The three of us sat quietly in the back of the Uber, until the phone calls rushed in
There was something about the roads of Lahore that changed your headspace into something entirely different as you begin to cruise through them. We travelled at a leisurely pace, courtesy of the driver who didn’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation and was taking his sweet time. Then again, maybe he too was under the influence of the green and grey of Lahori streets. It made sense that he was a little lost in his own head like I was, especially given the fact that after asking him for the AUX cord thrice, I had to reach for it myself.
Ali Sethi played in the background, as the first of the people began to inquire about our location. It wasn’t until I saw some people carrying posters when the languidness of the car ride faded, and gave way for excitement. Only a little further, we came across the people out to speak up for the rights of the oppressed, the discriminated, and the unprivileged.
Aurat March Lahore had begun.
The road had been taken over by a flurry of people, all enmeshed together in a bright combination of colors and posters. The main theme seemed to be purple, which sure did make sense. We could hear the chants before we had even made it out of the car. Almost thrusting the fare at the driver, and not waiting for the change, we delved right into the people who were already walking.
Many were waving purple flags, others adorned with several purple accessories.
For a moment deep sorrow struck me as I recognized Qandeel Baloch’s face across many of the people’s masks, slogans, and hats. Her death had been a loss, and to think of it, had she not been murdered in cold blood, she might have been marching alongside us, demanding bodily autonomy for all the women who have never been able to own their body.
On the other hand, elation struck me almost instantly as I spotted a rapidly disappearing rainbow flag with others in tow. Finally, some long overdue representation.
As we became part of the crowd, further happiness to be able to contribute to the cause manifested in meeting many of the people I had only the pleasure to converse with on social media, as well as others who I had met countless times over my stay in Lahore.
Two of my favorite chants would have to be,
Jo Patriarchy ka yar hai, ghaddar hai, ghaddar hai,” (The friends of patriarchy, are traitors, are traitors.)
Jab tak Aurat tang rahay gi, jang rahay gi, jang rahay gi, jang rahay gi,” (As long as the woman is distressed, war remains.)
However, the most emotionally provocative and appealing part was when this hoard of strong, fearless women – male allies not excluded – came together at Alhamra, and seeing all of this actually happening came crashing down. This was real.
All of these women had experienced a pain similar to mine, a pain that had always been invalidated by men, something that all of us had been taught to ignore or compromise on. There wasn’t a woman here who hadn’t faced some sort of discrimination or harassment at the hands of the patriarchy, and we stood united in the horrors that we had suffered. This led me to believe, there was hope for us, all of us. Almost in tears, I greedily took in the sight of all those posters, those women from all backgrounds and socio-economic classes. It was the unmatched feeling of never having felt safer in a massive crowd, or in a public space, yet feeling as if nobody could harm you during that moment which led to the tears on my cheeks.
It was the first steps to taking back the system.
Photo credits to Anum Naseer.