We are All Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan


Aneela Zeb Babar

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    This project is but a response to all the statements starting with ‘But Why Would Pakistanis…’ I have heard over the years. Let us just say that I got tired of explaining why Malala Yousafzai continues to face so much fak from certain Pakistanis (and ‘good Muslims’ and/or conspiracy theorists elsewhere), or why would any Pakistani woman justify the Pakistan's Council of Islamic Ideology' section to allow men to ‘lightly beat their wives’. Perhaps one day I became nervous about how I felt generations of South Asians were condemned to repeat history, or that the more things changed for the region, the more our neighborhood was eager to make sure they remained the same.

    Perhaps it was when I walked amongst the ruins of a Dhaka temple that was eternally condemned to live as a temple of tents and tarpaulins, marvelling how a Ramna Park once and a Ramna (suburb) again, waited out for an elusive dawn with ‘Operation Searchlight’ (March 1971) and ‘Operation Sunrise’ (July 2007) linking the love and lives of the cities of Dhaka and Islamabad forever. And there is a sun rising over Delhi and conversations about that makes it ever so important that I look inwards and share some tales. Or perhaps it will be two decades to a particular moment in Pakistan and India's history and as another generation grows in the mist of a nuclear cloud, it is important to remember how certain militaristic exercises shaped and molded our very gendered definition of peace and conflict avoidance.

    I learnt a new word ‘Taaq-e-Nissian’, very late in my life; and now I make sure that I should never forget it. Taaq-e-Nissian can be translated as a ‘niche’, a shelf in the wall to consign what one has to, and to give oneself permission not to recall it for a while. I am sure there are families, families like ours in the region, whom you continue to question with a how do you go through this?—families who have trained themselves to place their memories, each day of December, whether it is of Dhaka or of Peshawar in a Taaq-e-Nissian of their own. My particular Taaq-e-Nissian had some essays and episodes from academic exercises in other lives, and one day Yoda Press felt it was time to share an abridged version of them with you, dear Reader.

    What I should let you know, at the outset, that the following pages will not tell you the tale of all who resist the state narrative, there will be no stories of the valiant heroines and the superwomen in the everyday every person. For even as the state clamps down and conformism reigns supreme; there is the everyday Pakistani who resists and marches on to a different piper. But this project is not that forum—though there are days I am tempted to identify and acknowledge not just tales of who led and listened or who destroyed independent thought but rather who saved whom, who made sure that there continued to be spaces that resisted and inspired. Rest assured, Pakistani women continue to lead and inspire.

    But for the next six chapters, I will share with you my stories of other women and other lives. But then again, this is a very subjective journey and a route map is quite disjointed. The faults that plague the text are all mine. For that I warn you now.


    Many people have supported and assisted this project in a variety of ways and many more have allowed me to forget about it and live a little.

    Arpita Das and the team at Yoda Press for their tenacity and stubbornness that would rival the toughest production unit, when I, like the reluctant first-time director, sat on the film reels for quite a while claiming that there were still some final shots remaining.

    Sonjuhi Negi, Nishtha Vadhera and Ishita Gupta for their fine editorial skills, an eye on the bigger picture and getting all the signatures when I was knee deep in words and jump cuts and had no idea where everything was to go. The faults that continue to plague the project are entirely my responsibility.

    My mother, Mariana Babar who like an excellent critic, which she is, has already pointed out a dozen places where I missed the plot and so now none of the reviews are going to hurt.

    The families and brilliant women without whom this project would have never been possible. Though they must remain anonymous, I would like to thank them for their support and assistance.

    Parul Sharma and Kiran Manral for a friendship ‘beyond the call of duty’ and for being good spirited listeners to my endless stories. I hope they never hold the Internet against me. Sabbah Haji, Babur Majid, Raheel Khurshid for Gheebat Hellfire—I will meet you there. Lubna, Saima, Aisha, Maria for being good witches.

    Archita Chanda Ray, Abanti, Devapriya Roy and Dipali Taneja for cheerleading duty. Natasha Badhwar, hail ogre well met. Tanveer Shahzad, the good soul who arranged for the copyright-mukt images at the last minute.

    Ayesha, Sakeena, Raahym and Shahram for allowing me to disappear in ‘script and voice’ from their lives and continuing to be the pillars of strength they are. Saba Khattak for pushing me that extra mile and the dire warnings of aging film stars playing college students.

    My late grandfather Habib, for our bargain the summer that he lost his eye glasses, that he would teach me my prayers and I would read him Rushdie at night. Somehow he put everything in perspective. Mahjabina, for being my moral compass.

    Gaurav, the financier for always being confident and making it all look so easy. And finally, Arhaan the trusted audience to the constant theatre of my life—though at one stage he too warned me ‘It Looks Like You Are Quite Addicted To It’.

    The Ideal Reader who will now finally let me go out and play.

    And finally the good people of Pakistan, our million follies and foibles but twice as much fun—for assuring me ki picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

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    About the Author

    Aneela Zeb Babar is a researcher and consultant working on Islam, gender, migration and popular culture. Over the past eighteen years she has been pursuing a career within the academic, research and development sector being employed with universities and non-governmental and international developmental agencies in South and South-East Asia and Australia. She has a strong track record in advocacy of development, governance, gender and cultural issues.

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