Time to evaluate values we hold sacred and our sources of knowledge before we infect our minds and hurt our very own loved ones: Mariyam Suleman

In 2017, when I was still a student in Karachi University, I travelled to Quetta to receive an award for a literary work, my very first work in Balochi. But all through the way, I was uncertain if I deserved the award. This suspicion and doubt was in fact stirred in my mind by one of the prominent male writers of our time.

My father on the other hand, like those very few – I would emphasize, very few supportive fathers in a place like Balochistan, kept reminding me of the little effort I had at least made and the hard work it required in the process that took me years.

But by now, my doubts have already infected my mind. Yet with a strange hesitation, I did travel to Quetta. What actually made me travel was the vibrant social and literary appeal of this valley. Among many great people I met that day, one young woman I befriended, moved me with her courage and love for the work she was doing.

I felt as though, every word that she spoke of her artwork and magazine named, “Dazgohar” (A word often used for a girls’ or woman’s friend”) came right from her heart. And as if every effort she was making was somehow reflection and result of the turbulences she must have had in her life. She was Shaheena Shaheen, with whom I had little contact since then. By the end of the first conversation I had with her, I had already forgotten all my doubts that I had carried with me for days.

Three years later, on 5th of this September, I saw my twitter timeline flooded with her photos, followed by several news reports. I could hardly believe, a brave talented young woman like Shaheena who was fighting for a more equal society for women through her incredible artwork, journalism and magazine could become a victim of the same troubled social system.

Her story was not inspiring anymore, it was revealing the ugly picture of the society we often romanticize for honouring women.

And, this is not the first time, a woman in Balochistan was killed by her very own people she had loved and trusted. There are hundreds of unheard stories. In 2015, I reported a similar story for my blog. But I had to keep it anonymous for my own safety, names of the victim and the place were replaced. It was in fact an incident – I would rather name a “crime” taken place not that far from my home in Gwadar. But the family who killed her, are very influential people with an earlier criminal record.

This victim did not have a name of her own, like many of those women killed every day in the region, and often their murderers get away with it without facing any criminal charge, naming it a “cultural matter” or a matter of “honour.”

But what culture allows murder of a human? Unfortunately, many do. If one is guilty of a crime, there are laws. But societies where laws are hardly enforced, customs and norms become dominant driving forces, allowing no or very little change. And then what century-old cultural norms conclude as crime, become deeply and widely believed as crime, regardless of today’s legal system repeatedly denying existence of any such crimes. For instance, a woman active for social change or marrying of her choice or even working along with men are not described crimes in any legal system in any part of the world.

But societies like ours have fed minds of people; men and even women alike for centuries with lessons that are no more relevant, yet deeply held sacred.

But one wonders how come even in today’s digital world, our culture and social system have not yet been influenced by the good change that is taking place around the world. But then, there are also some who would deny the fact that we are not changing. Of course, we are, but at a pace that might take centuries more to accept gender equality, let alone reinforcing it, which will take another bunch of centuries.

So, today what or who gets to decide what is relevant? Who has the power to mold people’s minds? Our education system, political system, religion, our elderly population, today’s media or any other source. We cannot exclude these but there might also be other driving forces that all continuously feed us lessons from the same old patriarchal social system. This will only continue the vicious cycle of violence.

It’s time to stop romanticizing a culture that kills, a culture that belittles efforts, hard work and struggles of women, a culture that stimulates self-doubt in minds of women, a culture that keeps women out of public space and a culture that only sees women as a piece of beauty instead of a person with a creative mind of her own.

Collectively, it is time to evaluate and reevaluate our values that we hold sacred and sources of knowledge before we infect our minds and hurt our very own loved ones.