The funeral of patriarchy



The funeral of patriarchy

By Mona Hassan

March 24, 2015




“Frailty thy name is woman” was quoted to me when I was too young to understand what it really means and also what actually it is like to be a woman.

Being born and raised in a typical Pakistani society, not having much exposure to the outer world or have my own opinion, indoctrination based on the frailty of female hence she should be subordinate and submissive wasn’t something unusually bothersome at the time. Men in the house and outside were the symbol of fear and they still are. In the house it’s the dad and brother whom sisters must be afraid of and not have a boyfriend or talk to boys out of their own family, be (careful) fearful to not dress attractively, talk or laugh aloud in public or go to store alone or at night cuz’ zamana (boys) bohut kharab hai (times are bad). When matriarchal times are discussed they are discussed as times of ignorance or a myth whereas, pretty much every husband today claims to be living a happy life if he keeps his wife happy.

Two years ago when Jyoti Panday Singh was raped and murdered in a moving bus, the horror of her death shook India pretty badly. A lot of women and men, came out demanding justice. Soon after, the news of Gulabi gang in India made the headlines all over the world. It’s a group of women wrapped in pink saree taking matters into their own hands to end domestic abuse on women. Last week a mob of “honorable” men in Afghanistan took their sweet time killing a twenty seven year old religious teacher, Farkhanda by stomping over her, breaking her body, throwing her off the roof, ran her over with a car and when that wasn’t satisfactory to what their sick senses fancy, she was burnt and then thrown into a muddy river. Reyhaney Jabbari was hanged by the Iranian Government for killing her would-be rapist, Mukhtaran Mai from Pakistan still makes the news despite being controversial and who doesn’t know Malala?

As much the murder of Farkhanda boils my blood, I can‘t help not being hopeful seeing the patriarchy and lunacy of religious rules going six feed under along with her lifeless body.  For the first time in the history, at least in the Afghanistan’s or Muslim history, when Farkhanda’s funeral was lead by women, guess who was the most scared and weak at that time?, hint: not women. Similarly, before Pakistan’s social and secular demise when General Rani was calling the shots guess who was sleeping drunk in the bunk? Well, not the Rani.

Now, I know what you are thinking, oh great! Another feminist on the loose, blaming men for the general state of weak and frail women. I may be a feminist but I am not making a point to degrade men just because I am a woman or a feminist. There are many great people out there highlighting these issues including men. But how many are out there who realize, including women themselves, that they are not same anymore as the society, culture or religion have always wanted them to be. Whether matriarchal society existed or not, its quite evident that at every stage of human evolution since we can trace back the history, people or groups have used various ways to subdue women. Be it with money, physical strength, and social norms of “morality” or religion.

It’s a fact that there are a lot of women out there who are taking this patriarchal society by its horns, women are not afraid to go out, to lift the burnt and broken body of Farkhanda, of ISIS and to liberate their town of Kobane. She is not afraid to sit for months in her innocent protest facing Taliban fearlessly and unarmed taking bullet to her head. She is not afraid laying in bed wanting to live and be happy two days before she dies of her rape injuries or to go to court after court fighting her rapists in a country where rape law protects the rapists.

Although undisputedly brave women making history like Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi and Malala Yousafzai that need no introduction are around doing amazing things for women and humanity, but there are a lot more who never make the headlines and assumed nonexistent. I am talking about the common women we live with, work with and are friends with, making a difference. They don’t care about the half share of inheritance, or half a witness status and they don’t care about the misconception religion created that they are dirty simply because they menstruate.

Anyone who looked at Farkhanda’s funeral photos and compared it to the mob lynching at her, could easily spot the smarter crowd scripted half intelligence in the holy book. Anyone can spot the more moral, ethical and humane crowd between the protestors demanding justice for Jyoti panday and her rapists. Anyone can easily pick out the braver one between Malala and Taliban and any one, even a blind can identify the veracity of witness between Reyhaney Jabbari allotted just half the testimony by Islam and Iranian Judicial system.

So when people react defensively, from calling them whores and loose character B word to kill a pregnant woman in front of the court house by stoning, burn a pregnant woman with her husband alive in the kiln and in the Ahmadi house, shot her in the head for wanting to get education, stomp on her in a mob until she dies, rapes her with a steel rod till her intestines come out, they aren’t being honorable or brave. They are rather struggling to gain the power back that they fear they are losing to these women.

