That patriarchy is a defining feature of desi society is something we all know, equally commonplace is the knowledge of its harmful implications, particularly for women. Here then is the question: If we all know and understand patriarchy for the problem it is, how and why is such a system allowed to continue, particularly in this day and age?
Looking back historically, patriarchy grew out of a feudal context where power was vested in men who were the heads of households. Familial legacies were carried forward through male children. Women did not count as individual entities, but on account of their reproductive capabilities were designated as repositories of male honor and their bodies turned into convenient battlegrounds for wars waged in the name of honor.
That such a draconian system not just survives but thrives is on account of the men AND women who are complicit in insuring its survival. Patriarchy exists because after centuries of conditioning, misogyny has been internalized to the extent that it is normalized as a part of every day ordered lives. It is this order that informs the world around us from which we derive our identity.
Any woman who dares questions these “norms,” or dares to defy the labels society places on her is immediately seen a being morally objectionable or abrasive or pushy or with a bad attitude – the quintessential buri aurat. Even today societal expectation of a “good girl” is to be seen not heard, not create ripples of any kind. Acchi larkiyan woh nahin kartein aisey nahin boltein yeh kaprey nahin pehntein … the list of do’s and dont’s is endless.
So ingrained is this misogyny that even well-meaning women don’t do anything simply because they don’t see anything wrong with the situation playing out in front of them. At the other end of the spectrum are women who enjoy making others suffer as a revenge for their own miseries. The victim of yesterday has evolved into the victimzer of today. Hence be it unconsciously or consciously we see inherited behavioral patterns being repeated and recreated.
Four episodes in Aakhri Station has been absolutely brilliant in underlining ever so subtly this particular aspect of patriarchy – the role of female complicity and its implications. In the first story Yasmin’s mother-in-law could have questioned her son as to the source of funding for new “business”, she could’ve looked a little closer into her visibly distraught daughter-in-law’s eyes, but she chose not to. Her son was happy, earning money and providing for his family, how could anything be wrong with this picture?
In Gulmeena’s story Amma Gul actively tries to stop her son from helping her daughter-in-law get much needed medical help. Later too she creates all kinds of problems for her young daughter-in-law which lead to disastrous consequences. It is important to note here that we tend to laugh off the saas-bahu angle, but when seen through this particular lens of analysis there is a lot of food for thought as to how we all have also normalized and accepted as routine two women’s rivalry over a man’s affections, and for what? Access to a man = access to power.
Farzana’s story was heartbreaking in how mothers choose to overlook warning signs because it might signal something wrong with her child or lead to questions about her upbringing. Sajjad’s mother had more than a strong hint of her son’s mental health issues but she chooses to bury her head in the sand – shaadi ke ba’ad sab kuch theek ho jayega… ab bahu aagayi hai woh sanbhal legi. And it’s not just the mother-in-law.
When her marriage breaks up, Farzana feels she has no choice but to leave the city. Were she to return home she knows her mother would ask her to reconsider. Because that’s what good girls do. Divorces are for bad girls. That’s what society’s norms have taught us. So what if her husband beat her?
In this latest story, we see how little socio-economic status has to do with what we teach our daughters. Rafia gets the same advice from her well-meaning baji that Farzana feared her mother would give. Baji’s is an interesting character. She is a product of a conformist society, hence despite meaning well she still offers the same old advice: He’s repented, go back.
Rafia’s husband is a drug addict and from him she contracts HIV. Had it not been for her sister’s timely illness she wouldn’t even have known that she was sick. But what good does knowing do for her? She’s kicked out of the house, and eventually is forced to leave her sister’s house as well. Here too, despite not wanting to, baji lets her go. Baji too has a husband to please.
Because Rafia dares question her husband’s suspicious activities her mother-in-law abuses her, casts aspersions on her character and later Parvez beats her. All for raising an alarm about suspected drug use. Like the earlier stories this 4th story too envelops a number of interrelated issues. The issue of drug abuse and it’s devastating impact on not just the user’s life but also his family was highlighted very effectively.
As the train chugs along, now past Multan, the stories may differ in detail but at the core are all the same. Its about women and their victimization. It is this shared pain that has them listening to each other with great interest, the universality that touches them, and causes them to overlook their cultural and socio-economic differences. They are now so bonded that even the fear of the dreaded HIV disease cannot stop them from rallying around Rafia to hear her story.
What I am really appreciating in Aakhri Station is that unlike other issue-based dramas we are actually seeing a solution, albeit not in a they lived happily ever after manner. What Kashf Foundation is showing us here is more real. In walking away from an abusive situation each of these women have taken the first step towards breaking the cyclical pattern of abuse. Secondly, by talking about their problems they have broken the code of silence surrounding such societal problems. Thirdly, by showing an attentive audience we see there is no shame in talking about such matters. Others have similar stories too. These may seem like very small things, but small steps are what lead to big changes over time. Women can effect change in society- by talking to each other, listening and supporting each other. A very apt and empowering message for Women’s International Day.
In terms of writing and screenplay I am liking the interlinking of the various stories and the weaving in of the various threads. Tehmina’s story is being revealed piecemeal and not only does it make very intelligent connections with the story of the week but also has us looking forward to the next clue. Amna Mufti’s done a great job with this unsaid unfolding of the final story. Quietly introduced are also the next two storytellers: Shabana, who got on last week and this week’s newcomer, the lady who hides her face. Shabana’s quizzical glances have me very intrigued. Looking forward to her story!
Finally, despite the dark subject Sarmad Khoosat’s Aakhri Station is a visual delight. Markedly different from the earlier three stories this one echoed visually the somber tone and texture of the text. Farah Tufail was very good as Rafia and Kanwal Khoosat and Tahira Ali were very effective as the baji and the evil saas. All in all another winner of an episode!
Written by SZ~