Sunday December 05, 2021

March for Pakistan and women: Contextual staples are required

March 23, 2021

‘March’- referred to the month with constituent elements for the State and independence of Pakistan, ‘March’- a month relevant to women across the world and ‘March’- as a verb denoting the movement, is the second common word for both themes. Pakistan’s independence and emancipation of women are two thought inciting and highly debated subject matters which share some vocabulary and defacement of conceptual delusions. Another commonality they have is the segregation of societal fragments over their respective debates. As there were pro-Pakistan factions of society and against-Pakistan social and political elements at the day of Resolution in 1940, a similar manner of distinction is detected when there are demonstrations of Aurat Azaadi march at D-Chowk, and Haya march by students of Jamia Hafsa emerging from streets of sector G/6 Islamabad, signifying another side of the society. Both these groups in the two subject matters are self-categorizing- which as per cognitive theories of psychology is an innately unfixed and liquefiable situation with context dependent character and develops in a comparative and relative milieu. Self and context can be taken as the underlying common character for Pakistan’s Republic Day and International Women’s Day of Pakistan, here.

Both assert on the precision of a context specific ‘self’. It is the context that shapes behavioural and cognitive aspects of self. This reminds me of Gaytri Spivak’s context specific narration of a woman’s storytelling that the Bengal Sati Regulation was adopted banning the Sati practice in all jurisdictions of British India in the year 1829. She wanted to go with the deceased husband in compliance with her cultural context which was stored in her schema and was a precision of her cognitive self, but the day she was going to throw herself voluntarily over the pyre Sati was abolished by law, although, later she committed suicide. Her cognitive context required a confirmation of her ‘self’ and she probably followed it.

Pursuance of self in its particular context provides necessary enterprise for achieving any political or social goal to any movement. Pakistan movement’s self-had an ideological foundation as Resolution Day and it was comprised of politics and society. A deviation is claimed when and if two opposing factions of society come to confront each other. It can be blamed on context. Context is a subjective concept and it is what makes a Chinese distinct from Southeast Asian, a Bengali distinct from Indian or Pakistani or/and a Baloch individual from a Punjabi. Context as a cognitive concept categorises roles as well. It separates personal from social and master role from auxiliary role/s. The role means the character of any person or entity and is been studied as an approach in Sociology and Psychology, primarily and now theorists of Political Science and International Relations engage their discourses with this cognitive concept. Every entity, political, social, economic, collective or individual has prescribed roles and they are highly relative and contextual to their alternate and others’ roles. The role of Pakistan’s Resolution Day had a context, traceable from its origin and essence. It was a significant political movement with a philosophical logic of Muslim Nationalism and a context of religious ideology which disconnected Hindu from Muslim. As Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech said:

“Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilizations that are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their concepts on life and afterlife are different.

It is quite clear that Hindus and Muslims derive their inspirations from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes, very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to a growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state”.

Context is not a foreign concept, explaining itself from an external view rather it requires institutional conformity from within as Jinnah further said:

Muslims are a nation according to any definition of nationhood. We wish our people to develop to the fullest, spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.”

A political movement of March which achieved its goal in a short span of seven years was context specific in its demands from the beginning. Another political and social movement that has its significant relevance for the month of March, the feminist movement, endorses celebrating existence of women on International Women’s day. It has a philosophical logic to demand freedom and emancipation of women in all possible social, political, economic, cosmic fields. It highlights and critiques gendered practices and demands gender neutrality in all spaces of social interactions be it political or economic.

Its prescribed role is contextual too like the other movement discussed above. The spatial and temporal contexts are active in this case as well. Being foreign in its origin the philosophical logic it builds upon emanates from different socio-cultural realities and its original context has universality but its contemporary context has a variety at hand. For western feminism in a contemporary context, it is the acceptance of gender neutral society which shall allow material and ideational spaces for gender neutral practices. For a Pakistani context of feminism, it shall offer different justifications as the spatial, cultural, economic and social context as it differs from that of the West. The problems which gender biased practices pose for Pakistani society shall find place on placards of Aurat Azaadi March and this year on March 8, 2021 context of a Pakistani woman found a place as the depiction of Baloch women and there was no unpleasant event like vandalizing any mural. But as much as this context received social support and was appreciated, it has irked a National Assembly panel consistent with the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony which directed relevant ministries to investigate the display of unethical, non-religious and blasphemous material. But these claims, most of them, are answered as it is claimed now that many of the shared material from Aurat March was doctored. The critics of Aurat Azaadi March belong to other faction of the society and have a different context to operate. Religious conduct is their context and like all other contexts, its acceptability is required to continue constant contest in the society.

It shall be suggested that while engaging with either of the perspectives on any of the subject matters ‘context’ shall be reasoned with primarily to make spaces of movements and debates pluralistic. Context has to be subjective, relative and specific in its operative sense. Pakistan movements’ context shall be recalled this Resolution day to investigate if it is still intact and operative? If no, then let’s raise the question of what and why again.

Women emancipation and a movement for it shall be relevant to the contexts of Pakistan. A foreign context cannot be used to conquer native challenges. Nativity shall be a relevant telos to deliver on its raison d’etre’.

–Ayesha A. Malik is a    PhD Candidate at SPIR,

QAU Islamabad. She can be reached at: