As preparations for Aurat March peaked, the Lahore DC dropped the bomb, barring the organisers from holding the much anticipated event in the city
ver time, Aurat March has become one of the most anticipated annual events held on the eve of the International Women’s Day — i.e. March 8. It involves scores of individuals and volunteers who become active months prior. This year would be no different, except that a last-minute decision by the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore put the fate of the event in a limbo.
A notice issued by the office of the DC cited “current security scenario, threat alerts and law and order situation… controversial cards and banners… and strong reservations of general public and religious organisations” as reasons for denying NOC to the event.
The organisers of Aurat March were quick to respond. On their official twitter handle, they called it an “unconstitutional denial of the NOC.” “We would like to ask @DCLahore @commissionerlhr why they denied permission to a peaceful march on Women’s Day? Why is the interim government allowing PSL to happen but not a political march for women’s rights?”
A strong reaction from the civil society and potential participants began to pour in. Till the filing of this article, hashtag MarchToHoga had started trending.
Earlier, a variety of activities had been scheduled in the run-up to the main event. The theme of this year’s march was Feminism in Times of Crisis. The venue had been changed keeping in view the security concerns. The march was going to be held in the form of a rally at Nasser Bagh. Previously, it would begin at the Lahore Press Club and travel up to Charing Cross which created several concerns for the organisers.
Prior to the ban, the organisers had spoken of threats from extremist elements. Hence a heavy deployment of police at the venue and along the procession route was being assured.
Every year, Aurat March volunteers take charge of different duties/activities to make the march successful and safe. An additional burden is to fight criticism thrown upon the hundreds of participating women and trans community members, mostly on social media platforms. Its many detractors band together and come out with a ‘counter march’ which is largely aimed to condemn Aurat March as anti-Muslim culture.
In recent years, the march has grabbed headlines, both nationally and internationally, because of the growing participation of not just women but also some men. They are seen holding placards that have catchy (often provocative) slogans written on them that speak of the march manifesto. In other words, Aurat March has evolved into a full-fledged mass movement against patriarchy and the oppression of women and gender minorities that come with it.
The marchers also raise their voice against issues like climate change, security and economy.
Just how is the march organised? According to Dr Alia Haider, a volunteer, “The [Aurat March] organising committee comprises a number of volunteers and support groups. They sit together, plan fundraising and the theme of the march, in addition to logistical arrangements and contacts with the district administration.”
Raising funds is a tedious job, but the march organisers make it creative through the many related activities they arrange. For donations for this year’s march, the organisers started campaigning last month. “Aurat March Lahore does not accept financial support from any political party, corporation or NGO,” said a statement issued by the marching body on social media. “It runs on the collective and heartfelt efforts of the people. Funds raised through the tireless efforts of volunteers and donations from the public are used to cover the cost of the march. Donating in times of economic crisis is not easy, but please donate as much as you can. Every single rupee you give and the thought behind it are invaluable.”
According to Dr Haider, the organisers need the funds “to cover the cost of logistics, the public address system, drinking water, jackets for volunteers and advertising material.”
The organisers mostly rely on the support of their friends. Besides, they hold ticketed programmes. For instance, recently, the organisers held a dholki, a storytelling session cum music concert. The response from the general public was massive, said Dr Haider.
The project is said to be “a behen chaara manifestation and represents our utopian vision of the unfriendly environments that surround us and keep our bodies from living and belonging in public spaces. This alternative future will be shaped by the potential of bodies moving in concert, assembling, persevering and thriving, until it ceases to be a dream world. Notwithstanding the disastrous side effects of this ‘growth,’ Lahore’s structures and infrastructure are easily recognised. We want to reimagine how we all see our places via performance, community, poetry, art and music.”
The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship