, justice does not prevail, and life often seems to lack dignity. For that society only a new order, in which the position of women is tightly defined, seems to offer hope.’ As Muslim societies attempt to reconcile modernity and tradition, they embrace modernity in the form of science, technology, and commerce. It is womens unchanging role, however, that continues the connection with a more stable and idealized past.21 Those who endorse the zina laws usually respond to its critics with objections to the laws’ implementation, rather than to the laws themselves. For example, the principal of the Law College of Punjab University in


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Lahore, C.M. Hanif, argues that ‘the problem is not with the laws themselves but with the system and that the few miscarriages of justice occur because of the implementation of the law.’ Hanif is critical o f those who oppose the law and is particularly wary of Asma Jahangir, the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, whom he calls an ‘agent of the west.’ Similarly, Amanullah Malik, a lecturer at the same college, believes that most of the women jailed for zina were working as prostitutes. Hanif and Malik suggest that any suffering caused by the zina laws is the result of police corruption. Both men are undisturbed by the fact that it is women, particularly poor women, who are the main sufferers. Hanif is of the view that only a few women suffer whereas Malik claims all those affected are prostitutes.22 As I will show later on in the discussion, my data challenges both positions. The Jamat-i-Islami, the largest and most organized Islamist party in Pakistan, also supports the laws, although comments made by Sabiha Razi, president of Women’s Aid Trust (WAT), the women’s wing of the Jamat, suggest that the support is soft. For example, in an interview in December •2001, she voiced the party line of promoting the laws as a mechanism of ensuring moral stability in Pakistan; but she also pointed out that some members of the Jamat, including herself, support a re-examination of the Zina Ordinance.23 Indeed, challenges to the Hudood Ordinances have also coincided with their continuous review by the Council of Islamic Ideology, the constitutionally mandated oversight body that reviews all laws in the context of Islam. The report outlining their discussions or conclusions is consistently unavailable, however. Although the constitution of Pakistan forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, the requirement that no law may be against the injunctions of the Qur’an and Sunnah has opened the door to legal formulations that draw on male-biased readings of the sacred texts and reinforce the unequal status of women.24 Under the Bhutto and Sharif regimes, however, state programs did not appear to be as clearly aligned with pro-Islamic forces as those under the Zia government. Policies toward women remain uncertain nevertheless and daily violations of women’s rights continue without adequate state response.25 Eminent jurist Khalid Issaq maintains that repealing these laws would bring about a backlash from the religious orthodoxy that, in large part, continues to support them.26 There are no statistics, however, that indicate what per cent of the population supports the laws or alternatively wants them repealed.

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


CONTESTING THE ZINA LAWS Few statistics exist as to how many women have been jailed and for how long since the laws took effect in 1979. Opponents of the laws derive their evidence from limited studies and from data about the number of women in prison at any one time. Data for the years 1994-1996 from the Women Police Station Karachi suggest that as many as 80 per cent of cases registered in those years were for zina, and a newsletter published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that between 40 per cent and 45 per cent of female prisoners in jail are there because of the zina laws.27 Although many of the prisoners are released after trial, they face years of incarceration before their cases come to court. A recent study of prisoners in Pakistan revealed that only 16 per cent of women prisoners had been tried and convicted. The other 84 per cent had been neither tried nor released from prison.28 The women with whom I spoke in prisons have few resources with which to mount a legal defence or to post bail. Even if they do have the resources, bail has to be posted by a male— their father, their brother, or their husband. Often these are the people who are responsible for them being in jail in the first place. Comments from the women suggest the strong belief that their imprisonment is the result of their rebellion against family authority. They have little knowledge of the law or of the process that might eventually help set them free. They rely largely on an inadequate legal aid system in Pakistan for legal guidance and support.29 Moreover, nationality and citizenship do not alter womens likelihood of being charged under Pakistani zina laws. Women from Bangladesh, many of whom have been forcibly brought to Pakistan, often via India, for the purpose of domestic or sexual servitude, are also charged and imprisoned under the laws.30 There are other documented legal implications of the zina laws. Inasmuch as they blur the legal line between rape and adultery, Afiya Zia points out, ‘[t]he foremost considerations.. .will be proving or disproving consent, rather than forceful coercion or violation, [and] this has the effect o f shifting the focus of all subsequent prosecution from the aggressor to the victim.’31 The onus of providing proof of rape rests with the victim under the laws, and if she is unable to convince the court, her allegation o f rape is in itself considered as confession of zina. Thus the victim effectively implicates herself and is liable to Tazir punishment.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

PREPARING TO SPEAK TO THE WOMEN Before I present women’s narratives, I will briefly describe the process of accessing women’s accounts. During the course of my fieldwork in Pakistan between 1998 and 2 0 0 2 ,1 was unable to locate any woman who had been incarcerated under the Zina Ordinance and who was now free to speak of her experiences. This was because the process of incarceration, legal aid lawyer Hina Jilani notes, is extremely destructive for the women. Some o f the women go back to their families after they are released from prison, but the families protect/prevent them from making outside contact.32 More frequently, their families are the ones that have charged the women with zina and the women fear that going home is likely to be a death sentence. So the women Just disappear and make their lives anew in whatever way they can. Local knowledge suggests that many of these women become prostitutes; however, I have not been able to substantiate this claim. Not having access to women who were former prisoners and who were relatively free to speak about the process of incarceration without fear of repercussions left several things unexplored. What were their experiences in the lock-up and in the prison? What was the nature of their post-prison encounters with their families? What strategies did they employ to rebuild their lives? Were they able to connect with and regain custody of their children? My failure to answer these questions indicated the limits of my investigation, but it also draws attention to the reasons why the victims of zina laws do not offer resistance to the state. They disappear. Women, who were minimal citizens in any case because of class and gender, are now the silenced vanished victims. They are not organizing against the law or agitating against the process, which treats them so unjustly. Their disappearance hands the state a clean process, one in which there are no victims demanding restitution. The few demands for restitution come from activists, who are easily dismissed as contaminated by the West. Although Jilani could not connect me with former prisoners, she directed me to two sites in Lahore where I might find the women I was looking for: Kot Lakpat prison and a shelter, Darul-Aman (House of Peace). Darul-Amans are women’s refuges set up by the state and run by Islamic organizations, although there has been a recent move by feminist organizations to administer the Karachi Darul-Aman. Women need a referral from a judge or a letter of recommendation from a government official or a journalist to enter the shelter, leaving them largely inaccessible to the majority of women. Using informal networks I obtained permission to visit both Kot Lakpat and the Darul-Aman.

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


The culture of these institutions discourages private visits with women. An institutional official is always present. Indeed, Jilani discouraged me from speaking to a woman without an official in the room, suggesting that a private interview might have repercussions for the woman after I had left. Even in the presence of the official, Jilani recommended that I not question women openly about their experiences in and out of prison and Darul-Aman. Such questions, Jilani cautioned, would likely expose the woman to danger. I therefore chose to begin with the question: ‘What events led you to this place?’ In this manner, each woman could answer within the confines of what felt safe for her. I interjected only to clarify what she had said. It is possible that many of these women wanted to say more but did not because they felt unsafe in front of the institutional official or with me, the newcomer. They told their stories without hesitation and doubt, as if they had narrated them before.

LIVING THE ZINA LAWS Given the consequences for a woman if she is unable to prove rape, women do not generally accuse men of rape unless they are pregnant as a result of that rape.33 Indeed, only one of the women I spoke to alleged that she had been raped. Instead, the women that I interviewed cited their parents’ poverty, violence, and family conflict, rather than rape or illicit sex, as the reasons why they were in jail. Families with little means to cope with increasing inflation and chronic unemployment often find that their daughters’ sexuality is a valuable asset, a commodity commanding a high price. Marrying her to the highest bidder in exchange for a ‘gift’ frequendy becomes one method of paying off debts. Furthermore, many women are virtually sold into marriage to sustain alcohol and drug habits of their male relatives. Seventeen-year-old Gulbaden Bibi from Peshawar, for example, has been in Darul-Aman twenty-two days.34 Here is what she had to say: M y father sold me in marriage for 20,000 rupees when I was fifteen to Akram who is fifty years old and a zamindar [landlord]. He used to beat me and yell at me and call me names. So my father helped me obtain a divorce and paid back the 20,000 to Akram. Then I married my cousin and father consented. Father drinks alcohol and gambles and takes opium and has a lot o f debt. So he now wants me to divorce my cousin and marry a man in Karachi who is willing to pay for me. This way father can pay o ff his debt. I refused. I want to stay with my husband Qamar. Father said that there is no marriage between my cousin and myself as I no longer have his permission to be married to


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Qamar. So he charged me with zina. I came to Darul-Aman voluntarily. I was afraid o f what my father would do to me [as I have not agreed to his demands].

Husbands can also use the zina laws to intimidate and commodify their wives. Rashida Bibi has no formal education and has been at Darul-Aman for four months. Her father owed money to an older man and she was married off to him as a form of repayment. He made me commit zina with six other men in exchange for money which he kept. He also beat me and broke my arm. My husband had a first wife who was also involved in prostituting me and she also beat me. I registered a case o f rape against [the] old man and his wife with the police. I am in Darul-Aman because my husband’s son-in-law has threatened me.

Fifteen-year-old Gul Bano also rebelled against family demands, in her case against her mother. She had completed tenth grade and had been in Darul-Aman for six months. Her father had given her in marriage to a twenty-two-year-old man. However, after a row with her mother, her father disappeared. Now mother wants me to divorce my husband. She says that I am only fifteen and a minor and that she has authority over me. She wants me to marry someone who has promised her money. So my mother has charged us with zina and my husband with abduction. My marriage has been registered and my husband has the nikahnama. I am happy with my husband and I do not want to leave him. Twice I have been to court. In the court I was told that I am a minor and should go and live with my mother and do as she says. But I refused. Finally I came to Darul-Aman, [but] I am still afraid.

Twenty-year-old Salima with no formal schooling has been in DarulAman for six months. She grew up in an abusive home and she too wants to use the contradictory space of Darul-Aman as a place o f safety. Her father is dead and her mother and brothers want to give her in marriage to an older man as a form to debt repayment. I refused and they beat me more. So I ran away and stayed with a friend for four days. I hid in her balcony and her parents did not know I was in the house. In those days I had no food only what my friend was able to sneak in, mostly tea and some bread. My friend was afraid o f her family finding out.

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


Salima found refuge with some cousins, but she claimed that: They did not keep me either. They are afraid o f my mother and brothers and did not want to get involved. But they did give me five hundred rupees and sent me here to Darul-Aman. I don’t want to go home. I want to live with my aunt [fathers sister] and she says that she will take me in. My mother and brothers have told me that if I don’t come home, they will charge me with theft and zina. I have no lawyer and I have no money. I f I go home they will kill me. I am happy here and I will live out my life in Darul-Aman if I have to. I will show my family that I can survive.

As Salima’s story shows, although families frequently use the Zina Ordinance to lay claim to the bodies of their women, prison and shelters also become contradictory places of empowerment in which women reject the claims of their families. Particular readings of verses in the Qur’an establish women’s status as that of a minor under the control of their families and guardians. Many o f these later verses have influenced the Hanafi reading of Shariat law in Pakistan, allowing parents to contract marriage for minor daughters whose sexuality thereby becomes a commodity that can be sold.35 Often parents contract such marriages for adult children as well, and young men, particularly working-class men, can be as powerless as young women in deciding their own destiny. The use of zina laws to prosecute and intimidate daughters who have married without their parents’ permission suggests that parental rights override men’s right/claim to their wives. Twenty-year-old Nausheen’s story provides an example. She had completed tenth grade. She was in the ninth month of her pregnancy and had been at Kot Lakpat prison for three months. She married against her parents’ will and they accused her husband of abducting her. Now both of them are in jail. Jilani argues that the courts have given contradictory rulings in cases such as this one, at times siding with the parents against their children who have reached the age of majority and, at other times, validating the decision made by adult children to contract their own marriages.43 A recent court ruling, however, rendered valid a marriage contracted against the wishes o f her parents by a woman who had reached the age of majority.36 Poor women with few resources are also ideal victims for the police who want a tidy conclusion to cases. Jilani points out that once a case has been initiated and a First Investigative Report (FIR) launched, police are ‘under pressure to tie up the investigation and send the case for


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

prosecution.’ Police performance is evaluated annually. Unresolved cases, Jilani points out, reflect poor police performance, thus police are often looking for a victim.37 Forty-nine-year-old Naseem Jehan has been at Kot Lakpat for seven months. Her story provides an example. M y neighbour [who is also my relative], well, her daughter-in-law ran away. And I was accused o f helping her run away. The mother-in-law o f the girl accused me for being an accomplice. She wanted money from me. I have been accused o f a crime that I have not committed. They [the courts] are asking three lakhs for bail.381 have sold everything even my jewellery to support my case. My eldest daughter is sixteen and she is alone at home with my husband. M y husband has a bad temper and I am afraid for her. My bail has been raised three times and is now three lakhs because the judge also wants money. I am against judges please write against judges.’

Twenty-five-year-old Naseem was also named an accomplice in abduction and has been in prison seven months. She had run a fruit stand in Lahore at which she employed a young man. This young man ran off with his cousin and Naseem and her husband got charged as accomplices. There is no one to provide bail for us. I have been told that the abducted girl testified against my husband and me. I do not know what was said in the police station. I do not understand. I have no lawyer. I have three children their ages are four years, six years, and nine years. They are with my uncle right now. Sometimes I write letters to them. And sometimes I get letters from them.

Comments made by twenty-five-year-old Saima Parveen suggest that even harbouring a woman in an abusive situation can be dangerous. Saima has never been to school but knows how to read and write Urdu. She is married, has a seven-year-old son, and has been at Kot Lakpat for nineteen days. Her brother Mustafa and his wife Razia gave shelter to Razia’s sister Rukaya who was fleeing an abusive husband. We were afraid, my parents were afraid and I was afraid. And [we] suggested to Mustafa that he leave Rukaya with her parents. We were afraid that there would be trouble. But he refused and allowed Rukaya to stay in their home. Rukaya was also afraid that her husband would come looking for her to Razia’s house so she ran away from there [as well]. And her husband did come looking for her. He said that Razia, her husband, and his family had abducted his wife. Rukaya has disappeared and Razia fears that her in-laws have abducted her or killed her. This case was registered two months ago. The police took my

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brothers and myself into the lock up and beat us up. They beat us a lot and I have a lot of bruises. They took money from us. I have no one to bail me out, all my three brothers are in jail, and my father is [in] jail. I don’t know where my husband is. My son is with my mother and I have left everything to Allah. Thirty-five-year-old Amina is from Kasur District. She has no formal education and has been at Kot Lakpat for twenty-two days. Her story suggests that at times the police are just looking for money or wanting to flex their muscles while they conduct random raids. Amina was on her way to her brother-in-law’s wedding. I was at the Lahore station waiting to take the coach to Islamabad. I sat down at a table to have tea and a man sat down at the same table to have tea. The police came and accused us of zina. They said that you have booked a room at the hotel for zina. And I said that I have never even thought of this. They arrested me and also arrested the man; now we are both in jail. My husband believes me and thinks of me as a gharayloo [domesticated] woman. But we have no money and no property to register. And we can’t pay bail. Thirty-five-year-old Feroza was arrested along with her employer, a former madam. Her husband abandoned her years ago and she now lives with her parents and her two sons who are nine- and thirteen-years-old: I worked as a cleaner. One day there was a raid at the house and the police caught me. I am not sure why. I have no lawyer. My parents, they know I worked but don’t know I am in jail. My parents think I am away on work. Now it is two months since I saw my parents and they and my children must be worried. I have no lawyer. I can’t tell my parents I am in jail. They are too old and will die of shock and shame. I hope that someone will come forward and pay my bail. I have asked other women if they know someone who will help. I will pay them back. If you know some one please help me. I have no one, I am ¿/wn/[honest]. I will pay them back. That is all I can do. How much will it cost about two or three thousand. It can’t be more. I am strong and healthy. I will work and pay back. It might at first seem obvious that prostitutes would be the most likely victims of these laws. However, comments made by Najma Parveen suggest that this is not always the case.39 Many prostitutes have influential connections that not only post bail for them but also help them get acquitted. Parveen directed me to sixteen-year-old Ghazala who is an exception to this process. Unlike most other prostitutes, Parveen pointed


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

out, she does not have money for bail or connections to help secure her release. She has been in prison for the last one-and-a-half years. I was in a hotel with a man. I have been to hotels with men before. My mother is sick and my father is dead. I charge twenty-five rupees for zina. The first time I was fifteen. When my father died we had a lot o f debt and creditors would come to our house and threaten us. Ami [mother] said don’t prostitute yourself. But I didn’t know where else to get the money so the creditors will not bother us. A friend o f mine also does zina for money and she showed me how to get clients. The man I was with is in jail as well. We were eating in a hotel and the police caught us. My mother has come to visit me in jail and she is trying to get bail money. But we have no money.

THE SOCIOPOLITICAL LOCATION OF THE WOMEN'S VOICE The zina laws censure women and men for having sex outside of marriage, but there is little conclusive evidence that the women in jail were there for violating sexual rules. Many women have been accused of merely aiding and abetting abductions, and many have not been accused of having sex. Instead, the women’s narratives reveal a society in which police corruption and violence go unpunished, male violence against women has no legal sanction, and the majority of the population is increasingly impoverished. From 1979 to 1995 more than one million zina cases were filed with the police and 300,000 heard by the courts. The legal system is so backlogged that incarcerated persons awaiting trial are frequently held longer than the sentence they would receive if convicted.40 Moreover, many of the women are acquitted after trial due to lack of evidence. That thousands of women have been incarcerated for years on charges of helping in an abduction, or elopement, reinforces the tradition that women, particularly lower-class women, belong to their fathers, brothers, and husbands and should, therefore, not act independendy. People who treat these women as individuals with full rights of citizenship and are sensitive to their narratives of pain and suffering need to be cautious lest they too be accused of helping ‘property’ escape the clutches of its rightful ‘owners.’ Still, Pakistani law includes a rhetorical commitment to general abstract principles of equality. Moreover, as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination o f All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Pakistan has reinforced this commitment. A moral and just society, the rhetorical goal of the laws, would undoubtedly be welcomed in Pakistan as it would be in other places. But the zina laws do not bring about such

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a society in Pakistan. Instead, policies and practices support a diminished status for impoverished women. The state oversees the regulation of these discriminatory practices and reinvigorates a disciplinary culture harmful to the interests of women, particularly lower-class women. The English press in Pakistan has frequently taken up and debated the idea that the zina laws, indeed the entire text of the Hudood Ordinances, are contributing to social and political injustice. But there is little debate in Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, and Pushto— the languages of the people most affected by these laws.41 The impoverished female population (the primary victim) is unlikely to follow the debates in the English press. Few of them can read and write, and if they are literate it is in their local vernacular. The inability of those affected by the laws to mount a substantial popular defence is thus due not only to their lack of resources but also to their lack of awareness of how these laws affect them. Despite a general lack o f awareness about the ordinance, some Pakistani women, particularly those at Darul-Aman, are contesting control of their bodies and their marital choices. Many of these women seek shelter at Darul-Aman to escape the domination and violence of fathers, brothers, and husbands who beat them and then sell them to the highest bidders. They are choosing their own marriage partners even knowing that their choices place them at considerable risk. At the same time, these women articulate a desire to be gharayloo and sharif, suggesting that they have accepted the middle-class ideal of domesticated, and honest women, but also gesturing to a redefinition of these ideals. They want relationships o f love and romance and claim that Islam has given them the choice to choose their own life partners. Their efforts for more independence are circumscribed by the zina laws, which together with a corrupt police provide families with a mechanism to control their women. Yet, paradoxically, for many women prison also becomes a place of refuge from the fury of their families. Many women told me that their enemies were all on the outside and that they felt safe in the prison or in Darul-Aman.42 The ways in which middle- and upper-class women are affected by zina laws is beyond the scope of this article. However, two cases suggest that things happen differendy in influential families. Saima Sarwar and Uzma Talpur both came from wealthy families whose influence with authorities denied them safety and refuge in state institutions. Saima was murdered in her lawyer’s chambers in front of witnesses for the crime’ of seeking a divorce from a brutalizing husband against the wishes of her family. Her murderers have as yet not been charged. Instead her father, a member of


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce, has used his influence to have a fatw a (religious decree) issued against her lawyer, Jilani. The second woman, Talpur, married against her family’s wishes and has since disappeared. Both cases illustrate how wealthy families are able to keep their daughters out o f prison and thus within the reach of family vengeance.43 Although the Hudood Ordinances currently remain in force, recent developments suggest the status of women in Pakistan might be moving in a new direction. In 1994, the executive branch of the Pakistani government, the Senate, created a Commission of Inquiry for Women (CIW). Its terms of reference included a review of all existing laws that affect women’s rights to equal citizenship in Pakistan and suggested amendments to these laws. Even though not all commission members could be classified as ‘feminist activists,’ they reached consensus on several critical points. The report of the CIW noted there was widespread misuse of the Zina Ordinance. Moreover, the commissioners stated that these laws were not in conformity either with Islam or with the constitution of Pakistan and recommended their repeal. Notwithstanding the CIW’s recommendation, the ordinances remain in effect.

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOS) As the Pakistani state responds to World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt restructuring directives, it moves away from providing social services to its citizens, thus leaving them increasingly vulnerable to family demands. Indeed, the women who are in prison are those who have rebelled against their families. This situation gestures to the thousands of others who likely were intimidated into following family dictates. A major problem for impoverished women is the lack of state-sponsored options for housing and employment training. Increasingly, NGOs have filled the vacuum left by the state, providing legal aid, primary health care, and education to groups that cannot afford to pay for these rights. Although there are all kinds of development monies available to do research on and provide services to women, there is little money available to address the infrastructure, such as the need for women’s shelters. Consequently, although women are able to find help in escaping violent situations, there are few places where they are able to take refuge. Dastak, a shelter for women run by the legal aid organization AGHS, is one of the very few places where women can live safely while they explore their own options. Otherwise they have to try to get shelter in one of the Darul-Amans where

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


they are often eventually channelled into marriage or sent home to family situations they are trying to escape. Helping raise funds for shelters for women is one way women in the West can join forces with activists in Pakistan. My intention is not to glorify the role of NGOs as powerful and progressive champions of peoples rights. Instead, I argue that through their social work agenda the activists who work for these organizations often find themselves on a collision course with the state and law enforcement agencies over civic and human rights issues. Their activities draw attention to. unjust procedures and directives that are against both the spirit of Islamic values and those found in human rights debates. The NGOs are funded by foreign agencies and are thus vulnerable to Islamist claims that they are Western agents and un-Islamic; but they are subtly changing Pakistani society.44 Many legal challenges to the zina laws have been brought about by NGOs such as Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. As a result, the government has brought fewer charges against women under the zina laws than in the past and the courts have shown greater leniency toward women in their sentences and in the granting o f bail.45

(RE) LOCATING THE FEMINIST VOICE I have argued elsewhere that orientalist narratives of Third World women help construct their stories as spectacle events.46 As such, the narratives of the zina victims might help Western women to participate in the illusion that they are free and equal in their own society, even though they frequently earn seventy cents to the dollar of what men earn and many of them face violence at home. Such ideas threaten to turn the zina victim into a metaphor for all that is wrong with the Third World and by implication what is right with the First World. When this happens, the actions o f Pakistani parents who sell their daughters in marriage or the underpaid policeman who accepts bribes because he does not earn a living wage are no longer understood in a global context. Instead, it is the perverse customs and practices of Pakistani society and of Muslims in general that are deemed responsible for the horrors perpetrated under the zina laws. A transnational feminist analysis helps demystify the spectacle o f the woman condemned under zina, as well as those factors that obscure the links between the women here and the woman there. The woman in the Pakistani jail is defined as deviant because o f her uncontrolled sexuality. She has been positioned to flee the power of the


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

law and the control o f her family. Why does she end up in a Pakistani jail? I have shown that it is because she is impoverished and illiterate. She is impoverished and illiterate not only because the state is spending less and less money on education and job creation, but also because her femaleness is commodified within a society structured by neo-colonial injustices. Although the issues are presented in religious and cultural terms, womens subordination in Pakistan is more closely connected to lack of education, lack o f employment opportunities, lack of a living wage, and exposure to violence. Similar issues exist in the West where feminists have long problematized the social construction of the impoverished and minority woman as deviant, as one whose sexuality needs to be controlled. These issues are connected to patriarchy and capitalism. As the state retrenches and provides fewer services, such as health care, basic education, and employment opportunities, women, particularly poor women, become more vulnerable to conditions of poverty and violence both here and there. Rather than examining gender and culture as the only basis of Pakistani women’s subordination, a transnational feminist response explores poverty, corruption, and illiteracy as the defining factors in Pakistani women’s situation. These issues can be linked to structural adjustment directives imposed on Third World countries, including Pakistan, by the IMF and the World Bank. These are the same structural adjustment directives that are increasingly responsible for the loss of funding for shelters and for women’s organizations in First World countries, including Canada where I live, work, and write. I suggest that the voices of women incarcerated under zina laws be analyzed in a global context. Feminist collective strategies need to continue to examine and challenge how globalization affects women internationally. In my final comments I draw on Partha Chatterjee’s understanding of the dichotomy between the ghar (home) and bahir (world). Europeans controlled Indians living under colonial British rule in the public sphere, which, as Chatterjee points out, became ‘a place of oppression and daily humiliation, a place where the norms of the colonizer had perforce to be accepted.’ Such pressures rendered the private sphere of the home a place in which national culture had to be protected.47 This is also true in postcolonial Pakistan. Women’s incarceration for zina is not considered an important issue partly because these women are impoverished and do not vote, but also because there is a tacit acceptance by the state of petrified understandings of culture and tradition that should be protected in the home. These views suggest that a woman, particularly a young woman, is the ward and possession of her family. Although this attitude

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


negates the equality that adult females are granted under the constitution of Pakistan, it does strengthen essentialist notions of tradition and nation. Although the national economy and political direction is frequendy under pressure from international sources, such beliefs secure the home as a sanctuary under the control of Pakistani patriarchies. Pakistan— literally the ‘land of the pure’— is ironically a corrupt state. The symbolism surrounding the Zina Ordinance, however, allows a national narrative of purity and perfection to mask the material impurity of the nation. Classed and gendered citizens are sacrificed to symbolically (re)establish the purity of Pakistan. Impoverished womens incarceration suggests that unwanted and undesirable elements have been eliminated from the ‘pure’ land. The immoral polluting woman is imprisoned to keep the family and the nation chaste. This absent woman, however, is still present. Through the controversies surrounding the debate on zina, she continuously reasserts her presence in the national narrative. An orientalist reading o f zina in the West, however, threatens to render these controversies invisible. Denied a presence because of her gender and class in Pakistan, the zina victim also risks being made invisible in the West by the orientalist gaze. My investigation seeks to reinsert her voice by examining the social and political milieu within which zina laws are enacted. As part of this process, I recommend that we think of individuals not just as members of national or familial groups but also in relation to a wider political and social context. Pakistan is a highly indebted and increasingly impoverished nation. Conditions arising out of unemployment, poverty, and the lack of a social service infrastructure will continue to generate instability in Pakistan. Social, political, and economic uncertainty in the country will likely prevent the government from repealing any law that threatens the status quo. This is what Khalid Issaq gestured to when he commented that ‘the state is stuck with [zina] laws.’ Drawing on interviews with thirteen women charged and incarcerated either in prison or in the state-sponsored shelter Darul-Aman, I have examined how women are contesting the zina laws. Moreover, I have directed attention to the location of the writing and reading of my account in the West. In so doing I have complicated the methodology that seeks to reproduce the Third World woman as a spectacle. Finally I have tried to disrupt the ways in which the Western feminist voice reads the zina laws and to show how this voice can be (re)located as a way to represent the zina laws not only as a Third World issue but also as a global


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

feminist one. I believe it is anti-globalization movements that will help support the struggle for the repeal of the zina laws.

