Sindh is thought of as a vibrant and politically aware part of Pakistan. It has vast literature, a pluralistic culture, strong Sindhi journalism and a history of political struggle. But despite such rich cultural background, until last year, Sindh lacked a central platform to display and share its heritage.
In November 2016, the first Sindh Literature Festival was organised and enthusiastically attended. This year, the three-day second Sindh Literature Festival (SLF) was launched on October 27 at Beach Luxury Hotel. SLF provides a platform to budding Sindhi artistes to showcase their talents, and promote Sindhi language, culture, and heritage.
A large number of authors, writers, educators, politicians, and journalists along with readers, students, and others from various walks of life gathered for the Sindh Literature Festival 2017.The festival included panel discussions on a myriad of topics, a book fair; the sale of Sindh’s handicrafts, among other things, sought to provide people a glimpse of Sindh’s past while paving the way for the future.
The festival was not limited to Sindhi speaking intelligentsia, but included participants from different cultures as well. Most sessions were designed so that not just Sindhi speaking speakers, but also Urdu speakers expressed their opinions. The festival can be considered as new emerging platform, where Sindhi and Urdu speaking can come and talk.
Some of the prominent speakers, poets, journalists, politicians, singers and literati attending the festival included Arif Hasan, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Fouzia Saeed, Jibran Nasir, Hamid Mir, Azhar Abbas, A D Khawaja, Mian Raza Rabbani, Amar Jaleel, Sassui Palijo, Sorath Thebo, Gul Hassan Kalmati, Saif Samejo, Dr Akash Ansari, Sanam Baloch, Maheen Hisbani, Sabreen Hisbani, Ashfaq Azar, Ahmed Solangi, Imdad Hussaini, Hasil Bizenjo, Ayaz Latif Palijo, Shah Muhammad Shah, Nazish Brohi, Zulfiqar Halepoto and Amanullah Shaikh.
According to Naseer Gopang, a co-organiser of SLF, around 50,000 people participated in the festival and majority of them were women. “A large number of students from Sindh University Jamshoro, Mehran University of Engineering & Technology, Jamshoro, Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam also participated,” he said, adding that participation had increased since SLF 2016.
During the festival six new Sindhi language books were inaugurated, including a Sindhi translation of Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love and Shaikh Ayaz Poet of the Century. A rush of people could be seen at the book stalls.
During the festival many interesting sessions were held including “Sindhi Women and Men: Need of a new Social Contract”, “Orphan Literature of Mother Tongues in Pakistan”, “Culture and Anarchy”, “Maai Kolachi Waaro Karachi”, “Post Partition Sindhi Literature”, “Sur Jo Safar Aeen Sindh”, “Shukriya Social Media” and “Kya Media Ko Aesa Hi Hona Chahye”. There were also sessions relating to “Feminism and Democracy”, “Sindhi Stories”, “Zara Hat Kay”, “Sindh Dramo: Kaalh Aeen Aj”, “Journey of Sindhi Language”, “Role of Sindh in Democracy of Pakistan” and “Journey of Travelogue Writers” among others.
Issues related to the history of political struggle, Sindhi literature and feminism topped the list of discussion. During the “Sindhi Women and Men: Need of a new Social Contract” session, Shahnaz Rahu, a political activist and daughter of slain leader Mohammad Fazal Rahu, said that in Sindhi traditional society both genders were suffering similar hardships. She said that until very recently Sindh did not have access to electronic or social media, hence society remained backward. Shahnaz Rahu said without female participation in politics, society could not develop.
“We visited rural women to inform them of their rights and tell them that they are being suppressed, we also said that by struggling for their rights they can work equal to men,” said Rahu. But it was all futile. “Women have assumed that they are meant to work as housewives.”
She said that in Sindh women participated in politics during the struggle against the One Unit policy and the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). They even went to prison for those movements. “Today the media has progressed, but society has not and women cannot work equal to men until men accept them without their sexuality,” she said.
Prominent civil society activist, Raheema Panhwar, said that in our society man has not accepted the new role of women because he himself has experiences deprivation, which he cannot look past. “Whenever women are awarded high positions within organisations, most of her subordinates and colleagues assume that she reached that position because of her beauty, not ability,” said Panhwar.
While discussing social media, she said that if a woman shows her face on her social media profile, it encourages a mammoth response; but whenever the same woman talks about social reforms, she is met with a complete lack of response.
Renowned poet and bureaucrat Anita Shah Lakyary said that work places are not women friendly. Most offices lack separate washrooms for women. “Public department may be giving jobs to women but their attitude is so negative,”
she said. She recounted that when she was a deputy secretary, there was no separate washroom for women.
Politician and Pakistan People’s Party senator Sassui Palijo said that society is not ready to accept women outside their homes. “When I was minister, most bureaucrats were upset about accepting orders from a woman. When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, women thought that now they will get equal rights. And this was true: during Benazir Bhutto’s government women’s banks were established and they were given jobs in police and other departments,” she said.
Palijo said that Sindhi women have played an important role in social resistance and restoration of democracy. But the problem, according to her, was that in Sindh’s traditional society “when we talk about feminism people assume that we are talking about the formation of separate world for women”. She said such misconceptions should be cleared.
PML-N senator Sorath Thebo said that though women are physically weaker, they are saner. In Sindh from Marvi to Mai Bakhtawar, women have a long history of struggle. Nowadays, even in assemblies, women are disrespected, but despite that they do not become hopeless. Quoting the hurling of knives in Karachi, harassment of female students in Sindh University and the murder of a young girl inside her own house, she said that today, women are not safe on roads, universities or even inside homes.
Playwright Noorul Huda Shah said that in Pakistani dramas, women are portrayed negatively. Instead women should be shown as strong, since they play an important role in society’s development. “Explain to the men that beating a sister or wife is prohibited in religion and law. The only relation one must maintain with a sister and wife is the relation of love,” she said.