These women exist in every third household if not all. Some of these are the lovely women I am friends with. Who chair a high rank in a historical university, taking care of her household and being a human rights’ activist while changing the diapers, cooking, cleaning and sipping red wine all at the same time. The woman who is a full time mother, taking care of her household and being a full time human rights activist between successfully finishing fiction novels, regular blogging on social issues and a successful satire writer. The woman who is a very smart (an understatement) feminist activist between her PHDs, full time job, her lip smacking authentic Punjabi cooking and still bringing apologists down to their knees through her intelligence, charisma and her choice of intelligibly sarcastic verbal spanking. I am proud to be their friend and so is humanity.

Farkhanda’s murder and her funeral proves what Eleanor Roosevelt said “a woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” So with due respect and apologies to Shakespeare I will take the liberty here to change his quote; strength, thy name is women.


Just remember, “what you allow is what will continue” Unknown



Mona Hassan is HCMA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim Association) Communications Manager and Human Rights Activist; Author “Barely Legal”. Follow her on Twitter




Festivities: the lost culture in Pakistan

Festivities: the lost culture in Pakistan

By Mona Hassan

March 9, 2015


Two of my favorite festivals are Holi (the festival of colors) and Diwali (the festival of lights). Both are traditional Hindu festivals linked with religion and mythology.  Diwali always reminded me of that episode of Mirza Ghalib musical from 80s. In one episode after playing a board game with friends on Diwali Mirza thanked two male helpers of his Hindu neighbor who have sent Mithai (sweets) over to his house. An elderly Muslim neighbor playing a wisecrack, objected over Mirza’s being Muslim consuming Mithai from Diwali festival. Mirza laughed questioning the elderly Muslim man if Mithai was Hindu or Muslim.  It’s a strange notion. We conveniently reject many festivities and celebrations by declaring them Hindu and not Islamic.

Past weekend I went to my very first Holi celebrations with my friends. I have yet to be at a Diwali festival to experience the celebrations of light over darkness, prosperity and wealth myself but I am determined to attend one this year.  I have seen it many times in the Bollywood movies but never had an experience to attend one personally. This Holi event was ticketed. Me and my friends got there about an hour after it had already started. The ladies at the front desk dressed in shalwar qameez, let us in without paying for the tickets, they wished us Holi. Seeing we have no color with us and none was left on the table to sell, one of those nice ladies offered to us the last packet of yellow color that belonged to her. It was a modest size crowd of young men and women, kids and families. They had food and water stalls, DJ was playing back to back great Bollywood songs and everyone was happy and dancing.

All the participants were covered with different colors, going around putting it on each other. As soon as we got close to the crowd, people approached us, wished us Holi and put different colors on us one after the other. There was so much life, energy and happiness in that crowd. We didn’t know anyone there and they didn’t know us either but it is safe to assume that if not all, majority of them were somehow connected to Hindu religion and/or from India.

DiwaliI noticed that each color had its own significant fragrance. Reds and pinks smelled like roses, greens smelled like sandalwood, yellows spelled like Ubtan so on and so forth. I was very intrigued by the whole idea and fascinated particularly by the behavior of people. Being a culturally ignorant myself in many ways, I decided to do some research and found a few things. Originally, Holi used to be celebrated with natural colors such as turmeric, sandalwood, roses or extracts from leaves and plants. As the demand grew with the popularity of the festival, synthetic colors replaced the organic colors. That’s probably why each color had its own fragrance.

Holi is an ancient religious Hindu festival that celebrates spring, colors and love according to different sources. Out of these, one sates that it celebrates unity and brotherhood where people get together albeit differences. It’s a day to forgive and forget, kind of like Thanksgiving. Couple of legends are associated with it namely the legend of a divine dance arranged by Lord Krishna for the benefit of his devotees, the Gopis but most popular one is the Puranic legend of Holika that I found in one of the sources.Holika was the sister of demon-king Hiranyakashipu. The demon-king punished his son, Prahlad in a variety of ways to denounce Lord Wishnu. He failed in all his attempts. Finally, he asked his sister Holika to take Prahlad in her lap and enter a blazing fire. Holika had a boon to remain unburned even inside fire. Holika did her brother’s bidding. However, Holika’s boon ended by this act of supreme sin against the Lord’s devotee and was burnt to ashes. But Prahlad came out unharmed.”