NOTES This research has been funded by a Social Science Humanities Research Council Grant. My analysis has benefited from discussions with and comments by Zia Awan, Rory Crath, Lavinia Stan, Will Sweet, Rod Michalko, and Tanya Titchkosky as well as the anonymous reviewers o f Feminist Studies. 1. Sanjoy Hazarika, ‘For Women in India Prison, a ‘Grim Picture,’ New York Times, 29 Feb. 1988; Elizabeth Comack, ‘The Prisoning o f Women: Meeting Women’s Needs,’ Ideal Prison: C ritical Essays on Women’s Imprisonment in Canada, ed. Margaret Shaw and Kelly Hannah Moffat (Halifax, Canada: Fernwood Press, 2000), 12-30. 2. Jeffery Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and the Crim inal Justice System (Boston: Allan & Bacon, 2001). 3. Lucy Carroll, ‘Nizam-i-Islam: Processes and Conflicts in Pakistan’s Program o f Islamization with Special Reference to the Position o f Women,’ Journal o fCommonwealth and Comparative Politics 20 (March 1982): 57-95. 4. Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, The 'Hudood' Ordinances: A Divine Sanction (Lahore, Pakistan: Rhotac Books, 1988). The text o f the Ordinance is cited from Mahmood Shaukat and Nadeem Shaukat, 'Hudood’ Laws (Muslim Penal Laws), 2d ed. (Lahore, Pakistan: Legal Research Centre, Noor Villa, 1994), 3. 5. Sunnah refers to traditions, either personal example or opinions, connected co the Prophet Muhammad. A noncompoundable offence is one that the police or government may continue to investigate and prosecute even if the original complainant withdraws her or his statement implicating the accused. Individuals prosecuted on nonbailable charges are not eligible as o f right o f release pending trial by posting bond. Bail is left to the discretion o f the judge. (See Human Rights Watch [HRW], Double Jeopardy: Police Abuse of Women in Pakistan [New York: HRW, 1992], 34.) If the evidence falls short o f what is required for maximum punishment but the case is still proven, then the accused is charged under a lesser class o f punishment known as Tazir, which occurs frequently. (See Jahangir and Jilani.) 6. Hazoor Baksh v. Federation o f Pakistan, PLD 1981, Federal Shariat Court, 145.7. Carroll, 72. 8. Dawn Overseas Weekly, 15 Apr. 1979. 9. Shahnaz Khan, ‘Between Here and There: Feminist Solidarity and Afghan Women,’ Genders 33 (Spring 2001). 10. Gayatri Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak? Speculations on Widow Sacrifice,’ Wedge 7/8 (Winter/Spring 1985): 120-30. For quote, see Angela Miles, Integrative Feminisms: Building Global Visions, 1960s-1990s (New York: Roudedge, 1996), 99. 11. Meyda Yegenoglu, Colonial Fantasies: Toward a Fem inist Reading o f Orientalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 12. 12. For a discussion o f the orientalist gaze, see Reina Lewis, Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity, and Representation (New Yorlc Roudedge, 1996). 13. Homi Bhabha, ‘The Third Space,’ in Identity, Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 207-21; bell hooks, ‘Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women,’ in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, ed. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: University o f Minnesota Press, 1997), 396-411.

Locating the Feminist Voice: The Debate on the Zina Ordinance


14. See Ayes ha Jalal, The State o f M artial Rule: The Origins o f Pakistan’s Political Economy o f Defence (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Farida Shaheed, ‘Woman, State, and Power: The Dynamics o f Variation and Convergence across East and West, in Engendering the Nation-State, vol. 1, ed. Neel am Hussain, Samiya Mumtaz, and Rubina Saigol (Lahore, Pakistan: Simorgh Womens Resource and Publication Centre, 1997), 30-45: Rubina Saigol, introduction to Engendering the Nation-State, 1-28; Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Modem South A sia: History, Culture, Political Economy (New York: Roudedge, 1998); Ross Mallick, Development, Ethnicity, and Human Rights in South Asia (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1998); John Esposito, foreword to Islam ic Reassertion in Pakistan: The Application o fIslam ic Laws in a Modem State, ed. Anita M. Weiss (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986), ix-xii; Augustus Richard Norton, ‘The New Media, Civic Pluralism, and the Slowly Retreating State,’ in New M edia in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere, ed. Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). 15. Sadia Toor, ‘The State, Fundamentalism, and Civil Society,’ in Engendering the NationState, 111-46; Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard o f the Islam ic Revolution: The Jam a’at-i-Islam i o f Pakistan (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1994); Tariq Ali, The Clash o fFundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, Modernity (London: Verso, 2002); Anita M. Weiss, ‘The Historical Debate on Islam and the State in South Asia,’ in Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan: The Application o f Islam ic Laws in a Modem Stau , 1-20. 16. Dale F. Eickelman, ‘Changing Interpretations o f Islamic Movements,’ in Islam and the Political Economy ofM eaning: Comparative Studies o f Muslim Discourse, ed. William R Roff (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 13-30. Fatima Mernissi, Islam and Democracy: Fear o f the Modem World trans. Mary Jo Lakeland (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1992). 17. Weiss, ‘Implications o f the Islamization Program for Women’ in Islam ic Reassertion in Pakistan, 108. 18. Toor, 111-46. 19. HRW, Double Jeopardy. 20. Shahid Javed Burki, ‘Pakistan’s Sixth Plan: Helping the Country Climb Out o f Poverty,’ Asian Survey 24 (April 1984), 400-22. 21. Barbara Metcalf, ‘Islamic Arguments in Contemporary Pakistan,’ in Islam and the Political Economy o fMeaning, 131-59. For a larger discussion o f these issues see Mahnaz Afkhami, introduction to Faith and Freedom: Women's Human Rights in the Muslim World (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1995), 1-16; Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito, introduction to Islam, Gender, and Social Change, ed. Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), ix-xxviii.22. C.M . Hanif (principal o f Law College, Punjab University), interview by author, December 1998, Lahore, Pakistan: Amanullah Malik (assistant professor o f Law, Punjab University), interview by author, December 1998, Lahore, Pakistan. 23. Sabiha Razi (president o f Women’s Aid Trust o f the Jamat-i-Islami), interview by author, December 2001, Karachi, Pakistan. 24. Shahla Zia, ‘Women, Islamization, and Justice,’ in Against A ll Odds: Essays on Women, Religion, and Development from India and Pakistan, ed. Kamla Bhasin, Ritu Menon, and Nighat Said Khan (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1997), 70-81 25. Human Rights Commission o f Pakistan (HRCP), State o f Human Rights 1997 (Lahore, Pakistan: Maktaba Jadeed Press, 1997). 26. Khalid Issaq (jurist), interview by author, December 1999, Karachi, Pakistan. 27. During my visit to the Karachi jail in December 1998, I was told that fifty o f the seventy-six women in jail were there on zina-related charges.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

28. Commission o f Inquiry for Women (CIW) (Islamabad, Pakistan: CIW, 1997); State o f Human Rights 1997. 29. Zia Awan, ‘The Status o f Legal Aid in Pakistan,’ in Human Rights Link. A Quarterly Newsletter (Karachi: Pakistan, 2000). 30. Jahangir and Jilani. 31. Afiya Zia, Sex Crime in the Islamic Context: Rape, Class, and Gender in Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan: ASR Publications, 1994). 32. I tried to locate two women whose families had accepted them back and whose addresses I had. I was given the runaround, however, by their relatives who were suspicious o f me and o f my motives. 33. Rubya Mehdi, ‘The Offence o f Rape in the Islamic Law o f Pakistan,’ Women Living under Muslim Laws, Dossier 18 (BP 23, 34790) (Grabels, France: July 1997); Hina Jilani (human rights lawyer), interview, December 2001. 34. In all cases I have used pseudonyms when speaking o f women charged with or escaping relatives who want to prosecute them using zina laws. 35- There are four schools o f Islamic Sharia law: Hanafi, Shaft, Malicki, and Hanbali. The Hanafi school is generally followed in Pakistan. 36. Jilani, interview; Humaira Mahmood v. State, L I, PLD 494, Lahore High Court, 1999.37. Jilani, interview. 38. One lakh is 100,000 rupees (US $2,150). 39. Najma Parveen (superintendent for Women Karachi Central Jail), interview by author, December 1999, Karachi, Pakistan. 40. U S Department o f State, ‘ 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Pakistan’ (Washington, D .C .: Bureau o f Democracy Human Rights and Labor, 2000), 10.20.41. Rehana Hakim (editor o f the Pakistani magazine, Herald), interview by author, December 1999, Karachi, Pakistan. 42. Indeed Salima commented that she was happy and felt safe in Darul-Aman. 43. For further discussion o f these cases see Amnesty International, ‘Pakistan: Insufficient Protection o f Women,’ Al-Index: ASA 33/006/2002. 44. Mallick. 45. US Department o f State, 46. 46. Shahnaz Khan, ‘Performing the Native Informant: Doing Ethnography from the Margins,’ Canadian Journal o f Women and the Law 13 (2001): 266-84. 47. Partha Chatterjee, ‘The Nationalist Resolution o f the Women’s Question,’ in Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History, ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (New Brunswick, N .J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 239.


Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health: British Pakistani Experiences K averi H arriss

INTRODUCTION he ways in which illness is socially constructed and negotiated dialectically between the individual and society have been well theorized in medical sociology and medical anthropology. Physical sensations, drives and emotions may be experienced by the body-self as ‘illness realities’, but they are inchoate, and must be socially recognized and given meaning in order to be seen as legitimate indications of disease. The degree to which a person’s experience of illness is accepted by his or her surroundings is tied to the degree to which this illness experience is transformed into sickness, i.e. the degree to which it becomes socially meaningful (Frankenberg 1980). Ill-health is the product of complex interactions between biology, social relations and cultural meanings (Good, Good et al. 1985). In Obeyesekere’s terms, bodily and mental states require ‘the work of culture’ to transform them in to socially accepted sets of meanings and symbols (Obeyesekere 1985). In this chapter I examine how chronic ill-health is constructed, negotiated, contested and asserted by British Pakistani men and women. As such, this is a question of some significance in the health care and social welfare arenas in the UK. Epidemiological research has shown that British Pakistanis have the second poorest health profile of all the major ethnic communities in the UK, being 40 per cent more likely to suffer from a long-term illness than the White majority (Nazroo 1997). This ethnic difference in health status was observed for first- and second generation migrants but appears to have worsened in the second generation (Harding and Balarajan 2000). The ethnic difference in long­ term illness becomes more pronounced with increased age, and amongst



Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

elders as well, British Pakistanis report higher levels of ill-health than people from any of the other ethnic categories (Evandrou 2000). The language of ethnicity has replaced ‘race’ with ‘culture’ and ‘racism’ with ‘cultural racism’, in which the higher levels o f chronic health conditions in ethnic minority communities are often attributed to characteristics of their essentialized and primordial ‘culture’ (e.g. habits of diet and lifestyle) (Bradby 1995; Bradby 2003; Bartley 2004). However, ethnic differences in health status are complex, multifactorial phenomena. Overwhelmingly, epidemiological research indicates that most o f the ethnic differences in the prevalence of chronic ill-health can be attributed to the poverty of British Pakistanis in comparison with the White majority (Nazroo 1997; Nazroo 1998; Davey Smith, Charturvedi et al. 2000) and their ecological or geographic disadvantage (Bartley 2004). However, there is a complex interplay of factors affecting ethnic inequalities in health, such as the long-term impact of migration, racism and discrimination, poor delivery and take-up of health-care, differences in culture and lifestyles, and biological susceptibility. This chapter contributes to a growing body of literature on how the experience o f chronic ill-health is linked to ethnicity and collective identities. As such, it responds to Charmaz’s call for comparative research on the experiences of people with similar health conditions between different social classes and societies, to illuminate how social, structural and cultural conditions shape meanings and actions towards illness (Charmaz 2000). I use an understanding of culture that derives from the work o f Kleinman and his colleagues on the ‘social course of illness’ (Kleinman and Ware 1992; Kleinman, Wang et al. 1995; Hicks, Kleinman et al. 1998; Hicks and Lam 1999; Ware 1999). As Good has pointed out, medical anthropology all too often operationalizes culture in terms of health beliefs; which has, as an unfortunate consequence, given rise to hundreds of studies that implicitly contrast the organic reality o f a disease— as it is known to biomedicine—with ‘cultural interpretations’ of a disease, which are tacitly judged to be false (Good 1994). In contrast, the ‘social course of illness’ model conceives of culture as the ‘local worlds of experience’ in which culture is realized and enacted in: ‘processes of social interaction that organize perception, emotion, and coping responses around negotiations of what is most at stake for those involved’ (Kleinman and Ware 1992) (p.547). Culture is thus: ‘realized in daily rhythms, rituals and relationships’ (Kleinman, Wang et al. 1995) (p. 1321). Significantly, Kleinman also acknowledges that these local worlds are both shared and fragmented: ‘gender, age, cohort, political faction and biography inflect

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


local worlds so that they are plural. Yet there is a patterning even to that plurality so that local contexts are distinctive forms of experience’ (Kleinman and Kleinman 1994) (p.712). Furthermore, these inflections of local social worlds are patterned by structural arrangements o f power (Kleinman and Kleinman 1985). The social course of illness’ model allows us to see the ‘social course o f illness’ as a two-way process. On the one hand, illness is understood to be ‘sociomatic’, in that bodily distress is understood to be caused by social experience and illness is understood to ‘wax and wane’ along with major events and difficulties in the life of the individual, changes in their emotional state and the manner in which they engage with social life. Simultaneously, however, ill-health is also the vehicle for the negotiation of change in people’s interpersonal worlds (Kleinman and Ware 1992). To understand how chronic ill-health is constructed, negotiated, contested and asserted, I suggest that it is helpful to use the concept of ‘poetics’, and for this exposition I draw heavily from Herzfeld’s work on the poetics of manhood in Crete (Herzfeld 1985). The term poetics derives from Aristotelian dramatic criticism, but has not yet played a great part in the metaphorical extension o f drama to the realm of social relations and their performance. Poetics refers to a kind of dramatic projection of elements of selfhood into the politics of social interaction. As Herzfeld says: ‘is in this self-allusiveness of social performances, and the concomitant backgrounding of everyday considerations, that we can discern a politics of social interaction. The self is not presented within everyday life so much as in front of it’ (p. 11). The process of legitimating chronic illhealth in an individual’s immediate social world is replete with poetics. In comparison with acute illness, Frankenberg suggests that chronic illhealth leads to: ‘a different and perhaps more complicated way o f being sick. It requires a different, longer lasting and more demanding cultural performance’ (Frankenberg 1986). The analysis here therefore pays attention to the ways in which information about chronic ill-health is communicated socially, concealed or revealed, and the messages that are conveyed within those performances; and it pays attention to the pragmatic or strategic effects of those performances. It finds that the propensity to make ill-health socially meaningful is strongly mediated by gender among the British Pakistani informants, and moreover, that gendered performances of chronic ill-health take place in local contexts of power which determine the extent to which chronically ill individuals are able to negotiate change in their interpersonal worlds.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

SETTING The material presented here draws from a broader study on the circumstances, experiences and consequences chronic ill-health and disability among British Pakistanis. The data was generated through ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with British Pakistanis in East London, who I met largely through community centres and through the networks of family, friends and neighbours that extended out of them; and with branches of their families in Punjab and Azad Kashmir. I aimed to collect life histories and accounts of chronic ill-health from people who were of working age— to concentrate the analysis on the middle generation, who were engaged in productive and reproductive work on behalf of dependent children and elders— and suffering from chronic illhealth themselves, or from family members who were living with and closely involved in looking after somebody with chronic ill-health. More than 49 detailed interviews with chronically ill people and their family members were collected, of which 29 were with women and 20 with men. Chronic ill-health was defined broadly for the purposes of the fieldwork. The intention was to include a broad range of conditions, since the focus of the research was on the chronicity itself, rather than the specific experience of a particular condition. The focus was on people who had become ill over the course of their adult lives, rather than those who had been incapacitated from childhood, and on people whose health conditions were ongoing. No precise definitions of the degree of severity, duration or level of interference with daily activities were used. This approach allowed an exploration of the subjective interpretations of chronic ill-health and its consequences, as well as the extent to which people adopted a public sick role. The informants themselves made little use of the biomedical term chronic ill-health’, nor of its Urdu equivalent lambe arse ki bimaree. Instead, they interpreted their predicaments variously as being a mareez (patient), bimaar (ill), kamzoor or mande (frail or weak), ‘disable’ or mazoor (disabled). The fieldwork was carried out in the London borough of Newham, which is an East End borough home to some 250,600 inhabitants, located between the inner-city housing estates of Tower Hamlets and the prosperous commuter suburbs of Essex. The streets of terraced houses are interspersed with housing estates and tower blocks, and lie face-to-face with no-mans-lands of current regeneration— business centres, dilapidated factories, depots and ubiquitous skips. Newham is known for its poverty. It is the eleventh most deprived local authority in England and Wales,

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


and the fourth most deprived in London (London Borough of Newham 2006). The borough boasts the largest proportion o f non-White population in the country. More than 60 per cent of its population is from a non-White ethnic group and this proportion is even higher amongst the young (London Borough of Newham 2006). Newham is a good example of what Vertovec calls a ‘super-diverse’ community (Vertovec 2005). The cluster of wards on the boundary between Newham and Redbridge—Little Ilford, Manor Park, Loxford and Forest Gate— are the most diverse in the country, and the borough as a whole is also the second most diverse local authority (Piggott 2004). There are more than 30 different ethnic communities in the borough, where more than 300 languages are spoken (Newham Language Shop 2005). There are 19,000 British Pakistanis in Newham, the majority originating from Mirpur district in Kashmir and the surrounding districts of Jhelum, Rawalpindi and Gujrat in Punjab, as well as Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. The British Pakistanis seem to be faring better in Newham than elsewhere in the country in terms of health inequalities, as it is the White British and the Bangladeshis who are the most likely to report health problems in the borough (Pevalin 2003). However, in relation to the use of health services, it seems that British Pakistanis are particularly unlikely to use any health or welfare services, and are less likely to have preventative health check-ups or tests (Burton and Laurie 2005).

FINDINGS The propensity and styles of making ill-health socially meaningful are strongly mediated by gender among the British Pakistani informants, as are the consequences of doing so. In many ways, the accounts of the here mirror the wider gender and health literature, which has looked at the ways in which men’s and womens traditional gendered roles shape their health behaviours. Parsons’ classic work on the sick role proposes that as a result of traditional gender roles men are resolutely stoical before the sick role is sanctioned; but that once ill, they show exaggerated weakness, an open display of dependency being less structured in case of women (Parsons 1951). Bury and Charmaz have also argued that women cope better with chronic ill-health because acceptance and passivity align more with traditional female gender roles, whereas the unpredictability and uncertainty entailed by chronic ill-health pose a threat to traditional masculinities with their emphasis on control and taking charge (Bury 1988; Bury 1991; Charmaz 1994). However, as Carmeron and Bemades


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

point out, such applications of gender role theory are overly stereotypical and deterministic, and fail to capture the multiple and contingent ways in which gender identities and practices relate to experiences of ill-health: ‘the challenge is to find ways to tune in more sensitively to the multiplicity of ways gender and health link together’ (Cameron and Bernades 1998). Similarly, they also fail to acknowledge how experiences of ill-health among men and women arc differentiated by power relations and structural inequalities. As Watson argues, an approach is needed that looks not at men’s and women’s health in isolation, but at how health is shaped by the wider context of relations between men and women, relations among men and relations among women (Watson 2000).

Women Traditionally, as Arber and Thomas laconically put it: ‘women are not easily seen as healthy and men are not easily seen as ill’ (Arber and Thomas 2001) (p.98). In general, the female informants had existing roles as custodians of the family health, and were proactive about seeking health care in response to signs of potential ill-health. In general, they internalized chronic ill-health and took it on as part of their self-identities more seamlessly than the men. Their accounts of the onset of their health conditions often began with the turmoil of unhappy marriages and the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, thus linking chronic ill-health naturally and inseparably with the suffering entailed by mature womanhood. However, in contrast with the men, the connection between having an internal, private identity as an ill person and the external expression and recognition of being an ill person was fraught with greater tension and contradiction. Many of the female informants described an enormous disjunction between their inner selves, which experienced misery and suffering, and their outer selves, which had to keep up a brave face and get on with the everyday work of living and protect others from knowing about their hardship. They felt that they were ‘suffering in silence’. There were powerful pressures on women to have sabar (patience), not claim a sick role and carry on stoically with their normal everyday duties without revealing their suffering to others. Sabar is often translated as patience or tolerance, but it emerged in the interviews as an extremely multi-layered term which could also have connotations of endurance, perseverance and persistence. In her discussion of the contribution of domestic violence to mental illness among South Asian women, Wilson describes the constraints on women that are entailed by the South Asian patriarchal notion of the ‘good woman’, who is all-enduring and all-

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


tolerant: ‘this model demands that a woman must endure, must not complain and must not make too many emotional demands because this is tantamount to rocking the boat’ (Wilson 2006) (p. 116). The female informants themselves did not see themselves as victims of patriarchy but as heroically sustaining the viability of their families, and they experienced sabar as a source of moral status. Wilce questions why women would fail to join in solidarity over the issue of gender hierarchy. Although he finds the notion of false consciousness problematic, he argues that a double hegemony becomes possible when a large group like women have before them the possibility of achieving higher status (as mothers and mothersin-law to daughters) at the end of a long road to submission (to men and mothers-in-law). In the case of gender relations in Bangladesh, then, the prevailing virtue becomes one of patient acceptance (Wilce 1998a). Furthermore, I would go further than Wilce, and suggest that subtle performances of their ‘suffering in silence’ provided women with unique grounds for applying emotional pressure on others, often with pragmatic or strategic ends; which could be one of the most potent weapons they had to use as leverage over others in the household. Werner et al. find that chronically ill women talk a lot about their own strength, and dismiss other women’s negative, ‘whining and complaining’ talk about their illnesses. They suggest that behind this talk lie the ‘whispering voices’ of the medical accounts and cultural perceptions concerning women patients as hysterical, crazy, lazy, illness-fixed or weak. Despite the very different socio-cultural context, the chronically ill British Pakistani women shared similar ideals about stoicism to the Norwegians in the study (Werner, Isaksen et al. 2004). Their reluctance towards taking on a sick role were illustrated, first of all, by the fact that so many of the women I interviewed did not initially acknowledge themselves to be ‘ill’—although they were sufficiently well known and identified as having chronic health conditions to agree to give interviews for the study. In countless cases, it was only through narrating the circumstances surrounding the onset and aftermath of chronic ill-health that they would come to recognise the true extent of their illness. The interview would unleash a pent-up torrent of sorrow. They would weep, saying that they had never talked about their personal tragedies openly with anybody before in their lives, and dodge back and forth in the narrative to link their suffering with more and more distant hardships that had unfolded in their lives. The interviews elicited what Grima, in her work on Pukhtun women in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, calls ‘emotional performances’. Grima’s ethnography explicates Pukhtun women’s narratives


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

o f personal suffering as an act of self-presentation. Gham (sadness) rituals (such as deaths, a crisis of sickness, the birth of a daughter, daughters’ engagements and weddings, departures, fights between men) offered women a natural arena in which to voice their stories of personal suffering. Narratives of personal suffering were displays of endurance and hardship through which Pukhtun women shared with other women, gained their trust, and created and demonstrated honour. And: ‘it goes without saying that the best storytellers were those who could make others cry’. Narratives of personal suffering are thus a public performance of affect or emotion which is inherently bound up in the construction of feminine identities and the internalisation of pukhtunwali, the moral code of the Pukhtuns (Grima 1992; 2002). Ahmed proposes that the honour that accrues to Pukhtun women through their performances of gham-khari (life rituals) is continuous with male politicking (Ahmed 2005). In my view, it is significant to recognize the elements of performance or self-presentation that arose in the accounts of chronic ill-health from the British Pakistani women. This is not to deny the reality of the suffering that the women recounted, but to acknowledge that the illness narratives were playing their part in the construction of feminine identities. Suffering was also a powerful feminine ideal among British Pakistani women in Newham. However, as Grima and Ahmed do not acknowledge in their work on Pukhtun women, the ideal was, significantly, to suffer in silence, i.e. not to perform the suffering. There were few natural arenas for British Pakistani women to publicly express their suffering, and their articulations of problems, weakness, hardship or suffering were morally disapproved of by others, especially other women. The women thus took the interviews as a rare opportunity to publicly articulate their silent suffering and have it recognized. For chronically ill British Pakistani women, suffering in silence was a source of high moral status. Women who had endured a lot of hardship were called sabarwali and were praised for their courage. People would respectfully say of such a woman that bahut bahadur hai (she’s very brave) or us ne bahut sabar kiya (she has endured a lot). Sabar was associated with religious merit (sawab). The Urdu word sabar derives from the Arabic al-sabiroon, the patient people, who are frequently praised in the Quran. For people who were pure of heart and strong in faith, adversity was a call to turn towards God, and those who put their trust in Allah to tide themselves through bad times were praised. People with sabar would shrug and say that Allah malik hai or Allah ki manzoor hai— it is the will of God, and who are we to question it. Suffering and affliction were said to

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


be one of God’s ways of making people remember Him more often, and hence, people who were chronically ill were the closest to God. Although sabar was supposed to be a desirable quality in any Muslim, the indisputably feminine nature of the quality of sabar is illustrated by the observation that for a man, sabar was a pejorative nickname used to denote a subordinate man who was walked over by others, taken advantage of, weak and effeminate. The following quotes show some of the ways in which suffering was interpreted as a test (imtehan or azmaish) from God which had to be faced with strength and patience. This is the secret stuff o f us ladies. Sabar (patience), yaqeen (faith), takleef (hardship). It’s all a test, life is a test. You need to trust in your faith, in your life experiences. Why are you here? First you need to discover that. Allah mia ne ittni takleef diyee (God has given so much hardship). Allah has given me so much takUef(hardship) in my life. The point is thatyou have to get through it. Bardasht karna hai (you have to bear it). Nusrat [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, mixed English and Urdu] You never know what God wants o f us. He has a plan for every one o f us... Maybe that is what all o f this is for, because you remember Him very much. You are always remembering Him. Nafisa giving reassurance to Nasreen [45-49 yrs, family member, English] I think Allah gave me this maqsad (purpose), to do this job, to cope with difficulties. Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] Sabar was also a source of personal depth for the Pakistani female informants. The Goods note in their work on heart distress that sadness is an important motif in Iranian society, embodied in the public rituals of grief at moharram, poetry, preaching on the Imam Hossein, as well as secular culture, as found in classical poetry and modern novels (Good, Good et al. 1985). Suffering is aestheticized and turned into cultural performance (Wilce 1998a). Similarly, in Pakistani society religious and classical traditions centring on suffering animate the imagination and soul. The teachings of the Quran concerning sabar were cited frequently as providing meaning to those dealing with misfortune, as were the popular genres of Urdu love poetry, with their preoccupation with the agony of separation from the beloved. Suffering was therefore a source of depth,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and to be able to express sadness appropriately and in the culturally proscribed manner was a mark of social competence. People who had suffered were hassas (sensitive), which was a valued personal quality, especially in women. There’s a gehra samunder mere under (deep sea inside o f me). Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] It's not right to talk too much about these things, khamoshi sab se behtereen hai (silence is the best thing o f all). Nusrat [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] The key to facing chronic ill-health with sabar was to stoically persevere with ones duties, i.e. not to take on an oven sick role. Although women would generally be proactive about seeking health care, they would not necessarily claim their ill-health publicly with others in their surrounding worlds, even after diagnosis. Indeed, many of the women defined the success of their coping with ill-health in terms of whether other people could tell that they were ill or not. As Shaheen put it, ‘looking at me they might think oh yeah, you know, she’s really confident...but inside I’m hurting’. If they could hide their chronic ill-health so well other people could not guess that they were seriously ill, then that meant they were coping. The women’s accounts echo Polit’s work on health and illness in Uttaranchal in North Indian, in which she suggests that women are unwilling to take reprieve from their productive roles because of their vulnerability in a household system to which they are imported at marriage; they have to prove their worth through the work they contribute to the household; work is a matter of feminine pride and honour, and taking time away from work is correspondingly dishonourable (Polit 2004). I would suggest that chronically ill women’s reluctance to take on a sick role and relinquish their everyday duties and responsibilities related strongly to their limited power to command attention and release from their duties, and their limited access to alternative sources of recognition and status. As Nasreen’s account illustrates, if a woman continued to do her duties, especially those that involved serving or helping others, she would be praised by others and receive religious merit (sawab). [Talking about his wife] I said why don't you see a doctor? You’refeeling bad, you need antibiotics, you need something else. You’ve got a fever. She says no I'm ok, I'm ok, maybe in the evening she will go ... She's so good, whatever it

