Boys will be boys?

Published in SouthAsia Magazine (December 2007)

Incidents of eve teasing are on the rise in the Subcontinent, even in modern and big cities like Karachi. Despite an increase in literacy rates and general awareness, our society is still indifferent to the lack of respect accorded to women, writes Ayesha Hoda

Travelling by a public bus, clad in a western outfit and carrying drama costumes from Sunday Bazaar to Bilawal Chowrangi, was a hard decision to make. When I recounted the tale of my adventurous journey at home, I met with the angry response, “You should be more careful!”

Agreed. But the question is why? Most of the time it is not even about doing something outrageous and being the odd one out. Street sexual harassment is growing in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The word ‘eve teasing’, which originated in India, is often used euphemistically. It is a major problem in the city of Karachi although it is rarely regarded as such.

Perhaps this is so because despite being a daily problem, there seems to be no major effort or movement, law, security measure, protest etc. to counter it. Women have accepted it as a part of their lives. They have decided that the best thing is to ignore it to avoid a ‘tamasha’ (confrontation), which will bring them in the limelight and might damage their reputation.

Young girls often gather to share their tales of humiliation, of lewd and sexually suggestive comments and singing, amongst themselves. It has been happening since the time they were eight or ten years old, that is, as soon as people realised that they were ‘girls’. It is a very normal occurrence when you go out for shopping, to the beach or to any other public place and even in educational institutes. You have to dress according to the area or place you are visiting. However, dressing up in a conservative fashion does not seem to help all that much. It is a blatant fact that can be validated by simply looking around that most of the women on the streets of Karachi are modestly dressed.

Despite this, no stone is left unturned to make a woman feel that she has committed an unforgivable sin by transgressing the boundaries of her home especially if she is on her own. She has no freedom or space in the world outside. Not only do a majority of men make it a point to stare, they also make it a point to make a female realise that they are ‘checking her out’.

Offensive touching occurs when you are moving in a crowded store, down a busy street or are a spectator at one of those late night concerts. During a rally in 2006, which was taken out in favour of Women’s Protection Bill (how ironic!), a man misbehaved with a female participant but this went unnoticed in the crowd. It was, however, captured on video and later passed around in mass emails, so that an interested audience could watch, be sexually titillated and joke about it.

When travelling by public transport at night, many females carry hair or body sprays or some other device for self-defence, in anticipation of misconduct by the driver or fellow commuters (in case of a bus). Segregation of the sexes is actually a better option in this scenario. If a female is driving, most male drivers that pass, make it a habit to turn and look back to see what she looks like.

Female students avoid going to cyber cafes at night especially if the street is isolated, even when they need to complete some university assignment urgently.

There is simply no security for women or even semblance of providing it. On a show on one of the local FM channels, a girl once called, finding no better alternative to voice her problem. She was twenty, orphaned, living alone and running a retail store business on her own. She complained of being constantly teased by a certain person in her neighbourhood. The show host advised her to report to the police and ask for protection, to which she helplessly replied that it was a policeman who was bothering her.

This is probably just one example from many, of women who have to fend for themselves and live on their own. Only when things get out of hand, are cases of eve teasing noticed. For instance, in an incident of eve teasing at Jinnah’s mausoleum on Pakistan’s Independence Day in 2006, a few girls raised their voices when troubled by some unruly youth and were helped by the people around. The ground turned into a battleground and the situation got so out of control that the mausoleum was closed for the next two days. However, such a scenario is rare and perhaps not too effective for combating the issue itself.

It leads to many questions. Why are these men so desperate? They are living in a modern, cosmopolitan city where there is not too much segregation of the sexes. They often study, work or even socialise with women. A great majority of men who indulge in such activities are married. Then why do they treat women as if they have just landed from another planet?

It is very hard to connect with Bollywood and Lollywood movies when they show a girl falling in love with the hero, who continuously eve teases her. Some people are of the opinion that such continuous depictions have encouraged the youth to emulate:

“A conservative society where most parents still don’t discuss sex with children is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet,” wrote Hindi film actress Preity Zinta, in her much-appreciated column, ‘Odds stacked against Indian women’, for BBC’s online edition.

This is equally true for Pakistan and Bangladesh. A general conclusion is also that eve teasing has nothing to do with love, attraction or even sex. It has more to do with a patriarchal mindset, proving time and again that it is a man’s world and the sheer joy of exerting power or influence over another being from the ‘weaker sex’.

Unfortunately, a large number of people (including some females), even from amongst the educated and so-called ‘modern’ class, are of the opinion that women are the ‘eves’ who provoke, tempt or bewitch men. Asking a male classmate on what he thought of a male teacher notorious for brazenly staring at his female students, I got the response, “Look at the kind of clothes they wear!” This comes from a person who is not only ‘educated’ but also feels pride in being ‘open-minded’ as he is able to converse and joke with his female friends about sex and what not!

In his article “Hassled, but helpless”, published in The Hindu (Metro Plus Chennai, September 10, 2002), Prince Frederick observes about the phenomenon of eve teasing:

“It is time we painted this menace in the dark colours that it deserves. To start with, we could coin a new name for it. Far too often, we find the victim on the wrong side of the stick. If we were to go into the aetiology of eve teasing, as propounded by so-called analysts of the phenomenon, it would seem ludicrous, if not nauseating – “With the way she dressed she had it coming,” “She would have encouraged the boys” and “Boys will be boys, girls have to be discreet”.

It is no small and easy task to change such a mindset. Probably protests and strikes won’t do the trick. We already have too many of those happening these days for them to be really effective. Something has to be done consciously and continuously and as with everything else, it has to start at home. You have to teach your kids to respect women along with the mass media’s support for this trend, in both direct and subtle ways, to eventually kill this societal demon.

‘I can never be an entertainer only’ – Nighat Chaudhry

Published in Slogan (January 2010)

Ayesha Hoda sat down with Nighat Chaudhry to talk about the artist’s life journey as a Kathak performer and her dream of preserving the art of dancing in Pakistan.

‘Dance, when you are broken open. Dance, if you have torn the bandage off. Dance, in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you are perfectly free.’

Nighat has quite aptly chosen Rumi’s verses to reveal her passion for dance. As she handed me her brochure – adorned by these verses – I realised that dancing isn’t only her profession or hobby. In some mysterious way, it is a part of various aspects of her life, guiding her and making her the graceful and elegant person that she is.

On that calm Sunday afternoon, we discussed Nighat’s sojourn into the world of dance and her plans to contribute even more towards this performing art in Pakistan.

Shifting the gaze from ballet to Kathak

Nighat discovered her love for dance when she was only five. Born in Lahore and brought up in London, she just knew she was very happy while dancing and started creative dance movement classes while still in school.

“I started off with modern dance and wanted to be a ballerina,” she recounts. “Then I met Nahid Siddiqui, one of the most renowned Kathak dancers from Pakistan. I had received six months training in Bharatnatyam from an Indian guru previously but Nahid Apa opened a window to dance in Pakistan. I was mesmerized by her performances.”

Nighat decided to pursue a degree in dance but had to make a choice between modern dance and Kathak. She completed a foundation course in Modern Dance and Classical Western Ballet at the Laban Center for Movement and Dance, Goldsmith’s College, London University. But then she decided to opt for Kathak, after which there was no looking back. She lived in Pakistan and India, learning from Kathak masters like Maharaj Ghulam Hussain Kathak, Pandit Durga Lal and Uma Dogra. She gave up dancing for a year,
when Pandit Durga Lal passed away.

“He was like a father and a mentor. He taught me a lot, not only about dance but also about life. I was very emotionally disturbed by his death until one day when he appeared in my dream. He asked me not to give up dancing after which I resumed it.”

On her unique style and movements

“My Kathak looks different due to my western training. It disciplined me and I have also been experimenting a lot, combining Kathak with other dance styles such as salsa and creative dance. As an artiste, you can be at your peak but the search for something new and different never ends.”

