Intro: In an e-mail interview with Ambika Shaligram, Lamat Hasan sheds light on the Pakistani society, what they think of us and the stereotypical images the neighbours have of each other
Box: Lamat Hasan and her husband are Indian Muslim journalists living in Pakistan. Lamat's husband has been posted in Islamabad while she is on a sabbatical. Their blog, www.indiansinpakistan.blogspot.com, talks about the good, bad and the ugly side of our neighbour.
1) When did you move to Islamabad? And, when did you start blogging?
We moved to Islamabad in September 2007 after my husband was posted there. We wanted to start blogging about our experience of being Indian in Pakistan, which we think is unique, as soon as we had settled in. However, we ended up sitting on the idea for almost two years as we wanted to blog not just about the good, but also the bad and the ugly.
2) Did you have any stereotypical image of Pakistani society before your posting? Did it undergo any change after living there for sometime?
I had not imagined Pakistan to be a deeply conservative society with women being veiled and men sporting long beards, so I was not shocked to meet modern men and women from various walks of life. If there is was a Umme-Hassan (Principal of the notorious Jamia Hafsa/Lal Masjid), there was also a Veena Malik (BigBoss) in Pakistan. But what threw me off was when I first heard Pakistani Hindus and Christians referring to their festivals as “Eid” and their prayer as “namaaz”, a case of cultural assimilation, I suppose.
On a lighter note, the only thing that shook me up was when I noticed a bootlegger on our street and young girls and boys pulling up to buy alcohol in this Islamic Republic, which prohibits consumption of liquor.
3) How did they view Indian women? Did you have to try and break certain image mould or give them something to chew on?
Most of the Pakistani women are glued to the saas-bahu serials and think that their counterparts are extensions of those roles. So if you are married, you get asked - Where’s the sindoor? The ones with little exposure still believe that India is a land of Hindus and that Muslims are being crushed by the majority. We often end up telling them that there are more Muslims on the other side of the border and that we are doing well and they need not worry about us. We tell them we have had Muslim Presidents, our top actors are Muslims, one of the richest men is also a Muslim and that Muslims are excelling in every field.
4) Can you give us a brief idea about how Pakistani women live? What's their day like in terms of career and home-makers vis-a-vis Indian women?
I find that Indian women are more goal-driven and more rights-conscious. We also have pro-women laws that work to our advantage. Since India is a vibrant economy there are more avenues for women to prove their worth. Also, our man-woman roles are more dissolved. Pakistan is behind in this respect. When we do spot women in an odd profession (they have bus hostesses here) heads turn. Women cops are stared at, so are usher girls - something we are so used to in India.
5) Do you particularly admire Pakistani women? Can you mention names and the work they are doing?
In my blog, I have written about the Taseer sisters (Sara and Shehrbano) who kept the fire burning after their father, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, was gunned down for opposing the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. The girls have been threatened on several occasions, yet they remain undaunted. Among the bigger names, I admire Mukhtaran Mai, who was ordered to be gang-raped by the village council because her 12-year-old brother had allegedly misbehaved with a woman of a superior tribe. Mukhtaran has fought against the system for years and just last week all but one of her rapists was let off by the Supreme Court. She was in tears, but she is not giving up yet!
6) Is there any movement or demand for women's reservation in Pakistani politics?
Reservation for women was introduced in 2002 and they comprise 20 percent of Parliamentarians. Yet there are some who have not taken advantage of the quota and contested elections on their steam. Hats off to them!