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Tales from two Dharnas

Lately, there has been an increase in emphasis on giving women their due respect in our society. It felt nice and honored that women importance as functional members of the society is finally recognized and given its due credit. Women rights are now focal point from mainstream media to dinner table. Thanks to Ex-President Musharraf, women voice is now vocal in assemblies too. Women are now actively participating in political events, look at the footages of any major political event whether a Jalsa or Dharna and you will find substantial number of women present there.

 I and my friend also take part in political events, the difference being that she resides in Islamabad and me in Karachi. Besides our geographical difference our support for political parties is also different. But the commonality between us is the strong belief that women should actively take part in politics, the only way to change the society and its medieval thinking.

 My friend recently took part in a "Dharna" called by the famous party who claims to be agents of change. It was about alleged rigging in 2013 elections and sit-in was called upon the famous D Chowck of Islamabad. Before going to participate in Dharna we had a brief conversation. She was full of hope and energy. After the end of Dharna, I tried to contact her but all attempts failed was worried but the thought that calmed me down, was it was a long day for her and she must be taking rest.

 After two days the contact was established but she sounded depressed. After my repeated inquiries she finally opened up. What she narrated was utter shock. According to her, it was the worst experience of her life. The crowd present there seem educated, indicative of Islamabad literacy rate. As the event further progressed the true face of attendees were revealed. Women present there were being constantly harassed.

Men and party workers seems to be obsessed with women, touching women inappropriately was the only goal of their presence. There was no one to listen to their complains. The Dharna left a black spot on her mind. For me, I was convinced that it was an isolated event where a section of crowd was rowdy but was surprised by the statement of Deputy women head of Punjab, she on record stated that she was disgusted by the behavior of her party workers. She complained that women were being harassed and touched inappropriately. Her repeated complaints to party high command yielded no result as no disciplinary action was taken. Her ordeal left me speechless and full of doubts whether it was right time for women to take part in political events.

 As the time took tool I was able to forget the feeling of disgust and shame generated by what happened to my friend. On 3rd June 2014, news about detainment of Mr. Altaf Hussain in London, hit the air waves. The news hit me like lighting. On the same day MQM called upon a Dharna at Naumish Chowrangi, Karachi. As a supporter I felt compelled by choice to stand by the man in whom political ideology I believed, but was reluctant to join because of sad events my friend went through had never took part in a sit-in before and having second thoughts on joining it. Finally overcoming my fear I decided to join the sit-in. What I experienced was the total opposite of what my friend had to go through.

 I was guided all the way by MQM volunteers from entry to exit. The seating arrangement was made by keeping women point of view. Women even brought their babies along. We were given the due respect left after a while and joined again the next day but were surprised by the fact that nothing changed in treatment of women. We were served juices and food items. Men behaved the way men should. Even their gaze had respect for us. The sit-in continued till the early morning of 7th June when Altaf Hussain was released and delivered his speech left home with a sense of security and with firm belief in the fact that there exist a party in Pakistan where women are treated as human beings and it's up other women to make a smart choice.

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