The cultural shock

Nighat moved to Pakistan to learn Kathak and reconnect with her roots. Even though her parents tried to convince her not to, she insisted on coming here but was quite unprepared to experience ‘the cultural shock.’

She witnessed an inhibited attitude towards dance. “’What is wrong with dance?’ I used to question. From where I was coming, it was the most natural thing.”

Shocked by the negative perception of dance, Nighat went about looking for the root cause. She watched local films and stage shows and realised how dance was considered a synonym for mujra.

“Still, for me it was only a concept; not the reality. Courtesans like Umrao Jan Ada used to live in another time altogether and whatever their background, they were actually highly trained women and all respectable nawabs used to go to them.”

Shocked and, at the same time motivated to make a difference, Nighat decided to stay on and work on the image of dance – ‘to purify it.’ Her first performance took place at the Pakistan American Cultural Centre in 1983, during Zia’s regime. But Nighat was quite daring and devoted; she never backed down despite several threats from extremist parties.
“After Zia’s era, dancers in Pakistan had to start from scratch and develop the art once again. We have moved on from that time but deep-rooted mindsets are still the same.”

Imparting socio-political messages

“I can never be an entertainer only,” declares Nighat. It is obvious that she is someone who always wants to give a meaningful message. She mentioned some of her recent projects that touched upon important social and political issues.
“I worked with Wahab Shah, a young creative dancer from Australia, to create a concept revolving around Adam and Eve. It was about men and women and how we started off by being in total harmony with one another. Adam and Eve is the perfect couple. We questioned why our society has repressed Eve – she no longer has a voice.

Why does society need to be defined as patriarchal or matriarchal when we are equal?”

Nighat worked on another interesting piece with Wahab Shah called ‘Kathalino’ (Katha from Kathak and lino from Latino).

“It was a very demanding piece, full of energy, as we mixed moves of both dance styles. It is good to learn from young blood. Plus, since we were both trained abroad, we had the same level of commitment for rehearsals.”

Nighat also performed in a very powerful political piece called Kursi (Chair). It depicted the power game between males and females, with focus on the hostility between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Kursi was all about the political experience in Pakistan. We showed men in black clothes grabbing on to the chair. In the end, the kursi is taken away. The performance was close to what is happening and so was very well-received.”

Another remarkable piece was Aaina (mirror), which was a reflection of what is happening to the social fabric in Pakistan and how people are becoming materialistic to the point of losing their real identity. This was part of the Rafi Peer festival.

“The best thing about performing at this festival is that the masses come there. They understood and appreciated everything,” Nighat relates.

Fulfilling her destiny

Nighat is concerned about the future of dance and various dance styles in Pakistan. Four years ago, she established the National Dance Foundation (NDF). She has developed its website and collected articles and other archival material related to dance.

Nighat has two projects in the pipeline. In the first one, she will document the numerous dance styles of Pakistan, beginning with mountain dances, which is a three-year project.

“This is a huge project. But I feel it needs to be done. Otherwise we are going to lose all the traditions. There is still peace in Sindh and Punjab so I think we will be able to document dance there. But I am worried about the northern areas.

For the last two years, my husband and I have been working on it. We have been going up in the mountains. We have people there who have been filming and showing us the dying arts.”

Nighat is just waiting for funds and has been in contact with a dance NGO in Chicago for this purpose. She will also spend three months next year conducting research in New York.

Simultaneously, she is working on a bilingual (English and Urdu) coffee-table book based on the classical dancers of Pakistan, from partition to the present day. It will include a brief profile of all the dancers, the school of dancing that they followed and some remarkable photographs.

“This book will not be for intellectuals. I want to make it very attractive so that everyone picks it up and is interested in reading about the dancers featured.”

The next stage of the book is to make and market a documentary on the dancers and their performances.

“People ask me why I am doing all this…no other dancer seems to have thought about it. Again, it is a result of my western background – people abroad are in the habit of documenting everything. Or perhaps it is my destiny – may be that is why God created me and sent me to Pakistan.

“It is actually a very good thing. One day I will need to sit down and redefine myself. God has simultaneously created a platform so that when I stop performing or I only teach or choreograph, I will have this work to do. When I look at the projects that need to be done, I feel it is a lifetime’s work.”
Nighat plans to create a dance archival library containing all articles on Pakistani dance, interviews of dancers, documentation of performances and so on. She also intends to write a book about Kathak in Pakistan, how the style has changed and why it should be accepted as a national art form. This will be more of a personal book and Nighat has already started recording notes and points in her Ipod – that is what she does while travelling. That is how much dance means to her!

‘…to live in a better world’ – Faisal Qureshi, TV Anchorperson

Published in Slogan (March 2010)

As one might expect, Faisal Qureshi’s favourite pastime is to talk. In conversation with Ayesha Hoda, he reveals his firm belief in the power of dialogue and how it can change things for the better.

Who am I?

“That’s a tough question. I like to believe that I am a life coach… and a dreamer. I am someone who wants to learn and evolve. So I would say Faisal Qureshi is alive. And the biggest sign of life is that I am evolving continuously for better survival. The day I stop changing, you can come and pray for my soul!”

On becoming an anchor

“It was a fluke. A friend – Umar Sheikh – just asked me if I wanted to do a TV show with him. We sat together and designed ‘Loose Ends’. It included us and our wives, Reema and Tania – four educated people hailing from the middle class – who sat and talked about different subjects.”

‘Loose Ends’ was very successful due to its informal approach. The hosts were not professional media people and they were quite blunt in talking about different and sometimes taboo subjects, such as sexual abuse, child molestation, seeing a psychiatrist, second marriages and so on. People related to the show but eventually it saw its own end.

“It was becoming too popular,” says Faisal. “And that’s not a good thing in Pakistan. Lots of other shows would have not picked up if ‘Loose Ends’ had existed and many people did not like that.”

Faisal then launched ‘Breakfast at Dawn’ on DawnNews and hosted it for a year.

“It was in English and English is not really a language which works in Pakistan. So there was no point. I was just talking to myself. By that time media was just not a fluke for me. It had become something I wanted to do. My purpose of working in media was that I wanted to live in a better world. I wanted to change myself and talk to more and more people. And media is an instrument to talk to people. It should teach and inspire; motivate and protect culture and society.”

Ankahi

Samaa TV then gave Faisal Qureshi a night time show called ‘Ankahi’. It was based on social vices like ignorance of traffic rules, accumulating filth, bad politics and so on. Faisal wanted to make people realise that they need to change themselves.

“People don’t like it – it’s an old adage: Satan was Lucifer once but he may have gone back to worshipping God and may be we are just committing sins in his name. The point is you need to change yourself. If you cannot find solutions, at least do not become the problem.

“When I say Japan, it means civilised, punctual, humble etc. When I say Pakistan, it means uncontrolled, rowdy, undisciplined, dirty, etc. Why is that? Why can’t the masses become more civilised?”

Faisal says his show managed to motivate people in the short term to improve things.

“And then ‘Ankahi’ was also becoming too popular. It was very different from the other shows, which were all based on politics and arguments etc. It had been able to build its own viewership. So I made the first move and left before they shut it down.”

Faisal is now hosting ‘Bang-e-Dara’ (Call of the Caravan) five days a week on News1 and ‘Karavan’ (Caravan) on Sundays. The former was based on politics but is gradually moving towards social reform as well.

On the importance of talking

“We as a people are obsessed with doing something,” states Faisal. “We think talking is a waste of time. Now I’ve asked this question repeatedly: what is it that you want to do? I’ve never received the answer. And then they say you just sit and talk.

“What I believe we need to do is (a) better ourselves; and (b) talk about it. Lack of conversation and bad conversation can destroy anything. Dialogue and preaching are important. You change yourself and then preach. There is nothing else to do!”