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


is, she ju st keeps it to herself (jo bhi hai, woh usko apne pas rakhti hai). She doesn't want to share, she doesn’t want that. Sadiq [60-64 yrs, chronic condition, English] I do not want to think. I try living in the present and thank Godfor the day. I think I should help somebody and make use o f my day. May be somebody blesses me and I get all right. Nobody knows. I try my best. I thank Allah. Nasreen [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] The notion of sacrifice was constructed as an integral part of the feminine nature. The women placed a strong emphasis on concealing chronic illhealth from other family members so as not to worry them and cause them to suffer as well. Often they were the primary caregivers in their families, and as such felt that they could not receive care from others, and concealed their ill-health so as not to worry others. Women placed a particularly high premium on maintaining their roles as mothers despite chronic ill-health and on protecting their children from the pain of knowing about their health condition. There was also a normative expectation that if a daughter-in-law could do sabar and keep the peace despite her suffering, particularly through doing khidmat (service) for her in-laws, it would keep the rest of the family going. Many of the chronically ill women therefore had a strong identity of sacrifice or of being a sacrificial lamb (kurban ka baqrd) for the greater good of their families. Thus, rather than seeing themselves as victims of oppression within their families, they saw themselves as heroic figures, sustaining the viability of the family through their personal sacrifice. I don't tell anybody anything because everybody gets stressed out.. .My mum said to me that you don’t look after yourself, you look after other people but you don’t look after yourself. Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] Even though I was so ill, I neverforgot that I ’m a mum. ..I love them to bits. I ’ve worked so hard and that’s what’s killed me I think. Shazia [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] I used to be worried that my children do not get into any trouble. And that they do not think that I am suffering. I never wanted them to know all this. I never wanted them to dislike their grandfather. Nasreen [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu]


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Women are the pillar o f the family. I f the mother is strong then the fam ily is strong, the woman keeps everyone together. Nusrat [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] The women were also averse to taking on an overt sick role among their wider biradari and community members. The explanation given for the prohibition was fear of the gossip and back-biting that was said to be a characteristic weakness of Pakistani people. In such a community, they said, one could not trust anyone. Any information revealed concerning ones personal weaknesses might be turned around and used against oneself, including information about something as unfortunate as illhealth. As such, the primacy on concealing chronic ill-health can be seen as a part of the increasing rivalry and differentiation in British Pakistani society; the concealing or revealing of domestic problems, including chronic ill-health, provides a platform for differentiation in status between households, and is therefore subject to normative pressures. The spectre of negativity—‘talk’, gossip and back-biting (chuglee), within the networks of biradari and community was also identified by the women as a source of stress that was bound up in the genesis of chronic ill-health in its own right. When I go for dm (prayers) I know it is a place when people will not ask me anything... otherwise people discuss things and I don’t like it. I f I go otherwise they will question me and I don’t like to mention anything to people. Well, if you discuss your weak points with others they exploit it fu rth er...I know that... these days people who are nice to you are few. .. all o f them are kutnee (crafty)... itsfu ll o f these people... What they do is that they put up a niceface at the exterior and within themselves they have something else... Naila [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] It’s very hard, you can’t open up to, in front o f anyone. My experience is that you cant even trust anyone. A couple o f times in my life I ’ve said some o f these things to my sisters and my parents and it’s always come out extremely wrong. So I ’ve realised maybe that’s why I ’ve learnt to close myself up because you can’t trust anyone, even your own sisters and brothers, no you can’t, or your parents. A lot o f these things I could never even tell them. I mean these last couple o f weeks they’ve asked me once or twice what’s wrong, I haven’t told them anything. I ju st cant tell them all these feelings that are deep elown inside. Sayeeda [35-39 yrs, family member, English]

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


She doesn’t know why it's [chronic ill-health] been brought on...Like the only thing that she can think o f is having the pressure o f children, children growing up and like community pressure. But everyone... cos she’s got three children that are like marriage... marriageable age sort o f myself my brother who’s twenty, my sister who’s nineteen and everyone always says you should get your children married why are they not married? And she always thinks, she worries a lot and that’s what we... that’s what she thinks has brought on these random attacks. Ayesha [20-24 yrs, family member, English] Amid this negativity, sabar was used by the women as grounds for judging among themselves; women who did sabar were praised, whereas women who did not do sabar were criticized by the moral voice of the community (Etzioni 1995; Etzioni 1997) for being in some way morally disreputable. There might also be emotive, pragmatic reasons behind the taboo on talking about one’s personal suffering and problems. People who were morbidly preoccupied with their ill-health or talked about their misfortunes too much could find themselves gradually abandoned by their family and friends, who began to found their company tiresome and difficult. Naseems example was particularly revealing in this regard. Naseem, a widow, would not complain of her own aches and pains before her family members, unlike her sister-in-law (nand) Jamila who was said to be very chir-chiri (irritable) and complain non-stop about her heart condition and arthritis. Naseem was irritated by Jamilas negativity and public airing o f her sickness and compared her unfavourably with her own mother, who she considered to have suffered much more. However, in Naseems own case she felt that she could not afford to complain as Jamila complained. If other people were to be as irritated by her as they were by Jamila, the support she could expect from her close family would wane, and her future would be vulnerable indeed. Everybody has pareshanian (worries) but I don’t ‘advertise mine— not like N aila, everybody knows about N aila’s problems. Kulsoom [55-59 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] I don’t discuss my household problems with anyone, I don’t even speak about it in front o f my bhabee (sister-in-law). I f you tellpeople, it’s like you’re naked [lifts up her kameez to emphasise the point]. Your secrets come out. You lose respect i f you tell others about what’s going on in your life. Iram [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu]


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

When she comes you 11see how much complaining she will do when she comes here. She talks so much about her aches and pains. But I have to look after M afirst, isn’t it? M a is even worse than Jam ila but M a doesn't ever complain. She never asks for help even, she never asks for anybody to press her arms, she will sit in the room on her own and do it herself. She has so much sabar. But fam ila is always saying Tm so ill I'm so ill'. I said to her 'we are all ill!’. It is her own fault. She has always been this way and that is why nobody wants to be with her. I f she comes here and makes a face then nobody will invite her to their house. I f she comes and complains and shouts at the children and fights with the people then nobody will want her in their house. Naseem [55-59 yrs, chronic condition, English] Current professional knowledge and best practice in the UK place a high premium on the therapeutic value of sharing problems with others for coming to terms with chronic ill-health and managing the mental and emotional turmoil that accompany it, as illustrated by Charmaz’s otherwise excellent review (Charmaz 2000). According to this paradigm, the concealment of chronic ill-health might have untold negative consequences for the womens mental health, as it prevents them from sharing their problems with others, including family members, friends, self-help groups and health professionals. Some women, indeed, felt that the agony of not being able to talk about one’s problems and suffering was independently contributing to mental illness. Using the metaphor of stress as barometric pressure, the pressure of unvented problems was understood to build up under the surface and reach the point of explosion. Sometimes she keeps so much locked inside but then it comes out in other ways which... it is mentalpressure, isn’t it. Straining mentalpressure when you don’t talk about these things going around in your head and you don’t know what to do. Ayesha [20-24 yrs, family member, English] The female informants accounts generally revealed an aversion to sharing health-related problems with outsiders, due to concerns about family status, trust and ‘talk’. They often said that simply talking about their problems would not wish them away, so what was the point? There was aversion to ‘airing one’s dirty laundry in public’, and concerns surrounding the confidentiality of the GP surgery might deter women from talking about their emotional or mental problems with health professionals. However, these opinions were certainly not universal. Some could see the

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


value of sharing and expressed the desire to talk about their problems, although they felt constrained by the need to protect the moral prestige (izzat) of the family. I would suggest that this talk was also part of the self-presentational work going on in the accounts. Although very few of the women acknowledged that they saw any therapeutic value of unburdening themselves by sharing their problems in their interview, in actual fact there were many women who did share their problems. [Talking about her parents mental health issues and whether they would ever contact a health professional] They wouldn’t dream o f it. It’s not the Asian thing to do. They wouldn’t, I know them they wouldn’t ever consider that because it would ju st not be... they couldn’t hang their dirty laundry out in public, is how they’d see it. It’s hard enough for her to talk to her sister about little things. Ayesha [20-24 yrs, family member, English] I ’ve never gone to see the GP for my emotional problems. I ’ve never gone to see, not even til now. All the things I ’ve gone through, but I never have. I ju st can't discuss it. I just. ..I ju st can’t bring myselfto discuss it. I ju st think that i f I discuss it with her then it might go further, I ju st haven't got, you know, I don't want to appear weak. I don’t want to appear vulnerable. Because... everyone that knows me, my family, my friends, professional people, they all think I'm fine. And I think i f I go, it might get out, somebody might get to know. And I think I, I wouldfeel really, even more weaker. It’s like this way I can carry on. But i f I know somebody knows, you know, then I know if they know, then somebody else would know. Then it would go on and on. And I don’t think I would be able to carry on then. Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] There are people who share their problems. But I have never done so. It is something like fam ily prestige. Sometimes I used to think to share but there was so much o ffamily pressure... then there was my illness. ... Nasreen [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] The pressures to do sabar and suffer in silence were sanctioned by the moral voice of the community (Etzioni 1995; Etzioni 1997). However, this did not mean that women did not respond to such moral pressures with their own agency. As Murtuja points out, the power of the moral voice depends on the individual ‘buying into’ the system of shared norms and values that are being judged or sanctioned by the community


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

(Murtuja 2005). Some people are apparently immune to shame or the loss of face. Pollen argues that people with a robust personality or self-esteem have an immunity to gossip, and uses Giddens’ concept of ‘ontological security’ (Giddens 1991) (p.35) as a theoretical model for this affect (Pollen 2002). There were a number of British Pakistani women who did not buy into these shared norms surrounding sabar, silent suffering and sacrifice, particularly the younger generation of idher ki (UK-raised) women, some of whom saw the sacrifice that their mothers had done for the good of their families as a tragic expression of their mothers’ powerlessness in the face of their husbands and senior kin. Their divergent opinions draw attention to multiple experiences and voices within a single ‘culture’. The women thus employed their own agency and manipulated and negotiated within cultural norms and values. I think my husband got that kind o f behaviour from his mum, because he’s been influenced by his mum a lot...he’s never had an open relationship with anybody like in terms o f talking about his personal problems and that stuff, he’s always kept things inside. With me I talk to everybody about my problems. I don’t know how many people know about my problems but I can’t keep my problems to myself.. Over here nobody takes crap from everybody, everybody does their own stuff. Uzma [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] Nowadays children say what is on their minds regardless o f how it may affect anyone, they always speak the truth which is a good thing. They haw a lot o f self-respect. Sugra [55-59 yrs, chronic condition, Mirpuri] I tell my daughter, don’t follow in my footsteps—keep your health, and stay happy. Nasreen [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] Furthermore, as Wilce points out, concealing pain and taking it onto oneself can also be an expression of agency, albeit one which involves colluding in the hegemonic structures which offer women the possibility of achieving higher status at the end of a long road of submission (Wilce 1998a). Uncomplaining endurance offered rewards to women through the moral high ground that it enabled them to claim. Heurtin-Roberts has shown how people with limited options for being listened to and taken seriously can organize and implement a personal adaptive response to

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


chronic ill-health and use it to secure pragmatic ends in the behavioural environment (Heurtin-Roberts 1993). It is important to appreciate the powerful leverage that Pakistani women could wield over others through their reputation for sabar. Ironically, the value of silent suffering really came when it would be tacitly acknowledged by others and praised. The paradox was that if nobody knew that a woman was doing sabar, there was less point in doing it. Some women seemed to have developed masterful ways of using other people’s knowledge of their ill-health to strategic or pragmatic ends, and subtle ways of signalling their suffering to others; a ‘poetics’ of suffering. The following quotes illustrate how a woman’s sabar or silent suffering became valuable when it was cognizable to others. It means that your suffering is appreciated i f you are called sabarivali. Haseena [35-39 yrs, family member, English] A woman gives apni jan (her entire life), she’s ready to give her life, she has to look after her kids and her fam ily—but there’s no appreciation. Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] I thank God (Allah ka shukar hai) they [the children] are grown up now. So they do not need much care. They look after me when needed. I f I do not tell them when I am feeling ill then they can make out seeing myface. They then tell me to sit down and relax. Children look after me as they know that I am their mother. But now they realise what I did for them. I never made them feel that I was unhappy. Nasreen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, Urdu] Many of the British Pakistani women were able to mobilize their sabarwali identity to pragmatic ends within the household arena. In particular, as I discussed previously, many of the women identified the onset of their health conditions with having put up with a lot of hardship in their lives. The idea that the women had sacrificed so much for their families, particularly for their children, that they had ended up making themselves ill was a powerful lever in legitimating chronic ill-health in the eyes of family members. The chronic ill-health could therefore also be used to apply emotional pressure to get family members, particularly children, to behave in accordance with their own desires. If the children were disobedient, they would be making their mothers ill— and this was unconscionable, considering how much their mothers had sacrificed for


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

them. Chronic ill-health was therefore used by women to sanction increased control over tension-ridden relationships within the household. It was used to secure greater devotion from children and to encourage the performance of khidmat (service) as a form o f long-term reciprocation for the untold suffering that mothers had made on their behalf. In the context of ideal images of mothers as loving, strong, optimistic and caring, chronic ill-health allowed a rare legitimate outlet for negative emotions such as anger or anxiety. It could become a powerful tool with which to control family and friends who behaved improperly. She’s a fantastic woman, an Asian woman because she makes lots o f sacrifices and she’s very tolerant. But she’s tolerant in a hidden sort o f way where she doesn’t tellpeople that she’s tolerant and then she kind o f uses it against us she says that we’re not good children. Ayesha [20-24 yrs, family member, English] All these different emotions, all these different positives, it’s ju st taken all my energy away now. Now I ’ve got to this stage where um anything can set me off. You know if, i f anybody hurts myfeelings. ..I get really stressed out really easy as well. So my children, they speak to each other and they say don’t do anything that will make mum stressed out. Shaheen [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] It got bad to such an extent I ’m going to fain t i f I don’t have something now, all o f a sudelen this happens to me. I need to get something inside me and then I feel slightly better and then I sit down fo r a while and then I feel that I ’m getting some sort o f strength back in me. This happens a lot, it’s been happening a lot lately. And then I get really, really mad at the kids I scream at them. I ju st can’t stand it I feel like running away. The kids say to me, mum you’re blackmailing us like I say things I m ’ going to kill myselfor leave the house or go off. Sometimes I do get really, really bad I say things that I shouldn’t say to them. Sayeeda [35-39 yrs, family member, English] In the hands of women with few alternative sources of power, therefore, chronic ill-health could be a lever over other family members. These ‘poetic’ and pragmatic uses of the rights and obligations entailed by the sick role show how chronically ill women could actively use their illness to affect transformations in their lives. The revelation of secret suffering could be seen as one of the most potent ‘weapons of the weak’ (Scott

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


1985). It was an important part of the battery of strong matriarchs and most of the time it successfully secured devotion and obedience from children. However, like other ‘weapons of the weak’ it did not reverse the direction of power relations, and was dependent on how others reactions. As in Nafisa’s case, if family members did not care about the chronically ill woman, there was little she could do. The success o f such pragmatic uses of sabar thus depended on the quality of the affective ties between different family members and the existing relations of power. When I ’ve been really fighting with my husband and things like that, a few times it has happened when I get too much distressed and I end up having an asthma attack ...I have mentioned it to him but he doesn’t take it seriously. He thinks I m ’ ju st saying it. But I don’t expect him to care, you know? To.... um... not really... stop fighting I suppose. Nafisa [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] It is useful to note the parallels between womens pragmatic uses of chronic ill-health and silent suffering, as a route to getting others to listen to them and take their needs seriously, and the pragmatic ends that could be served by a more dramatic type of chronic ill-health: that of possession by djinn. People who were possessed by djinn retaliated openly against other who were causing them to suffer, liberated from the forces of selfrestraint by the djinn that was lurking inside themselves and controlling what they did. In particular, women possessed by djinn often lashed out against husbands or mother-in-laws who they had otherwise identified as oppressive forces in their lives. The following quotes give Farhana’s description of her involuntary physical lashing out against her husband, and Zubia’s description of her involuntary retaliation against her stepmother whilst possessed by djinn—which she suspected as having been cast upon her by sorcery {jadoo) by the very same stepmother, although the stepmother was simultaneously accusing her of jadoo as well. The descriptions show how the djinn had the effect of freeing them from their usual restraint and how the women possessed by djinn were at pains to stress their own blamelessness in the situation. Farhana: Bas (what can I say) . .. There’s nothing hidden from you, Shareen, you know everything, you know what it’s like. My husband goes to work, he doesn’t help me. I didn’t have a good relationship with my husband at that time. When that problem started I couldn’t even look at him. That bahr ni


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

cheez (thing from outside—i.e. the djinn) was with me so I couldn't. I used to get so angry. Shareen: D id you want to hit him? Farhana: [laughs evasively] Farhana's niece: When she’s in that state she has a lot o f anger. Farhana [55-59 yrs, chronic condition, Mirpuri] She [stepmother] came [to the hospital] in the night, at that same night she came to my house. And she said you do black magic. She’s blame me fo r it. These books you read, you read it opposite. She said that to me. This Quran you read, you read it opposite. You do black magic. She accused me for so many things. And I ju st wanted to fight with her—I don’t know what happened, that thing was inside meju st wanted to grab hold o f her and beat her, you know? And everyone used to hold me down because I used to get very powerful. I used to think o f my dad like my husband! You know? Things like that! And I was so sure that she’s done something, you know? Otherwise I wouldn’t call my dad my husband. You know? And... he’s just, ju st used to suddenly come out. It ju st used to suddenly come out. And every time it’s happening and I m ’ feeling right its gonna happen now, it’s gonna happen and I ’m panicky that time. I knew it’s gonna happen. And my head used to go round. You know? Swing around and round.. .terrible.. .terrible feeling, terrible. Zubia [45-49 yrs, chronic condition, English] People suspected of djinn possession were at the centre of a hubbub of activity in their families, who scrabbled around desperately in the search for a cure. However, if, as for Farhana and Zubia’s, the cure remained elusive, there was a waning of interest; relatives tired of the financial and energetic drain involved in going round the merry-go-round of molvis (clerics) and peers (saints), and gradually the possessed person was abandoned and left to their own devices once again. As Zubia despondendy put it: ‘after a while they got fed up as well. I mean, everybody got fed up. They just left me alone. And my husband got fed up as well, so I just left home’. People possessed by djinn could be seen as liminal entities, standing outside the normal order of the world, the possessions characterised by reversals of the normal rules and hierarchies of power (Turner 1969). It is not surprising that many of the people who were suspected of being possessed by djinn were those who were in positions of relative

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1 83

powerlessness, who commanded little attention and could not secure recognition o f their problems from others, as for women and for subordinate, marginalized men. It is in keeping with Lewis’s structural analysis of African spirit possessions, which also identifies women and subordinate men as common victims of possession and remarks that: ‘it is obvious that what is involved here, if not a mystically couched feminist movement, is a culturally accepted procedure whereby down-trodden wives in this male-dominated society press their claims for attention and regard from their menfolk’ (Lewis 1970) (p.296). In this light, the effects of djinn possession are a legitimate right to claim special treatment. Wilce’s analysis of women possessed by djinn in rural Bangladesh also resonates with the material presented here. Wilce demonstrates that possessed women contravene all gendered social norms; they do not cover their heads, they wear their hair loose, they go outside with dishevelled clothes, they speak to men who are not relatives; they are in a state in which they are much freer. He sees possession as a specific type of ‘troubles talk’ or voicing of complaint; however, he also warns that complaints are only voiced and listened to in limited contexts (Wilce 1998b). Thus, to conclude, for women, the rights and obligations entailed by performances of chronic ill-health were similar to the more dramatic rights and obligations entailed by djinn possession: they gave the sufferer authority to claim to special treatment— but only if others were prepared to take them seriously.

Men • Arber and Thomas’s characterization of men’s health is that it is socially invisible (Arber and Thomas 2001). Sabo and Gordon have argued that masculinity is intrinsically damaging to men’s health, it is in their health interests to change, abandon or resist aspects of masculinity (Sabo and Gordon 1995). Their observation that men are not easily viewed as ill resonates in many ways with the accounts given by the British Pakistani men in this study. The male informants seemed more reluctant to seek health care than women, and they often regarded health as women’s responsibility. However, just as it was important to recognise how women’s position in relation to other women shaped their adoption of a public sick role, in addition to their position in relation to men, equally, men’s gendered practices towards the claiming of a public sick role were equally heterogeneous. Men’s gender identities are not fixed; they change over time, over space, and not least, during the lives of men themselves (Whitehead and Barrett 2001). There are also multiple competing forms


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

of male gender identities or masculinities’. However, as Connell points out, these are not like ‘alternative lifestyles, a matter of consumer choice’; they are relational, bound up in hierarchies o f power and social stratification, through class, education, race and age, and formed under ‘hard compulsions’, ‘the bitterness as well as the pleasure in gendered experience’ (Connell 2001). Connell uses a concept of hegemony to describe the forms of male gender identities which are the ‘currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women’ {ibid.) (p.39), which is, following Gramsci, not absolute or complete, and needs to be re-worked and defended from alternatives. Thus, there is no single form o f ‘hegemonic masculinity’, but rather a range of possible ‘hegemonic masculinities’ which can be drawn upon, aligned with or shifted between. Within this process, some less powerful forms of masculinity are subordinated and marginalized. A common feature of hegemonic masculinities is their organization around the discursive subordination of others, particularly women and gay men. Middle-class masculinities are also defined against working-class others, and White masculinities against racialized others. Many researchers have approached the politics of masculinity by emphasizing that masculinity is a discursive, performative practice. Hence, Herzfeld describes the ‘poetics’ of manhood as a kind of hyperbolic projection of the self through which one man struggles to gain a precarious and transitory advantage over the others at each performance (Herzfeld 1985). Similarly, Weatherell and Edley propose that ‘talking like a man’ is central to the production of masculinity (Weatherell and Edley 1998) (p. 165). Watson emphasizes the connections between performances of masculinity and men’s bodies, drawing on Gottfried’s analysis of Bourdieu to understand how the social structures of gendered power are produced and reproduced through embodied human action and interaction (Gottfried 1998; Watson 2000). The implications of this for understanding the male informants’ responses to chronic ill-health are that ill-health can pose a challenge to men’s gender identities, but the specific ways in which this happens are historically situated, and located in men’s positions in relations of power to one another. Most of the British Pakistani male accounts expressed an initial resistance to the sick role. There was a pervasive reluctance to seeing symptoms as indicative of underlying illness, and an emphasis on persisting stoically with existing roles in spite of symptoms. Prior to the onset of chronic ill-health, most of the men experienced what Watson

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


calls a normal everyday body’ (Watson 2000). Most of the men said that prior to becoming ill they were ‘fine’, ‘fit’, ‘strong’ or ‘could do whatever they wanted’; their bodies were largely invisible, ticking away constitutively in the backgrounds of their lives rather than experienced consciously, and endowed with the invincible robustness of youth. For some, the memories of their youthful selves stopped them from being very proactive about interrogating the symptoms of illness when they first arose, as illustrated by the following quote from Yasin. They believed they had ‘elastic bodies’ {ibid.) and assumed that they could still do whatever they wanted. Provided that they were capable of fulfilling the functions needed to carry out their everyday roles in the family, community and workplace, they did not pay much attention to their health. As Mullen found in his study of Glaswegian men, men’s conscious practices towards their health were shaped by compromises between different constellations of masculinities; marriage, fatherhood and work each brought their own pressures and constraints in what they thought of as the management of their health (Mullen 1992). Indeed, some of the men felt that it was the pressure of juggling these competing roles that had brought on their chronic ill-health in the first place; their symptoms waxed and waned in relation to the conjunctions of competing responsibilities such as the arrival of a bill and demands from wives and children. You think nah, I ’m young, I ’ll work this out, this'll be gone in a years time. Yasin [30-34 yrs, chronic condition, English] I sometimes think to myself-—oh, it doesn’t matter. But—you know, you— you’ve got to live life, aint you! [laughs] Take the consequences. It’s ju st like when people drink or whatever, yeah, they’ll have a drink and they’ll know they’re going to have a hangover or whatever the next morning, or not be able to wake up or do whatever, yeah, but the thing is they still do it don't they an d they say ohh, the next morning, I ’m not gonna do that again, no... A sif [30-34 yrs, family member, English] When this thing happened [heart attack] I mean it happened actually in the gym— I was doing weight training. It happened yeah because maybe I overdone it or something happened. Then it’s since then, when this thing happened I never again ever done exercise. I ’ve never done exercise since... Cos my health is more important than everything, right. But I knew that if I go back and do exercise, the doctors say you can do lightly exercise yeah, but m yselfI cant push myselfagain like do weight training again because I might,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

my heart, my heart too might be all, the blood circulation is lower again. But I ’ve been tested on the machine, I m ’ fine. So when I went to back to the gym, I was ju st trying to do. Then the work I do is enough exercise for me to stay healthy Cos I want to just keep up like that. I do enough exercise to work the amount o f work I do. Keep slim. I m ’ a bitfat, but I m ’ stillfit enough to work and enjoy my life. Faisal [40-44 yrs, chronic condition, English] The men’s accounts often showed a reluctance to recognize symptoms as indicative of illness and a resolve to manage ill-health without the intervention of the medical profession and continue everyday activities despite subjective feelings o f illness. Delays in health-seeking were common, as well as relying on their own ‘lay expertise’ rather than the knowledge of professionals. Health professionals would often be contacted proactively by women in the family on behalf of the men, particularly wives and daughters, as the maintenance of the family’s health was seen as part of their everyday responsibilities. Ubaid, for example, had to be dragged to the GP by his wife. The next day I got up, you know, and I felt a bit, you know, something out o f line. And I thought, I put it down to like, you know, normal strain. I pu t some Deep Heat and just carried on. ..I wouldn’t go to the doctors, ah doctors they don’t know nothing, I know how tofix this, I bloody know my body more than what any doctors would. Yasin [30-34 yrs, chronic condition, English] Cos what happened I became dehydrated and u m ...I had really bad flu at that time as well and I didn’t go to the doctor, you know, this was my mistake. Im ’ not saying that if I went to a doctors it wouldn’t have happened, but you know. Ubaid [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] I used to start at 10 in the morning. They used to drop me at work. That day went there, bit under the weather. The people I worked with he said that I think you should go home, I said well I ’ve got to, got to do some bits and pieces, get some work done, and pop off in the afternoon. But, um, ju st feel a bit under the weather. End o f the day I was told to go home [laughs]. Rauf [50-54 yrs, chronic condition, English]

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


The responses from health professionals also seemed to connive in their non-recognition of illness, and several of the men were sent back to work by their GPs and told that they should be able to keep up their daily activities, which ultimately put them at risk and were prejudicial to their health. Others among the men refused to comply with their treatments out of a reluctance to acknowledge themselves to be ill. I didn’t mention about hospital how it’s happening, nothing I was asked I don’t know. So when I get the pain after six week, I come homefrom work I ju st sit down, I wash my feet and the same kind, sit down watching telly on the settee. After couple ofhours I couldn’t stand up. I saysfunny. Next morning it’s worse. Then I sent medical two weeks. I had a relax, then after two weeks I went back to work again. The same happening. I go back to work. The doctor couldn’t fin d what’s wrong with it, he keep providing me painkillers, do this and do that work. Sadiq [60-64 yrs, chronic condition, English] For about two years I didn’t...M y doctor prescribed me tablets but I didn’t take them. Yeah I ju st thought I m ’ not. ..I ’ll do diet control and all this issue. So fo r about two years I was ju st in complete state o f denial you know... I don’t know why, I ju st didn’t take them. I thought the first step is dietary control so why is he giving me tablets? I was questioning this kind o f stuff. A nd for about two years I didn’t take anything. Ubaid [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] Their accounts showed a strong initial tendency to ‘fight the illness’ (Pinder 1988) and not allow it to get the better of them, keeping up their everyday activities with a gritty stoicism which was associated with masculine qualities such as strength, independence and overcoming hurdles despite challenges. They were averse to being pitied and did not want people feeling sorry for them. Like the women, the men talked about the importance of bearing their symptoms without sharing their pain and performing their normal everyday duties. Liaqat, in keeping with other masculine ideals, did not want to talk about his problems with other people. He only talked about his problems with his wife and didn’t want support from others. However, there was much less emphasis on the importance of ‘suffering in silence’ in comparison with the women’s accounts— except for those who, like Naem, who were victimized by other m en, and seemed to embody marginal or subordinate masculinities.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

That’s what I feel now with my back problem, you know, it’s ju st me and this damn back problem, and I ’ve got to beat it, you know I aint going to let it get me down. I m ’ always making plans, I m ’ always thinking in my head, how can I beat this damn thing? What have I got to do? Yasin [30-34 yrs, chronic condition, English] K: Do you feel you have enough supportfrom other people? No I don’t, no. I don’t want any support. It’s all the same to me. Liaqat [55-59 yrs, chronic condition, English] I used to keep myself locked in a room, keep everything messy and I used to like chuck everything round the house, I used to like never eat, never eat and never go to sleep... I was like, no-one knew that time that I was suffering. Naem [25-29 yrs, chronic condition, English] The dominant ideals of masculinity seemed to have an influence on the mens propensity to take on a sick role, which was necessarily emasculating as it affected the heart o f the arenas in which masculinities are conventionally acted out, such as the body, the workplace, public and household roles. Yasin, for example, did not initially take the symptoms of his back pain seriously, as he was discouraged from doing so by his father, who was the personification of the tough old dockyard boys’ and apparently could not appreciate the significance or gravity of his pain. Yasin’s father could be seen to be performing a locally hegemonic masculinity through ‘talking like a man’ to the subordination of his son; that of the working-class industrial labourer, imbued with its connotations of strength, dignity and pride and masculine solidarity through strong union activity (Dicks, Waddington et al. 1998). As soon as I let the carpet rollgo, I thought ‘oh my god, somethings gone wrong here’. But then myfather went 'aah, there’s nothing wrong with you. He was one o f them old dockyard boys, you know what I mean, ‘nothing wrong with you, you’re alright’, yeah, ‘you lazy git’, blah blah blah. I went 'alright then. Yasin [30-34 yrs, chronic condition, English] Even after struggling to get the back pain diagnosed for a few years and proactively going out in search of treatment and pain management, Yasin complained that his father could still not appreciate the seriousness of his condition.

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


My old man, my old mans a boxer, he's got this habit, you know, as soon as he sees you, he gives it this left hook, how you doing son, boof, like that. Even in my good days I thought bloody hell, this old mans got a hard punch [laughs], Gordon Bennett, and one day I was sitting in his house, and he come down and he hit me between the, between the back. And I fell o ff the chair, I went straight off, I was likepumph, hedgo ‘what the hell happened to you, I d go, Im bloody in a lot o fpain, old man, what was that all about! And then hed realise, hed be like shit, I didn't realise he was in that much pain. That's when he got on to the doctor, he was like, my son's in a lot o f pain. Even he thought it was minor, cos ju st by looking at someone, yeah there's nothing wrong with him. Yasin [30-34 yrs, chronic condition, English] Before the onset of his back pain, Yasin used to be an enormous, muscular man, and he spent long hours devoted to his body, crafting his muscles and enjoying the physical sensations of weightlifting, being lost inside his body, being admired by the crowds in the gym. He sorrowfully lamented the ‘wasting’ of his muscles in the aftermath of his back pain. Naem’s depression had a similarly emasculating effect on his physical presence and his standing in relation to other men. In the periods of his worst mental distress, he shed weight at a rate of knots; he was anxious about looking kamzor (weak) and being taken advantage of by other men such as his draconian uncles, enemies at work, and youths his age from other parts of Newham. He talked evasively about how his support workers and psychiatrists had recommended that he should eat more, to build up his weight. When his mental health recovered sufficiently, he surrounded himself with a gang of youths so that he could take revenge on those who had taken advantage of him in the past. Faisal, who attempted throughout his interview to demonstrate how unaffected he was by his heart condition and diabetes, voluntarily brought up and emphasized the matter of his wild ways, clubbing, drinking and womanizing, thus projecting how his (masculine) sexuality had been unaffected by the health conditions and contrasting himself with the other men in his biradari who were ‘good Muslims’. In his work on masculinities in Lahore, Walle identifies the ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ masculine values that constitute Pakistani male gender identity, which were conflicting values that were drawn upon in different contexts (Walle 2004). The effects of chronic ill-health therefore posed a threat to ‘hegemonic’ masculine physical selves. Chronic ill-health entails emasculation, an inability to hold ones place alongside dominant


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

men, and a withdrawal into marginal or subordinate masculinities, and the men tried to reject this in their accounts. I go i f he [uncle] came round my house now. ..I can go and beat him up. I can beat him up now cos I ’ve got mates. I ’ve got people out there to sort him out. And then once I knew where he left cos he was living in Leytonstone I used to go round his house, hassle him, write things on his wall. Naem [25-29 yrs, chronic condition, English] They’re like more religious people. You know like, they don’t want to watch film , and like they won’t go out to cinema, they wouldn’t go out drink alcohol, that’s forbidden, like other things and like in my fam ily mostly my cousins and all them lot they wouldn’t go out with any girls. But we do! Like, they would not take any girls to, fo r dinner or drink, but me I do. That’s different from them. So they think oh he’s probably like, gone out, but I ’ve gone out with another girl and like, touch her arm or, you know what I mean? Or if you could kiss her like that. So. It’s these kind. Faisal [40-44 yrs, chronic condition, English] The ideals of masculine physicality were central in the men’s accounts of chronic ill-health. They were preoccupied with physical functioning, and particularly with mobility. The men brought up their chronic ill-health mainly in the context of their capabilities: what they could and could not do, citing illness to sanction incapacities such as not working, not continuing with education, or not playing a very active role in the community. Gardner has noted the same preoccupation with physical function and mobility among Bengali elders, and explained it in terms of the constructions of their identities as productive labour migrants, on whom entire families depended back in Bangladesh. The immobility and incapacitation of chronic ill-health undermine their identities as workers and providers (Gardner 2002). However, elsewhere the literature has found that such functional definitions of ill-health are common among poorer people. Helman suggests that it relates to the economic need to keep working no matter how people are feeling (Helman 2001). The following quotes show the inseparability of the sick role with physical functioning in the men’s accounts, to the exclusion of other elements of the subjective experience of chronic ill-health. After bypass I didn’t work. Can’t do anything! Can’t lift, can’t do anything! I mean when I take, generally when I go and bring two pint o f bottle I feel

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


pain here. It's... the bones, they ju st what they did, they—your bone may be at your age, if your bones break they can adjust it. But when after 50-60years bone, can't adjust it. So they cut that thing then they put some springs. Nothing else. It's cut off. So pain. Abbas [60-64 yrs, chronic condition, English] K: Have you noticed any changes in yourself compared to before? There's certain things I can't do any more after because o f this surgery, the second surgery. Lifting anything heavy. Because if I lift anything heavy I might damage the surgery I had already done because if I force something like that it might hurt me from inside. That's what they told me not to lift anything heavy, I don’t even do the shopping much now. I send the kids and my wife they go and do the shopping. ..Emotionally I was ok, I wasju st thinking why Im ’ ju st getting headaches. Zafar [40-44 yrs, chronic condition, English] The male informants claiming of the sick role seemed to be quite strongly related to their age. The barhe (elders) seemed to have much less inner resistance to taking on a sick role and stepped into social roles compatible with ill-health with comparable ease—as Uzmas husband once commented to me, after age forty ‘it’s time for relaxing ennit, resting’. Indeed, for men whose children wertjaw aan (grown up) and united, a shift into the social role of benevolent paterfamilias, supported by a host of loyal children and devoutly immersed in religious activity could be another dominant form of masculinity. However, the younger men had more inner conflict over taking on an overt sick i;ole. A common sentiment expressed by the younger men was that they*ignored it’ and ‘tried not to think about’ being chronically ill, as the following quotes show. I ju st ignore it [kidney disease]. Because as long as I go have blood test done every three months or two months, the blood pressure I m ’ happy with it. Zafar [40-44 yrs, chronic condition, English] I just, I enjoy my life. And I don’t do things like oh, I ’m sick. I ’m not sick. Fully fit. It doesn’t matter, everybody got diabetes, doesn’t matter. And the heart thing that I got, it’s not that serious, it’s ju st like I have to be careful what I eat and what I do. And I would just, well I do what is bestfor my body. Faisal [40-44 yrs, chronic condition, English]


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Despite the accounts of masculine stoicism, it is noticeable that when men did take on a sick role their families seemed to permit them to relinquish all of their activities, and they were left much freer of responsibilities than the chronically ill women. Compared with the women, the mens accounts contained far fewer complaints about their illness not being taken seriously by family members and of being forced to struggle on with domestic activities without reprieve. Compared with the women, their sick role was far less challenged by other people in their immediate surroundings. In a more trivial example, these gendered norms around the performance of the sick role under laid Shamim’s wry comment that whilst she would come down with a common cold, her husband would come down with ‘man flu. She was harmlessly poking fun at him for hamming up his sickness, malingering and getting her to do khidmat (service) for him; and although she would joke about it amongst her female friends, she would not object to it, it being part of her wifely duties. Their elaborate performance of dependence was evidently related to the greater bargaining power that the men enjoyed in their households compared with the women. Ifelt goodfor a little while. I thought I m ’ free from any kind o f responsibility now I can do a bit o f travelling.. .filling some desires ju st going out and about. Ubaid [35-39 yrs, chronic condition, English] Watson criticizes the stereotypical nature of the work on men’s approaches to ill-health and argues that: ‘we need to bring to our work some understanding of the vibrancy, humour, complexity and morality of male experience’ (Watson 2000: 139). Interestingly, many of the men explicitly referred to the significance of masculinities in their accounts of chronic ill-health, in retrospect commenting ruefully on their neglect of their health. The men’s accounts of chronic ill-health revealed how the ‘poetics of manhood’ (Herzfeld 1985) shaped men’s social responses to chronic ill-health in manifold ways, giving them, on the one hand, access to ideologies of resilience and heroism, but as a corollary, also entailed a more structured display of dependency if the chronic ill-health was persistent and could not be ignored. Finally, the accounts also revealed ways in which chronic ill-health threatened men’s ability to hold their place with other dominant men, and how the contestation and assertion of power between them shaped their social responses to chronic ill-health.

Gender and the Poetics of Chronic Ill-health


Discussion The chronically ill British Pakistani informants projected identities of themselves as heroic and stoical, enduring their health conditions with bravery and not allowing them to get in the way of their everyday roles and responsibilities. The overt scripts o f the accounts therefore foregrounded the significance of concealing ill-health from others. However, behind the talk of concealment lay the hidden scripts that were being communicated through their gendered performances of heroism and stoicism. Through projecting identities as sabarwalh, women could lay claim to ideologies of maternal or wifely sacrifice, to strategic or pragmatic ends. They were able to apply powerful emotional pressure on family members to abide by the womens needs as a form of long-term reciprocation in acknowledgement of feminine sacrifice. In contrast, through projecting identities as ‘fighting the illness’ younger men could attempt to defend themselves against dominant masculinities and lay claim to forms of hegemonic masculinities themselves. Although the concealment of chronic ill-health was an important part of the accounts of both men and women, there were strong gender differences in the propensity to make ill-health socially meaningful and gender identities were central to the processes through which chronic ill-health became performed and cognizable. However, the gendered performances of chronic ill-health took place in local contexts of power which determined the extent to which chronically ill individuals are able to negotiate change in their interpersonal worlds. Chronically ill women’s claims to attention, special treatment and release from everyday roles were weaker than men’s, which can be understood in relation to women’s weaker bargaining power within the household. Women’s powerlessness vis-à-vis men was the legitimation behind the unique emotional power that could be claimed through the sabarwali identity. Suffering in silence was therefore a potent weapon of the weak. On the other hand, womens tacit performances of chronic ill-health and sabar could also be ignored by her family members, particularly when the woman was not emotionally central to her kin. In contrast, men were less likely to suffer in silence and their public claiming of the sick role led to more structured performances of dependency than was the case for women. The analysis thus shows the importance of examining power relations among as well as between men and women in order to understand the multiplex interplay between gender and health.


The Partitions of Self Mohajir Women's Sense of Identity and Nationhood Rubina S aigol

The following is an extract from an interview with a Mohajir woman, RB: Q. A. Q. A. Q. A. Q. A. Q. A. Q. A. Q. A. Q. A.

Q. A.

You said your parents came from India? Yes. Here, people have starting saying that so and so is Mohajir, so and so is Pathan, or Punjabi and so on. What do you think? Who are you? We are from Madras, so we are Madrasi, yes. Since then, your children have grown up. They were born here. How should you be known then? We should be known either as Indian or as Pakistani.. .wherever a person is born. So I will be known as Pakistani. What do you want? I want to be known as Pakistani, and I want that I should have whatever rights a Pakistani has. So you think you did not get your rights as a Pakistani? No. Why do you think so? I think so because I have suffered more. I have suffered more. Is that why you came to Pakistan or was there some other reason? No. No, we came from India to Pakistan. But Pakistanis didn’t accept us. It has been 50 years since we came here. Why do you think Pakistanis did not accept you? It is because everyone thinks she belongs to India, so why should we call her Pakistani. Who knows, she might go back, but it is not so. We were born here and we will live here. We will not go back to India because our parents died, and we do not know anything about that place. What is there and what is not, we have never been there. Who thinks you are from India? People say so. ‘You are not from here, you are from Madras.’

The Partitions of Self


Q. A.

Who says so, Mohajir, o r...? Indians say so. (She probably means Hindustani)


Indian s say so?

A. Q. A.

Yes. Why do they say so? They say so because they say that we belong to this place and you don’t belong to it. You came only to see Pakistan. My father had come here only to see Pakistan.

he above extract from RB’s interview vividly illustrates the multiple levels of identity and sense of belonging experienced by RB. She begins by expressing her sense of identity as a Madrasi, a regional identity that connects her to her parents’ past and to India. This identity is a negation of the connection with Pakistani nationhood. Later on she asserts that ‘we should be known as Indian or known as Pakistani’. This location between two conflicting and inimical identities, reflects another level of her sense of belonging, which now seems to have moved from a regional (Madrasi) to a national plane (Indian or Pakistani). She soon realizes her apparent confusion and clarifies that belonging should be based on where one is born, thus concluding that she would be known as Pakistani. The basis of belonging now shifts from parental origins in India to her own birth in Pakistan. She then further solidifies her sense of self by averring that she wants to be known as a Pakistani, and makes claims to her rights as a Pakistani citizen. Her claims to rights are buttressed by a reference to her having suffered. This is followed by a sense of rejection by Pakistanis who have not accepted her family, despite the passage of fifty years since they moved to Pakistan. Upon being asked as to why she and her family are not accepted, she responds by explaining that she is perceived as belonging to India. ‘Others’ tell her that she is a Madrasi, and thus place her into her regional identity connected with her parental past. They express mistrust in her and her family by fearing that she may return to India, while she staunchly rejects such a possibility. They (unspecified others) affirm that they belong to Pakistan, but she does not, as her father had come to Pakistan only to see


RB’s dilemma, and her seeming confusion over how to define her self, her sense of belonging and her perception of nationhood, is illustrative of the larger questions o f identity, nationhood, state formation and dislocation, that remain unanswered since the partition of India in 1947. She epitomizes the multiple layers of belonging and alienation, as she moves fluidly between regional and national identity, geographical/


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

locational identity and the past and present. Her inability to speak with certainty of her belonging is not indicative of her lack of capacity for articulation. She stands at the crossroads of multiple and layered identities in which she seeks to define her self, her nation, and her place in the world. Her identity seems to be forged not only by her own sense of who she is, but also by what others say. She contests and resists the identity ascribed to her by others and, in the process, tries to consolidate who she is and what she wants to be.

INTRODUCTION This paper explores how women relate to the forging of new identities in a complex negotiation, which involves accommodation, assimilation, rejection, interrogation, resistance and capitulation to the dominant constructions of identity. Women may go through all of these processes or a few of them, depending on a number of factors. They may identify with a particular identity formation, or contest and reject it, as the identity being formed goes through various stages o f articulation and elaboration. The specific construct to be discussed here is M ohajir identity and sense of nationhood in Karachi, Pakistan. The purpose is to try to understand some of the ways in which ethnic and ethno-national identities come to be created, and the contradictions that may arise from other belongings, primarily those of class, religion and gender. The word M ohajir has interesting connotations that influence the group’s sense of belonging as well as suffering. The word has been used to denote a migrant, which suggests a tentative, transient identity based on movement, with no emotional relation to the land to which one migrates, and a sense of loss of the land from which one moved. This connotation of the term suggests a latent or visible longing for what was lost or left behind. In this sense, the term is deployed in the process of a claim to rights based on loss, and the reference point is the past. The word M ohajir is also used to denote a refugee, implying a person who escaped death, destruction and violence and seeks shelter, land, food and other necessities from the place to which the escape is made. The mass migration from India at the time of the partition was often referred to as the refugee problem’. This term has connotations of suffering and sorrow, apart from loss. The refugee is a figure of pity, and the state is expected to fulfil the needs of a dislocated and suffering person. Although now, increasingly the Urdu term for refugees is panah guzeen, and M ohajir is used to refer to a migrant, the fact remains that the terms are used interchangeably.1 The

The Partitions of Self


use of the word ‘refugee’ also enables a claim to rights by an appeal to the suffering, violence and pain endured by people in their attempts to be a part of the new nation. The notions of loss and suffering are both deployed in the construction of M ohajir identity, as will become clearer later.

ROLE OF THE STATE AND THE MONOLITHIC CONSTRUCTIONS OF IDENTITY The claim to ethnic unity, which may ultimately translate into a sense of nationhood, typically relies on the process of homogenization. Diverse and multiple belonging, comes to be welded by the leaders and ideologues into a sense of the unity, oneness and internal coherence of a group. An ‘imagined community’ of plural, diverse, and even contradictory, groups is created by erasing and denying the internal dissensions, differences and incoherence of the group being mobilized for specific political aims. In the case of the Mohajirs, the only common threads that bind them together into a unified entity are migration from India at the time of, or after, the partition, and the Urdu language. There is no reference to a common region or land from which they migrated. They are, in reality, multi-ethnic and represent different parts of India.2 However, at specific points in time, political mobilization necessitates the claim to oneness and unity, thus giving impetus to the emergence of ethnic consciousness.3 For the M ohajirs, politicized ethnic consciousness emerged in the decade of the 1980s, although as Akbar Zaidi points out, seeds of a separate consciousness did exist prior to that.4 The role of the state in enabling ethnic identities to assert themselves in a divisive way, has been commented upon by various writers.5 One manner, in which ethnic consciousness emerges and is solidified, is the method that the state uses to categorize and classify its populations.6 The questions that are asked in Census forms, often have fixed, immutable and exclusive categories of identity such as Punjabi, Sindhi or Pathan. Mixture of identities can only be indicated by the vague category ‘Other’. This kind of positioning and fixing by the state, can be rejected or appropriated by a particular group, depending on the kind of political mobilization required. One M ohajir woman, KS, explained the process of filling government forms in the following words: I realised the problems Urdu speaking boys and girls were facing in the universities and then even in jobs. ...U rd u speaking people were unable to


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

enter the armed forces. The reason was the form that had to be filled. Pakistan was created in 1947 and if the form was filled in 86 then that person was surely born in Karachi. The next question was where his father was born. There were many whose fathers were also born in Karachi. Then where was the grandfather born. These questions should be taken notice o f that a person was limited to a particular section and those who were not born here had certainly migrated from India, so that was how a community was being recognised. If somebody’s grandfather were born somewhere in India and he then migrated here, that would put him in another category. I then realised for the first time that we might get another form where it would be required to fill where the grandfathers father was born and then we would never be able to get away from this title o f being a migrant. So instead o f treating is an insult, it was better to make it an identification that even if we had migrated from there we hold certain status that we too are a community and we live here. So I felt it very strongly that they should have their own identity and if the term Mohajir has been thrust upon us then we should be proud o f it instead feeling a sense o f deprivation or inferiority.

KS, a political activist and well-educated woman, provides this articulate explanation of how the state, in its official classifications, imposed a migrant identity on people. Since descent in patriarchal states is traced from the father and forefathers, the government form was designed to fix Pakistani citizenship identity on the basis of the origin of the father and his fathers. Urdu-speaking people were placed by the state in a fixed and rigid category of migrant, that is, one who does not belong to t;he land is not, therefore, indigenous. This category immediately differentiated the Urdu-speaking settlers in Karachi and Hyderabad from Sindhis, who are considered the original inhabitants of Sindh. This kind of classification later also led to the ideas of the old (read original/authentic) Sindhis and new Sindhis. A sense of difference and separation was thus instilled in the consciousness of Urdu-speaking people by government categorization based on place of birth. A child born in post-partition Pakistan to migrant parents, was also defined as a migrant— an identity that denotes a transitory phase, impermanence and a sense of being in limbo. Such an identity is potentially explosive as one is set into a state of competition with the authentic’ and original’ ‘sons of the soil’. This identity, frozen by the states need to classify and divide, was appropriated by the Mohajirs, when they realized that ‘that was how a community was being recognized’. KS describes eloquently her realization that escaping the title, which the state was bent upon imposing on them, was impossible. As she says, instead of treating it as an insult, it was better to identify with it. She makes a claim to rights and recognition by arguing

The Partitions of Self


that even if they had migrated from somewhere, they still had a certain status. The sense of a united community with certain rights is evident from the words, we too are a community and we live here’. It seems that the earliest seeds of an ‘imagined community’, united by the bonds of language and ‘shared suffering’, were sowed by the state’s procedures of differentiation. The M ohajirs, in KS’ perception, appropriated and internalized this ascribed identity, and turned it into the basis o f political mobilization. An identity thrust upon them became, in her words, a source of pride rather than engendering feelings of inferiority and deprivation. This is an example of a complex and conflicted negotiation with the Other, in which identity is constructed by first being resisted and rejected, and then finally giving way to accommodation, assimilation and the proud affirmation of M ohajir identity.

ROLE OF ELECTORAL SYSTEMS IN THE CONSOLIDATION OF IDENTITY While the state’s classificatory systems, and the division of the population in the national census, tend to give rise to ethnic consciousness, the electoral systems o f democracy also tend to reinforce and solidify identities. The realization that state benefits can be obtained by forming vote banks based on ethnic grouping, leads to the formation of political parties that articulate the group’s political agenda. A number of political parties have been formed based on ethnic and regional identity, for example, the Baluchistan National Party, Awami National Party, and the Jiye Sindh Mahaz. Ethnically-based parties can develop to the point of ethno-nationalism, where the demand for maximum provincial autonomy or even secession can be made.7 For example, the Awami League, a political party representing the interests of East Pakistan in the federation, ultimately led to the independence of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh. The Pakistani states inability to accommodate the demands o f its eastern wing within a democratic and plural framework, enabled the politics of ethnicity to take concrete shape. Ethnic politics can, therefore, be the precursor of state disintegration as well as state-formation. Women activists of MQM seemed to realize the importance of electoral politics and managed to mobilize a large number of women voters. Describing the methods used by women activists of the MQM, KS says In these corner meetings we would for instance get 20, 25 women from the houses from the neighbourhoods and brief them that it was time that our


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

young generation aims for the Assemblies. They were neither going to get admissions in the universities nor find jobs unless certain legislations are introduced and for that it was important to reach the Assemblies which meant that votes were essential. I highlighted the importance of votes and never before had another political party received as many womens votes as the MQM did. In a multiple and plural society, democratic experiments ensure that vote banks and the formation of identities go hand in hand, each process reinforcing the other.8 In majoritarian forms of democracy, minority vote banks tend to be concentrated, and are considered essential for political power and the protection of minority rights. The MQM was able to create, and subsequently draw upon, women’s sense of being Mohajirs very successfully, and the largest ever number of women were mobilized.9 Prior to the articulation of identity for political mobilization, a latent sense of self has to be brought to the level of consciousness. While some vague sense o f a commonality may have existed among the Urdu-speaking populations of Karachi and Hyderabad, the conscious sense of being a homogenous, unified and monolithic whole had to be created. The leaders and ideologues of the M ohajir Qaumi M ahaz (MQM) achieved this task successfully by using a number of devices, which appear in the rhetoric through which M ohajir women narrate their sense o f identity and nationhood. Some of the most visible devices appear to be, [I] the promotion of a sense of victimhood, coupled with feelings of persecution, deprivation and injustice, [2] the inculcation of a belief in sacrifice and loss for the land and the new country, [3] a heightened sense of loyalty based on the use of familial terminology, suggesting that all Mohajirs constitute a family and are tied to one another by blood bonds, [4] one of the most well-known devices of politicized ethnicity, that is, the construction of the self and other as opposites, and the unwavering belief in the cultural superiority of one’s own group, are present in the narratives o f the women interviewed, [5] like other forms of national and sub­ national identities, there is a great propensity to create heroes and to worship these larger than life figures as saviours of the ‘M ohajir nation. These elements of the construction of M ohajir identity, need to be explored separately. Unlike other forms of ethnic or national identities, there is seldom any reference to a great and glorious past, which has been lost and must be revived. The Mohajirs, occasionally referred to as a M ohajir nation, construct themselves in opposition, not only to the Centre and State (vertically), but also in a horizontal relation to Punjabis, Pathans

The Partitions of Self


and Sindhis. Their many Others, provide them with a rich source of their own construction as the absence of all that Others represent, and the presence of all that Others lack.

FEELINGS OF PERSECUTION AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF ETHNIC IDENTITY The sense o f victimhood, suffering and persecution seems to be fundamental to the M ohajir imagination of being a community with common concerns. A number of M ohajir women interviewed, expressed feelings of the persecution of their community by the state as well as by other ethnic groups, in particular the Pathans and the Punjabis. The massive spilling of young Mohajir blood is seen by the community as evidence of being a persecuted and discriminated group, which has the right to have its grievances redressed. The perception of the loss of Mohajir lives, becomes an unspoken justification for taking up arms and engaging in the killing of members o f other communities. While it is true that a large number of young M ohajir males were killed by the police and by other communities, the MQM itself engaged in the murder and torture of many people. The discovery of the M QM ’s torture cells revealed the gory extent of the its murders, and led many people to define the party as fascist because of its highly organized, regimented, disciplined, loyal and committed cadres, along with a tight chain o f command.10 Nevertheless, M ohajir women tend to feel that only M ohajir boys were killed and those of other communities were safe. This sense of oppression is created and encouraged by the MQM leadership, and serves to bind the groups members to each other in angry solidarity. For example, TK says That is how the rift became wider and there were continuous murders of Mohajirs, no one ever heard that a Pathan or a Sindhi was ever killed. Then they made two ethnic groups fight with each other such as Sindhis with Mohajirs and Pathans with Mohajirs. In both cases, the Mohajirs are the ones who have been involved. The Mohajir is blamed and the Urdu-speaking people will be killed. So if you analyze history you will see that out of those who have been killed the majority are Mohajirs. That is how they made two ethnic groups fight with one another and this hatred can be removed if we try. If we try peace can be established in Karachi.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Similar feelings of M ohajir victimization are echoed by FB who says M osdy the children o f Mohajirs were killed, to this day no Punjabi, Sindhi, or

Pathan’s son has been killed. What harm have the Mohajirs done that they are being treated like this? Mohajirs have only one fault—that they can speak Urdu. That is why they are killed. You must have seen in the newspapers that all young children were killed. The simultaneous assertion of ones own oppression, and the denial of the victimhood of the Other(s), is a construction of the Self/Other dichotomy, which underlies ethno-nationalist passions. It is a covert justification of ones own violence, while simultaneously making claims to separate nationhood/belonging, and providing a basis o f access to state resources. In other words, it is the claim that since the community has been treated unjustly and victimized, it should receive benefits. It is said that pre­ nationalist and nationalist movements tend to remember and recall their wounds frequently. The recurrent remembering o f traumas to the community, helps cement the diverse entity into a unified and integrated whole. This kind of memory-making also serves to enhance feelings of alienation against others, which can then be mobilized for political ends. A recognition that the blood of all communities was spilled, does not enable the pre-nationalist cause to make exclusive claims, and forge strong internal links. Exclusive suffering thus has to be claimed, for the community to believe itself to be singled out for persecution, and in need of justice and the redressal of wrongs.

