Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blogging from Pakistan: Female Cabbie and "Firefly" video

by Salman Hameed

I haven't yet encountered a female cab driver here, but it is refreshing to see this story on BBC about Zahida Kazmi: Paksitan's ground-breaking female cabbie. She has been driving the cab since 1992 and at one point she even became the chairperson of Pakistan's yellow-cab association. So once again, thankfully, Pakistan is not Saudi Arabia. In case, you are wondering - no - women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia nor can they vote in municipal elections, even though municipal councils have no power any ways.

Back to Zahida Kazmi:
In 1992 at the age of 33, newly widowed Zahida Kazmi decided to take her fate in her own hands and become a taxi driver.
Born into a conservative and patriarchal Pakistani family, she flew in the face of her family's wishes but with six children to support, she felt she had no choice.
She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.
In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection and she even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.
Her initial fears soon dissipated.
"I realised that I would scare passengers away," she said. "So then I only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually I stopped covering my head because I got older and was well-established by then."
Exposing herself to the hot, bustling city streets of Islamabad and by driving to the rocky and remote districts adjoining Pakistan's tribal areas, Zahida says she learned a lot about the country she lived in and its people.
The Pathans of the tribal north-west, despite a reputation for fierce male pride and inflexibility, treated her with immense courtesy on her journeys.
But then there is also an interesting acknowledgment of the change within Pakistan in the last two decades:
But had Zahida been starting out now, things would be quite different as she would be entering the workforce in a country torn between the forces of liberalism and Islamic radicalism.
Pakistan in 1992 was a more moderate place: it was opening up to the world; the dish antenna had been introduced; Pakistan had won the cricket world cup. Zahida says society felt fairly open to her.
The article provides just a glimpse of the class and gender struggles in Pakistan. But then again, Pakistan has a history of amazing women leading from the front on issues of human rights and gender equality, and now even the blasphemy law (for example, the indomitable Asma Jahangir, Mukhtaran Mai, Shereen Rehman, etc.). There are also Pakistani female fighter pilots (now - this should really put Saudis to shame) and also a bank for and run-by women.

Read the full article on Zahida Kazmi here.

On a different note (ha!), I was struck by the music and video of Usman Riaz's "Fire Fly". Damn - he can do a lot with just a guitar. And the quality of video is also quite exceptional. Enjoy!


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