With a new venue, Aurat March 2022 focused on inclusivity

Moving from Frere Hall to MA Jinnah Road, organizers are trying to publicize the protest to the general public

CARACHI:

There is an angst that permeates the air in the hours leading up to Aurat March. Taking to the streets on International Women’s Day, protesters know all too well the vitriol that comes with being part of the annual protest. Be that as it may, with the threats of violence exaggerated this year, given calls by JUI-F extremists to resist the annual protest by force and the insistence of the country’s religious affairs minister on the ban on the march, the fear that things would go wrong was palpable. . However, fear quickly gave way to excitement, manifesting itself in songs of freedom and resistance, the joy of celebrating what it means to be a woman and, above all, the strength and solidarity that the we find in the number, however limited it may be.

Protesters gathered in Karachi at Baagh e Jinnah opposite the Quaid Mausoleum on the iconic MA Jinnah Road, with the venue changing for the march, the last four iterations of which took place at Frere Hall (located at the junction between Saddar and Clifton), imbuing the protest with a unique power granted by the centrality of the new place. Taking the main road, in many ways the beating heart of Karachi, this year’s Aurat Walk, with relatively fewer participants, felt far more significant. Walk along the main vein of the city, placards in hand and the words ujrat, tahaffuz aur sukoon [equal wages, security and peace/rest] on the lips of each protester, the resistance to erasure and silence was far more pronounced.

Reflecting on the much-needed change of venue, with the previous choice of venue criticized for meeting the needs of protesters from the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, organizer Sheema Kermani explained how the march had been moved to MA Jinnah in an effort to make the protest more mainstream and accessible.

She explained in a conversation with The Express Grandstand, “There are women from various social classes participating in the march this year. I believe it is a great achievement. Responding to criticism leveled at the march on its exclusionary nature in the past, Sheema shared how the march is now focused on transforming into a full-fledged feminist movement that “goes beyond class and is intersectional and intergenerational in all its aspects”.

As they waited for other participants to gather to start the march, reports came to the field that up to two buses full of protesters were facing blockages on their way to the venue. While many hopeful protesters turned back due to heavy traffic and side protests, several arrived just as the marchers were about to reach their final destination near the Capri cinema. The blockages, coupled with the march taking place on a weekday at an undisclosed location, have deterred several former protesters from returning for this year’s march.

Despite the logistical problems, the atmosphere on the ground was festive. Popular songs such as Salaam and Ishq were lyrically changed to fit the themes of the march and the needs of the protesters. The performers sang “Mera dil bechain hai barabari ke liye“, while jubilant demonstrators began to dance at the foot of the huge stage. A trio of young women dressed in Ismail Goth red performed an impassioned rap against patriarchy, drawing cheers from protesters seated in the audience.

However, the joy was pierced by necessary moments of rightful anger and tears of pain as women affected by the demolition of their homes in the name of ‘anti-encroachment’ took the stage to share their grief and demand. of support, serving as a much-needed reality check as to why the protesters decided to take to the city streets in the first place. Nazim Jokhio’s wife, who was tortured and killed by PPP MP Jam Awais after Nazim filmed a group of strangers hunting the endangered houbara bustard, has demanded justice for her slain husband.

The country’s first transgender doctor, Sarah Gill, addressed the crowd wearing a purple smock. Speaking of the controversy surrounding the now-mainstream feminist slogan in Pakistan, “Mera jism, meri marzi [My body, my choice]”, asserted Dr. Sarah, “I have often heard that the slogan “Mera jism, meri marzi‘ promotes vulgarity. That’s all it means to some people. Today, at this point, I have something to say to every Pakistani. This slogan has been worn by women, but it is not limited to them alone. Mera jism, meri marzi is for men, for children, for khwaja siras. For God’s sake, don’t tie our song, our fair and equitable slogan, to vulgarity.

Paras, a trans woman protesting the march, echoed Dr Sarah’s sentiment. She explained, “It’s important to know that this walk is not just for [cis] women. It’s for the transgender community, for the khwaja siras, and in a way also for the male members of our society. Anyone who opposes the patriarchy can participate and lend their support. Everyone can participate and make our society safe.

Prominent trans rights activist Bindya Rana reflected on the importance of ujrat [equal wages]shares, “Today we are talking about ujrat. The Khwaja Sira community has no paid work opportunities. She added: “If you go to the outskirts of Karachi, in rural areas of Sindh and Punjab, women are treated like reproductive machines. A 16-year-old child is married to a 50-year-old man. The same woman you will find in the field, caring for the animals, serving her husband and raising 10-12 children.

A limited number of celebrities were also present at the venue, namely model turned event manager Frieha Altaf, actor Hajra Yamin and author Mira Sethi. Frieha said, “We rank 153 out of 156 countries when it comes to women’s rights and empowerment. Domestic violence is on the rise, it has not decreased. There are many things that need to change.

Protesters marched from Baagh e Jinnah to the Capri Cinema, the march ending with a sit-in outside the historic theater. Locals crowded onto their balconies to watch the protest, some turning on their smartphone flashlights to be part of the march. Chants were sung in remembrance of those lost to patriarchal violence and for the protection of those threatened with not making it to next year’s march. Women from all walks of life took their places in a city that so often does not feel at home, and in the end the protesters returned to the park in relative silence, cradling in their hearts the hope of a better, safer and fairer tomorrow.

About Octavia A. Dorr

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