There are many legends associated with this festival and each has different variations but that doesn’t change the fact that Holi is a wonderful festival to celebrate life and its many colorful aspects such as love, brotherhood, unity, spring and harvest. Being a Pakistani and an assumed Muslim in the crowd full of Indian and Hindus, I didn’t feel different, superior or inferior at all. None of that love, hospitality, respect, friendly atmosphere was strange or new to me. Those people embraced us like their own, no one even bothered to ask who we were or cared where we were from. They just invited us in the group dances and put more color on us. There were lots of young girls and boys in the crowd but there was no pushing, shoving or inappropriate touching and no one tried to misbehave. Every male who came to put color on me or my friends, asked for our permission before they did that.

The whole ambiance projected our own culture. Yes, I said “our,” all of ours, Pakistani and Indian culture. The intermingling, the hospitality, the mutual respect and most of all, the celebrations; we culturally celebrate everything. From weather to special occasion, everyday we find a new excuse to celebrate on both sides of the border. This connects us together, not the LOC or that we used to be one country. Whatever is celebrated in Pakistan now is heavily Islamized or whatever we used to celebrate is being prohibited as unIslamic. Everything is tied to Saza and Jaza (Punishment and reward). Now people don’t even wish each other Christmas or Valentine’s Day out of fear of Blasphemy. Your Ahmadi, Hindu, Christian or even Shia friends are now afraid to be friends with you.

ChaiLiving in Pakistan Hindus became minority. The dominant religion of Pakistan pushed them into fear and darkness. Just last week some students formed a human shield to protect Hindu community celebrating Holi in Pakistan just like few days ago around Imam Bargah and Church before that. It’s both very sad and refreshing at the same time. Sad because it has come to this in this country that, citizens had to be protected by the other citizens just to practice their religion or to celebrate spring.  Refreshing because citizens of Pakistan have started to realize that there is a great need to built sense of community, to eradicate religious discrimination and stand up together against the elements killing Pakistanis left right and center.

Our (Indo-Pakistan) culture didn’t come in Quran, Bible or Geeta. It came from our people who used to practice it in all aspects together. It came from the language they speak, Hindustani, now Urdu and Hindi. From the clothes they wore, from the food they ate, from the little street games to colloquial lingo only Desis could understand. From haggling tricks at the local grocery stall to the home décor. Ghazals to bhangra, from Besakhi to Basant, from chai to mithai, from pakoray in monsoon to cold bottomless tubs of juicy mangos in hot summers before Islamists hijacked it. Now, whatever we celebrate has to have a divine stamp on it. It either must be for God, or nothing. It’s either for divine reward or to seek forgiveness of sins or just because Allah knows the best. Pakistanis have stopped celebrating life and happiness since long. Now we only mourn and blame external elements for our misfortunes. It shouldn’t be like this. Life has no religion, happiness is not Muslim, love is not kaafir, and culture is not atheist. It should be exactly how Ghalib said about himself that he believes in all traditions and that’s why he isn’t convinced to just follow one.


Happy Holi to all.



Mona Hassan is HCMA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim Association) Communications Manager and Human Rights Activist; Author “Barely Legal”. Follow her on Twitter


Domestic child labor: a crime of a broken society

Domestic Child Labor: a crime of a broken society

By Mona Hassan

February 24, 2015


Growing up I have always seen a masi coming to our house to clean and do laundry. As a matter of fact, most of our Punjabi language skills mature by passively listening to these massis talking. Our masi, let’s call her ‘Cheemaan’, gave birth to a child every year. She often brought her daughters to work with her. Each year when she was gone to deliver a new baby we had to go with a new masi.

Most of these women have young children, often daughters who go home after home and work with them. After a while we moved to a new area and new faces came to clean houses. Then people started to hire full time live-in maids. These maids are young girls who were making money living in people’s house and sending it back home to their family. Some of these kids’ families live in a far away village some lived just a few miles away. All these children started work before they turned fourteen.