THE INVOCATION OF MARTYRDOM AND SACRIFICE IN IDENTITY CREATION Claims o f persecution are less credible without the invocation of martyrdom and sacrifice. The assertions of being a wronged community on the way to imagining itself a nation, need to be bolstered by conjuring up heroes, martyrs and sacrifices. Unlike more established nationalist constructions, the M ohajir community does not hark back to a golden past and ancient heroes. It relies much more on current, living heroes and defines its murdered youth as martyrs. Motherhood is glorified with reference to the mothers of martyrs, as in most nationalist formations. The term martyr is divested of its religious significance, and transferred to the secular arena through the claim that the MQM boys who were killed, were martyred by the state or the other communities. FN describes

The Partitions of Self


the plight of M ohajir mothers in the following words ‘Women talk about themselves in a way that it strikes our hearts. An old lady comes for her son and grandson. Another comes for her three sons who have been martyred.’ The construction of glorified motherhood, able to sacrifice sons to the movement, is reproduced in the words of FZ who says ‘That I am the mother of a martyr is a thing to be happy about, not to get angry about.’ In a redefinition of martyrdom, dying for the nation (sub-nationality), and at the hands of the state, come to be included in the term which had so far been reserved for dying in the name of Allah. For example, AR says the following to express her sense of martyrdom and nationhood: Q. Do you think your son is a martyr? A. Yes certainly he is a martyr. He has sacrificed himself for the nation. He died at the hands of the police. Q. How can you say that he was killed at the hands of the police? A. Because we buried him after five days and the body was still bleeding. Q. It was bleeding even after five days? A. Yes this is a sign of martyrdom. In a subversive narrative, AR not only redefines martyrdom, but also the idea of the nation. In her view, Mohajirs already constitute a nation. One of the ways in which pre-nationalisms consolidate themselves, seems to be the assertion that the nation already exists. While the notion o f what it means to be a Mohajir nation is being defined and elaborated through discourse, and through violence, for some members of the community, the nation already exists. This is an oblique, though perhaps unconscious, denial of the larger sense of Pakistani nationhood. On the other hand, it could also be a deliberate interrogation and interruption of what, in official discourse, constitutes the Pakistani nation. AR feels that the bleeding body of her son signifies martyrdom. This ‘sign’ not only reassures her that her son has died in a just cause, it also demonstrates that the story of nations is written, rather drenched, in blood.11 At some future date, ‘martyrs’ like AR’s son would most likely be conjured up as the heroes of the nation who sacrificed their lives for the land. While AR redefines martyrdom as dying at the hands of the police/state, AZ provides yet another basis of martyrdom. As she says ‘We will call them martyrs because they are killed without any sin. That is why they are called martyrs.’ Martyrdom thus has multiple meanings in the M ohajir world. It can refer to death for the ethnic cause, death at the hands of the police/state,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

or being killed without any sin. Innocence is here the basis of martyrdom. Most women believe that their sons were innocent, were not involved in the conflict, and the state punished them without justice. In such constructions, one’s own innocence, and the Others’ guilt, are established with equal vehemence. The kind of thinking in which the self equals moral/innocent, and the Other equals immoral/guilty, forms the moral and ethical underpinning of emerging ethno-nationalism. The mothers eulogized their sons, provided various reasons for martyrdom, and condemned the police, and other social groups, for the atrocities committed upon their sons. The pride in being the mother of a martyr, helps to overcome the grief of losing a child. The cause provides succour and fortitude by redefining the murder of MQM boys as martyrdom, thus giving a new meaning to the act of dying. Redefined martyrdom has been used by a number of M ohajir women, possibly as a way of dealing with the loss of sons. The paradise promised in the next world, and the justice in this one, enable women to justify an otherwise painful event. The leaders of the movement benefit from such constructions of death, as they make it easier to engage young men in the ferocious ethnic conflict. However, anguished mothers gain some comfort from the respect bestowed upon the mothers o f martyrs by the community. As MB expresses it ‘I am As mother. Now I am getting respect. After his death people envy me. I have gained respect after his death.’ The sense of suffering and deprivation, resides not only in the loss o f life and blood, it also has material referents. There seems to be a strong feeling among the community members, that the Mohajirs have been deprived of their rights, especially in terms of jobs and college admissions. The Mohajirs felt threatened by the rural/urban quota in jobs and college admissions, as they believed that their previously dominant status in the state bureaucracy would be undermined. The fear of unemployment and economic loss as a result of the quota system, and the diminishing numbers of Urdu-speaking people in government jobs, led to a sense of economic insecurity among the Mohajirs. This insecurity, and the visible unemployment as a consequence of the state’s inability to generate employment for youth, created fears which the leaders managed to harness to the cause. The imminent lessening of status, especially with the Punjabis increasingly filling government jobs, helped incite sentiments o f anger at other ethnic groups as well as the state. The decisive victory o f the MQM in the urban centres of Sindh in the local elections of 1987, and subsequently in the national elections, led to ethnic consciousness

The Partitions of Self


becoming more rigid. The articulation of M ohajir identity reinforced electoral victories, which, in turn, further strengthened the sense of a common identity. Electoral processes and the formation of identity became mutually reinforcing. The sense o f deprivation and material suffering is narrated by a number of women. For example, ZBQ says A.

There are no jobs for the Hindustanis; they are born to be crushed. First they suffered in India and now in Pakistan. This is no life. Q. Do you think other groups (ethnicities) have jobs? A. Yes, they get jobs and nobody kills them. Only the Hindustanis are being killed. Sentiments of being economically oppressed, are also expressed by KS who says ‘Urdu speaking community are downtrodden and are being victimised. Even with education they are not gaining anything.’ Another respondent, T K echoes the same feelings when she says: They have done this to Mohajirs mosdy and you can see in most jobs there are Punjabis and Pathans. If we go to them and ask them for jobs, they are not ready to accept Mohajirs. It seems that all the vacancies are in Karachi but there is the highest level of unemployment here also. People from the Punjab and the Frontier come to get jobs in Karachi and they are acceptable but I don’t understand why the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi are not acceptable for jobs. They have the experience and the degree but even then this is the case. I don’t know why. TK attributes the lack of jobs to the Pathans and Punjabis who come from other provinces and get employment, but the Mohajirs do not. The sense of persecution and suffering is explained in terms of an implied competition with the Other, and the states responsibility in generating employment is obscured. The feeling that not only are outsiders killing the Mohajirs, in collusion with the state, they are also wrenching the source of livelihood, enables the community to feel justifiably oppressed and downtrodden. Material struggles and class issues are thus articulated in ethnic terms, and come to be mobilized by ethnic parties in the absence of class-based political mobilization. The rage of the community members is steered towards other, often equally downtrodden or oppressed, people belonging to other communities, rather than towards the state and those who rule it. This process helps the community to become more tightlyknit, and its tendency to rally behind its leaders is usually enhanced. The articulation of M ohajir nationalism, not unlike most forms of nationalist


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

construction, undercuts class politics. The movement at one point made a demand for a separate province, and asked that the M ohajirs be recognized as a fifth nationality. However, the ethnic struggle did not reach the level of secession, which usually leads to state disintegration and the formation o f a new state. The M ohajir ethnic movement relies on other forms of claims to sacrifice. A recurring theme in the narratives of M ohajir women is that the migrants gave sacrifices to create Pakistan and lost a great deal in moving from their original homeland. This argument becomes the basis of the claim to rights. While sacrifices during the partition of India were made by all the communities, here again exclusivity is claimed as the basis of rights and privileges. For example, FN says A. We don’t have any identity Sindhi claims Sindh to be theirs. Balochi claims Balochistan to be theirs, Pathans claim Sarhad to be theirs. What is ours? Q. For Urdu speaking, means for you, there is no place? A. Obviously. You have seen the statement of Sindhis, according to them they have given refuge to Urdu speakers. Q. What is the opinion of Urdu speakers about themselves? A. Urdu speakers are of the view that all sacrifices have been given by them. FN s claim is that Mohajirs feel that all sacrifices have been given by them. She complains that all other ethnic groups in Pakistan have their own territory, but Mohajirs do not. For them there is no place and, as FN says, the Sindhis claim that they only gave refuge to the Mohajirs. In FN s case, her ethnic identity is defined in terms of a refugee population, and she seems to feel the pinch of the term ‘refugee’ with all its connotations of pity, sorrow and charity. This interview suggests that while the Mohajirs made sacrifices, the land was appropriated by all Others, and the Mohajirs remained a transitory people, on the move from one place to another. Others gave them only temporary shelter out of pity for their plight. The notion of receiving charity from another ethnic group or the state, has given way to the idea of rights as citizens in the political articulation of identity. It can be said that with time, the Mohajirs moved from being ‘refugees’ to being full citizens o f the state. With that move, the connotation of the word M ohajir’ changed from ‘refugee’ to ‘migrant. Nonetheless, the word ‘migrant’ also suggests that the person is not an authentic ‘son of the soil’, not original and, therefore, should not have full rights. Authenticity is a claim upon which nationalisms tend to rely,

The Partitions of Self


but for the Mohajir community, the claim to citizenship rights lies in the notion of sacrifice for the new homeland. The problem of authenticity arose within the Mohajir movement when it split into two factions, with the new faction calling itself Haqiqi (the real, authentic ones) in an attempt to de-legitimize Altaf Hussains faction. The claim to authenticity has political implications, and seems to be an instrument in the road to power. Since sacrifice and loss are the basis of the Mohajir claim (instead of the idea of belonging to the soil), sacrifice, loss and consequent suffering, are invoked in the narratives of several women. For example, AM says As our mother said, she left everything and came to Pakistan because it was made for Muslims. But we have forgotten why Pakistan has been built and why we have come.’ AM expresses a sense of loss at the time of coming to Pakistan, and feels that the real purpose of the creation of the country has been forgotten. There is a sense of betrayal, which appears in other narratives also, but AM belongs to a religious party and feels that the ideal of religion has been forgotten. By an appeal to Muslim identity, she tries to erase the ethnic differences on which the new Mohajir identity is premised. MB, who feels strongly about being a Mohajir, also refers to the sense of having suffered and sacrificed in the process of the formation of the Pakistani nation and state. She says ‘I am proud of being a Mohajir. We are Mohajirs, that is how we came from India leaving everything there, penniless. We suffered here and bore it.’ The sense of pride in having left everything in India, become penniless and undergoing suffering, seems to feed into the wounded feelings of being a beleaguered community. By refreshing these wounds with a sense of proud recall, the sentiment of injury necessary for ethno-nationalist mobilization appears to be reinforced. Wounded memories tie the Mohajirs together into a unity, and enable them to articulate the idea of nationhood coupled with sacrifice, martyrdom and sorrow.

CULTURAL SUPERIORITY IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SELF A vital element that often accompanies emergent ethnic and national consciousness, is the construction of an ingroup/outgroup ideology that relies on notions of inferiority and superiority. Feelings of representing a superior/higher culture do appear in the narratives of Mohajir women. For example, FM, who lived in Bengal before moving to Karachi, says


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In 1951 when wc went to Bengal they abused us. I felt it very much for we are o f very delicate and pure culture o f Hyderabad. We keep dupatas (head scarves) on our heads and boys keep topics (caps) on their heads, whereas Bengali culture is quite opposite. That’s why I don’t like them.

In FM’s statement, the Mohajir Self is constructed in opposition to the Bengali Other. The Urdu-speaking culture of Hyderabad is described as ‘delicate’ and ‘pure’, the latter notion of purity playing a central part in racist undertones that characterize most forms of ethnic and national consciousness. The wearing of dopatas by women and topics by men is not only a differentiating factor, it is also meant to denote respectability and high culture. Bengali culture is described as the opposite, and the feelings of being ‘abused’ by the Bengalis are turned into a dislike for them. In a later part of the narrative, FM says that she did not like the habits of people in Dhaka. Upon being asked, ‘which habits?’ she answers by saying ‘They are not cultured’. Being cultured is appropriated as an exclusive trait of Urdu-speaking people, and the Bengalis as the opposite are stripped of any claim to culture. FM explains how they are not cultured and refined: A.

Q. A.

There Bengalis did not like Urdu speakers. We had a different society or class there, going to clubs, arranging parties and mina bazaar and enjoyment. So far as the Urdu speakers o f lower and middle classes were concerned, they were annoyed by Bengalis for they never accepted them. When we reached Bengal, I was seventeen and I felt that porter who had our luggage didn’t like us. What did you feel and see? They had no complete clothing on their bodies. Only they had a vest and lungi.n They were doing their work but also continued to abuse. As we stepped out at that place we felt that they are not our friends. They didn’t want us to be there. Therefore I decided not to live there. Many proposals o f Bengalis were offered, but I didn’t want to marry there for I knew that they are not trust worthy.

FM creates the Us/Them division by a process of projection and reversal. She accuses the Bengalis of not liking the Urdu-speaking people, and then expresses her own dislike in her feelings of mistrust for the Bengalis, contempt for their manners, and their purportedly abusive behaviour. In FM’s narrative, a mixture of class and ethnic superiority is discernible. The Urdu-speaking people belonged to a culturally superior ethnic group as well as to a better class that went to clubs and organized parties. The Bengalis, on the other hand, did not even dress properly. The overlap of

The Partitions of Self


class and ethnic identity shows the levels of multiple and layered identity, which breaks the sense of a singular and consolidated belonging. This kind of Us/Them division often forms the core of nationalist formations and is mobilized for the cementing of group ties. Sentiments of Mohajir superiority are also echoed by KS who says ...those who came from India were financially a little weak, but where education was concerned or general manners or family background were considered, relatively superior and very well regarded.

In KS s opinion, the Mohajirs were superior in education, manners and family background. While education and manners may be considered the results of socialization, superiority of ‘family background’ seems to suggest some kind of ‘natural’ or ‘racial’ superiority. While it is not clear what kind of ‘family background’ is inferior or superior to another, the claim to culture, manners and superiority is made in the construction of the ingroup as a higher entity. The axis of superiority/inferiority is used not only to describe the ‘culture of the M ohajirs, moral and ethical superiority is also claimed by attributing negative moral characteristics to one’s ethnic Others, and positive ones to oneself. For example, KS says: I felt that Mohajirs are not bold, they are not dishonest the way the others openly was not as if there were no decent people among the Punjabis. I liked one thing about them that they were very generous and hospitable, but there was a lot o f dishonesty, lots o f it. I have very close Punjabi friends but I know how they made their money. From the point o f view o f the country also I felt that the country’s foundations were weakening.

Mohajirs are thus honest, while the Others are openly dishonest. The Punjabi Others are accused of making their money in less than honest ways. However, KS, wishing perhaps not to seem prejudiced, quickly allows that there are decent people among the Punjabis and that they are generous and hospitable, but their dishonesty is weakening the foundations of the country. Hence, Punjabis, the dominant ethnic group in Pakistan, are associated with the weakening of the country’s foundations. By implication, the Mohajirs, with their superior culture and honesty, ensure that the foundations are strong. In a weak versus strong binary, the ingroup-M ohajir and outgroup-Punjabis are constructed as polar opposites. Such distinctions, which often form the core of national and sub-national entities, help on the one hand to strengthen the ingroup


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

bonds and solidarity, while simultaneously creating a reliable set of ‘enemies’ against whom one creates the sense of Self and becomes mobilized.

THE IMAGERY OF KINSHIP AND FAMILY The imagery of blood relation, family and kinship plays a very important part in the cementing of the group, and the creation of the loyalty necessary for political mobilization. The Mohajirs tend to refer to one another in terms that are reserved for the family. The members of MQM call one another Bhai (brother) and Behen or Baji (sister). This is a manifestation of the felt, as well as crafted, closeness and affinity. The use of kinship terminology evokes familial sentiments and creates a binding feeling of loyalty among the members. Altaf Hussain (founder and leader of MQM-Altaf) is referred to by all members as Altaf Bhai. Similarly, Afaq (leader of the Haqiqi faction) is Afaq Bhai to the other members. This not only implies a kind of horizontal equality, it also stimulates feelings of oneness and unity. For example, upon being asked about her contacts with the Haqiqi group, KS says ‘No, my contact with them is only to greet each other, be like brothers and sisters. I never worked for the party.’ Although she does not work with Afaq’s faction, KS still refers to them as brothers and sisters. While this is an expression of solidarity, it also forms a part of the specific Urdu-speaking culture of Karachi. However, its political use as a legitimizing force is evident from the following words of KS, while speaking of the women she mobilized: I had their respect as well. They would call me ‘Baji’, or ‘elder sister’. They knew that I would not be misleading them, so some o f them were ready to come with me with their eyes closed, but after the first press conference, I felt as if they were gaining political awareness, as if they had woken up.

The feeling of kinship bonding between the women seems to have been an important factor in mobilizing the women for MQM rallies. It enabled KS to receive trust and respect, which went a long way in creating awareness. The initial meeting seems to have been based on the trust and respect engendered by feelings of being a ‘family’. Subsequently, ‘after the first press conference’, the women seemed to have become politically mobilized.

The Partitions of Self


While the brother/sister terminology seems to create a horizontally equal relationship, some MQM members also drew upon the vertical, but highly emotive, ties of mother/son. For example, MB, whose own son was ‘martyred’ in the ethnic struggle, began to imagine Afaq as her other son. As she says, ‘my A is dead. Afaq is my other son’. MB’s son told her that he would marry only after Afaq Bhai got married and not before, such is the close affiliation and emotional investment in the personalization of political relationships. MB talks about her son’s reassurance when she expressed her fear over possibly losing him: ‘I said to him that I only have him, he said mother your elder son is Afaq.’ The appeal to family relations, in particular sister/brother and mother/ son dyads, might possibly be a way of desexualizing political relationships. By creating the ideal family relationships, which are usually expected to be devoid of sexual contact, a semblance of morality and purity can be provided to the movement. By making political relationships licit and ‘respectable’, women are enabled in public participation without fear. All male members of the movement are brothers or sons, hence no impure or dangerous contact is possible. This would allow a large number of women to enter the public space of the movement with a certain degree o f security. Nevertheless, in a darker underside, the politics of the MQM were sexualized in the most illicit and explicit way, when eleven sitting legislators of the MQM took an oath of loyalty to their Quaid (leader). They declared that ‘betrayal with the chief of MQM is more shameful than raping our own mother, sister, daughters’.13This statement overturns the most fundamental moral norms that society claims to uphold. A violation of the norms of loyalty to the MQM, was declared to be more shameful than the ultimate taboo: incest. This made the public space of politics the most dangerous place for women, overturning the neady created and binding categories of brother, sister, mother and son. It was simultaneously a massive insult to women and a violation of their basic rights. Yet, ironically it was meant to ensure total loyalty to the leader, a kind of hero-worship in which the leader takes precedence over all other relations. This may have been one of the many reasons why the MQM has often been compared with fascist parties. Its moral bases seem to contain some of the ethical contradictions apparent within German fascism, which combined the sense of ‘being good Christian men’ with mass genocide and murder.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

KS, who was later disillusioned with the party and stopped being an activist, also refers to an oath, which required the members to place party loyalty above kin relations. According to KS: This oath was prepared after 88, must be 89 or 90, and in it was written that for the sake o f the party, even if I lose my honour, my house is burnt down, my brothers and sisters are killed, I would sacrifice all o f it. Girls as well as boys had to take this oath.

In most cases, ethnic and national consciousness is highly sensitive to the loss of womens ‘honour’, as it is seen as losing the group or nation’s honour. However, within the MQM, loyalty to the party came to override the protection of this vital ‘group asset’. The strong group loyalty created by invoking kinship bonds, came to be reinforced, in a contradictory way, by violating these very bonds. What tied the group together into a feeling of oneness, was to be overturned in the pursuit of higher goals, the defence of the party and its leader. FRC expresses the excessive demand on loyalty in the her statements, for example, ‘we meant that we could do anything for our leader and for our party’, and ‘the party tells us what to do and what not to do’. The movement seemed to have been oriented to the party and the leader, rather than the higher goals or ideals in pursuit of which parties are formed.

THE CULT OF LEADERS AND THE CREATION OF LIVING HEROES This brings us to the important aspect of the cult of leadership, and construction of ‘heroes’, that characterizes Mohajir ethnic consciousness. While the heroes of many other forms of nationalism and sub-nationalism are dead, and are tied somehow to the land, the heroes of the Mohajir community are living, larger-than-life beings, and their relationship to the land is recent and tenuous. The founder and leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain, acquired gigantic proportions as a saviour, hero and saint. This aspect has been pointed out by Khawar Mumtaz who writes: The party is highly centralized: its leader, Altaf Hussain, has become a cult figure, treated as a legend in his own lifetime. Given the title o f Quaid-e-Tehrik (leader o f the movement) and called pir sahib (spiritual leader), Altaf Hussain has an image that has been aggressively built up, as ‘blind faith’ in the leader is considered a fundamental principle o f M Q M .1*

The Partitions of Self


Mumtaz’s observation is borne out in the narratives of some of the women. The spiritual dimensions that Altaf Hussain acquired, made working for MQM a kind of religious duty. For example, KS says: With the term ‘Mohajir we also projected the leader. We would sing songs about him, would name things after him. Nothing would move without his orders. I had already stepped aside, but later on it got to the limit that his name was appearing on leaves, and on marble. Obviously, the workers were doing all this.

The idea seems to be that the air was saturated with the leader. So large was the presence of Altaf Hussain, that the movement itself was obliterated by his enormous presence. He held a kind of magic for the community that only cult leaders possess. However, unlike Prabhakaran of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, Altaf Hussain is not a deeply sexualized figure.15 He remains Altaf Bhai (more like Big Brother) to those who still follow him. Possibly, his spiritualization as a pir, who is often expected to be celibate in order to be pure in his relation with God, led to his desexualization. This also lent an image of purity and chastity to the Mohajir movement. The need to provide an image of purity and chastity to the movement by the regulation of womens bodies is described by KS. She says: ...i f fifty women came, these fifty women would be given the same message to spread around. I tried from the very beginning to make them understand two or three things, that the times were very difficult so it was essential that we present ourselves in an ideal manner, our characters, our dressing should be immaculate. We should dress simple, clean without wearing any unnecessary jewellery. I tried to guide them, according to my intelligence, that otherwise it could result in a feeling of inferiority in others. If a woman sits there heavily jewelled, then four others would sit away from her or would envy her. Dressing was natural to women, but it should be reserved for social occasions. But for the meetings, when they were delivering our message, they should be humble. It was a fact that we had to rid ourselves o f all this.

Chastity, simplicity and austerity were designed not only to create a sense of unity with the less privileged among the women, they also constituted the core of purist values that the movement was trying to project in order to increase membership. Khawar Mumtaz notes this kind of regulation of the female body. She writes: Instructions were also given to women regarding the mode o f dress (the head must be covered with dopatta— head scarf), attitude (patience, willingness to


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

listen) and behaviour (politeness) when contacting other women in their neighbourhoods.16

This highly conservative regulation of the female body, while designed to increase members, is also a form of the containment of sexuality, and a subtle form of control over women. This kind of regimentation would ensure that even as women were politicized, their ‘feminine’ and ‘Muslim’ identities remained intact. The politicization of women via the ethnic struggle, was not meant to challenge the norms of patriarchy. The values inculcated and encouraged were conservative and patriarchal, so that the women’s participation would remain confined to ethnic issues, without the accompanying awareness o f their own oppression as women. The ethnic movement was thus simultaneously liberating and containing women. Traditional forms of morality and norms were imposed while they were mobilized for political work. This may be one reason why the MQM women were not represented in any significant way in the womens movement in Pakistan.

WOMEN'S VOICES AND THE RUPTURE IN ETHNIC IDENTITY Mohajir identity, as a distinct social entity, has emerged in discourse, primarily in the 1980s. In spite of the rhetoric of its leaders, and their attempts to construct a unified, whole, integrated, solid and homogenous identity, there are many points of interruption and fracture. Mohajir women have not internalized this identity in a straightforward way. There are many points of conflict, contradiction and interrogation, which destroy the myth of ‘the Mohajir nation’. It is an evolving identity that has many gaps, which can be filled in by other and competing identities. The fact that it is tentative, evolving and fluid, may be the reason that women seem to move, quite imperceptibly and easily, between several different identities and levels o f belonging. At times they say quite forthrighdy that the identity did not exist prior to the formation of the MQM, and has come into being very recendy. We now turn to this aspect o f the narratives of Mohajir women, who punctuate the sense o f Mohajir nationhood or identity, with references to other belongings such as national, regional or religious identity. AM expresses a strong sense of religious identity, and her family are followers of the Jamaat-e-Islami. At one point during the interview she says, ‘we are Muslim and there should be Islamic rule’, and avers that Pakistan was made for Islam. A little later in during the interview, when

The Partitions of Self


asked: do you feel any shame about being Mohajir or Urdu-speaking? She replies without hesitation ‘This very thing is our identity. People don’t understand the purpose of being Mohajir. is shameful to be called Mohajir.’ The shift from a strong sense of Muslim identity to an equally strong assertion of Mohajir selfhood, seems to occur quite unconsciously and spontaneously. There is no contradiction in the two identities as one can occupy both positions simultaneously. However, in AM’s case, she privileges each one alternately, so that there seems to be some tension between the two parts of the self. The religious identity fractures the ethnic one, and the ethnic one interrupts her religious belonging. She tries to explain the confusion by saying that people do not understand what being a Mohajir means, and then achieves a tentative resolution by saying that after the incidents of murder and violence, ‘it is shameful to be called a Mohajir. This rejection of Mohajir identity, and a sense of shame in it, enables her to externalize the negative aspects of this identity. She tries to grapple with the multiple identities by saying ‘there is another politics of Mohajir, Sindhi and Hindu. But we are Muslims, we should be united and solve our problems by getting together.’ Her religious identity seems to override ethnic and other concerns, and helps her make a choice despite the tension from competing sources of identity. A similar unresolved conflict punctuates AR’s narrative and her sense o f identity. Along with a sense of being located at the intersection of competing identity discourses, her narrative depicts a constant tension between her political affiliations. At one point in the interview, AR says ‘I think there must be no political party, there must be one party only... There is no use for political parties. Everyone must have one party.’ Slightly later in the interview, AR reveals her political affiliation with the Jamaat-e-Islami by saying, ‘I voted on my own. I voted for the Jamaate-Islami. And we always give it to the Jamaat-e-Islami’. At this points she seems to be saying that there should be only one party, the Jamaat-eIslami. A litde later in the interview, she accuses the other parties of spreading provincialism and hatred of people towards one another. As she moves through the role of the state and police in murder and violence, her narrative arrives at her ethnic belonging when she says ‘It is not a sin to be a Mohajir*. We are born here. Our brothers speak Punjabi in Punjab. I look at their faces and tell them ‘Brother speak in Urdu’. I am proud of being a Mohajir.’ By expressing pride in Mohajir identity, AR shifts from an emphasis on her religious belonging and upholds the notion of her ethnic self. The


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

interviewer then interrogates her about ethnicity-based parties and asks whether they should exist, to which AR spontaneously replies, ‘yes, they must be formed, everyone must get their rights’. Ethnic parties are seen as the basis for getting one’s rights. When reminded that she had earlier said that there should be only one party, she replies, ‘yes, only the Jamaate-Islami’. When her attention is directed to the contradiction between only one religious party, as well as ethnicity-based parties, she tries to resolve the conflict by saying, ‘If there is no massacre then they [ethnic parties] should be created. There is no harm’. After some more probing by the interviewer, AR says, ‘like there are riots that provinces must become independent, if this happens there is really no harm in it’. The last statement indicates that AR’s sense of Pakistani national identity seems to be overlaid by her sense of ethnic belonging which, in turn, is over­ written by religious affiliation. She moves between three different levels of identity, each of which comes to the fore at different times. AR is not just a confused person who does not know what to think. She represents the dilemmas of contemporary existence within multiple, layered and contradictory discourses. Each of her identities seems to fracture others, as she tries to make meaning in a world that is laden with absurdities and overlapping discourses. While a large number of women felt that their Mohajir identity was a source of pride, there were others who contested it at its inception. Some women intervene, and resist or reject the identity at the very moment of its articulation. Contestation and resistance to dominant notions of what it means to be Mohajir, take varying forms ranging from the claim that the identity did not exist before the 1980s, to an outright rejection of the imagined nationhood. For example, the following extract from HK’s interview reveals her sense of the absence of identity until its political articulation: Q. A. Q. A. Q. A.

What is your nationality?

Mohajir. Do you call yourself Mohajir or do outsiders call you Mohajir! Outsiders call us Mohajirs. Ever since the M Q M has been formed they have given us this title. Otherwise we had no name. You don’t remember being called Mohajir before this? No.

If the sense of being a nation depends upon collective memory, HK certainly does not participate in this remembering. To her, Mohajir is an invented identity, which took shape after the formation of the MQM.

