By Amna Shafqat
Age 10: I am riding a bicycle in our village common ground. Happy and delirious, paddling and speeding away. Out of nowhere a middle aged man come running towards me and tries to stop me by pulling the bicycle sideways and tries his best to hurl me off balance. When that doesn’t work, I hear his angry voice, telling me to stop cycling at once. I get scared by his tone so I decide that its best to move away. No exactly sure what caused that anger, I look around as I leave, one of my extended family relative standing nearby sense my confusion and explains that the guy was angry because he doesn’t want his daughters to get bad influence from me. Still confused, scared and unable to fully grasp the meaning of what has just happened, I quietly take the bicycle inside.
Age 12: I am in my village for spring holidays. It’s a beautiful day and the wind is blowing. I notice that my cousin has left one of his many kites on the roof. I pick it up and try to take it off, after a few hits and trials it takes off quickly and the string roll gets thinner as the kite soars away. I am quite happy with myself and enjoying swaying it left and right. Suddenly my cousin comes up…he looks furious. I expect him to tell me to get my own kite, but he tells me to stop this ‘bey-pardagi’ and get down because boys around will see a girl flying a kite and this will bring bad name to the family. He tells me that whenever he goes to the mosque, his friends make fun of him: “Enna di kuri patang uraandi eh“. I felt really embarrassed and this incident left me being very conscious about the people around me and what they might think of my actions….for years to come I tried and succeeded in being a ‘proper’ invisible girl. And that was the last day I flew a kite.
Age 12, Kashmir: its Baqar Id and I am really curious to see the animals being sacrificed. As I am walking around, not very conscious of the soldiers around me, one of the Subidaar chacha comes to me and tells me to move inside the house as it’s not appropriate for a girl to roam about like this. His face is sour with seriousness and grave embarrassment on my account. I quietly move away. We called him Subidaar Chacha, he was from Sialkot, and hence my father’s favorite. He took the liberty to give us any lessons on propriety whenever he thought that we were not toeing the line. I don’t know if this lesson on propriety was the first of its kind, but it certainly was the kind of decisive mannerism hammered into my brain because for times to come, if there were men around me I would get very quiet and feel extremely shy to say anything at all.
Age 12 Kashmir: I remember our Qari shaahb as a kind gentleman, we had set one condition for him before we would quietly accede and sit down for our daily Quran lessons; he was to play 3 Overs of cricket match with us before the daily lesson commenced…..and he gladly agreed on the condition. But he got posted to some other station in Punjab….and a new Qari arrives. After few days of Quran lessons I began to notice that this Qari is trying very hard NOT to make an-eye contact. I find it very odd, but soon I would learn that making an-eye contact with ‘na-mehram aurat’ is a sin. Making a proper required eye-contact during a conversation with any man became difficult for me after that profound lesson on ‘Hayaa’.
Age 13: My father told me to wear a scarf with my school uniform. I had to comply without asking any questions, for I had learned earlier on my way to achieve sainthood in teenage years, that it was a good thing for a girl to cover herself up properly. Few days into wearing it, I realize that its gets really hot and humid with one piece of cloth covering my head- tightly noosed around my neck with safety pins. It made my classes very uncomfortable and heat became unbearable. So one day I mildly try to argue my way out of wearing it, but out comes a dialogue so powerful and sounding so logical that I can’t argue anymore. I am told that “the fire of hell is going to be a thousand times more uncomfortable, and IF I am not ready to sacrifice my comfort here, how am I going to tolerate the fire of hell?!!”
Part of that ‘education’ (including many incidents that I don’t feel comfortable writing about) still is inside me and sometimes I find it difficult to brush it off. I find it difficult to treat myself as a ‘person’ first and as a woman later on. I still sometimes find myself feeling awkward and nervous in mixed gathering.
Author is an environmentalist and freelance writer with an interest in feminism. She tweets @AmnaGoraya