In Pakistan and India, it’s very common to have a live-in house maid or a domestic laborer. It is an industry on its own. A typical domestic worker’s house will have a good for nothing husband who in most cases doesn’t work, sleeps all day, smokes pot or heroin at night, beats his wife to get money for drugs and often rapes her. Women are the main bread winners of the family and they often have to put up with all kinds of domestic abuse. They bare a lot of children for the reasons as I am told; the more children they have the more people in the house will be earning.

Most of these child domestic female workers are either sexually abused or lured into giving  sex to the owner or his son  going through puberty in exchange of an imported shampoo. Older men aren’t far behind these horny young boys.  I remember a little girl of one of those masis working in the neighborhood got pregnant as a result of possible rape from the boys in one of the houses.  She was barely in her early teens. She didn’t know any better except that she is throwing up a lot and very sleepy all the time. I still remember her half passed out weak body in a corner while her mother making excuses of her “sickness.”

I recently saw this news aired by Dunya TV about an eleven year old child named Umme Rubab who is a domestic laborer and was reportedly severely beaten and tortured by a government official’s wife for only five thousand rupees per month. She was tortured repeatedly so much that her eyes were closed shut due to swelling. Last year, another ten year old Iram was beaten to death. Fizza and Batool are two other female children who were sent to houses as maids and they were reportedly tortured and abused. Some of these kids died as a result, some taken back and sent to new houses. Pakistan 2013 Human Rights report by US State department confirms abuse on children working in the houses.

What happened to Umme Rubab isn’t just a random crime that just happened to happen and was caught by the media. It has been happening for years. The Institute of social justice reported 29 child house workers’ deaths in 4 years from torture.

Constitution of Pakistan prohibits child labor: “no child below the age of fourteen years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.” Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared child domestic labor illegal and unconstitutional as a form of slavery. There also have been a few attempts by some of the provincial cabinets to adopt some regulations against the issue time and again when civil society raised their voice but nothing concrete has been done to protect these children. A report by United States Department of Labor shows worst form of child labor in many different industries including domestic workers. According to the International Labor Organization “Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.”  A situation that is screaming illegality from every angle is so common in Pakistan that it seems legal. More than half of Pakistan is involved in this heinous crime.

Kids are being sent to strangers for work by the parents and are getting employed by people in exchange for monthly salary. Both parties are the partners in crime. The parents of these domestic workers have an excuse of poverty. Being poor is not an excuse to send your kids away to get abused and raped or even do every day chores. They wash dishes, do laundry, iron the clothing and they are the first ones accused of theft if anything is lost including a cup of sugar or flour.

There is a simple solution to this: do not make so many babies that you cannot feed. Kids are working in the houses, baking bricks in the kilns, tightening nuts and bolts in some auto workshop, weaving rugs and carpets with their tiny little hands. Such abuse of children and laws can only happen in Pakistan. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The society feeds on power and control over others. There is power and control through fear and submission everywhere. From religion to buying a pair of shoes, every single action by the people is conditioned upon Saza and Jaza (Punishment and reward).  It’s time we except the fact that this concept has failed miserably and instead we live in a society where rape, domestic abuse, murder, forcible marriages, (dis)honor killings are common every day news. The society today is not suitable for children of any age.

When we talk about abuse against child domestic workers, we don’t discuss the reasons behind such abuse. We condemn the act while the maid is ordered to bring agaram garam cup of chai. Each domestic worker employed in the house, whether a child or a good ole’ massi ji, it is  made sure that it’s very clear to them that they are less of a human being and that it is ok to treat them differently.  We pay them to work of course and give them left over food but they cannot sit with us or eat in our dishes. I asked my mother this question and she said “beta because they are dirty.”

But mom, dishes can be washed, and they wash our dishes. The problem we can’t seem to get rid of is that we do not treat other people as we like ourselves to be treated.  It has become a second nature; even house workers are used to it and they know the rules.  There is simple formula “would you ever treat your own child that way or would you want your child to be treated the way Umme Rubab or other kids are treated?”

Fredrick Douglas said “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We as a broken society are raising irreparable broken men and women and each and every one of us is guilty of this crime.


Mona Hassan is HCMA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim Association)Communications Manager and Human Rights Activist; Author “Barely Legal”; Follow her on Twitter