The Partitions of Self


Before this ‘we had no name’ reflects a sense of time when the identity did not exist. The naming was done by others, and the Mohajirs interjected the name, rather than fighting what was being thrust upon them. HK unhesitatingly responds with the word ‘Mohajir to the question of her nationality. This is a subtle but sure undermining of national identity which is punctuated by another, divisive consciousness. In HK’s narrative, the identity was first ascribed by others, and then its invention was consolidated and elaborated by its political expression in the form of the MQM. The recent invention of the identity seems to challenge the notion of a primordial, pre-existing and already-formed identity, which only gained political expression later. FRC provides an interesting example of how a conflicting identity is negotiated in a contest with the Other. She says The reason is that you can go anywhere and they ask you where you are from, and when you say that you have come from India, then at that very instance whether they say it or not, they will block you. Just for this phrase that your parents are from India, even though we are Pakistanis and proud o f it. But because we were blocked like this, the word Mohajir came into existence, so you can see what our feelings would be.

FRC explains the construction of identity in a process in which the Other tries to ‘block you’. The word Mohajir, according to her, arose because of ‘blocking’ by which she probably means the stifling of opportunities for Urdu-speaking people, and the lack of jobs and college admissions that were the original issues in the conflict. New identities are thus formed in conflict, and are consolidated and reinforced by the continuation of violence and discursive acts. FRC distinguishes between a surface and a deeper layer of identity. She says All o f us say that we are Hindustani but when they ask us what our caste is? We have to tell them that we are Hindustani. On the surface we are Pakistani and it feels nice, but this has been going on since our forefathers. This is our identity.

It almost appears as if the surface national identity is a camouflage for the ‘real’ and deeper identity of Hindustani. This is a telling distinction as it reflects the fragility of the national belonging. The strength of the Hindustani identity is emphasized by FRC in her claim that ‘this has been going on since our forefathers’. This is a reference to the idea that the


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Hindustani identity is older, hence more solid, while the apparent and surface identity of Pakistani is a later addition. However, the Mohajir identity appears in FRC’s discourse as a suddenly invented one—an identity of which they suddenly became aware. As she says A.

Q. A.



I was telling you that in August [19]89 this had just started. Everywhere there would be one slogan: long live the Mohajir, so we also thought that we had an identity. What do you mean by identity? Didn’t you feel that you had an identity before this? No we had a totally normal life up to then, we would just go to college and come back. We knew nothing else. But when it came in 1989 or 1988 and when it emerged then we found out that we were Mohajirs, we didn’t know before this that we were Mohajirs. We thought that we were only Urdu-speaking and Hindustani. That our parents belonged here and that was all. But then we found out that we were Mohajirs and we had migrated here and that is why we were called Mohajirs. You would call yourselves Urdu-speaking before and then people started to call you Mohajirs but you didn’t know that you had not gotten your rights before? I told you that up to the inter[mediatc] level we didn’t know that wc were Mohajirs. When we came to the BA level then we found out that we were Mohajirs and we were given a slogan, ‘long live Mohajirs'.

FRC’s responses seem to suggest that Mohajir identity did not exist prior to the slogan of long live the Mohajirs. However, the Hindustani identity seems to have existed from the time of the forefathers. It seems that Hindustani identity was converted into M ohajir identity with politicization. The word Hindustani may have been dropped because of its reference to Hindustan (India), while the Mohajir (as refugee or migrant) does not suggest the connection with any specific place. The constant refrain of sudden discovery in the words ‘then we found out that we were Mohajirs, reveitls how fragile, new and tentative was the new identity being forged. In the process of the invention of ethnic identities, the discourse of the moral, ideological and political Other, who ‘blocks you’, needs to be deployed. The rhetoric of the Other who has harmed (blocked) one’s own group, and who has usurped the group’s rights, then must be deployed to ensure passionate emotional investment in the new identity. An interesting feature of FRC’s discourse on identity is that she opposes the emergence of Mohajir identity consciousness to leading a normal’ life. This implies that the invention of the new identity was a

The Partitions of Self


disruption of perceived ‘normality’, a discontinuity in the continuous ‘stream of consciousness’. BS feels that the seeds of hatred were sowed by the invention of the Mohajir identity. She says: It means that we have sowed the seeds ourselves, since they [differences] have risen up with the name Mohajirs. Mobajirs were in every department since Pakistan came into being. There was no such thing. So the others started to hate them. Meaning the seed o f hatred was sowed by the name Mohajir.

In BS’ memory, there was no such thing when Pakistan came into being, however the name Mohajir sowed the seeds of hatred. She blames the community for the wrongs done to them and does not participate in the collective articulation of the identity. She expresses shame at being a member of the community and, when asked why, she feels this way, she says: Because we were no longer Mohajirs. We had taken this country in the name o f Allah. We came. We lived here. We spent so many years here. And thank God they were everywhere, in Sindh, in Punjab, in NWFP. But since then, they have gotten a bad name, everybody thinks— the thief is Mohajir, bad girls are Mohajirs. So they have never been this disgraced.

BS contests the whole notion of Mohajir as ‘migrant’. She feels that once they had come and had settled in Pakistan and lived and spent years here, they should not have retained the sense of transience and temporary shelter associated with the word ‘Mohajir\ She interrogates the very foundation of the construction of the identity as based on movement from one place to another. The feelings of disgrace and shame seem to pain her, but she holds the construction of such an identity responsible for the consequences. Mohajir identity is not only interrupted by religious belonging, it is also subverted by reference to national identity. GF feels that MQM and its members are ‘enemies of the country’. When asked about her feelings regarding Pakistani identity, she replies with conviction: A.


I am proud o f my country. Last year I went to India and saw the atmosphere prevailing there. There I saw women doing labour from morning to noon and selling vegetables. I thanked G od that we are at a better place compared to India and we are at peace. D id your children ever go to India?


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives


Yes two o f my children, who are o f the opinion that our condition is very good. We spent a month there and couldn’t live there more then three months. What is in Pakistan is not in India. Q . D o you think Pakistan should have come into existence? A. Yes if we are poor we are still better than India. I can’t imagine living there. Only edibles there are cheap. We make a face when we hear o f salaries like Rs2000 or 2500 but in India they are happy to hear o f a salary o f R sl200. So our country is quite a bit better.

GF’s sense o f Pakistani national identity is strong and she constructs this sense in opposition to ‘enemy’ India. She compares Pakistan with India and feels relieved that Pakistanis are not so poor and are at peace. By contrast, Indians are poor and have no peace. GF’s Other is India and not the competing ethnic groups or the State. She ruptures the identification with Mohajir nationhood by referring to her nationalist belonging. The strongest rejection of Mohajir identity at the very point of its construction, is evident in the narrative of IJ. IJ denounces the murder, killing and looting as the work of MQM boys who, according to her, are the root cause of Karachi’s destruction. As she says ‘They are from MQM, who else is there you tell me? They are nobody but the MQM. I can say this with truthful guarantee and nothing happens against them. They have destroyed Karachi.’ In an almost violent rejection o f the MQM, and a passionate commitment to national identity, IJ says: A.

Q. A.

I said that all the M Q M people should die. I hope Allah does that. Honesdy, I curse them in my heart because we are all human beings and they are cruel to humans. Is it not a bad thing? See, whatever happens we are Mohajir, also we are Pakistanis, and you have given a bad name to all the Mohajirs with yourself. Was Pakistan created for this reason? So much cruelty. The Hindus did not even do as much as we are doing. Even though you are Urdu-speaking yourself are you with the M Q M ? No I am not absolutely not, I do not belong to any one I only say that may Allah keep Pakistan secure.

IJ seems anguished that the MQM has given a bad name to all Mohajirs. She invokes her own Mohajir identity and connects it with being Pakistani. For her, the two are reconciled at different levels. However, in the words, ‘may Allah keep Pakistan secure’, she reveals her emotional investment in Pakistani identity and her fear that others may threaten this belonging. An interesting aspect of her narrative is her comparison of MQM boys with Hindus: ‘The Hindus did not even do as much as we

The Partitions of Self


are doing’. Her Muslim Pakistani self is constructed in opposition to Hindu India. Hindus, and what they purportedly did during partition, form her yardstick for judging the violence of MQM boys. In other words, she asserts that what the MQM has done in Karachi is worse than what the Hindus did at partition. IJ claims to have rejected the politicized form of Mohajir identity right from the beginning, at the very moment that initial forms of the identity were being articulated. As she explains: In my view, the M Q M has been the cruellest, they have done a great deal o f killing and plundering and it has never happened like this in any time. In Bhutto’s time and Ayubs time, we were not very aware. They did a lot o f stoning and beat up the Pathans a lot. We the Mohajin, remember, they made the lives o f the Pathans very difficult. They would not utter a word. Then the time o f the Sindhis came, according to me, the Mohajirs were unfair to them also. So much o f this happened. I am only talking about Karachi and besides this I do not know what happened in Punjab and NWFP. Anyway, it was not like this before but these people have a different style, these M Q M people. I am really irritated by them after looking at their cruelty and injustice. You believe me, in the beginning my husband said that the M Q M is very nice, but I would say that they were totally wrong. I have not voted for them to this day. You believe me that to this day we fight over this. My husband says that we must vote for the ‘kite one’ I say, ‘to hell with the ‘kite people’171 will never vote for them.’

The above extract not only reflects IJ’s staunch opposition to the MQM, it is also very revealing of her independent rejection of the politics of ethnic identity. She reveals that despite her husband’s sense of belonging with the MQM, she refused to vote for the party. Right from the beginning, she said that they were ‘totally wrong’ and despite her husband’s insistence that she vote for MQM, she responded with ‘to hell with the ‘kite people’, I will never vote for them’. Her act is a rejection not only of the imposition of identity from the ethnic group, but also a defiance of her husband’s politics. This is fairly uncommon in Pakistani society where most women tend to follow their male kin in their political choices. IJ resisted not only Mohajir politics, but also patriarchy. IJ’s Mohajir identity is fractured by her national identity. The resistance seems to have come from the beginning, which belies the idea of an old, solid, wholesome and/or primordial identity. On the contrary, IJ highlights the tentativeness and fragility of a precarious identity, contested at the same time as its invention.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Womens lack of participation in the patriarchal construction of a monolithic Mohajir Selfhood, is also evident in NP’s narrative. NP is not emotionally invested in the MQM, while her husband seems to offer blind loyalty to the party, a loyalty which NP finds disturbing. The extent of her husband’s commitment to Mohajir politics is apparent in the following words of NP: After leaving the children he said to me ‘I will leave wife, children, mother, father, everything but will not leave the organisation’...H e used to go in processions (jalsay juloos) then he used to take me and the child, and used to say that even if I am not here, you have to go to the processions.

NP contests the imposition of Mohajir identity and politics with reference to her religious identity by saying, ‘Everybody is after all a Muslim, Allah’s men, now people understand them different. They have formed separate organisations, but they all will go to the same place’. The latter statement is an answer to the question, ‘what do you mean by M ohajir?. When pressed by the interviewer to explain what she understands by the term Mohajir, NP declares it to be an ascribed identity in the following interchange: Q. A.

You call yourself Mohajir (migrant)? What is the meaning o f Mohajiri Did you migrate [and] come? N o (they) have just given the name ( laqab)li o f Mohajir hence we are

Mohajirs. Q. A. Q.

A. Q.

A. Q. A.

Who gave the name ( laqab)\f We ourselves or somebody else? A ltaf bhai (brother) gave it and we took it. Then there would [have] been talk about why [you] are called Mohajir! I did not understand this. One specific community is called Mohajir. [The] people o f Punjab are called Punjabi, people o f Sindh Sindhi. Imagine that you did not get married in the family and a match for some Punjabi came then would your family like it? My two sisters have married and gone into Punjabis. They are pure Punjabi. What is the meaning o f pure Punjabi? Those that lived in Punjab [and] learnt to speak Punjabi ... My sister in law has married her daughter into Sindhis.

NP’s explanations bring out the arbitrary, ascribed and temporary character of identity. The Mohajir identity was internalized because Altaf Bhai provided the title. Being Punjabi means living in the Punjab and

The Partitions of Self


speaking Punjabi. This is a territorial and linguistic basis of identity. How changeable, fluid and tentative such an identity can be, is reflected in NP’s understanding that relocation, and the learning of another language can lead to a change in identity. Her two sisters married Punjabis and are described as a ‘pure’ Punjabi, which is defined as living in the Punjab and speaking the language. NP then hints at the fact that her sister-in-law’s daughter may have become a Sindhi. She highlights the idea that identity is a historically evolving phenomenon and lacks the solidity of permanence or transcendence. While she thus punctures the myth of ethnic identity, she simultaneously rejects patriarchal domination when she asserts that she holds the MQM responsible for all the destruction, since if it had not been formed, ‘my husband would not have been in the MQM, nor all this would have happened. There are other people who are living a life without an organization. Women appear to have contested the identity at its inception and its core, and at the very moment of its articulation, even at the expense of annoying their husbands. AY finds not simply another region, but another country India, as the reference point of her identity. She seems to feel disconnected to all the identities available in Pakistan, and her belonging seems to be connected to her past. The sense of dislocation in AY’s construction of her world is evident in her words: A. Q. A.

We are Indians. We are from India. Here people do not think so. They give no importance to Mohajirs. I mean what should be your identity over here? Over here, this is our country, this is everything, this is our children’s country. This is the identity o f our children.

I think we should go back to India.

AY expresses a poignant dilemma in feeling connected to her ancestral part, while her children belong to Pakistan. Even when she says ‘this is everything, this is our children’s country, this is the identity of our children’, she unable to connect herself with their identity and ends the interview by saying ‘I think we should go back to India. The desire to return to the homeland (in this case India) is in conflict with her children’s belonging to Pakistan. The partition of 1947 not only imagined and rigidified artificial boundaries on the landscape, it also created deep emotional fissures and tore apart families. Time got divided into before partition and after partition, and space into there and here. AY belongs to a world before partition, her children to a universe after independence.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Emotionally she lives there, and her children live here. The disruptions and ruptures of partition are painfully obvious in similar dilemmas expressed by ZBQ, who feels that she left her motherland’ and could not understand things in Pakistan. She and her children also occupy different times and a different space. As she says: 1. 2.

Don’t the children want to go there? They are not even ready to listen to the name of India. They say, Pakistan is everything for them and they will live or die here in their homeland. They however, allow me to go if I wish, but I can’t live away from my children.

Caught between her identity as a mother and as an Indian, ZBQ feels torn but chooses motherhood over national belonging. However, the pain of dislocation, poignandy foregrounds the dilemma of false boundaries and forced borders. It is women who seem to be disconnected with their natal families through the partitioning of space, time and people, as they are forced to choose to go with the husband rather than remain with their natal families. MB, who migrated from Hyderabad, Deccan punctures the notion of a totalized identity by referring to an even larger, and more distant, belonging. MB strongly feels that Pakistan was created because of the Mohajirs and that is why they are fighting for their rights. She first foregrounds her ethnic identity as the very basis of the creation of Pakistan, and then uses this to claim rights. A little later in the interview, she draws upon the notion of originality and authenticity to argue that, ‘we were originally Arabs. We are Arabs. We were the guardians.’ This sense of a distant belonging seems to arise from a feeling of superiority associated with the place of Islam’s origin. The reference to being guardians (most probably of Mecca), further shores up her claim to rights and her notion that Pakistan was created for the Mohajirs. The claim to religioracist authenticity, and moral superiority (in the idea of being the guardians of the holy place), seems to bolster the claim to the Mohajir appropriation of Pakistan. The tentativeness, permeability, and recency of Mohajir identity are underscored in T K ’s description of a fluid and changeable identity. As she says: I would only like to be identified as a Pakistani rather than a Mohajir even though I am Urdu-speaking. There are Urdu-speaking people who come from

The Partitions of Self


the Punjab, they are also called this since they have started to speak Urdu, even though their mother tongue is Punjabi.

T K ’s reference to Punjabi Urdu-speaking people reflects the fluidity of Mohajir identity. Anyone who comes from other regions and begins to speak Urdu, comes to be called a Mohajir. This very elasticity belies the notion of fixed, frozen and rigid identities existing primordially. TK prefers to identify with her national identity as she fails to see how the Urdu language can be the basis of identity. The sense of being lost people, unsure of who they are comes out movingly in T K ’s following words: There are four provinces in Pakistan and likewise there are four ethnic groups. The Punjabis speak Punjabi, the Sindhis speak Sindhi and in Sindh you have Karachi also. So how can we identify ourselves to others? When friends are sitting together in school or college they call themselves Punjabi and ask us who we are. Then we feel a lot o f hesitation because we don’t know who we are. If we arc Sindhis, we should know how to speak Sindhi. It is the tradition that Sindhis must know how to speak Sindhi. Then the other girls say that if you are no one then you must be Hindustani. We say no we are Urdu-speaking so then they say that we are Mohajirs. By Mohajir they mean that we must be members o f the M Q M . Then there is killing and the Pathans are killing the Sindhis and most o f the Sindhis have killed the Mohajirs. They have done this to Mohajirs mostly and you can see in most jobs there are Punjabis and Pathans. If we go to them and ask them for jobs, they are not ready to accept


T K ’s observations manifest a number o f elements of the Mohajir construction. It seems like a category in which anyone who does not belong, gets placed. In this sense, it is akin to the question: Other, in official forms. T K ’s friends seem to be saying that ‘if you are no one then you must be Hindustani’. Feeling uncomfortable with an association with India, TK tells them that they are Urdu-speaking. This gets them the label o f Mohajir, which is considered synonymous with the MQM. T K ’s dilemma comes out in the statement that ‘we don’t know who we are’. An undefined, fluid and labile identity, Mohajir can be used in political mobilization by Mohajirs themselves, who can use it to make rights claims, and by Sindhis, who can use it to deny them rights by arguing that they do not belong to the land. The absence of belonging thus also seems to be a constitutive part of Mohajir identity.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Multiple levels of caste, class and ethnic identity are interwoven in AK s narrative, which is based on generational memory. Her information is received from her parents, and her own experience of her ‘original’ belonging is absent. In this sense, it is a secondary narrative, representing the remembering processes of a generation before her. She does not refer either to her national or religious identity while trying to understand her sense of self. Notions of superiority/inferiority and caste prejudice, make her story different from the ones discussed above. AK is worth quoting here: First o f all I want to tell you that I have not seen India. I don’t know what India is like but I have been hearing things about it and they would tell me. My father was from Agra in India. We are from Agra Taj. And my father would tell us that our grandfather traded. He did business in marble stones so my grandfather had a shop in the Taj Mahal, that is, in Agra. Father told us that this is why we were called tajgun. But in India we were called people from Agra. One is ashamed o f being called this now because people say that the people from Agra are very bad tempered and foul mouthed. And they arc known for swearing and for being ill mannered. And they are shoemakers. And they are cobblers. Because it is true and it is a specialty o f Agra, that I have seen and you must have seen that the business over there was such that shoes were made there. Maybe because most o f the people who are here from Agra are shoemakers. So that is why people call us this and it doesn’t seem nice. That is what we are called. But my father and I were from India, from Agra. But my mother was from Ajmir and my in-laws are from Allahabad. That is what I have heard but I don’t know anything about these places. I don’t know from where? But my husband told me that they were landlords.

AK’s identity arises from an unseen place, of which she only knows through what she has heard. The reference point of her sense of self, in a historical perspective, is Agra. There is a sense of dislocation at the level of community, but not personally as in some other narratives, since she has never seen these places herself. AK refers to the class identity of her shoemaker ancestors with a sense of shame as the ‘people from Agra are very bad tempered and foul mouthed...known for swearing and for being ill-mannered’. Mohajir identity, in most cases, prides itself on superior and higher manners and sophisticated ways of behaving. The husband, on the other hand, claims a landlord background, implying a richer class and superior origins. AKs conflict stems from her ascribed identification with Mohajir people, and her ancestral belonging to the ‘ill-mannered, bad-tempered people of Agra’. The reference to identity location outside Pakistan, belies the myth of national identity and also interrupts the idea

The Partitions of Self


of being a Mohajir. To some extent, this demonstrates how fictional was the rupture of partition, at least in terms of identity, the two-nation theory notwithstanding. Belonging for many is still traced to India, and to regional places in India, thus transcending the politically demarcated, and militarily defended, territories. AK, however, rejects her identification with Mohajir identity, contesting it from the basis of religious commonality. She says: I feel ashamed, I don’t feel proud [of being Mohajir\. I marvel that there is no one more shameless than we are because we have been left no where trusting a Mohajir (she is probably referring to Altaf Hussain). We are lowly in everyone’s eyes and we have no status. They should work together and not be disunited that so and so has not done this or that. We should think that we are all Muslims and we are one in a house and one in this country even if there are Christians or Hindus or


AK’s appeal for oneness is based on being a Muslim, despite her recognition that there are Christians and Hindus in the country. This is a rhetorical device towards desired equality despite religious and ethnic differences. She stresses the importance of being ‘one in a house’ connecting the feeling of nationalism with family. The invocation of the notion of oneness/commonality, is usually done by powerful groups that seek to deny difference, and override the diversity of social existence. However, religious or ethnic minority groups, which often contest the imposed notion of oneness, can also deploy this strategy as a route to equality. AK uses the idea of unity and oneness as a way of making claims to equality within the state. This enables, or perhaps forces, her to weaken her link with Mohajir identity of which she feels ashamed. The sense of a fractured, dislocated and displaced identity is evident in the following poignant words of FM, who has been quoted earlier regarding her fear and dislike of Bengalis. Later in the interview she says We were happy for Pakistan but we were also very gloomy for our own country. When we got into the train I was weeping and asked my mother to leave me with my grandfather, but she didn’t for she knew ‘who will come back’. Then we reached Pakistan and found some Bengalis were also good.

These words reflect not only the pain of a forced rupture, but also underline the falsehood of an inflicted nationalism. FM expresses joy over


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

the creation of Pakistan, but was ‘very gloomy for our own country’. Her feelings of belonging here are clearly for India, which is described as ‘our own country’. She wanted to be left behind but her mother’s words express the sorrow of a violent loss and separation, ‘who will come back’. There is a vague, but perceptible, sense o f nostalgia and yearning in the latter words, perhaps a deep-rooted longing to return knowing it will never happen. FM seems to have been a reluctant migrant, forced to break away from her home never to come back. For her, the migration fails to become the basis of identity. However, interestingly she ‘found that some Bengalis were also good*. This is a reversal of her abhorrence for Bengalis expressed earlier. Acknowledgement of her own feelings of loss, render her softer towards another ethnic group. Identities are seldom formed for good. With time they change, take on new elements, discard some aspects, develop further or even degenerate. Ethnic identities, as recognized by Inayatullah, move through various stages of politicization, which takes them to different levels.19The Mohajir Qaumi Movement was transformed into Muttahida (Joint, unified) Qaumi Movement, after a certain level of politicization. This happened when it required a larger membership and sought to become a more inclusive identity. FRC explains the reason for the shift: It is Mutahida, it has been made this way. If we are talking from a platform, then we are talking at a Pakistani level. It was very important to form Mutahida because o f which level are you talking from. You cannot say that you are talking at the Mohajir level.

The movement was widened to include other people at the point at which the term M ohajir made it restricted. However, this indicates a transformation of the very notion of an ethnic identity, as the word Mutahida broadens the concept to include, possibly, non-Urdu speaking people. For a political movement it is important to be inclusive and broadbased (as numbers matter in electoral politics), but for a bounded identity, its exclusiveness is a defining trait. At this point, there seems to be a tension within the notion of Mohajir identity, brought about by political and electoral imperatives. FRC’s idea of talking at the Pakistani level, seems to shift her sense of Selfhood to the national level, thereby undermining the very identity that she initially adopted. This slide between levels, and between national and sub-national identities, reflects the failure of the process of nation-building, so fundamental for the formation of the modern nation-state. Regional and ethnic consciousness,

The Partitions of Self


seems to continually puncture national consciousness with its uncomfortable stirrings and irritating presence. Women seem to move between the fluid levels of identity, and tend to perpetually cross the permeable boundaries of national, regional, ethnic, religious and ancestral identities. This suggests the changeability and incoherence of the notion of the national or sub-national, and the arbitrariness of territorial divisions of the world. The tension between conflicting identities is eloquently brought out in FRC’s understanding that ‘there is this slogan of Mohajir, I didn’t know what it was, then I realized that it was wrong. So I say, we Pakistanis are our own enemies, there is no third enemy...I want to tell the coming generations that they are only Pakistanis. And they should remain Pakistanis. They should work for Pakistan’. In her concluding statements, she reverts assertively to national identity as the only true identity. Women interject in the discourse on Mohajir identity construction in a number of ways. One theme that runs across this discourse is of betrayal by the leaders and people of the community. For example, KHB says: Our nation is hypocritical. The Punjabis, the Pathans and others unite but the Mohajirs are always disunited. If they were one, the Haqiqis would not have been formed. If they were one, this organization would have really risen. We cannot do anything. These Haqiqi people are after our children. If we do not allow them to go, they say that we will take them by force. This is how they have become our enemies.

KHB’s feelings about the terror of the Haqiqi group, are shared by many women who feel that initially they were very impressed with the MQM, but later the party forcibly collected money and murdered members of its own community. The betrayal is attributed to disunity within the community, and each faction blames the government as well as the other faction, for the unspeakable level of violence unleashed upon the people. Total loyalty and blind following, which ostensibly characterize the ethnic movement, seem to be absent as so many points of disruption tear the fabric of identity. Women’s voices, arising from multiple levels of discourse, do not appear in the mainstream identity discourse o f MQM. Women, at times, seem to be the Others of the movement, the outsiders, whose voices are silenced in the overwhelming need to project a unified and monolithic image. In public and political discourse, Mohajir identity, like other national and sub-national identities, is constructed as a unified, homogenous and monolithic wholeness. Ethnic claims are premised on a solidified,


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

integrated and unitary identity as the basis for rights and benefits from the state. Upon closer examination, it appears that such an identity is a mythological construction and does not reflect a reality that is complex and multi-faceted. Womens narratives reveal a wholly different picture, which shows that when the voices of the excluded are added to the discourse, the ‘realities’ look different. Women are interlocutors in the fabrication and deployment of Mohajir identity. Their interventions reveal many cracks in the seemingly smooth surface of ethnic consciousness. Women’s voices refer to the myriad sources of interruption of the identity at the very moment of its birth. They bring out the contradictions, ruptures, dissonances and disruptions in the apparendy neat text of ethnic articulation. The many sources of resistance to the mainstream construction of Mohajir identity, arise from other forms of identity including religious, national, supra-national, regional, and even familial belonging. Women participate in the discourse as interrogators of the dominant vision created by the leaders. While many women participate in it with pride and a sense o f belonging, there are others who fracture the unity of ethnic consciousness by reference to other identities from the past and the present. The space of women’s identity is geographically wide including India and Arabia, and the time is continuous including the past, present and future. Within these space-time dimensions, women move fluidly and, occasionally imperceptibly, between one layer and another of identity. The multiple levels of identity that women’s voices reflect, tear apart the hegemonic fabric stitched so meticulously by the demagogues of the party.

NOTES 1. For example, S. Akbar Zaidi in his paper ‘Sindhi vs Mohajir: Contradiction, Conflict, Compromise’, translates Mohajir as refugee rather than migrant. See S. Akbar Zaidi, (ed.), Regional Imbalances and the National Question in Pakistan, Lahore: Vanguard, (1992), p. 336. 2. See Farida Shaheed’s paper ‘The Pathan -Mohajir Conflicts, 1985-6: A National Perspective’ for the fact that the Mohajirs are multi-ethnic and do not have a common origin. Shaheed writes that ‘The Mohajirs were culturally distinct frohi the Sindhis and, though composed o f various ethnic groups, gravitated towards the Urdu-speaking culture o f central India’, in Veena Das, (ed.), Mirrors o f Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, (1990), p. 199. 3. Sec Inayatullah for a theoretical analysis o f the various stages through which ethnic consciousness passes as it finally articulates a full blown political demand for autonomy or secession. D r Inayatullah, ‘T he Process o f Development o f Ethnicity and

The Partitions of Self







10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15.


