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August 16, 2011

Dancing women who brought disaster in Northern Areas


August 16, 2011

Naming natural calamities after women is not common in Pakistan but attaching such disasters to moral degradation surrounding women is a dominant way of thinking.
This is especially true in some areas hit by floods last year where women claim to know exactly why the disaster struck.
“It was destined to happen because Allah was angry over a festival organised in Kalam,” most women in upper Swat unanimously say.
Naseema Bibi, lost her 17-year-old son in the floods. She is convinced it was Allah’s anger over what went on at the festival. “Women danced there and you know Allah never forgives such deeds. His
wrath came in the shape of floods.”
Like many other women living close to River Swat in Madyyan, Naseema does not speak or understand Urdu. “I never need to speak Urdu. We step outside our homes only when we are very sick or to get married.”
Her two room house is infested with flies. The gutters are choking with filth and garbage and waste of animals is stacked at the street corner. The smiles of little children are covered with dirt.
In short, even the minimum standards of cleanliness, considered half faith in Islam, are being violated.
The girls here are denied education that is the religion’s base.
But for Naseema it were the dancing women who invited trouble. Her 10-year-old son agrees with his mum. “She is right; there was music and women danced. Everyone knows floods came because of that.”
The boy never attended the festival himself and learnt about the events from
his Qari (religious tutor).
Similarly, for women their sources of information are often men who learn about such justifications from religious leaders.
Naseema, a patient of goitre, has seven more children. She has tears in her eyes as she tells how her son was swept away.
He had gone down to River Swat with 11 of his friends to fish out logs flowing in the gushing waters at the
time when the flood was at its

“They were trapped in the middle of the river and there was no way to help them; the weather was really bad,” she recalls. “The entire village watched them for two days losing grip on the trees they had been holding on to and then giving in to the might of the flood one by one.”
While most women believe the festival caused the floods, there are however a few who think such destruction could not have come because of one single festival.
The festival in question was staged from July 11-18, 2011 marking the return of peace to Swat Valley cleared of
militants by the Pakistani military.
The event was a big success and attracted visitors
from across the country after a two-year break because
of the military operation in the valley.
Suddenly, the hotels and restaurants were doing brisk business as tourists began streaming in. The festival helped revive jobs for as many as 20,000 people in the area.
The newspapers and television channels termed the festival a breakthrough for Swat’s ailing tourism.
A car rally and a music show comprising folk singers and others were the significant features of the festival, inaugurated by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Minister for Tourism and Culture Syed Aqil Shah.
The festival’s long over but it is not Naseema’s fault to think the way she does. She is an uneducated woman. Her farming family does not even have a television at home. If some families in the area do have this luxury, they cannot even watch Pakistan Television as the terminals destroyed by the Taliban have yet to be repaired.
But it is not people like Naseema who have such views. Ask Maryum Rehmat, a professional doctor belonging to Swat and she would tell you her own version of the calamity and why it happened.
“The floods were the result of moral degradation of women in the area,” she says confidently. “You know what the latest fashion in Swat is? The girls make ‘mehndi’ tattoos on their backs at a place where they can easily be seen. The women in Swat are very beautiful and many have become prostitutes. No wonder, the floods were destined to come.”
Interestingly, no such views were shared by women about men or the men themselves.
Maryum had no answer when asked if she had ever thought about the sins of men that possibly could have brought the natural calamity.
In contrast to what people like Maryum and Naseema think, the Pakistan Meteorological Office had this to say about the floods: “The unusual interaction of two weather systems during July 27-29 and August 2-9, 2010 caused massive rainfall and flooding in Pakistan.”
Tahira Noor from the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) says myths about women being directly responsible for any kind of catastrophe, calamity and disaster are quite prevalent and believed across the geographic divide in Pakistan.
“These communities believe that bodily and societal conduct of women and girls play conducive role in maintaining and balancing the moral fabric and character of the whole society.
“The more modest women and girls are and are
excluded from social front, confined to domestic sphere exclusively, the most pious and sanctimonious they are, and this ultimately results in earning blessings of Allah,” she says.
After the catastrophic 2005 earthquake Noor worked with an international donor agency in AJK, and some parts of then NWFP. She used to visit the affected areas frequently in order to ensure that services delivery was carried out timely and effectively.
“Most of the time, I would get caught up in discussions around the reasons of disaster and its consequences. I would get to hear appalling and pathetic arguments and opinions about the causes behind a disaster of such magnitude.
“The disaster and destruction was completely attributed to women and girls for not behaving in a proper way and not living their lives according to Islamic way.”
The more she got into such discussions, the more she noticed the deep-rooted stereotypical mindset behind this popular theory in the area.
A member of one of the community organizations said, “The social and moral fabric of society is being extremely disturbed and destroyed by women and girls. They wear makeup, dress fashionably; attend schools where co-educations systems exist.
“The young girls have been interacting with stranger men and boys which is against the fundamental teachings of Islam. Women are strictly prohibited to interact with ‘na mahraams’, it is ‘haram’ in Islam.
This is earning us Allah’s wrath in the form of natural disasters. Poor and honest men and children are being punished for the wrong doings of women,” he said.
Noor says people in these areas strictly believe that Islam means having complete control and command over women’s lives and choices. According to them, women need to fulfil their reproductive roles only, catering to children and elderly, meeting the husband’s demands, cooking, cleaning and nurturing and raising children.
“They do not accept women in productive roles. For them it is ‘haram’ for a man to live on his wife’s earning or
money. The men claim that Allah has entrusted this responsibility on men to cater to the food and shelter needs of women.
However, it is all together a different debate that to what extent these holy men are sincere and honest in fulfilling this Godly and divine duty.”

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