Ethnonationalism: A Theoretical Analysis’, in Pakistan Perspectives, Vol. 5, No. 2, JulyDecember 2000. Zaidi points out that Although Mohajir identity per se has only become crystallized after the official launching o f the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (M Q M ) in 1986 and by the violent events following that, there have always been the seeds o f an exclusivity of identity in this community’, Akbar Zaidi, p. 339. It may be mentioned here that such ‘seeds’ can be produced in discourse, as the propensity toward ethnic articulation potentially exists in any collectivity that, with time, comes to imagine itself a community. See for example Akbar Zaidi, Farida Shaheed, and Inayatullah (cited above) as each o f them provides some explanation o f the development o f ethnic distinctions in relation to the state, especially as regards the form o f the state, whether plural, democratic and accommodative, or exclusive, authoritarian and homogenizing. One realizes though that no state is purely either/or, as avowedly democratic and plural states have authoritarian and non-accommodative tendencies, and highly authoritarian states may accept plurality despite the contradiction. As regards the role o f the state, also see Akmal Hussain’s paper ‘The Karachi Riots o f December 1986: Crisis o f State and Civil Society in Pakistan’, in Veena Das, (ed.), Mirrors o f Violence, pp. 185-193. For an understanding o f how the state’s classificatory systems tend to create rigid and bounded identities, see Sri Lankan Feminist, Neloufer de Mel’s ‘The ‘Half-Truths’ o f Classification: The Wooden Dolls and the Census’, published by the Asian Film Center, 2001. This is her introduction to the film based on a short story by Karoor Nilakantha Pillai. As de Mel writes, ‘The rigid boundaries required by the Census fail to capture the complex nuances o f these lives as well as those who live in the liminalities o f hybrid ethnic, religious, caste and sexual identities’, p. 4. See Inayatullah for how the stage comes when ethnic politics becomes ethno­ nationalism and leads to the demand for provincial autonomy and/or secession. D r Inayatullah, p. 13. The fact that electoral politics, and the need for constituencies, play an important role in the articulation o f ethnic identity, is highlighted by Rajni Kothari in his paper ‘Ethnicity’, in Kumar David and Kadirgamar, Santasilan (eds.) (1989), Ethnicity: Identity, Conflict, Crisis, pp. 38-39. See Khawar Mumtaz for an idea o f the large number o f women who were mobilized for M Q M rallies. ‘The Gender Dimension in Sindh’s Ethnic Conflict’, in Rupesinghe, Kumar and Khawar Mumtaz (eds.) (1996). Internal Conflicts in South Asia, Sage, pp. 156-158. For the discovery o f torture cells o f M Q M in June 1992, see Khawar Mumtaz, p. 152. Suvir Kaul aptly comments that borders are so often confirmed by the spilling o f blood. Ethnic divisions are also reinforced by engaging in the differentiating ritual of bloodletting. Suvir Kaul, ‘Introducdon’ to The Partitions o f Memory: The Afterlife o f the Division o f India, edited by Suvir Kaul, (2001), New Delhi: Permanent Black, p. 1. A lungi is a covering worn from the waist down by men and women in the subcontinent. Khawar Mumtaz, p. 158. Khawar Mumtaz, p. 151. Neloufer de Mel lucidly describes how, in a play on the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the Supremo o f the liberation movement becomes invested with sexual passion and becomes an object o f desire for the women. Neloufer de Mel, ‘Body Politics and the


16. 17. 18. 19.

Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives Female Suicide Bomber’, paper presented at the W ISCO M P Summer Symposium on Human Security in the New Millennium. New Delhi, 21-26 August 2000, p. 5. Khawar Mumtaz, pp. 157-158. The Kite was the M QM 's election symbol. Laqab means tide. See Inyatullah for how identities develop through stages and move through levels o f politicization, p. 13.


Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women: A Case Study from Pakistan1 A mineh A hmed

‘In my laughter there is grief; with sad eyes do I smile’ (Pa khanda ke mejara da; pa kbapa stargo khandegam) Ghani Khan. ‘Not to Do Gham-Khadi is Shameful ( Sharam); to Do it a Burden’ ‘Before there was little gham, now these ghamoona (pi.) have taken me o ff my rozgar (employment) [Pookha ba kala kala gham wo was de ghamoona da rozgar

a ooweesthamd) (From the popular contemporary Pukhto song ‘ Gham , sung by Rahim Shah).

INTRODUCTION his article explores the social lives of Pukhtun women or Bibiane (pi. of the Pukhto term ‘Bibi’: lady) from landed, well-off families in the regions of Swat and Mardan in northern Pakistan.2 Its ethnographic focus is on the enactment of specific life-cycle or gham-khadi ceremonies (particularly funerals and weddings). The widely used Pukhto term gham-khadi both refers to specific segregated gatherings commemorating death, marriage, birth and other such events, and designates the emotions of sorrow (‘gham) and joy (‘khadi’) which they elicit. Gham-khadi comprises a body of ideas and practices of life, in which happiness and sadness are understood as indissoluble, and are celebrated communally within networks of reciprocal social obligations. Preparation for and attendance at gham-khadi events is locally understood as ‘women’s work’, a set of complex activities integral to Pukhtun identity or Pukhtunwali.3 Conventionally, writers on Muslim societies, particularly the Pukhtuns, have characterised Pukhtunwali as an ‘ideal-type code’



Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

based on such principles as badal (revenge), melmastia (hospitality), nanawatee (refuge), tor (female honour), and tarboorwali (agnatic rivalry) (e.g. Ahmed, A.S. 1980; Barth 1986; Grima 1998; Lindholm 1982; Singer 1982); this article suggests that gham-khadi has come to assume a priority among Pukhtuns as a contemporary principle of Pukhtunwali. Many of . the concepts characterising Pukhtunwali (such as forms of hospitality, revenge, agnatic rivalry) are acted out in funerary and wedding events (gham-khadi). I will argue that gham-khadi constitutes the ‘work of life’ (zeest-rozgar), through which Bibiane maintain the fabric of social life by sustaining inter- and intra-family relationships.4 Bibiane’s sense of their gham-khadi obligations underpins their understanding of personhood. The article identifies and explores a Pukhtun construction of work divergent from professionalism or physical labour measured and quantified by production output. What I seek to show is that the Pukhtun construction considers work as producing not things but social relations and transactions (Strathern 1990: 177). This article is based on fieldwork carried out in three localities of northern Pakistan: Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, and two villages {killee), Saidu in Swat and Hoti in Mardan, both in the North-West Frontier Province.5 The districts of Swat and Mardan consist of several villages and may be characterised as segregated purdah contexts, in which patrilineal descent is common and marriage is typically both endogamous and virilocal. Swat is dominated by land-owning Pukhtuns, referred to as Khanan; it was governed between 1926 and 1969 as an autonomous State under two Rulers, Badshah Sahib, and his heir, the Wali, who were descended from the famous shepherd Saint, the Akhund of Swat (1835' 1877). The Akhund’s male descendants are referred to as Badshahyan (as descendants of a ruler). Mardan is also dominated by landed lords or Nawabs, whose families, from the Patriarch Nawab Akbar Khan, were incorporated into British colonial rule as a landed elite. Women of both saintly and landed descent go by the honorific Bibiane.6 In both Swat and Mardan, the village {kille) is still, as Barth observed in the 1950s, ‘the most important unit of territorial reference’ for Pukhtuns (Barth 1986: 13). The Pukhto proverb: ‘no matter how far you go, you’ll eventually return to your village’ (che ze ze no Abazai la ba raze) insists on an ideology of Pukhtun identity being vested in its rural heartlands, as well as in Pukhtun villagers, who are said by many Khan and Bibiane to embody a purer form of Pukhto. While complex, village organization is shaped by the dominant role of landlords on whose

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


hospitality, patronage and land ownership all other categories of villagers depend (Barth 1986: 3, 10). Khan status derives from tenants’ allegiances and patrilineal land inheritances. Land is mainly agricultural in both the valley of Swat and plains o f Mardan. Among the categories of villagers, farmers, tenants, agricultural labourers, shopkeepers, barbers, and dancers are all directly or indirectly dependent politically, economically and socially on landlords’ families with whom they share reciprocal visiting relationships of gham-khadi. In addition to these, an entire category of male and female villagers belonging to these occupational groups as domestic helpers (wet-nurses, servants and maids) come to hold quasifamilial degrees of prominence and power in Bibiane’s houses. Bibiane’s performance of gham-khadi thus affects their relationships both with other families of equal status and a variety of socially subordinate villagers. The importance of focusing on the funerals and weddings of Khanan and Bibiane as a social group is not that their embodiment of Pukhtumuali is taken to be more authentic than that of the gharib (poor), but that their practices have potential to disseminate more widely across village and metropolitan contexts. As many as two thousand people drawn from a broad social spectrum may attend big landlord families’ funerals. As I have documented earlier, landlords’ migration to the capital Islamabad is precipitating transformations in these Bibiane-villager bonds (Ahmed 2004). Transregional patterns of habitation mean that the observance of gham-khadi ceremonies in natal villages represents a vital ligature connecting often absent landlords to their traditional dependents and patrimony. Interactions between urban Bibiane and rural villagers demonstrate divergences in the understanding of convention, while the migration of Bibiane to a provincial region outside their own thus challenges some of the core features of Pukhtun ‘identity’. This creates many painful paradoxes for Bibiane as wedding and funerary procedures are revised, and the acceptable forms of ethnic and cultural continuity called into question.7 Bibiane from Frontier families who have left the village context for the city, for at least some part o f every year, form the ethnographic focus of this article. Married Bibiane in Swat and especially Mardan rarely leave the home for tasks not connected to gham-khadi (principally weddings and funerals, but also covering a range o f other procedures of congratulation and condolence). These excursions, which take place as often as two or three times a day during the spring and autumn ‘wedding season’, and as infrequently as once a week in winter, tie them to a wide


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

network of relations with hundreds of individuals from different families and social backgrounds. According to an interpenetration of personal and social concepts of identity within Pukhtun conceptions of the family and kinship, Bibiane apprehend gham-khadi as both an enactment of social relations and a source of personal self-definition. A persons identity, as Daniel has argued, in a South Asian context, is not ‘individual’ but includes his or her spouse, offspring, kinsmen and so forth (1984: 103).8 Every adult o f a given family—both men and women— occupies a unique position within a thick web o f relationships in local, regional and national contexts. Kinship among Pukhtuns is typically conceptualized as dense and multi-filiated. Individuals conceive themselves as having relations not only to immediate kin (parents, children and siblings) but also to a range of distant relatives and affines, usually connected through the marriages of female relatives (who may be cousins several times removed). Bibiane’s sense of social identity derives from a married person’s participation in circles of ghamkhadi formed primarily through kinship and marriage, but also through friendship, clientage and political faction. Likewise, families are conceptualized as large corporate structures, belonging to different households but sharing a common ancestor. Gham-khadi circle membership bestows on Khanan and Bibiane the obligation to attend fellow members’ gham-khadi occasions, creating a complex pattern of overlapping bonds, loyalties, allegiances and debts between families (extended and nuclear). Each individual qua family member is bound to others by a pattern of reciprocal visiting. At major gham-khadi, funerals and weddings, Bibiane engage in a number of practices of hosting (preparing the house, giving food) and attending (gifting, offering congratulations or condolence), observing ‘proper’ or ritualized forms of procedure and decorum. Bibiane (and not their husbands) in these contexts characteristically offer money, food or gifts in accordance with family status and accounts (hisab-kitab) of earlier debts and donations:

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


Table 1— Gham-Khadi Pukhto:


Translation: (sadness)






(well-ill) t

(happiness) t

(birth) i


( wedding t

birth t

Performance: laas-niwa (condolence) tapos (enquiry,) ombaraki (congratulations) ombaraki Offering:






money/(cloth)money (baby clothes)

Offerer: Wife or mother-in-law on daughter-in-laws' behalf (Iqbal 1997:85)*

These activities represent the most pronounced forms of a general social system of tlal-ratlal (‘going-and-coming’), conceived of by Bibiane as an ongoing ‘work of life*. This account draws on local understandings of marriage and death that do not rehearse established anthropological distinctions between the two, since Pukhto idioms consider such distinctions foreign. Moreover, as annotated in Raverty’s Pukhto dictionary, usages of ‘gharri (sadness) and ‘khadi (‘joy, happiness...gaiety’) (1982: 670) suppose essentially public or ceremonial contexts for emotions. A speaker may denote a defining condition (say, childlessness or widowhood) as their gham, as well as gesturing towards personal feelings. The spoken verb, *khadi kawal', denotes the manifestation]’ o f ‘gladness’ specifically at weddings (wada), birth-visits {ombaraki), circumcisions {sunnat), naming and hair-shaving ceremonies (haqiqa), as well as less formal events such as returns from the haj pilgrimage, birthdays, election victories, professional promotions and housewarmings. Partly eliding the distinction between ceremonial and everyday visits, Bibiane specifically and Pukhtun people more generally place the term gham-khadi within the context of tlal-ratlal and a third expression, zeest-rozgar (literally the ‘work of life’), thus confounding any anthropological attempt to establish a separate ontology of gham-khadi ceremonies (compare Humphrey and Laidlaw 1994). Pukhtuns use variants of the word lrozgar’ in contexts other than gham-khadi, referring to professional work (‘kaar-rozgar) as employment’, which is distinguished from less specified purposive activity, ‘kaar (‘kor-kaar\ housework). The word tends to relate more to people’s roles or identities than to the effort invested in contingent tasks. The two available English-Pukhto dictionaries


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

amplify these verbal transfers in defining zeest as ‘life, existence, employment’ (Bellew n.d.: 88; Raverty 1982: 537), and rozgar as ‘employment’, ‘service, earning’, and also ‘time’ (Bellew n.d.: 82; Raverty 1982: 516). Bibiane’s own discourse suggests that visiting, gifting and attending ceremonial events are all parts of a conceptually single, though highly complex, process o f ‘making kinship’ (Carsten 1997) and building social relations— a process, moreover, experienced as a form of work. Such a concept of ‘work’— first, a practice of social relations not completely identified with any one task; and second, an array of conceptual (not only physical) activities— necessarily complicates and enriches debates within anthropology and sociology as to the definition of this term.10 In the 1970s-80s, a number of women anthropologists took issue with the broadly Western conceptualization of work as a salaried, professional task taking place in a public sphere, adducing the domestic context of socially meaningful labour (Mackintosh 1979: 175; Povinelli 1993; and Strathern 1984: 13, 18). Others criticized the then-dominant model of work as ‘patriarchal’ (Grint 1991: 33, 40; Kondos 1989: 29; Lewenhak 1980, 1992: 1, 16; Morris 1990: 3-5; Novarra 1980: 35; and Wallace 1987: 1). This account builds on this work by presenting an ethnically specific concept of Bibiane’s ‘work’ as they enact ‘proper’ ceremonial observances. Attendance and participation count as Bibiane’s work under a number of headings: first, these actions entail conformity to or negotiation with conventional practices; second, they are physically and mentally arduous (a matter of strategy); third, the participating women collectively perform a ‘work’ as a means o f Pukhtun self­ representation (‘Pukhtunwali'); and last, they are understood by Bibiane as an ongoing social effort, characteristic of living itself. The analytical concept of ‘work’ I deploy identifies the term with the small- and largescale, highly organized, transactional activities that make up social relationships. Bibiane’s entry into a gham-khadi circle, on marriage, commits them to a category of social relationship with other families in which gham-khadi obligations subsume all other ties, as gham-khadi and tlal-ratlal participants understand themselves to be performing an identitymaking practice of ‘Pukhto’. This account aims to build upon a rich body of anthropological literature about NWFP Pukhtuns, from a female and ‘social’, rather than political context, for its representation of the actions of individual Bibiane in gham-khadi.u Most anthropological enquiries in the NWFP discuss ‘tribal’ village contexts (Donnan and Werbner 1991: 3).12 Barth’s account of political leadership among Swat Pukhtun Khans (‘chiefs’ or landowners)

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


of the Yusufzai tribe (1986)13 showed that although Pukhtun society, in theory, is egalitarian, in reality, it is structured by caste-like divisions. The ‘Pukhtun (conventionally landowning and widely referred to as Khan) forms the apex of such structures, along with certain religious groups (for example the Wali’s Family). Barth argued that Khans derive authority from the ownership of land, provision of hospitality, and reputation for honour. In Swat, Khans, in the capacity o f autonomous agents, build support and status by receiving visitors in their mens guesthouse (hujra). In a scries of ‘games’, both the landed (mor sari: satisfied men) and their adherents (wuge sari: hungry men) are granted an individualistic agency in exploiting their respective resources (land or support and labour). Barth argued that in a series of temporary choices, relationships are dyadic, contractual and voluntary (ibid.: 3). In contrast, I argue below that although Bibiane are able to exploit relationships within society to further their individual choices through gham-khadi, such relationships are, however, characterised by a complex sense of duty and obligation. Although Barth’s focus on singular actors, agency, and negotiation marked a new phase in anthropology (from that of Evans-Pritchard’s and Radcliffe-Brown’s models o f social structure), and was the first substantial ethnography on ‘elite’ Pukhtuns, his theoretical presuppositions were challenged variously by Marxist, indigenous, and feminist scholars. Asad (1972) argued that Barth obscured Khanans’ exercise of systematic domination through their control of scarcity. Second, Ahmed questioned Barth’s western presumption of individual interests, which downplay the emergence of the self-abnegating Ruler (Badshah) or Wali and his Sufi ascetic ancestry in Swat (Ahmed, A.S. 1976; compare Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 10, 16; Dupree 1977: 514). Third, feminists have also proposed a revision to Barth’s ‘political’ conceptualisation of power, presenting power less as a quality vested in certain institutional offices or factional leaderships (like the Khans’), and more in terms of a ‘particular kind of social relation’ (Nelson 1974: 553).14 In these terms, Bibiane’s activities of ‘brokering’ ‘information, control’ and ‘influence’ through the negotiated order’ of gham-khadi (Nelson’s terms in her germinal 1974 article on women in the Middle East) achieve new theoretical visibility (compare Roded 1999). This account of Bibiane’s gham-khadi as an important form of Pukhtun social activity explores new dimensions and perspectives only partially investigated by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars.15 In the context of Frontier ethnography, Barth viewed gham-khadi ceremonies as an adjunct to Khan factionalism, understanding the strengthening of affinal


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

ties at weddings and funerals as essentially political acts (Barth 1986: 40, 41; compare Ahmed, A.S. 1980: 177). Charles Lindholm gives greater weight to female agency in describing the activities of ‘Khan women’ in organizing gatherings (1982: 134) in the village. Lindholm describes womens position in terms of ‘the centrality of the womb in a system that denies the existence of women as independent entities’ (ibid: 159; see also 1996). Thus, the organization of Pukhtun society ‘on the basis of kinship’ subordinates women to an essentially transitive role in the transfer of lineages and consolidation of patrimonies (Lindholm 1996: 74). Grimas ethnography of the lives of Pukhtun women offers a more substantial account of gham as an emotion centrally ‘performed’ in womens self­ conceptualisation and narration. However, in focusing on ‘poor families’ (1998: 28), Grima overlooks the Bibiane; and attributes for more emphasis to gham, rather than noting its complementarity with khadi. My account describes Bibiane’s gham-khadi as segregated but not apolitical.16 In suggesting places to look for Middle Eastern female agency, Tapper argues that any society prohibiting women’s access to a professional sphere tends to develop alternative, quasi-autonomous female networks of circulation. Gossip and gifts between women demarcate a ‘sub-society’ serving as a ‘psychological a situation of male domination’ (Tapper 1978: 395), as women exercise both tacit and overt forms of jurisdiction over the domestic environment. Yet, in the Frontier, female visiting reflects and underpins Khanan and Badshahyan’s explicitly political position-building. In a country in which its elite maintain dominance by controlling appointment to influential political positions (Khan, A. 2003: 31-32),17 Bibiane’s canvassing on behalf of male familymember MNAs and MPAs (Members o f National and Provincial Assemblies) at Bibiane’s ceremonies, brings them into contact with circles of a wide range of people (rich [maldar] and poor [gharib], from various familial, ethnic and multicultural backgrounds).18 Bibiane command a significant degree of respect on the basis of family history but at the same time they must also put much time and effort into the work of reputationbuilding in the household, village and gham-khadi network analogously with their husbands’ ‘political’ efforts. Recognizing that Pukhtun Bibiane practices overlap with a political arena necessitates the reformulation of an idea of the public sphere from the ‘inside-out’ (Gray and Mearns 1989). Female anthropologists have challenged the equation of a governmentally administered work-space in the ‘public’ realm, with the home being considered a lesser, ‘private’ domain. The division deprived domestic women and children of status,

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


self-determination, and even complete personhood (see Colen and Sanjek 1990: 4; Strathern 1984: 31; 1990: 133; also Waterson 1990: 169).19 Both Western and non-Western anthropologists working in South Asian, and particularly Muslim contexts, have tended to apply this framework to indigenous contexts (see Deutsch 1998; Kondos 1989: 165 and 176; Papanek 1982: 28; Sharma 1980: 214 and 226; Weiss 1998: 125), despite the lack of Islamic categories that correspond to Western notions of privacy’ (Cook 2000: 80).20 The theoretical premise of the ‘inside-out’ approach allows social relationships to be delineated from the perspective of women observing purdah. In the context of her work in Papua New Guinea, Strathern (1984) calls for the ‘dislodg[ing]’ of one’s thought from a binary Western matrix of ‘work [inside and] outside the house’ if the full complexity of affiliation between kin, affines and dependents is to be captured. This is a perspective that I seek to apply to the Pukhtun house as a place where both male and female (segregated) work, especially the work of ghamkhadi, assumes a public aspect. At weddings and funerals the familial house is thrown open to all, with men visiting the hujra (men’s guesthouse) and women the kor (house). Rather than dealing with these spaces according to any implicit hierarchy of importance (Grima 1998: 71, 118; Tiffany 1984: 6), I refer here to the bazaar and other external spaces as ‘the non-segregated public’ and the house during gham-khadi as the ‘segregated public’.21

THE PARADOXES OF GHAM-KHADI This section examines the problematic and stressful aspect of gham-khadi as experienced by Bibiane in their reflection upon diverse areas of their lives. The performance of gham-khadi prompts women to think about its relation to Pukhtun categories of religion and ‘custom’, right and wrong, the individual and the collective, and the obligatory and the voluntary. Unlike other customs less identified with a philosophy of life or with particular celebrations, gham-khadi falls neither on one side of these dichotomies nor the other, but rather cuts across them in such a way as to arouse painful dilemmas for Bibiane. My analyses here begin to expose how gham-khadi is problematic for Bibiane in bringing to the surface deep-lying social contradictions, which demand some practical resolution given the priority granted to gham-khadi (or zeest-rozgar) over forms of professional employment (kaar-rozgar), childcare and housework (korkaar).


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

The term gham-khadi, as used by Bibiane, refers not merely to wedding and funeral ceremonies and procedures, but to a sense of social obligation underlying the performances. Gham-khadi as a principle of Pukhtun life and thought may be characterized not only in terms of the organizing schemes above, but also as a negotiation between the poles of each; it is not simply the implementation of any single principle. The questions I now ask are: should gham-khadi be collectively understood as having prior terms of enactment, or as subject to individual manipulation and strategy? Is gham-khadi for Bibiane governed by patterns of reciprocity that exclude personal choice, or does it represent a kind of morality, accessible to the subjective judgments of groups and individuals? If gham-khadi is an ingrained feature of Pukhto, then is it in conformity with present-day understandings of Islam? Can the obligation to perform gham-khadi be made congruent with the Western idea of a professional career for women outside the home? This article draws on my observations and discussions with Bibiane, representing gham-khadi as the place where a number of normative and definitional concepts of gender, personhood, propriety and tradition are knotted—and are beginning to unravel. Bibiane see the activities associated with gham-khadi—preparation, travel, financial and household management—and the consolidation of kin relationships through acts of attention and politeness as a form of ‘work’. However, the injunctive force of work does not make gham-khadi an unproblematic performance of (a number of) narrowly-defined acts. Bibiane describe their ‘layered’ lives in terms of ambiguities and contradictions—between city and village, home and school, hujra and kor. The fundamental paradox of gham-khadi (sadness-happiness) as a verbal formulation is yet more intractable in practice, in the sense that a funeral may take place in one village the day after a wedding in another. Bibiane also experience the paradox enshrined in the phrase in a series of daily quandaries as gham-khadi obligations may clash with other projects they wish to pursue, such as education, full-time employment and childcare. Different gham-khadi occasions are categorised in a hierarchy of importance with attendance at gham (the paramount emotional, thoughtful and bodily experience) taking priority over khadi. The scale descends through illness (najorthia), birth (paidaish) and relatively minor tapos (enquiries) on moving, afios (condolence) following an election defeat, or felicitations (ombaraki) to winners. Thus, were a death and a wedding in two separate families to fall at the same time, an individual expected to attend both should go to the funeral {gham) (see Lindholm, Charles 1982: 156). References to gham-khadi are pervasive in people’s

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


accounts of their social experience. Bibiane and Khanan feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility in complying with expectations concerning their attendance, gifting, deportment and dress; this generates an agitated moral discourse of judgment and self-scrutiny. As husbands depend on wives to undertake gham-khadi on behalf of their households, the practices represent an instance of female power within a supposedly ‘patriarchal’ framework (Papanek 1982: 37; Shaw 1997: 149). Meanwhile, the specificity of gham-khadi as a distinct set of conventions between religion and Pukhto, moral choice and compulsion, grants it a language of its own.

Collective and Individual in Gham-Khadi Gham-khadi in Pukhtun experience comprises a constant feature of life as lived and understood, yet is complex, contradictory and subject to transformation (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 38). One o f the dimensions in which Bibiane see gham-khadi changing is in the different types of responsibilities required of individual subjects over the course of their lives. Another dimension concerns the always-mutable question of social status (of both individuals and families) as negotiated through gham-khadi observances. Much of the complexity of gham-khadi inheres in its bridging of two levels: that of collective performance, and of individual responsibility. At one level, collective co-operation, through attendance, gifting, and consumption o f the feast-meal, is deemed essential to the correct performance of gham-khadi. The success of an event and the prestige of a particular family are judged by the number of people (khalak) attending their wedding or funeral (see Ahmed, A.S. 1980: 243, 288; Barth 1986: 32). A large attendance maintains honour, while scant attendance may lead to the ostracism of ‘the person whose gham-khadi it is. It is as if she is not ‘recognised’: she is ‘no-one’ in society.’ Sumaira, in her late thirties, originally from Swat, married to her matrilateral parallel cousin from Mardan and now living in Islamabad, explained the significance of ghamkhadi to me in English: Gham-khadi has this importance, from roz-e-awal (Persian: from the beginning) both for men and for women, like when people get together collectively for prayers in a mosque. Why? The importance o f this is that people come together collectively and understand and share each other’s dokh dard (Urdu: sorrow and pain). It’s a community feeling. Tomorrow, G od forbid, if it is your sorrow or illness the same people will ask and come to you when you need them.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In gham-khadi, the collectivity of kin and affines assembles from the same and other villages, cities and even foreign countries to gather at the site of origin. The gham-khadi event in this manner places emphasis on Pukhtunwali both in regulating social relations and on an individual level, is an important constituent in the self-understanding of urban or emigrant Pukhtuns. In the case of one wedding, a Bibi who lived in the USA with her Pukhtun husband praised gham-khadi for joining dispersed relatives. With increased global transport and communication, gham-khadi becomes crucial in the affirmation of peoples Pukhtun identity. Close relatives living abroad are expected to return for the ceremony (compare Shaw 2000; Werbner 1986); and more distant relatives phone. The work in gham-khadi makes itself felt in the literal and physical cost of travel and attendance. Against an emphasis on collectivity (and cases where parents may act for married children, or wives for husbands), every adult individual is ultimately responsible for performing reciprocal cycles of ‘going and coming’ with his/her wider social network. Participation is said to engage different dimensions of personhood— the body (jismi zor: physical effort), mind (dimagh: intellect), and emotions (zre, heart). Bibiane are expected in a generalized moral register to keep up relationships with kin and affines (through visiting, solicitude, gham-khadi attendance), and also to carry off social performances in the ceremonial context (presenting oneself to the senior women of the afflicted or celebrating household, addressing people correctly by seniority and family closeness, gifting correcdy and in accordance with an accepted procedure). Despite the usual practice of husband and wife attending gham-khadi together, in segregated spaces, individual women are understood as agents exercising control over these forms of behaviour. Actions in such a context inform a public view of one’s female morality, in which ‘psychological’ and ‘social’ components are indissoluble. A common proverb is repeated among Bibiane, ‘khpal ezat pa khpal las ke de (one’s own ezat [honour] is in one’s own hands; compare Altorki 1986: 135; Lindholm, Charles 1995: 64). If distinct styles of behaviour are expected of Bibiane in gham-khadi contexts, then it is also understood that women may fall short of them. Thus two orders of moral thinking interlock in the context of gham-khadi: first, women’s adept or inept performance o f repeatable procedures; and second, individuals’ knowing deviation from them (for example, through notably ostentatious or self-effacing styles of self-presentation). The actual deployment of tactics in socializing and presenting one’s gift as a household-head in ceremonies is far more subtle than schematic

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


moral ideas o f good/bad and conformity/deviance would suggest. Each woman (responsible for more than herself) in the act of giving money on behalf of her own family (and husband) will take great care to register her action both with the recipient and the attending assembly of women. She will announce her contribution, writing ‘from Mr and Mrs Khan, for example, on the envelope. Bibiane are concerned to make an impression through the way in which they arrive and present their offerings, taking care to acknowledge the senior women of the household. Persons seek to maintain a respectable public face, even, in some cases, at the cost of excluding or asserting precedence over others. These manoeuvrings of position and status within extended families, with competing sisters-inlaw, other affines, and step-relations (co-wives and their children), make gham-khadi the site of peculiar conflicts.22 These forms of female rivalry are often treated light-heartedly, with an undertone of deeper feeling. An approaching sister-in-law may be derided sotto voce as a 'balld (monster) or ‘badda' (bad), before being greeted cordially. Thus, under the co­ operative and collective sense of gham-khadi often lies another level of relationships fraught with competition, tension and even enmity. Tension coexists with forms of tutelage into Pukhto procedures, as affinal relations (mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law) teach brides how to perform correct gham-khadi in the context of their own extended families. Scholarly accounts from the wider Muslim world, specifically South Asia, recurrently note the role extended families play in shaping individual behaviour. In her account of joint family households in rural Rajasthan, Kolenda notes that early marriage necessitates ‘the joint family function [ing] as [the] protector and guide of young c&ples (1989: 103); for newly married Bibiane, this protection extends to their training as workers in gham-khadi. Nazia (aged 45 at the time of this conversation) recalled: I was only fifteen when I got married. But my yor (husband’s eldest brother’s wife) taught me everything, like dressing up and how to meet people in ghamkhadi. She has trained me the way you train your own daughter.

The mutual obligations of gham-khadi define for Bibiane the particular social and familial networks in which they will engage during the course of their lives. Older informants told me that every family has their specific riwajoona (ways/customs) of gham-khadi (i.e. who with and how they do gham-khadi), both in terms of whom they favour with attendance and their procedures o f visiting, gifting and recognising reciprocity.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

Arrangements between families vary according to the amounts exchanged (e.g. between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000), the degree of non-kin attendance for political families and expectations of exact financial reciprocity for poorer scions. Beginning the performance of gham-khadi can be a daunting and bewildering experience for young women, who are treated as full independent moral agents for the first time. A non-Pukhtun wife of a Pukhtun Khan, Aliya, captured (in English) the difficulty of establishing new affinal relationships: If you do not attend gham-khadi they say: ‘she doesn’t want to be part of the family’. It’s very clannish. It took me a long time to understand that all these women are all cousins; and cousins of their husbands. If I don’t go they say she is an ‘outsider’, and I am pushed out more. So I work hard to meet these people. In-marriage, as proved time and again in family gham-khadi gatherings, is proposed as making of kinship in two ways: not only does the nonconsanguineous bride affiliate herself with the relatives of her husband, but also works at building relationships with a network of household spouses who are also cousins, overcoming a further kin boundary. When such a woman integrates herself successfully, her choices in terms of small acts of compliance with group norms will have bound her to the collectivity of her affines.

RECIPROCITY AMD MORALITY In committing herself morally to a gham-khadi relationship, a Bibi reciprocates another’s attention firstly with respect to time and presence, and secondly with respect to money. The quality of visiting is evaluated by the amount of money given, immediacy of attendance, and time stayed (from morning to evening for three days for a wedding, or forty days for a funeral). All these represent criteria for how ‘well’ a bond has been discharged. The identity of gham-khadi as a form of reciprocal tlal-ratlal in theory guarantees a return on visits paid. Financially, this reciprocity takes the normative form of receivers giving back more than they were offered. One Bibi observed: ‘You come to my house [for ombaraki] and give me a gift [customarily money]; in return I must go to your house for the same duration of time and pay back the equivalent or more, but never knowingly less [although in practice some people give according to their means].’ Attendance at others’ festivities is more important than money

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


itself, and determines whether a relationship is sustained or ruptured. The gift of one’s presence at ceremonies is normally, however, accompanied by a financial subvention, and vice versa; both together signify the continuance of family bonds (Abu-Lughod 1986: 69). To borrow Mauss’s terms (1990), gham-khadi gifts do not exist as isolated and unsignifed objects, but rather carry a symbolic part of the donor: in a display of hospitality, women offer their guests their unconditional attention, time and presence. The gift of money also represents and embodies the donor and receiver’s social relationship.23 Procedures for the presentation and reception of gifts of money are calibrated to the family relationships of both donor and recipient and, more markedly, the recipient and the ‘subject’ of the gathering (the dead person, the new-born baby, the bride’s mother or female guardian). Bibiane may accept money from gham-khadi guests in different capacities: as brides, mothers of new-born babies, wives of ill husbands, or widows. At weddings, a bride’s mother, who stands at the entrance of the wedding reception, will be greeted by each arriving guest, then handed an envelope containing money (this may vary from Rs 200 to Rs 2000). This money is meant for the bride, and her mother hands over all the envelopes to her daughter after the ceremony. The mother may at this point write down the names and amounts o f money given by each guest, often assessing her relationship with each woman according to the amount of money given. This list will be an important reference for the bride in her future reciprocations as, until individual sums of money are repaid, the receiver is in a state of debt. Expectations of reciprocity in gham-khadi practically affect Pukhtuns in their day-to-day existence. Among the gharibanan (poor), many maintain a public image by large sums for gifting and hosting gham-khadi events.24 Maids may depend on their Bibiane as patrons from whom to borrow large sums of loans (during my fieldwork I knew three maids who borrowed more than Rs 10,000 (£105) in one transaction from Bibiane for their families’ gham-khadi). If someone is na-chara (very poor), they procure loans (qarz) from village shopkeepers, wealthier relatives, and neighbours. Many of these loans lead to life-long debt.25 Financial gifts pass not merely between members of different households, but also, in a generally more symmetrical arrangement, between affines. The morning after her wedding, a bride also receives money from the closest of her husband’s relatives: her married sisters-in-laws (both her husband’s sisters and his brother’s wives) and mother-in-law, who typically determine amounts beforehand, so that all sisters-in-law give equally. The inscribed


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

envelope is then presented to the bride with large sums of ombaraki money. In Mardan at the rime o f my fieldwork, close relatives such as first cousins or sisters-in-law gave Rs 10,000 to brides; in Swat some Bibiane even reported giving Rs 20,000. Funeral payments range from Rs 500 to Rs 20,000 for a very close relative. Births ‘cost’ from Rs 200 to Rs 2000, and illness upwards of Rs 500. Distant relatives are not required to underwrite funeral expenses, though a wealthy elder who did so would be thanked after the gift had been politely refused in sath. (There are no forms for young people giving to the old in such circumstances). The differences between funeral and wedding gifting points to the greater closeness of relatives in sharing grief; khadi are happier occasions, in which all may participate. Very tentatively, though, the movement among elite Pukhtuns from closely reciprocated patrilateral cousin marriages to exogamy suggests that khadi contributions keep alive a family’s possibility of later marrying into the circle (benefiting from the ‘good’ of a bride or giving a bride). Without ceasing to be obligatory, Bibiane’s responsibilities in ghamkhadi are graded according to their household seniority.26 One of my older informants, Bibiji (aged 60), stated: ‘Masharan [elders] give more in weddings and births of people not so close (distant relatives) about Rs 500 (£5) to Rs 1000 (£10) while kasharan [younger women] give less about Rs 300 (£3).’ According to my observations and the statements of younger Bibiane, however, this was rarely the case. Bibiane in their twenties and thirties reported giving between Rs 500 (£5) to Rs 20,000 (£210) for weddings, and Rs 500 to Rs 2000 (£21) for births. The younger women considered the amounts suggested by Bibiji as far too little and ‘embarrassing’; many women remarked that the larger sums they gave symbolized the value which they placed upon their relationship with recipients. Larger sums may also reflect younger Bibiane’s anxiety to grow roots in their marital families. A young 25 year-old Bibi told me that she wanted to give Rs 2000 for the birth money of a very close friend, who was also her affine, but just before visiting their house, her mother-in-law interceded, causing her to reduce the amount to Rs 500 (£5) in proportion to the elder woman’s gift of Rs 1000 (£10). The amount of money younger women give in gham-khadi clearly exceeds the amounts given by masharan (elders), suggesting younger Bibiane’s gifts express degrees of voluntarity. The following is an estimate of a mashara (elder) Bibi’s spending on gham-khadi within a period of four months.


Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women

Table 2— Money given by Bibi for gham-khadi during a four month period (March-June 2001) Deaths


1) Brother's wife (wrandar)

= Rs 5000

2) Older sister (khor)

= Rs 5000

3) Sister's husband (ookhe)

= R s 1000

Food Offerings 4)Husband's brother's son— (lewarzay)

(five darai of) Rice, sorwe (1 cow) and sanda (1 buffalo) = Rs 10,900

Weddings Relatives (khpalwân)

Non-relatives {pradee).

Usually varies from Rs 500-10,000, but due to the many deaths of close relatives there were no weddings in the Bibi's family during this year. Amount given = None = Rs 1000 (varies from Rs 100-Rs 2000)

Births Amount given for two ombaraki

= Rs 2000


= Rs 24,900

The above total amounts to a large sum of expenditure by local standards.27 Another Bibi estimated spending approximately one lakh rupees a year on gham-khadi: ‘I give Rs 20-30,000 for relatives’ death’. South Asian scholars confirm the major economic impact of funerals and weddings on Pukhtun families, not merely among Khanan but across social classes (Ahmed, A.S. 1980: 285-288; Barth 1986: 32; and Grima 1998: 43; compare Metcalf, P. 1982; 21). Maids and daigane participate in the reciprocal gift economy of ghamkhadi in a number of ways. Though maids and daigane may accompany their Bibiane on all their gham-khadi, they do not normally give money to Bibiane (wet-nurses may give, however; in one case I observed a dai give Rs 100 as a birth ombaraki to a particular Bibi). Among villagers the expectation of gifting is not waived, even for poor married maids who give the same amount as other villagers: between Rs 100 to Rs 200 for a close relative’s death, and either Rs 30, Rs 50, or Rs 100 for weddings (if the wedding is o f the offspring of a sibling or husband’s sibling, the gifts of a bride may cost Rs 1000, including a pair of clothes for her trunk


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

{de sundak jora), a sazar, and shoes). A maid may also give the same amounts for the birth of a relatives child, and at illness she may take a litre of milk, eggs, or a chicken. The amount a maid has received from her own relative will be reciprocated with an increase of Rs 5 (surcharges on gifts are levied to save the face of the original recipient, or zan kooz na khkara kai). In contrast, those unable to offer anything but their person participate marginally in society, and are visited only by a small circle of close kin.28 While in practice Bibiane send money and food to villagers and maids’ houses during their gham-khadi without visiting them, ghamkhadi is understood to impose mutual, though asymmetrical, obligations. For instance, when one 24 year-old maid’s father died in Swat, her 30 year-old Bibi sent the maid’s mother Rs 5000 from Islamabad; several months later when the maid’s mother came to visit her daughter’s Bibi, she brought two chickens (costing Rs 50 each), and on another occasion a dozen eggs (Rs 3 each). Maids widely report that their state of poverty makes them na-chara (unable) to undertake expenditure beyond their means. Reciprocity that involves gham-khadi money in figures of Rs 1000 and Rs 2000 is ‘droon kaar (heavy work), meaning it is beyond their means {char) and befitting only Bibiane. Widely stated comments thus indicate that people make gham-khadi contributions according to their means. While the gham-khadi of Bibiane and maids is lopsided, that between Bibiane should ideally be characterized by reciprocity. Given that each family maintains gham-khadi relationships with a large number of women in other families, Bibiane who receive gham-khadi money collect considerable sums. The cash may be earmarked for feast money for weddings and deaths, or used for personal purposes. Bibiane say that the money given to women belongs to them; what they do with it is, in one Bibi’s words, ‘women’s business’. One Bibi revealed that in total she received 2Yi lakh rupees (approx. £2,631) for her two sons’ births which she invested in the stock market. Several other mothers bought expensive gold jewellery with the money, purchasing new sets’ (necklace and earrings) for future khadi events. Mothers with baby daughters said that the jewellery represented a long-term investment in their daughters’ dowry (compare Ward 1997). While some Bibiane benefit financially in the short term from ghamkhadi, the deferred nature of reciprocity means that ceremonies’ cash requirements place large, unpredictable demands on the household incomes managed by Bibiane. Many revealed that they spent a large sum of the house pay (de kor kharcha) on gham-khadi; and some Bibiane stated their reliance on their own sources of income. One Bibi reported that, as

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


a young bride, she was too shy to ask her husband for the necessary cash and senselessly (kam-aqltob) sold her gold jewellery to pay her close kins gham-khadi money. Yet as Bibiane get older and more powerful within their marital households, their duty to be munificent in gham-khadi proportionately increases. Many Bibiane (young and middle-aged) argued that both Islam and Pukhto conventions give women a right to her husbands wealth, whereas her own income is her own. In one Bibi’s words, ‘I can save it; I can spend it; I can do anything with it’. Moreover, comments were made suggesting that men would consider themselves ashamed to be supported by their wife’s income, as a professionally employed Bibi Arifa, a non-Pukhtun wife from Karachi married for eighteen years to a Mardan Khan, remarked: A Pukhtun man would not have his wife spending her money on the household to throw in his face and say: ‘Oh, I’m supporting the family’. N o way, he would go that extra mile to make sure his money is spent.

The reciprocity implicit in the practice of gham-khadi gives it affinities with characteristically Pukhtun forms of exchange, badai, analogous to badal in another sense— that of revenge (Baal 1975: 11; and see Grima 1998: 5, 70-72 on the reciprocal structuring of revenge). Just as men seek payment from those who have insulted their honour, so women exact vengeance for social slights and neglect (particularly in cases of inter­ family land dispute) by selectively observing the obligations of ghamkhadi,29 I have described reciprocity as a non-negotiable obligation, but it may in fact also be refused by Bibiane’s deliberate choice. In one instance, an Islamabad Bibi referring to her second cousin told me: ‘Zurina’s son is born [in Islamabad], but she didn’t come for my 21 yearold niece’s tapos [enquiry visit] when my niece was diagnosed with cancer. So I didn’t go for her sons birth ombaraki, even though my daughter is named after her.’ In this way, much of the otherwise suppressed and deflected hostility between female affinal and kin relations is expressed through reciprocation and non-reciprocation in gham-khadi. In terms of how reciprocal obligations are discharged, wide scope exists for individual moral choices, as perceived offences and antagonisms work themselves to the surface in voluntary actions. In this sense of female choice, Bibiane’s control over a family’s ghamkhadi relationships may be more typical of elite than non-elite families. Amongst the poorer Pukhtuns who tilled farmlands in Chak Shehzad near Islamabad as tenants of Pukhtun Bibiane, men typically exercised greater


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

direction over their wives’ gham-khadi relations. The wife of one zamindar (farmer) stated: ‘We have this rewaj (custom) that if my husband doesn’t get along with anyone, including my family, then I and my children avoid those people. But if the dispute is between me and another person then my husband will not break relationships with them. Men have more ikhtiar (authority); women don’t, because we live in such gharibi (poverty).’ Unlike the range of many poorer women’s positions in the family, Bibiane and even some of their husbands admitted that in upper social echelons men eventually follow their Wives’ lead in avoiding kin. With her affines, the case is more complicated and varied; husbands may here behave with a degree of independence in maintaining personal relationships with their own mother or sister. Yet during the time of my fieldwork, there were more than two cases where relations with men’s mothers and sisters were entirely severed for extended periods through their wives’ disputes with them. The machinations of family politics seem more involved amongst Khan families, where the connections between people are more multiple, and forms of dependence not officially governed by money or retainership.

OBLIGATION AND PREFERENCE:THE'BURDEN'OF PERFORMING GHAM-KHADI Bibiane’s actual gham-khadi practices show receptivity to some degree of choice. Bibiane actively discriminate how much gham-khadi to do, how immediate one’s family gham-khadi circle should be, how to prioritise double engagements, and even whether to abandon social relations with families altogether. Yet the choice of whether to do or not to do ghamkhadi is limited. The obligatory nature of gham-khadi is widely perceived as binding and burdensome as it constrains as well as shapes social visiting among women. ‘Gham-khadi is a boj (burden) because women want to visit each other, but there are all these rules of ‘give and take’ which restrain them’ expressed Nasreen, a 22 year-old dai’s granddaughter, employed as a ‘Lady Social Worker’ (visiting women’s houses as a government employee in Swati villages with medicine and contraceptives). The gham-khadi visitor, regardless of social status, must give on arrival to avoid the appearance of dishonour (sharam). Likewise, full hospitality must be displayed to avoid damaging the host’s social reputation. As one convent Bibi, originally from Mardan in her late forties, now living in Islamabad, remarked:

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


If you do gham-khadi you can’t go empty handed. That’s not our way. To help in that khairat (charity meal) you have to take something— money {paisay), gift ( thofa), rice ( wreeje), oil (ghwaree), and sugar ( cheenee). With inflation, it is a financial burden and then wc can’t keep it up because nobody has the time. The performance o f gham-khadi should not be prolonged (over a period o f days). But if you don’t do gham-khadi, people get very offended.

Another Bibi, in her thirties, originally from Swat but living in Islamabad, amplified this point in English: Gham-khadi kills everybody, rich and poor. I f you don’t do it, people say, ‘she’s an outcast’. They will boycott her socially; because, they say, she hasn’t done it with u s...b u t once you start doing it, there is no end.

The impasse expressed by these Bibiane is one felt across class, gender and region. For instance, a middle-aged village woman associated with an elite household (rumoured to be the Khan’s mistress) said following a week of several kin gham-khadi events that she had been obliged to gift large amounts of rice, oil and flour in the village: The boj (burden) o f gham-khadi is on our kakarai (skulls). So in this age we’re fed up (der tang) with gham-khadf. Gham-khadi has burdened us gready. Because if we do not do it - it is sharam (a great shame). It takes the clothes from o ff our backs (lit: I have been skinned for this: sarman me wakhatha). It’s a burden, because gham-khadi never ends and the [network of] people is vast, while our incomes are comparatively small. I f we don’t do it, people say they don’t understand rewaj (custom); if we do it, we pay out more than we get in. Oh, God! My heart is fed up with this gham-khadi.

As reflected in the words o f this outspoken woman, Bibiane also entertain a range of spirited views about gham-khadi and the burdens it places on them. Such views are possible because gham-khadi is felt to be obligatory by Bibiane, yet it is not always welcomed or liked. Many Bibiane insisted on the invariant nature of the forms and orders of procedure acceptable in gham-khadi. Visiting excludes, or forecloses upon, spontaneity, since visits follow conventional patterns. The greater the intricacy of Bibiane’s kinship ties, the more gham-khadi there is, and the more arduous it becomes. The difficulty, intensity and frequency of gham-khadi visits leads to Bibiane and other Pukhtun descriptions of gham-khadi as a ‘boj’ (burden) or a ‘musibath’ (problem).30 The boj is one that is seen to extend from the social to the core of familial life.


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

In relation to childcare, Bibiane experience great levels of distress over how their children’s requirements, particularly schooling, might accommodate constant interruption by mothers’ gham-khadi. Arifa told me, ‘Every time there is a death in my in-laws’, I have to leave everything in Islamabad and go to the village. But I cannot take my children with me, as they will then miss three days of school’. In one case of an auntin-law’s death, Arifa resolved her dilemma by requesting an Islamabad friend to nanny her children. The demands made by ceremonies on mothers’ time also detract from their childcare. Farah, in her late thirties, who studied at the Murree convent and works as an English-medium schoolteacher in Peshawar, told me (in the presence of her father and male cousins) that Pukhtun mothers of wealthy backgrounds spent more time buying and ordering clothes for gham-khadi, and attending ceremonies, than they did reading with their children. Imitating the mothers, Farah gestured: ‘No jee\ there is a death here; a wedding there (Na jee! zama khwata mare sho; alta wada sho). Mothers are busy with gham-khadi-, the father is tired, he comes home from office— the children are neglected and ignored’. Farah further gives an example of a student in her class: Like, this little boy, who was beaten by his father. I called his mother to school and I said ‘what happened?’ She said, ‘Oh, I wasn’t at home, I had gone for my mother’s brother’s son’s wedding’. The mother is never at home. The father comes home tired from office— he starts shouting at the children. There’s no confidence at all in that child, and then they expect a good result!

Mothers hesitate to take their children to gham-khadi gatherings, since it involves a great deal of lpasa kena (standing and sitting) or meeting and greeting. Yet leaving them in the care of a maid arouses concern and ‘sadness’, in the words of one Bibi, as ‘your children become insecure, clinging to you when you return home’. Both Pukhtun and Muslim mothers are idealised as devoted figures who bestow time and love on their offspring (kha moryane), yet the predominant Pukhto conception of womanhood paradoxically requires their absentation from the kor. This degree of onus on women leads some Bibiane to compare their customary conventions unfavourably with those of other ethno-linguistic groups in Pakistan. One Pukhtun Bibi said: Punjabian are better— they visit each other for short periods, raise their hands, pray, and go; but among Pukhtuns the formality is endless.

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


The latitude exercised by Bibiane in taking their children to gham-khadi or not, or travelling with their husbands, docs not extend to negotiating non-attendance or forms of reciprocation in the absence of attendance.31 Bibiane are, thus, ‘locked’ into gham-khadi social behaviour.

PARTICIPATION AND EXCLUSION: THE SEVERING OF SOCIAL RELATIONS My exposition of obligatory relationships around gham-khadi gives substance to a concept of ceremonial performances as ‘work’, in the sense that work ‘implements a rule. My account situates gham-khadi within the context of the social relationships which it sustains, seeking to determine what space it leaves for alternate modes of thought and action (non­ participation, selective participation, the individuation of gifts and so on). Yet Bibiane are keenly aware o f the high stakes of performing gham-khadi correctly. Omission, far from opening plural or less constrained social networks to non-participants, incurs a form of ‘social death’ (Bourdieu 1966: 217; see also Baal 1975: 11). As two Bibiane told me: Asma:

‘If you don’t attend the wedding, then you have to come later for ombaraki. That is a very important part, because if you don’t do that then all relations are broken...’ Yasmin: ‘The people [concerned] get khapa (khafa) from (i.e. angry at) the person who did not attend. People say, ‘ [s/he] didn’t come for our death or wedding!’ (‘ Wai na marg la raghe na khadai la raghe!). In death if you are absent, you have got to go for the dua afterwards. Because if you don’t do either one of these, the ombaraki or the dua, people won’t do it with you!’

More specifically in funerals, those who miss the important days are not invited to the Fortieth day commemoration, and are subtly shunned in social gatherings. The following incident indicates the importance of attending both gham and khadi. Samina Bibi (aged about 48) is from a wealthy and prestigious household from Swat. She teaches, works, and lives in Islamabad with her non-Pukhtun husband (from a Nawab family of Indian origin based in Lahore). Samina injured her back, which caused her to miss her second cousin’s daughter’s wedding. She told me: ‘I stayed back. I didn’t want to go to the wedding in Swat. My [older male] cousin told me: ‘If you do not do gham-khadi no one will come to you either


Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives

and you’ll die a lonely woman with no one by your graveside.’ Compliance is thus enforced not only through the prospect o f unfortunate consequences, but more direcdy, through the urgings of close relatives.32 There is nothing uncommon in someone taking it on themselves to upbraid another for their errors. Such a formula of ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong’ is often observed in Pukhtun contexts in interpretations of Islam, becoming an arena for conflict in Al-Huda’s application o f literal scripture. Looking at non-compliance from the reverse perspective, that of snubbed Bibiane, absence from gham-khadi causes serious offence. When I accompanied a group of Bibiane to visit their niece, Parveen, in Islamabad on a congratulatory birth visit (ombaraki) for her first-born baby girl, Parveen (married to a Mardan Khan and originally Swati) complained that her mother-in-law and sister-in-laws had failed to perform her ombaraki, although her baby was born after several years of marriage and was thus eagerly anticipated. An earlier property dispute had led to mutual avoidance in gham-khadi, even though the events were often shared. Referring to her mother-in-law, Parveen said: ‘it is also her happiness, but she doesn’t understand (kho poyegee na).’ Looking tenderly at her crying baby girl, she added: ‘She reminds me of my mother-in-law when she looks angrily at me.’ A families’ prioritizing of certain engagements over others may also cause relational problems. In one case, a Bibi’s husband’s female cousins neglected to visit her hospitalized husband a month after his operation, while they travelled to a remote village for another cousin’s dais (wetnurse’s) husbands death. Shehnaz, the snubbed Bibi, cried: ‘if they don’t care about us, why should we care about them! Illness is the time when all relatives come together (khpal ratolshee).’ She declared, ‘I am not going to do any more gham-khadi with them!’ These simmering resentments are rarely vented in direct confrontation (rishtinee), which, one Bibi told me, ‘is very rude’ (compare Pitt-Rivers 1966: 40). I was present during a number of different Bibiane’s rishtinee, where the most common response was ‘munkaredai (to deny or reject) or evasion, especially in response to accusations o f intentional wound or insult. Disputes among Bibiane escalate from neglect of the customary 'salaam usually accompanied by an embrace and a kiss on either cheek, to coldness and discreet avoidance, and finally to outright and widely understood aversion altogether (in a badat). The confusion over whether a festivity is missed for genuine reasons or in retaliation, provokes much anxiety for Bibiane. As gham-khadi contexts are segregated public spaces,

Death and Celebration Among Muslim Women


the constant concern over ‘seeing’ who sees whom, when and where’ (Gilsenan 1990: 190) becomes of crucial importance. Relatedly, ‘not being seen’, or to avoid another’s gham-khadi intentionally in an act of subversion, is also a characteristic feature of Pukhtun social life.

JUGGLING PROFESSIONAL WORK, HOUSEWORK, AND THE WORK OF LIFE Gham-khadi places multiple and competing demands on women’s time, energy and responsibilities in their roles as mothers and wives (in their kor-kaar. housework,), kinswomen (their zeest-rozgar or gham-khadi) and professional employees (their kaar-rozgar). As the near-exclusive form of female adult sociality, gham-khadi and tlal-ratlal prohibited women from any form of employment outside the kor. Women (and men) give moral precedence to zeest-rozgar or gham-khadi, as they define Pukhtun ethnic identity and provide a particular philosophy of life. The imperative of maintaining social bonds overrides both childcare, as we have seen, and housework in the sense of Bibiane’s supervision of menial tasks. The tlalratlal requirements of spontaneous hosting often oblige Bibiane to be in two places at the same time, sitting with the guests and providing tea and food. One Bibi whose maid had gone on holiday stated, ‘if I receive guests I have to sit with them— to leave them is said to be badtameezee (impolite).’ The requirement on Bibiane to host gham-khadi sits uneasily with some women’s perception o f their household roles and instincts. One 35 year old Swati Bibi, resident in Islamabad and married to a Mardan Khan, argued: ‘I think when a woman has a baby, then people should not even visit for the first three months. When my son was born, some people apologized for coming so late, but in my heart I said ‘shukkar de (thank goodness), because receiving and entertaining guests the way we do is difficult when your hands are fully occupied.’ The task of hosting, particularly in Islamabad where Bibiane’s gham-khadi networks vasdy increase, is broadly but secredy seen as an unwelcome pressure, as in the words of a Bibi: Entertaining guests is like a tug o f war— having a family, keeping a house, and doing gham-khadi all at the same time. Nothing is relaxed or enjoyable now. You have to be obliged. You have to be there for your children’s needs, for the needs o f gham-khadi and society, for your husband’s needs, your in-law’s needs.

Pakistani Women: Multiple Locations and Competing Narratives


So it’s always needy, needy o f a woman, and a woman’s own needs are ignored. i .